Poland Once Gave America a Birthday Card That Was Signed By 5.5 Million Polish People

For the 150th birthday of the United States in 1926, almost one-sixth of the population of Poland signed a card for the country. To mark this year’s Fourth of July festivities, the Library of Congress (LOC) made all 111 volumes of the “Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States” available to explore online. More than just a novelty object, the hefty sesquicentennial gift is a rare genealogical record of a pre-World War II Poland, and an object of 1920s Polish visual culture. The 30,000 pages feature detailed calligraphy, work by prominent artists of the time, and decorative bindings, as well as drawings, photographs, and other contributions from 5.5 million citizens.

Some of the signatures, particularly those from schools, are arranged in playful patterns, whether filling a sketch of the eagle on the Polish coat of arms, or spelling out “Polska” in cursive. Each was signed over an eight-month period by people ranging from national government officials to local religious representatives, along with thousands of school children from across the country, acting as an informal census. Original illustrations by artists like Zofia Stryjenska, Wladyslaw Skoczylas, and Ferdynand Ruszczyc adorn the pages in a volume divided by provincial district. While the volumes have been at LOC since 1927, after being presented to President Calvin Coolidge in 1926, the online portal makes them accessible to researchers around the world.

Called the Class of 1926 digitization project, the release was initiated by the Polish Library in Washington, DC in collaboration with LOC with support from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Piotr Wilczek, Poland’s Ambassador to the United States, noted in the release that the gesture is “one of the earliest examples of public diplomacy undertaken by the reborn Polish Republic and they embody the deep appreciation Poles held for America’s friendship and generous aid.” American aid to Poland during World War I was still a very recent, and valued, memory. However, 13 years later, with the outbreak of World War II, Poland would be invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union.

LOC notes that in 1926, Poland “was a much more ethnically diverse country than it would become after World War II, as the many Jewish, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Lithuanian, Russian, and German names on the signature sheets testify.” Samuel Ponczak, who led the digitization and is a Polish survivor of the Holocaust, stated in the release, “for those who did not survive the war, in many instances their signature in this declaration is the only evidence that such a person existed.”

The 111 volumes of the Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States (1926) are available to explore online at the Library of Congress.

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