At the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, the Congress of the United States passed an act allowing emigration to this country, outside the visa queue, of 18,000 former soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, including the Polish 2nd Corps. Most of them, often with their families, came to this country in 1950-53 from Great Britain. From the very beginning, they maintained close contacts, which in June 1953 resulted in the creation of a separate from already existing Polish Army Veterans Association from World War I (PAVA-SWAP), the Association of Polish Combatants – Stowarzyszenie Polskich Kombatantów (SPK) in the United States.
In the following years of operation, 55 local branches/posts were established to associate veterans of the Polish Armed Forces in the West with the headquarters located in New York. In addition to self-help, taking care of colleagues – invalids remaining outside the USA, supporting Polish Saturday schools and scouting, Polish veterans in America put a particularly strong emphasis on Polish efforts to regain independence from Soviet domination. They took great care to promote the good name of Poles, supported opposition activities in the country, and supported participants of further waves of political emigration from Poland to the United States. At the same time, they maintained close contact with American officers known to them from the fighting in Europe.
They were the organizers of a number of patriotic celebrations, Polish anniversaries, and cultural events. They cooperated with other veterans’ organizations – SWAP, the American branch of the Home Army association, organizations of Polish airmen and sailors. They actively participated in the Pulaski Day Parade every year, celebrations of the Constitution of May 3, “Memorial Day”, Polish Soldier’s Day or Independence Day.
Polish veterans were particularly active in New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Newark, although SPK branches also existed in other, smaller locations, often constituting the most active Polish community group, inspiring others to organize Polish Saturday schools, patriotic celebrations, and support compatriots in Poland.
Visible signs of remembrance of Polish soldiers from World War II are monuments erected at the initiative of Polish combatants, including:
1. Memorial to Polish Veterans of World War II, dedicated to those who did not return to their homeland, located in the veterans’ quarters at Maryhill Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. Funded in 1975 by the SPK Branch No. 31 named of 2nd Corps in Chicago. Many 2nd Corps veterans rest at Maryhill Cemetery.
2. Polish-American Veterans WWII Memorial in Buffalo, NY, with the battlefields of the 2nd Corps listed
3. The Avenger Monument at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania – located in the sector of Polish World War I and II veterans at the local cemetery (established in 1988, the largest Polish cemetery in America), unveiled on August 14, 1988. The combat trail of the 2nd Polish Corps “Monte Cassino – Ancona – Bologna 1944” is listed on its’ plaque.
Big groups of Polish World War II veterans, including the Polish 2nd Corps, were located in the following US states:
Massachusetts – Worcester, Boston, Chicopee
New York State – New York, Rochester, Amsterdam, Utica, Albany, Schenectady, Maspeth, Buffalo, Hempstead-Nassau, Syracuse
Connecticut – Waterbury, New Haven, Hartford, New Britain
Pennsylvania – Pitsburgh, Philadelphia, Chester
New Jersey – Elizabeth, Plainfield, Passaic, Perth Amboy, Newark, Dover
Maryland – Baltimore
Washington state – Seattle, Washington DC
Florida – Miami
Michigan – Detroit, Hamtramck, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids
Ohio – Cleveland
Wisconsin – Milwaukee
state of Illinois – Chicago
Minnesota – Minneapolis, St. Paul
Colorado – Denver
Oregon – Portland
state of California – Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco.
Out of 50 US states, 55 SPK branches/posts were located in 16 states, of which only three were located outside the eastern coast or the northeastern US states. The most numerous circles of Polish veterans operated in New York (6) and Chicago (6, including the 2nd Corps Post no. 31).
Combatants also published their quaterly – bulletin in the years 1955-2012 under the name “Kombatant w Ameryce”. In 2012, the SPK in the United States ceased operations due to the advanced age of most of its members. Their descendants, lovers of Polish history, the Polish Museum in America in Chicago or the Józef Piłsudski Institute in New York, to name only some of the important institutions documenting and disseminating Polish history in the United States, still care for the memory of the veterans of the Polish 2nd Corps and the Polish Armed Forces Armed in the West.
It is worth emphasizing that the valuable collection of documentation related to the fate of the soldiers of the 2nd Corps is kept as the General Anders Collection by the archives of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. In addition, important memorabilia of the soldiers of the Polish 2nd Corps in the United States are kept by the Central Archives of the American Polish Diaspora in Orchard Lake (Michigan), including the collection of the Foundation and Center of the Polish 2nd Corps operating at this institution in 1987-2000.
Author: Aneta Hoffmann, Warsaw, Poland