Illinois Governor, Chicago Mayor, Dignitaries
Pay Tribute to Pulaski at Polish Museum

Malgorzata Kot welcomes guests to the Polish Museum.

Malgorzata Kot welcomes guests to the Polish Museum.

“We are a nation of immigrants,” said Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner during the March 5 celebration of Pulaski Day at the Chicago’s Polish Museum of America. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel invoked his own family’s immigration to America and noted, “May Chicago always be a place that welcomes immigrants.” Rauner and Emanuel were among some 20 political and community leaders who paid tribute to Casimir Pulaski. Pulaski fought for Poland’s freedom and then with George Washington during the American Revolution. He is known as the “hero of two countries” and “father of the American cavalry.”

Tadeusz Terlikowski

Most notable among some 300 Pulaski Day guests at the museum was Tadeusz Terlikowski, 100-year-old World War II survivor who escaped from German-occupied Poland and fought against the Nazis in Polish Fighter Squadron 303 in the British Royal Air Force. Squadron 303 was one of 16 Polish squadrons in the RAF and had the highest scoring of the those squadrons during the Battle of Britain as well as the highest ratio of enemy aircraft destroyed to their own lost. Terlikowski was honored by Brig. General Cezary Wisniewski, Deputy Defense and Military Attache at the Polish Embassy in Washington D.C. Wisniewski spoke about the present-day military alliance between Poland and the United States, which has some 4,000 troops now training in Poland.

While the annual Pulaski Day program at the museum offers state and local political figures an opportunity to make their support for the Polish community known to Polish American voters, this year it also offered a respite from the toxic polarization that pervades political discussion in the USA. Disagreement with the Trump administration’s views on immigration threaded its way through the speeches, but agreement over the democratic ideals that Pulaski represents held the program together.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle observed that “America is great because people have come from all over the world to make it so.” She came as close as anyone came to a real political dig when she expressed dismay over some of the negative portrayals President Trump–without mentioning his name–has lobbed against immigrants and certain countries. The message from others, such as Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Appellate Judge Aurelia Pucinski, was that Polonia needs to vote and leaders in the Polish community should be more vocal in demanding, for example, voting instructions in Polish. State Representative Robert F. Martwick Jr. added,”You get the government you deserve, and you can change it. Step up and make it the government you want.”

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, a longtime friend of the Polish Museum of America noted that “this museum cannot work on words alone,” and promptly presented a $2,000 donation to the PMA. With 2018 being the 100-year anniversary of Poland’s reestablishment as an independent nation after World War I, Pappas led the crowd in singing “Sto Lat,” the Polish “Happy Birthday” song, which means “100 Years.”

There were no political barbs or disagreements over the fundamental American values for which Pulaski and other Polish heroes fought, the values of “faith, family, hard work, freedom, friendship, and democracy,” as Rauner put it. As African American Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett Jr., who represents the 27th ward where the Polish Museum is located, said, “Pulaski did not fight and die only for Polish people’s freedom; he fought for mine.”

Rauner also announced that Polish President Andrzej Duda would be visiting Chicago in May, and that this year he himself would be taking his first trip to Europe as governor and his first stop would be Poland.

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