The Secret Bridge Between America and Poland

by Robert John Zagar PhD MPH and Agata Karolina Szkotak Zagar MBA

During the American Revolutionary War a French speaking foreigner appeared before Benjamin Franklin bearing introductory letters asking to join George Washington’s Army.  Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko had studied inWarsaw and Paris and quickly put to use his talents in state of the art fortifications including West Point, New York and the victory at Saratoga. After inspecting the West Point baracades, one night he returned to his quarters to find his African aide-de-campe dressed in his officer’s uniform. Kościuszko promptly introduced him to the other officers as an African prince.

When Washington’s army fought in the South at the end of the American Revolutionary War, African slaves gave valuable information about British troop movements to the Colonials and Kościuszko. At the Tavern in New York City, when George relinquished power as Commander-in-Chief, Washington gave his Cincinatti Club ring to Brigadier General Tadeusz with the message to continue the revolution in Europe. Kościuszko stood in Krakow’s rynek – square founding Polish statehood. Fighting bravely against Catherine the Great’s Russian, and Prussian and Austrian armies he was eventually pardoned by the Tsar and returned to America. Jefferson and Washington both offered him to live in their mansions at Monticello and Mount Vernon. Catherine the Great so admired Kościuszko that she gave him her mink stole, which Thomas wears in his statue within the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Kościuszko urged Washington to found military academies and “willed” his salary to free the African slaves. Neither Jefferson nor Washington executed the “will” so the U.S. Supreme Court nullified his will in 1863 while Washington, D.C. bureaucrats embezzled his American Revolutionary War salary.

      Fast forward to pre-World War I, and Chicago Polish Americans outfit and fill a brigade to first fight in France and then later join Pilsudski against the Russians. Paderewski lobbied Wilson to include “free” Poland in the Versailles Treaty. Again following World War II, Chicago Polish Americans send shipping containers of clothing and food distributed through Polish Catholic Charities during the Communist blockage under the leadership of my dad’s altarboy boyhood neighbor Archbishop Alfred Abramowicz. When Krakow’s Bishop Karol Wojtyla was saying Mass in the cold, rain, snow, sunshine and wind of Nowa Huta, the communist steel mill town without a church, “Alfie” showed up with a suitcase of hundred dollar bills totaling $100,000 to build the Church of the Arch.

      When the same Krakow Bishop was elected Pope John Paul II, “Alfie” came with $500,000 from the working stiffs of Chicago’s Polish American community to provide the platforms and the security in what U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Calista Gingrich, herself a Polish American, called “Nine Days That Changed the World,” the triumphant return of native son the first Polish Pope to Poland. Of course when Pope John Paul II came to the United States his first stop was Chicago and Five Holy Martyr’s Church and my family along with others from Saint Pancratius Parish sat in the first row because for decades they supported Poland. “Alfie” worked quietly behind the scenes to broker Polish seminarians coming to Chicago Archdiocese to fill the void in vocations establishing the Abramowicz Seminary before he and John Paul II died.

     “He was the kind of man who sat down for meetings with popes and cardinals, but also the man in Brighton Park talking to all the grandmothers,” Chicago Archdiocese Tribunal Reverend John Rolek said. „He had a very common touch and he never lost it.” Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Lynne at “Alfie’s” funeral said, “There were three men responsible for the end of Polish communism, Nobel Laureate the electrician who jumped over the Gdansk fence, Lech Walesa, the Polish bishop of Rome, John Paul II, and the Chicagoan with the cash to do it all, “Alfie.” Today this secret bridge continues between the American and Polish military and churches. As we face the challenges that King Sobieski and others conquered in terrorism Americans and Poles stand united for democracy, freedom to do business globally and to promote education and choice and as Pope John Paul II said, lead both American and Europe in ethics and morality as we face the secular challenges of technology, depersonalization and dehumanization. The friendship and unity between two great nations will persevere whatever future challenges await.       

During the American Revolutionary War a French speaking foreigner appeared before Benjamin Franklin bearing introductory letters asking to join George Washington’s Army.  Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko had studied inWarsaw and Paris and quickly put to use his talents in state of the art fortifications including West Point, New York and the victory at Saratoga. After inspecting the West Point baracades, one night he returned to his quarters to find his African aide-de-campe dressed in his officer’s uniform. Kościuszko promptly introduced him to the other officers as an African prince. When Washington’s army fought in the South at the end of the American Revolutionary War, African slaves gave valuable information about British troop movements to the Colonials and Kościuszko. At the Tavern in New York City, when George relinquished power as Commander-in-Chief, Washington gave his Cincinatti Club ring to Brigadier GeneralTadeusz with the message to continue the revolution in Europe. Kościuszko stood in Krakow’s rynek square founding Polish statehood. Fighting bravely against Catherine the Great’s Russian, and Prussian and Austrian armies he was eventually pardoned by the Tsar and returned to America. Jefferson and Washington both offered him to live in their mansions at Monticello and Mount Vernon. Catherine the Great so admired Kościuszko that she gave him her mink stole, which Thomas wears in his statue within the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. Kościuszko urged Washington to found military academies and “willed” his salary to free the African slaves. Neither Jefferson nor Washington executed the “will” so the U.S. Supreme Court nullified his will in 1863 while Washington, D.C. bureaucrats embezzled his American Revolutionary War salary.

Fast forward to pre-World War I, and Chicago Polish Americans outfit and fill a brigade to first fight in France and then later join Pilsudski against the Russians. Paderewski lobbied Wilson to include “free” Poland in the Versailles Treaty. Again following World War II, Chicago Polish Americans send shipping containers of clothing and food distributed through Polish Catholic Charities during the Communist blockage under the leadership of my dad’s altarboy boyhood neighbor Archbishop Alfred Abramowicz. When Krakow’s Bishop Karol Wojtyla was saying Mass in the cold, rain, snow, sunshine and wind of Nowa Huta, the communist steel mill town without a church, “Alfie” showed up with a suitcase of hundred dollar bills totaling $100,000 to build the Church of the Arch.

     When the same Krakow Bishop was elected Pope John Paul II, “Alfie” came with $500,000 from the working stiffs of Chicago’s Polish American community to provide the platforms and the security in what U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt and U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Calista Gingrich, herself a Polish American, called “Nine Days That Changed the World,” the triumphant return of native son the first Polish Pope to Poland. Of course when Pope John Paul II came to the United States his first stop was Chicago and Five Holy Martyr’s Church and my family along with others from Saint Pancratius Parish sat in the first row because for decades they supported Poland. “Alfie” worked quietly behind the scenes to broker Polish seminarians coming to Chicago Archdiocese to fill the void in vocations establishing the Abramowicz Seminary before he and John Paul II died. “He was the kind of man who sat down for meetings with popes and cardinals, but also the man in Brighton Park talking to all the grandmothers,” Chicago Archdiocese Tribunal Reverend John Rolek said. „He had a very common touch and he never lost it.” Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Lynne at “Alfie’s” funeral said, “There were three men responsible for the end of Polish communism, Nobel Laureate the electrician who jumped over the Gdansk fence, Lech Walesa, the Polish bishop of Rome, John Paul II, and the Chicagoan with the cash to do it all, “Alfie.”

    Today this secret bridge continues between the American and Polish military and churches. As we face the challenges that King Sobieski and others conquered in terrorism Americans and Poles stand united for democracy, freedom to do business globally and to promote education and choice and as Pope John Paul II said, lead both American and Europe in ethics and morality as we face the secular challenges of technology, depersonalization and dehumanization. The friendship and unity between two great nations will persevere whatever future challenges await.     

 Robert is a Northwestern University alumnus, economist, professor, psychologist, researcher, and statistician. His work saved 324 lives and over $2B for the city of Chicago, county of Cook in diverting high risk youth from violence with jobs, mentors and anger management training since 2008 through today in the summer programs and release of nonviolent offenders allowing Preckwinkle to roll back the sales tax and Obama to free federal prisoners through commutation and pardon and the US Supreme Court to order resentencing of juveniles with life sentences and no parole to be resentenced. His dad was one of the original U.S. Navy Seals serving behind enemy lines during WWII while his mother was a U.S. Navy Wave. Agata is an actress, banker, business woman, teacher, and triplet. Together Robert and Agata founded a nonprofit charity, the Society of the Friends of Radgoszcz, helping Malopolska. The Zagars live in Edgewater and are members of Holy Name Cathedral Parish and the University Club of Chicago.