Friday, September 15, 2006

Central Citizen's Committee, Part 1 of 3

Continuing with series Poles in Michigan Vol. 1, we have....

Central Citizen’s Committee

...from a speech by Clara Swieczkowski

The beginnings of the Central Citizens Committee go back the early part of 1914. A flood ravaged the homes of thousands of Polish folk in partitioned Poland. Their friends and relatives in the United States began organizing relief committees which among other things, collected various articles of clothing for flood victims.

One such committee was formed in Detroit. It was composed of representatives of Polish parochial and fraternal organizations in the city. It had its headquarters and clothing center in the Dom Polski on Forest Ave. Mr. Felix Wojcinski, now deceased, was in charge of sorting, packing and shipping. He was assisted by volunteer workers from various parochial societies and branches of the Polish National Alliance, particularly Council 15 and Nest 31 of the Polish Falcons. About 27 carloads of shoes and clothing were collected and sent abroad by this committee.

At that time I was employed by the Polish Daily News, which actively supported the clothing campaign in behalf of the flood victims. Later on in the year, when the first world war broke out in Europe, it was suggested to prolong the existence of the Flood Relief Committee in order to send aid to the Polish people who were now being ravaged by war. Representatives of the Polish parishes, the fraternal organizations and the Falcons joined hands to promote the work of war relief. One of the earliest volunteer workers was Miss Clara Welzand who used to ride in her electric auto from parish to parish collecting clothes.

In 1915, I became associated with the Polish Daily Record. This brought me closer to the relief committee, which under the leadership of Mr. Joseph Wedda, now deceased, organized an Allied Bazaar in Detroit. The bazaar was a great success, owing to the energy and sacrifices of the volunteer workers. Encouraged by the results, the workers decided to organize a Citizens Committee which would work and speak in behalf of the Polish Americans who were dedicating so much time and effort to relief activities. The initial conferences at which the idea of the Committee was discussed were held at the Polish Daily Record editorial headquarters. Then it was decided to call a meeting of representatives of all Polish parishes and organizations in Detroit for a formal establishment of the Citizens Committee.

The meeting was held at Dom Polski and was very well attended. Elections were held and Mr. Leopold Koscinski, the president of the Polish Daily Record Publishing Company, became chairman, while Mr. Joseph Witkowski became treasurer - a post he held until his death. The assembly, likewise, declared itself in favor of supporting the cause of Polish independence, making this one of its main objectives. As one of the means leading to this aim, it was decided to promote the recruitment of soldiers for the Polish Army that was then begining to form in the United States.

The recruitment called for assistance of the Women’s Auxiliary in preparing articles of comfort for the recruits. The Auxiliary came into existence within a few days after the formation of the Citizens Committee. Like its parent organization the Auxiliary was formally founded at a general meeting of representatives from parochial and fraternal groups. They met at Dom Polski, adopted the name of the Polish Women’s Relief Committee and elected officers. Mrs. L. Koscinska became president, Mrs. Hedwig Bonczak-Gibasiewicz now deceased, was vice-president, Miss Rose Nowicka secretary, Miss Ewelina Wojcinska treasurer and I was a financial secretary. Miss Helen Lorkowska was placed in charge of the relief bureau, while Mrs. Providence Bieske headed the sewing circle.

The first mass meeting for recruitment of soldiers was a tremendous success. The Dom Polski was crowded to the doors with supporters and well-wishers who included, among others, the following notables: Rev. Joseph Lempka, Rev. Fr. Gzelia, Rev. S. Trepczynski (all leading Detroit clergymen), Dr. T. Starzynsh, president of the Polish Falcons, Fr. Dziob, A. Brzezinski and many others too numerous to mention.

As the recruitment progressed, weekly departures of the recruits were held each Sunday, and the new soldiers were sent to Niagara-on-the-Lake for training. Each departure was accompanied by church ceremonies and a parade led by L. Koscinski and Rev. J. Lempka, who is now dead. Then the recruits marched to the Dom Polski where they were feted by the Women’s Relief Committee. After the meal the recruits were escorted by the Committee to the Railroad Station. These processions were most inspirational. They were led by H. Lorkowska, who was followed by members of Nest 263 carrying an American flag into which contributions were tossed by spectators. At the Station, each recruit received a package containing a sweater, helmet, wristlets, a carton of cagarettes and sandwiches.

To be continued next Friday, September 22nd.