By Kris Leonhardt
As early as 1608, pilgrims of Polish heritage began arriving in the colonies that became the United States of America; however, the greatest numbers arrived in the years between the Civil War and World War I.
Many arrived in an attempt to claim new farmlands, which were no longer available in the land of their birth.
During World War I, immigration from Poland was virtually nonexistent. Many Polish Americans enlisted in the armed forces at this time, hoping that a defeat against Prussia would liberate the Old Country.
At the war’s end, immigration resumed until United States government restrictions limited entrance to the country.
Once Poland’s nationhood was restored, Polish Americans were beckoned to return to the country to help rebuild. Very few returned.
Looking for other means to help the country rebuild, the United States government authorized a campaign designed to take advantage of ethnic ties here in America.
In June 1920, Stevens Point and Portage County citizens of Polish descent were solicited to aid in securing a $50 million loan for the country.
Organized by the Polish parishes in the area, residents were asked for cash only loans to help return the nation to a condition of economic success.
Bonds were issued in increments of $50, $100, $500 denominations, at 6 percent interest. The money would be payable twice a year, on April 1 and October 1, to be completed in a 20-year period.
The capital and interest was guaranteed by the Republic of Poland, accompanied by a guarantee that the money would not be used for war. Instead, the money would be used to build factories and rail lines in order to jump-start the nation’s economy.
During an organizational meeting, $4,000 was immediately pledged among the Portage County parishes.
Over the next week, organizers crisscrossed the county, petitioning funds from the area’s numerous Polish American pioneers.
While many of the newly immigrated citizens did not return to their homeland, the success of the campaign displayed their loyalty to the home they left behind.
Poland’s independence would not last. With Hitler’s attack in September 1939, the country was once again catapulted into submission.
Again, Polish Americans opened their pocketbooks, rallying to provide altruistic relief, as Polish American organizations and leaders banded together to create relief programs in aid of their suppressed homeland.
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by mail: P.O. Box 51, Marshfield, Wisconsin, 54449 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.