March 2017


An Interview with PAHA’s
Dr. Anna Mazurkiewicz

New President Discusses
Venerable Organization’s
Role as Academic Mainstay


Dr. Anna Mazurkiewicz

MAZURKIEWICZ. PAHA president is author of
three books on American Cold War politics toward
Poland and East/Central Europe.

Dr. Anna Mazurkiewicz, a historian at the University of Gdańsk, was elected to a two-year term as president of the Polish American Historical Association (PAHA) at the organization’s annual meeting in Denver last January. PAHA was founded in 1942 and is devoted to the study of Polish American history and culture. A member since 2005, second vice president (2013-14) and first vice president (2015-16), she is the first PAHA president who actually lives in Poland. Mazurkiewicz is author of three books on American Cold War politics towards Poland and East/Central Europe. She spoke about her vision for the presidency with the Polish American Journal.

You have just begun your two-year term as president of PAHA. What are your goals?

My primary task is to serve PAHA’s membership, and PAHA’s goal is to study and promote Polish American history and culture. I would like during my term to put special emphasis on developing instruments to aid the promotion of Polish American studies at the university level. Although many institutions of higher learning in the United States offer Polish Studies programs or classes of the Polish language, not as many are willing to have courses on the Polish American experience, even as part of a larger “race and ethnicity” course or studies. I believe that PAHA does have the potential and ability to provide American (and Polish) academics with ideas, resources, and individual assistance to develop courses for those who would be interested in incorporating the Polish American experience in their teaching. While PAHA does an excellent job in promoting its academic research with general public, I believe we could do more to get the Polish American experience into the courses and syllabi of American and Polish universities. Theme-organized lists of publications (book, articles, and online resources), sample teaching plans, information on research institutions and contact with experts would all be practical ways to advance Polish American studies.

What is PAHA’s purpose today? Why does PAHA matter?

PAHA separated itself from the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1948 in order to focus on the study of the Polish diaspora in America. While Polonia’s history and culture cannot be detached from the history and culture of Poland, PAHA’s purpose has always been to look at the Americans of Polish origin and Poles living in the  United States: migration, assimilation, acculturation and integration, how they maintain their “Polishness” and mobilize socially, politically, and charitably. To this day PAHA remains the oldest academic organization established for the purpose of studying Polonia which today attracts scholars from American and Polish universities. Since the fall of communism in Europe, PAHA serves as a meeting forum for scholars from both sides of the ocean and provides a scholarly outlet of research on the Polish diaspora. It matters because it works for the maintenance of academic interest in the Polish American experience. It matters, because it cares for the promotion of the study of Polish Americans among the young and emerging scholars. Finally, it matters because it integrates a particular milieu – scholars (not only of Polish origin) who on daily basis study issues in fields as diverse as military history, labor movements, religiosity, race and ethnic relations, literature and cultural studies, diplomatic history etc. but they choose to integrate the Polish American experience to their research agenda. Therefore, they work towards the advancement of the Polish American studies.

Some would say Polonia is more history than reality. Do you agree? Where will Polonia be in 2035?

American Polonia, as a group of people who left their homeland in despair and as a community referred to as a “fourth partition,” is history. However, Polonia understood as people of Polish ancestry in the United States is stronger than ever. The number of Polish Americans has never been greater, more dispersed, or more affluent than it is today. But they do not play the role they could in terms of ethnic or political mobilization. Some reasons for this are that Poland is now free and that American social and economic conditions do not foster Polish American unanimity. But ties to the homeland and the search for roots, coupled with easier access and transportation help to maintain the Polish diaspora in the United States. Our job is to study and preserve it, so that it can be transmitted to future generations. So, by 2035 Polonia will be different, but it will be there. So will PAHA.

All Polonian organizations are greying. What is PAHA doing to recruit young people to the organization and to the professoriate as Polonian scholars? Why would a young historian or other American (or Polish) scholar want to study Polonia?

I do not quite see the grey in the Polish American organizations. Many Polish clubs and arts associations I’ve come in contact with over the last decade are made up of people in their thirties, forties and fifties. The scope of their activities is different from the previous generations: it’s less political, more cultural. That culture includes high cultural events like lectures, concerts, poetry readings and book clubs as well as popular cultural ones like food and drink festivals and Saturday schools where both the language and the culture are preserved in the youngest generations. I have observed a lot of energy and enthusiasm in Minneapolis, Buffalo, and recently in Denver. It is “fun to be Polish” nowadays and I think many people choose to stay connected to Polishness, not because they feel the obligation to work for the sake of Poland’s freedom or need the social support network, but out of pride in their origins and a willingness to use modern technology to maintain lively contact with Poland. It’s a new Polonia, less concentrated but visible and very ambitious.

Academic studies of the Polish American experience are not limited, however, to scholars of Polish origin. PAHA is attractive to any young scholar interested in studying ethnic communities, migration, or U.S. social history. It gives them outlets—awards, conferences, a supportive academic network—all important to young academics at the start of their careers, as I had personally experienced it ten years ago. No matter what they may be studying, we can always support inclusion of a Polish American component.

You are the first PAHA President from Poland. How do you think that will color your presidency?

In the past, there were PAHA presidents who came from Poland as first generation immigrants. Many of the members of the PAHA Board were (and continue to be) the Polish scholars working at the universities in Poland. But you are right: I am the first president who permanently lives and works at a Polish university. I consider it a great honor and a sign of trust, not so much in me, personally, as in the notion that Poland and its academics are free, independent and equal partners to their American colleagues. I would like to use this opportunity to strengthen the bridges of scholarly and academic collaboration to promote PAHA and its accomplishments among wider audiences in Poland.

Can you tell us about the state of research into Polonia in Poland today? Who is interested in it? What are the main topics of study? What possibilities are there for mutual research and exchange?

Over the course of the last ten years there has been a noticeable surge in the interest in the study of Polish diaspora. This is evidenced in the number of research projects and institutions that were created recently. To a large extent it was fostered by two occurrences: a great stream of migration from Poland to the other countries of the European Union which re-invigorated interest in old migration patterns, and an improved access to archival sources prompted by increased scholarly mobility and funding opportunities. Moreover, in the last decade there was a visible attempt in Poland to re-connect the divided (split) history of the Polish people. Institutions like the Central Archives of Modern Records in Warsaw, the Institute of National Remembrance, the Emigration Archive in Torun, the Emigration Museum in Gdynia all worked to locate, copy and bring to Poland archival records related to the history of Polish migration. While there are many scientific institutions and professional associations devoted to migration studies, the central place for the research on Polish diaspora remains the Interdepartmental Commission on Polish Diaspora Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Krakow). It co-organizes and often hosts PAHA or PIASA events, releases joint publications etc. The possibility for research on Polish Americans is also greatly advanced by exchange programs sponsored by the Kosciuszko Foundation.

Young people today learn little about Poland/Central Europe and what they learn is often wrong, e.g., “Polish concentration camps.” What can PAHA do to address this? Apart from its academic role, how can PAHA fulfill a greater “public intellectual” outreach role, in Polonia and vis-a-vis larger American society?

When you learn about Poland, you won’t speak of “Polish concentration camps.” You simply can’t get this story wrong if you do learn. That happens when people do not learn and just repeat mistakes committed by journalists with the most cursory and superficial knowledge of what they are writing about. One of the most important goals of PAHA is to promote the study of Polish Americans, which includes why they emigrated, set in the context of Polish history. There are also other academic organizations in the United States that put their emphasis on studying Poland more than the Polish diaspora – like PIASA or Polish Studies Association. There is the PIAST Institute with an anti-defamation program. PAHA’s public role is not so much being an advocate of Poland as of the Polish American contributions to the American political, social and economic history. The Poles who kept coming to the American shores since the seventeenth century continuously gave their talent, skill and devotion to their new homeland, building a heritage of their own. These deserve to be acknowledged, analyzed and interpreted. That is what we do.

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