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FEATURE | OCTOBER 2014

 

Polish Americans – what makes us tick?

by Robert Strybel

The 1960s and ’70s were a violent time in America. Race riots, bombings, anti-war protests, Weathermen, Black Panthers, Students for Democratic Society, Black Muslims, and other radical groups engaged in both verbal and physical violence against the American way of life, promoting socialism and anarchy in its place.

Many Polish Americans back then were proud that they were defending America at a time when others were trying to tear it down. Polish Americans worked hard, paid taxes, kept up their property and kept their kids out of trouble. Their contribution to American war effort in both world Wars, Korea and Vietnam was disproportionately large compared to their numerical strength. And on national holidays in many Polish neighborhoods the Star Spangled Banner was flown from more homes than in non-Polonian ones. That was then, what about now?

For many of the answers we can look to the Piast Institute ( www.piastinstitute.org ), a national research and policy center which focuses on the affairs of the Polish-American community. It is based in Hamtramck, Michigan, once Detroit’s predominantly Polish enclave-suburb.

The Polish American population now stands at the 10 million mark, an increase of one million since the 2000 census. Since the data is based on self-declaration, one can speculate as to the reason: an aging population is more interested in and proud of its cultural heritage. Possibly the pontificate, death and beatification of John Paul II had something to do with an upsurge of PolAm identification.

Polish Americans are better educated and better off financially than the average American. Nearly 38% of PolAms hold at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to the rest of the country – 28.5%. Polonians are also better educated than other “non-Hispanic whites” (?!), 32% of whom hold college degrees. The average PolAm household income is $62,000, $12,000 higher than the U.S. average ($50,500), and also better than that of America’s remaining “non-Hispanic whites” ($55,300).

Religiosity among younger Polish Americans seems to be declining, but there is a lack of data comparing the level of U.S. church attendance by nationality. We can therefore only speculate as to whether Polonia’s regular weekly worship is closer to Poland’s norm of 54% or the U.S. level of 43%. But regardless of PolAms’ frequency of church attendance, the Catholic traditon of our immigrant ancestors apparently continues to influence Polonian mores.

The Polish American population now stands at the 10 million mark, an increase of one million since the 2000 census.

Piast Institute has reported a study showing that Polonia has an overall divorce rate of 10% compared with the U.S. average of nearly 11%. Even more significant is the fact that PolAms appear less likely to subscribe to today’s “trendy” shack-up culture. Only 23% of the children born to Polish-American females were out of wedlock as against 36% for U.S. women in general. Other PolAm stabilizing contributions to America is the relatively high 72% rate of home ownership, with only 27% living in rented units. Also, there are more married households and fewer one-parent homes than the U.S. average. The importance of family continues to be a PolAm priority.

At one time, Polonia represented an all but solid Democratic voting bloc. That began changing in the 1970s when many PolAms were turned off by the liberal direction in which the Democratic Party was evolving. At present, the Democrats still have a slight edge, but PolAms identifying with the Republican Party are not far behind.

The U.S. Census only sporadically asks American about their ancestral background as it did in 2000. Most of the time it prefers to call us nothing more than “non-Hispanic whites.” But even when Americans are asked to declare ethnicity, it remains unknown whether the individual is deeply attached to and involved in the life of his ancestral community or simply has a vague awareness that his immigrant ancestors came from this or that country.

Any full-blown “anatomy of Polonia” should also study what organizations PolAms belong to, which publications they read and what Polish-themed books, recordings and artifacts are displayed in their homes. Such a study could ask what PolAm social or cultural events they attend, how often they enjoy typically Polish comfort foods and even what names they give their children and pets. To my knowledge, those categories have yet to be explored. Fortunately, Professor Thad Radziłowski, president of the Piast Institute, has indicated that such items things may be on the agenda in future surveys.

Holocaust Lie to be Omitted from School Text

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — “It was an embarrassing and upsetting moment for anyone dedicated to the assurance that the history of the Holocaust must be accurately recorded and preserved.”

This was the way the Holocaust Documentation Committee of the Polish American Congress stated its position after it discovered the New Jersey Department of Education displayed a Holocaust curriculum on its website wrongfully accusing Poles, instead of Germans, as those guilty of exterminating Jews.

But after the committee brought the false accusation to the attention of New Jersey’s Commission on Holocaust Education, the commission acknowledged the error and promptly deleted the segment from the document containing it.

The Polish American Congress brought this problem to New Jersey’s attention in a detailed letter refuting the misrepresentations. (Polish American Journal, Sept. 2014). The N.J. Commission agreed to delete the misinformation in a telephone discussion, which took place afterwards.

This is the section the Congress requested be removed and no longer appears in the revised curriculum:

So to solve this problem, Hitler began arresting the Jews and sending them to Poland, which had a long history of Anti-Semitism. Does anybody know what anti-Semitism is? The hatred of Jews or prejudice against Jews. Since Jews were always excluded in Polish society, it was easier to put Jews in prisons in Poland rather than prisons in Germany.

This is because Hitler would have to justify his actions to the Germans, while the Polish government (which already persecuted the Jews) made it easier for him to accomplish his goals. It is important to note that there were many concentration camps in Germany, but all six of the extermination camps were located in Poland. The Nazi took the path of least resistance by sending as many Jews as possible to Poland.

To learn more about the Polish American Congress and its Holocaust Documentation Committee, write or call 1612 K Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20006; (202) 296-6955; www.pacwash@pac1944.org. Frank Milewski is chair of the Holocaust Documentation Committee.

 

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