The Polish Museum of America
984 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642-4101
Telephone: (773) 384-3352
Fax: (773) 384-3799
Welcome to the Archives!
The Archives of the Polish Museum of America are the center for documentation and research on the history of Poles and Polish Americans. Located on the fourth floor of the Museum’s building they are considered to be one of the most important sources of information for those interested in the Polish past in America. The archival holdings consist of the following:
PMA Archives Research Policies (revised October 2013)
Click PMA Archives Research Polices for new policies
Prince Józef Poniatowski, 1763-1813
On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the death of Józef Poniatowski, the PMA Archives has prepared a small exhibit of mementos from the Museum collections associated with the Prince. Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit during the PMA’s regular hours of operation, beginning on October 18, 2013. Among other items, the exhibit will feature a letter written by Józef Poniatowski, two letters written by Napoleon, a ring from the Legion of Józef Poniatowski, and a medal commemorating the unveiling of the Prince’s monument in Warsaw.
Józef Antoni Poniatowski was born on May 7, 1763. He was raised in Vienna, Prague, and Warsaw, under the supervision of his uncle, King Stanisław August Poniatowski, with whom he was very close. Identifying as a Polish citizen, Prince Józef was the king’s successor of choice. He was trained for a military career, first serving in the Austrian imperial army in 1780. After the Polish army was reorganized, Poniatowski was appointed a Major General in 1789. During this time, Poniatowski was also an active supporter of the Constitution, proclaimed on May 3, 1791. The following year, he fought in the Battle of Zieleńce against the Russians; for this, he was awarded the newly created War Order Virtuti Militari. His anti-Russian stance continued after Poland agreed to the Targowica Confederation. Later, Poniatowski defended Warsaw during the 1794 insurrection led by Kościuszko. He returned to private life, and oversaw his uncle’s estates after his passing. By 1807, Poniatowski was appointed the Minister of War of the Duchy of Warsaw, a Polish state recently established by Napoleon.
The exhibit will include the only letter by Józef Poniatowski in the PMA collections, written in Warsaw on June 13, 1808. In this handwritten letter (in which the ink has naturally run), the Prince discusses financial matters, including the unnamed addressee’s intention to acquire the Orangery in Łazienki Park. Recently, this letter, which was originally framed in composition with a hand colored portrait of Poniatowski and a coat of arms, underwent conservation. The work was done pro bono by James Twomey of the Book Restoration Company, Kenosha, Wisconsin (www.biblebinders.com). The conservation process included removing the individual pieces from an acidic matte and backing, cleaning them, and securing them from future damage. The transcribing and translating of the letter from its original French was completed by the PMA’s Weekend Tour Guide, Kasia Sobieraj-Tesar, also a professional translator. The Archives is lucky to have such talented people who selflessly help to preserve Polish heritage. We wish to express our special thanks to them.
As the Head of the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, Poniatowski developed a military unit comprised of Poles. He and his forces saw action in the Battles of Raszyn and Wagram in 1809. By 1811, Napoleon began planning his invasion of Russia; again, Poniatowski and his troops actively participated in these battles. In 1813, the Russian army moved toward Warsaw, forcing Poniatowski and his recovering troop to retreat.
Also featured in the exhibit are two letters, handwritten by Napoleon, the Emperor of France. Both are dated October 2, 1813, and both are addressed to the Marshal of France, Claude Victor-Perrin, Duke of Belluno. The first letter discusses the reconnaissance measures taken by Józef Poniatowski, and includes instructions to forward this information to General Jacques Alexandre Bernard Law, Marquis de Lauriston. The second letter reports that Poniatowski arrived at Altenburg. Napoleon gives orders to push the enemy towards Chemnitz. He foresees the effect of this move, including the march to Leipzig, which bodes a quick end to the war.
History has proven the words of Napoleon. Prince Józef Poniatowski, General, Minister of War, and Commander in Chief of the Polish Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, was appointed a Marshal of the Empire by Napoleon on October 16. He was also one of the many victims of this war. He died on October 19, 1813, fulfilling his last order – to cover the retreat of the French army during the Battle of Leipzig. In 1817, Poniatowski’s remains were transported back to Poland. He is buried at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.
The exhibit also includes a metal and gold ring from 1818, donated by Dr. Karol Wachtl. In the January 16, 1936 edition of Dziennik Zjednoczenia, Meczysław Haiman commented, the ring of the Legion of Prince Józef Poniatowski is likely very unique, as the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw does not have an example in its collections. Inscribed in Polish, the ring reads, Died for glory – 19 October 1813 – Lived for the Fatherland. The inside of the ring includes the initials: AJŁ 1818 – a mystery for the curious to decipher.
Another memento on display is a medal which features Prince Józef Poniatowski on horseback, with a sword in his right hand. The inscription in Polish reads: Marshal of France – Commander in Chief of the Polish Army – Prince Józef Poniatowski – 3 V 1923 – Unveiling of the Monument in Warsaw. The reverse features a portrait of Ferdinand Foch, with the words, Marshal of France and Poland, 3 May 1923 in Warsaw.
To understand the medal’s symbolism, one must consider the fate of the monument itself. Anna Potocka of Tyszkiewicz originally obtained the Tsar’s permission to erect the monument in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. It was commissioned in 1817, and was completed by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in August of 1832. As a result of the sanctions against the Poles following the November Uprising, the Tsar withdrew his permission. Poland finally received its independence in 1922, and the following year, the monument was ceremoniously unveiled, coinciding with Ferdinand Foch’s appointment as Marshal of Poland, on May 3, 1923. The original was destroyed during World War II, and has since been replaced by a copy, given as a gift from the King of Denmark.
The documents and artifacts will be supplemented by several prints from the PMA Archives Graphic Arts Collection. Thanks to Madia Robles for the reproductions and Julita Siegel for the photographs. The exhibit will be on display through the end of December. Further reading on this topic is available at the PMA Library.
Handcolored portrait print of Prince Józef Poniatowski.
From the PMA Archives Graphic Arts Collection.
H. Misterka & T. Sromek, PMA Archivists
News from the PMA Archives
Halina Misterka & Teresa Sromek, Archivists
Krystyna Zakrzewska Obuchowicz (1924-2013) Collection
In April, the PMA Archives received a donation from Joanna Siemieniuk consisting of documents, letters, and photographs chronicling the life of the late Krystyna Zakrzewska Obuchowicz (1924-2013). Although the materials were collected in a hurry, even from an initial, cursory examination of the donation, one could see the rich and cohesive story of a young Polish life affected by World War II. A participant in the Warsaw Uprising, a prisoner of German POW camps, a displaced person in a resettlement camp in Britain, and an immigrant to the United States, her story is one of many - but only one of a few at the PMA.
Krystyna Zakrzewska was born on August 6, 1924 in Torun, Poland. Although she was able to complete her elementary and high school education by June 1944, her cheerful youth was interrupted by war. As a young adult, she joined the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, under the pseudonym Wanda. She joined alongside her father, Jerzy Zakrzewski, pseudonym Boleszczyc. Jerzy was an agricultural engineer, and studied law and political science, earning a Master’s degree. Together, they both took part in the Warsaw Uprising, but afterwards, they were left separated for many months.
On October 5, 1944, Krystyna was interned at a German prisoner of war camp for women, near Sandbostel, and later transferred to a camp near Oberlangen, along with over 1,700 Polish women officers and soldiers from the Warsaw Uprising. This camp was liberated on April 12, 1945, by the Polish 1st Armored Division (1 Dywizja Pancerna), led by General Stanislaw Maczek.
During this same time, her father was imprisoned at an officer’s POW camp near Sandbostel. Their daily lives in these camps can be traced through tattered and yellowed letters, often written on paper scraps or wrappers. Both were diligent in their writing, noting the date and place for each letter. These documents offer an intimate story about life in a wartime prison.
Through her collection of papers and photos, we know that Krystyna completed a course for the Military Police of the 1st Armored Division, and was assigned to the Men’s Platoon of the 3rd Polish Infantry Brigade. In January 1948, while a Military Police commander of an independent outpost of the Women's Army Auxiliary Service (WAAS) (Pomocnicza Wojskowa Sluzba Kobiet, PWSK) at Foxley Camp, Herefordshire, United Kingdom, Krystyna married Military Police Lieutenant Witold Obuchowicz. She completed her military service in 1949, and graduated from school in England. On December 30, 1951, together with her husband and father, Krystyna left for America aboard on the RMS Queen Mary. They settled in Chicago, and a few years later, Krystyna and Witold’s daughter, Maria, was born.
For 26 years, through 1990, Krystyna Zakrzewska Obuchowicz served as Faculty Secretary at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. She was a long time member of the Polish Home Army Veterans’ Association in Chicago. She was also a 60-year member of the Filareci - Dudziarz Chorus and honorary member of the Polish Singers Alliance of America (PSAA), as well as a member of the PMA. She was awarded the Armia Krajowa Cross, the Cross of the 1st Armored Division, the Polish Army Medal, and the British War Medal 1939-1945.
Krystyna Zakrzewska Obuchowicz passed away on January 30, 2013 in Chicago. Her funeral, organized by her friends, took place on March 16, 2013. If not for the goodwill of her friends, these documents - which were lovingly and carefully saved by their owners through the best and worst of times in Poland, Germany, Britain, and America - would have inevitably been thrown away.
Not every document from the past, like those described in the above collection, will be preserved in an archive. Witnesses to this time period depart, leaving their mementos in basements or forgotten in attics, waiting to be rediscovered. It is important to care for such collections, as documents and photographs like these keep the stories alive. If you have similar materials and would like to donate them to the PMA for cataloging and preservation, the Archivists will gladly meet with you for a consultation.
Restoration of archival documents & maps
James E. Twomey, MS, of the Book Restoration Co., Kenosha, WI (biblebinders.com), recently visited the Archives. He already knows the PMA through his work with the Library’s Rare Book Conservation Project, and was interested in reviewing some archival materials in need of restoration as well. Thanks to this visit, Mr. Twomey graciously offered his services for restoring three items pro bono. He is currently working on a matted composition comprised of an 1808 letter, written and signed by Prince Joseph Poniatowski, and a portrait miniature and coat-of-arms, both in color. The conservation of this item should be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of Poniatowski’s death on October 19, 1813. Soon, Mr. Twomey will also restore the PMA’s two oldest maps: “Cracovia (Krakow),” a woodcut print from Liber Chronicarum, popularly known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, from the Latin edition published by Anton Koberger in 1493; and “Tipus Civitatis Lublinesi... (Lublin),” a copper engraved, colored print from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, published by Georg Braun, Cologne, c.1617. We are grateful for his generosity.
Also under consideration for restoration is an early 18th century document on parchment attributed to Stanislaw Leszczynski, King of Poland. More research on the text is still needed. At some point in this document’s history, it was attached to a thin cardboard backing, covering additional text. Mr. Twomey proposes to carefully remove this backing, following the professional standards for working with parchment, and quoted this process at $300. If any of our readers would like to sponsor this restoration, please contact the Archives at 773-384-3352, ext. 107. Thank you.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs grant approval
On May 18, 2013, the PMA was officially approved for four grants from Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Archives will receive funds to purchase flat filing cabinets to store rare documents and the Maps and Atlases Collection. We are grateful to the Consulate General of Poland in Chicago for continued support and recommendations to Poland’s Ministry.
By Halina Misterka & Teresa Sromek, PMA Archivists
Thanks go to Edyta Targonska from the Lublin Archive in Poland, whose third working visit focused on the continued cataloging of the American Relief for Poland/ Rada Polonii Amerykanskiej Collection. This collaboration was sponsored by the Dziedzictwo kulturowe [cultural heritage] program of Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwow Panstwowych/ Head Office of the State Archives. With PRCUA’s cooperation, a spare office was repurposed as a work and storage space for a large portion of the over 200-cubic-foot collection. Although many materials were surveyed, organized, and cataloged, this project is ongoing. The PMA hopes to see Mrs. Targonska again in the near future. Dziekujemy!
Welcome back to Monika Kowzon-Switalska, visiting archivist from the Mlawa Division of the State Archive in Warsaw, who will continue entering PMA Archives collection information into SEZAM, an archives database.
Welcome also to Teresa Sromek, who was recently hired as a full-time Archivist and Librarian. Ms. Sromek has worked at the PMA, first as an intern in the fall 2008, while completing her MLIS from Dominican University. Then, she volunteered in the Archives throughout 2009, and was hired as a part-time contractor in Jan. 2010. Her extra hours are already filled with many projects in the Archives.
Rare Document Collections Cataloging
Diligent work in cataloging the recovered rare documents recently returned to the Archives is currently underway. After completing an initial inventory of approximately 430 documents, several categories were identified: Royal Letters (80); Kosciuszko (130); Pulaski (10); Great Immigration, 1831-1870 (70); American Civil War (5); Authors & Artists (40); Prominent Poles, including Alexander Chodzko, Jozef Haller, and Ignacy Moscicki, among others (35); and items for further research (60). The return also included 3 items for the Rare Books Collection; 14 maps; and almost 250 pieces for the Graphic Arts Collection, primarily portrait prints and other images. The goal is to scan each original item and safely store it in a new, archival-quality sleeve and folder. The scanned images will then be transcribed, translated, and researched for historical context.
Thirty documents represent kings, queens, and the royal court of Poland, spanning from 1555 to 1791, as well as two letters from 1813 by Napoleon, Emperor of France. Sixty documents represent various Polish nobles, including individuals from the Czartoryski, Lubomirski, Malachowski, Ossolinski, Poniatowski, Potocki, Sobieski, Sulkowski, and Wisniowiecki families, as well as other related documents.
Recently, Head Archivist Halina Misterka met with Dr. Michal Kulecki of the Archiwum Glowne Akt Dawnych (AGAD)/ Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw. The 30 royal letters, written in Latin, French, Italian, and archaic Polish, require his expert linguistic capabilities. Relying on the scanned images, the PMA will gain better insight of its oldest documents through this cooperation, and we thank him for his efforts.
The AGAD staff was asked to initially consider the Aug. 14, 1668 document in Latin, signed by Jan II Kazimierz Waza and bearing his royal seal. Because of their expertise, we now understand not only what is written, but also its historical significance. This document is a confirmation by Jan II Kazimierz Waza, at the request of the Reformed Franciscan Order, of the fact that Zygmunt III Waza granted a parcel of land in Warsaw on Mar. 13, 1624, so that a church and monastery could be erected. The text of Zygmunt III Waza’s decree is repeated in this 1668 document, as the original was destroyed during the Swedish Deluge. The result was St. Anthony of Padua Church, which still stands in the center of Warsaw (swietyantoni.com.pl).
Visitors to the Archives
On Aug. 9, TVN24’s Washington Bureau Chief and Correspondent, Marcin Wrona, filmed a news segment on improvements at the PMA and Archives. It aired on Aug. 11.
Representatives of Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited on Aug. 27. Janusz Cisek, Undersecretary of State; Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Minister-Counsellor, Department of Cooperation with Polish Diaspora; and Zygmunt Matynia, on his last official visit as Consul General of Poland in Chicago, had an opportunity to view a selection of rare documents in the process of being cataloged. On Sep. 6, the PMA greeted the new Consul General, Paulina Kapuscinska, for an introductory visit. The Archives looks forward to future cooperation with the new representative.
Daniel W. Stowell, Director & Editor, and Stacy Pratt McDermott, Assistant Editor, of The Papers of Abraham Lincoln, a project of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, also visited the Archives. Their project will create a comprehensive digital collection of documents written to and by Lincoln. A scan of the Aug. 10, 1861 document appointing Alexander Bielaski as aide de camp to John A. McClernand, with Lincoln’s signed approval will be included. The PMA is happy to be part of such an important and detailed project. More information can be found at papersofabrahamlincoln.org.
By Halina Misterka & Teresa Sromek, PMA Archivists
On March 8, 2012, the PMA Archives received a unique donation of a handwritten document by Tadeusz Kosciuszko from 1794. Chet Schafer generously selected our institution as the repository for this rare treasure, and we sincerely thank him. Chet Schafer is well-known in American Polonia, broadcasting for over 60 years on the radio as a Polka deejay. The Chet Shafer Show airs every Sunday afternoon on WCEV 1450 AM. Mr. Schafer is a longtime member and friend of the PMA. In 2004, he and his late wife, Dolores, received the PMA Polish Spirit Award. He is also very active in PRCUA Society #1612, the Polonus Philatelic Society, and the International Polka Association.
Mr. Schafer purchased the Kosciuszko document from an associate several years ago, and always intended to donate this particular item to the PMA. The document is a proclamation after a series of successes by Kosciuszko as Naczelnik Najwyzszy Sily Zbrojnej Narodowej [Commander-in-Chief of the Supreme National Armed Forces], which cumulated in early September 1794, when he and his troops repelled an attack on Warsaw from Russian and Prussian forces. In the proclamation, he calls upon his countrymen: Wasze powstanie przylozyc by sie moglo do udecydowania Ojczyzny naszej przeznaczenia. Nie zostaje mi nic wiecej jak jeszcze raz Wam przypomniec o powinnosci prawych Ojczyzny synow. [Your uprising could decide the fate of your Homeland. There is nothing more I can say but to remind you of your filial duties to your Homeland.] It was written at the main camp in Mokotow on September 11, 1794, and includes a seal, which states: Wolnosc, Calosc i Niepodleglosc [Freedom, Integrity, and Independence].
This donation coincided with the official State of Illinois observation of Pulaski Day, hosted by the PMA. Like Kosciuszko, Kazimierz Pulaski fought for the same ideals of freedom, integrity, and independence, in both Poland and the United States. Several Pulaski documents from the PMA Archives Collections are on temporary exhibit at the Museum.
Two charts from that exhibit concern the troops Pulaski led in the American Cavalry during the Revolutionary War. Before serving as a General in the American military, Pulaski fought for Poland, as a leader in the Bar Confederation. This was an association of Polish nobles formed at the fortress of Bar in Podolia in 1768 to defend the internal and external independence of Poland against Russian influence and against King Stanislaw August Poniatowski and Polish reformers who were attempting to limit the power of the magnates.
The exhibit includes a four-page handwritten letter, dated August 22, 1772, one of several letters written by Pulaski following his exile from Poland. He was accused of the November 3, 1771 assasination attempt on King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. In this letter, he proclaims his patriotism and innocence of these accusations. The judicial process began on June 7, 1773, and he was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to death. In 1777, he immigrated to North America as a soldier of fortune. He died of wounds suffered in the Battle of Savannah, never returning to his homeland. In 1792, when the Russian Embassy briefly lost power in Poland, Pulaski was postumously cleared of these charges.
By H. Misterka & T. Sromek
Cooperation with the NDAP [Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwow Panstwowych (Head
Office of State Archives in Poland)]
to our appeal
By H. Misterka & T. Sromek
copyright The PMA
The Mission of The Polish Museum of America, an integral part of the dynamic mosaic of Polish life in Chicago, is to promulgate the rich cultural history of the Polish people by collecting, preserving, interpreting, and displaying materials related to this heritage; and to integrate these resources into appropriate programs, activities, and exhibitions that enrich the intellectual and artistic lives of all members of society.
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