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Forging Freedom: The Polish-American Blue Army and the Quest for Poland's Independence

Troops of the Polish Blue Army being reviewed by a French Army commander at the training centre at Sillé-le-Guillaume, 1917. Note their blue, French uniforms with distinctive square hats reflecting Polish military tradition. © IWM HU 110897 Photo Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Introduction By MPMS:

Haller's Blue Army, officially known as the Polish Army in France, was a military formation that played a significant role during World War I and in the subsequent events leading to Poland's reestablishment as an independent state. Led by General Józef Haller, the army consisted primarily of Polish volunteers from various parts of the world, including expatriates, émigrés, and members of the Polish-American community. The name "Blue Army" derived from the distinctive blue uniforms worn by its soldiers. The origins of the Blue Army can be traced back to 1917 when Polish émigrés in France formed a committee with the aim of creating a Polish military force to fight alongside the Entente Powers against the Central Powers during World War I. General Haller, a veteran of the Polish Legions and a prominent figure in Polish military history, was appointed to command this force. The Blue Army played a pivotal role in the closing stages of the war. The soldiers of the Blue Army were known for their determination, discipline, and patriotism, which earned them respect among their allies and opponents alike.

Author: Waldemar Biniecki

The history of the Polish-American diaspora demonstrates that the "placing of Polish raison d'etat above all else" had been present for many years, even prior to the formation of the independent Polish state. The call for an "independent state" was articulated during the inaugural Congress of the Polish National Congress in 1910. Entities like the National Department, the Committee of National Defense, the Polish Falcon, the Polish National Council, the American magazine "Free Poland," and General Haller's "Blue Army" - comprised mainly of volunteers from the US - all contributed to this cause.

Nevertheless, the pinnacle accomplishment of the idea of Polish independence in the United States was embodied in the words and actions of American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson. In the 13th point of his agenda for the Versailles Conference, he expressed:

"An independent Polish state should be created, which should include territories inhabited

by an undeniably Polish population, which should be given free and safe access

to the sea and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be

guaranteed by an international treaty."

This marked the paramount achievement of Polish advocacy in the United States, culminating in our attainment of independence. Such a triumph was only feasible through the evolution of the 13th point proposition, a product of numerous conventions and gatherings within the Polish-American community held across various American cities during the period of 1910 to 1918. Within these events, the concept of Polish independence flourished, and President Wilson's 13th-point initiative took shape. Additionally, the direct interactions between Ignacy Paderewski and President Wilson held immeasurable significance.

Flag offered to the Polish Army in France from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Wikipedia Public Domain

Over 22,000 American volunteers, reminiscent of the army beneath Giewont inspired by the renowned golden horn from Wyspiański's "The Wedding," journeyed from afar to join the battle for a liberated Poland. The "Blue Army" led by General Haller comprised an impressive 70,000 soldiers, which, for that era, was well-equipped and trained. It boasted an array of assets, including 120 tanks, 98 aircraft, engineering units, instructional staff, cavalry, artillery, communication personnel, seven field hospitals, and soldiers with notably high morale. The Hallerians also brought 10,000 horses and ammunition upon arriving in Poland.

Regrettably, the subsequent course of events for the Blue Army became entangled in a nuanced political maneuver orchestrated by Józef Piłsudski. In June 1919, General Haller was relieved of his command over the "Blue Army," a decision that left his soldiers feeling disheartened and betrayed. In response, they started replacing the command structure of the Blue Army with loyal Legion comrades-in-arms. The situation took a darker turn with the issuance of the order on September 1, 1919, mandating the complete dissolution of the army. Various units were integrated into other national military formations.

General Haller-the leader of the Polish Blue Army in center.Front Cover of the November 11 1918 Le Petit Journal.Photo Wikipedia Public Domain

Polish volunteers hailing from the United States found themselves demobilized, much to the chagrin of the Polish American community that had been supporting the "Blues" since the outset. Between March 1920 and March 1921, approximately 12,000 Hallerians from the "Blue Army" embarked on ships bound for New York. The circumstances for these demobilized soldiers were dire. Confined to transit camps, the Hallerians from the USA, weakened by the onset of typhoid fever, were tended to by medical staff aboard the ships.

This issue reached the upper echelons of the US government, prompting involvement from individuals like Julius Kahn, a congressman from California, and Congressman Kleczka from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The matter of repatriating the demobilized volunteers was raised in the House of Representatives as early as 1920. This political misstep by First Marshal Pilsudski eroded the confidence of the Polish-American community in him for years to come and, following the May coup, fostered distrust within the same community towards the authorities in Warsaw.

The remarkable endeavors of Polish patriots in the U.S., under the leadership of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, culminated in the establishment of the Herbert Hoover Institution and the Organization of the American Relief Effort in Poland (1919-1923). This governmental organization, along with other initiatives like the Polish-American Children's Relief Committee, contributed a total of 250 million dollars to aid Poland.

In the course of Kuryer Polski's investigation, we have managed to obtain the calculations provided by Dr. Aleksander Rytel, the renowned founder of the Union of Polish Physicians in Chicago, regarding various financial contributions to Poland in the initial years following its independence.

The contributions received by Poland, as outlined in Dr. Alexander Rytel's study, encompassed the National Fund, local fundraising efforts, shipments of food parcels, money transfers, consular deposits, bank remittances, securities, and the Polish 6% loan. Additionally, around $100 million came into Poland through the dollars brought back by returning emigrants. These statistics specifically pertain to the early years following Poland's regaining of independence. However, it's crucial to recognize that a flow of dollars continued to pour into Poland until September 1939. According to the World Bank's data, an annual transfer of approximately $900 million from the US to Poland was observed. Notably absent is data on the investments made by the American Polonia in the Polish economy during this period.

This story was first published in Kuryer Polski. Republished with permission.

About the Author:

Waldemar Biniecki: The Editor-in-Chief at "Kuryer Polski" in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a Journalist and Columnist for "Tygodnik Solidarność" ("Solidarity Weekly") in Poland, and a correspondent representing Polish media in the United States. A proud member of the Polish Journalists Association in Warsaw, the individual holds a degree from the University of Kazimierz Wielki in Bydgoszcz, Poland. As a dedicated Polonia activist, the focus lies on Pax Polonica. The recipient of the prestigious Maciej Płażyński Award, a prominent honor recognizing exceptional contributions of journalists and media in service of the Polish community.

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