100 years of Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA
On May 3, 2019 (Poland Constitution Day), PAMSM celebrated with a presentation on the Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA—a group of volunteers that provided much-needed relief to a Poland devastated by World War I (1914-1918). It is important to remember that Poland did not receive reparations after World War I as it did not exist as a country before the war. The American-trained nurses, including YWCA Gray Samaritans and nurses from Polish White Cross, arrived in Poland in 1919. They helped more than 1 million children in need and soldiers recovering from battle wounds. And they served everyone regardless of faith, ethnic background, or social class.
The event was held at YWCA Minneapolis Downtown, which provided PAMSM with space for the meeting. Before this appearance, we obtained permission from Poland's Institute of Remembrance (IPN) to print four panels from the much larger exhibit, "Fathers of Independence."
We heard a presentation by Mr. Dillon, who described the level of postwar devastation and famine in Central Europe. Mr. Dillon connected several historical figures related to the Gray Samaritans’ story, including Laura Blackwell de Turczynowicz, Helena Paderewski, and General Paul Von Hindenburg (later President of the German Weimar Republic).
Ms. Jill Johnson read a heart-wrenching excerpt from Countess Laura Blackwell de Turczynowicz's book describing her struggles during World War I and the ordeal of having her home seized by the German Army General who held her and her children hostage.
We also learned about Eleanor Wasielewski, an alumna and faculty member of Minnesota University (now University of Minnesota). Wasielewski was the first Gray Samaritan recruit. Ms. Johnson helped us with in-depth research on Mrs. Wasielewski's life but had trouble identifying any living descendants.