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100 years of Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA

Author: Katarzyna Litak, M.D.

On Poland Constitution Day, May 3, 2019, PAMSM (Polish American Medical Society of Minnesota) commemorated the occasion with a special presentation highlighting the remarkable efforts of the Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA. These dedicated volunteers played a crucial role in providing relief to Poland, which had been devastated by the impact of World War I (1914-1918).

It is essential to recognize that Poland did not receive reparations after World War I, as it had ceased to exist as a country prior to the war. However, in 1919, a group of American-trained nurses, including the YWCA Gray Samaritans and nurses from the Polish White Cross, arrived in Poland. Their mission was to assist over 1 million children in need and aid soldiers in their recovery from battle wounds. Importantly, their services were extended to everyone, regardless of their faith, ethnic background, or social class.

The event took place at the YWCA Minneapolis Downtown, which generously provided space for the meeting. Prior to the event, PAMSM obtained permission from Poland's Institute of Remembrance (IPN) to print four panels from the extensive exhibit titled "Fathers of Independence." These panels served as a poignant reminder of Poland's struggle for independence and added historical context to the presentation.

Through this event, PAMSM aimed to honor the heroic efforts of the Polish Gray Samaritans and shed light on their invaluable contributions during a time of great need. The collaboration between PAMSM and YWCA Minneapolis Downtown exemplified the spirit of unity and shared commitment to service.

During the presentation by Mr. Dillon, we were given a vivid depiction of the immense devastation and widespread famine that plagued Central Europe in the aftermath of World War I. Through his narrative, Mr. Dillon connected several historical figures who played significant roles in the story of the Gray Samaritans, including Laura Blackwell de Turczynowicz, Helena Paderewski, and General Paul Von Hindenburg, who would later become the President of the German Weimar Republic.

Ms. Jill Johnson contributed to the event by reading a poignant excerpt from Countess Laura Blackwell de Turczynowicz's book, which shed light on her personal struggles during World War I and the harrowing experience of having her home seized by a German Army General, who held her and her children hostage.

Additionally, we learned about Eleanor Wasielewski, a distinguished alumna and faculty member of the University of Minnesota, who was also the first recruit of the Gray Samaritans. Ms. Johnson provided valuable research on Mrs. Wasielewski's life, although she encountered difficulties identifying living descendants.

The stories shared during the presentation deepened our understanding of the Gray Samaritans' historical context and highlighted the indomitable spirit of those who dedicated themselves to providing aid and support in the face of immense challenges.


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