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The Brave Polish Gray Samaritans

Celebrating Women's History Month


Polish Gray Samaritans. Photo courtesy of the Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

During the devastating years of World War I (1914-1918), Poland suffered greatly. However, a group of Poles living in America took the initiative to provide aid and support to their homeland. They founded organizations such as the Polish White Cross and the Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA. These organizations recruited nurses to assist Polish soldiers and families, playing a crucial role in Poland's postwar rebuilding effort. Unfortunately, their remarkable stories have been largely forgotten over time.

In 1919, American-trained nurses arrived in Poland, including members of the YWCA Gray Samaritans and nurses from the Polish White Cross. Their efforts were instrumental in helping over a million children in need and aiding soldiers in their recovery from battle wounds. These dedicated nurses served everyone, regardless of their faith, ethnic background, or social class.

While the Polish White Cross, founded by Ignacy and Helena Paderewski, has garnered more recognition, the efforts of the Polish Gray Samaritans have been overshadowed. Ignacy Paderewski was a renowned pianist, philanthropist, politician, and composer. In 1919, he became Poland's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister following the country's regaining of independence in 1918. Helena Paderewski, known for her fundraising endeavors, including the creation of Paderewski Dolls., also played a significant role in supporting the cause.

Polish White Cross

Both the Polish Gray Samaritans and the Polish White Cross trained nurses and supported various educational activities. These organizations, with their dedicated nurses and philanthropic work, impacted the lives of many in Poland during a time of great hardship and upheaval. Their contributions deserve recognition and remembrance for their invaluable support to their homeland.

In collaboration with the American Relief Administration (ARA), the YWCA War Work Council played a significant role in establishing the Polish Gray Samaritans. Countess Laura De Turczynowicz, formerly known as Laura Blackwell, played a crucial role in promoting the national training of young American women of Polish descent through the YWCA for the Gray Samaritans. Her instrumental efforts were instrumental in ensuring the successful implementation of this initiative.

Having personally experienced the horrors and atrocities of World War I, Laura De Turczynowicz had a profound understanding of the devastating impact of the conflict. During this tumultuous time, she resided in the Suvalki area near the Augustowo Lakes. While her husband, Stanislaw De Turczynowicz,, a hydrology professor, served as an inspector-in-chief of the Sanitary Engineers in the Russian army, Laura and their three children were held as hostages by General Von Hindenburg. Faced with the dire circumstances of war, Laura managed a daring escape from the invaded and war-torn region, ultimately returning to the United States in 1915.

Driven by her personal experiences and a deep commitment to making a difference, Laura De Turczynowicz engaged in public speaking and authored a book that swiftly became an instant bestseller sensation in 1916. Through her impassioned advocacy, she successfully campaigned to raise funds and recruit volunteers for the relief efforts. Notably, she actively supported the Polish Gray Samaritans of the YWCA, a dedicated group of volunteers who provided crucial aid to war-ravaged Poland during the years of World War I.

Laura De Turczynowicz's tireless efforts and unwavering dedication played a vital role in raising awareness, soliciting support, and mobilizing resources to assist those affected by the war in Poland. Her contributions, both as an author and supporter of Polish Gray Samaritans of YWCA, left an indelible mark on the relief efforts and helped alleviate the suffering endured by countless individuals in the aftermath of the conflict.

Eleanor Wasielewski was an alumna and faculty member of Minnesota University (now the University of Minnesota). Wasielewski (later known as Eleanor Anthony) was the first Gray Samaritan recruit.

Following the initial screening and training, a group of approximately 99 women underwent an additional six months of intensive training in New York. In June 1919, 77 remarkable individuals graduated from the program. Subsequently, the first cohort of Gray Samaritans arrived in Poland in July of the same year.

Once on the ground in Poland, these dedicated Gray Samaritans embarked on their mission with great determination and compassion. They took on various essential roles, including training local volunteers, assisting refugees, overseeing the transport and distribution of aid, and offering support to millions of children in dire need and soldiers recovering from battle wounds. For a period of three years, the Gray Samaritans tirelessly served the people of Poland, making a lasting impact and providing invaluable aid during a critical time.

Thank you, Ms. Jill Johnson and Mr. Mark Dillon, for contributing archival materials to this article.

Read More:'The%20Poles%20of%20Cleveland'%20pamphlet%20was%20written%20by%20Charles%20W,declaration%20of%20war%20in%201917.

YouTube about the history of the Polish White Cross; in Polish:

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