American World War II Isolationism: Ethnic Divide--Polish Americans

Polish-Americans World War II
Figure 1.--Here Polish American boys study the headlines about Hitler's invasion of Poland which was to launch World War II. By 1939, boys like these had been strongly Americanized. Their parents and grandparents , however, still had very strong ties to Poland and family there with which they were still in contact. Virtually all communication ceased with the NAZI and Soviet invasions. Polish-Americans were left to ponderr what was happening to their relatives. The press caption here read, "War News in Polish District of New York City: A group of boys in the Polish district of downtown New York City study a newspaper bearing news of the German invasion of Poland. As these lads read the paper boys their own age in Poland got their first taste of modern war as German planes dropped bombs from the sky." The photograph was dated September 1, 1939.

We are not entirely sure about Polish-American attitudes on European entanglements before Hitler launched World War II. There are a range of different often oposing threads among Polish Americans. Most were blue collar workers, many of which joined unions where left-wing influences were important. Poland after World War I fought a war for its national survival with the Bolsheviks--the Polish Soviet War (1919-21). Thus Polish-American workes were less suspetable to Communist propaganda than workers of other ethnic groups. Politically they were strongly Democratic and President Roosevelt was very popular. The Catholic Church was an important element in Polish national life and Polish immigrant communities. And the Church was strongly anti-Communist. Poles tended to view the Soviet Union as the greatest threat until the Munich Accords began to change the map of Europe (September 1938). We are not sure how Poles viewd the struggle between the Roosevelt Administration and the Isolationists in the late-1930s. Most Americans were strongly opposed to involvement in another European war. We are not sure to what extent Poles shared the genertal feeling, especially because Poland was not at first Hitler's target. A great deal has been written about Poland's impiortant contribution in the Allied victory. We have found, however, little information about Polish-American attitudes before the War. Polish-American attitudes are well known, of course, with the German invasion of Poland (September 1939). Polish-Americans became strongly anti-German and pro-interventionst. The Soviet Union also invaded Poland, but the American press primarily focused on the Germans. A complication here was that there was a strong strain of anti-Semitish among both Poles and Polish Americans. Childhood reminices tend to describe fights after school between Jewish and Polish boys. Generally the Poles were the agressors. While reports of attacks on Jews began appearing in the press, there was little reporting on the horrendous German and Soviet occupation policies directed at Christian Poles. The discovery of the mass graves of Polish officers in the Katyn Forrest confirmed the worst fears of Polish-Americans, although it was not at first clear who was responsible.


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Created: 3:41 PM 10/1/2013
Last updated: 3:41 PM 10/1/2013