We all were treated to a once in a lifetime experience this past Sunday with a visit from Paulina Kapuscin-ska, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago. The visit from the Consul General was very special because she came to honor Father Paul Breza. The evening started with our annual May Crowning, which was very nice but what was to follow, I did not expect. Now knowing the stories behind the honoree’s, my thoughts and understanding of what this honor truly meant, has greatly changed my perspective of these two unique individuals. The two guests that came to the museum were being honored for their roles in the Polish political movement Solidarity. “Solidarity formally was founded on Sept. 22, 1980, when delegates of 36 regional trade unions met in Gdańsk, Poland and united under the name Solidarność. Lech Walesa was elected chairman of Solidarity. A separate agricultural union composed of private farmers, named Rural Soli-darity (Wiejska Solidarność), was founded in Warsaw on Dec. 14, 1980. By early 1981 Solidarity had a membership of about 10 million people and represented most of the work force of Poland.” The earliest roots of the movement can be traced to the mid 1970’s Barbara Rusek was anxious and did not believe she would receive this honor after thirty years but was to be proven wrong on Sunday when, surrounded by her family, she received a medal from the country where she was imprisoned during the 1980s and where she was ultimately given a one-way passport and told to never return. The “Cross of Freedom and Solidarity” medal was presented by Polish Consul General Paulina Kapuscinska on behalf of Poland President Bronislaw Komorowski. It’s an award established in 2010 to honor the activists who fought to end communism in the country. Recipients of the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity must be nominated to receive the award and not just any of the 10 million members are eligible. The medal is intended to honor the leaders, the people who put their lives on the line. It’s something very special to receive a medal like this because it is a testament to her bravery, honor and patriotism, you have to be brave enough to give up everything for the idea of freedom.” Not long after Marshall Law was declared Barbara received a knock on the door and she arrested and was led through the snow in bare feet, in her bed clothes. She was jailed for her role in the political movement and eventually told she and her family had to leave the only home they had ever known. The family ended up in New York City but yearned for a more simple existence and moved to small town in Western Minnesota.
The other recipient Janusz Duszynski is a very gregarious Polish man that very much wanted to share his story with anyone that was interested. He was jailed for his activism in a labor union that wanted to split from the government union. He was jailed more than once and spent more than four years in prison. He explained that the cells held eight men and with the beds, left only about three feet between the bunks. Only a few men could be out of bed at the same time because of the small space. He said the walls were often covered with ice during the winter season and heat was a rarity. He explained that even when imprisoned Solidarity never left their hearts and minds. They very cleverly crafted colorful designs on their prisons shirts. The designs on the shirts depicted images of the Solidarity logo, union logo, factory logo, their prison block number and the signatures of the imprisoned. He has to this day, the shirts they made in prison. His wife helped smuggle them out of the prison. The prison was located in Potulice in Northern Poland very close to the Kashubian region where the Winona Poles immigrated from. Janusz and his wife Teresa now live in Omaha and love traveling the United States by Motorcycle. He do-nated to the museum one of the prison shirts. It is really something worth seeing and it will eventually be-come a permanent exhibit at the museum. It is a great remembrance of a very significant time in Polish his-tory. I feel we made a friend for life and they promised they would see us again.
Last but not least, was the honor received by Father Paul J. Breza. Father received the Cavalier’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland 5th class. “The Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland is be-stowed on foreigners and Polish citizens permanently living abroad, who by their activities have made out-standing contributions to international cooperation and to bonds between the Republic of Poland and other nations and countries.” Father is being honored for the museum, connections to our sister city and starting the Student Exchange Program, among many other projects
Gene P. Pelowski, Jr. ,member of the Minnesota House of Representatives also honored Father for his achievements in building a legacy to the memory of our Polish ancestors. Father likes to remind me that museums are rarely built to remember the poor, but rather quite the opposite. It has been his life’s work to establish an institute to help others learn more about how the working class poor lived and helped to build their community. It was the hard working class Poles that helped the lumberman make their millions and it all started with 1,200 Poles right here in Winona, Minnesota. Perhaps you have driven by like so many and have always wondered, what is in that building? If you are Polish and have never stopped in, it is time to learn more about your family ancestry. Please stop in and you don’t have to be Polish to enjoy the museum. Dziekuje (Thank you), Steven Boland Board Member Polish Cultural Institute & Museum