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George Kalin: Put jokes aside and recognize contributions of all people

August 22, 2012|By GEORGE KALIN

When you live in Indiana, you hear Kentucky jokes. In Maryland, they are about West Virginia. When you’re Polish, it doesn’t matter where you live — you are the brunt of jokes. I want to dispel the idea that this nationality is worthy of all this negative attention.

During our Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington was impressed with Casimir Pulaski, the Polish volunteer. Pulaski helped train our soldiers and later died in battle for our country. There was also Thaddeus Kosciusko, a Polish engineer who built the fortifications around Philadelphia and Yorktown. He also served in the American army.

Throughout history Poland, by virtue of its geographic location between Germany and Russia, has been forced to become proficient in code breaking. They deciphered the Russian military code during the 1920s.

The German code system named Enigma was originally a commercial machine that had to be “sold” to the German military. In the factory making Enigma were two Poles. When their identity was uncovered, they were fired. They then alerted the British about the presence of Enigma. Pieces of Enigma were also smuggled out by the Poles during the 1930s, and Marian Rejewski, a young Polish mathematician, was the first to crack the code. He built rudimentary computers to help with the decoding. All this before 1939.

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When Poland fell to the Nazis, the Poles (including Rejewski) fled to France where they met with the British and French. The British were amazed at the work the Poles had done. The Polish efforts served to jump-start the work by Britain at Bletchely Park. The Poles in exile continued to help with this work.

Experts estimate that solving Enigma shortened the war by at least two or even four years. Also, without Enigma being solved, Hitler may very well have won the war.

I have watched the epic movie “The Battle of Britain” several times. It depicts the British RAF (Royal Air Force) fighting off the German Luftwaffe during the summer and fall of 1940. This was to precede an actual invasion of England by the Germans. This movie shows some of the Polish pilots who participated, but does not portray them well.

During the Battle of Britain, one in eight pilots was Polish. The best squadron in the RAF was the Polish 303 squadron. They shot down twice as many planes as any other squadron, and they began fighting late — two months into the battle. One in seven planes shot down during the battle was by a Polish pilot. As you can see, the Poles were talented and experienced pilots.

It has been said that the Battle of Britain victory was by the narrowest of margins. Would the outcome have been the same without the Poles?

There was also Jan Karski, the Polish diplomat who was beaten and tortured by the Germans, and managed to escape Europe, and come to America. In July 1943, he sat across from Franklin Roosevelt in the Oval Office telling him about the plight of the Jews in Europe and the extermination camps. He was told that “We (the Americans) did not want to make this a Jewish war.” How many Jews died from this date until the war’s end?

Sadly, after fighting for democracy in these wars, Poland was sold out at the end of World War II by her allies, and handed over to the Russians. Joseph Stalin deported some 1.5 million Poles to his Gulag system after the war. Most never returned to Poland.

During the Olympics, Tom Brokaw did a piece about the valiant British people during the Battle of Britain.

He even mentioned the seven Americans who fought with the RAF. He forgot to mention the thousands of Poles who fought and died during the battle. Of course, Brokaw was caught up in the moment of the Olympics in England. If it wasn’t for the Poles, Brokaw wouldn’t have had this opportunity. Had it not been for Marian Rejewski and his Enigma work, or the Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain, things might be different today. 

Being Polish is not a choice. We Poles can have pride in all of those who preceded us. We were the miners, steelworkers and just plain hard workers in America. We were Copernicus, the Curies and the Kalinowskis.

On the Mayflower were Poles to start a glass industry in America.

It is time for the jokes to be in the past and for us to laud the contributions made by all ethnic and racial groups in America.

George Kalin(owski) is a Hagerstown resident.

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