Imagine the feelings that our ancestors endured as they up rooted themselves from their family and homeland to begin a journey to a strange and essentially unknown destination? What an emotional and life changing event. What led them to this? What factors provided the motivation?
It is important to understand what life was like during their time. Remember, they did not have our modern technologies for communications, transportation and information. Today, we can freely choose to live apart from family and friends, knowing we can easily remain in touch, fly home in a matter of a few hours for holidays, a weekend, or during vacation. They left everything behind knowing that they may never see or communicate with family and friends again.
- boarding a ship with limited accommodations and spending many weeks at sea.
- having only the possessions you are able to carry with you.
- meeting an emigrant from another country only to realize the difficulties of communicating that was to confront you the new country.
- arriving in the new country with no friends or family to help you.
- spending many weeks or months before you could establish an address to receive a letter from home and this letter itself would take several weeks in transit.
- no longer immediately knowing about a death of a family member or friend.
- no longer being able to celebrate the birth of a relative's new child born.
- no longer being able to attend family weddings or holiday celebrations.
- feeling uncertain about whether or not you will be make it in this new country. Would you find work? Would you be accepted? Would you ridiculed? Would you die regretting your decision?
It is through some insight of their times and being able to relate to their feelings that we can reach a better understanding to truly appreciate how courageous they were. They embarked on a journey that would dramatically change their connection to the past and was full of new difficulties to over come.
What factors motivated our ancestors to undertake such an ordeal? A look at Poland's history during their life is necessary. Review the time line of historical events below for help in understanding the political and social world they lived in. Find the time period of when your ancestors emigrated to the United States to see the events that affected life. (You can also visit one of the many web sites pertaining to history to learn specifics about these events. We have linked to a few on our Features page and on the Poland Subject Index page.)
- 1948-56: Stalinist period brings most severe communist rule; adoption of Soviet-style constitution; attempted collectivization of agriculture.
- 1945: Red Army liberates Polish territories and establishes communist-dominated coalition government.
- 1941-44: All Polish territory comes under Nazi occupation, taking savage toll of Polish lives; Poland becomes main killing ground of the Holocaust: Polish resistance movements active at home and abroad.
- 1939: World War II begins with September invasions of Poland by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union; Polish forces defeated. After defeat, Polish government-in-exile forms in London under General Sikorski. 1940-41 Soviet Union incarcerates 1.5 million Poles in labor camps and executes thousands of prisoners of war before ceding Polish lands to Germans.
- 1914-18: World War I results in collapse of all partition powers and rise of independent Second Polish Republic at war's end.
- 1863-64: "January Insurrection" in Russian sector culminates in failure, ending phase of nineteenth-century insurrections against foreign domination.
- 1846: Polish uprising in Austrian zone of partition fails.
- 1830-31: "November Revolt" against Russian rule in Congress Kingdom of Poland proves unsuccessful.
- 1807-15: Semi-independent Duchy of Warsaw established by Napoleon; abolished by Russian occupation.
- 1795: Austria, Prussia, and Russia impose third partition of Poland, ending Polish independence for more than a century.
- 1792-93: Confederation of Targowica invites foreign intervention; Prussia and Russia carry out second partition of Poland.
- 1772-73: Austria, Prussia, and Russia impose first partition of Poland.
- 1700-25: Poland becomes virtual puppet of Russia during reign of Tsar Peter the Great.
Any of these events is unsettling enough to create the thought process leading to their decision to find a better life. The threat of polical and social uncertainty, the prevailing hopelessness of one generation to the next. This world of turmoil and uncertainty was a major factor in their decision.
Reflect for a moment on the lives of your ancestors. Then, extend a prayful thanks to them, remembering, you are the beneficiary of their sacrifices. Honor their memories; record their history and your history for future generations, pay respect by frequenting and maintaining their grave sites, sharing their history with family and friends (young and old); but most of all, guard against the daily pressures of living that can distract you and keep them from your thoughts. Make time for them. Some day you will join them as a memory for a future generation to celebrate.