NEIU display for Polish Heritage Month

Matthew Rago, Managing Editor

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Northeastern Illinois University recognized Polish heritage by commemorating Polish contributions, suffering and involvement during World War II with a special display stationed outside of the NEIU bookstore which also coincided with Veterans’ Day.

The exhibition was segregated into 16 topics, identifies and celebrates Poland’s victimization and subsequent perseverance and heroism during a period of German and Russian conquest.

The display began by recognizing Sept. 1, 1939–the day Hitler and his army invaded Poland from the West, prompting Britain and France to declare war against Nazi combatants–as both the commencement of World War II and the beginning of Polish suffering. The disagreement between two competing ideologies, communism and Nazism, along with the Allies’ failure to intervene doomed an overmatched Poland from the start. 

However, the Polish refused to lay down and allow Nazi Germany to impose their will unobstructed.

“The Polish Armed Force was incorporated into the Royal Army,” read the display. “Similarly, the Polish Navy became part of the Royal Navy. Diplomatic agreements allowed for new Polish divisions to be established in Great Britain on its territories in North Africa.”

The exhibit emphasized the toll that Nazi and Soviet conquests took on Polish nationals. The display’s fourth designation spotlighted Polish refugees, who were forced to flee from their homes and overcrowded ghettos in order to avoid persecution. The exhibit offered harrowing photos of fleeing civilians and dismayed soldiers.

The Nazi forces held the belief that should they effectively deprive the Poles of a centralized home, they could erase Polish identity and culture. This, according to the exhibit, was imperative to the Nazi agenda of “Germanizing the Poles.”

“For German Nazis, the new order meant building a new Europe with no place for Poles and their separate cultural identity,” read the exhibit’s seventh design. “The objective was to Germanize the Poles, turning them into slaves working for the glory of Germany.”

At the same time, the USSR aimed to impose communist ideology on the vulnerable country.

The Polish were also victims of mass extermination. Civilians were indiscriminately massacred via public executions, private killings and massive gas chambers that killed hundreds of persecuted Poles and Jews. Per the exhibit, “Out of 6 million Polish citizens who lost their lives in World War Two, over 5.5 million were killed as a direct result of operations by German occupiers.”

The number of Poles who lost their lives to Soviet forces remains unknown. 

The display illustrated the efforts that an embattled, penetrated Polish front offered toward eliminating modern history’s greatest threat to Western civilization. As a result of World War II, over 2.5 Polish civilians emigrated to America. Hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers died trying to defend Poland from invasion, regrouping and recalibrating in the face of impending defeat. The war reshaped both Poland’s identity and physical boundaries, leaving a wartorn country to rebuild from the Axis’ failed attempts to eliminate Polish culture. 

With the display, NEIU offered gratitude and somber remembrance towards the brave men and women who suffered through needless persecution and fought back from a disadvantaged position.