Teachers and educators of Polish descent were united for a mutual exchange of professional ideas during the 15th annual Polish-American Heritage celebration. Northeastern Illinois University hosted the event on Oct. 26, and encouraged alumni and students of all majors and levels to participate in Polish cultural and educational events. The event also encouraged students and aided Polish-American men and women to enter the teaching profession.
The event was dedicated to Jan Karski, a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter. Karski grew up in Poland when the Nazi’s were taking over Poland and massacring Polish Jews. Karski abhorred injustice and joined the ZWZ “Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej” to try to stop the Holocaust. During the event, a documentary film about Karski was shown about his childhood and his efforts to stop the Holocaust in Poland. The film’s main theme was revisited as a resounding quote displayed on the event’s the brochures about Jan -“How One Man tried to stop the Holocaust.”
The dinner at the events was seen as an opportunity for two countries to further bond together. On one side of the buffet there was Polish pierogies, and on the other side were the American fruits. The beginning of the event had more American food than Polish, but after the ceremony the guests were able to enjoy an assortment of Polish cakes and pastries.
The ceremony also included an award show. More than 100 Poland students applied for scholarships by writing essays about Jan Karski. Oliwia Kwicien won the Vanessa Przyblo Kolpak scholarship for her essay about Karski’s involvement in stopping the atrocities of the Holocaust, and his difficulties in coordinating with Allied Forces. “Jan Karski had to be underground when he talked to Roosevelt. He really wanted to stop the Holocaust happening and he would do anything to stop it,” said Kwicien.
She then explained her process for writing the essay, “I had to write 4-5 pages and explain to this organization what I felt about Jan Karski. I talked about his past, of how he went about to stop the Holocaust, and mostly his life.” Kwicien was elated to have her take on Karski’s life and works honored by the Polish-American celebration. “I am very happy that I won this scholarship. There are different founders. Every founder has to decide of who will win an award,” said Kwicien. “ I was one of the lucky ones that won this award.”
Kwicien’s roommate Aleksandra Bomba said, “Being far from Poland and winning this award feels like I never left Poland. I am enjoying myself here in America and it’s so strange seeing a lot of people talking in Polish. I would really like to stay in this country or at least return to this country [after] I go back in the winter time.”
While attending this event one can sense the bonds being formed with the American professionals and the Polish professionals in teaching. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves during this special occasion.