Helena Paderewska Memoirs Discovered in the Hoover Archives

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Portrait of Helena Paderewska. Józef Orłowski, Helena Paderewska: na piętnastole
Portrait of Helena Paderewska. Józef Orłowski, Helena Paderewska: na piętnastole
Portrait of Helena Paderewska. Józef Orłowski, Helena Paderewska: na piętnastolecie jej pracy narodowej, 1914-1929, Chicago, 192
Helena Paderewska in the uniform of the Polish White Cross, an organization she
Helena Paderewska in the uniform of the Polish White Cross, an organization she organized and directed during the First World Wa

Not long ago the Hoover Archives received the papers and memorabilia of the US musician and military intelligence officer Ernest Schelling. Found during initial sorting of the materials was a tattered manila envelope containing two unsigned typewritten copies of a text in English ending with “Riond Bosson, Morges, Switzerland, May 29, 1920.” Those familiar with Schelling’s biography and his Swiss connections would know that Riond-Bosson was the palatial villa on Lake Geneva, which belonged to Ignacy Paderewski, the best-known and most celebrated pianist of the early twentieth century; in 1919 he was both the premier and the foreign minister of newly restored Poland, as well as his country’s representative at the Paris Peace Conference. Paderewski was also Ernest Schelling’s teacher and lifelong friend. The first few pages reveal that the text was Paderewski’s political biography for the years 1910-1920, written as a memoir by the most important person in his life, his wife, Helena. The text was left in Schelling’s hands for safekeeping and never published. No other copies exist in the known collections of Paderewski papers.

During the Great War, the virtuoso pianist set music and concert tours aside and turned to politics, becoming an eloquent spokesman for Poland, then occupied by the warring empires of Russia, Germany, and Austria.  Using his personal fame and charisma, Paderewski gained access to the top political leadership of France, Britain, and the United States. Helena, his devoted wife and collaborator, participated in all of his undertaking. Her memoirs, written in English for an American audience as a tribute to the US contribution to the Allied victory and help with Poland’s restoration, are the story of a great international adventure that ended with the signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles.  Although not written by an American, the memoirs document an American story of grassroots efforts to influence the political process and the course of history, as well as a story of an exceptionally talented self-made man, who accomplished his boyhood dream of freedom and independence for his homeland. The memoirs also give us a woman’s view of the world of international politics during the Great War and its immediate aftermath.  Indeed, Helena Paderewska was one of only a few women, among hundreds of men, in the Hall of Mirrors when the Versailles treaty was signed.  Besides a wealth of biographical and political details, the memoirs include accounts of travel in Europe and in the United States, with memorable vignettes of Paris, London, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Warsaw, as well as the couple’s residences in Riond-Bosson and in Paso Robles.

The text was never published, probably because of the complicated political situation in postwar Poland and Paderewski’s own plans to write his political memoirs, something he never found time to do.  For the time being, only the original typescript is available for research in the Hoover Archives. An annotated publication may be made available in the near future, perhaps in time for the forthcoming First World War centenary.  It would appeal not only to readers interested in Ignacy Paderewski but also students of history and politics of the Great War.  The importance of the Helena Paderewska memoirs was not lost on Marian Drozdowski, professor emeritus of history in the Polish Academy of Sciences and author of several books on Paderewski.  When shown copies from the original text, he declared them “completely unknown and unexpected material, the most significant Paderewski primary source find in a generation.”  Helena Paderewska memoirs complement Hoover’s outstanding Paderewski holdings, second only to the Paderewski archives of the Central Archives of Modern Records (AAN) in Warsaw.

For further information contact Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford.edu