Remembering Our Polish Friends

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, poster collection, Hoover Archives
Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, poster collection, Hoover Archives

The news of the tragic death of President Lech Kaczynski, along with nearly a hundred of Poland’s political, military, religious, and government leaders, has shocked the world. The Hoover Institution community mourns the untimely death of President and Mrs. Kaczynski and the Polish delegation who were traveling to Katyn, Russia.

April 10, 2010, was a sad day for the scholars and staff of the Hoover Institution, the United States’ premier center for archival research on Polish history. The Institution’s special interest in Poland goes back more than a century, to Herbert Hoover’s friendship with Ignacy Paderewski, the great Polish pianist and future prime minister. President Hoover’s relief work in Poland after World War I helped save hundreds of thousands of Polish lives. His efforts were recognized by the Polish government, which granted him honorary citizenship in 1922; there is also a monument dedicated to President Hoover in the center of Warsaw. President Hoover was again involved in Polish relief during and after the Second World War.

During the World War II, Poland’s government in exile entrusted the Institution with its archives, a great resource for historians of Poland ever since. Hoover recently returned these archives to Poland on microfilm.

In 1991, after Poland regained its independence from Soviet domination, the Institution opened a library and archival acquisitions office in Warsaw. From 1990 through 1995, Hoover hosted dozens of young diplomats from the Polish foreign ministry, helping them acquire expertise in Western-style political science and market-based economic theory.

During the past two decades, a steady stream of visitors from Poland—historians, economists, diplomats, elected officials—and publications based, in part, on our archival holdings, have made the Hoover Institution well known to Poland’s educated public. In 2004, the Hoover Institution presented a major exhibition in Poland: “American Friendship: Herbert Hoover and Poland.”The exhibition was opened on November 15, 2004, by the mayor of Warsaw, and future president of the country, Lech Kaczynski, and the Hoover Institution Tad and Dianne Taube Director John Raisian.

Through the years, Hoover has gained many friends in Poland, and Lech Kaczynski was one of them, as were some who were with him on that ill-fated plane. After his election in 2005, Kaczynski, who shared the Institution’s goals and ideals, acknowledged Hoover’s role in promoting Polish freedom and prosperity and in preserving the historical records of independent Poland.

President Kaczynski awarded high Polish state decorations, first to Hoover fellow and former secretary of state George Shultz, and then to Hoover fellow Robert Conquest and to Director John Raisian.

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