In 1936 the three leading Polish American organizations-- the Polish National Alliance (PNA), the Polish Roman Catholic Union (PRCU) and the Polish Women’s Alliance (PWA)-- created the Polish American Council (Rada Polonii Amerykanskeicj), designed to provide humanitarian assistance to needy members of Polonia. With the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland in September, 1939, the Rada underwent a quick reorganization, in order to provide the fighting country with humanitarian aid in the most effective way. It included not only agencies and parishes, but relief committees which instantly sprang up around Polish American communities in the United States. An extraordinary meeting of the Rada took place on October 19, 1939, and since that moment, the Rada united all Polonia’s relief efforts under its auspices, becoming one of the first American ethnic organization of that kind.
The Polish American Council was chartered in Illinois under the general, not for profit corporation act, on January 22, 1940, and its purpose as stated in the charter, was: “Uniting, co-coordinating and directing Americans of Polish Ancestry, both among individuals and in organizations and churches in their humanitarian activities and securing, collecting and gathering of monies, food, clothing, medicines, and other needs, through various means, for the aiding of suffering and needy war victims and refuges of Poland, both within Poland and in other countries where they seek asylum; for the duration of the time henceforth until the restoration of independence and freedom to Poland and the reuniting of the torn and partitioned land of Poland with access to the sea, to give aid to the cause of Poland and its nation to the fullest extent of our means and abilities.”
The President of the Rada was Francis X. Swictlik, Dean of the School of Law of Marquette University, and Censor of the PNA, and the officers of the Rada represented major Polish-American organizations, such as the PNA, the PRCU, the PWA, the Polish Alma Mater, and the Polish Falcons. Many well known activists served also on the Board of Directors, and as leaders of 35 Districts (Ojregi) of the Rada.
The Rada carried out its work on the basis of voluntary involvement and generosity of members of Polish American communities. In 1943, however, the President’s War Relief Control Board initiated a National War Fund (NWF) which consolidated all fund drives through unified activity of the so-called War and Community Chests. Since then, all money-collecting campaigns had national character. Funds obtained in their result was allocated to various voluntary relief agencyies for projects approved by NWF’s Budget committee. Many organizations representing different American ethnic groups were charted members of the NWF, and the Rada under the name of the Polish War Relief, was among their number. The National War Fund was liquidated in the end of 1946, and a new organization, American Overseas Aid (AOA), was established in its place. The Rada remained a member of the AOA, under a name of the American Relief for Poland, accepted in January, 1946.
Throughout the war years and during the difficult period after the war, Rada Rolonii Amerykanskiej distinguished itself with broad and efficient relief work for the Polish victims of the war dispersed around the world. Between October, 1939 and October, 1948, the Rada distributed to the needy the total of 20 million dollars in humanitarian aid. Its actions covered all continents and all groups of Poles affected by the war: Polish refugees in Africa, the Near East, Europe, Asia and South America, as well as Polish prisoners of war, soldiers of the Polish armed forces in the West, displaced persons in German, Austrian, and Italian camps, and the remaining population in Poland. The Rada cooperated with many American and international charitable agencies, such as the American Red Cross, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), the International Refugee Organization (IRO), the National Catholic Welfare Council, Caritas, etc. A detailed report from that activity was presented by President F.X. Swietlik on Rada’s convention in Buffalo in December, 1948
At the end of 1945, the Rada sent a special mission to Poland to supervise the distribution of relief supplies. As a result of the mission, clothing, food, medicines, and other necessaries of a total value of more than 5 million dollars were shipped to Poland over 1946 and 1947, and distributed there through the Catholic organization Caritas. Since the 1950s, the Rada focused its main effort on providing Polish hospitals with medical equipment and supplies. A special achievement was the construction on a factory producing artificial limbs in Katowice, Poland, sponsored and financed by the Rada.
On September 30, 1941, 61 delegates from over 40 groups of the Polish National Alliance who gathered at the meeting in Chicago decided to establish District 33 of the Pada Polonii Amerykanskicj, consisting solely of PNA members. Both, Charles Rozmarck, the PNA President and F.X. Swietlik, the PNA censor and the Rada President, were present at that meeting. The first chairman of the District 33 was elected Kazimierz Damsz.
The District immediately launched an energetic action of collecting money for humanitarian purposes. An appeal was issued to all PNA groups from the north-western part of Chicago to join in the common effort. Press releases and public meetings were designed to propagate the cause of their charitable work. The District collected relief “tax-money” which the PNA groups declared voluntarily. Funds were gathered also through the disorganization of social parties, craft fairs, trips and picnics, lotteries and raffles, as well as through direct appeals to prominent members of Polonia and the whole Polish American community of Chicago. Every spring the District held a traditional Polish Easter celebration of “blessing of foods” (swieconka) which served to raise funds and host representatives of Polish American organizations-members of the Rada.
The PNA lodges of District 33 were especially active in the action of collecting clothing and shipping parcels to Polish War victims in Europe and in other parts of the world. The cause was supported by another Polish American organization, the Sea League of America, which declared cooperation with District 33 and finally joined it with the general consent.
In 1944, District 33 became a member of the Polish American Congress (PAC), an all-Polonia political organization lobbying for an independent Polish State. After the Displaced Persons Act was passed in 1948, the District became involved in the resettlement program for displaced Poles coming from refugee camps in Europe, and began collecting money for that cause.
In the 1950s, the humanitarian aid to Poland was temporarily halted because of difficulties created by the Polish government. In this situation the need of further work for Poland seemed questionable to some people involved in ARP activity. District 33, however, remained active, and even distinguished itself with collection relatively large sums of money. Special effort was directed towards help for Polish orphan children, for the handicapped, blind children and seniors in nursing homes. After the American Relief for Poland had initiated its action of providing Polish hospitals with medical supplies and equipment, District 33 eagerly supported that idea.
Members of District 33 participated in many Polish American events and activities, and also organized them. Monthly meetings of delegates and board officers became occasions for social and cultural relations and forums for discussions over current events in Polonia’s community. Social ties were strengthened by frequent balls and parties organized for charitable purposes. Simultaneously, meetings followed strict official routines, burdened with formal rules. Elections of new presidents and boards, taking place every year, were always important events. Installations of officers were solemnly in the presence of invited guests from the Executive Committee of Rada and many Polish American leaders.
As protocols from monthly meetings indicate, at the end of the 1930s and at the beginning of the 1970s, District 33 began to experience some problems; meetings were often canceled because of small turn out and officers complaining about diminishing membership and interest in Rada’s work. In the spring of 1974, the board considered dissolving District 33. Though the decision to continue the charitable work was made, in 1974-75 meetings became rare and irregular. The last one took place on December 2, 1975, when President Josef Sikora announced that American Relief for Poland canceled its program in Poland. District 33 was dissolved and the rest of its funds distributed to different institutions within Polonia. It was also decided that official records of the District would be sent to the Immigration Archives in Minnesota.