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Records of YMCA international work in Poland

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-49


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, music books, pamphlets, maps, photographs, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Poland, mainly between 1920 and 1960. Much of this collection focuses on the work that Paul Super did for the YMCA of Poland. There are many of his reports within the collection making reference to building projects and the state of Poland and Polish groups in exile. This particular time span covers 1922-1949 from his arrival to Poland, the growth and development of the Polish YMCA, the relief work that he organized prior to World War II, the work that he did for the Polish YMCA in exile, and a tribute article written for him after his death. Other major correspondents include Ernest Otto Jacob, Earle R. Cummings, and Arthur Stuart Taylor.

Early correspondence discusses the development of the YMCA in Poland and the war work the the North American YMCA did for Poland just after World War I. Many reports discuss building construction, particularly the buildings at Lodz, Warsaw and Krakow. The development of a campsite just outside of Lodz is also mentioned. Boys' work, including boys' camps and youth educational and training groups such as the Section for Working Youths, is a major topic of the collection, particularly in the reports.

The impact of Communism and occupation on the population of Poland are evident throughout the collection. A large portion of the material discusses the importance of the YMCA to Polish citizens in exile after both German and Soviet occupation. War work for soldiers and prisoners of war is discussed in great detail as is relief work for those affected by the aftermath. The development of the Friends of the Polish YMCA and the Polish YMCA in exile is discussed. The Polish YMCA in exile's locations programs and activities make up a significant portion of the collection, especially the Barnesley YMCA in the United Kingdom.


  • 1919-1992
  • Majority of material found within ( 1920-1960)


Language of Materials

English. Polish

Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


With the end of World War I in 1918, Poland regained its freedom and was deemed independant after having been partitioned between Prussia, Austria and Russia for over a hundred years. Its frontier provinces on all sides were still occupied by enemy troops. Polish soldiers, who had been fighting in France, came to Poland as an organized army, and with them, at their request, came the American YMCA.

American secretaries arrived in Warsaw in 1919 and opened huts for soldiers. By July of 1919 they had opened forty huts within the country. Eventually the American YMCA worked in ninety locations and had rolling canteens that followed the Polish army. In addition to Polish soldiers the American YMCA worked with thousands of Russian prisoners of war remaining after the defeated invasion. The YMCA helped in fighting a typhus epidemic, assisted railway men who were restoring railroads in the eastern provinces, and cooperated in feeding needy students and children.

Impressed with the wartime work of the YMCA, the leaders of Poland quickly united in a request that the American YMCA help Poland to organize a Polish YMCA for its citizens. Eight American and Canadian secretaries were sent at first, but 1921 brought a reduction to staff and equipment in Poland. Operations were confined to five localities, with several YMCAs in Warsaw and Krakow, all under the leadership of Arthur Stuart Taylor as senior secretary.

In 1922 Paul Super succeeded Taylor as the senior secretary for Poland. Super emphasized the importance of training local secretaries and focused the YMCA to three capitals within the country, Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow. In 1923 Marshal Pilsudski, the man largely responsible for Poland's independence, became the first honorary member of the Polish YMCA. His name in connection with the YMCA gave the association a wide acceptance and influence within Poland. Towards the end of 1923 the American YMCA organizers within Poland felt that the movement was sufficiently established for the Polish National Council to take charge completely. The American YMCA in Poland was terminated, and property, bank balances and staff were transferred to the Polish YMCA's central committee. Paul Super was re-elected as general director of the Polish YMCA. Super also continued to be supported by a North American staff that included E. O. Jacob and Earle R. Cummings.

With strong Polish leadership aided by North American secretaries the YMCA grew rapidly. It introduced sports and games, camping, and training schools for YMCA work. The Polish YMCA declared itself to be non-political, aiming instead to the intellectual, spiritual and physical development of its members. Gifts for buildings came from the United States, and the North American International Committee continued to give financial aid to the Polish National Council. In 1926 a building in Krakow was completed and a plant in Warsaw was completed in 1936. A building in Lodz was also begun and in use by 1935. Membership and activity miltiplied for the YMCA in Poland. Boys camps grew and a radio school and automobile school were created. Since within Poland religious and formal education were considered strictly the domain of the Roman Catholic Church, the YMCA stressed growth through creative activity.

During the 1930s the depression resulted in cuts in North American personnel and appropriations, as well as a decline in the YMCA's membership and income. By 1936 the North American staff had been reduced to only Paul Super. Financial relief measures were taken and construction continued on the incomplete buildings in Warsaw and Lodz. In 1938 and 1939 German advances into Czechoslovakia and Austria prompted the YMCA to offer its facilities to the Polish government. Courses were conducted in civilian war service to prepare citizens for the impending hostilities.

In September 1939 the German invasion of Poland made Paul Super a refugee along with thousands of Polish citizens. He went to Rumania and organized a relief effort for refugees. After transferring his responsibilities to Polish citizens in Hungary, Super went to France to help Polish citizens there. Upon the German invasion of France, he returned to the United States where he traveled, arousing interest in Poland's cause and developing funds for Polish YMCA budgets. He helped to give direction to the Polish YMCA in exile as it spread from country to country.

During German occupation the Polish YMCA continued to be a useful institution to those remaining in Poland. The Warsaw building hosted day nurseries for children where they could obtain food and professional training courses aiming to prepare people who could no longer work at their previous professions. A first aid program for refugees on the western part of Poland, an area incorporated into the Reich, was begun. The branch of the Warsaw YMCA called the "Section for Working Youths" continued with its work. The Polish YMCA was forced to discontinue its language courses because the only language that was permitted to be taught was German. The buildings in Krakow and Lodz were taken over completely and the town of Lodz was in the part of Poland incorporated into the Reich. Contact with Polish YMCA work in Poznan and Gdynia was cut off due to the two towns also being incorporated into Germany. Sports were prohibited, secondary schools were closed, there was no Polish press and officially neither the State of Poland nor the Polish people were recognized, instead becoming a General Government Area and National Group in the General Government Area. On one occasion a branch of the Warsaw YMCA was surrounded by German police and one worker and sixteen boys were arrested. They were accused of illegally playing volleyball. None that were arrested survived.

Ultimately, the Polish YMCA was closed officially and its property confiscated, but administration of the building remained in Polish hands and activities were carried on under the name of another institution which had not been prohibited, YMCA-Pomoc Jencom, Pelnomocnik w Warzawie a legal agency of Kriegsgefangenenhilfe der YMCA, or YMCA Help for Prisoners, Representative in Warsaw, War Prisoners Aid of the YMCA. From 1940 to 1945 the Polish YMCA assisted in relief efforts for prisoners of war in Germany and Polish workers deported for forced labor. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners were cared for through this effort.

Poland was taken from German forces by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. Immediately after German occupation ended the YMCA in Poland resumed its standard activities. Buildings were reconstructed in Lodz and Warsaw. The Polish National Committee was reconstituted and the training of secretaries resumed. The program and membership improved and steps were taken towards self-support. In 1948 there were YMCAs in ten cities, summer camps were conducted, meals were served to needy children in schools and physical education and educational classes were carried on. In 1949 pressures were brought onto the YMCA by the communist government occupying Poland for the YMCA to become a purely governmental agency. The Polish YMCA adopted a new charter, was renamed the Association for Social Work, or Association "Hearth" (Ognisko) and cut its ties with the World Alliance of YMCAs.

The Polish YMCA continued outside of Poland. Sections continued in Great Britain, Germany, France and Switzerland, among other places. In 1953 the Polish exiles' YMCA was recognized as a national cultural movement with its own constitution and national council. The recognition of a national movement in terms of culture rather than territory was a decision that was unique in the history of the World Alliance of YMCAs. The Polish YMCA in exile aimed to promote YMCA ideals and moral responsibilities among the Polish diaspora. They had regular YMCA programs including reading rooms, libraries, study groups, lectures and other educational, cultural and recreational activities. There were Polish YMCA canteens and a hostel in London, summer camps for Polish boys from refugee communities in Western Europe. Assistance was given to Polish students, artists, writers and scientists, especially those taking part in international conferences. Additional services were also offered to Polish people with greater need due to age, ill health or a profession which they could not exercise in countries of their residence. As of 2011 the Polska London YMCA was still a fully operational association, continuing on with its support of young people with Polish origin.

In 1990 the Polish YMCA re-emerged in Poland with the help of members of the YMCA from forty years earlier. The Polish YMCA based its work upon its pre-war constitution and commenced activity within many cities including Gdynia, Lodz, Krakow and the camp Pilica near Lodz. In 2010 the YMCA of Poland had eighteen branches and a growing popularity among the people of Poland.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Poland, along with their dates of service:

Cummings, Earle R. (1921-1935) Moffett, Harry Clement (1920-1921)
Duffy, Edward Francis (1928-1931) Rose, William John (1920-1927)
Ebersole, Amos A. (1923-1926) Rounds, Jarold Judson (1927-1950)
Eyman, Frank Austin (1921-1931) Scott, Paul M. (1923-1926)
Gillett, Philip Loring (1927-1928) Smith, Kenneth Jefferson (1944-1950)
Henderson, Charles B. (1917-1924) Super, Paul (1922-1946)
Jacob, Ernest Otto (1925-1928) Taylor, Arthur Stuart (1918-1925)
Long, Harry Winfield (1920-1922) Wright, William R. (1947-1948)
Historical Information largely adapted and quoted from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and Canada, (New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth Scott Latourette; from Polska YMCA London, (, 2011; retrieved September 21, 2012); from YMCA International "World Alliance of YMCAs: Poland," (, 2010; retrieved September 21, 2012); and from the collection.


7.1 Cubic Feet (18 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, music books, pamphlets, maps, photographs, journal and newspaper articles and other records of the YMCA movement in Poland, mostly focusing on the work of Paul Super on building projects and the state of Poland and Polish groups in exile after both German and Soviet occupation.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, February 2009, as collection FP017. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6679305

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area