Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Father's Trip to Poland in 1936 - By Phyllis Zych Budka


In 2008, as I prepared for my second trip to Poland, I opened an old wooden box containing my Father’s things. In it was a diary of his summer 1936 Poland trip along with other Polish‐American Scouts and Scout leaders. He was 23 years old at that time. Included in the box was a flier advertising the trip:

We believe that when these youth come to know the fatherland of their ancestors, they will come to love it and come to respect it and have within them a deep unbreakable feeling of connection to the blood, culture and spirit of Poland from afar. And then, when their love for everything Polish flows into their hearts, this youth will understand the importance of standing on free land and tradition here in Washington and to protect and to build upon the beautiful heritage of their forefathers in the form of Polish organizations, newspapers, churches and schools.

My Father, Stanley Jacob Zych, was a Scout Leader with Council 53 of the Polish National Alliance (PNA) on Crane Street in Schenectady, New York. He was born in 1913 in Schenectady of immigrant parents from Nowy Targ, Poland. Dad and fellow Schenectadian Mary Pieszczoch were the “special envoys” selected to represent the PNA on this trip.

Budka's father in a group  photo during their Polish travels.

They sailed in early July from New York City on the M.S. Batory ocean‐liner along with more than 100 other young Americans. The first brief stop was Copenhagen, Denmark. On July 10th, the group landed in Gdynia, Poland. After touring that port city, they visited Poznań, Częstochowa, Zakopane, Kraków, Wieliczka, Lwów and Warsaw. Their final destination was Camp Brenna, Śląsk. The list of their names and travel plans were published in a booklet, “Jedziemy do Polski” (We are going to Poland; Karol Burke, Drukiem Dziennika Związkowego, Chicago, Il, 1936).

Batory enters the harbor in Gdynia

In the summer of 2008, I served as a teacher volunteer at the Kościuszko Foundation – UNESCO English Language Immersion Camp in Kraków, Poland. For 3 weeks, 17 Americans, many, like myself, of Polish heritage, and more than 100 high school students from all over Poland, lived, studied and laughed together. In my suitcase was a copy of the pages from my Father’s trip diary. He documented his two weeks at the Scout camp in Brenna, Śląsk, southern Poland, mostly in English, with parts in Polish. My Father was fluent in Polish. As Language Immersion Camp newspaper editor I requested that my homeroom students transcribe the English or translate from Polish these diary pages for publication. That process sparked my interest in the details of the 1936 trip:

July 13th, 1936, Place: Częstochowa and somewhere between Częstochowa and Nowy Targ: We arrived at 5.45 AM by buses at Jasna Góra. Near the gateway, we met our procession and came into the church to the altar of Częstochowa Holy Mother (sometimes called the Black Madonna). A priest blessed us. Next we visited Skarbiec Jasnogórski where there are a lot of different old buildings. Next we went to a monastery for breakfast. After breakfast, buses took us to the railway and we went to Zakopane. At 10:00 AM, we passed through a beautiful area. About midday we arrived at the railway station in Kraków and soon set out on a journey. About 6:00 PM we passed through Nowy Targ. I stopped here so I could meet my family. I slept at Wincenty Kolasa’s home.

July 14th, 1936, Place: Zakopane: At 8:30 in the morning we took the train to Zakopane. We went to the Hotel Limka and had breakfast. At 10:00 AM we took buses to Morskie Oko and saw the Paderewski waterfall; next we climbed to the top of the mountain and saw Black Lake.

July 26th , 1936 Sunday, Place: Camp Brenna, Śląsk: We arrived in camp at 10:00 AM and had army coffee and hot dogs. Got right down to business putting up tents. I spent the rest of the day building beds, grub racks also swimming Pool. Went out on general food strike. Won out the point. Had Tough Camp officer. Breaking him in slowly.


Batory Stamp from Poland

My own awareness that the trip was a special experience for my Father came in 1986. Trip participants held a “50th Anniversary P.N.A. Batory Cruise Reunion” on Saturday, September 20, 1986, in Chicago. By that time, my Father had been disabled for many years and could not attend. But in that old wooden box is a large “Get‐Well Wishes For Someone Special” card full of good wishes from reunion attendees. It must have been a great trip!

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This post is reprinted from PAHA Newsletter, Spring 2011, p. 6-7.

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