The Class of 1926 digitization project, initiated by the Polish Library in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Library of Congress and with support from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, has brought this historic collection to researchers all over the world and is accessible at loc.gov/collections/polish-declarations/about-this-collection/.
Richly illustrated with original works by prominent Polish graphic artists, the volumes contain signatures of nearly one-sixth of Poland’s population in 1926, including the signatures of national and local government officials, representatives of religious, social, business, academic and military institutions, and millions of school children. The collection was presented at the White House to President Calvin Coolidge, who requested that the volumes be transferred to the Library for preservation.
“I am so pleased and humbled to announce that these extraordinary volumes are now available for all to see,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “This is truly one of the unexpected treasures here at America’s library – a story from the past of goodwill and heartfelt friendship between nations. I am grateful to the Polish Library and the Polish Embassy for their support of this digitization project, which I have no doubt will be of unique significance to many historians and genealogists, but also of interest to all Americans.”
“These declarations are one of the earliest examples of public diplomacy undertaken by the reborn Polish Republic and they embody the deep appreciation Poles held for America’s friendship and generous aid,” said Piotr Wilczek, Poland’s Ambassador to the United States. “I greatly appreciate the Library of Congress’ efforts in safekeeping this priceless collection for many decades and for now facilitating its access to the entire world. Our Embassy is proud to have supported the Class of 1926 project to digitize the Polish Declarations.”
President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, who toured the Polish Declarations in person, described the collection as “an extraordinary work and an important testament for Poles and Polish-Americans. It will be thrilling for many individuals to soon be able to find the signatures of their forefathers in these Declarations.”
In addition to being a unique gift from a grateful nation, the Polish Declarations are also a priceless treasure trove for genealogists, historians and researchers. World War II erupted 13 years after these signatures were gathered. Poland was jointly invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and suffered immense losses. Close to six million Polish citizens, including three million Polish Jews, were killed.
Samuel Ponczak, who spearheaded the Class of 1926 digitization project, noted, “for those who did not survive the war, in many instances their signature in this declaration is the only evidence that such a person existed.” Ponczak, who himself is a Polish survivor of the Holocaust, added, “Through our digitization effort, we are reclaiming their lost history.”
The Polish Library in Washington, D.C., is a volunteer organization which has been promoting Polish culture, literature and history in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area since 1991. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States - and extensive materials from around the world - both on-site and online.