National Geographic : 1915 Jan
PARTITIONED POLAND BY WILLIAM JOSEPH SHOWALTER IT WAS four years before the United States was born into the family of nations that Poland saw the begin ning of her end as a member of that family; and it was two years before Washington had completed his great tasit of blazing the way for the young nation his sword had founded that Poland's name as an independent country was erased, perhaps forever, from the list of sovereign States of the earth. And yet the hundred and seventeen years that have sufficed to transform the United States from a little country on the middle eastern seaboard of North America into one of the wealthiest and most influential nations of the world have not served to quench the national spirt of the Polish people, nor to end their dream of a rehabilitated and reunited Poland. Generations of the sternest repression ever practiced upon any people have still left the Pole with his heart set on the one desire of his life-Poland restored. In spite of the efforts of three of the world's most powerful governments to assimilate them and to incorporate them into their own bodies politic, 20 million Poles have hoped and longed for and dreamed of the day when their country shall resurrect it self and make itself a vital force in the civilization of the future. Efforts at assimilation have been met by struggles against it, and after nearly a century and a quarter of trying to quench the fire of fervor for their beloved Po land from the hearts of the Poles they still stood at the beginning of the present war, with hearts aflame and souls afire, hoping in the face of despair, that some how, somewhere, some time, the ashes of captivity might be replaced with the gar lands of liberty. THEIR FERVENT LOVE The fervent love of the Pole for all things Polish is borne witness to by all who travel that way. He will tell you that their cooking is better than that of Paris; that their scenery is more beauti ful than that of any other country; that their language is the most melodious that falls from human lips; that there is no dance in the world to be compared with the mazurka; that the most beautiful women on the face of the earth and the bravest men who, ever lived are to be found among them; that the Poles are a cheerful, hospitable, easily pleased, and an imaginative race; and that yet, in spite of and notwithstanding all this, they are the most unhappy people and theirs the most hapless nation in history. Kras veski once exclaimed during his exile: "Oh, thou beautiful land, our mother! When we say farewell to friends we have the hope of meeting them in heaven; but never again shall we see thy loved land scapes, thy linden avenues, thy villages, thy brooks, and thy rivers. Can heaven really be so beautiful that it makes us for get all this, or does a river of Lethe flow before the gate of Paradise?" Some one has said that there is perhaps after all no condition more elevating for a race than one in which no distinguished man has any external distinction, title, or decoration, and where the official tinsel of honor is regarded as a disgrace. In Poland such a condition has prevailed since her partition, for the honor of over lord governments is despised. A poor but distinguished teacher in Warsaw re ceived from the government the decora tion of the Order of Stanislaus. He never wore it, but when his children were naughty pinned it on their breasts as pun ishment for their misdeeds. And it is said that never a dunce-cap was more effective. THE POLAND OF YESTERDAY Poland, before Maria Theresa of Aus tria found cause to remark that she had been a party to an outrage upon geogra phy and to an act of violence against the laws of ethnology, had been one of the leading nations of Europe. It was the Poles who successfully stayed the march of the triumphant Turk across the conti nent and mayhap saved the West from the fate that came upon the Near East.