Polish Heritage History

Print More

The history of Poland is so long and complicated it is impossible to create an understanding of the hardships that our ancestors endured over centuries in this short column. The nation’s history is full of religious, political and territorial conflicts that resulted in many wars and changes of ruling powers. Yet our ancestors not only managed to survive, they maintained loyalty to their country, even when it did not exist on a map. Over these centuries, the Polish people earned a worldwide reputation as hard workers with great resilience.

It is easy to see why Poland was caught up in the territorial struggles of The Middle Ages. It had many natural resources and a long system of waterways that facilitated trade between the Baltic and Black Seas. As an agricultural country, grain was one of its most valuable resources. Lumber was, and still is, another desirable output of Poland. In the 13th century, the precious resource, salt, became a mining industry. Furthermore, the terrain is relatively flat, making it easy to invade, especially from the west (Prussia and Germany), north (Sweden) and east (Russia and Asia). The Carpathian Mountains along the southern border would have made that approach more difficult, but not impossible, for Austria.

One other major aspect of Poland’s history to remember is its social system. For many early centuries Poland was a feudal society. The peasants worked for the lords but could buy their own land. In the 17th century that system evolved into serfdom, connoting a condition of bondage but not quite slavery. In the 19th century that system began to erode but the class structure lingered. There was an aristocracy and there were the peasants. Our ancestors were peasants.

For reasons that will be discussed in a future column, our Polish ancestors started coming to the United States in the 1890s and early 1900s with the hope of getting work and making money. For many, the plan had been to return to their beloved Poland, where the oldest son would take over the family farm or younger sons would buy new land and have their families. Some, such as my great uncle, achieved that goal. Others, such as my grandparents, returned to their homeland but eventually came back to Suffield. Many came to Suffield and never left. Which category applies to your ancestors?

Comments are closed.