In: Borderlands Biography
Beata Halicka
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Paul McNamara
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The modern history of East Central Europe is a collection of the fates of human beings, many of whom experienced forced migration. For some, this was a short-lived necessity of leaving their homes due to military operations or occupation; for others, emigration without the possibility of return to their abodes. Still others were forced to leave their native land and wander through various countries, even continents, for years on end before managing to set down roots in a new place of residence. Some remained on the road forever and never found a place which they could call home. In academic publications devoted to this subject, such people are usually reduced to numbers, arranged into groups and divided into categories. Although essential knowledge about the historical scope and context, as well as the forms of migratory processes, has been produced through such an approach, this does not allow for the placing of migrants into the centre of interest as active actors.1 Due to the need for generalisation, this has led to the loss of the exceptional nature of each human fate and experience. Some historians writing so-called ‘big history’ weave examples of individual experiences into their stories in the form of biographical excerpts.2 This allows the reader to get to know the past in a more tangible manner. In turn, autobiographies, memoirs and biographical texts – emphasising the stories of particular individuals – usually overlook the broader historical context.

In this book, I tell the story of one man based on the broader perspective of Polish, European and world history. In delving into the fate of an individual, I emphasise the history of the societies with which the subject of my work felt connected. Although a biography of Zbigniew Anthony Kruszewski does not fit into Polish history per se, it is part of it. It is also impossible to narrow it down to the fate of a Polish-American in the USA since his road also led through post-war Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain. The story of this man – as with the story of many migrants from Central and Eastern Europe during the last century – goes beyond the borders determined by national narratives and demands a broader perspective. Its presentation from a trans-national position highlights the issue of the various identities of the subject of this work, both those changing over the years and, at the same time, self-identification. Indeed, it is this hybrid identity, this unconventional character and determination to achieve goals which make the life story of Z. Anthony Kruszewski so special and worth telling.

Born in Warsaw in 1928, Kruszewski was brought up in a family of proponents of Esperanto devoted to the concept of a common language and the breaking down of national divisions. As one of the few surviving Polish scouts today who participated in the Warsaw Rising in 1944, he became a soldier at the age of 16 while a brutal war led him to adulthood, displaying the darkest side of humanity. As an inmate of German prisoner-of-war camps in northern Germany, and later as a soldier of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, he lived in Western Europe sharing the fate of those who, for various reasons, had decided not to return to their native country. Life on the road in search of a new place to call home taught him how to cross borders and to confront ‘others’, as well as sensitising him to cultural differences and the need for tolerance in relation to ‘foreigners’. Although the decision to emigrate to the United States in 1952, to take up studies at the University of Chicago and, later, academic work certainly distanced him from his native roots, psychologically, he remained in a permanent relationship with his experiences in Europe and connected with his homeland. As the subject of his doctoral dissertation, he chose the issue of the border on the Oder-Neisse Line, probably being the first American academic who came to Poland in 1959 in order to conduct field research on its Western Lands. He conducted this research in cooperation with the Polish Academy of Science’s Warsaw Institute of Sociology. His book entitled The Oder-Neisse Boundary and Poland’s Modernisation was the first academic publication on this subject published in the United States. In line with the spirit of the Parisian Polish émigré journal Kultura, Dr. Kruszewski sought out a Polish-Jewish dialogue, as well as good relations with Poland’s eastern neighbours. As a professor of political science in El Paso, Texas, located on the US-Mexican border, he became a pioneer in borderland studies, the author of many valuable research programmes and social initiatives aimed at breaking down barriers, as well as an ambassador of reconciliation between nations.

From the early 1950s, Kruszewski actively participated in the life of the Polish American community in the US (known as the Polonia), especially in the work of the Polish American Congress, engaging himself in building bridges between Polish immigrants in the US and a homeland which had remained under communist rule. In cooperation with the Free Europe Committee, he organised a widespread effort to send academic publications to Poland. During the 1960s, along with his wife Jadwiga (June), he sent thousands of books from Chicago to Europe by post. In his role as Vice-President of the Polish-American Congress, he made many journeys to Poland, as well as to Polish centres around the world, especially to those in post-Soviet countries, supporting the rebirth of the Polish roots there in various ways. His personal contacts with politicians and diplomats in the USA allowed him to lobby effectively for Poland’s acceptance into NATO. For many years, he was involved in initiatives aimed at building Polish-German reconciliation. Several days after celebrating his 90th birthday in the summer of 2018, Dr. Kruszewski led – as he had done annually since the early 1990s –a cycle of seminars for those attending the East European Summer School, organised at the University of Warsaw. A year earlier, in 2017, he had emphasised his presence at another anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Rising by taking part in a demonstration against the appropriation of remembrance of the rising by extreme right-wing groups, recalling, while addressing the crowd, the common values of those who had taken part in the rising and modern Poles.

Having had the honour to get to know this exceptional man at a Warsaw conference, and later as his guest at the University of El Paso in 2014, I had the opportunity to discover more about his life and achievements. When, two years later, I came to El Paso as a visiting professor in order to lecture at that university for a whole semester on the history of East Central Europe, I was delighted that Dr. Kruszewski agreed to my proposal to conduct a series of interviews, and for the publication of so-called extended interviews. We conducted our long meetings over three months and it quickly turned out that the range of knowledge and experience which my interlocutor wished to share with me was so broad that it was impossible to compress it into the format initially planned. In keeping the line of the narrative concentrated on certain episodes of Kruszewski’s life, complementing this with interviews with his associates and those close to him, as well as preliminary archival research, studies of the subject literature and study trips to the places linked with important stages of his life, I decided to publish this book in the form of a biography based on a broad historical context.

It was no small challenge to choose an appropriate title for this book. In entitling it ‘Borderlands Biography’, I have attempted to knit together various stages of it (usually those linked with particular borderlands) and emphasise the multitude of borders – psychological as well as geographical – with which he had to deal. In such a rich and multifaceted life, it is difficult to find key-words which would completely describe the character of the subject of this book. In response to the question of his national identity, Dr. Kruszewski replied many times that ‘I am an American born in Poland.’ As mentioned earlier, self-identification is not a permanent phenomenon and may undergo change.3 The subsequent stages of life of the subject described in this book depicts this process. Beginning with a patriotic upbringing in his family home, spiritual formation in the scouts, after being prepared to sacrifice his life in fighting for the independence of his homeland during the Warsaw Rising – at this stage Kruszewski terms himself Polish without hesitation. Being in German captivity and a soldier of the Polish 2nd Corps under the command of Gen. Anders in Italy has also stayed with him. It was only the post-war political whirlwind, his giving up on returning to a communist-ruled Poland, his stateless status in Great Britain and the USA that gradually influenced a change in his attitude to his country of origin. Following the disappointments connected with the unfulfilled promises after the political thaw of 1956 in Poland, Kruszewski gave up hope of returning to his homeland and decided to apply for American citizenship as soon as possible 5 years after his arrival. He became an American citizen on 22 October 1957.

During the process of naturalisation, Kruszewski and his wife Jadwiga decided to simplify their names in order to make them easier pronounce for future fellow Americans and US officials. Hence from that moment on Zbigniew Anthony Kruszewski became officially known as Z. Anthony Kruszewski, but in practice from that time on all his US friends and colleagues used the diminutive form ‘Tony’ as his first name. It was only to his Polish friends that he was known as Zbigniew. At the same time his wife Jadwiga became June Kruszewski. Therefore, for the sake of clarity in this book I will use interchangeably the names Z. Anthony, or just simply Tony Kruszewski.

Naturalisation offered Kruszewski many advantages and opportunities allowing him to apply for better jobs requiring US citizenship (which at that time was quite common). His decision to study at one of the best American universities, namely the University of Chicago, work as an academic and activist in American communities affairs, all caused this young man to undergo a process of acculturation and identify with American society more and more often.4 In belonging to the intellectual section of the new Polish wave of immigration to the USA, Kruszewski, in professional matters, sought a pathway to major American institutions and to build his own position in American society without the mediation of the Polonia, achieving success as a renowned political scientist, academic and citizen. However, in his private life and community involvement, he remained in close contact with the Polonia. He participated in debates between the so-called old Polonia mainly representing folk culture (produced by economic immigration at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and changing under the influence of subsequent stages of assimilation),5 and the group of Poles who had come to the USA during and after the Second World War whose baggage of life experience involved the trauma of the war, on the one hand, but also participation in the pre-war culture of Poland, partly including high culture.

A deeper analysis of the life of Tony Kruszewski allows one to observe the process of changing identity related with functioning of America’s multi-ethnic society. The anchoring of our subject in the American Polonia milieu forced him to confront the double, and frequently hybrid identity of its members.6 Formerly described by academics as ‘hyphenated Americans’,7 Polish Americans belong to those with split cultural loyalties.8 Many of them feel connected to the culture of two national communities, namely Polish and American, creating their own social structure, namely one which is Polish American, as the product of these two societies.9 One must remember that the Polonia in the United States was, and is very diverse. As a member and representative of the structures of the Polish American Congress, on many occasions Kruszewski did not agree with the activities of the conservative congress authorities, attempting to exert influence on it or, when this appeared to be impossible, taking his own independent road.

The renewed discussion in recent years on the subject of the restoration of the commemoration of certain people or events of Second World War, as well as conflicts over the model of patriotic attitudes, frequently narrow the life of a given figure down to a few wartime years and the frequently terrible experiences of the decade following the war. Although the above-mentioned events usually had a decisive influence on the lives of such people, it is worth looking at their life story in a slightly longer perspective. Possessing a patriotic attitude is not only a readiness to sacrifice one’s life in the defence of one’s country but also working for its benefit and development during peacetime. Patriotism may be restricted to just paying taxes and being an honest citizen, but may also take on other, frequently individual forms and be success achieved far from one’s native land. This attitude does not have to be spiced up with the pathos or renown of an undefined heroism. It is also not reserved for people who have only one national identity. The greatness of a person and his devotion to values which he received from his homeland produces the sweetest fruit in times of everyday difficulties, devotion to one’s professional and community life and openness towards others.

In following the life story of Tony Kruszewski one may find many examples of this. The wartime experience of a 16-year-old boy and the youth’s lonely road first to Western Europe, then to the USA, forced him to make many, frequently difficult choices. Getting to know what directed these decisions and the consequences they had for him allows one to better understand this post-war reality. Dedication to such matters as a free and independent Poland, good relations with neighbouring countries, the promotion of Polish culture abroad and the Polish-Jewish dialogue, as well as researching the multicultural nature of American society, the most effective method of its integration and the solving of conflicts, not only in the American borderlands but in other regions of the world, are just some of the issues to which he has devoted his life. Although today many of these are to be found at the centre of academic and civic discourse, Dr. Kruszewski had already researched them and introduced novel solutions in this field several decades ago.

Thus, the subject of this book draws together in himself the characteristics of an academic and political scientist who looks at the world in a global manner and analyses its contemporary problems, as well as being a representative of the liberal Polish intelligentsia which emerged from pre-war Poland and who, despite being an American by choice for over 60 years, wears with pride the badge of a participant in the Warsaw Rising – a symbol of fighting Poland. Tony Kruszewski does not see any contradiction in remaining faithful to the values received from his homeland and being loyal to the American state which facilitated his education and professional career. This man of the borderlands, in the full sense of its meaning, whose life and respect for others with whom he has had contact bears witness to the need for breaking down the barriers dividing people and nations, as well as the need for building bridges between them.


For example: Schönwälder K., Ohliger R. (eds.), European Encounters. Migrants, Migration, and European Societies since 1945, London 2017; Brandes D., Sundhaussen H., Troebst S., Kaiserová K., Ruchniewicz K. (eds.), Lexikon der Vertreibungen. Deportation, Zwangsaussiedlung und ethnische Säuberung im Europa des 20. Jahrhunderts, Wien 2010; Bade K., Emmer P., Lucassen L., Oltmer J. (eds.), Enzyklopädie Migration in Europa. Vom 17. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart, Paderborn 2007.


For example: Piskorski J.M., Wygnańcy. Przesiedlenia i uchodźcy w dwudziestowiecznej Europie, Warsaw 2010; Halicka B., Polski Dziki Zachód. Przymusowe migracje i kulturowe oswajanie Nadodrza 1945–1948, Krakow 2015.


Znaniecka-Łopata, H., Polscy Amerykanie. Współzawodnictwo o pozycję społeczną w grupie etnicznej, Wrocław et al.. 1986, p. 21. English-language edition: Ibid., Polish Americans. Status Competition in an Ethnic Community, New Jersey 1976.


Liebkind K., ‘Ethnic identity and acculturation,’ [in:] Sam D.L., Berry J.W., The Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology, Cambridge et al. 2006, pp. 78–98.


Znaniecka-Łopata H., Polscy Amerykanie. Współzawodnictwo o pozycję społeczną w grupie etnicznej, Wrocław et al. 1986, p. 7.


Waters M.C., Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America, Berkeley 1990.


See: Strasheim L.A., ‘‘We’re All Ethnics’: ‘Hyphenated’ Americans, ‘Professional’ Ethnics, and Ethnics ‘By Attraction’,’ The Modern Language Journal, 1975, nr 59 (5/6), pp. 240–249.


Bukowczyk J.J., ‘In-Between Ethnics: Personal Biography and Polish American Identity’, Polish American Studies, vol. 74, 2017, no. 2, pp. 11–22.


Znaniecki F., Modern Nationalities, Urbana 1952; Ibid., Social Relations and Social Roles, San Francisco 1965.

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