Cold War Polish political exiles

Anna Mazurkiewicz, PhD, spoke March 7 for a historical presentation based on her extensive research on Zofia and Stefan Korboński, a pair of Cold War Polish freedom fighters turned political exiles.

Sponsored by the Friends of the UW-Parkside Library, Mazurkiewicz took attendees on a journey that started all the way back in 1938, when Zofia, a journalist, married Stefan, a Polish People’s Party politician. When the Second World War broke out, Zofia helped establish the underground radio station that would send coded messages to the Polish government in exile. Meanwhile, Stefan was active in the military and later the government as a leader in the Polish Secret State during the Nazi occupation. A few years into the restoration period following the Second World War, the Korbońskis were forced to flee their native Poland following its occupation by the Soviets in 1945. and their subsequent arrest in June of that year by the NKVD, or Soviet Secret Police.

They were released after the creation of the communist-controlled Provisional Government of National Unity on June 28. Two years later they fled, spending a short time in Sweden before settling in the United States. Following a forged election in the Sejm, Stalinism put a stop to the small amount of political freedom that remained. The Korbońskis remained active in politics in the U.S. within Polish emigrant groups. They lead major New York offices in 1950, and particularly in 1954 with the establishment of the Assembly of Captive European Nations. ACEN was an organization founded by nine representative nations from central and eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation following the Second World War. Nations that were represented at ACEN included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

Zofia and Stefan became such highly recognized figures in the international community that they received several awards. Stefan received the Alfred Jurzykowski Prize in 1973, and in 1980 the Yad Vashem Institute in Israel granted Korboński with the Righteous Among the Nations medal. Stefan was also a recipient of the Cross of the Home Army, the 1939-1945 War Medal, the Golden Cross of Merit and the Order of the White Eagle (posthumously in 1995, Stefan died April 23, 1989). Zofia also got her fair share. In 2006 she was given the title of Honorary Citizen of the Capital City of Warsaw. President of Poland Lech Kaczyński awarded her the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Based upon both Polish and American archival material, along with a series of interviews, Mazurkiewicz reclaimed this largely untold tale of post-war Polish politics. She discovered and recognized the work of Zofia and Stefan Korboński by searching through an eventful and complicated history of the Second World War and Europe’s struggle with Post-war Soviet domination.

Mazurkiewicz is a history professor at the University of Gdansk in Poland. She is currently the Kociuszko Foundation visiting professor in the Polish studies program at SUNY Buffalo in New York State.

Article by James Burns

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