a monthly film series featuring invited speakers, hosted by the Polish Club in San Francisco

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Poland in the Rockies

July 21–31, 2010

Canmore, Alberta

Poland in the Rockies participants
(photo courtesy of Anna Tomaskovic-Devey)

For 11 days in July, 42 selected university students and young professionals interested in Poland came together in the beautiful Canadian Rockies to learn, share, and play at Poland in the Rockies. Started in 2004, this biannual Polish and Polish American studies conference attracts participants from all over Canada and the United States. This year, thanks to the handsome support of the Polish University Club of Los Angeles, I was given the opportunity to participate. After attending the conference herself in 2004, local community organizer-turned-benefactor Theresa Dudzick generously sponsored a leadership fund, to be administered by the University Club, to cover the costs of one attendee from Southern California. Ms. Dudzick encourages all university students and young professionals who are interested in learning more about our shared history and contemporary culture, to apply.

Poland in the Rockies is organized by the hardworking Alberta-based duo of one unflappable journalist Irene Tomaszewski and the devoted attorney Tony Muszynski. (Ms. Tomaszewski’s Code Name: Żegota, 2010, is the first English-language book on the subject of the Polish conspiracy group organized to save Jews during World War II.) Their primary goals include stimulating an interest in Polish history and culture among English-speaking North Americans by organizing lectures, screening films, and facilitating discussion in formal as well as informal situations. The traditional conference portion of Poland in the Rockies—lectures, student presentations, discussion groups, workshops, screenings—was augmented with campfire sing-alongs, self-organized evening theme parties at the hotel, in-depth conversations with speakers over lunch, and day trips for hiking, swimming, and picnicking in the Canadian Rockies.

Poland in the Rockies participants enjoying the scenic bus ride to Canmore from Calgary

Working toward creating a network of knowledgeable friends of Poland in Canada and the US, the program is open to participants of Polish descent as well as students interested in all aspects of Polish studies. Through education and encouraging awareness of Polish history, the organizers hope to elevate the broader public opinion of contemporary Poland, questioning and complicating the stereotypes with which we are all familiar.

Our program included some of the most compelling North American speakers working in Polish studies today. In terms of history, we were offered both an overarching understanding of Poland through the centuries, as well as lectures that focused on themes or specific parts of history. Lecturers included Neal Pease, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and author of Rome’s Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland, 1914–1939; Alex Storożynski, president of the Kościuszko Foundation in New York, and author of Kościuszko: Our Polish Heritage and the Polish-American Bond; Shana Penn, director of the Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland for the Taube Foundation, and author of Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland; Michael Szporer, professor of Communications at the University of Maryland University College, and author of Solidarność: the Strike that Ended Communism; and Karen Majewski, mayor of Hamtramck, Michigan, and author of Traitors and True Poles: Narrating a Polish-American Identity, 1880–1939.

Panel discussion "Polish Transatlantic Relations" with (from left to right): Krzysztof Stanowski, former Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of National Education in Poland; Blaine Calkins, Member of Parliament in Canada, and Chair of the Canada-Poland Friendship Parliamentary Committee; Victor Ashe, former US ambassador to Poland; Michael Szporer, professor of Communications at the University of Maryland, and board member of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; Alex Storozynski, President of the Kosciuszko Foundation in New York; and Neal Pease, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee

We gained further insight into 20th century Polish history from Californian filmmaker Mary Skinner, who screened her new documentary Irena Sendler: In the Name of their Mothers; Wesley Adamczyk, author of When God Looked the Other Way, who spoke about his 1940 deportation to Siberia and his father’s murder at Katyń; and LA-based filmmaker Piotr Uzarowicz, who screened his new documentary about the Katyń massacre, The Officer’s Wife.

Tamara Trojanowska, director of the prestigious and well-developed Polish Language and Literature Program at the University of Toronto, gave us a wonderful overview of Polish literature, and we participated in an informative and fun translation workshop with Bill Johnston, associate professor of comparative literature and second language studies at Indiana University, and award-winning translator of poetry and prose by Witold Gombrowicz, Tadeusz Różewicz, Magdalena Tulli, and Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński.

This year, Poland in the Rockies hosted several guests from Poland as well, including Krzysztof Stanowski, former Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of National Education, and Rev. Sławomir Nowosad, Vice-Rector of Research and International Relations at the esteemed John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin. As the keynote speaker during the conference banquet, Victor Ashe, US Ambassador to the Republic of Poland in 2004–2009, enlightened and entertained us with stories of serving the American government during those years of rapid change in Poland.

I learned so much from each of the presentations, and from speakers and other participants during long after-hours conversations about Poland, Polonia, and incorporating all things Polish into our own distinct professional practices. I encourage all students and young professionals interested in contemporary Poland to apply for the next Poland in the Rockies in 2012. I guarantee that you will not only come away with a wealth of new knowledge, but also with warm memories and a network of new friends who share these interests.

For more information about Poland in the Rockies, please visit: www.polandintherockies.com

For more information about the Polish University Club of Los Angeles, please visit: www.pucla.org

This article will appear in the December 2010 issue of News of Polonia newspaper.

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