Ignacy Jan Paderewski1860-1941

       The year 1991 marked the 50th year of my lifelong ambition to return the body of the great pianist and eminent statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski to Poland. On June 29, 1941, Paderewski died in New York City. I vividly remember the parade down Fifth Avenue and the funeral service at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I had first heard about Paderewski from my grandmother when I was six years old. She instilled in me an appreciation for Paderewski's music, patriotism, and statesmanship.

      Ignacy Jan Paderewski, born on November 6, 1860, achieved prominence in Poland as a composer and concert pianist by 1887. In 1891 he made his first concert tour in America under the sponsorship of Steinway. He was an instant success. He played 107 concerts in that year, culminating in a six-encore, standing room only performance at Carnegie Hall. A tall, handsome, redhead, he played with a dramatic flair.

      For the next 20 years his popularity grew and his concert tours expanded around the world, but he always preferred playing in the United States. For the following two decades, in addition to his concert tours, he lectured and wrote on democracy and how it could be promoted through the arts and education. Paderewski donated the bulk of his profits to programs which helped budding artists and sent them to schools of higher learning.

      In 1914, Ignacy's life as a pianist was almost ended due to a severe attack of arthritis in his right hand. A friend recommended that he go to Paso Robles in California to get relief in the hot mud baths there. He and Halina moved to the Paso Robles Inn for one year while he took mud baths nearby. The people of Paso Robles fell in love with him especially when he practiced on the grand piano in the lobby of the inn where they stood outside and listened to him play. While he was in Paso Robles, a realtor friend talked Ignacy into buying over 1520 acres. He augmented that land over the next three years with over 4000 more acres of farm land which Ignacy converted into growing almonds and grapes he shipped in from Switzerland. The Zinfandel grape seedlings helped popularize the wine in California and, though Paderwaski did not produce wine due to Prohibition, wine later made from his grapes by local wineries, continue to receive recognition at the San Francisco Wine Fair.

      Poland, suffering its third partition, was divided among Germany, Austria and Russia and ceased to exist in 1795. Throughout this time, he worked to inspire pride among Polish-Americans and rekindle hope and patriotism in his fellow countrymen. He called for the rebirth of a free and independent Poland.

      In 1914 Colonel House introduced Paderewski to President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. At the end of World War I, Paderewski, acting in his role as the Polish Prime Minister, accompanied President Wilson to the Hall of Mirrors, on the outskirts of Paris, where they both signed the Treaty of Versailles.

      On November 27, 1919 he relinquished power to return to his first love playing on the concert circuit.

      Paderewski continued to write and speak for democracy. He contributed to programs to send talented Poles and Americans to schools for performing arts and college courses in international relations. In 1938, alarmed by events in Europe, Paderewski helped persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that the United States should prepare for war. Once again Paderewski abandoned his busy schedule of international concert tours. Now aging and ill, he nevertheless worked tirelessly to arouse public opinion in the U.S. against the looming Nazi threat. On September 1, 1939, Hitler marched into Poland and within weeks, after suffering tremendous losses, Poland was once again conquered. Poland was occupied in the West by the Germans and in the East by the Soviets. Broken-hearted, Paderewski died on June 29, 1941, less then six months before the United States declared war on the Axis Powers.

      Although they did it differently, Paderewski, like Chopin, decided that his heart should be buried separately. Chopin's heart is interred in Warsaw and his body in Paris. The dying Paderewski told his sister that no matter what happened to his body, his heart should remain in the United States. President Roosevelt, wishing to bestow the nation's highest honor on Paderewski, ordered that he be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. When told by Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, that only U.S. citizens could be buried at Arlington, Roosevelt directed that Paderewski's body be interred in a crypt surrounding Arlington's Mast of the Battleship Maine, to lie there until Poland was once again free. For the next several years, Paderewski devotees pondered the mystery, where is Paderewski's heart? Subsequently, the heart was discovered in a New York cemetery and placed in a shrine dedicated to his patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa, in Doylestown, PA.

      Paderewski's body lay in the crypt of the Mast of the Maine for two decades, a fact known only to a few. When it was brought to President John F. Kennedy's attention through a newspaper article by the music critic of the Washington Post that few people knew that the crypt contained Paderewski's body, Kennedy directed that a marker be placed at the crypt's entrance. By a remarkable coincidence, JFK ordered me as the senior Polish-American in uniform back from Vietnam to witness the unveiling of the marker. President Kennedy delivered a moving speech. He said: "it is no accident that men of great genius like... Paderewski should have also been good patriots. You have to be a free man to be a great artist." A tape of this speech is one of my most prized possessions.

      In 1981, as President Reagan's chief Arms Control Negotiator, I prevailed upon him to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Paderewski's death. There was a stirring ceremony at the amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery, overlooking the mast of the Maine. Lane Kirkland, President of AFL-CIO, pledged the active support of American Labor to Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement. President Reagan, referring to President Kennedy's speech two decades earlier, reiterated Paderewski's philosophy that democracy could be promoted by the arts and education. He promised that one day the Berlin Wall would be torn down, Poland would be free, and Paderewski would be returned to Poland.

      In 1985, serving as President Reagan's Special Advisor on Arms Control, I was sent behind the Iron Curtain to brief the communist leaders of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. When I asked General Jaruzielski if I could speak to Lech Walesa he said, "I take note of that". I told Walesa about President Reagan's strong support for Solidarity. Faced with this precedent, after briefing Premier Jakes in Czechoslovakia, he gave me permission to speak to Waclaw Havel, leader of the Charter 77 dissident group. The pattern was repeated in Hungary. After briefing Chairman Pal Lonczi, I spoke to a number of Hungarian dissidents. I returned on similar mission for the next three years and included the Pope in my briefings. In 1988 President Reagan authorized me to tell Mr. Walesa, that when he became President of Poland Paderewski's body would be returned. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and Poland regained its freedom. True to his promise, Reagan planned to return Paderewski's body to Poland on the 50th anniversary of his death, June 29, 1991. However, several weeks earlier, on a State visit to the United States, President Walesa said he had not sufficiently consolidated the government and requested that the return of the body be postponed until the following year.

      On June 29, 1992, in the company of a group of distinguished Polish-Americans, I, as Honorary Chairman, traveled to Warsaw aboard the Presidential 747 to return Paderewski's body to Poland. The group included one of Paderewski's two living second cousins, Clarence J. Paderewski, an eminent American architect. A magnificent ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Paderewski's casket, draped in an American flag, was transported from Arlington Cemetery to Andrews Air Force Base. In Warsaw there was another elaborate ceremony at the airport. President Walesa and prominent members of his government greeted the body. In the group was Dr. Emila Paderewski Chroszicki, a well known physician and professor, and Paderewski's other living second cousin. There was a long procession, through streets lined with thousands of Poles waving American and Polish flags, to the baroque Royal Castle, Zamek Krolewski, in downtown Warsaw where his body lay in state for the next several days. Winding up a tour in Europe, President George Herbert Walker Bush attended a moving ceremony in a square in front of the Castle where President Bush formally delivered the body to President Walesa. In President Bush's address, he stressed that this great patriot and statesman had not only been responsible for restoring Poland's freedom, but also had promoted democracy through the arts and education. In accepting the body, President Walesa drew attention to the Polish constitution of 1793. This, the second oldest in the Free World, was modeled after the constitution of the United States. He thanked the U.S. citizens, especially Polish-Americans, for their undying support. In one final procession, Paderewski's body was given a military escort to the Basilica of St. John, where it was placed in a crypt.

      The Polish government in gratitude for my work in returning Paderewski's body to Poland, presented me with the American flag which draped his casket and two books signed by those who paid their respects while Paderewski's body lay in state in Zamek Castle. I, in turn, donated the flag to the Polish museum in Chicago and the books to the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington D.C.

Edward L. Rowny
Former Ambassador, LTG USA (Ret.)
Please e-mail me with any comments corrections or anything at erowny@aol.com