80th Anniversary: Poland's vision of the future lives on in the PMA


Photo of part of the 1939 Pavilion

Jan Lorys, the historian at the Polish Museum of America has offered additional information below*

Fortuitously, in February 1939, Poland loaded 200 tons of artifacts on ships bound for New York and the "The World of Tomorrow" themed 1939 World's Fair. 


Medical items displayed in the Pavilion

The Fair opened on April 30, 1939, and the Polish Pavilion was filled with the finest examples of Poland's arts, crafts, agriculture, sciences, commerce and more. There was an air of optimism for a bright future. The Poles were proud of what they had achieved in the previous 20 years. Their title was "Polish Imagination: The World of Tomorrow."


Pottery from the Pavilion

Back in Poland, things were becoming less optimistic. In fact, they were gloomy. Then on Sept. 1, 1939, Adolph Hitler's German forces ruthlessly assaulted Poland by land and air. 


Regional costuming shown in miniature

Those actions triggered Britain and France to declare war on Germany, leading to World War II. 

The war cut short the World's Fair and the treasures of Poland could not be returned to their homeland. 

Through the concerns and assistance of many, many of those treasures have been not only saved but restored and are on exhibit at the Polish Museum of America, 984 North Milwaukee Ave. 


Violist Bogdan Pawlikowski playing violin from the Pavilion

In celebration of the 80th Anniversary of the Polish Pavilion in the New York 1939 World's Fair, a program was held at the Museum on Oct. 11. One of the spine tingling experiences was the music that emanated from a violin that was in the 1939 Pavilion. 

Many artifacts are on special exhibit and others on permanent display at PMA. 

While the Museum will be open on Sat., Oct. 19, for the Open House Chicago event, the display will continue at the Museum. Their regular hours are:

  • Friday-Tuesday: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
  • Last admission at 3:15 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
  • Last admission at 6:15 p.m.
  • Thursday: CLOSED

    Historian Jan Lorys reflects on Poland's history

*The Germans attacked on September 1 and then Joe Stalin, Hitler’s bosom buddy attacked on Sept. 17.  For that action and the invasion of Finland later that year the Sovier Union was disinvited for the 1940 exhibit season. 

The old Soviet space was divided among other countries including Poland, which showed pictures from the damage of 1938  *Germany did not participate in the Fair.  The Polish pavilion stayed open for the full two seasons, but with the Polish government involved in fighting the war, first from France then from London, the Polish American community took over financial support of the Pavilion.   

Maybe we didn’t present enough, but the uniform section showed 1939, the Poles fighting in France and Great Britain and finally a partially successful attempt to recruit young Polish Americans for the Polish Armed Forces.  About 2,000 did enlist, but in 1943, FDR asked the foreign volunteers which included Norwegian Americans, French and Belgians as well as Americans fighting with the Brits or Canadians to rejoin the American war effort.  Considering that the American war effort was 8 million men and women, the foreign numbers were insignificant in the US, but were good “propaganda in the small forces of the various Allied Armies.



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