Polish Assistance

Adapted by Witold Sulimirski from Bohdan de Rosset's History of Polish Assistance, Polish Assistance 1999 Bulletin.

Polish Assistance was incorporated in 1956 with the aim of giving financial aid to Polish immigrants, especially the elderly. As opposed to the economically driven mass migra­tion of a century ago, the 100,000 Poles who arrived here during and immediately after World War II were individuals who found themselves in Western Europe in its aftermath. They had no wish to return to their country on which the Soviet Union had imposed the communist system. Most of them were ex-military, but there were also government officials, educators, writers and artists. The older ones especially found it difficult to adapt to their new circumstances.
The nascent organization immediately embarked on a membership drive and began to raise funds under the energetic leadership of its initiators, Maria and Jan Dembinski. The first major success was a fund raising ball organized in the Park Avenue triplex of the cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein. The event subsequently became the elegant and popular Bal Polonaise which for many years now has been held at the Plaza Hotel. Among eminent participants of the ball were Princess Grace of Monaco, Basil Rathbone, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Fontaine and Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy's sister.

Initially the activity of Polish Assistance consisted of small grants and loans to individuals in need. It may have been a onetime payment of a medical bill, or of union initiation dues to a newly arrived musician - as well as regular modest monthly as­sistance to supplement a person's meager income. Right from the beginning, the ambition of Countess Dembinski was to establish a home for elderly Polish immigrants of limited means. This was accomplished in the years 1973 to 1975 with the purchase of not one, but three boarding houses in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. They could accommodate up to two dozen people, also serving others for brief vacations on an "as available" basis.

Unfortunately, in the long run Polish Assistance lacked the wherewithal to meet rising expectations of space and comfort - and to comply with the ever changing costly requirements of local authorities. The houses were thus gradually liquidated in the years 1992 - 1998. Even though the main aim of Polish Assistance is to help Poles in America, it was felt in 1989 that with the fall of communism in Poland many of them would doubtless want to live out their lives in their native land. With that in mind, a suitable property was purchased in Milanowek near Warsaw and the home was opened by Countess Dembinski on May 3, 1992. Sadly, she died suddenly two days later at her home in New York, knowing that her last objective had been achieved.

Regrettably, for number of reasons, including age and reluctance of the elderly to move to a totally changed country, the founder's hopes were not fulfilled. Use of the home by local people created various tax and legal problems, as a result of which it was decided to donate the property to a Polish foundation for the blind. 

Our present activity, again focusing on the New York metropolitan area and expanding its efforts in Florida, consists of aiding Polish individuals directly - or through other institutions which are in a position to provide needed services. The passage of time has caused the majority of the current aid recipients to be immigrants more recent than the post-WW II political refugees. Direct assistance may be given on a regular monthly basis - usually to supplement very low social security payments, or ad-hoc to meet urgent needs, such as the payment of medical and funeral bills.