61 years ago, a successful and philanthropic group of Americans of Polish heritage formed an organization to support World War II heroes who immigrated to America from Poland to escape communism. Today, a new generation of successful and philanthropic Polish Americans is upholding the tradition of providing assistance to individuals who are at risk or in crisis due to poverty, mental or physical illness. Your support enables our organization to bring stability to these individuals by providing basic needs for housing, food and healthcare.
Polish Assistance provides financial support to needy persons of Polish origin who are facing unforeseen hardships. Beneficiaries receive assistance in meeting daily expenses, usually to supplement low social security payments or to cover extraordinary medical bills. Recipients also include the homeless, those in need of medical treatment, and handicapped people who are unable to care for themselves. Polish Assistance also continues its involvement in many Polish causes. To accomplish this, Polish Assistance solicits donations through dues and a series of fundraising activities, such as the Bal Polonaise.
Our organization was founded in 1956 by Count and Countess Jan Dembinski, together with the support of their friends: Aniela Mlynarska Rubinstein, her husband world renowned Polish pianist Maestro Artur Rubinstein and the cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein.
Polish Assistance was incorporated 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.
Polish Assistance proceeded to own and operate three homes in New Jersey for elderly Polish immigrants of limited means. Under the aegis of the presidency of Teresa Sulimirski and subsequently Jadwiga Palade, the focus of Polish Assistance changed from providing group homes for elderly Poles to direct assistance to individuals. Since its inception, Polish Assistance has eased the lives of many people.
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.
Homes for the Elderly
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.
The Bal Polonaise
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 has been held at the Plaza Hotel.
Eminent participants in former balls include Princess Grace of Monaco, Princess Stanislas Radziwill, Princess Lucie Shirazee, Count Adam Zamoyski; numerous ambassadors and statesmen, including Zbigniew Brzezinski; and famous actors like Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Basil Rathbone, and Joan Fontaine. More recent honorees include Operatic Diva Martha Eggerth Kiepura, Tenor Piotr Beczala, Count Wladyslaw Poninski, President of the Association of the Polish Knights of Malta. We have also honored such renowned authors as Jerzy Kosinski, “The Painted Bird” and “Being There”; Lynne Olson and Stanley Cloud, “A Question of Honor”; and David Ensor, CNN Correspondent, “Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II”.
In most recent years our focus became on recognizing eminent Polish American leaders in our community.
The 57th Annual Bal Polonaise was held on Saturday, February 6, 2016 at the prestigious and magnificent Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The Plaza has been a host to many of the Bal Polonaise fundraisers. We celebrated the 60th anniversary of Polish Assistance, our rich traditions, and most importantly your generosity and compassion for those less fortunate.
Currently, Bal Polonaise is on the hiatus as we review our fundraising plans.