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President George W. Bush's visit to Poland this June not only coincides with
Poland's yearlong celebration of the Paderewski Year, marking the 60 th
anniversary of this great Pole's death, but it coincidentally takes place in the very
month which this great man died. There is still another American-Paderewski
coincidence with President Bush's visit this year. The year 2001 also marks the
110th anniversary of Paderewski's first of 20 concert tours of the USA.
In welcoming President Bush, it would be difficult not to remember the
1992 Warsaw visit of his father President George H. Bush (1989-93), when the
American head of state brought back the earthly remains of Poland's great
musician and patriot Ignacy Jan Paderewski. That remarkable funeral was a
celebration which lasted for several days. First the casket laid in state at the
Royal Castle, and then it was transferred to Holy Cross Church. Finally, a military
cortge escorted the casket to Old Town's St. John Cathedral, where a Requiem
Mass was celebrated and where the first Polish Prime Minister was entombed in
the cathedral crypt. After the funeral, President Bush gave a speech in the Castle
Square and following that, as people left to return home, old recordings of
Paderewski playing were broadcast over loudspeakers down the entire length of
Krakowskie Przedmiescie.
The Bushes, though, are not the only American presidents to have played
roles in immortalizing this hero who allowed millions to empathize with his music
and sympathize with the Polish cause. During World War I, former President
William Howard Taft (1909-13) served as the Honorary Chairman of the American
Committee of the Polish Victims' Relief Fund, an organization which Paderewski
and Henryk Sienkiewicz organized to aid hundreds of thousands of displaced
Poles in desperate need of food, clothing and shelter. President Woodrow Wilson
(1913-21), heeding Paderewski's advice, included the proposal for the creation of
an independent Poland as part of his Fourteen Points, the conditions on which the
USA was prepared to make peace with Germany at the end of WW I.
If it was President Wilson who "saved" the Polish nation, it would be future
President Herbert Hoover (1929-33), who, as Chairman of the postwar American
Relief Committee, would "feed" the Poland after the Great War. In 1919 and
1920, two million Polish children were able to be fed regularly with over several
hundred thousand tons of food supplied by the USA. In addition to this, 11,000
university students in Poland were also able to take advantage of regular free
meals. Hoover's willingness to help Poland stems from a 1896 debt incurred from
a California concert that President Hoover - then a student at Stanford University
- organized for Paderewski. The concert turned out to be a financial disaster with
ticket sales not covering the pianist's $2,000 honorarium. The magnanimous
Paderewski, however, instead of demanding the total intake from the concert,
told Hoover to use the money received to cover his expenses, keep 20% for
himself and then give him whatever remained. Needless to say, Hoover repaid
his debt to Paderewski a million times over.
When Paderewski died during WW II in 1941, it was President Franklin D.
Roosevelt (1933-1945) that gave him a funeral with full military honors and
offered him a temporary resting place in Washington's Arlington National
Cemetery until his remains could be returned to a free Poland. Paderewski's

temporary place of repose lasted a half a century while Poland suffered

enslavement, first under German Nazism and then under Soviet Communism.
But not only presidents, kings, military leaders and other statesmen would
succumb to Paderewski's seductive personality. Nor would only musicians be
able to rise to the new heights of poetry and imagination that Paderewski's music
and artistry let them soar to. Not only Poles would be moved by the oratorical
prowess of his impassioned pleas for an independent Polish State. Both prince
and pauper would fall under the hypnotic spell of this unique man. Paderewski
would carve his own lasting niche in the hearts of millions of freedom-and- musicloving people around the world.
British King George V (1910-1936) described Paderewski as "the greatest
man I have ever met," and British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour described the
Polish master as being "one of the very few people to whom the word 'genius'
can be applied." French composer Camille Saint-Sans would clarify that last
statement, though, by saying, "Paderewski is a genius who happens to play the
piano." However, one of the most beautiful tributes and epithets given to
Paderewski can be found in a review of a piano recital given in Detroit on January
14, 1924, nearly twenty years before the artist's death. Lamenting a future world
without Paderewski, The Detroit News music critic W. K. Kelly wrote: ...When
Paderewski closes his piano for the last time, a star will have fallen from heaven.
Other stars may rise, but then there will be none like him for many a year. He is
the Sirius of our skies. He will pass into legend. Seventy years hence old men
will be boasting: 'When I heard Paderewski...!' and a new age will listen
Joseph A. Herter