Although sparse records exist of the Ladies’ Auxiliary Corps, Post no. 5, two souvenir booklets exist, one celebrating its 20th anniversary in 1946 and one
, its 25th anniversary in 1951. These, plus a collection of minutes recorded regularly between 1933 and 1944, and sporadically between 1953 and 1955, help to fill the blanks in the story of this group of charitable, patriotic, and kind-hearted ladies.
According to the 20th Anniversary Program Book, dated November 24, 1946:
A group of like-minded ladies gathered at the home of Mrs. Rżewska on October 27th ,1926 with the goal of organizing aid to the men, who a few years earlier returned from the field of battle – the soldiers of General Józef Haller’s Blue Army – who needed help. Many of them returned war-weary, in poor health, wounded and exhausted, with no material means of support.
The ladies decided to call a mass meeting of Polish women to meet at Post 7 (Placówka 7ma, located on McDougall & Kirby) of the Polish Army Veterans Association (SWAP) on November 9 where they will organize into a Ladies Auxiliary Post. Their first action was to prepare a traditional “Opłatek” and “Święconka” jointly with the veterans.
At the helm of this newly organized Ladies Auxiliary were:
- J. K. Rżewska, president
- A. Czaban, vice-president
- K. (Klara) Cichowska, recording secretary
- K. Stawecka, financial secretary
- St. (Stanisława) Gruchacz, treasurer
- Auditors: M. Żebrowska, M. Klimczyk, Z. Gajewska
Our ladies eagerly attacked many tasks, organizing celebrations, visiting the infirm in hospitals. Within the first weeks of their existence, they delivered help to the Veterans to the limit of their capabilities.
In addition to assisting the veterans with their material needs, in their first year, the ladies of the auxiliary also purchased an American flag for the men, and financially contributed to the Polish Language Chair at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Within a few years of their existence, the group came upon a project that surpassed any other to date. “With the help and guidance of the Rev. Joseph Lempka, the Ladies Auxiliary No. 5 purchased land for a Polish Soldiers’ Cemetery in 1929.” It was decided to purchase 72 gravesites in the newly established Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, then part of Pontiac, today in Southfield, Michigan. The first four men to rest there were reburied from other cemeteries on May 28 and 29, in anticipation of a Grand Opening on May 30, 1929, then called Decoration Day, now referred to as Memorial Day. It was a grand event, honored by the participation of Bishop Michael J. Gallagher, head of the Diocese of Detroit.
The first four men interred were:
- Jan Dworecki born 1889, died February 1929; transferred from Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
- Jan Gancarz 1890 – May 12, 1924; transferred from Holy Cross Cemetery.
- Stefan Gołuba 1894 – January 12, 1929; transferred from Mt. Olivet Cemetery.
- Jozef Taraszkiewicz 1893 – July 11, 1928; transferred from Holy Cross Cemetery.
Of the total 59 buried, 52 are Hallerczycy, five are World War II Polish Army veterans, and two are Americans of Polish descent who served in the United States Armed Forces. The last veteran was buried in 1962.
When the Great Depression hit, the ladies operated a kitchen and supplied food articles to those veterans who were unemployed. The ladies eagerly and wholeheartedly helped with this project.
In the pages of the 1946 booklet we read:
“With the welfare of the Veterans paramount in their thoughts and actions, as well as that of their widows and orphans, the Ladies Auxiliary sought permission from the State of Michigan to conduct a statewide sale of bławatki (cornflowers).” Their sales, modeled on U.S. veterans’ Poppy Day, were to help fund their works of mercy.
Ladies Auxiliary Corps, Post no. 5, besides supporting the returning veterans, assumed some civic activities as mentioned in their notes:
Through its influence and efforts, in 1932 the Ladies forced the Detroit Public Library to remove from its shelves a derogatory book titled Let the Day Perish. When a mound honoring Marshal Józef Piłsudski was being built in Kraków
), the Ladies Auxiliary of Post Nr. 5 sent an urn with earth from this Polish Soldiers Cemetery, to be added to this mound, Kopiec Piłsudskiego. The Ladies also fully supported three Polish orphans in France until they were adopted by families in Scotland.
We continue reading from the 1946 Booklet:
During World War II and until today, the Ladies participate in relief efforts for Poland; worked in the Polish sector of the American Red Cross sewing clothing, undergarments and bandages; help the Friends of Polish Soldiers organization in Canada and elsewhere sending holiday food packages to needy veteran families; are currently wholeheartedly engaged in helping orphanages in Poland. True to their goals, they stand ready today to offer help to the Polish soldier, veteran who fought valiantly for Poland’s independence.
The Ladies Auxiliary Post No. 5 became independent ofSWAP in 1937. However they continued as a free-standing charitable group, concentrating on helping Polish Army Veterans.
In their 25th Anniversary Souvenir Booklet, dated November 4, 1951, we learn that their name has changed from “Korpus Pomocniczy Nr. 5, SWAP” to “Korpus Pomocniczy Placówka Nr. 12 affiliating with “Polski Legion Amerykańskich Weteranów” (PLAV) “for reasons not of their doing.”
We read: “The dearest and sincerest wish of the members was to have their own ‘home’ (siedziba). So, when the opportunity presented itself, they purchased a few parcels of land with the intent of building their own corner. Together with the veteran members of PLAV, they lived to see the opening of their new quarters. In 1949, they became officially affiliated with PLAV.”
The list of officers in 1951 was:
Katarzyna Galas, president
Bronisława Świderska and Czesława Erenfejcht, vice-presidents
Helena Rarogiewicz, financial secretary
Aniela Zapytowska, recording secretary
Jadwiga Wenda, treasurer
Auditors: Janina Mościcka, Stanisława Janicka, Władysława Kurzawska
In researching the stories of the veterans buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, I often read how their comrades-in-arms prepared them a fitting farewell. It should be noted that the Ladies are the ones who ordered and funded the church service, funeral director and gravesite preparation and performed these duties for over thirty years. Throughout these years, membership varied from 100 to 40.
In spite of their occasional turbulent history, these kind, charitable, patriotic ladies managed to achieve what could be considered, in today’s world, a gigantic accomplishment: preserving lasting evidence of the sacrifice of the men, young and old, who volunteered to dedicate their lives to a highly noble cause: the freedom and independence of their homeland, Poland. These men are true heroes.
The ladies of Korpus 5tyare also heroines, though their actions were on a different field and done for the welfare of veterans who, through no fault of their own, fell on hard times. Most of all they should be remembered for undertaking the creation of the Polish Soldiers’ Cemetery.