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Family History | Origin | First Immigrants | Polish History | People and Culture | Political System | Business and Economy | Summary

Narrative by
Christopher M. Slon

Research by
Richard A. Slon

Dedicated to
the Slons in America

    WE ARE THE AMERICAN SLONS. We represent walks of life ranging from corporate executive to classical musician and from saloon keeper to university professor. Most of us live in Western New York State, but recent generations have begun to pepper themselves across the Lower Forty-eight and beyond. There are many common threads in the fabric of the Slon family that bind us in part--love of music, interest in booklearning, enthusiasm for sports, passion for good and plentiful food, and an active sense of humor. Some of us share these things some of the time, but we all share one thing all of the time--a common heritage. It is to this heritage--a heritage supported by a relationship with God, rooted in Polonia, and nourished by loving family life--that each of us comes to measure, whether through comparison or contrast, the success of his or her life.



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    ur heritage, what each of us has inherited in total, derives from our family history. The manifestations of that history are easy enough to see in part by anyone who has attended a Slon wedding. A Catholic Mass; plenty of good food and dance music; and aunts, uncles, and cousins by the busload (sometimes literally)--this is what Slons do. Yet we also know there are less tangible aspects of being a Slon that each of us manifests in his or her own way. Ultimately, these aspects stem from our common history. Understanding our family history is essential to investing our heritage in our own lives and bequeathing to the next generation a heritage even richer than we have received.

The Poland
the Slons came

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    The history of us Slons in America starts with the acts of five individuals. These acts, which today seem both courageous and desperate, were driven by the confluence of currents in economics, politics, and society on both sides of the Atlantic. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, the five children of Franciszka and Jan Slon, four brothers and their sister, decided to leave behind everything that was familiar and cross a vast ocean to restart their lives in a strange new land. Today we can only guess about the personal motivations of Katarzyna, Marcin, Stanislaw, Jozef, and Antoni, but we do know the historical facts about the place they left and the place to which they came.
       In the late 1890's when Katarzyna (Slon) Stobnicki and her husband Franciszek left the village of Debica for the port of entry at Ellis Island, Poland as an independent political entity did not even exist. The late eighteenth century saw the nadir of a gradual decline of the Polish Commonwealth that in 1683, when Jan Sobieski's troops comprised the heart and soul of the crusade that freed Vienna from the Turks, was the largest territory in Europe (Zamoyski, p. 3). In the 1750's, the political ideals of the European Enlightenment that elsewhere brought about the French Revolution and the US Constitution, surfaced in Poland as a movement of democratic reforms (Wandycz, pp.3-11). These reforms threatened the neighboring absolute monarchs in Prussia, Russia, and Austria. In 1772, Frederick the Great, Catharine the Great, and the Empress Maria Teresa agreed to enforce a partition of Poland that reduced Poland's territory by about 30 percent. In addition, Russia put restrictions on any possibility of constitutional reform in Poland (Zamoyski, p 229; Wandycz, p. 10). Despite this, Poland adopted the first written constitution in Europe on May 3, 1792. Although it was hailed as political brilliance from Paris to Washington, it eventually led to a second partition of Poland which effectively destroyed Poland's ability to support economic activity (reference). In 1797 in a third act of barbarism, Prussia, Russia, and Austria agreed to obliterate Poland from the map. This partition of Poland was maintained in one form or another until 1918 when Poland was reconstituted in the aftermath of World War I.
       Debica, the village in which Franciszka and Jan lived, was part of the Austrian dominated partition called Galicia. It is hard to say whether the Slons of Debica identified themselves as Polish or Austrian. If they were peasants, which is a fair assumption, chances are they had more loyalty to the local landlord and more identification with the village than with a nation or a people. Yet it is pretty certain that the language and traditions they embraced were common to Poles wherever they lived.
       Even today Debica is a poor town. Its industry amounts to a steam mill, a steam sawmill, a match factory, soap-works, and alcohol distillery. In the late nineteenth century, even though Galicia had achieved some measure of autonomy, it was victim of the Austrian policy of pulling out raw materials from the area without establishing the kinds of industry that in other places was generating tremendous wealth. In addition, a century of Austrian political dominance had stifled the agriculture based social structure to a condition not much beyond feudalism. In the 1890's Debica was probably a place with not much promise for a young person because of a glut of agricultural labor and not much else to go around.

in WNY

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    The Polish influence in Western New York can be traced back to Pieter Stadnitski, one of the partners of the Holland Land Office Company; the Dutch company which purchased and brought settlers to the area in the early 19th century. More specifically, Polish settlers of Jewish heritage began arriving in the area before 1860, while Catholic Poles began arriving in large numbers soon after. Between 1873 and 1922, Polish Americans established 34 church parishes in (see churches) Greater Buffalo and Western New York.

    By 1940, there were 76,465 Western New Yorkers of Polish stock, and in the 1990's a great number of people from this area claim to be of some Polish descent.


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    The first Polish state was established in the 10th century by Mieszko I. Under him the Poles became Christians. Mieszko's descendants, known as the Piast Dynasty, expanded Polish power. Major enemies at this time were the German Teutonic Knights and the Tatars. After a period of political unrest Wladyslaw I reunited the kingdom in
  • 1320, and his son Casimir III the Great protected it from its enemies and developed its economy and society.
  • 1386 Queen Jadwiga married Wladyslaw II Jagiello, the grand duke of Lithuania, uniting two powerful states.
  • 1410 their armies defeated the German Teutonic Knights at the battle of Tannenberg. (See Jagiellon Dynasty.)
  • In the 16th century, Poland and Lithuania expanded eastward to annex much of the Ukraine and some Russian territory. From this time the Russians also became one of Poland's major opponents. The greatest king of this period was Sigismund II Augustus.
  • 1572 Sigismund II died without an heir. Under the following Vasa Dynasty, Poland became involved in wars with Sweden, Russia, and Turkey.
  • 1610 the Poles succeeded in occupying Moscow, but this success was short-lived. Russian advances on Polish territory and a Swedish invasion in 1655 created a major crisis. The Poles fought back, however, and the Swedish invasion was checked while a truce with Russia was obtained. John III Sobieski defended Vienna against the Turks in 1683 and saved Western Europe from a Turkish invasion (see Sobieski). Prussia, Russia, and Austria all annexed parts of Poland in 1772. A small Polish state was left at the mercy of its enemies.
  • 1793 Poland was further partitioned among the three powers. The patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko led a peasant army in a national insurrection against the Russians (see Kosciusko).
  • 1795 Poland's last remaining territory was occupied by the three partitioning powers. Many Poles fled the country.
  • 1807 Napoleon supported the formation of a small and weak Polish state, but after Napoleon's defeat by Russia the Russians returned. Czar Alexander I of Russia permitted the existence of a Russian-controlled Polish kingdom. An uprising of the Poles in 1830 was put down by the Russians, who then began a period of suppression of Polish culture and institutions.
  • 1863 another insurrection resulted in the total extinc tion of Poland as a separate political unit. During World War I Russia fought Austria and Germany, often on Polish territory, and during this time the population suffered greatly. The Polish leaders, however, gained the support of the Allies, especially France, and in 1918 an independent Poland again appeared with Jozef Pilsudski as head of state. The pianist Ignacy Paderewski became prime minister.
  • 1921 the Soviets and the Poles signed a peace treaty, which gave Poland substantial territories in the east that were mainly populated by Ukrainians and Belorussians. The internal political situation in Poland was not very stable, and in 1926 Pilsudski took control as president of the republic and head of the government. He was thus a virtual dictator. After his death in 1935 political unrest again developed, but this period ended with the outbreak of World War II. During the 1930s Nazi Germany put forward demands for the annexation of the free city of Gdansk (Danzig) and began to organize incidents on the Polish-German border. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, forcing Britain and France (who both supported Poland) to declare war. The German campaign in Poland was short.
  • The Polish position was made impossible by the invasion of eastern Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, by Soviet forces in accordance with a secret agreement made between the Soviets and Nazi Germany. Germany and the Soviet Union annexed parts of Polish territories. Much of the Jewish population was forced into ghettos and later removed to such death camps as Auschwitz (Oswiecim), Majdanek, and Treblinka (see Concentration Camp).
  • 1943 an unsuccessful uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was brutally suppressed by the Germans. Many Christian Poles also died in the camps, while others were taken to Germany as laborers.
  • April 1943 mass graves of 4,300 Polish officers were discovered in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk in the Soviet Union. The Soviets claimed the German army had executed the officers in July 1941. Later investigations revealed that it was actually the Soviet security authorities who had executed the Poles in the spring of 1940. The Soviet Union acknowledged responsibility for the killings in 1990. The Polish government in exile in London formed a Polish army, navy, and air force composed of refugee Poles. A Polish home army of underground fighters was in radio contact with the London government. When the Soviet Army entered Poland in 1944 and was approaching Warsaw, the home army received orders to liberate the capital city from the Germans before the Soviets arrived. After two months of fighting, however, the home army surrendered to the Germans, and Warsaw was virtually destroyed. The Soviets made no attempt to help the Polish fighters. When the Soviet Army first reached Polish territory, it established a committee of national liberation in Lublin. This committee later became a provisional government based in Warsaw. Polish frontiers underwent a major shift after the Allied conference in Potsdam, Germany, in 1945. The Soviet Union retained control of the territories that it had obtained in 1939, while Poland gained large areas of former German territory in the west, including the industrial region of Upper Silesia, the ports of Gdansk and Szczecin, and a long Baltic coastline. Poles from the Soviet-occupied areas were resettled on lands in the west that had expelled Germans. Communist control was intensified with the removal of more liberal political leaders such as Wladyslaw Gomulka in 1949.
  • 1956, however, a major political upheaval led to the return of Gomulka as first secretary of Poland's Communist party with the support of Nikita Khrushchev, the new Soviet leader. (See Gomulka.)
  • 1970 the authoritarian Gomulka government fell after the eruption of bloody riots and strikes in several cities because of rises in food prices. Edward Gierek was appointed party leader. Further price increases in 1976 and 1980 created more unrest.
  • Gdansk a committee led by Lech Walesa, an electrical worker, demanded the right to form independent trade unions (see Walesa, Lech). A national confederation of trade unions called Solidarity was formed. Gierek resigned, and Stanislaw Kania succeeded him as first secretary of the party. Kania resigned in 1981 and was replaced by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who banned Solidarity. Only unions pledging allegiance to the Communist party were permitted.
  • 1985 Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Zbigniew Messner.
    September 1988 Messner and his cabinet resigned amid growing furor over the economy. Mieczyslaw Rakowski became prime minister. On April 5, 1989, Solidarity was legally restored.
  • July parliamentary elections, Solidarity won the majority of seats in the new Senate and all of the seats allocated to opposition parties in the Sejm, or lower house. Jaruzelski became president. Rakowski resigned in August. Communist attempts to form a government failed. Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Solidarity then became Poland's first non-Communist prime minister in more than 40 years. The second half of 1989 was dominated by a growing economic crisis brought on by the government's introduction of market pricing for agricultural products and skyrocketing inflation.
  • 1990 the Communist party disbanded and reorganized as the Social Democratic party, an opposition party to Solidarity. The country's first fully democratic elections since World War II were held on May 27, when the local councils were chosen. On December 9 Walesa won the presidential election. The October 1993 election restored many former Communists to power. Waldemar Pawlak became prime minister.*

    A brief history of Poland in the Last 200 Year

    The History of Poland


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    The population of Poland totals about 38 million. It increases yearly by some 4.8 people per 1,000. During World War II 6 million people about one sixth of the population died, including nearly 3 million Jews murdered in Nazi death camps (see Holocaust). After the war most of the population of German origin was expelled, while some Ukrainians were resettled in the Soviet Union. At present more than 98 percent of the people are Poles, with small groups of Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans, Slovaks, and Lithuanians. The Poles speak a Slavic language and belong to the western branch of the Slavic peoples. Religion plays a major role in Polish life, and the Poles have remained faithful followers of the Roman Catholic church. Their religious feelings strengthened their opposition to the Communist regime. Talks between Solidarity leaders and representatives of the Communist government included church representatives as a vital part of Polish public life.
  • Visits by John Paul II, the first pope of Polish origin, have helped to maintain the religious faith of the Polish people. Because of large-scale emigration in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there are many Poles living abroad, especially in the United States. Many of these Poles have maintained their culture and contacts with their land of origin. About 60 percent of the population lives in cities. There are a number of large cities, including five with populations of more than 500,000. The largest is Warsaw, the capital, with about 1.7 million inhabitants. Lodz has approximately 850,000 people. Other large cities are Krakow (Cracow), Wroclaw,Poznan, Gdansk, and Szczecin. (See also Warsaw; Lodz; Krakow; Wroclaw; Poznan; Gdansk.) One of the major cultural contributions of Poland to the world has been its literature. The earliest writings in Polish date from the 15th century, though Poles were writing in Latin at an earlier date. Most of this early literature was religious in nature. One of the first writers to use Polish exclusively was Mikolaj Rej (1505-69), who wrote poetry and prose. The literature of the 18th century showed the influence of contacts with Western Europe. The first major Polish woman writer, Elzbieta Druzbacka, appeared at this time. The establishment of a national theater in Warsaw in 1765 encouraged a number of dramatists such as Wojciech Boguslawski and Franciszek Zablocki. Aleksander Fredro wrote popular comedies.
  • The Romantic period of the early 19th century produced some of Poland's greatest poets, of whom the most famous was Adam Mickiewicz. Much of his work was written in exile in Russia, including his great national epic, 'Pan Tadeusz' (1834). Other poets and dramatists of the period were Juliusz Slowacki, Zygmunt Krasinski, and Cyprian Norwid. At the end of the 19th century writers emerged such as Aleksander Glowacki, a supporter of realism who wrote under the name Boleslaw Prus, and Henryk Sienkiewicz, whose novel 'Quo Vadis?' (1896) became internationally famous. Sienkiewicz also wrote novels about heroic periods in Poland's past.
  • In the early 20th century a notable writer was Wladyslaw Reymont, whose four-volume novel 'The Peasants' (1902-09) achieved worldwide fame. Reymont and Sienkiewicz both won Nobel prizes in literature. Stefan zeromski wrote novels, stories, and plays, while Stanislaw Wyspi anski was a playwright. During the period between World Wars I and II, a number of talented writers appeared. The most notable were the poets Julian Tuwim and Kazimierz Wierzynski and the novelists Maria Dabrowska, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, and Jan Parandowski. With the establishment of the Communist regime after World War II, political controls were imposed on writers. Many began to follow socialist models.
  • In spite of these restrictions some writers of note appeared. Jerzy Andrzejewski achieved recognition for his novel 'Ashes and Diamonds'. Some writers, such as Marek Hlasko, wrote pessimistic novels about Polish life, while Slawomir MroZek went into exile in 1968 rather than continue writing in Poland. Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel prize for literature in 1980 (see Milosz). Stanislaw Lem gained fame abroad for his science-fiction stories. Later writers were able to work under less pressure, and an underground press helped to circulate widely their writings and ideas. Music is a significant part of Polish culture. Poland's greatest composer was Frederic Chopin, whose work reflects the Polish national spirit. Also in the 19th century were Stanislaw Moniuszko, who composed the first national opera, 'Halka', in 1847, and the violinist-composer Henryk Wieniawski. The 20th century was marked by the appearance of such world-famous pianists as Ignacy Paderewski, Leopold Godowsky, Artur Rubinstein, and Witold MalcuZynski; the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska; and violinist Henryk Szeryng. Later composers include Karol Szymanowski, Witold Lutoslawski, and Krzysztof Penderecki. There are a number of symphony orchestras and chamber music groups. (See also Chopin; Landowska; Paderewski; Rubinstein.) Folk music is very much alive in Poland. It is often played to accompany traditional dances such as the mazur, krakowiak, and kujawiak. Folk songs are sung by soloists or by choirs, of which there are many in Poland. Dancers and singers wear costumes from various districts. The greatest Polish painter is Jan Matejko. He painted large pictures of scenes from Poland's past. The finest realist painter of the 19th century was
  • Jozef Chelmonski. Among modern painters are Jan Cybis, Juliusz Studnicki, and Czeslaw Rzepinski.*


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    Parliamentary democracy was established in Poland in 1991. This concluded a process set in motion by the "round-table" talks between the Communist government then in power and representatives of the Opposition (6th February-5th April 1989). As a result, constitutional reforms were agreed upon and free elections called. The Constitutional Amendment of 7th April 1989 established the institutions of the President of the Republic and that of the Senate. As a consequence of these Essential changes in the socio-political system, the name of the state reverted to its historical antecedent: the Republic of Poland.
  • The supreme state authority is the Sejm (Lower House), but its powers are, to a Certain extent held in check by the Senate and the President. The Sejm consists of 460 Deputies. The Presidium, the Council of seniors and Parliamentary Commissions are the main bodies of the Sejm. The Presidium'of the Sejm is composed of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers. Parliamentary parties (caucuses) are the basic forms of political Organization in the Sejm.
  • The Senate is a representative body. Its major task is to participate in the legisla-tive process. It can also propose Bills. The Senate speaks for local government, as well as being a watchdog for civil rights and liberties. The Senate consists of 100 Senators elected for the ten-n of office of the Sejm. Its institutions are the Speaker of the Senate, the Presidium, and Senate Commissions.
  • The President is the most senior representative of the Polish State, both in national and international terms. He is the guardian of the Constitution as well as of Poland's territorial integrity and the maintenance of international political and military alliances. The Presidential Chancellery is the executive arm of the President's office.
  • The Prime Minister, proposed by the President to the Sejm for approval, forms the Government, which must also be approved by the Sejm. Governmental institutions consist of the Prime Minister, the Government's Presidium, and the Office of The Council of Ministers.


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    Before World War II Poland was predominantly an agricultural country. Much land was held by large landowners, but there were also many small uneconomical peasant farms. After the war and the establishment of Communist control, attempts were made to turn peasant farms into socialist–style cooperative farms. Strong resistance from the peasants, however, resulted in the disbanding of most cooperative farms after 1956. About 49 percent of the land area is cultivated with rye, wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, sugar beets, and fodder for livestock as the major crops. About 13 percent is pastureland.
  • Dairy cattle and sheep are kept throughout the country, but the most numerous farm animals are pigs. Polish ham is a major export product. Horses are still common as draft animals. Poultry are valuable as a source of eggs, which are also exported. Small farms and the lack of modern technology have hampered agricultural production, and supplies of certain foodstuffs, such as meat, are often insufficient. Grain must be imported. About 27 percent of the country's labor force works in agriculture. Since World War II the Poles have built a fishing industry not only in the Baltic Sea but also on the Atlantic Ocean. In industry, priority is given to the production of iron and steel, chemicals, and electricity. Katowice is the center of the iron–and–steel industry. The largest plant, however, is at Nowa Huta, near Krakow. The iron–and–steel and the electric–power industries depend on supplies of coal. Hard coal comes from the Upper Silesian field. Poland ranks fourth in the world in coal production and exports large amounts. About 80 percent of electric–power production comes from coal. There is little production of hydroelectric power. Production of metals also includes zinc, copper, and aluminum. Most iron ore is imported. The chemical industry is significant. Sulfuric acid, salts, and fertilizers are major products. Plastics and artificial fibers are also produced. The largest nitrogen–fertilizer plant in Europe is located at Pulawy, south of Warsaw.
  • Chemical products are exported. The Polish engineering industry produces a variety of items, including ships, transport equipment, agricultural machinery, machine tools, and equipment for various industries. The leading products for export are locomotives, freight wagons, automobiles, trucks, tractors, and ships. A large factory in Warsaw produces Polish Fiat automobiles. Textile production is a traditional branch of Polish industry, and linen and cotton textiles are exported. Most of the industry is located in Lodz. Economic development in Poland has been hampered by problems of poor organization and quality and by labor unrest. Strikes and other forms of demonstration during the early 1980s led to a serious decline in industrial production, including coal mining. Heavy borrowing from Western banks resulted in a major debt problem. Much of the money borrowed was used to buy machinery from the West, which proved unsuitable for Poland's industrial requirements.
  • The steadily worsening economy was a major factor in the collapse of the Communist government. Inflation approached 200 percent. To end the massive labor strikes of 1988, the government agreed to hold talks with Solidarity, which led to its relegalization as a trade union in 1989 and its triumph at the polls in June of that year. Government bonds were issued on October 1 as a step toward creation of a capital market. In the early 1990s industrial restructuring and the privatization of state enterprises were underway. Poland ranks fifth in Europe in the length of its railroad network with 16,551 miles (26,636 kilometers) of track. The highway system is less developed. The major internal waterways are the Oder and Vistula rivers and connecting canals. The Oder River reaches the Baltic Sea at the port of Szczecin, while the major ports of Gdansk and Gdynia are at the mouth of the Vistula River. The Bydgoszcz Canal connects the Vistula River with the Oder River, via the Notec River, while the Gliwice Canal connects the Oder River with the Upper Silesian industrial region. Poland's national airline is LOT, which is based in Warsaw. Radio and television broadcasting was long controlled by the state. Telephone and telegraph services were also government controlled until 1989.  (See Synopsis)


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    Official Name. Republic of Poland.
    Capital. Warsaw.

Principal Physical Feature. North European Plain.
Mountain Ranges. Beskids, Carpathian, High Tatra, Holy Cross, Sudeten.
Highest Peak. Rysy, 8,199 feet (2,499 meters).
Major Rivers. Bug, NoteC, Oder, Vistula, Warta.

Population (1996 estimate). 38,731,000; 320.8 persons per square mile
(123.9 persons per square kilometer); 61.8 percent urban, 38.2 percent
rural (1996 estimate).
Major Cities (1991 estimate). Warsaw (1,638,300; 1996 estimate), LódZ
(825,600; 1996), Kraków (745,400; 1996), WrocLaw (643,100), PoznaN
(590,100), GdaNsk (465,400), Szczecin (413,600).
Major Religion. Roman Catholicism.
Major Language. Polish (official).
Literacy. 98.7 percent.
Leading Universities. Adam Mickiewicz University in PoznaN; Catholic
University of Lublin; Jagiellonian University, Kraków; Marie
Curie-SkLodowska University, Lublin; Nicholas Copernicus University of
ToruN; University of Silesia, Katowice; University of GdaNsk; University
of LódZ; University of Warsaw.

Form of Government. Unitary multiparty republic.
Chief of State. President.
Head of Government. Prime Minister.
Legislature. Bicameral parliament; consists of the Senate, with 100
members, and the Sejm, or Diet, with 460 members; all elected by popular
vote; four-year terms.
Voting Qualification. Age 18.
Political Divisions. 49 provinces.

Chief Agricultural Products. Crops--potatoes, rye, wheat, sugar beets.
Livestock--pigs, cattle.
Chief Mined Products. Copper, zinc, lead, aluminum, crude petroleum,
Chief Manufactured Products. Food and beverages, machinery and
transport equipment, chemicals.
Chief Exports. Locomotives, freight wagons, automobiles, trucks,
tractors, ships, chemical products, linen and cotton textiles.
Chief Imports. Crude petroleum, petroleum products, natural gas, iron
ores, hot-rolled products, metalworking machines, cold-rolled sheets and
other metallurgical products, steel pipes, agricultural equipment and
tools, buses, passenger cars.
Monetary Unit. 1 zLoty=100 groszy.

This article was contributed by Ian Matley, Professor of Geography, Michigan State University.

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