The story of Polish-American relations of the Suliński family throughout the 19th and 20th centuries

Warsaw (Poland), December 13, 2004 

To the descendants of Konstancja Sulińska

Poland was for several centuries, and particularly in the 16th and 17th century, one of the most powerful States of Europe and in fact of the world. Poland, also called that time “The Republic of Both Nations” used to be, after 1569, a federal State of two enormous nations: Poles and Lithuanians, united under the reigning of a commonly elected king and with common supreme authorities. It was a country of a highly developed civilization and culture. The significant role in establishing democratic institutions was played by Polish nobility, while Polish aristocracy used to create the great Polish-Lithuanians cultural centers.

The geopolitical changes in the first part of the 18th century, as well as political degeneracy of upper social classes in the Republic of Both Nations caused a slow process of the State’s break-up.

Throughout 1772-1795 the Republic of Both Nations lost its independence, its territory was divided and took over by its three neighboring countries: Prussia (Germany), Austria and Russia, that were significantly growing that time - economically and military in strength.

In spite of the attempts to save the Republic of Both Nations – the best example may be the modern Constitution, legislated on May 3, 1791 (it was the first Constitution in Europe and the second in the world, after the United States of America), it lost its independence; Poland, as a sovereign State, did not exist anymore and disappeared from the maps of the world. However, what did survive was the very strong Polish nation, with its long tradition of Polish language, culture and national identity. The nation, even despite the economic, political and national pressure of the three occupants, survived 123 years without sovereignty, trying several times to regain independence in the way of uprisings. The efforts of Prussia, Austria and Russia in attempting to deprive Polish nation of its national identity, did not succeed.

The independent Polish State appeared again and regained independence in 1918, after the First World War.

It seems, according to the biographic data, that Jakub Suliński, the ancestor of our family, was born at the end of the 18th or at the beginning of the 19th century, so sometime around 1799-1800. His place of birth is unknown however it had to be probably around Sadłowo, near Bieżuń, which is a village on the banks of river Wkra, close to Sierpc, that is a town with long traditions. That time, it used to be rather a rural region, with no industry, however with a well-developed Polish handicraft. Jakub Suliński, married to Anna Gutorka, had to be for sure a farmer.

Sadłowo, after 1795 (so when Poland totally lost its independence), was generally speaking in that part of Polish territory that was occupied by Russia. Anyway, as in 1807 the Warsaw’s Principality (1807-1815) was created by Napoleon out of a little part of ancient Polish territory, the region of Sadłowo belonged to that sovereign, but somehow dependent of Napoleon Warsaw’s Principality. After Napoleon’s wars and his defeat submitted at Vienna Congress in 1815, the Warsaw’s Principality and some other regions were transformed into Polish Kingdom, which was in fact completely politically dependent of Russia. The pressure of Russian Tsar on the Polish nation was the reason of fight for independence took up by Poles – in 1830 they started an uprising (the so-called November Uprising), which was severely suppressed by the Russian occupant. Thousands of Polish combatants were sent by Tsar to Russian Siberia, while many Polish politicians, writers, poets, composers etc. immigrated to France, some to other countries, including the USA.

Stanisław Suliński, Jakub Suliński’s son, was born on November 25, 1831, so after the end of the uprising. He lived in Polish Kingdom, which in fact constituted a province of the Great Russian Empire and was politically dependent of Russia. In schools all subjects were taught in Russian and only some Polish families, namely those wealthier, could afford education of their children in Polish language. Officially, the use of Polish language at schools was forbidden by Russians.

We do not know whether Stanisław Suliński had any brothers or sisters. It seems that he was a farmer, especially as the Sadłowo region was famous for the fertility of soil (wheat, rye, barley, potatoes, sugar-beet and tobacco were grown in this area).

Stanisław Suliński married Balbina Petrykowska – we do not know much about their relationship, we only know that Balbina’s family was well-known for its patriotism and great attachment to the Polish national identity. Balbina’s brothers participated actively in the second great uprising (1863-1864) against Russian occupant, called the “January Uprising”. In many places all over this region there are numerous monuments in commemoration of the January Uprising’s participants.

Balbina, Stanisław Suliński’s wife, died in 1890 and was buried in Poniatowo, near Żuromin. Her grave cannot be found anymore there, even though there are some graves from the 19th century left at that cemetery. The cemetery itself is situated at the bank of river Wkra. Balbina and Stanisław Sulińscy had seven children: Maria – born around 1858 (f.), Antonina – born in 1860 (f.), Józefa – born around 1863 (f.), Konstancja – born in 1873 (f.), Pelagia – born in 1874 (f.), Konstanty – born in 1875 (m.) and Edmund – born in 1878 (m.). [see the genealogy tree]

Economic factors and overpopulation of Polish villages at the end of the 19th century resulting from the fact that the occupants accelerated the industrial development, constituted the reasons for a wave of immigration from the ancient Polish territory to different European countries and to the USA in 1870-1900 (according to the statistical data, about 3.5 million people left Polish territory).

Konstancja Sulińska - Balbina and Stanisław Sulińscy’s daughter, left to the USA in 1890, when she was 17 years old. Her story after her arrival to the US is well-known to Konstancja’s descendants; a particularly moving proof was an article in commemoration of her life, published after her death in Nowiny Minnesockie in 1933. [see reprint in Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota Newsletter, issue 3/1994]. We can find out in this memorial that Konstancja Sulińska, who, after marrying Kazimierz Jasiński in 1895, changed her surname into Jasińska, was an active member of Polish immigration in the area of Minnesota, and particularly of Minneapolis. The story of Konstancja Jasińska, née Sulińska, are known to her descendants, and we have learnt it from them. The essential moment of her life was certainly the arrival to the US of her father – Stanisław Suliński, at the age of 70, and of her youngest brother – Edmund Suliński, who both arrived to the US in 1900.

It seems, according to the feedback from Konstancja’s grand- and greatgrandchildren , that since 1905, when her relationship with Kazimierz Jasiński broke up, it was her brother Edmund Suliński who took care of Konstancja and her children. Konstancja had three children. The closest relations with Poland were kept by Maria, born in 1899 and by some of Maria’s descendants: Mary Jane, born in 1921, and by Gretchen, born in 1951. Maria Jasińska, Konstancja’s daughter, was born in the United States, she married John Sokołowski – a Pole born in 1891 in Sandomierz. Sandomierz it’s a very old Polish town – due to its very long culture and beautiful geographical location it is a “must” of many tourists visiting Poland.

Maria Sokołowska, née Jasińska, came to Poland for the first time in 1935. She was sent by the Kościuszko Foundation for a fellowship. She set a relation with Poland as the first person from Konstancja’s family and she had to put quite a lot of effort in that as there were no contacts between Konstancja and her brother Konstanty and her sisters who stayed in Poland since she, her father Stanisław and brother Edmund left to the USA.

Maria came to Poland for the second time in 1937 for a personal, private invitation of her uncle Konstanty and his wife Leokadia. As a souvenir of this visit, there are some photos of Maria with her uncle Konstanty Suliński and his sons Józef and Henryk.

Maria Sokołowska was in 1920-1939 a very active representative of Polish community in the USA (“Polonia”) – Polish government granted her a very high Polish State award for her merits (order for merits): Order Polonia Restituta.

The Second World War unfortunately interrupted these contacts, however there are some modest proofs (letters) of correspondence between Eugenia Kłosowska (Pelagia Sulińska’s daughter) and the family in the USA. These letters were clearly censored by the Germans who occupied Poland. The Second World War, began with the Nazi’s aggression against Poland on September 1, 1939, caused terrible sufferings and great looses suffered by the Polish nation. From the beginning of occupation, Polish nation was a subject of total extermination. The Nazi’s murdered about 6 million Polish citizens, including lots of Jews who used to live for ages within the tolerant Polish nation. In fact the entire Polish inteligenzia was murdered, as Hitler intended to deprive the nation of the most intelligent and creative persons. Moreover, the Germans created also at the Polish territory many concentration camps, where they kept hundreds of thousands of people in the most inhuman conditions, using also the policy of mass destruction (gas chambers).

After the capitulation of Polish army at the end of September 1939, the Germans murdered during just one month about 100.000 Polish citizens, particularly in the north- western part of the country. The greatest loss was suffered by inteligenzia, like teachers, wealthy gentry, clergy, etc. Imprisoned in terrible conditions, then murdered; Konstanty Suliński (son of Stanisław Suliński and Konstancja’s brother) and his son Józef were among these victims.

The place of their grave is not known precisely, however as far as we know from the chronicles, the bodies of those who were murdered by the Germans, were buried in the forest in Skrwilno near Rypin. After the war, local communities used to build symbolic monuments in such places – there is also one in Skrwilno. We therefore treat it as the symbolic grave of Konstanty and Józef Suliński.

From the beginning of World War II Poland was in a dramatic situation as the main objective of the German occupant was to destroy and physically exterminate Polish nation. The very strong, also from the economical point of view, Suliński family, lost all its resources, as the estate “Bielawy” near Rypin, that belonged to Konstanty Suliński, had been taken over by the Germans (as all Polish property and goods). Konstanty Suliński’s wealth, established due to his diligence and wisdom, was not only a family pride but also used to determine a very high social status of Konstanty Suliński and his wife, who enjoyed a great esteem and respect of other gentry in the region.

Poland after World War II (particularly until 1956) was, on the basis of the political system introduced at the conferences in Teheran, Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (July-August 1945), within a very strong political influence of the USSR. This dependence gradually weakened after 1956 and that, in consequence, allowed Poland to regain total independence and political freedom in 1989.

In the result of the death of Stalin and the so-called “Polish turning-point” in October 1956, the relations with Western Europe and with the USA became much more vivid. Thanks to the break of an “iron curtain” at the end of 1950s, Maria Sokołowska, née Jasińska (Konstancja’s daughter) could visit Poland. Treasuring certainly in memory the relation with the Polish part of our family established during her visits in Poland in 1935 and 1937, she came to Poland again in July 1958, so almost immediately after the Polish turning-point. Her visit used to be a very emotional, moving experience for that rest of the family which survived World War II. At the airport Maria was welcomed by: Eugenia Kłosowska and Napoleon Kłosowski (children of Pelagia – Konstancja’s sister), Leokadia Mordwiłko (Konstanty Suliński’s daughter) with her two sons – Andrzej (with his wife Klara) and Janusz. On the photo taken at the airport that day we can also see Janusz Kokeli, who married in 1959 Danuta Sulińska (Konstanty Suliński’s granddaughter).

Maria stayed in Warsaw in Grand Hotel – one of the first modern hotels built in Warsaw after World War II. This fact is worth mentioning as Warsaw, as the capital city of Poland, was completely destroyed by the Germans after capitulation of the Warsaw’s Uprising (August 1 – September 30, 1944). In consequence, Warsaw was after 1944 like one giant field of ruins and it was gradually rebuilt after the war by the Polish nation. While Maria Sokołowska was in Warsaw, her daughter Mary Jane visited her here, coming from Sweden. They both did the sightseeing of Poland. Maria visited many times Leokadia Mordwiłko (Konstanty Suliński’s daughter), as well as Eugenia and Napoleon Kłosowscy (children of Pelagia). Andrzej Mordwiłko (Leokadia Mordwiłko’s son) used to take care of Mary Jane – she was delighted with Poland and Polish hospitality (Andrzej used to organize her lots of sightseeing, as well as took her several times for students’ parties).

Maria visited Poland for the second time in the summer of 1962; she stayed in Warsaw at Złota Street at Leokadia Mordwiłko’s flat. Konstanty Suliński’s wife – Leokadia Sulińska, lived still that time (she passed away on November 7, 1965) and she also lived in that flat. Maria used to do some sightseeing of Warsaw but she also bought lots of Polish books and handicraft – she used to send Polish books, including albums, to the centers of Polish community (Polonia) in Minneapolis. Maria subscribed for instance for a multi-volume work by Oskar Kolberg (one of the most outstanding research of Polish culture and ethnology which presented the collection of Polish folk songs, Christmas carols, tales, poems, etc.) and the volumes were sent to the US even after her death. Maria Sokołowska was fluent in Polish which means that her mother Konstancja taught her this language, even though Maria was born and brought up in the USA.

After the death of Maria Sokołowska (October 13, 1964), the tradition of contacts with Poland was continued by her daughter Mary Jane. We keep Maria Sokołowska in our memory as an extremely respectable person; she was very wise, sincere, kind-hearted and open, as well as incredibly full of energy and of creative ideas. She cared very much, being a great patriot, for Poland and felt a strong relation with the members of her family living there.

The tradition of contacts with Poland was followed by Mary Jane Gustafson. Throughout the following 20 years she visited Poland many times – at the beginning as a guide of groups of Polonia (members of Polish community in the US), then privately. She was hosted by Andrzej Mordwiłko (Konstanty’s grandson) and his wife Klara, who live in Warsaw. In 1958, when Mary Jane came to Poland for the first time with her mother Maria, she didn’t know Polish however afterwards she took an effort to learn this language so she was then able to communicate in Polish.

For several times she arrived to Poland together with her husband Arthur Gustafson. In the meantime she sent us some photos of her apartment in the USA, which proved that she had lots of things from Poland there. We enjoyed the visits of Mary Jane and Arthur Gustafson.

After the death of Mary Jane and Arthur, the contacts with Poland have been kept by their daughter Gretchen Liu. Gretchen visited Poland for the first time in 1968, when she was 17 years old. She stayed that time in Warsaw and was hosted by Leokadia Mordwiłko (Konstanty’s daughter) in the flat at 63a Złota Street. Gretchen did quite a lot of sightseeing of Poland, she was for instance in Kraków and Zakopane. She also visited the concentration camp Auschwitz; that visit remained strongly, as she says, in her memory. Gretchen was then with a short visit to Warsaw in 2003 and for a longer stay in 2004. Last time she visited Poland with her daughter Kristin; they were both hosted by Monika – Andrzej Mordwiłko’s daughter, and her husband Mariusz. Gretchen and Kristin visited Warsaw; they were also taken by Monika, Mariusz and their daughter Marta to Sopot. Janusz Mordwiłko (Konstanty’s grandson) together with his wife Zofia and daughter Justyna enjoyed very much an incredibly nice evening spent with Gretchen and Kristin in their flat in Warsaw.

We remember also that in the past Irena Jasińska – Stanisław Suliński’s wife (who was Konstancja Jasińska’s, née Sulińska, son) as well as Barbara Rockman (daughter of Stefan Jasiński, so Konstancja’s granddaughter) visited Poland twice (as far as we remember). We have in our collection of photos a picture of Irena Jasińska with Janusz Mordwiłko, taken in Warsaw.

In 1987, Monika Mordwiłko (Andrzej Mordwiłko’s daughter, so Konstanty’s great- granddaughter) stayed for 6 weeks with Mary Jane and Arthur Gustafson in the USA. She met some members of the family – the descendants of Konstancja Sulińska. She was hosted by Mary Jane and her husband Arthur; she remembers very well also the meetings with Spencer and his children. At the beginning of 1990s Andrzej and Klara Mordwiłko being at the excursion in Asia, visited Gretchen Liu, Mary Jane’s daughter. They stayed in her apartment in Singapore for several days and were very kindly hosted by Gretchen who showed them Singapore.

The chronicle presented above aims at showing that the most vivid contacts were kept between the part of descendants of Konstancja Jasińska, née Sulińska, who immigrated to the USA in 1890, and on the other hand the descendants of her brother Konstanty Suliński, who have lived in Poland. And even though Konstancja herself passed away on June 18, 1933, had never been to Poland after her departure from the homeland, the contacts were revived and kept by her daughter Maria Sokołowska, née Jasińska, as well as her granddaughter Mary Jane Gustafson, née Sokołowska and Konstancja’s great- granddaughter Gretchen Liu, née Gustafson. From the side of Konstanty Suliński’s descendants, these relations were followed by his daughter Leokadia Mordwiłko, née Sulińska, as well as Leokadia’s sons Andrzej and Janusz (Konstanty’s grandsons) together with their wives, respectively, Klara and Zofia. A particularly close contact was kept by Andrzej and his wife Klara with Mary Jane, as they usually hosted her during her visits to Poland.

written by Janusz Mordwiłko
translated into English by Justyna Mordwiłko
„Sulińscy” it’s a plural form of the surname „Suliński”. Moreover, the feminine form of this surname (so for a woman) it’s “Sulińska” „f.” means female, „m.” means male
Kłosowski and Kłosowska that’s in fact the same surname. According to the rules of Polish language a female has, in principle (in the most common Polish surnames) a suffix –ska in her surname, while a male: -ski. In plural form their surname would be: Kłosowscy (as –ski and –ska turn in plural into –scy). However, it must be emphasized that this rule is used for the most typical, classical Polish surnames with a “-ski” ending (so it does apply for example to “Suliński”, “Jasiński”, “Sokołowski”) but it does not apply to surnames like “Mordwiłko” for instance.
Konstanty Suliński had a wife – Leokadia (called here „Leokadia Sulińska”). They had a daughter Leokadia (so mother and daughter had the same name), who then married Michał Mordwiłko – she is called here therefore “Leokadia Mordwiłko”.
A short form of the name “Leokadia” is “Loda”, however the official and formal form is “Leokadia”