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Although the United States did not enter WWI until April 6, 1917, in 1915 the Polish Falcons, headquartered in Philadelphia began recruiting Poles willing to serve in what might result at last in the freeing of their Polish Fatherland. These recruits were sent to Toronto where they were to be trained and would be considered part of the Canadian Army.
In June of 1917 France decided to organize a Polish army. Initially it drew on its own Polish population as well as Poles who had managed to escape or were freed from prisoner of war camps. In October the United States, which had now joined the war and was actively forming an army of its own, authorized Poles whose citizenship status made them ineligible for the draft, to join the Polish Army in France. Eventually some 25,000 men joined this group that followed the earlier Falcon groups first to Canada and then to France.
In Europe, General Haller, a Pole who had been serving in the Austrian army, joined the Allied forces and was sent to France. As the highest-ranking officer, he was given command of the army in October 1918, which now became known as “Haller’s Army. Six months later the war ended.
Shortly afterward the Polish army was sent into Poland to replace other Allied forces. An agreement was made to move them by train from France in sealed cars through the German countryside. When their tour of duty was completed members of Haller’s Army were given the option of remaining in Poland or returning to the United States. A significant percentage chose to return since for many Poland was no longer the same country they had known years earlier. By the same token, many of the native Poles considered them too “Americanized” and many doors were closed to them.
All this activity generated records and fortunately, they were preserved.
The following ship manifests provide listings of returning Haller's Army soldiers to the US in the 1920s.
SS Antigone (from Danzig - April 18, 1920)
SS Latvia (August 17, 1922)
SS Pochontas (from Danzig - June 16, 1920)
SS Princess Matokia (from Danzig - May 23, 1920)
PGSA, PMA and the Haller’s Army Records
According to Jan Lorys, Curator of the Polish Museum of America (PMA), it is possible that the Haller’s Army records have been in PMA’s possession since the 1920s or 30s. Since the records covered 65,000 recruits and that originally there were 3 forms generated for each individual, it is estimated that the collection represents between 130,000 and 160,000 documents.
Until sometime around 1990, the records were kept in miscellaneous boxes stored in a narrow space behind the east wall of the PMA library along with a furnace unit. Edward Peckwas, who was the President of the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) at the time, became aware of this historical and genealogical treasure and offered the Curator the services of PGSA to sort, organize and index the collection. The project, handled by the Society’s volunteers, took 3 years to complete.
Records for those individuals that included a complete set of 3 forms
(A, B, C) were sorted alphabetically and each form was stamped with the same number so it could be identified as belonging to the same individual. This ABC form grouping was designated as L. A significant number of loose forms, A—Intent to Volunteer and C—Final Commitment Paper remained. These were also sorted and organized.
In order to identify which individuals had recruitment files, an index was needed. It was produced in electronic format to facilitate sorting of the L group, which also includes a city location for further identification in the case of duplicate names. The index for the loose A and C forms included a volume number to identify the small, unbound journal-type books where these were filed.
When the organizational phase of the project was completed the files were places in suitable boxes. As no other space was available they were returned to their original storage location where they could be (but not easily) accessed.
In 1999, Librarian Margaret Kot attended a preservation seminar and became aware that the Haller’s records should be maintained in acid-free storage boxes. As the Library’s limited budget would not cover the cost of almost 300 special boxes, she asked PGSA if the Society would be willing to make the purchase. The request was discussed and approved by the PGSA Board at the following meeting.
During of the library refurbishment in 2004 a water leak that developed in the Haller’s storage area. As a result of other changes being made, the library was able to make space in a Library alcove where new shelves were built to house the collection. PGSA volunteers moved the collection and set it up in its new area, printed fresh labels, and relabeled all the boxes. These valuable records are now displayed in a way that the Haller’s collection is now one PMA (and PGSA) can be proud of.
For a number of years now, the Haller’s index has been available on the PGSA website. The index enables individuals to determine the existence of a file and then visit the library and request a copy or order one by mail. Even though the forms are relatively simple, a translation guide is also available on the PGSA website by searching “Haller’s Army translations”. PGSA welcomes you to visit the website and look for family members who may have been a part of Haller’s Army.
Courtesy Rosalie Lindberg.
Credits: Recruitment poster for the Polish Army in France by the graphic artist, W. Benda. Image used with permission of the Polish Museum of America, Jan Lorys, Curator.
The Family History Library has filmed this collection and it is now available at this link
For more information regarding Haller's Army please see this site: Haller's Army