The unfortunate destiny of Poland in the tumultuous times played itself out before the eyes of "The World of Tomorrow" fairgoers.
Perhaps no foreign building experienced a more split personality than the Polish pavilion. Prior to the advent of World War II, the pavilion enjoyed its status as an architectural wonder with an engaging restaurant. Following Germany's invasion on September, fairgoers flocked to the pavilion, showing both concern and support for the beleaguered nation.
Worrisome signs marked the pavilion's dedication on May 2. Overcast skies appeared above the 142-foot gilded filigree tower and heroic bronze statue of King Ladislaus II Jagiello, seeming to symbolize the darkness threatening the small European republic. The New York Times correspondent Russell Porter noted: "The World of Tomorrow began to look yesterday something like the world of today, taking on a rather warlike tone at the formal opening of the Polish Pavilion."
Count Jerzy Potocki, Poland's Ambassador to the United States, warned: "Over this miniature Poland with its story of peaceful pursuits and achievements, there stands on guard the symbol of armed might which once before saved Poland from an armed invasion."
Following the dedication, columnist Henry Beckett found the pavilion filled with the "patriotic eloquence of Chopin's 'Polanaise Militaire' as played by Paderewski at his greatest." However, other visitors saw it differently.
During the fair's early weeks, a German visitor informed a guide "In a few days this building will belong to us." A few months later another woman taunted the pavilion's manager, Joseph Jordan: "Soon the swastika will fly over this building, hah!" Defiantly the seventh generation former Polish officer replied: "No matter what the government does, they will never give up Danzig."
For four months the pavilion proved a popular stop off for "international visitors." And workers at the pavilion took pride in their private slogan "No Hits, No Huns, No Terrors!"
The pavilion prepared a booklet for distribution on September 1. Its opening page proposed: "A brighter, more beautiful world is indicated than the one it is our destiny to inhabit today where violence and force overrule right, where hatred has replaced love in mutual relations, where life becomes more difficult from day to day."
On that same September 1, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse once again swept across the continent as Hitler's legions invaded Poland.
173,665 individuals flocked to the fairgrounds that day, many racing to the international pavilions. Sixteen armed guards provided additional security for the Soviet, Polish, British, French and Italian pavilions.
At Great Britain's pavilion traditional British calm prevailed. Sir Louis Beale, the exhibit's commissioner general, said: "We are carrying on as usual." However, a guide at the Russian pavilion confronted a visitor, warning: "It is better that our country should have Germany, Italy and Japan against it? Nobody will fight to help us if we are invaded. Who is going to help us – the ambassadors? No, Russia must take care of itself. It is better."
Visitors swamped the Polish pavilion. By 4:00 General Manager Jordan requested many persons lingering in the main hall move on to other areas.
On September 2, 10,000 members of the Polish National Alliance filled the Court of Peace. The strains of "Poland Is Not Lost" filled the air. A Polish Boy Scout troop attending the ceremonies raised nearly $100 for Poland's defense. The following morning, a young girl in a traditional costume received contributions for the fund ranging from dimes to twenty-dollar bills.
Of the 124 employees at the pavilion, only the ten cooks were liable for military service. As employees of the Polish government, the only way for them to return to their homeland to join the fight was to get fired. While listening to the constant radio broadcasts in the kitchen, the cooks plotted ways to make their employers take this drastic step.
However, fifteen faced a more difficult problem. Thirty days after the fair's closing on October 31, their passports would expire, possibly leaving them as "persons without a country." U.S. immigration officials indicated they would not place them under arrest. In a patriotic move, all employees voluntarily donated one week's pay to the Polish war fund.
The pavilion's employees faced another challenge – the lack of communication with their families in Poland. Phyllis Knapp, a hostess, confessed the only letter she had received from Poland in two weeks was one she had written and was now returned. Manager Joseph Jordan's aged parents lived within the war zone, without communicating with their son. Cecilia Gosicki, the eighteen year-old daughter of Poland's former Minister of Agriculture, worried about her mother who lived between Danzig and Gdynia, "the most dangerous spot" according to the young lady.
At sundown on September 9, Thaddeus Maksymowicz, clad in a colored doublet and long hose, the uniform of a thirteenth century trumpeter, performed the Heynal for the final time atop the pavilion.
According to legend, during the Tartar invasion of Poland in 1240, a sentry in the tower of St. Mary's Church in Cracow tried to warn the Poles of the invasion. Before finishing his trumpet blasts, an arrow killed him. Maksymowicz played the fanfare four times daily, once facing each of the compass points, beginning on May 30. Now the symbol of Poland's independence fell silent.
The pavilion quietly removed three cardboard swastikas from its exhibits illustrating the population and export trends between France, Germany and Poland. The only swastikas remaining showed the changing positions of the competing armies on a large war map. A young guide clad in the pavilion's blue and scarlet uniform looked over the map and declared: "This stinks! It can't be as bad as it looks. I expect a surprise from Russia. Russia is a friend of the Polish people." The Russian surprise was an invasion on September 17. The New York Times editorialized: "We have just seen (the Russian worker statue) in the different role of 'liberator' in Poland."
War thoughts seemed to dominate the pavilion during the fair's closing months. A young boy following his parents through the pavilion swooped along with a wooden war plane. When asked about the increasingly difficult situation in Poland, a guide quietly replied: We aren't allowed to give out any information ma'am."
On September 27, Warsaw surrendered. For twenty-six days the brave Poles withstood the mighty forces of the German blitzkrieg. The German invaders took 140,000 troops as prisoners.
At the fair's October 15 Polish Day celebration, Mayor La Guardia aroused the crowd to sustained cheers: "No country can be liquidated by the invasion of an enemy any more than the souls of those children who were murdered could be killed by that act. Long live the Republic of Poland!"