CONGRESSIONAL RECORD - SENATE
JANUARY 7, 1960
VISIT BY SENATOR MUSKIE, OF MAINE, TO POLAND
Mr. GRUENING. Mr. President, at the conclusion of the investigation which a special Senate subcommittee had undertaken of Russia's development of its vast hydroelectric resources, the distinguished junior Senator from Maine [Mr. MUSKIE], a member of the subcommittee, on his way home, stopped off in Poland. It was his purpose to find the village from which his father had emigrated 59 years before. He wanted to visit his father's birthplace and the graves of his paternal ancestors and, if possible, to find any relative who might still be alive.
On his return he recounted his experience in a news release. In my view, and in that of others who have read Senator MUSKIE'S moving account, our beloved colleague from Maine has made a memorable contribution to that enduring literature which embodies the heart and soul of the American idea. It reemphasizes the utterance, some years ago, of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that once all Americans were immigrants. But beyond that, Senator MUSKIE'S release makes vivid that we, the descendants of immigrants to America, must be eternally grateful to our fathers and forefathers who had the vision and the initiative to leave the old world and seek freedom and greater opportunity in the new.
Sometimes it would appear that some of our fellow citizens whose pioneering ancestors many generations ago courageously embarked on an uncharted course and left the old world, with its restrictions, rigidities, oppressions and inequalities, may have, to a degree, lost that passion for and understanding of what their forefathers envisioned and sought. But to those whose personal experiences and recollections of what America meant to our forebears are still fresh -- the first, second, and perhaps even the third generation of immigrants -- Edmund Muskie's message of renewal carries a special significance and poignancy.
I ask unanimous consent that our colleague's inspired narrative be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.
There being no objection, the newsletter by Senator Muskie was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:
As I record this I am sitting at my desk at home, relaxed and thoroughly enjoying the American way of life after 35 days away from it. It has been good for me personally to be exposed to the people and the customs and the intellectual, political, and economic climate of the Soviet Union. The experience highlighted those values which make America such a wonderful place in which to live and intensified my appreciation of them. I hope and believe that the experience will be of real value in connection with my duties as a U.S. Senator.
By fortuitous circumstances, Clayton LaVerdiere, at the Waterville Morning Sentinel, arranged with Jane to use excerpts from my letters to her as a report to the citizens of Maine on my travel I hope they proved of interest. They could not possibly constitute a comprehensive report of all our new experiences and impressions. In particular, I avoided detailed discussion relative to our primary mission, that of evaluating the status and pace of hydroelectric power developments in the U.S.S.R. There is much material to be digested and analyzed in proper perspective before the subcommittee and its staff will state firm conclusions or consider recommendations. There is no question, however, as to the very considerable momentum which the Soviet Union has developed in this field.
My letters to Jane did not touch upon my 2 days In Poland, it being obvious that I would reach home before any letters which I might write from Warsaw. Yesterday. October 26, for example, my fourth day at home, Jane received a letter which I wrote in Leningrad on October 15th. Airmail has not yet caught up with the jet age. Apparently. also, it takes a little longer for mail to pierce the Iron Curtain.
As you know, my father was born in Poland. He left it 59 years ago at the age of 17 in search of freedom and opportunity. He found both, not only for himself, but also for his children, and for that we will be eternally grateful. At the same time, he always spoke to us warmly of his homeland, its loveliness, and the scenes of his childhood
Remote as the possibility seemed, I wanted to find the village where he was born, in order that I might trod in his name the soil to which he never found it possible to return in his lifetime. I found it. A tiny rural village called Jasionowka, 20-odd miles north of Bialystok, not too far from the Russian border, at what was described to me by Deputy Foreign Minister Winiewicz as the saddest part of Poland.
To reach it, Frank and Mrs. Jones, of the American Embassy, and I drove 75 miles northeasterly from Warsaw. The main roads in Poland are excellent and we made good time -- thoroughly enjoying the flat but pleasant and attractive countryside and the mild and sunny autumn day. As we approached the village, we passed, of all coincidences, a lake with a familiar name, Augusta. At this point, I became profoundly moved as I considered in a matter of minutes my eyes would see fields, streams, and trees and possibly even faces that my father's eyes had seen last more than half a century before.
We had left the main road and were driving over a narrow, cobbled country road. As we topped a slight rise, there came into view in the distance a large white building, somewhat shabby, but clinging to the shreds of an ancient dignity which I instinctively felt must be the manor house of a nobleman's estate which my grandfather had managed at the turn of the century. And so it proved to be, now converted to a state farm with a new barn, some battered older buildings, ruins of others and a small duck pond which may have been a favorite spot for children in my father's day. A short distance beyond, the pitiful, unpainted, weather-beaten homes of the villagers were clustered about a broad square, dominated by the stately white church which my father attended.
In sharp contrast to the Soviet Union, the Poles are devout in their belief in God and extremely conscientious in discharging their religious duties. It was heartwarming to see them swarming to the church on Sunday morning, walking, on bicycles, or in spotless wagons, behind their horses. Their extremely difficult economic and political circumstances seem simply to strengthen their faith in God's purposes.
With little more than an hour at my disposal, my first objective was to find some trace of my father's family. We proceeded to the local presidium and almost immediately located a friendly girl who recalled an old lady bearing the family name. She escorted us to a drab little house on one of the side streets. We knocked on the door and entered. In a dark little cubby hole of a kitchen, I met the widow of my father's brother, tiny and stooped under the weight of almost 80 years. With her was my father's niece, herself a widow with a young child, her husband killed in the war. Having grasped the almost incomprehensible fact of my identity, my cousin quickly showed me pictures of my father and my mother which he had sent her long years ago and letters he had written. They did not know of his death and accepted his silence over the past 3 years as just another of the burdens which filled their daily lives. The sister my father left behind is also dead, leaving three sons who were away at work and unavailable during my visit. I met the wife of one of them, whose first question related to the possibility of coming to America.
At this point, the local grapevine had spread the word and the street in front of the little house swarmed with villagers. They were obviously delighted to welcome me and wanted to know all about me and my family. A surveillance team had picked us up on the border of Bialystok Province and followed us. The villagers were highly amused when these two representatives of the state police rather shamefacedly refused my invitation to pose for pictures, which I said I wanted to show the Deputy Foreign Minister when I met him that afternoon.
It is difficult to comprehend the economic circumstances of the people in that little village -- the bareness of their lives. They have no meat; they stand in line for bread. Their diet appears to consist of potatoes and cabbage. The monthly wage is roughly the equivalent of $10 to $20. Their personal possessions are almost unbelievably meager. This is indeed the saddest part of Poland. But for my father's dream of freedom and opportunity this would be my life -- the life of my children.
And what of the people who live this life? They have courage. They have their belief, and their faith in God. They value friendship, and love, and family ties, and derive such happiness as they know from these. Sadly, however, they have no hope that their lot will be improved, and the result is a deep apathy which stifles ambition and interest in the public issues which will shape their future.
Poland is a country in an almost hopeless political and economic dilemma. Its people historically have cherished independence and freedom and love of country above all else. Geographically today they find themselves in such proximity to the Russian colossus that, like the turtle, they are forced to withdraw into the shell of their obvious security alliances. Were they free to do otherwise, their hearts and their traditions would take them elsewhere.
Economically, following the war, the Russians, in their own interests, developed an industrial complex in Poland, notably steel and textiles, which make the country almost irrevocably committed to the Soviet Union for the necessary raw materials. It must rely upon coal and agriculture for the exports to balance its international payment, and its agricultural lands are fragmentized into small holdings which are committed to ancient unmechanized methods and practices which fall far short of the production necessary to meet domestic needs and export requirements. These current difficulties, which I have probably oversimplified for the sake of brevity, plus centuries of living in the crossroads of war in Eastern Europe, have made my father's village what it is today.
The past and the present have created a far different, more comfortable, and better world for me than they have for my cousins.
Must this be? What does the future hold?
We speak constantly of a just peace. We pray for it. And what would a just peace mean to my cousins? And there are many, many more millions in the world, living in circumstances no better and, indeed, far worse than they.
Before I left the village, I visited the cemetery in search of my grandparents' graves. There was no trace. As is so often the case in Europe, they are probably at rest two or three layers deep. People have lived, died, for many, many centuries in this part of the world, some with their grinding misery and their fleeting happiness, some with flaming hopes, and others with forlorn hopelessness; some with lives of abundance and others with lives of emptiness.
Europe is an ancient civilization. We are an outgrowth of it, and out of this deep past, its lessons and experience as well as its aspirations, we seek the promise of a brighter future for all mankind. Can we find it? May God will it so. As we drove away from the village, I caught a last glimpse of the white church, gleaming as it shed its shabbiness in the sunlight and the distance. Suddenly and hauntingly, I felt myself to be the second generation bearer of the dream of freedom and opportunity which prompted my father to leave his home behind him. This is10:45 p.m. Tbilisi time, or 2:45 p.m. Washington time.