We arrived in Warsaw on the 12th of August about nine o’clock at night. The great barn of a station was filled with people and gaily decorated with Polish and American flags. The platforms were lined with soldiers with massed bands playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” [the national anthem of the United States] – and they continued to play it. We Americans lined up alongside of our train with our silk hats clasped to our bosoms if we were civilians or our right hands frozen to our caps if we were military. The Polish officials were likewise lined up with Pilsudski, Paderewski, the Cabinet Ministers, the Mayor of Warsaw [Piotr Drzewiecki], the Polish generals and officials, likewise all frozen to salute in honor of the American national anthem. But the bands did not seem disposed to allow the salute to thaw out. […]
Hugh Gibson had now been made Ambassador to Poland and accompanied by him, Pilsudski and Paderewski, we went to the American Embassy for the night and left the enthusiastic bands still playing.
Thereafter followed a week of strenuous travel from city to city, talking with delegations from labor, industry, agriculture, universities. We attended banquets, mass meetings, reviews of troops, and we made speeches in many cities. One of the most important of the speech-makings was from Kosciusko’s Tomb at Cracow. I was to speak first and Paderewski was to translate it. I had put into it the sentiments he wanted and he had a copy in advance. My speech was only about ten minutes long, as there were not a hundred out of the 30,000 massed people who understood English. After Paderewski had given about forty-five minutes to the translation, I asked my Polish aide what he was talking about. He replied: “Oh, he is making a real speech”. […]
The most profoundly touching incident was my reception at Warsaw by the children. They had been brought in from the soup kitchens in trainloads – 50,000 of them. They were organized into a march in front of an old race course grandstand. Ranging from five up to twelve years, clad often in rags, each carried a paper banner of American and Polish colors. Some also brought banners with inscriptions addressed to me. They came by for hours – chattering, laughing, squealing, trying vainly to look sober and to maintain some sort of marching order. […]
The march began early in the afternoon and they had not all passed by at dark when it had to stop. I marvel yet at the capacity of those women who had thought of everything, including where every group from out of town was to sleep that night.
Premier Paderewski called a meeting of his ministers to discuss their future economic plans. I had been deluged with Polish governmental and economic problems during the previous ten months, I knew that what Poland needed was not charts and academic economics, but skilled men. At the request of this meeting I gave them on August 17th a note on their problems and organization as I saw it. I recommended the creation of a Minister of Economics with an economic council representing the different departments of government, together with a more extensive staff of foreign advisers. At Mr. Paderewski’s request I replaced the temporary men we had previously furnished for the Armistice period with a more permanent American staff of seven members for different departments of railways, public health, food, mining, commerce, and finance. These advisers functioned for more than a year and contributed greatly to the reconstruction of Poland. And Hugh Gibson was a tower of strength.
Paderewski’s downfall, a little later, was one of the added tragedies of Poland. When his Parliament assembled, it was divided into seventeen different groups representing every political theory on earth and doubly confused by the former divisions of the country. They were constantly engaged in battles for their favorite reform or personal power. As a governor and political leader, Paderewski had one superb quality. He was fired by a patriotism which made him one of the greatest orators of his time. His voice, his burning devotion, shamed and reconciled even the bitter and selfish factions of Poland through the dreadful year of 1919. He was resolute on representative government despite the absence of preparation in the people for liberal institutions. He knew well that the canker of Poland was the terrible subjection and poverty of the peasants under the system of great land holdings of the Polish aristocracy, which had been supported by their three oppressors. He proposed drastic land reform. He at once incurred the disfavor of the landlord class. He was already hated by Pilsudski’s military clique and in time the combination not only defeated him in Parliament and drove him from the Government, but practically exiled him from the country to the independence of which he had given the best years of his life and all his earnings.
I received thousands of marks of gratitude from the Poles – a square named for me in Warsaw, streets in Cracow and other towns; a statue in the park at Warsaw and degrees from all the universities. Letters, telegrams and resolutions from officials and public men and public bodies came at birthdays and Christmas for many years afterward. The most touching of these compliments were a score of elaborate bound volumes containing hundreds of thousands of signatures of children whom we had fed at schools and soup kitchens and illustrated by their own hands.