An area in present North Central Poland stretching West from Gdansk about 70 miles. From the Baltic south to about Wiele, a rather remote part of the country which enabled that different language, Kashubian, to be used yet today.
During the time of the mass migration of Kashubians 1850’s to 1890’s, the Kashubian language was forbidden to be taught or spoken as the land was under Prussian domination. It is now legal to be taught in schools and spoken openly.
The Kashubian Polish Community of Winona
The museum is located in Winona, Minnesota at 102 Liberty Street….the beginning of the “East End.” known as the Polish neighborhood. In all reality, the early immigrants only sampled this city as they moved from here to Fountain City or Dodge or Pine Creek in Wisconsin seeking their fortunes. Many more trekked onward and upward seeking land to homestead in both of the Dakotas and northern reaches of Minnesota. Almost all of the Winona Poles have relatives in one or more of those areas. After the demise of the sawmills in Winona, which had hired 1,200 Polish men, a secondary migration took place…this time reaching all the way to the desert areas of central Montana and places in between.
In Winona itself, the Polish settlement mirrored the location of the sawmills which provided the main employment opportunity for the non-English speaking new immigrants. Employment had to be limited to jobs that had a bilingual foreman. The following generation moved into jobs in construction, fire departments, railroads, as city workers, shop keepers, teachers , even into positions of ownership. Poles were the very backbone of Winona’s economy….the muscle needed to build a fledging city. However, they were often put down as second class citizens. “Drunken Poles in East end brawl”; “Poles need not apply” would highlight the ad or news report.
True Poles, being soft spoken and extremely sensitive and polite are teased to this day with the title: dumb Pollack.
But, one by one Polish people in Winona have earned status and assimilation through their ability or just hard work and Polish names are listed in any social register of the day. Now the areas where the sawmills had been are no longer Polish enclaves. Purebred Poles are difficult to find now six generations later and at the same time Polish blood now probably courses in smaller percentages thru more than half of the city’s population.