The Niwiska Klub Records and War and Resistance in the Wilderness, a historical novel set in Niwiska,
“What’s this dusty old book on the shelf of your closet? Dan Corning said as he brought the book to his 95-year old mother-in-law. “What’s ‘The Niwiska Klub’?” Loretta Frye broke into a huge smile as she paged through her parents’ old book with its handwritten title. She then told Dan of how her parents and other Polish immigrants had organized the group to help out their home parish of St. Nicholas in Niwiska, Poland as WWII was on the horizon. “The Niwiska Klub” recorded the groups’ meeting notes, the tragic news about Niwiska, their fund-raising activities, and charitable donations from 1939- 1969 of the Chicagoans who came from this parish. Dan quickly realized this almost forgotten book written in Polish by hand was the only one of its kind in existence.
The immigrants in Chicago knew of the dreadful situation facing their loved ones back in Niwiska, a small village in southeast Poland, by reading the Polish newspapers and the few letters that managed to get past the Germans and Russians during the decades of occupation. Although Poland had signed an agreement with England and France who promised to come to Poland’s defense if Hitler invaded, the savvy Poles of pre-WWII Chicago knew that Poland would be on its own if the threatened invasion occurred. In 1939, Poland had been a free country for only twenty years and wasn’t equipped to defend itself.
Vestment sent to Niwiska from the author’s Polish grandparents after WWII. The Germans stole all the church’s belongings. It was shown to her when she visited in 2018.
What Dan and Loretta didn’t know was this precious book would soon be hand-carried to Poland through the efforts of historians and genealogists who were total strangers to them. The one thing everyone had in common was my newly released book about Niwiska set in WWII, War and Resistance in the Wilderness. As the author, I was about to take part in a whirlwind plan to get this book into the right hands.
A few days later, my elderly relative, Larry Bender, called his cousin Loretta to inform her of my historical novel. His new mission in life was to tell all his relatives and friends about my book because it is the story of our relatives during World War II in Poland. He even purchased thirty copies to be distributed around Niwiska. During his phone conversation, Loretta mentioned the Niwiska Klub book, and Larry quickly phoned me. “Donna, you need to go to Chicago to see this book for your research!”
A trip to Chicago to view a book written in Polish was not practical since I cannot read the difficult language of my grandparents, so I contacted my friend, Valerie Koselka, President of the Polish Genealogy Society of Michigan. She responded, “Donna, this is the book that Father Antoni has been looking for! He didn’t think a copy existed anymore.” Father Antoni Więch, a distant relative of both Valerie and myself, is a native of a village near Niwiska and the local church historian and author of several books. I then notified him of the book’s discovery, and his immediate response was, “Would they loan me the book for a year so I can translate and analyze the details? I’ll pay the postage!”
Valerie and I started to strategize on how to make this happen. Fortunately, or more correctly, miraculously, Valerie was traveling to Poland within a few weeks and offered to hand carry the book to Niwiska. The next step was to get Loretta to agree to part with the book for a short time. This detail was a bit more complicated because at first, she insisted the book be handed over to a priest who would then give it to Valerie. We soon found a willing priest! But then we only heard crickets from Loretta.
Larry came to the rescue again. I told him of our new complication, and he reached out to Loretta to assure her that sharing this treasure would be a noble gesture and a great help to genealogy and historical organizations and her religious community. This lovely lady finally agreed!
Dan and Loretta made a several hour journey to meet Valerie halfway in Michigan for the book transfer. Two days later, the book made its journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Poland, and Valerie handed the book over to Father Kazimierz Franczak, the pastor of Niwiska. Father Augustyn, the pastor emeritus, who is featured in War and Resistance in the Wilderness, was nearby to celebrate the book’s delivery.
Valerie Koselka and Father Franczak examining the book at St. Nicholas Church
Father Więch, who is assigned to a parish in Ukraine, crossed the border to visit Niwiska and view the book. He then turned it over to the highly professional staff of the Kolbuszowa Library, where the team digitized the entire book so that everyone will eventually have access to it.
Larry, Valerie, Loretta, Dan, and I were so honored as we worked together to accomplish this important and amazing task. The journey of The Niwiska Klub brought together six people who were mostly strangers to one another. I’m especially pleased that War and Resistance in the Wilderness was the impetus for this old book’s amazing journey! Hopefully, this story inspires everyone who has a book, a box of old photos and letters, or other items historical or genealogical to consider who might be a better custodian of their treasure.
War and Resistance in the Wilderness: A Novel of WWII Poland is available at Amazon. Check out all the five-star reviews!
The first page of text from “The Niwiska Club.”