D-Day at the Eisenhower Presidential Museum

ike web graphic We’re back from Kansas!  The Polish Mission team was as proud as ever to have taken part in the D-Day+70 commemoration at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.  Our Polish Mission delegation included Polish Mission Chairman Dr. Stan Majewski, Vice Consul of the Republic of Poland in Chicago Konrad Zielinski, and Teresa Wontor-Cichy from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum of Poland.  Together, our delegation was beyond proud to represent both the Polish military effort in World War Two, and the Republic of Poland today.  What follows here is a brief recap of a superb weekend at one of our great nation’s most prestigious institutions:

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On Friday, our delegation arrived to the Eisenhower campus early in the morning, in preparation for a the formal wreath laying ceremony at the feet of the larger-than-life sculpture of General Eisenhower at the very center of the campus.  The Eisenhower Library and Museum welcomed dignitaries that represented the allied war effort, including Commanding General of Ft. Riley, Kansas MG Paul E. Funk II, Commanding General of Ft,. Hood, Texas LG Mark Milley, Deputy Commanding General of Ft. Riley Brigadier Christopher Ghika from the United Kingdom, and Lieutenant Colonel JC Reiffenstein of the Canadian Army, from the US Army Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  Along with Vice Consul of the Republic of Poland in Chicago Konrad Zielinski, these officials formed a representative detail of the allied war effort from seventy plus years ago.

Click here to explore the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home.

The sun put a bright glow on the presidential seal in front of Ike’s statue, just in front of the first row of dignitaries where we were all seated.  After the singing of the national anthem and other patriotic songs, Consul Zielinski joined the military officers and presented a wreath at Ike’s feet.  As the sharp cracks of the twenty-one M4 rifles rang through the air, all were brought to attention in solemn remembrance as the US army bugler sounded taps.  Smiles ensued throughout the morning as veterans shared stories, posed with the generals and visiting WWII reenactors, and honored the sacred past. After that, our delegation was treated to tours of the fruits of the museum staff’s labors: the presidential library and museum is home to an amazing collection of almost 70,000 artifacts, and all the stops were pulled out as premier exhibitions were unveiled to the public for the weekend.  The day was filled with lectures from visiting historians, including our own close friend and colleague Dr. Guy Stern.  Dr. Stern is a veteran of WWII and an original “Ritchie Boy,” who traveled to Kansas with Holocaust Memorial Center Director Steve Goldman, to make a most valuable contribution to the story of the greatest generation.  How wonderful to see our hometown friends from Michigan in Abilene!

Click here to learn more about our friends at the Holocaut Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

At 5:30 pm, it was “go time.” Over 300 invited guests, including dignitaries, executives, and members of the Eisenhower Foundation were welcomed to the Presidential Library auditorium for a gala presentation and opening of “Be Ye Men of Valour, and Forbidden Art.  The splendor of the room is difficult to put into words—nearly every official who spoke at the Library delivered their address from the very same room, including President Eisenhower himself, President Reagan, President Nixon, President Bush, Sr., and Secretary of State Colin Powell.  The Kansas State University Summer Choral Institute performed the National Anthem, and in what was a most complete and pleasant surprise, followed with Mazurek Dabrowskiego!  It was an exquisite rendition that reveals the one of many hallmarks of an absolutely superb and professional program.  Thanks to choir Director Josh Oppenheim for a stunning and beautifully appropriate memory of a great event.

Polish Mission Director Marcin Chumiecki was specially honored on this occasion by Mrs. Misti Stevens, Army Spouse of the Year for 2009.  Marcin was selected by her to receive the prestigious Army Engineer’s pin, awarded to an institution or individual constructing partnerships that shape a better future.

Following that, the Orchard Lake Schools was introduced in great form by Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum Karl Weissenbach, and Marcin, Cormac, and JJ presented our cherished Polish institution to a packed room of the most influential people from across Kansas.  The final component was a moving presentation by Teresa.  Her sixteen years of experience at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum allowed her to deliver a most emotional and powerful interpretation of Auschwitz, and specifically the artists featured in Forbidden Art, to an attentive crowd.  She went on to close her presentation by offering a brief recounting of the notable events at Auschwitz that occurred on June 6th, 1944.  She said: “…for the prisoners, it was a day unlike many others, but one thing was different: even though news had not reached the prisoners, the camp administration knew that a second front had been opened in France, which foretold  the coming liberation of Auschwitz.”  With the audience in tears, Teresa and Director Weissenbach swept a black velvet from a display case, unveiling the very first glass castings of artwork featured in Forbidden Art.  The original objects had gone through 3D scanning in Poland, and the castings in glass now on display in Kansas are the most faithful representations of the original objects possible, allowing guests to further appreciate the risk undertaken by the prisoners to create their “forbidden” art.

Click here to learn more about Forbidden Art and our exclusive partnership with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum 

In short, the weekend was remarkable, and we’re proud to say that our premier association with the most prestigious of the thirteen Presidential Library and Museum institutions in our country, is one worthy of everyone’s attention and thanks.  Through our cooperation, our delegation has solidified numerous educational opportunities in fulfillment of the vision of our most generous Orchard Lake benefactor Dr. Wikiera, and indeed can claim responsibility for unprecedented recognition of Poland in World War Two to the United States Government.

We at The Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools offer our highest thanks to the following: + Dr. Edward Wikiera; our anonymous friend in California; Polish Mission Chairman Dr. Stanley Z. Majewski; Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago Paulina Kapuscinska; Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Dr. Piotr Cywinski; President of the Eisenhower Foundation Stephen McLean; Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home Karl Weissenbach; Army Spouse of the Year Misti Stevens; Curator of the Eisenhower Presidential Museum William Snyder; Registrar Matthew Thompson; Public Relations Director Samantha Kenner; and most importantly, to the veterans who have fought, and are still fighting for, the freedoms we enjoy to this day.  The title carved into the marble of Ike’s statue reads “Champion of Peace.”  Join us in saluting all who strive for this title today.