Greenpoint Gazette

Amid Shifting Demographics, Decades Old Polish Cultural and Historical Institute Moves to Greenpoint

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An over seven-decades old Polish-American cultural institution has moved its base to Greenpoint, and is now trying to establish its role as more of a community center in its new home.

The Josef Pilsudski Institute of America, formerly located in the East Village, quietly opened the doors to its state of the art facility on Greenpoint Avenue just a few months ago. A documentary screening on the Warsaw Uprising at the end of last month drew over a hundred attendees, with a line to watch the film stretching out the door.

The institute was founded in 1943 by Polish activists in New York as well as collaborators of Josef Pilsudski, the Head of State in Poland during the interwar years, and a major figure in European Politics.

The institute continued the work of the Institute for the Research of Contemporary History of Poland, founded 20 years earlier, and worked as a research center for those interested in contemporary Polish culture and heritage.

Today the institute has over 1.7 million documents concerned the history of Poland, including the Belvedere Archives, which were saved from Warsaw when the city was first destroyed by the Nazis and the Soviets during the takeover in 1939.

While most of the materials found at the institute highlight the Polish émigré experience in the United States, the center also contains over 20,000 books on contemporary Polish history, newspapers stretching close to 50 years after the end of WWII and the late 1980s, over 20,000 photographs of major historical events, 800 military, administrative, and historic maps, a series of films and documentaries, over 240 paintings from notable Polish painters like Leon Wyczolkowski, and Julius Kossak.

Prior to landing in Greenpoint, the Institute rented a building from the Polish National Alliance on Second Avenue, but the organization decided to sell its buildings in New York, and focus singularly on its holdings in Chicago. They discovered that the Polish and Slavic Federal Credit Union had a space on Greenpoint Avenue, and believed the move to the neighborhood was a perfect fit.

“Greenpoint is very important to us because it has been a center for Polish culture and Polish Americans for over 100 years now,” said Iwona Korga, the Executive Director of the Institute. “We have many Polish organizations, businesses, and the Polish Catholic Church in the neighborhood. And even though people are moving away because of the increasing prices, so many still come to do their shopping or go visit their doctors.”

The institute is open to the public, but due to the sensitive nature of the collection, it functions more like a research facility, where patrons cannot check out the items available there.

Having established itself as a formidable cultural institution, the Pilsudski Institute now wants to be more actively involved with the community, Korga said. The Institute will continue to host documentary screenings, talks by Polish dignitaries, and workshops on Polish-American history, which are all conducted in Polish, but it is now also considering offering them in English based on the response of the Greenpoint community.

The grand opening for the institute will take place in September.

Josef Pilsudski Institute of America, 138 Greenpoint Avenue, appointments encouraged prior to visit, PH: 212-505-9077. For more information, visit http://www.pilsudski.org/portal/pl/.

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