At the dawn of the 20th century, Chicago was the second largest city in the United States with more than 2 million residents.
It was also the center of Polish culture and political activism in America. With Poland partitioned between Russia, Austria and Germany, more than 4 million Polish citizens immigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1920 in search of a better life.
My Grandma and Grandpa Potempa, who married in 1916, were part of this immigration movement.
In Chicago, immigrants, including my grandpa, worked in some of the most dangerous factories and mills in the United States. In their neighborhoods, these families built communities, churches, and most of all, aided their beloved Poland in her fight for independence. Their story is known as the "Fourth Partition," and it's also the name of a new film documentary released last year, that details these stories. (As for my family, by the time my father Chester, the youngest of Grandpa and Grandma Potempa's nine children, was born in 1929, the family had left Chicago so Grandpa could leave factory life, purchasing the family farm in Indiana where my father was born.)
Starting with the arrival of the first documented Poles in Jamestown in 1608, the film discusses political and economical reasons for the mass Polish migration at the turn of the 20th century. Featuring rarely shown photographs and films, the film talks about old Chicago Polish neighborhoods, as well as the jobs people had living in these neighborhoods. It discusses their culture, daily life, and their political activism during World War I.
After a weekend screening of "The Fourth Partition" following the noon Polish Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in the Salvatorian Fathers Millennium Hall in Merrillville on Sunday, more Chicagoland screenings are popping up. Dr. James Pula, a professor of history at Purdue North Central in Westville, is also featured in interviews throughout the film. Dr. Pula is the editor of the "Polish-American Encyclopedia."
Another screening is at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Mission's Jesuit Millennium Center, 5838 W Irving Park Rd. in Chicago. FYI: (773) 777-7000. And at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9, the film will be shown at Polish Museum of America, 984 N Milwaukee Ave., in Chicago. FYI: (773) 384-3352.
As I hear of any additional screenings in Northwest Indiana, I will keep readers updated.
Adrian Prawica is the film's director. Born in Lodz, Poland, in addition to being a director, his is also an editor and cinematographer. He immigrated to the United States at age 10 and is a graduate of Loyola University, Chicago. He started in event videography and public access television at age 25, before moving into advertising and documentary work.
For more information about his documentary "The Fourth Partition," visit amerykafilm.com, where the film can also be ordered for $14.99.