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Published on: Monday, July 8, 2024 read more ...

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

A plaque at the USS Maine Memorial honors Polish musician and statesman Igancy Paderewski

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), Polish pianist, composer and statesman, lay at rest in the vault of the Mast of the USS Maine Memorial from his death in June 1941 to June 1992. A plaque at the memorial, dedicated by the American Legion, continues to honor him as an "artist, composer, musician, statesman, patriot, humanitarian and friend of American war veterans." 

Born in the Podolia Governorate of the Russian Empire (now part of Ukraine), Paderewski studied music in Warsaw, Berlin and Vienna. A virtuoso pianist, he captivated audiences at his public debut in Vienna in 1887, and he became an international sensation as he performed throughout Europe and the United States. He emigrated to the United States in 1913, purchasing an estate in California. 

However, Paderewski never forgot his homeland. With income from his tours, he funded numerous philanthropic endeavors, including the construction of monuments commemorating Polish history. During World War I, as the U.S. representative of the Paris-based Polish National Committee, Paderewski conducted extensive publicity and fundraising campaigns on behalf of Polish national independence. He also performed concerts to benefit the Polish Relief Fund, a philanthropic organization that he and his wife had founded. In the United States, where approximately two million Poles had emigrated, Paderewski thus emerged as a leading voice of Polish nationalism. 

After World War I, the Polish National Committee formed a provisional government for an independent Poland, and appointed Paderewski as its prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. He also served as Poland's delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, at which President Woodrow Wilson advocated Polish independence in the 13th of his Fourteen Points. Yet Paderewski's government lasted for only ten months, from January to November 1919. During the 1920s, he returned to California and his music.   

Still, Paderewski continued to be an ardent Polish patriot and nationalist. In 1940, he became head of the Polish National Council, a parliament-in-exile based in London. He returned to the United States in December of that year, again lobbying on behalf of Poland and playing concerts to benefit the Polish Relief Fund. For the 50th anniversary of his first American tour, U.S. cities launched a "Paderewski Week," with more than 6,000 concerts in his honor. In June 1941, however, he became ill, and he died in New York City on June 29, 1941, at age 80. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized for Paderewski's remains to temporarily rest in the vault of the Mast of the USS Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, until he could be buried in a free, independent Poland. Paderewski was not eligible for below-ground burial in Arlington National Cemetery (or in any other U.S. national cemetery), because he had never served in the armed forces of the United States or any nations allied with the United States.

With the end of the Cold War, Paderewski's wish to be laid to rest in his homeland could be realized. On June 27, 1992, a horse-drawn caisson and a U.S. military honor guard escorted Paderewski's remains out of Arlington National Cemetery, en route to Andrews Air Force Base and a flight to Warsaw. After days of ceremonies, his ashes were interred in a crypt at Warsaw's St. John's Archcathedral. 

Paderewski's heart remains in the United States — literally. The organ is encased in a bronze sculpture at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a town with a large Polish-American community.