Sunday, January 24, 2016

New Reviews of "Across the Atlantic" On Polish Aviation Pioneers in America

The biography of brothers Joe and Ben Adamowicz who flew across the Atlantic in 1934, from New York to Warsaw, only seven years after Charles Lindbergh has attracted critical attention.  Written by Zofia Reklewska-Braun and Kazimierz Braun, and published in 2015, the book presents the background and detailed description of this incredible feat, as well as circumstances that led to its disappearance from the pages of history.

Ben and Joe Adamowicz with U.S. Ambassador in Poland, Mr. Cudahy, 1934.


Peter J. Obst published the review on the website,, and amply illustrated the text with historical photographs. With the author's permission, the entire text of the review is reprinted below.

The 1920s and 30s are primarily remembered for prohibition, jazz, flappers and the growth of aviation - and there was a part to be played by Poles in all of these categories. In 1934, only seven years after Lindbergh's solo trans-Atlantic flight, two Polish immigrants, brothers Ben and Joe Adamowicz from Brooklyn, made a flight over the ocean with a landing in Warsaw at the end of their journey.

The historical context and details of this flight are examined in a recently published book Across the Atlantic - The Adamowicz Brothers, Polish Aviation Pioneers by Zofia Reklewska-Braun and Kazimierz Braun. What is remarkable about this story is that two men, ordinary guys quite unknown in the then-existing aviation community, managed to accomplish something that, at the time, was still regarded as a dangerous and daring feat.

Even before their excursion into aviation these two "everymen" were part of the immigrant success story. They started a soft-drink bottling plant, made money, acquired property - and hobbies. From bicycling they moved to motorcycles, then automobiles - where they had quite a few mishaps - and finally airplanes. The flying bug got a hold of them and planning for a flight to Poland started. After mastering pilotage on an old Waco airplane, they purchased a slightly used Ballanca Pacemaker single-engine monoplane and had it outfitted with long range tanks.

It was a wise choice as, at the time, aircraft designer Guiseppe Mario Bellanca was the leading manufacturer of aircraft with long distance capabilities. According to records the plane carried about 430 gallons of high test aviation fuel - plus 21 additional 5 gallon canisters, just in case. They paid somewhere between ten and twelve thousand dollars for the plane. Ten thousand dollars in 1934, adjusted for inflation, would be $178,000 today, and this did not include all the additional expenses connected with the trip.

Starting from New York on June 28, 1934 they landed at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and flew on for over 30 hours above the ocean, at one point encountering stormy weather and icing conditions. The plane landed on a field in France and refueled, then continued, making a landing in Germany. Flying east, they sighted and followed the Vistula to Torun, and after some delays were finally cheered by exuberant crowds as they landed in the capital city of Warsaw, the plane's namesake. Apparently the Adamowicz brothers were not short on courage or piloting skills, it was their navigation that was less than perfect.

For ten weeks Poland cheered as Ben and Joe made a tour of the country. Nothing was too good for them. Every Polish city wanted to give them a parade. Newspapers around the world picked up the story of two ordinary men, brothers, who made a spectacular journey. They were given medals, toasted at banquets, housed in the best hotels. Then they sold the Bellanca to the Polish Aero Club and came home to America.

Unfortunately, there were no parades awaiting them in New York. Instead, there was a warrant for their arrest. The authorities found a still for the production of alcohol in the soda water bottling plant. Though prohibition was over, the brothers had operated without the required permits and licenses. In the end a jury found them guilty and they were sentenced to 15 month prison terms and confiscation of the bottling plant.

Newspaper reports that came from the trial were unsympathetic to the brothers who had fallen from grace as "conquerors of the Atlantic" to the status ordinary bootleggers. Even Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker magazine, took a swipe at the brothers in print. The Polish press was mostly silent about their disgrace.

Over time the story faded into obscurity, both the glory of the accomplishment and the humiliating brush with American justice that followed. It was not the first time that a noble pursuit was financed by illegal means. The brothers paid for breaking the law, and their brave adventure was tainted by the deed. Yet, it is good that the book brought back the memory of these immigrant men, Ben and Joe, who dared to fly, as they said, "for the greater glory of Poland."

(c) by Peter J. Obst

Historical commemorative envelope signed by the Adamowicz brothers.
Maja Trochimczyk Collection.


The January 2016 Issue of the Sarmatian Review (vol. 36 no. 1, p. 1987-1988)  contains an extensive review by Sally Boss, focusing not on the incredible accomplishment of the two "everymen" pilots, whose hobby earned them a place in history, but on the reasons for their disappearance from the annals of history and the discrimination that Polish immigrants suffered in America in the 1930s that was the more important reason for this neglect.  The first, an obvious one, was that the plane was bought with funds obtained from illegal manufacturing and sale of alcohol; the Adamowiczes managed a still and a speak-easy in their home, and used their savings and all profits for their aviation adventures.

The Adamowiczes' Bellanca at the Pola Mokotowskie Airport in Warsaw.

But, as Ms. Boss writes, the second reason was far more important and insidious: "plain old prejudice agains Polish Catholic immigrants to this country, in full display in the 1930s and 1940s." She continues:

"The Adamowiczes fell in love with flying shortly after they arrived in the United States and partly financed the purchase of an airplane by running a soda pop factor. They apparently also ran, or collaborated in running, an illegal whisky still that supplied the considerable funds necessary for engaging in so costly and enterprise as an attempt to fly across the ocean. These were Prohibition times and the production of illegal alcohol was strictly forbidden. someone informed the authorities. [...] While the first trial resulted in a hung jury and should have put an end to the prosecution of the two Poles, the legal authorities decided to retry them.We do not know how this was possible nor do the authors of the book supply the information. It was, we assume, one of the innumerable and mostly invisible acts of bias that hurt certain minorities in the United States and cotinue to hurt them.

"The second trial ended in a conviction. Judde Grover M. Moskovitz personally congratulated the jury after they reached the guilty verdict. The newspapers had a feast: two Polish Americans who aspired to join the refined club of pioneering American aviators were pushed back to where they belonged. Whatever was left of their property was confiscated and the brothers spent several years in jail. Upon their release they never returned to their previous fascination wtih flying. Gone was their love of aviation, their courage and willingness to achieve. They were broken men. Family troubles ensued. From one-time heroes who were greeted in Warsaw by the president of the Polish Republic , they became residents of skid row.[...]

"The legal authorities in the state of New York were not interested in the circumstances. Only the Polish brothers wer stigmatized, ridiculed, and incarcerated. There has never been any "reevaluation," as so often happens with African Americans, no mercy shown to two people who manged to fly over the Atlantic at the time when it was considered a feat. the Adamowiczes' love of airplanes, the sacrifices necessary to built a plane and cover its costs (even if the plane were financed by illegal income) their enthusiasm and success were dropped in the memory hole. [...]

"The book is well documented and edited. It is written in a simple and dispassionate language, perhaps too dispassionate to make a difference. The authors are obviously aware of the injustice that the Adamowiczes and others experiences while trying to realize their dreams, but they choose not to say, with Emile Zola, "J'Accuse!" instead, they merely lay out facts as scrupulously as possible, perhaps hoping that someone with a more pugnacious temperament will pick up where they left of."

(c) 2016 by Sally Boss and the Sarmatian Review

The Adamowicz Brothers with their plane, "Warszawa"

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