As Prepared for Delivery on August 31, 2019
Thank you, Mr. Chmielewski.
Thank you, as well, to the Consul General, members of the board, the supervisory committee, and the credit union, and the guests here today. I am honored that you invited me to be with you.
Later this year, you’ll mark the 43rd anniversary of this institution’s federal charter. Since then, this community has built a financial institution that now has more than $2 billion in assets and about 100,000 members.
I congratulate you on more than four decades of service to your members. That record of service reflects the proud tradition of the credit union movement, which from its beginning was based on the principle of people helping people.
And that principle goes far beyond offering affordable financial products and a safe place for your members to build financial security for themselves and their families. It also means a strong commitment to the community, strong relationships with partner organizations and a strong focus on the future.
That focus on the future is beautifully illustrated by your scholarship program. I was impressed to learn that your program provided more than five million dollars over the last 19 years to help more than 4,300 young credit union members further their education. That is a major investment in people, in communities, and in the future.
And I think the exhibit we’re opening today is another example of that community spirit, that commitment. The images on display are powerful reminders of a time 80 years ago when the Polish people stood alone against two invading nations.
They are a testament to courage and to faith.
It’s exciting to know that we will be sharing this experience with people around the world, including President Trump, who is marking today’s occasion in Poland.
People in cities including Amman, Jordan; Djakarta, Indonesia; Mexico City, Edinburgh, Montreal, and Vienna, will be moved by this exhibit.
Poland first defined itself as a nation in the 10th century. Eight hundred years later, the Polish people made valuable contributions to the creation of another nation, the United States of America.
We share a hero, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who served with distinction in the Continental Army and was the architect of the victory at Saratoga, a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Today, the foundation that bears his name awards up to $1 million each year in fellowships and grants to graduate students, scholars, scientists, artists, and other professionals as part of its mission to educate Americans about Polish culture.
That culture has produced its share of important figures in many fields of human endeavor, including Pope John Paul II; the genius composer and pianist, Frederick Chopin; Nicolas Copernicus, who explained how the universe works; and Marie Curie, who performed groundbreaking research in what is now known as nuclear physics.
Poland is also a nation that has weathered its share of trials, literally by fire. But through partitions and invasions over centuries, the Polish people never lost their resilience, and never surrendered their strong sense of national pride.
As this exhibit reminds us, tomorrow marks the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II. The goal was to eradicate the people and the culture of Poland, whom the Nazis considered racially inferior, and to erase, essentially, the nation from history.
They failed. Poland was occupied, but not subjugated. The bonds of community may have been strained, but they were never broken.
After the war, the Soviet Union replaced the Nazis as oppressors. But fifty years later, Poland was the birthplace of the movement that eventually freed Eastern Europe from Soviet domination.
Today, America and Poland maintain a relationship that began almost 250 years ago, and I am happy to be able to celebrate that with you.
It is said that memory gives back life to those who no longer exist. The images in this exhibit help us remember a terrible event. But more importantly, they strengthen our capacity to face such events, and, together, to eventually overcome them. In that way, the people you see in these images still have life, and they can move us to reflect on life.
Five years after the end of World War II, when the world was still nursing its wounds, the Cold War had begun, and the future seemed uncertain, the writer William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. In his acceptance speech, he expressed faith that the human race would not merely endure, but prevail. He said:
“I decline to accept the end of man…I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
I share that faith. And I hope the experience we are sharing here today inspires us to work, in large ways and small, in our professional lives and our personal lives, to meet challenges and to build something better — not only for ourselves, but for our communities, for our country, and for our world.