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General Kosciuszko, a man ahead of his time

Few know the story of the Polish General Tadeusz Kosciuszko who fought for freedom on both sides of the Atlantic and gave Thomas Jefferson his fortune in America to free African slaves.

March 29, 2018 - The Bridge Foundation - EventsStories and ideas

Portrait of Tadeusz Kościuszko - (CC) commons.wikimedia.org

On March 2nd 2018, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) hosted a public discussion on the extraordinary life and deeds of Gen. Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish military engineer, statesman and military leader, who not only became a national hero in his own country, but also played a pivotal role in the War of Independence and advocated for the manumission of African slaves in the United States.

Conceived by Adam Koniuszewski from The Bridge Foundation and the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP) and hosted by RTS Switzerland news anchor Darius Rochebin, the event was held in recognition of the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a principle that Gen. Kosciuszko also championed, along with freedom, justice and equality for all. New Eastern Europe was a media partner of the event. GCSP’s Director, Ambassador Christian Dussey gave opening remarks, followed by Adam Koniuszewski’s presentation on General Kosciuszko’s life.


General Kosciuszko fought for human rights and defended the ideals of freedom, justice and equality for all. “Few know that Kosciuszko, one of George Washington’s most important military engineers and strategists in the Revolutionary War, was the architect of the continental army victory against the British at Saratoga. This battle became the turning point in the revolution because it convinced Louis XVI and France to join the American cause against the British,” said Koniuszewski.

Kosciuszko left his entire American fortune for US President, Thomas Jefferson, to free and educate African slaves, including Jefferson’s own slaves, which made him a beneficiary and executor of the historical will. “The Kosciuszko testament had the power to change American history but Jefferson would never fulfill the wishes of his Polish friend,” Koniuszewski added. Kosciuszko went on to build the strategic fortress of West Point which would later become the most famous military academy in the world.

Panelists, all whom shared a connection to the Gen. Kosciuszko – either through familiar links, work impact or pure interest – included Ambassador Pierre André Dunbar, Permanent Representative of Haiti to the United Nations, Ms Marguerite Kudelski of Kudelski Group, Ms Elisabeth Wilson a Canadian-Haitian journalist who founded the Global Alliance against Female Genital Mutilation, and Mr Thomas Zeltner a leading personality in the field of Public Health in Switzerland and beyond.  

As a descendent of two US Presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams), former US Ambassador to Finland, Charles Adams, Jr. also provided his remarks via video; quoting President Thomas Jefferson who said of  Kosciuszko, “He is as pure a son of liberty as ever I have known.”

Ambassador Pierre-André Dunbar: commended the fight for freedom of Kosciuszko and explained how the same ideals inspired Toussaint Louverture’s fight to liberate Saint-Domingue in 1791, which later became Haiti, from the horrors of slavery and oppression. Louverture had to face the legions of Napoleon who relied on income from the lucrative sugar cane and coffee trade that slave labour made possible. Interestingly, Napoleon’s army included Polish legions that refused to fight against slaves that wanted their freedom and they joined the rebellion. When Haiti was liberated they were given Haitian citizenship and their descendants still reside on the island where they have retained some of their Polish heritage.

Ms Marguerite Kudelski: Following the age of revolutions in Europe and America, Kosciuszko was recognized and celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic. Kudelski discovered in her family archives that her grandfather had been named Tadeusz in honour of Kosciuszko. But the Kosciuszko-Kudelski parallel does not end there. Her father, Stefan Kudelski, left Poland during the Second World War. He later revolutionised movie-making with the Nagra portable recorder, earning two Oscars in the process. Both Poles left their homeland because of war, left their mark in America and settled in Switzerland. To this day, this is where the Kudelski family and enterprise remain.

Mr Thomas Zeltner: Kosciuszko was based in Paris when he developed a friendship with the first Swiss Ambassador to France, Peter Zeltner. Unhappy in a France that was under Napoleon, he moved to Solothurn in 1815 where he lived and later died in an apartment owned by the Zeltner family. “Already then, Switzerland was recognised as a haven of freedom in a turbulent Europe. That was one of the reasons Kosciuszko moved there,” explained Mr Zeltner.

On March 9th in Warsaw, the Bridge Foundation organised another conference for 400 high school leaders from different parts of Poland during which they discovered aspects of the life and deeds of Kosciuszko that are not emphasised in school – such as his commitment to gender equality and the promotion of access to education for peasant women and girls and his ability to mobilise diverse communities and ethnic groups in the fight for Polish Independence. Click here to see photos from that event.

The Bridge Foundation wishes to thank Ambassador Dussey, the GCSP and all who contributed to this conference, including Darius Rochebin for his wonderful moderation, our distinguished speakers, and the following partners:

With very special words of appreciation to Philippe Ekeke and his team at 3E2K for the video support – including Ambassador Charles Adams Jr. video.

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