Poland’s New Katyn – A Tribute to Poland

Polish Flag with a black ribbon

A Country in Mourning

I tried to post something yesterday, but had to end it and leave an incomprehensible mess.  Not sure today will be better but I’ve had more time to reflect.

Lets just say this from the start.  Poland will go on.  Poorer, yes, after all it lost its leadership, but it will go on possibly stronger.  A country in mourning today, but this is not the first such tragedy to strike the land and its people.  Hell, its not the first in the last 80 years.  Today Poland is united.  United in grief and reflection.  I too am grieving.  Even though I haven’t lived there for almost 26 years.  I even stopped paying much attention to Polish politics a while ago, the immediate seemed more important.  Life and politics in America took over, after all, the problems close to home are more urgent, and we have a lot of them here.

But Poland is home too.  A place where I was born, a nation and people long tormented by history.  Constantly struggling for its freedom.  The last 200+ years were marked by heroism and tragedy.  And one such tragedy was the Katyn Massacre.  In the forests near Katyn more than 20,000 of Poland’s best sons lost their lives.  Murdered by the brutal Soviet NKVD, on orders of Josef Stalin.  They died on their knees, shot through the back of the head, with hand tied behind their backs with wire.  When the world found out about Katyn it looked away.  Until 20 years ago it wasn’t even talked about in Poland.  Poland’s Soviet masters needed it kept quiet.  But we whispered.  We knew.  We remembered.  Now that Poland is a free nation Katyn is remembered by all.  Finally we can properly pay tribute to our lost brothers.

It is for such a tribute that the Polish official delegation travelled yesterday.  Lech Kaczynski did not want to forget.  He refused to ignore this dark chapter of history for political expediency.  Yesterday Poles were supposed to mark 70 years since the murders.  The world ignored it.  Russia certainly would love nothing else but to have it forgotten and be swept away.  Many Poles themselves, in the name of political progress and relations with Russia, wanted to do just that.  But no.  Katyn itself would not let the world forget.  In a tragically ironic twist of fate the world today is learning about Katyn.  By dying near those who were murdered, and on such a day, the president and the Polish delegation achieved what they always wanted.  The world finally noticed Polish blood that was shed so needlessly.

Now, unlike many, I wont pretend that Poland lost its greatest leader, a loved president, or someone who was perfect, and whose politics were not divisive.  He was none of those things.  A deeply flawed man, an uncompromising man.  A man who was as controversial as anyone in Polish politics today.  But time for remembering his failings and controversy will come.  Today, and in the next few days, is a time to remember that Poland lost its president.  A time for mourning.  And a time to unite in order to learn from this and move forward once the tears dry.

Move forward Poland will.  We all will.  We will dissect whose fault it was.  No doubt there will be those who will make up conspiracy theories.  Hell they are doing it already.  But the people of Poland and the state itself will go on.  Power is in safe hands, there is no chaos, no power vacuum.  Poland is in mourning, but it is a safe and a stable state.  Elections will come, a new president will be chosen, those who died will be replaced in their duties.  Some already have been according to the constitution and rules provided.  Politically everything it as it should be.

But today is not about politics.  Its about remembering those whom we lost.  Lech Kaczynski was Poland’s first citizen.  Poland’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska, was also lost.  The entire Polish military leadership died too.  The Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and all the heads of the Armed Forces.  Several members of the Polish Sejm (parliament), many quite important, leaders of Polish politics.  Several religious figures were lost too, among them Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical chaplains of the military.  Tragically a great Polish actor was on the plane as well.  And a great symbol of Poland’s latest struggle for freedom, a lady who inspired Solidarity and its struggle.  Other great Poles were lost too, many quite prominent in Polish history, society, and politics..  96 in total.  Each life no less important than the next.  But most tragically, on a personal level for me, a few family members of those who were murdered in the Katyn Forests were also on that plane travelling to pay tribute to their fathers, brothers and grandfathers.  Truly heartbreaking.  Once again these families will shed tears because of Katyn.

Now this is not the first time Poland has lost is leader.  Not even the first time a president came back from Russia in a coffin.  General Wladyslaw Sikorski was Poland’s prime minister and leader during the Second World War.  He was killed in 1943 in another plane crash in Gibraltar, soon after the world found out about Katyn and a political crisis that came about because of it.  A most convenient death for Stalin and the Allies.  A tragic loss for Poland at a time of its greatest need.  The legal Polish Government in Exile soon lost its battle and political fight.  The world accepted the new Communist govt formed by the Soviets.  The new regime was full of traitors, communist agents of the USSR and sometimes the Gestapo.  Poland’s Govt in London kept electing symbolic heads of state until Poland regained its freedom.  When Lech Walesa was elected president of free Poland in 1990, Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last Polish president in Exile, handed over the presidential insignia to Walesa and stepped down, thus dissolving the GiE and uniting Poland symbolically.  President Kaczorowski was on that plane too.  Travelling with president Kaczynski to pay tribute to those murdered at Katyn.  Yet another twist in the tragic Polish history.

I mentioned two, one actually dying in Russia.  Well it was not really a sad occasion.  Boleslaw Bierut was the first post-WWII leader of Poland.  A despicable character, who died on a state visit to Moscow in 1956.  There are claims of poisoning or perhaps even a suicide (suggested perhaps?).  He is guilty of murdering many of Poland’s patriots.  He participated in and led a bloodthirsty campaign to eliminate the Polish patriotic movement.  He was an agent of the Soviets, and possibly even worked with the Gestapo to help them eliminate members of the Armia Krajowa.  No tears shed for that bastard.

But today we shed tears.  Not because we loved all those who died.  Not because we agreed with them politically.  Not because they were perfect.  We cry and mourn because Poland lost its sons and daughters.  Many contributed greatly to Poland’s freedom and history.  These sons and daughters loved Poland.  They worked tirelessly in its service.  And died while serving the country they loved.  We will remember them.  Hopefully we will be better because of this and their deaths will not be in vain.  Hopefully the relations between Poland and Russia will improve because of this.

Poland has impressed me.  Poles all over Poland have shed their political and religious divisions in order to remember those who were lost.  Touching tributes are seen all over the country.  The Presidential Palace has become a place of vigil.  People go there to lay flowers, light candles, reflect, pray.  The world too has been wonderful in this sad time.  Tributes came from all over.  Many nations have announced days of mourning in solidarity with Poland.  Almost all of Poland’s neighbours have behaved impeccably.  Even a country halfway around the globe, Brazil will hold 3 days of mourning.  There was a minute’s silence before Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clash yesterday.  Truly touching.  Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, have also donel and said the right things.  Russians themselves have paid many tributes in solidarity with Poland’s loss.  Russians tonight will watch Andrew Wajda’s “Katyn” on television.  A significant decision by Russia.  After all, while Russia admitted that the Soviets did perpetrate this crime it never apologized for it.  And there are still controversies surrounding it.  Perhaps this latest tragedy will move those involved to admission, conciliation and forgiveness.  Hopefully some good will come from this.

May they all rest in piece.

For a good article and notes on those who were killed please visit:



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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks again for a wonderful article.
    God bless Poland, God bless Russia.

  2. Dobrze by było gdybyś swój blog pisał w dwóch językach angielskim i polskim.

  3. ciekawe artykuły i przemyślenia

  4. […] By justrecently “When the world found out about Katyn it looked away. Until 20 years ago it wasn’t even talked about in Poland.  Poland’s Soviet masters needed it […]

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