Another Tragedy at Katyń

April 10, 2010

I have been putting off this post for a while. To be honest, the death of President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, along with top officials of the Polish government came as a complete and utter shock to me and everyone in Poland. I found out from an elderly man on a bicycle, as I was waiting for a taxi outside of the Radegast Station Holocaust Museum in Łódź with two other Fulbrighters this morning. Immediately, Polish flags sprang up everywhere, draped with black ribbons.

I attended a mass in the intention of the victims of the plane crash at the St. Stanislaus Kostka Cathedral in Łódź. The archbishop of Łódź, Władysław Ziółek, celebrated the mass and was joined by the President of the City of Łódź and other top officials. It didn’t matter if you were the President of Łódź or an art student–you could stand side by side at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and commemorate this tragic loss.

The last time I remember being in a church so packed was at the mass for Pope John Paul II at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. My mother and I just made it into the cathedral before they reached capacity and shut the doors. Then and now, it was amazing to witness everyone joining together in mourning.

The statue of Pope John Paul II outside the cathedral in Łódź was enveloped by candles and flowers. Since the 5th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II happened to fall on Good Friday this year, today (April 10, 2010–the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday) was designated for masses in his intention. It is an unsettling coincidence.

The President’s plane went down at 8:56am Warsaw time in Smolensk, Russia after repeated attempts at landing in dense fog. Apparently on its fourth attempt, it clipped trees and caught fire upon crashing to the ground.

President Lech Kaczyński and all those on board were headed for Katyń memorial ceremonies, which have been taking place all week.

It is the first time Poland and Russia have jointly commemorated the Katyń massacre of 1940, when 22,000 members of Poland’s intelligentsia were brutally murdered and buried in mass graves in the forests of Katyń, in western Russia (what is now Belarus).

The Katyń massacre refers to the murder of Polish officers in the Katyń forest, who were from the Kozielsk prisoner of war camp. Officers from the Starobelsk and Ostashkov camps, as well as in West Belarus and West Ukraine, the NKVD headquarters in Smoleńsk, and various prisons across the Soviet Union were also murdered. There is a Belorusian Katyń List that has yet to be revealed with names of Polish prisoners of war to be murdered at various locations in Belarus and Western Ukraine. Vladimir Putin was to have presented Prime Minister Donald Tusk with the list on Wednesday; it did not happen.

Those who died at Katyń included an admiral; two generals; 24 colonels; 79 lieutenant colonels; 258 majors; 654 captains; 17 naval captains; 3,420 NCOs; seven chaplains; three landowners; a prince; 43 officials; 85 privates; 131 refugees; 20 university professors; 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; more than 100 writers and journalists; as well as about 200 pilots. In all, the NKVD executed almost half the Polish officer corps. Altogether, the NKVD murdered 14 Polish generals during the Katyń massacres.

The mass graves of those murdered were discovered by the Nazis in 1943, but the Soviet Union shifted the blame onto Nazi Germany. So. just imagine it’s 1940 for a moment. Your brother, husband, or father– most likely a military officer, professor, lawyer, physician–  disappears. The last thing you hear is that he boarded a train to be sent off to a forced labor camp somewhere in Russia. Three years go by and Nazi Germany announces its discovery of mass graves of Polish officers. There are bullet holes in the back of all the skulls. The Nazis put up lists of the names of all those who were murdered. The Soviet Union denies responsibility. The war ends in 1945, the Red Army invades Poland and sets up a Communist regime. It continues to deny the Katyń massacre and gets rid of anyone who is inconvenient– anyone who is making too much noise. The Soviet Union continues to deny responsibility until 1990, when NKVD documents are finally revealed proving the Soviet Union not only perpetrated the murders, but elaborately covered them up. Imagine not being able to openly talk about the loss of your loved one for 50 years.

I think the most tragic twist of fate in this whole thing is that dozens of these people– the family members of Katyń victims–were aboard the President’s plane. They were on their way to pay respect to their loved ones. Instead, they joined them in the forests of Katyń.

Furthermore, the highest officials of the Polish government, leading historians, and religious officials were on their way to honor the memory of their murdered countrymen, who were once, too, members of the Polish elite.

The whole world has finally learned about Katyń. It’s just such a shame that another tragedy was what finally brought it to light.

BBC news


  • Lech Kaczyński, President of the Polish Republic
  • Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady RP
  • Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of the RP in exile (surrendered his position in 1990 when Lech Wałęsa elected as proper Polish president)
  • Krzysztof Putra, Vice-Marshall of the Sejm
  • Jerzy Szmajdziński, Vice-Marshall of the Sejm
  • Krystyna Bochenek, Vice-Marshall of the Sejm
  • Jerzy Bahr, RP Ambassador to the Russian Federation
  • Władysław Stasiak, Chief of Staff to the President of the RP
  • Aleksander Szczygło, Head of the Office of National Security (equivalent to the US National Security Council)
  • Jacek Sasin, Vice-Chief of Staff to the President
  • Paweł Wypych, state-secretary in the Office of the President
  • Mariusz Handzlik, under-state-secretarz in the Office of the President
  • Andrzej Kremer, under-state-secratry at the RP Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Stanisław Komorowski, under-state-secretarz at the RP Defense Ministry
  • Tomasz Merta, under-state-secretary at the RP Ministry of Culture and National Patrimony
  • Gen. Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish General Staff
  • Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary of the the RP Institute of Military History
  • Maciej Płażyński, President of “Wspólnota Polska,” the Polish cultural organization much like the German Goethe Institute or the British Council
  • Mariusz Kazana, Director of Protocol for the RP Ministry of Foreign Affairs


  • Leszek Deptuła, Sejm deputy
  • Grzegorz Dolniak, Sejm deputy
  • Grażyna Gęsicka, Sejm deputy
  • Przemysław Gosiewski, Sejm deputy
  • Sebastian Karpiniuk, Sejm deputy
  • Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, Sejm deputy
  • Zbigniew Wassermann, Sejm deputy
  • Aleksandra Natalli-Swiat, Sejm deputy
  • Arkadiusz Rybicki, Sejm deputy
  • Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, Sejm deputy
  • Wiesław Woda, Sejm deputy
  • Edward Wojtas, Sejm deputy
  • Janina Fetlińska, Senator
  • Stanisław Zając, Senator


  • Janusz Kochanowski, human rights advocate
  • Sławomir Skrzypek, President National Bank of Poland
  • Janusz Kurtyka, President of the Institute of National Memory
  • Janusz Krupski, Head of the Office for the Rights of Combatants and Repressed Persons


  • Bishop Gen. Tadeusz Płoski, field chaplain of the Polish Army
  • Archbishop Gen. Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox Church chaplain of the Polish Army
  • Pastor (Colonel) Adam Pilch, Evangelical (= Protestant) field chaplain
  • Father (Lieutenant-Colonel) Jan Osiński, field chaplain of the Polish Army


  • Edward Duchnowski, Secretary-General of the Siberian Association
  • Father Bronisław Gostomski
  • Father Jósef Joniec, President of the parish association
  • Father Zdzisław Król, Chaplain to the Warsaw chapter of the association of Katyn families, 1987-2007
  • Father Andrzej Kwaśnik, Chaplain of the Federation of Katyn Families
  • Tadeusz Lutoborski
  • Boźena Łojek, President of the Polish Katyn Foundation
  • Stefan Melak, President of the Katyn Committee
  • Stanisław Mikke, vice-chairman of RP Institute of Military History
  • Bronisława Orawiec-Loffler
  • Katarzyna Piskorska
  • Andrzej Sariusz-Skąpski, President of the Federation of Katyn Families
  • Wojciech Seweryn
  • Leszek Solski
  • Teresa Walewska-Przyjałkowska, Foundation “Golgotha of the East”
  • Gabriela Zych
  • Ewa Bąkowska, granddaughter of Brig. Gen. Mieczyslaw Smarowiński (Polish general killed at Katyn)
  • Maria Borowska
  • Bartosz Borowski
  • Dariusz Malinowski


  • LT Gen. Bronisław Kwatkowski, Operational Head of the Polish Armed Forces
  • LT Gen. Andrzej Błasik, Head of Polish Internal [i.e. police] Forces
  • Major Gen. Tadeusz Buk, Head of Polish Land Forces
  • Major Gen. Włodzimierz Potasiński, Head of Polish Special Forces
  • Vice-Admiral Andrzej Karweta, Head of Polish Navy
  • Brig. Gen. Kazimierz Gilarski, Head of the Warsaw Garrison

Wieczne odpoczywanie racz im dać Panie, a światłość wiekuista niechaj im świeci. Niech odpoczywają w pokoju wiecznym. Amen.

Please go rent Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyń.

Świat się wkońcu dowiedział o Katyniu. The world has finally learned about Katyń.


2 Responses to “Another Tragedy at Katyń”

  1. […] Więcej: Another Tragedy at Katyń « My Year in Poland on the Fulbright […]

  2. lisksiazkowy Says:

    Andrzej Kremer, under-state-secratry at the RP Ministry of Foreign Affairs
    I knew this guy. He was leading the casses on structure and organization of Polish Foreign Service at my major.

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