Katyń Returns to Haunt Poland

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.
Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Poland’s list of tragedies keeps on growing. The 10th April will live long in the memory of Poles around the world. On this day, 70 years ago, the cream of Poland’s political, cultural and intellectual elite were massacred in the forests of Katyń by Soviet officers on orders from Joseph Stalin. On the 10th April 2010, in one fatal, tragic swoop, Poland lost its President, Lech Kaczyński; Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last President-in-exile, Jerzy Szmajdziński, deputy Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, as well as a host of other political, church and military dignitaries. In fact, Poland lost its entire military command who were also on the tragic flight to Katyń. As former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski said, “Katyń is an accursed place for the Polish nation”.

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes
Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Conditions were poor over Smolensk airport. Thick fog ominously swirled about the airport and forests around Smolensk. The Polish Presidential Tupolev Tu-154 circled the airport. It was obvious that there were problems. The tower recommended that the plane land elsewhere. However, the pilot attempted to land the plane four times. Each time without success. On its final attempt, not more than 1 km from the runway, the Tupolev Tu-154 caught the treetops with its left wing, crashed and exploded in a ball of flames engulfing all 96 passengers and members of the crew. Even though they arrived within minutes, the emergency services realised that all they could do was put out the flames. There were no survivors.

Among the tragic dead were:

Kaczorowski, last President-in-exile
Kaczorowski, President-in-exile

President and Personnel
Lech Kaczyński, President of the Republic of Poland
Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady of the Republic of Poland
Mariusz Handzlik, Deputy Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of the Polish government-in-exile
Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sławomir Skrzypek, President of the National Bank of Poland
Władysław Stasiak, Chief of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Aleksander Szczygło, Head of the National Security Bureau
Paweł Wypych, Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland

Szmajdzinski, Presidential candidate
Szmajdziński, Left Wing Leader

Members of Parliament
Krystyna Bochenek, Deputy Speaker of the Senate
Leszek Deptuła, member of the Sejm
Grzegorz Dolniak, member of the Sejm
Janina Fetlińska, member of the Senate
Grażyna Gęsicka, member of the Sejm
Przemysław Gosiewski, member of the Sejm
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, member of the Sejm
Sebastian Karpiniuk, member of the Sejm
Aleksandra Natalli-Świat, member of the Sejm
Krzysztof Putra, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Arkadiusz Rybicki, member of the Sejm
Jerzy Szmajdziński, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, member of the Sejm
Zbigniew Wassermann, member of the Sejm
Wiesław Woda, member of the Sejm
Edward Wojtas, member of the Sejm
Stanisław Zając, member of the Senate

General Franciszek Gągor
General Franciszek Gągor

Military figures
Lieutenant General Andrzej Błasik, Chief of the Polish Air Force
Major General Tadeusz Buk, Commander of the Polish Land Forces
General Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish Army General Staff
Vice Admiral Andrzej Karweta, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Navy
General Włodzimierz Potasiński, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Special Forces

Religious figures
Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox Ordinary of the Polish Army
Tadeusz Płoski, bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Polish Army
Ryszard Rumianek, Rector of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University

Katyń, Accursed Forest
Katyń, Accursed Forest

Janusz Kochanowski, Polish Ombudsman for Citizen Rights
Janusz Kurtyka, President of the Institute of National Remembrance and historian
Piotr Nurowski, President of the Polish Olympic Committee
Maciej Płażyński, President of the Polish Community Association and co-founder of Civic Platform (PO)
Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary-General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites
Anna Walentynowicz, free trade union activist, member of Solidarity
Janusz Zakrzeński, actor

May they all rest in peace. Those here and those left unmentioned.
Let us end with the words of Zbigniew Herbert (from “Guziki”):

…a bird flew by, a cloud floats along
a leaf falls, a plant sprouts
and silence on high
and the mist steams over Katyń forest…


23 thoughts on “Katyń Returns to Haunt Poland

  1. What a day.

    I have to say that I have been impressed by the manner in which the nation– public, politicians and the media– has conducted itself. Impeccable dignity.


  2. And good grief, you were live doing the radio programme, I suppose.

    My reactions to the whole thing are… not relevant at this time. But this is Poland’s 9/11 moment, where your nation is dismantled to the core by a single, all-changing event. And I wish every one of you the strength to rebuild.

  3. There is one thing I regret. It’s a real shame that only after such a tragedy an average Pole like me finds out that President and the First Lady were outstanding figures. Listening to various announcements and comments of heads of other countries repeatedly saying that Lech Kaczyński was a genuine patriot, only then did I realise how true it is. Sometimes I thought: why would President get so deeply involved in e.g. Ukraine’s or Georgia’s affairs often putting Poland’s alliances at risk? Now I know that our President wanted these countries to have the chance to experience democracy, just like Poland.
    It is a real shame that Poland wasn’t aware of how highly its President and his wife were respected abroad… Now we are and we showed it yesterday and today…

  4. Great piece mate. Jim, perhaps not Poland’s 9-11 moment, but definitely our JFK moment, except deeper obviously considering those who were killed.

    1. I sincerely regret having to write such a piece. 😦
      As for Smolensk-Katyn being Poland’s 9-11, I think I’d have to agree but I do see the point Jim is making.

  5. No man is an island,
    Entire of itself.
    Each is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manner of thine own
    Or of thine friend’s were.
    Each man’s death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.

    i have to say that i didn’t like our President, i didn’t like his politics, nor his decisions. but today that’s beside the point because he was my President too. he was the President of Poland, my country. it’s like when a soldier salutes he does not salute to the man, he doesn’t salute to some Lech or Aleksander – he salutes to the office of the President and the prestige and respect that this office “personifies”, demands and commands. similarily, an attack on the Polish President is the same thing as an attack on Poland itself. that comes just to show us how much Poland and the office of the President are synonymous with each other. and maybe that is why I, for one, am deeply (deeper than i would imagine beforehand) sad by the fate of my President, the President i did not even like but still the President of my country. and let us not forget that he wasn’t the only one on board. many others distinguished and honored men and women died in that horrible crash. rest in peace. may your sacrifice be not in vain. may it bring permanently the Russian and Polish peoples closer. may it let us forget and overcome our historical differences and the urges to pass blame and guilt around.

  6. oh, and one more thing. i am extremely impressed with how the Russians and Putin reacted. with such class and deeply human sensitivity to the subject. i never thought i’d say this but: thank you. from the botttom of my heart.

  7. I am truly sorry for the loss of your country’s leadership. It is awful. When I last visited Poland, I was comforted by the warmth and strength of your people. I know that Poland’s citizens will persevere and that her talent will rise up to lead anew.

  8. While it is always dubious to talk of ‘silver linings’ so soon after something like this, better Polish-Russian relations and a more dignified political scene in Poland could come about as a result. Let’s hope so.

  9. I DO believe…

    that we can learn something from this tragedy. I hope that each and every person will become more responsible and more involved in the matters around him/her.

    I DO believe…
    we can unite and make our country a better country…

    I am deeply touched by all the people around me (in France) who tell me that they pray for my country, for all the people and for our future…

    I wish I could be in Poland right now…

    1. “each and every person will become more responsible and more involved in the matters around him/her.”
      I totally share your feelings! I can already see people whining that nothing will change and behaviours of politicians and the society will remain the same. Again, the omnipresent pessimism is coming out. But I think it’s high time we started taking things in our own hands. If individual people don’t start changing their attitudes, how can the country be better? Now is a historic moment, let us not waste it.

      It crossed my mind yesterday that I should do more for my country. Now I fell a strong need for it. There are so many organizations and groups we can join and start acting for the good of us all…

  10. My prayers and thoughts are with Poland. My heart aches for the Polish people as they mourn the past and present.

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