Baltimore’s Nineteen Years
of Katyn Remembrance
BALTIMORE, Md. – On the sunny and warm Sunday of April 7, 2019 approximately 150 people congregated here around the National Katyn Memorial for the Nineteenth Annual Katyn Remembrance. They came to honor and solemnly remember the 22,000 Polish Military officers, and the inclusive national leadership of Poland, murdered during 1940 in the Katyn Forest at the hands of the Soviet Union’s (aka Russian) NKVD militarized political police. Besides Katyn, this genocide was also collectively carried out at other known locations in Russia that included Mednoe, Kharkov, Starobelsk, and Ostashkov during the second year of World War II.
The Nineteenth Annual Katyn Remembrance was organized by the National Katyn Memorial Foundation in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. The ceremonies and participants included color guards, Catholic (RC, PNCC) and Jewish clergy, diplomats, guest speakers, politicians, military officers, Polish folk groups, the laying of wreaths, and closed with the playing of “Taps” by a Maryland National Guard bugler.
The guest speakers included the Honorable Bernard C. “Jack” Young – Acting Mayor of Baltimore, and also President of the Baltimore City Council; Honorable Kurt L. Schmoke – President of the University of Baltimore and Past Mayor of Baltimore; Zeke Cohen – Baltimore City Councilman; U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Maryland; Brigadier General James F. Colman – U.S. Army (ret.); Major General Cezary Wisniewski – Military Attache, Embassy of Poland; Ambassador Piotr Wilczek – Embassy of Poland. Official pertinent correspondence was received, and read, from U.S. Representative John Sarbanes – Maryland, and Senator/Minister Anna Maria Anders – Republic of Poland, Office of the Prime Minister.
Mayor Young said how proud he was to have such a magnificent and important monument as the centerpiece for the relatively new and vibrant Harbor East neighborhood. Former Mayor Schmoke recounted how motivated he was to secure the present prime location of the Katyn Memorial when the area was then mostly abandoned and derelict, after being approached by the exploratory National Katyn Memorial Committee. The Memorial was dedicated in 2000 and thus began the annual Katyn remembrances at its site. Referencing the Katyn genocide, Councilman Cohen spoke about his family’s trails and tribulations during the Holocaust that greatly victimized Polish Jews at the hands of the Nazi German invaders during the tumult of World War II.
In photo at the National Katyn Memorial. Major General Cezary Wisniewski, Commander of the Office of the Military Attache for Defense, Military, Naval and Air at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, is depicted delivering his remarks to the assembled audience during the Nineteenth Annual Katyn Remembrance in the heart of Baltimore’s Harbor East waterfront district.
Ambassador Wilczek bespoke that “In 2018 we celebrated one hundred years since Poland’s restored independence, a milestone that wouldn’t have been possible without the resistance put up by thousands of patriotic Poles, including the ones who died in Katyn for refusing to accept Soviet rule. Its because of them that we can enjoy the blessings of a proud and free Poland. We say without a doubt that their sacrifice was not in vain. As we mark seventy-nine years since the Katyn Massacre, let’s recommit to forever preserving the memory of these heroes.”
Senator Van Hollen spoke about the tragedy and genocide of the Katyn Massacre saying “That we cannot ever forget the past if we want to make sure to avoid it in the future – never forget, never again. … Today we must maintain strong alliances between the democracies to stand up for our common defense. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and is now a vital part of this alliance. Polish troops are fighting side-by-side with U.S. and other NATO forces in Afghanistan. In NATO it’s all for one, one for all.”
General Colman commented on the catastrophic loss of Poland’s military leadership at Katyn, et al. But not withstanding that awful tragedy, and after having been defeated by the invading Nazi Germans and simultaneously partitioned by the Soviet Union in September of 1939, much of its armed forces eventually escaped to England. They reformed there as separate, organized Polish units and fought alongside the British. The 195,000 Polish troops included 20,000 in the air force and over 3,000 in the navy. They fought on land, sea, and in the air on many battlefields and afloat the high seas, contributing mightily to the allied victory that ended World War II. The number of Polish triumphant victories proved to be the ultimate legacy that the Wojsko Polskie bequeathed to their dear departed brothers at rest in their Katyn Forest graves.
Major General Wisniewski recounted the “genocide of the military, intelligentsia, political and moral individuals of the Katyn Forest Massacre at the hands of Stalin and the Soviet Union’s high command.” He continued that “Katyn is a Polish Armed Forces legacy, it’s the foundation of our moral esprit de corps. Our brothers in arms sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom. We Polish officers will never forget about these hero’s … and we will not let it happen again.
Earlier in the day a Katyn dedicated mass was celebrated at Holy Rosary Church in Polish and English. At the afternoon reception and dinner in the Great Hall of the Polish National Alliance the 96 victims of the April 10, 2010 catastrophic Smolensk-Katyn airplane crash were honored with a candle lighting ceremony and eulogy. It claimed the lives of Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, the Chiefs of the Polish Armed Forces, esteemed clergy, prominent government officials, notable institutional leaders and honored citizens. They were enroute to Katyn Forest in Russia to pay homage to the slain sons of Poland on the 70th Anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. They now have become an indelible paramount element in Poland’s collective Katyn memory.
On this reflective spring Sunday all who perished because of Katyn were commemorated … those in April 1940 by the hand of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union … and more recently those by the capricious Hand of Fate on April 10, 2010.
Richard P. Poremski
Polish American Journal
Washington, DC Bureau