Trio of Katyn Remembrances In Baltimore
BALTIMORE, Md. — Three Katyn Events Solemnized. The National Katyn Memorial Foundation and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland joined to observe three major Katyn related anniversaries here on April 19th that were harmonically converging in this year of 2015. They are listed in the following chronological order: 1940 – The Katyn Massacre (75 years ago); 2000 – Baltimore’s First Katyn Remembrance (15 years ago); 2010 – Smolensk/Katyn Airplane Catastrophe (5 years ago). In this landmark year they remain a most significant historical trio in our hearts and minds.
IN PHOTO: Taps for the Katyn Martyrs. Maryland National Guard Sergeant Keith DeFontes sounds “Taps” in memory of the 22,000 Polish military officers criminally massacred in the Katyn Forest, Russia by the Soviet Union in 1940. Poland’s Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf, with Brigadier General Jaroslaw Strozyk and Lieutenant Colonel Karol Sobczyk, observe the melancholy military ritual.
After the dedicated 10:30 A.M. mass at Holy Rosary Church, two Hundred people attended the 1 p.m. ceremonies at the National Katyn Memorial site in Harbor East. The participants included national, state and local politicos, the Embassy of Poland, numerous national and local Polonia organizations, and many other interested people. Catholic (R.C. and P.N.C.C.) and Jewish clergy offered up their appropriate prayers and religious traditions. Groups participating in the ceremonies were the Polish Legion of American Veterans – Department of Maryland, New Jersey Polish Army Veterans Association of America (Polish acronym “SWAP” ) Post 36 – Passaic, and Post 81 – Trenton, costumed folk dance groups Krakowiaki (youth) and Ojczyzna (adult).
All were assembled to memorialize the 22,000 Polish Army officers, including many of Poland’s officialdom, leading citizens and intelligentsia, all murdered in the infamous 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre at the bloodied hands of the Soviet Union’s (aka Russian) militarized political police, and at other such horrid locations, during early World War II.
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (IN PHOTO ON RIGHT) abandoned her prepared speech in favor of “speaking from the heart.” “The Katyn victims were the flowers of a new Polish nation resurrected during the interwar years 1918 – 1939 … which that devil Stalin tried to destroy. But it didn’t happen. The courage, tenacity and strong Catholic faith of the Polish people defeated him, and eventually established today’s free and democratic Poland.” Mikulski’s ample remarks also included references to the robust and stalwart political, military and familial ties between our two nations, Poland’s successes in European affairs and alliances, and the Smolensk/Katyn tragedy. Mikulski ended with the well-received promise that “the United States will always defend Poland.”
U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes (IN PHOTO ON LEFT) eloquently commented on the different aspects and ramifications of Katyn suffered by the Polish nation, the horrors of genocide and dangers of intolerance.
Poland’s Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf emphasized that it was impossible to openly speak the truth about the Katyn Massacre in communist-dominated Poland. But the memory was kept alive by the families of the murdered and by the Polish diaspora abroad. He thanked Chairman Richard Poremski and the members of the National Katyn Memorial Foundation, and all of Baltimore’s Polonia for also keeping the memory of Katyn alive. He reminded everyone about the efforts of the post-World War II U.S. House of Representatives that fully investigated and disclosed the perpetrators of the massacre, as well as Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur who recently worked to declassify Katyn documents in the U.S. Archives.
Schnepf (IN PHOTO ON RIGHT) also remarked on this 5th Anniversary of the Smolensk/Katyn Air Catastrophe which took the lives of 96 leading individuals of Poland, including President Lech Kaczynski and his wife. “This was not only a great national tragedy, but also a major challenge for the functioning of the state. Poland survived this difficult time without destabilization, indicating the maturity of its democratic system and governing structures.”
Brigadier General Jaroslaw Strozyk, after speaking about the abject suffering of Poland under imposed Soviet/communist domination, went on to emphasize that Poland is currently undergoing a modernization and sizable expansion of its ground and air forces. He said “We are ready for any contingency – there should be no doubt about that … the Polish Armed Forces are ready to fight for freedom.” Strozyk concluded with the admonition that “Freedom is not granted by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
At the afternoon reception/dinner in the Great Hall of Polish National Alliance Council 21, Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other victims of the catastrophic April 10, 2010 Smolensk/Katyn airplane crash were honored in a special ceremony with participants Consul General Piotr Konowrocki and BG Strozyk. The lives cut short counted among many of Poland’s top political, military and social strata elites. Ironically, they were all on a pilgrimage to the Katyn Forest to observe the 70th Anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. As a consequence, they all are now justly enshrined in the Katyn Pantheon of Hero’s.
On this wind-swept, cool and partly-sunny reflective Sunday all who perished at Katyn were commemorated … in the past by the hand of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union … and more recently by the capricious Hand of Fate.
Richard P. Poremski
Polish American Journal
Washington, DC Bureau
May 7, 2015