In Memoriam: Katyn (1940) and Katyn (2010)
Translation by Oskar Chomicki and Mark Wegierski
We present here, translated from Polish to English, the draft of the speech which President Lech Kaczynski was planning to deliver at the Polish War Cemetery in Katyn. A cruel fate prevented him from doing so.
Participants of the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyń Atrocity at the Polish War Cemetery in Katyń
Honorable Representatives of the Katyń Families! Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen!
In April 1940, over 21 thousand Polish prisoners from the camps and prisons of the NKVD were murdered. This genocidal crime was committed in accordance with Stalin's will, by order of the highest authorities of the Soviet Union. The alliance of the Third Reich with the USSR, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, and the attack on Poland on September 17, 1939 found their shocking culmination in the Katyń atrocity. Not only in the forests of Katyń, but also in Twer, Charków, and in other places — known and still unknown places of execution — citizens of the Second Polish Republic, people forming the basis of our nationhood and unbending in service of their fatherland, were murdered. At the same time, the families of the murdered and thousands of residents of the pre-war Eastern Borderlands were sent into the depths of the Soviet Union, where their unspoken suffering marked the trail of the Polish Eastern Golgotha.
The most tragic stop on this trail was Katyń. Polish officers, religious, clerks, policemen, border patrolmen, and prison guards were slain without trials or verdicts. They were victims of an undeclared war. They were murdered in violation of the laws and conventions of the civilized world. Their dignity as soldiers, Poles, and human beings was trampled. The graves of the dead were supposed to hide the bodies of the murdered and the truth about the atrocity forever. The world was never supposed to find out. The families of the victims had their rights to public mourning, to grieving and remembering those closed to them. The earth covered the traces of the atrocity and the falsehood was supposed to erase it from human memory.
Concealing the truth about Katyń — the effect of the decision of those who perpetuated the crime — became one of the principles of the communists in postwar Poland: the founding lie of the People's Republic of Poland. This was a time during which one paid a price for remembering and speaking truth about Katyń. But those closest to the murdered and others courageous persons clung faithfully to the memory, defended it, and passed it on onto later generations of Poles. They carried it through the time of the communist rule and entrusted it to their fellow countrymen in a free, independent Poland. That is why we owe all those people, especially the families of Katyń, respect and gratitude. In the name of the Republic of Poland, I tender the deepest thanks for the fact that, by defending the memory of your dearest, you have saved a very important dimension of our Polish consciousness and identity.
Katyń became a painful wound of Polish history but it also poisoned relations between Poles and Russians for decades. Let us make sure that wound of Katyń can finally heal in full and bring us closer. We Poles appreciate the actions of the Russian people during the last few years. We should continue down the road that draws our nations closer, neither stopping nor backing up on it.
All the circumstances of the Katyń atrocity must be completely studied and explained. It is important that the innocence of the victims be legally confirmed and that all the documents regarding this crime be revealed. May the Katyń lie finally be erased from the public mind. We call for such measures above all for the memory of the victims and respect for the suffering of their families. But we also call for these in the name of common values which must form the basis of trust and partnership between neighboring nations in the whole of Europe.
Together let us pay tribute to the murdered and pray over their graves. Glory to the heroes! Honor to their memory!
Oskar Chomicki is a Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.). Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.