EMPTY CHAIRS REMAINED AFTER THEM
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Jadwiga Wiśniewska, a Member of Parliament in the Seym of Polish Republic
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - What intentions were you going to Katyń with on 10 April 2010?
JADWIGA WISNIEWSKA: - When I think about that terrible day, I also recall intentions which caused that I was in Katyń on 10 April 2010. At that time I was the first time there. Before that, I had decided to organise a historical-literary contest about an essay 'The truth and lie about Katyń'. I asked Mr President to take over a patronage of this contest who was very interested in this idea. Mr Lech Kaczyński was pleased with this idea because it was important for him to build modern patriotism of tomorrow, looking into the future but also remembering about the past and roots. I went there by train, so that I could stand at the graves of the murdered and worship them and pay tribute to them, and pray on 10 April, the 70th anniversary of the Katyń crime.
- What were you talking about on train?
- These were beautiful talks about Poland. They expressed a concern about the situation in homeland, mainly about the restriction of teaching history. We were also talking about the history of Poland which is painful, difficult and still not discovered completely. It was also the time for a prayer, saying the Rosary prayer and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, so the journey there was a journey full of reflection and concentration. Despite the fact that we were going on the 70th anniversary of the Katyń crime, the truth about Katyń was not widely-spread or known among the young generation. So, we knew that we were going to face a great mission.
- So this journey was a pilgrimage...
- Yes, it was a journey full of reflection and prayers. We were glad about the presence of Katyń Families from whom we were learning how they cultivate the memory about the murdered in the Katyń Forest. We were glad to meet with the President and the whole delegation. We were wondering what the President's speech in Katyń would be like, and we knew that he was going to speak about the past and surely about the future and its building on the basis of the historical truth. The Katyń lie was a fundament for the Polish People's Republic, whereas the truth about Katyń can be a fundament for liberal Polish Republic.
- What was this tragic morning of 10 April 2010 like?
- We arrived at Smolensk very early, after 4-hour travel by train. It was 4 am on a fresh, cool and clear day. We got on coaches and went to an inn for breakfast at Smolensk. Then we wanted to light grave candles on the Station Gniezdowo where Polish officers had been brought but the OMON Russian services got very angry. As an officer of OMON said, there was no permission for it. We felt indignant and warned that if they did not let our couch in to Gniezdowo, we would go there on foot. The Russian party, seeing our determination when we set off to Gniezdowo on foot, allowed us to get on our coach and go to the railway station. It was a strange journey. We were going through a village which was somehow deserted, we saw nobody, all doors and windows were tightly closed, no dog was barking outside, nobody was riding a bike, or driving a wagon or a tractor - as if people had been hiding. We also saw that people lived there because windows were clean and gardens were maintained in good condition. So we were going through deserted Gniezdowo to a railway station which was also closed but the building had been freshly repainted into a bright-green colour. We deposited wreaths and candles there and said a prayer.
- Were you afraid that something might happen?
- No, we were calm. We did not expect that something bad might happen.
- When did the first signs of anxiety come?
- The first person with whom I met was the Minister of the Chancellory of the president of the Polish Republic - Jacek Sasin. He greeted me and at that moment he had a phone call. He answered it in my presence. I saw how fright appeared on his face. I asked what had happened and the minister said: 'They did not land'. It was something improbable and so scary that neither of us wanted to believe it, and we thought that it was a kind of Russian propaganda which wanted to destroy these celebrations by widespreading ridiculous and disgraceful information. Unfortunately, later information and phone calls were coming from the country that on our TV there is news that the aeroplane with the President and 95 people aboard had crashed. It was simply improbable that the aeroplane, by which the most important person in the country and the whole delegation, might have crashed and everybody might have been killed. I just remember this willingness to reject and not to accept this news to my consciousness. I wanted to believe that it was Russian propaganda. And probably most people thought so. But later these phone calls from people in Poland, who were saying that also foreign agencies informed that there had been a plane crash...In the beginning people were saying that 12 people had been killed, later that 30, 70 and finally that everybody. It was pain which is impossible to forget. And now, in memories it is felt in the same way as in that moment. And these black empty chairs, prepared for the solemn Holy Mass, on which there were sheets of paper with the surnames of our friends and the President...these black chairs with white sheets of paper, with written surnames. We were waiting for somebody to come and say that it was a lie and that there had been no catastrophe...But nobody came. Before the Holy Mass we could hear this booming Katyń bell placed under the ground and at that moment I realized that it was ringing for those heroes from 70 years before and those who were killed in the Smolensk catastrophe. These were exceptional people. One would have to bend down over each of them and say so much good about each of them...
After the Holy Mass we went to Smoleńsk, got on a train and - it was a completely different journey. We were coming back by train full of pain and tears. The later time - when we were attending our friends' funerals, when their funerals were converging and we had to choose whose funeral to go to - was also very difficult.