STEADFAST FAITH OF STEADFAST SOLDIERS
‘Oh, Mary, the Queen of Polish Crown, bless our work and our weapon. Our Merciful Lady, Patron of our knights, please, help Polish flags with the White Eagle and Your Image appear so that they would flutter at the feet of Jasna Góra and the gate Ostra Brama’ – those words of a prayer of the National Military Forces show what faith for heroes of anticommunist underground state was.
The text of a prayer written by Fr. Henryk Strąkowski, later the auxiliary bishop in Lublin, explicitly proves that patriotism of Doomed Soldiers was soaked with Christian faith. The same faith is seen in notes of soldiers written on walls of prisons where they were cruelly tortured and also in death pits where they were to be hidden from the world and history. – They were close to God – says prof. Jan Żaryn, a senator of the Law and Justice party. – It was Polish Intelligentsia, the elite of the society. They knew very well what honour and Homeland were, and they could maintain those values till the end, as they were people of faith.
Considering the very hard post-war situation, bishops did not want to engage clergy in the underground action, as Church was considered as the enemy of communism anyway. – It is necessary to remember that a lot of priests were killed during the Second World War and in the years 1945 – 56 about 10 per cent of alive priests were imprisoned in communist prisons – says prof. Żaryn. However, it does not change the fact that Catholic priests were the most important support for Doomed Soldiers. The chairperson of the Fourth Command of Association Freedom and Independence the sub-colonel Łukasz Ciepliński emphasized in one of his reports that among all groups it was possible to undertake a complete conspiracy work only with the Catholic clergy.
During investigation works on the body debris of the Doomed Soldiers, teams of the National Remembrance Institute often came across smaller or bigger personal devotional articles, which are a valuable hint for historians. – If it was Our Lady of Częstochowa, a victim might have come from central Poland, Our Lady of Ostra Brama proved that a victim was from Wileńszczyzna, and Our Lady of Kodeń proved a victim came from Podlasie and Lubelszczyzna – said prof. Krzysztof Szwagrzyk, a vice-chairperson of the National Remembrance Institute in an interview with the ‘Sunday’. Prisoners in the communist casemates were deprived of everything which was dearest to them. They had to make a lot of effort to keep a picture of a saint, small medallion or any other devotional articles. It was practically impossible to keep a big gorget or a rosary. One of few articles was found among the body debris of Bohdan Olszewski. – On his breast there was a gorget with Our Lady of Częstochowa. On its reverse side there was an engraved address of the victim and a sentence in Latin: ‘May National Armed Forces live. This is how the glory of the world is passing’ – pointed prof. Szwagrzyk.
Another symbolic example of faith may be the life of sub-colonel Łukasz Ciepliński, nicknamed Pług, whose day of death - 1 March 1951 – became a symbol as that day every year we worship remembrance of the Doomed Soldiers. On the way to the execution place Ciepliński kneeled on the prison courtyard in order to take out a small medallion hidden in his shoe. He put it into his mouth – and said to one of prison mates that it would be the recognizable sign of his body. We also know a report on the last moments of life of the Major Zygmunt Szendzielarz, nicknamed Łupaszko, who had been praying in a cell before his death. - He came up to the door calmly, then stopped for a while, turning back to those staying in the cell to say: ‘Stay with God, gentlemen’. He heard: ‘Stay with God’. He disappeared behind the slammed door. In the room next to a warehouse and a bath room, executioners murdered the Major by shooting at the back of his head – says Mieczysław Chojnacki, a prison mate of ‘Łupaszka’.
The symbol of the greatest courage, chastity of intention to fight and steadfast faith is undoubtedly, the person of the cavalry captain Witold Pilecki who willingly went to the hell of Auschwitz in order to create a resistance movement, support prisoners and also evangelize. His commander from the war times, Major Jan Włodarkiewicz used to say that Pilecki was a prominent and very religious. And just for those reasons he never a vial of poison. ‘The camp was a touchstone where characters were tested. Some people were falling onto the moral bottom. Others were polishing their characters like a crystal. Cuts were painfully cut into the body, but in the soul they found a field to plow’ – he wrote in a report in Auschwitz. In his opinion, suffering led to ‘being reborn’, that is, human spiritual transformation. - ‘Like a plowed land, a fertile part is put aside on the right’.
Pilecki underwent the most brutal tortures not during the war occupation or in the German concentration camp, but in the communist custody about which he said that comparing to it, ‘Auschwitz was only a trifle’. However, the most important testimony of faith of the cavalry captain were the words which he said when hearing a verdict of death: ‘ I was trying to live in such a way that at the hour of death I could be rather glad than frightened’. Faith of the cavalry captain was formed on the best examples of deep Catholic asceticism. The book of his lifetime was ‘About following Christ’ by Tomasz a Kempis. - He was mainly devoted to Homeland and God. He wanted our country to be based on faith in Christ – says a journalist Tadeusz Płużański, whose father was in one of cells with Pilecki. – During the last visit, the cavalry captain recommended his wife Maria to buy the book ‘About following Christ’ and read it their children every day. This is a message, a kind of a testament, which he left not only to his family but also all of us.
A candidate for beatification?
Describing religious life of Doomed Soldiers is very difficult, as only partial information on it has remained. It was what communist executioners were aiming at. However, they did not gain their purpose in the case of the commander of the Freedom and Independence movement sub-colonel Łukasz Ciepliński, whose prison secret messages survived and are one of the most beautiful examples of war-time literature. ‘I am glad that I have lived till today and the month of Our Lady. I believe that when I am murdered, the Queen of Poland will take my soul to Heaven – so that I could go on serving Her and directly report on the tragedy of the Polish Nation murdered by some people and left behind by others’ – Cieplinski wrote to his family.
In the opinion of Fr. Józef maj, who wrote a biography of the sub-colonel, he was a deeply religious man, whose tortures and death have the character of martyrdom. At present documentation is being complemented, necessary to begin a beautification process of the sub-colonel Ciepliński, which could take place alongside with processes of other victims of communist martyrdom. – Despite cruel tortures, the sub-colonel maintained his unchanged love to God and Poland. I am sure that he was a man who achieved holiness and died as a martyr – Fr. Maj emphasizes.
In one of his last secret messages Ciepliński confirms his faith in the eternal life. The text proves that there are values much more valuable than the earthly life. ‘They will deprive me of only life. But it is not so important. I am glad that I am going to be murdered as a Catholic for holy faith, as a Pole for independent and happy Poland, as a man for the truth and justice. Today I believe much more than ever that the idea of Christ will win and Poland will regain its independence, and disgraced human dignity will be restored’ – he wrote.
In one of the first scenes of the film ‘Popiełuszko. Freedom is among us’ little Alek and his father see a fight of soldiers from the anti-communist underground state with the Security Inner Corpus. The boy asks his father who were those military men: soldiers or bandits? Władysław Popiełuszko denies twice and says that those were knights. This is a very valuable comparison, as Doomed Soldiers were not fighting for financial benefits or fame. Their fight was in defence of the rest of freedom and dignity, but they had been faithful to the ideals to which they had vowed till the end. Therefore, today one of the most recognizable symbols of their steadfast attitude are medallions and gorgets with the image of Our Lady. Exhibiting gorgets on uniforms was symbolic opposing to atheistic ideology of communism imposed by force, and also – reflecting values for which they had been ready to devote their lives. So, they are inscribed in the forgotten ethos of the holiness model when knights were beatified, who were defenders of the king, freedom, honour, faith and Christian values, which can be summarized in the three really Polish words: God, Honour, Homeland… And Doomed Soldiers were just devoting their lives for these values.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 10/2018 (11 III 2018)