HOUSE FOR RELICS OF KATYŃ
An interview with Sławomir Frątchak, a director of the Museum of Katyń, carried out by Magdalena Kowalewska
MAGDALENA KOWALEWSKA: - We are talking in place unusual for Poland. Why?
SŁAWOMIR FRĄTCZAK: - The Museum of Katyń, situated on Warsaw Cytadelia, on 4 Jan Jeziorański street, which is a branch of the Museum of the Polish Army, is the first martyrdom-logical-investigation-museum institution which gathers documents on the crime in Katyń. The inner exposition of nearly a thousand meters big, creates one of the most modern museums as for functionality and securities of collections. Some of the exposition reminds the history of Poland from the time of inter-war twenty years, the Second World War and the time when there was a fight for revealing the truth about Katyń. In the lower exposition we will see an extremely significant relics of Katyń. These are objects coming from pits of death in Charków, Miednoje, Bykownia and Katyń. It should be mentioned that the museum received a dozen of prestigious awards and distinctions for adaptation of historical caponier and art narration of the exposition and the outer exposition. It was also in a group of five museums appointed for the award of the European Union (the only one of Polish museums) in a contest for modern architecture named Mies van der Rohe.
In the 90s there was a fight for securing these souvenirs and finding a suitable place for them…
That is true. After exhumations they got to the Museum of the Polish Army. The director of the museum at that time – a colonel Zbigniew Święcicki made the military authorities agree to change some fortress buildings on Sadyba on 13 Powsińska street into the Museum of Katyń. A great role in this fight was played by prominent people like the prime minister Jan Olszewski or the chairperson of the Federation of Katyń Families dr. Bożena Mamontowicz-Łojek, who addressed a request to the authorities of that time to establish the national Museum of Katyń. She explained that ‘this museum will serve to commemorate martyrdom of victims and gather documents of the committed crime’.
A lot of families of murdered officers emphasized that the Museum of Katyń should be established as soon as possible because the collections of relics coming from exhumations in Charków, Miednoje and Katyń may get dispersed in a short time. After some fights the souvenirs of murdered Polish officers got to renovated rooms of the Fort ‘Sadyba’, a branch of the Museum of the Polish Army which was solemnly opened on 29 June 1993. Finally, relics of Katyń received their home. This is just the Museum of Katyń which had had its headquarter in this place till the year 2009.
Why do you call the souvenirs of the murdered officers relics?
These valuable objects were called in this way by a chaplain and the spiritual father of Katyń Families – a steadfast guard of the national remembrance Fr. Zdzisław Peszkowski, a prisoner of a camp in Kozielsko, who miraculously escaped being shot dead in Katyń. This priest participated in exhumations in the East in the 90s of the last century. It was him who called the found souvenirs after murdered Poles relics. These objects which amount to 40 thousand in the collections of the Museum of Katyń, are connected with particular victims of the crime in Katyń. They remind of not only prominent people who were torn off from a chain of generations of the elite of the Grandest Republic of Poland. They also bring back the memory about citizens of the Polish Republic – of all religions, various political opinions, lots of hobbies and various life paths. They all devoted their life for Homeland in a bestial genocide, done in an industrial and Machiavellian way. The crime was committed not on the basis of the statement of the court, but on the basis of decisions of the Soviet political authorities which gave a death verdict on 5 March 1940 against over 22 thousand Polish officers imprisoned on the area of the Soviet Union. It was a disgusting criminal machine, tearing off our compatriots from the work of creation of the Second Republic of Poland.
What souvenirs after murdered Poles can we see in the Museum of Katyń?
When their body debris were exhumed, in the pits of death both the objects which officers had with themselves during the execution and also the things brought from prisons were found. They were buried with the bodies of officers in order to blur all sings of crime. Among these souvenirs there are personal things which were taken away from Poles during hundreds of searches and hearings in prisons and camps, such as wedding rings, medallions or watches. Also lots of house keys were found, as well as buttons, distinctions, documents or newspapers which were used as shoe lining. In the Museum of Katyń there are also objects made in camps. Among them there are cigarette boxes, tobacco or cigarette lighters. These objects have dates and places of seclusion engraved. They indicate dates of being made not later than spring 1940. They are clear and indisputable evidence of the crime…
Do investigators of history know the causes of the crime in Katyń after nearly 80 years?
The crime in Katyń is not a closed issue. We are still getting information which show some facts developing knowledge about that genocide. It is many years since we have been cooperating with many families of the murdered, and we have still been in touch with descendants of English-speaking witnesses of the crime. One of the people made documents from the collections of the National Archive in Washington available to us, which present, among the others, an attitude of the West to genocide in Katyń.
There were various causes of the crime in Katyń. There were explanation that it was had been a revenge for the Russians’ defeat in 1920. However, what had an influence on it was an imperial and aggressive policy of Russia, created throughout many generations, which eliminated all potential opponents. After some time there were also other causes: the issue of anti-Polonism, revolts at the time of partitions, aiming at regaining Polish nationality. The crime in Katyń is inscribed in a kind of a cycle of murders which begins in the war 1920. At that time the Bolsheviks murdered Polish war prisoners in a bestial way. In addition, there was an anti-Polish operation of NKVD, carried out in the years 1937 – 38 during which over 100 thousand Poles – citizens of the USSR were killed, and a few dozen thousand were sent to labour camps. In Katyń husbands and fathers were shot dead and there were two big waves of deportations of Polish families to Siberia among whom there were also families of the victims of genocide.
Museum of Katyń is an important educational place. Here we teach the truth about the crime in Katyń. However, not everybody in Poland, despite the passing years, knows anything on that event…
Communism did what it wanted to, didn’t it?
There are various reasons. First of all, it results from the spreading lie about Katyń which had been lasting till the Soviet Union admitted to it in a memorable pronouncement of Michaił Gorbaczow on 13 April 1990 about responsibility for the crime in Katyń. It was surprising for the world, but later it made it possible to carry out exhumation of supposed and confirmed places of burials of Polish officers.
Recently investigations have been carried out which proved that 90 percent of Poles heard ‘something’ about the crime in Katyń, 10 per cent did not hear about it at all, but some per cent of the surveyed were certain that this genocide had been caused by the Germans…
It proves that all kinds of activity spreading what happened in spring 1940 is necessary. This is a task of the historical policy of the country whose one of its tools are museums being a kind of an annex for history books. And this is a role of the Museum of Katyń which widespread the remembrance about the crime in Katyń, but on the other hand – it stands on the guard of Katyń relics and the truth about those who have remained on the inhuman land for ever.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 14/2019 (7 IV 2019)