The Polish War Cemetery in Miednoje
Bishop Ryszard Karpinski
The War Cemetery in Miednoje in Russia (about 200 km north of Moscow) is one of three cemeteries, beside Kharkov in Ukraine and Katyn in Russia, which are called 'Katyn cemeteries'. The remains of 15,000 Polish officers, prisoners of 1939, are buried in these three cemeteries. At Stalin's command, in the spring of 1940, over 22,000 Poles were murdered. The graves of 7,000 victims have not been found yet. The cemetery in Miednoje was made from the funds of the Council for Preservation of the Monuments of Struggle and Martyrdom. The Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek opened the cemetery on 2 September 2000, the 60th anniversary of the crime in Katyn. Over 6,300 prisoners-of-war from Ostashkov, officers and non-commissioned officers of the Police, the Military Police, the Border Guard Corps as well as privates from these units, prison services and secret services, judges and prosecutors, as well as war settlers (from the eastern part of the Second Polish Republic) and clergymen, are buried in 26 mass graves. A Russian cemetery is located next to the Polish one. There are no names here. It cannot hold the names of several thousand people: intelligentsia, farmers, kulaks, clergymen and ordinary men, 'enemies of the communist system', murdered in the years 1936-37 and later. Next to these cemeteries there is a new museum in a wooden house, which commemorates the victims, displays some documents, photographs and various objects, which were given by the families of the murdered people.
On 2 September 2005, the 5th anniversary of the inauguration and dedication of the cemetery, a special delegation came from Poland to the cemetery. It consisted of high rank representatives of the Police Headquarters and similar departments, subordinate to the Ministry of Interior and Administration, the secretary of the Council for Preservation of the Monuments of Struggle and Martyrdom, delegations of the Katyn Families from Warsaw and Katowice, several chaplains to policemen and other priests. The Polish Ambassador in Moscow and the escort of the Russian police accompanied them. And the day before the celebration the pilgrimage of the Association of Katyn Families came from Lodz by train. All people gathered punctually at 2.00 p.m. in front of the monument in the Russian part. Several speeches stressed the fact that both cemeteries unite the Russian and the Polish nations and challenge them to co-operate for the cause of peace. After a minute of silence to honour the dead the gathered people went to the Polish monument where at first a Polish police officer reminded them of the history of the site. During that time the clergymen were preparing themselves to celebrate Mass, which was to be presided over by Bishop Marian Dus of Warsaw, the national chaplain to policemen, and several priests: two chaplains to policemen and other priests, participants of the delegation and pilgrimage. One of the celebrants was a priest from the Diocese of Radom, son of a murdered policeman. Prelate Andrzej Steckiewicz, Vicar General, represented Archbishop Kondrusiewicz of Moscow. The liturgy was prepared by Fr Wladyslaw Wojdat, priest of the Warsaw Diocese, now the parish priest of the small community in Tver and the cemetery chaplain. In his homily Bishop Dus spoke about the sacrifice of the policemen's lives as a symbol of human solidarity that was ready for the highest dedication. I had the chance to participate in this moving Liturgy in this unique place. In the evening the Polish delegation put flowers at the tablet commemorating the Poles' massacre of the spring of 1940 in the basement of the NKWD building in Tver, which there is the Academy of Music now. It was in this place that the executions, by shooting, of about 200-300 prisoners were made during one night and the bodies were transported in trucks at dusk and buried in one big pit in the forest in Miednoje. The executions occurred almost every day from 4 April till the middle of May.
The last event of the pilgrimage was a visit of the Polish delegation to the new parish church in Tver, built by the efforts of Fr Richard Massin, OFM, American of Czech background, marine officer, who after being retired became a priest and worked here from 1992 until his death in 2002. He built a big church using his savings and with the help of his friends. Fr Wladyslaw Wojdat continues his work bravely.
It is worth mentioning that Fr Wojdat has embarked on the project to establish a partnership between Tver (500,000 inhabitants) and several institutions of higher education in Lublin. Another initiative is to establish contacts between the police in Tver and the Police Headquarters in Warsaw. The fruits of these contacts were holidays of the Russian policemen's children on the coast in Poland.
Moreover, Fr Wojdat is glad to see every Polish group that visits the cemetery in Miednoje or the former prison in Ostashkov and willingly invites pilgrims for prayer and meeting in the shrine that is being built in Tver.
The next day I had the chance to visit the ruined monastery on Stolbnyi Island (Nilova Pustyn) near Ostashkov, the hermitage of St Nilus Stolbnyi, who came here from the monastery of Krypiec, and lived there as a hermit for 27 years (d. in 1555).
The tsar agreed to open a monastery in 1594, which developed for the glory of God and service to people for 300 years until the Bolshevik barbarians came in 1917. At first they murdered the monks, then they imprisoned the local people and in the autumn of 1939 they placed a camp for the Polish officers. Through the sacrifice of their lives they brought freedom to their homeland and also to that land of martyrdom, where the monks returned several years ago and now they are trying to restore the buildings and sanctuary with great care.