‘Katyn… save from oblivion’

Izabela Tyras

On 28 September – 4 October 2009 almost 40 pupils and teachers from Czestochowa and Tychy made a pilgrimage to Katyn and other places of the massacre in the inhuman land. The educational-patriotic excursion was organised by the Katowice Branch of the Institute of National Remembrance, together with its director Andrzej Grogon.
The participants of the pilgrimage included the pupils of two secondary schools from Czestochowa (the Automobile-Construction School in St Augustyna Street, with its teacher Rafal Piotrowski, and the Technical College with its teacher Marek Fiszer) and two nuns M. Andrea Jonczyk and Maksymiliana M. Matuszewska, teachers from the State Elementary School of the Resurrectionist Sisters named after M. Zofia Szulc. They all were the laureates of the educational-didactic contest on the recent Polish history ‘Overcome evil with good’, organised by the Catholic Association ‘Civitas Christiana’, the Jasna Gora Foundation ‘Pro Patria’ and the Branch of ‘Solidarity’ in Czestochowa. This expedition was supported by the President of Czestochowa Mr Tadeusz Wrona. 12 participants were from the third forms of the II Grammar School with Integration Departments in Tychy, headed by the schoolmaster Natalia Nowak who took part in the national project ‘Katyn…Save from Oblivion.’ In turn, their trip was supported by Zbigniew Gieleciak, the President of the Water and Sewerage Company in Tychy.
The most important element of the pilgrimage was the solemn Mass celebrated in the military cemetery in Katyn, celebrated by Rev. Msg Stanislaw Puchala, the parish priest of the Katowice Cathedral who was the spiritual guide of the excursion. In his sermon Fr Ptolomeusz Kuczmik, a Franciscan and the parish priest of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Smolensk, who cares for the graves of the thousand Polish officers, policemen, judges and prosecutors as well as the pre-war state clerks and other people who were murdered, reminded us that Katyn Forest was a big altar of martyrdom, a place of special prayer. ‘This is not a place to visit but to beseech God to save the memory of thousands of the victims and to ask him for the ability to forgive. We pray for the Families of the Katyn Victims so that they could forgive’, the Franciscan said. He added that Katyn was a place where many questions were formulated: Why did such a crime happen in the 20th century? Why has this matter not been explained completely yet? Why do so many people remain silent, assuming the attitude of political correctness? And finally, are we ready to give up our lives for Christ, testifying by our attitudes? The memory bell rang after we had prayed and put flowers in front of the symbolic tablet with the names of only identified victims. The sound of the bell calls for historical truth and remembrance of those who gave their lives for our Homeland and us. Going to Katyn Forest was an extraordinary experience for all of us, an attempt to reflect on the fate that one man decided for others. Katyn is a small town in Russia, 16 km from Smolensk. It was there that almost 4,500 Polish prisoners of the special camps, ‘not promising any hope for re-education’, sentenced by the virtue of the motion of the Political Bureau of the Central Party Committee WKP (b) dated 5 March 1940, undersigned by Josef Stalin, were murdered in the pine-birch woods. The remaining thousands of Poles were shot in the heads in Kharkov and Miednoje. For years only the trees and crosses, put by the Poles and Ukrainians who had arrived there secretly, reminded people of the graves in the Forest of Katyn. It was only in the year 2000 that a cemetery was officially opened at the initiative of the Polish authorities and thanks to their means. We were preparing to see this special place of Poles’ martyrdom throughout our whole journey to Russia. The officers of the Institute of National Remembrance, including Andrzej Majcher, a member of the prosecutors’ team investigating the Katyn massacre, delivered speeches and talks about the massacre. We also watched films and listened to radio programmes. The Mass celebrated in the forest of Kuropaty (in the outskirts of Minsk), where there were still thousand wooden crosses put by people, was a unique and moving moment of our pilgrimage. It is estimated that in Kuropaty from 30,000 to 250,000 people were executed. The victims included Polish citizens killed by the Soviets fulfilling the same command as in the case of the prisoners of the camps in Starobielsk, Kozielsk and Ostashkov. We also stopped at Ponary, the burial site of mass victims slaughtered in the years 1941-44 by the SS units, the German police and the Lithuanian police collaborating with them. We also visited Nowogrodek, the site of the massacre of the Blessed 11 Nazareth Sisters who gave up their lives for fathers and priest. We visited the museum of the genocide in Vilnius. The museum is located in the former KGB building and it shows the mechanism of the Stalinist and Soviet communist authorities. The culmination of our pilgrimage was common Mass in the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius where in front of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy we asked for saving remembrance of the past, for understanding that one should not fear the truth even if it is inconvenient – one should get to know the truth. The last witnesses pass away, the wives and children of the executed prisoners pass away – the graves remain. Many shattering words have been written about the Katyn massacre but it seems that young people are moved when they actually see the sites where the trees and crosses testify about the victory of dignity and honour over the cruelty and heartlessness of the torturers. On should save memory so that the Nation did not lose life.

"Niedziela" 43/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl