Exhumation in the 65th anniversary of the tragedy at Gibraltar

Slawomir Blaut

Currently, there is a chance to explain the true circumstances of the death of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the army commander of the Polish Forces during the years of World War II and Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile, who was killed in the mysterious airplane crash at Gibraltar on 4 July 1943. The investigation into this event was undertaken by the prosecution department of the Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute. Now the body of the general will be exhumed. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow agreed to the date of the exhumation (25 November 2008). The opening of the sarcophagus of General Sikorski in St Leonard’s Crypt in the Wawel Cathedral can help explain the biggest mystery of modern Polish history. On the 65th anniversary of the tragedy at Gibraltar the Polish people still do not know the whole truth about the crash.

However, the explanation of the circumstances of the death of General Wladyslaw Sikorski is dependent to a great extent not on the exhumation of his body but on the documents of the British intelligence services, made secret till 2033 (!) and also the documents placed in the Moscow archives. Without these documents we will not probably learnt anything certain. In the meantime numerous Polish and British historians, including Norman Davies, think that the case of the Gibraltar crash has already been explained, that all British documents concerning World War II, including the investigation of 1943, were opened in 1972, and they have fundamental meaning since they are complete and leave no doubts that General Sikorski died in a plane crash. However, some historians are in favour of a theory of conspiracy and assassination on the life of General Sikorski. One of the things that prove this is the expertise of the most outstanding specialist in plane crashes, worldwide authority, Prof. Jerzy Maryniak. He investigated the crash at Gibraltar using all possible scientific methods and will all certainly stated that the plane was controlled by the pilot all the time. (Let me remind you that Liberator that took off from Gibraltar with General Sikorski aboard who returned from visiting the Polish troops in the Near East) crashed into the sea after a few minutes. Besides the Prime Minister the other victims were his daughter Zofia Lesniewska, his Chief of Staff General Tadeusz Klimecki and Colonel Andrzej Marecki. The plane is still lying in the sea and some bodies were never found.) We, Poles, know about the death of General Sikorski now exactly what we knew 65 years ago. We are still asking the question: Who could have organised General Sikorski’s murder? The Russians, the Germans, the English? Both Stalin and Hitler had reasons to kill him. Churchill could have yielded to Stalin’s blackmail… Thus the words, which Ambassador Edward Raczynski wrote the next day after the tragedy, are still valid, ‘This tragic death at the turning point of the war when the most important and most responsible decisions were to be taken with our participation and when, as it seems, the meeting between Stalin and Roosevelt and Eden (representing Churchill), which had been planned for long, took place, is a weird necessary evil. It is so odd and so dangerous for us that the Polish people share common suspicion whether a criminal hostile hand did not help God’s providence.’ Some accusations do not concern a criminal hostile foreign hand but our Polish hand. For years the accusations were brought against General Wladyslaw Anders, the unquestionable leader of the Polish immigrants, a legend of the Polish Army. It was the widow Helena Sikorska trying to get to know the truth about her husband and daughter’s death that made the accusation. But General Anders was not the only sworn enemy of General Sikorski. A considerable part of our generals and politicians fiercely criticised him for singing the agreement with the USRR in 1941 and for the repressions towards the officers that had been connected with the supporters of Pilsudski – the conscience of General Sikorski was burdened with creating camps for political opponents in France and Great Britain. According to the hypothesis formulated by the historians from the Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute General Sikorski died as a result of a plot that could have been organised by the Soviet government. Therefore, the investigation of the Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute concerns a communist crime that according to the Polish law does not fall under the statute of limitations. The basis to launch this investigation is ‘the justified suspicion from the moment of the catastrophe that it had a criminal cause and that the action has not been a subject of any proceedings conducted by the prosecution organs of the Polish state and of other states.’ The Katowice branch has doubts concerning the reliability of the officially stated causes of the crash. Additionally, there are doubts formulated in numerous national and international publications. According to Ewa Koj, the director of the Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute, the investigation is to reveal and order all documents and reports concerning the death of General Sikorski; it is likely to end with discontinuance of legal proceedings like most investigations concerning the past because of the fact that alleged offenders, even if they are revealed, are not alive. Certainly, the investigation launched by the National Remembrance Institute will help historians take actions aiming at revealing the truth about the tragedy at Gibraltar because a state institution has different wider possibilities to act: it can call witnesses and question them, and finally, it can try to ask for concrete documents from the British and Moscow archives by hand of the government (the Ministry of Justice). Coming back to the exhumation of the body of General Sikorski one should add that numerous personalities in Poland and abroad opposed it. ‘Should we open the coffin of General Sikorski? – this question was a hot topic in the media for a long time. Among other institutions the Warsaw Society of History Lovers as well as combatants’ organisations were in favour of opening the coffin that was placed in the Wawel Crypt of St Leonard for a long time. The investigation of the Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute determined the matter. After the investigation had been launched the decision concerning the exhumation was (according to the Polish law) in the hands of the prosecutor and the consent of the family members or the representatives of the Church was not needed. However, the leadership of the National Remembrance Institute asked Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow for permission and it was granted. The family of General Sikorski also consented to the exhumation. Only the technical aspect of the endeavour can be feared: lifting the marble block of the sarcophagus of General Sikorski in St Leonard’s Crypt is an extremely difficult and dangerous operation because the block has many cracks. The National Remembrance Institute assured us that it would do their best to make a proper expertise. Both the investigation into the death of General Sikorski and all activities that can help verify the truth about this tragic and fateful event for Poland and Poles are justified in every respect. Polish people have the full right to get to know and write down their own history, especially when it is difficult and complicated. One of the reasons for creating the National Remembrance Institute was to help wipe off the white spots in the Polish history. The Katowice branch of the National Remembrance Institute, which recently has conducted, for example, the investigations concerning the initiators of marshal law and the assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, understands its mission in this sense.

"Niedziela" 47/2008

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