Katyn – the families have remained

Mateusz Wyrwich

Several dozen thousand family members of the victims have remained: families of mothers, wives, brothers and sisters. Through years they were persecuted by the services of the Polish People’s Republic. The officials of the Polish Workers’ Party and then of the Polish United Workers’ Party did their best to conceal the Soviet crime. By the way, after World War II the Soviets and their Polish partners as well as many governments of the West concealed the truth about the crime. The late Fr Zdzislaw Peszkowski said once that the Katyn massacre was ‘an example of legal perversion’ since ‘so far there has been no situation in the world that for 60 years many tribunals have dealt with some massacre and despite obvious evidence the world of lawyers has not recognised it as a case of genocide.’ A few years ago, during a scientific session Dr. Grzegorz Jedrejek said, ‘This was meaningful because the Katyn massacre is a key moment in the world history. Since it was then that the bipolar division of the world was made. Like the Germans agreed to give Hitler the green light in Munich in the 1930s so did the West give Stalin the green light after the mass graves in Katyn had been discovered so that he could conduct a policy of genocide in Central-Eastern Europe.’

The truth about Katyn – censored

The Germans were to be blamed for the crimes against the Poles conducted by the Soviets. However, despite this ‘truth’ the Polish communists persecuted the families whose fathers or brothers had been killed by the Soviets. Their wives often lost their jobs. Their children were not accepted to universities. Some could not even go to high schools and were allowed to complete only vocational schools. They were imprisoned or forced into labour in special camps. They were sentenced to serve in the mine battalions of the so-called Polish People’s Army. Many families were banned to live in the territories they used to live before the war. The Security Service searched their houses, destroying all the memorabilia that showed that the massacre had been committed by the Soviets. The officials seized the letters from Starobielsk, Ostashkov and Katyn. Till 1990 the censor’s regulation not to mention the Katyn massacre in the context of the Soviet Union was binding. The book by Prof. Jerzy Lojek entitled ‘Dzieje sprawy Katynia’ [The History of the Katyn Case], published in September 1989, had 16 censor’s interferences. Till the late 1980s the obituaries could not include the information about the death anniversary of ‘those murdered in Katyn before 1941.’ Until 1989 all those who opposed the ‘history’ imposed by the communists were sentenced to jail. Despite those repressions many people after the war tried to present the true face of the Katyn massacre. Some of them paid the price of their lives. For example, Fr Stefan Niedzielak who was murdered in 1989.

I was ashamed of us

It was during the mass meetings in 1956 that the massacre in Katyn was loudly mentioned. However, it was just before 1980 that the oppositionists decided to take extraordinary activities. One of them was Adam Macedonski from Krakow who together with a group of friends founded the illegal Institute of Documentation of the Katyn Massacre, giving his address and telephone number as the contact. He began publishing ‘Katyn Bulletin’, which informed about the massacre in detail. Today it is said that he undertook this task because he was ashamed of us, Poles, who did not speak about Katyn. ‘Being abroad in the 1970s I saw how the Jews did very well speaking about the truth about Katyn. The officers, followers of Judaism, were also killed in Katyn’, Adam Macedonski recollects, ‘And Poles as if forgot about Katyn because we were commanded not to remember. I thought we should save our memory, collect the remaining evidence, e.g. letters from the killed officers. But I needed some organisation for that. Together with a group of people we began gathering souvenirs and distributing books about Katyn, which were published in the West. And at first, we published the list of those who had been killed at Katyn.’ The year 1980 and the development of the Solidarity press facilitated the gathering and informing about the Katyn massacre to a considerable extent. However, much more texts were published only in the underground press of the 1980s although the authors remained anonymous. At the same time, from the 1980s Fr Stefan Niedzielak celebrated Masses in the intention of the victims of the Katyn massacre in the Warsaw Church of St. Karol Boromeusz. There was also the epitaph ‘For those killed in the East’ placed on the church wall. In 1981 a monument to the victims killed by the Soviets in Katyn was erected at Warsaw Powazki cemetery. But the Secret Services dismantled it during the night. Despite the threat of repressions, in the 1980s in Warsaw more and more priests, especially those connected with the Trade Union Solidarity, began speaking openly about the Katyn massacre conducted by the Soviets.

Revealing the truth

The whole truth about Katyn was revealed only in 1989. Then the Katyn Families began to be organised in Warsaw. Their founders included Jedrzej Tucholski, Jolanta Klimowicz-Osmanczyk, Danuta Napiorkowska and Bozena Lojek, the wife of the eminent Polish historian Jerzy Lojek whose father, an army doctor, Major Leopold Lojek, was murdered in Katyn. His wife was persecuted for the fact…that her husband had been murdered. Fearing the search of the SB officers her sisters, who lived with her, burnt the postcards from Kozielsk she had received from her husband Leopold. Her son, Prof. Jerzy Lojek, gathered materials about Katyn for years. His wife Bozena helped him, making research visits to the archives in London and Paris. After her husband’s death in 1986 she focused on the Katyn massacre because of the last will of Jerzy Lojek, written in 1977. You can read in the will, ‘I ask all people who were very dear to me to raise publicly the matter of Katyn in a consistent way, demanding punishment for the oppressors. There can be no forgiveness and oblivion about that. Reconciliation with the Russian nation can only be done when its authoritative representatives make public expiation for the massacres analogically to the representatives of the Western Germany government Brandt or Smith concerning the matter of Hitler’s crimes…’
In the 1980s Bozena Lojek began her activities in the environment of friendly Fr Stefan Niedzielak. When 1989 came at last, she had huge knowledge about Katyn. ‘I began fulfilling my husband’s will but even if he had not left it I would have dealt with the Katyn massacre’, she stresses. ‘Since I think that this should be the obligation of every Pole because the elite of the Polish nation was killed there. These were not only the officers of the Polish Army, border guards and the policemen. There were numerous volunteer soldiers, people of the pre-war elite: writers, musicians, doctors, judges, academic professors, state officials, priests from different denominations. They were killed on purpose so that they could not be in power after the war and could not participate in Poland’s development. They could have wanted Poland to have a different politics than the communists desired after the war. Those who were killed would have been the leaders of a free Polish state.

Katyn Families

The first meetings of the Katyn Families Association were held in Warsaw in 1988 on the occasion of wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at the Katyn Cross at Powazki cemetery. ‘But the first Katyn Family was created in Konin. It had been organised in 1988 by Antoni Majorowicz, a few months before such families were organised in Warsaw and Krakow’. Bozena Lojek stresses. ‘Although the atmosphere in Krakow was good since the underground Katyn Institute had been active there for years. It was not only Adam Macedonski that was doing his best to reveal the truth. There were also Jerzy Smorawinski, son of General Smorawinski murdered by the Soviets, the layer Andrzej Kostrzewski and many others.
In Warsaw the initiative was taken by Jolanta Klimowicz-Osmanczyk, Bozena Lojek, Plater Gajewski and Andrzej Wajda. The first appeal to the Katyn Families was written by Edmund Osmanczyk. The Katyn Families began growing after the appeal had been announced by Fr Niedzielak. As earlier as in April 1989 a delegation of the Katyn Families, together with Fr Zdzislaw Krol who became their chaplain after Fr Niedzielak had been killed by ‘unknown men’, went to Katyn. They brought home some soil from that place.
The Federation of the Katyn Families, embracing the families from all over Poland, was created on 17 September 1989. The widows of the victims began coming to Warsaw from all over the world. Then there were almost 300 families in Warsaw. They brought dramatic stories about the events that happened throughout almost 50 years of communism. They spoke about the persecutions conducted by the Security Service. Many of them were still afraid of speaking about that. ‘But crowds have come. Sisters, brothers…’ Bozena Lojek relates. I remember I was standing in rain at Powazki cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and I collected the addresses and telephone numbers. Until today I have these wet cards. The most moving experience was meeting the women who have had no news from their husbands for over 50 years, or meeting the children who have ‘lived’ with memories of their killed fathers for 50 years.’

The struggle for the truth continues

In 1989 the Historical Commission for Research of the Katyn Massacre was created and at the same time the Polish Foundation of Katyn was called into being. Their aims were to explain the ‘Katyn matter’ and to commemorate the Polish victims. But only now, thanks to the efforts of these environments and of the Katyn Families, thousands of people could get the confirmation of their husbands’ or brothers’ deaths. It was also possible to visit the exhibition entitled ‘Not only Katyn’ in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. The exhibition attracted many visitors. It presented almost 1,500 memorabilia such as photographs, documents and letters of the victims. As Bozena Lojek emphasises thanks to the efforts of President Walesa, Prime Minister Buzek and Parliament Speaker Plazynski as well as some military institutions the investigation and commemoration of the Katyn massacre progressed quickly. In 1990 the second pilgrimage to Katyn was made. The ‘investigation exhumation’ was conducted. And many years later the cemeteries in Miednoje, Kharkov and Katyn were built.
In 1992 the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin and Vice-President Aleksander Ruckoj had a meeting with the representatives of the Katyn Families and they apologised to the families for the massacre of the Polish officers. A year later President Yeltsin said ‘forgive us’ at the Katyn Cross at Powazki cemetery. In the same year the Katyn Museum was erected in the Sadyba forts in Warsaw. Actually, the forts were built by the Russian partitioners.
Thanks to the efforts of the Katyn Families there have been hundreds of meetings with young people. In Poland and abroad several dozen monuments to the Katyn massacre have been erected. Additionally, several thousand commemorative tablets have been made. The Katyn massacre and its victims became the inspiration for journalists and writers. Within 20 years over 500 books concerning this theme have been written or translated. And despite that the Russians have not officially admitted that the Soviet state committed this act of genocide.

"Niedziela" 10/2010

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