I’ve exchanged a few emails with my friends in Poland during the past few days and they are experiencing a sadness that runs deep and familiar for a people who have experienced an insurmountable amount of suffering during the 20th Century.
The past suffering was the result of occupation—first Germany and then Russia. Their country was destroyed during World War II following the German occupation, but it was the people, sleeping in tents, in many cases with nothing but hand tools and renderings of the original buildings, who rebuilt their cities to come as close as possible to the buildings that were destroyed—an attempt to keep their culture and heritage.
Then along came the Soviets with their own brutal form of Socialist oppression, shutting off Poland from the world and imposing their will on a people still struggling from the aftermath of World War II.
My relationship with Poland is that I was the first U.S. journalist to attend Amberif, the trade show for the Amber trade. I visited the fair twice. It is held in the port city of Gdańsk, one of the cities destroyed and rebuilt after World War II. It is also home of the Polish Solidarity movement, which eventually led to the overthrow of the Soviet occupation.
I was there to cover an event for a jewelry trade magazine. What I got was so much more. I was welcomed with open arms by the trade fair organizers and the artists and craftsmen who turn this unusual material into objects of beauty and works of art. I was exposed to the history and culture of this northern Polish city on the Baltic Sea. But mostly I learned about the struggles of the people, many of whom lived through much of the country’s sad history. I also saw a rebirth and optimism as the city and country has, again, opened itself to the world.
One of worst acts of the Soviet regime was a massacre of nearly 22,000 of the Polish “intelligentsia,” including doctors, lawyers, scientists and military leaders. It was an attack that the Russians denied for years, blaming it on the Germans, but the Polish people and their leaders spent years trying to shed a light on this story. Commonly known as the Katyn Massacre, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the Russians admitted their guilt, more than 50 years after the event took place.
It is with profound sorrow that Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and 88 others, again among Poland's best and brightest, were killed on a plane to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre, not far from the site. Many on board were leaders of the struggle to bring the truth of Katyn to the world.
The first time the intelligentsia was killed through a savage act of war and occupation. This time, it was a bad decision.
One friend wrote:
All the people who were killed the day before yesterday were politically involved in revealing the truth about the tragedy in Katyn that happened 70 years ago… On the plane, there were also the families of those who were killed in Katyn in 1940. There was also the over 90-year old Polish president Kaczorowski - who during the communist times was the emigrant president of Poland in London (because Poland had the second, unofficial government during Soviet Union, since we never agreed to be completely dependent on Russians). Imagine - so many years he survived, with Russians chasing after him, and now, when the work of his life was about to be successful, he was killed.
Some tell that we are sad nation. Katyn was one of the reasons and now it takes more victims. It is so sad and symbolic. Most people in the plane were fighting for years for memory of this massacre - and it became death fight. But the world knows now.
I am crying.