Baltimore Remembers the Martyrs of Katyń
By Richard Poremski, Washington, DC Bureau
Polish American Journal
May 12, 2016
BALTIMORE, Md. – They Came and They Remembered. Two hundred people assembled here at the National Katyń Memorial in Harbor East on April 24, 2016 to memorialize the 22,000 Polish Army officers, including many of Poland’s officialdom, leading citizens and intelligentsia, all murdered in the infamous April, 1940 Katyń Forest Massacre at the bloodied hands of the Soviet Union’s (aka Russian) NKVD – militarized political police. This stark genocide against Poland was also carried out at other such horrid locations during the early World War II timeframe.
The 16th Annual Katyń Remembrance ceremonies included color guards, clergy, diplomats, guest speakers, politicians, military officers, the laying of wreaths, and “Taps” by a Maryland Nation Guard bugler.
Follows is the encapsulated remarks of the featured speakers:
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski: Totally energized at the podium, the feisty Senator pronounced that “We must always remember and commemorate what happened 76 years ago in that terrible forest saturated with Polish blood. The elite of Poland was massacred by the Soviets … Never again will Poland be invaded because it belongs to NATO and is closely allied with America … Article 5 of the NATO Treaty says in effect that if you mess with Poland you take on the United States of America! (the audience erupted with loud applause and shouts of approval) … Today, if the slain officer corps could look down they would be proud of a free and independent Poland and would say God Bless Poland and God Bless the United States.”
U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes: “I’m very proud and privileged to have attended these ceremonies over the years. It is very important to bear witness to what happened in the past and have an enlightened view as we go forward into the future … ‘The National Katyń Memorial is triumph over tragedy.” He referenced the catastrophic 2010 Smolensk/Katyń air plane crash that deprived Poland of so many of its national leaders. Lastly, Sarbanes thanked the Polish community for having such an ‘intense success of identity,’ and for their contributions to our city, region and country.
Governor Larry Hogan: Was represented by Commissioner Joseph Zarachowicz, Sr. – Maryland Department of Veteran’s Affairs, who delivered and read a proclamation from the Governor. It spoke of “Poland’s abject suffering and losses during World War II,” and the successful mission of the National Katyń Memorial to remember all victimized prisoners of war to which it is also dedicated.
Baltimore City Councilman Jim Kraft: Commented on the Memorial’s strategic urban location in the dynamic Harbor East neighborhood that exposes it – and its critical message – to so many new people from all over the country and world on a daily basis … “We come together here every year to mourn and celebrate and to say Never Again, Never Again.”
Major General Linda L. Singh: Was represented by Brigadier General Ronald Turk - “It’s a great honor to be here today to represent all the men and women wearing the uniform of the Maryland National Guard, and to identify with the co-joined military values that we recognize here today … and that are still remembered by Poland and Polish Americans.
Lieutenant Colonel Michal Sprengel, Military Attaché - Embassy of Poland: Speaking strongly for the Armed Forces of Poland. He first reading a short heart rendering Katyń poem that bespoke of ‘uniform buttons in the ground.’ “Much has been said and written about what happened at Katyń, he said, but there is never enough … The Polish nation will never forget about the horrors and sacrifices of our countrymen who were martyred by the Soviets 76 years ago. Our remembrance is the basis of the Polish armed forces and Polish nation … Never again will an invader set foot on Polish soil.”
Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf: “The National Katyń Memorial reminds us of the horrors of totalitarianism, and the cold blooded act of political murder that occurred at Katyń. The purpose of Katyń was to deprive Poland of its cultural memory. Paradoxically, it was a strong factor in building a collective Polish identity in post-World War II Poland … Those guilty of this crime have never been judged; no one has ever been held responsible or punished. The communists finally admitted their guilt upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 … Today we bow our heads before the victims of the Katyń crime, their graves in the East remind us of the price we paid for Poland’s freedom.”
~ Ambassador Schnepf also remarked on the 6th Anniversary of the catastrophic April 10, 2010 Smolensk/Katyń airplane crash that claimed the lives of President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, the Chiefs of the Armed Forces, esteemed clergy, prominent government officials, eminent members of parliament, notable institutional leaders and honored citizens - totaling 96 blessed souls in all. Previously, he intoned that “This was not only a great national tragedy, but also a major challenge for the functioning of the state. Poland survived this difficult time without destabilization, indicating the maturity of its democratic system and governing structures.”
~ Concluding his remarks, Schnepf stated that “The National Katyń Memorial Foundation is one of the most important centers of preserving the Katyń Memory in the U.S. and keeping it alive,” thanking Chairman Richard Poremski and its Directors for their efforts.
Earlier in the day, a dedicated mass was with military flourishes was celebrated at Holy Rosary Church. At the afternoon reception in the Great Hall of the PNA the victims of the Smolensk/Katyń were honored in a special candle lighting ceremony.
Groups participating in the ceremonies were: The Polish Legion of American Veterans - Maryland Department, Polish Army Veterans of America (Polish acronym “SWAP”) , accompanied by its Women’s Auxiliary, hailing from New Jersey and Philadelphia – Post 36 and Post 81, and Baltimore’s costumed folk dance groups Krakowiaki (youth) and Ojczyzna (adult). Also present was representatives and members of many local and regional Polonia organizations.
On this reflective spring Sunday all who perished at Katyń were commemorated … those in the past by the hand of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union … and more recently those by the capricious Hand of Fate. ❑