On Sunday, February 8, Dr. Marek Chodakiewicz delivered an address at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago during the opening of the exhibition “Katyn: Truth and Remembrance.” The following is a summary of Dr. Chodakiewicz’s remarks.
The Katyn Forest Massacre, during which the Soviet NKVD killed 26,000 Polish officers and other members of Poland’s elite, is a symbol. First, it is a symbol of the pathology of twentieth-century totalitarianism with all its mass murder, deception, and willful blindness. Secondly, it is a symbol of martyrology and the extermination of the flower of Poland’s elite. A people without an elite struggle to remain a conscious nation but, instead, turn into passive “ethnographic material.”
Why should we remember Katyn? It is humans – not beasts – who remember and honor their dead. The Poles were not allowed properly to bury and mourn the victims of Katyn for half a century. Officially, they were not allowed to remember them. The natural or divine law was thus violated by positive or man-made law, in this case Soviet communist “law” (show trials, executions, terror, and censorship).
To remember is to know. Knowledge is indispensable to make informed decisions, and we learn from experience. We pass on knowledge from generation to the next. That is why tyrants have always attempted to kill memory, as did king Creon of Thebes in Sophocles’ Antigone. The heroine, who buried her brother’s body, in spite of Creon’s edict banning it, was reproached by the tyrant, who asked why she dared to disobey his laws. Antigone answered:
Yes, for it was not Zeus who gave them forth,
Nor Justice, dwelling with the Gods below,
Who traced these laws for all the sons of men;
Nor did I deem thy edicts strong enough,
Coming from mortal man, to set at nought
The unwritten laws of God that know not change.
They are not of to-day nor yesterday,
But live for ever, nor can man assign
When first they sprang to being. Not through fear
Of any man’s resolve was I prepared
Before the Gods to bear the penalty
Of sinning against these. That I should die
I knew, (how should I not?) though thy decree
Had never spoken. And, before my time
If I should die, I reckon this a gain;
For whoso lives, as I, in many woes,
How can it be but death shall bring him gain?
And so for me to bear this doom of thine
Has nothing painful. But, if I had left
My mother’s son unburied on his death,
I should have given them pain. But as things are,
Pain I feel none. And should I seem to thee
To have done a foolish deed, ‘tis simply this,-
I bear the charge of folly from a fool.
What do the totalitarians want to remember? Nothing! The Maoist cannibal, Joseph Kabila of the Congo, killed old people specifically because they shaped the young. In a pre-literate society it was a winning formula. After thirty years, he was able to capture power thanks to the amnesia he thus imposed on the masses.
What do we know? Katyn is just the tip of the iceberg. The Bolshevik mass-murder machine began operating as soon as the communists seized power in Russia in 1917. First, they targeted the Polish nobility of the eastern borderlands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, followed by the intelligentsia, priests, social activists, and even boy and girl scouts. Then, during the so-called “liberal” 1920s in the USSR, the Bolshevik regime combated the Catholic Church and its lay followers. In 1929 – 1933, the Poles, and especially the petty nobility of the Minsk and Kyiv areas, was overrepresented among the victims of Stalin’s collectivization and finished-off during the “dekulakization” operation in 1935. As Dr. Tomasz Sommer has demonstrated in his book, the greatest peacetime genocide of the interwar period, the “Anti-Polish Operation” of the NKVD, was ordered by Stalin and the Politburo and lasted from August 1937 until November 1938. The Soviet chekists targeted ethnic Poles as alleged “spies” and even searched for Polish-sounding names in the phone books to fulfill the plan of extermination. As a result, up to 250,000 Soviet Poles – usually men between the ages of 16 and 65 – perished.
The deportations of Poles to Siberia and mass executions after 1939, including Katyn, were the logical continuation of this orgy of totalitarian madness. The postwar communist terror was its final chapter. Thus, for example, in August of 1945, during the Augustów Dragnet, the NKVD rounded up thousands of suspected Polish resistance fighters and killed many of them. The Poles continued to be the enemy nation. In fact, twice the number of NKVD regiments were stationed in the Soviet-occupied rump Poland after the war than were in the USSR’s occupation zone in East Germany.
The objective of all this was to destroy the Polish Nation via the extermination of the conscious broadly-understood elite! The people would become mere ethnographic material, like putty in the hands of the communist social engineers, not a nation.
Stalin and the Politburo considered Poland enemy number one long after it was warranted on the account of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1919-1921. Why? Because the Poles were able to project a universalistic message, the power of the Commonwealth, to organize the Intermarium in a just and decent way. And this the successors of the communists, the Soviets, the successors to the empire of the Tsars, wanted to obliterate.
Yet, we did not forget. We remember. And now the whole world knows, ironically because of the Smolensk Presidential Plane Crash. All wires and dispatches in 2010 mentioned Katyn. When President Lech Kaczyński was buried at the Wawel Cathedral, the funeral was not only his own, but also (finally) a collective official one for the victims of Katyn. In the US Army, the rule is to “leave no man behind.” The same principle is honored by the Polish military and the Polish nation. To remember is not to leave behind.
Now that we know about Katyn, we can move forward. Nevertheless, historians and other concerned individuals must remain in the rear and resolve a few more issues. First, we must finally obtain the Belarussian Katyn List. Secondly, we must thoroughly research the anti-Polish operation of the NKVD (1937-1938). What we have so far is only an introduction to further research. Third, we must delve into the anti-Polish aspects of the Soviet democide of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Fourth, we must unearth the tragic fate of the Poles during the revolution and civil war in Russia (1917 – 1921). Fifth, we must zero in on Communist crimes after 1945. We owe it to the victims to remember.