On Saturday, April 18, Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz took part in the Second Polonia Forum, a Polish-American conference held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Doylestown, PA, and was sponsored by the Smolensk Disaster Commemoration Committee.
Dr. Chodakiewicz’s lecture, which was part of the panel on “the Katyn Crime 75 Years Later,” was entitled “the Legacy of Hopelessness: Katyn and Smolensk.” It addressed the historical and political contexts of the Katyn Forest Massacre (spring 1940), the genocidal Soviet extermination of 22,000 Polish officers (and other members of the national elite), and the suspicious Smolensk Crash (April 10, 2010), which saw the deaths of Poland’s president, the late Lech Kaczyński, and 95 additional members of his entourage, who constituted Poland’s patriotic pro-Western elite. More specifically, Dr. Chodakiewicz spoke about the feelings of helplessness that these two historical disasters engendered and the ways to remedy them. We are reproducing his speech below:
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In the case of Katyn and Smolensk, we have both good news and bad news. The good news is that, eventually, the truth always surfaces. As far as Katyn is concerned, no one today — except for liars and Stalinist fanatics — denies that the crime was committed by the Soviets. How is this possible? Well, in short, we eventually gained access to the documents. The longer answer is: memory. We remembered Katyn, regardless of the consequences and circumstances.
What is memory? It is whatever we chose from the present to salvage it from extermination by time. Thus, we preserve the crumbs of past experiences which are important for various reasons. There are two kinds of memory: a collective one that is public and group-centric; and an individual one that is private and family-based. Collective memory is often expressed through symbols. Characteristically, the Crucifix frequently functions as such a symbol, itself being a symbol of suffering and victory. The crying injustice of Katyn, which is commonly referred to in Poland as the “Golgotha of the East,” is often expressed through the Cross or the Virgin Mary. Smolensk — the symbol of post-communist and post-Soviet pathologies — was also commemorated by the Cross.
Public memory only appears to be abstract, theoretical, and symbolic. In reality, it coalesces with individual, personal, and family memory. For me, for instance, Katyn also means Second Lieutenant Symeon Kazimierz Chodakiewicz and Rotamaster Jan Fuhrman. The former was my grandfather’s cousin, the latter was the godfather of my uncle, Stasiu Wellisz. Smolensk, in turn, brings to mind Janusz Kurtyka and Andrzej Przewoźnik, both of whom were historians. I recall Janusz Kurtyka particularly warmly, for he was one of the few professional historians to help our efforts to debunk the false and malicious narratives surrounding the history of the National Armed Forces. We remember people and create symbols. In the short-term, that is very little, but in the long-term, it is the foundation.
And now, the bad news. In the short-term, memory is insufficient because remembering the victims does not translate into political compensation or atonement. After all, the victims weren’t strong enough to resist the aggression, and their heirs weren’t strong enough to obtain justice. Moreover, the mighty of this world did not want to hear complaints. This is an experience that is universal and does not apply solely to the Poles. For example, right after the Second World War, practically no one cared to hear about the Holocaust. The doyen of Holocaust studies in the US, Professor Raul Hilberg, was criticized sharply by his dissertation advisor and other professors. They warned him that delving into the extermination of the Jews would spell the end of his career. For almost ten years no one would publish his opus. The topic was eventually popularized only because of his strong will, meticulous research, discipline, and strategy. It also helped that a Jewish philanthropist not only financed the printing of the book but also purchased the entire print run. The breakthrough occurred only during the 1960s. It is unrealistic to expect immediate success without any effort or support. The same applies to Polish issues.
The geopolitics and geostrategy of foreign powers call for permanent Polish impotence. Why? Because the mighty prefer to cut deals among themselves. The Poles, however, irritate everybody with their importunity and constant search for truth and justice. After all, it is clear that both the US and Britain knew about Katyn, but the governments of the two countries did not want to know about it. Winston Churchill told his personal secretary: “For God’s sake, let’s not talk about it in public, but it is clear that the Bolsheviks murdered the Poles.” US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent his friend as a private emissary to Europe to deal with the Katyn issue. After returning home, he informed FDR that the Polish officers were shot by the Soviets. The president ordered him to keep his mouth shut, but when his friend threatened to expose the truth in the press, FDR had him impressed into the military and sent off to Samoa. The Poles were, quite simply, an inconvenience. Their interests did not matter; the alliance with Stalin did. The Red Army was fighting and, although Soviet troops were dying as well, they kept killing and pushing the Germans westward. Hence, the Western Allies did not have to pay a high price in blood. Furthermore, FDR hoped especially that Stalin would become his future partner in the postwar world government known as the United Nations Organization. Thus, it was convenient to consider the Katyn case closed and to agree with Stalin’s version: the Germans did it.
Given such an ideological and geopolitical atmosphere, Soviet agents of influence had a much easier job, particularly since it had its tentacles even at the highest level of the US government: in the White House. Harry Hopkins, Harry Dexter White, and Lauchlin Currie all worked for Stalin. The last named was FDR’s personal secretary. It was this trio that provided the NKVD with all the details the Chekists wanted to know. One example was the presidential approach to Katyn, or, in general, all other Polish issues. Since FDR generally couldn’t care less, the Soviet dictator knew how to negotiate with him. The only concern was for all of this not to surface prematurely, lest the Polonia not vote for the Democratic candidate.
In the lower tiers of the US federal government, including the Office of War Information and other agencies, communist agents launched attacks against anyone who wanted to amplify the Katyn case. For example, Polish-American radio programs were the victims of such attacks; their owners were either threatened or the programs were simply shut down. “Dirt-digging” and character assassination [Rufmord] campaigns were routinely waged against people wishing to expose the truth about Katyn. The anti-Polish campaign hit its lowest point when the main newspaper of the US military, Stars and Stripes, published a caricature of a Polish officer “supposedly” shot at Katyn. Nota bene, one of the communist moles in the OWI then engaged in combating the truth about Katyn later resurfaced in the communist-occupied Polish People’s Republic and did the very same thing in the capacity of the editor-in-chief of the red Trybuna Ludu [People’s Tribune]. This time, at least, he was officially on the communist payroll.
Discrediting alternative narratives about Katyn and supporting Moscow’s propaganda line were routine in the US during the war. It is important to keep in mind these mechanisms and to verify if and how they apply to the Smolensk Crash. It will be a very interesting endeavor to test the validity of theories arguing that similar mechanisms of deception are behind both Katyn and Smolensk.
Let us look at the case of Smolensk in the West. The Poles are once again inconvenient. And yet again the Western powers fail to support Poland as a matter of official policy. Smolensk is considered a closed case, yesterday’s news. The White House has practically buried the issue: it was an accident, pilot error, and now let’s move on. It doesn’t matter that there was no serious, thorough investigation and that Russia is dictating the discourse. Without the President’s permission, or a presidential order, the intelligence community cannot conduct its own separate investigation.
Naturally, there are a few individual exceptions in the US. A handful of conservative Congressmen and Senators is interested in Smolensk. The intelligence community is unofficially gathering materials and hoping for a better political climate. Some of our professors from the Institute of World Politics have been helping for a long time as well.
What can we do to overcome helplessness? Napoleon used to say: money, money, and more money. But money is only a means to an end. We have to also know how to grease the wheels to get to the desired destination. Above all, we need three things: ideas, strategy, and cadres. The idée is “national,” and therefore the continuation of tradition in the new conditions of post-modernity. Strategy is required to ensure that our ideas win and to prevent our children from becoming victims. In other words, it is about might and power, i.e. “peace through strength.” The cadres devise the tactics, i.e. immediate maneuvers leading to the main objective. The cadres will take care of the logistics and will establish organizations, in addition to fundraising and communications.
Where would the financial backing come from? Everyone has $10 that could be donated monthly to a cause close to their heart. On the other hand, like my Californian Foster Mother likes to say: the Polonia has long tongues, which it wags constantly while chattering about Poland and other causes; but it also has short arms, which makes it incapable of writing checks to support vital initiatives. Thus, the Polonia has to be told bluntly: “Put your money where your mouth is. Put up, or shut up.”