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The history of Poland reads like a Passion Play.
This holds true all the way from its founding in A.D. 966 (with the baptism of King Mieszko I on Holy Saturday) to its current involvement with the war in Ukraine.
The nation's recent commemoration of the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, highlights the country's current existential predicament — and agonized past.
The April 10 air disaster wiped out all 96 Poles on board, including the president of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, and his wife. Additionally, 18 members of the Polish Parliament, several senior military officers and members of the clergy were among the victims.
Ironically (and tragically), the passengers were heading to Smolensk to honor the victims of the 1940 massacre of tens of thousands of Polish POWs in the nearby Katyn forest.
The uncanny "coincidence" has fueled speculation by many that the crash was no accident, and that it did not result from either bad weather or pilot error. Skeptics instead point to Russia.
Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński recently declared his certainty that the crash was a deliberate attempt to assassinate Polish political, military and religious elites — along with his twin brother, Lech Kaczyński, the former president.
Kaczyński surmises that the crash was likely caused by "a thermobaric weapon" (also called an aerosol bomb), the kind of device reportedly being used by Russia in Ukraine.
He added that the only thing left is to establish, at trial, is who is responsible for the assassination.
The Moscow Times has reported on a recent study that concluded that explosive devices caused the disaster. Russia, to this day, has refused to relinquish the plane's wreckage — something that could settle the matter once and for all.
The Russians also accuse Nazi Germany of the 1940 Katyn massacre — easy blame-shifting, since Poland was partitioned by Russia and Germany as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.
The Katyn Massacre was a series of mass executions during April and May of 1940, when Soviet secret police murdered, according to most accounts, 22,000 Polish military officers and soldiers. These included political leaders, physicians, lawyers and academics — the cream of Poland's society.
The POWs were led to believe they would soon be released. But according to NKVD (Soviet secret police) reports, prisoners who could not be persuaded to adopt a pro-Soviet attitude were deemed "hardened and uncompromising enem[ies] of Soviet authority." Most Poles would not submit to indoctrination — and so paid the ultimate price.
As one scholar put it, the massacre in the Katyn forest was designed to "decapitate Poland," eliminating in one fell swoop Poland's leadership.
Katyn was considered "Stalin's revenge" for the Soviets' unexpected defeat by the newly independent Poland in 1920. In the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, Poland stopped the Soviet drive westward — stopping, as it did, the expansion of communism. The Soviets had miscalculated Poland's determination and faith in Our Lady, and Stalin harbored a decades-long desire to make Poland pay.
This past week, Polish president Andrzej Duda remembered the Katyn massacre and demanded those responsible be tried in international courts. "The Soviet regime and its functionaries who committed the Katyn massacre have never been brought to justice or received punishment," he noted, adding that "the crime of genocide is not subject to a statute of limitations — so we will demand that it be tried before international courts."
Given the history of the 20th century, Poland's suspicion and fear of Russia — especially considering the current Russia–Ukraine crisis — is justified. Like the Polish POWs who refused to acquiesce to the "persuasion" of the NKVD, the Poles are now showing their true colors by helping Ukrainian refugees, even as the Polish people experience a heightened fear of Russian encroachment.
Despite the invasions, occupations and duplicitous actions of its more-powerful neighbors, Poland has survived, risen above national horrors and lived to stand strong again.
Like its Savior rising from the dead on Easter, Poland persists.
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