My first visit ever to Poland, the birthplace of my grandparents, last year far exceeded my expectations.
I was truly amazed at the spirit and the resilience of the Polish people.
In 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland from the west was accompanied by the Soviet armies simultaneously invading from the east. The Poles fought valiantly against overwhelming odds.
In 1940, the Russian lunatic dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the murder of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war in the Katyn Forest. This was a genocidal massacre of 8000 Polish military officers, 6000 police officers, and 8000 government officials, priests, lawyers and other Polish leaders. For seventy years the Russians denied guilt and the United States was party to this cover-up.
In 1943, England’s Prime Minister Churchill had sent the American President Franklin Roosevelt an explosive report that documented the Russian responsibility for these murders. However, out of fear of upsetting Stalin, the American people were kept in the dark by their leaders and the documents were classified.
The resurgence of the people of Poland, following the Nazi terrorism, and then Communist domination for more than 40 years, is nothing short of remarkable. One image that will always live with me is the rebuilt city of Warsaw. In the narrow cobblestone streets of Warsaw’s Stare Miasto, or Old Town, church bells chime, babushka ladies sell flowers, sidewalk cafes bustle and horse-drawn carriages roll past the royal castle. At first glance, the Polish capital feels quintessentially Old World.
But all of these historic-looking buildings are new.
The beauty of Warsaw’s Old Town masks this city’s bloody past: The Polish capital was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. Fulfilling Hitler’s vision, Warsaw was razed house by house, brick by brick as the Nazis slammed their jackboot on the throat of Poland’s freedom fighters.
To make matters worse, at the end of World War II, no mention of this Russian atrocity was ever made, and Poland, the first country to fight invaders in World War II, was shamelessly handed to Stalin and the Soviets at Yalta for Russian subjugation and oppression which lasted more than 40 years.
Today, the Polish language and culture is somehow miraculously intact. Their devout Catholicism is not like anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. The nation is full of dynamic young people…friendly and hopeful. It is interesting to note that an incredible 65,000 students currently attend the University of Warsaw. And the Polish economy is doing well relative to many of its neighbors. My visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa was on the Catholic holy day of Corpus Christi and the religious fervor onsite there was truly remarkable.
It is staggering to think that Poland had somewhere around six million deaths in World War II, losing 17% of its population which is a higher percentage than either Germany or the Soviet Union which also far exceeds the military losses of the USA and Great Britain.
This is a stunning legacy for the people of Poland who truly know their roots and refused to let any usurpers destroy them.