Kotwica is the Polish word for Anchor. It’s a Polish symbol that became a Polish underground rallying point during World War II. It’s pictured here:


The symbol started as a stylized acronym for Pomścimy Wawer (“We shall avenge Wawer”). This was a reference to the Wawer massacre (26–27 December 1939), which was considered to be one of the first large scale massacres of Polish civilians by German troops in occupied Poland. It looks like an anchor, hence kowica. During the war it became a symbol for the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), and a sign of the underground and underground activities. Many such activities were “signed” with the kotwica.  Over time it came to symbolize the phrase Polska Walcząca (“Fighting Poland”), P-W.

Today it is also a symbol also used to remember the Warsaw Uprising which ended 71 years ago, on October 2nd, 1944. Today it stands for, among other things P-W, remember Warsaw (pamiętacie warszawa) and also for the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego, the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which i had the good fortune to visit in 2011.

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September the 17th….

September 17th was a grim day in history for Poland and lovers of freedom everywhere. On September 17th, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Poland was already reeling from the German attack and start of World War II just a few weeks earlier. Using the secret protocols/map of  the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact–signed only a month earlier–the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. As a result, Poland was effectively divided between the Soviets and the Nazis, generally along the Curzon line. Poland would not emerge as a truly free country, free from Soviet/Russian domination for another 54 years.

It’s a sad story, and one the world often forgets. You can read more here: http://www.17september1939.com/. But, more importantly, never forget. A free Poland is vital to all of Europe. For hundreds of years, Poland was the savior of Europe, a powerhouse. Today she continues as a shining beacon of freedom and an example to freedom-loving people everywhere. Never forget!

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Start of World War II, 76 years ago today

Today we remember the beginning of World War II. It is measured as starting on September 1, 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, but in truth, the war itself was a long time in the making, began by the the punishments imposed at the end of the “Great War,” fueled by the appeasements of the allies (France and England) and the closed-door policy of the USA, and incited by the spoils of war hoped for by Stalin with the partition of Poland. Still, we mark it as beginning this day, 76 years ago.

I was there. Not when it started, but where it started–I was there on Westerplatte 71 years later, in 2010, at 4:38 AM in the morning, on September 1st. I was there with thousands of others. I sang Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, watched some re-enactments, heard the bells toll, and listened to the President of Poland speak, and the Archbishop lead a prayer. It was very moving, and I will never forget it.

I wrote about that experience here in my blog and later on I posted some pictures from that somber ceremony of remembrance. It is worth remembering, the sacrifice of a nation that started that day, and did not really end for nearly 50 years. It’s a story of a tenacious people, longing for freedom, holding on to an ideal, and not giving up, even when abandoned by her friends and allies. It’s a story to long to recount here, now. But a story worth remembering. And it started 76 years ago today, on Westerplatte, with the “official” beginning of World War II….  I remember.

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Black Ribbon Day

Today is Black Ribbon Day. As you may surmise by the color of the ribbon, it’s not a day to remember happy things. This day (August 23rd) was chosen as it is the day on which, on which the so-called Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was signed in 1939. That treaty between the Nazis and Soviets divided Poland and central Europe between the two totalitarian regimes, and World War II started mere days later with the invasion of Poland.

But what about Black Ribbon Day? What
is it for. It’s also known as the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, a day to remember the millions of victims of totalitarian ideologies, specifically communism/Stalinism, fascism and Nazism. The purpose of the Day of Remembrance is “to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations, while promoting democratic values with th
e aim of reinforcing peace and stability in Europe.”

Black Ribbon Day is observed by many countries in the European Union, as well as by Canada and the United States. It is good that we never forget what happened when two of the worst extremes of totalitarianism got together–they managed to torture and murder millions upon millions of people. Don’t forget.Black-ribbon-4-xxl

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Cud nad Wisłą — Miracle on the Vistula

Today is not only a momentous day in Polish history, it also marks the 95th anniversary of one of the t0p 20 most important military battles in the history of the world, the Miracle on the Vistula, also known as the 1920 Battle of Warsaw. On this day in history, the battle for Warsaw turned in the Poles’ favor.

95 Years ago today, Poland was again a fledgling nation, having risen again out of the ashes of World War I after 117 years of non-existence, having been partitioned in the 18th century between Prussia/Germany, Russian, and Austria/Hungary. But a new map was drawn at the end of World War I, and that included a free Poland. The Bolshevik Communists in Russia, however, had different ideas–they wanted to spread Communism throughout Europe, but they had to go through Poland to do that. Poland was not cooperative, understandably so.

So between 1919 and 1921, Poland and the Soviet Red Army fought, a war started by the Soviets. Poland won, and the turning point happened on August 15, 1920. Though faced with numerically superior forces, Poland’s fledgling army managed to route the Soviet Red Army and save the capital city of Warsaw. It was the beginning of the end for the Communists, at least for another 19 years.

Why did Poland win? They had fervor and nationalism on their side. Having been oppressed for over 100 years, Poles were hungry for freedom. They believed in Poland. The Communists had conscripted (forced) soldiers who were fighting for nothing, being fed like fodder to the guns of the Poles. The Poles had love of country, all the Soviets had was fear. And, the Poles had Józef Piłsudki, their military and political leader. Not especially diplomatic, not typically military-trained, Piłsudski shared the same love of Poland with the Poles. He brought fervor and belief in themselves to the Polish army. Aided by many able generals, the Poles were able to prevail.

Though they won the battle, and this was the turning point, leading to eventually winning the war, the battle was not without consequences for either side. Estimated Red Army losses were 10,000 killed, 500 missing, 30,000 wounded, and 66,000 taken prisoner, compared with Polish losses of some 4,500 killed, 10,000 missing, and 22,000 wounded. Freedom is not cheap, nor easy.

But on this day, 95 years ago, the battle turned in favor of the Poles. August 15th is a national holiday in Poland, a religious holiday, the feast of the Assumption. It’s also celebrated as Armed forces day, and a day of remembrance of the miracle on the Vistula River, 95 years ago today….

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Wola Massacre

71 years ago, the “Wola Massacre” was going on in Warsaw, Poland? What is that? Well, if you read my last post, the Warsaw uprising had started on 01 August 1944. In an attempt to curb the uprising (crush is probably a better word), the Germans began the systematic murder of the civilian population in the Wola district of Warsaw. This lasted for nearly a week, from August 5-12. Under direct orders from Himmler, special units went from block to block, systematically murdering the local population. The murdered were mostly women, the elderly, and children. Several hospitals were burned while crammed with patients, people were systematically tortured, sexually assaulted, and sadistically murdered. One man’s story summarizes some of what went on [the words are my summary]:

The Germans came to our block and rounded everyone up, herding us into a local park area. It was surrounded by mounted machine guns. I was forced there with my wife and family. Then the machine guns opened fire, for a long time, until we were all mowed down. I was not hit, but fell to the ground like everyone else. The firing went on for a long time. I heard my little daughter moaning in pain next to me but dared not move. Soldiers were moving among the bodies, shooting those still alive. I heard a shot next to me. My daughter stopped moaning. She was dead. I feigned death. Later, other Polish prisoners were sent in to remove the bodies. I got up and became one of them. My whole family was murdered, I alone survived…. I ended up in a concentration camp, but survived the war. All of my family perished…. I alone survived….”

On the first day of this  “action,” it’s estimated that 10,000 civilians were systematically murdered, and more tens of thousands in the following days. After the war, though several of the leaders were known, not one was prosecuted. There is some controversy about this even today in Poland, as a car dealership has been built upon a field that contains the ashes of many of these innocent victims of the Wola Massacre.

You can read more about the Wola Massacre here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wola_massacre. It’s not a pretty story, not a fun story, but it’s history.

The Germans hoped that their actions would break the will of the Polish Home Army and end the Warsaw uprising. If anything, it stiffened the resolve of the Poles who fought on nearly two more months, tying down countless armies of Germans. In the end, abandoned by her so-called allies (England and America), the Poles were left to themselves, slaughtered, abandoned, and handed over to Stalin, They were defeated in part by the allies they so brilliantly and fiercely supported during the war. War sucks, doesn’t it…..

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Pamiętam — I remember

I was born less than eight years after the start of the Warsaw Uprising, which began at 5 PM  local time in Warsaw on 01 August 1944. It did not end well. While the Soviet army sat idly by across the river from Warsaw and watched their destruction, the Polish Home Army fought against the German Nazi occupiers of Warsaw. At the end of nearly two months of fighting, the battle was lost. The Allies stood idly by. Churchill, to his credit, begged Roosevelt to intercede with Stalin. Roosevelt, who like Stalin has the blood of millions on his hands, refused.

And so the battle was eventually lost. What had been a city of 1.3 million before the war, and of 700,000 at the start of the Warsaw Uprising, saw the deaths of over 16,000 Polish soldiers (men, women, and children) and the deaths of up to 200,000 citizens, mostly murdered by the German Nazis out of spite and in retaliation. But even after the battle was lost, Hitler wanted the ultimate revenge, and vowed to wipe Warsaw (and the Poles) off the face of the earth–the German Nazis systematically destroyed the whole city, blowing up everything, building by building, block by block. At the end of World War II, no more than maybe a thousand people were left.

Destroyed Warsaw, capital of Poland, January 1945” by M. Swierczynski – Stanisław Jankowski, Adolf Ciborowski “Warszawa 1945 i dziś” Wydawnictwo Interpress, Warszawa, 1971, page 66Wiesław Głębocki; Karol Mórawski (1985) Kultura Walcząca 1939-1945, Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Interpress, pp. p.64 ISBN 83-02-00773-0Antoni Przygoński (1980) Powstanie Warszawskie w sierpniu 1944 r.; Tom 1, Warsaw: Polskie Wydawnictwo Naukowe ISBN 83-01-00293-X. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

But the story does not end there. Though Poland was handed to the Soviets by her “allies” (Churchill and Roosevelt), Warsaw did not perish. Though after the war the Soviet Communists persecuted the Polish Home Army, imprisoning and murdering all they could find, Warsaw rebuilt. And finally in 1989, Poland threw off the oppressive yoke of Communism they endured due to Churchill and Roosevelt’s abandonment, and arose as an again free nation.

Today Warsaw is a vibrant city of 1.7 million with a metropolitan area of nearly 2.7 million, the capital of Poland, and a center of Commerce. Yet at 5 PM every August 1st, the city stand still for one minute to remember the Warsaw Uprising–and it’s terrible consequences:

You can read more about the Warsaw Uprising from a number of sources, but this recent short history sums it up well: http://www.thenews.pl/1/9/Artykul/215739,Warsaw-to-remember-Rising-on-anniversary.

I am left asking myself a final question: “How can I ‘remember’ what I did not experience, and why do I ‘remember’ this?” I remember to honor the memory of all those brave Poles who endured unspeakable suffering and hardships, but yet fought for their freedom and that of Poland. In the short term, the Warsaw Uprising was a failure, true. But in the long term, it speaks volumes about the faith, hope, and persistence of the Polish people. Being of Polish heritage, it fills me with great pride, to know that the Polish people have time and again overcome immense odds to not only survive as a nation, but to triumph as a people. And, in my heart, I can truly say, “Jestem Polakiem!” I know it for a certainty.

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Lublin Days 2015

From July 24-26, 2015, the village of Lublin, Wisconsin will be celebrating its centennial and Lublin Days. Lots of festivities are planned, but of special note is a visit from a number of dignitaries from Lublin, WI’s sister city in Poland, Lublin, Poland. Below you will find an outline of the festivities and schedule.

Whis is this of such great interest to me, you might ask?

  1. My Dad and my Mom grew up and, in their early years, lived not far from Lublin, WI and we have many relatives in that area to this day.
  2. My first trip to Poland was a tour organized by Chris Kulinski of Lublin, and he is one of the organizers of Lublin Days.
  3. Many of the people I went with to Poland in 2010 on my first trip there will be attendance, as well a handful of relatives as well.
  4. I’ve visited Lublin, Poland, a beautiful city, and rich in history.
  5. My Dad’s parents and his brother are all buried in Lublin, as well as other relatives.

For all of those reasons, Tommy and I are planning on attending Lublin Days, we’ll be there both Saturday and Sunday, and have tickets for the Dignitary Dinner on Saturday. I can’t wait! And I hope to see you there.


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Island of Princes — Where did Poland come from?

The origins of Poland are steeped in mystery and history, but now a bit more is known. The beginning of Poland is often traced to 966 and the baptism of Mieszkow I, the first Piast King whose acceptance of Christianity was seen as a unifying force and also as the best route for surivial of the so-called “Polanians” from where we get the name Poland. But who were these first rules of Poland, and what was that time like? Well, fortunately, history and archeology combined with science are able to provide us some clues.

To learn more about the beginnings of Poland and about an archaeologically and historically significant place called Ostrów Lednicki , an Island thought to hold clues about the first leaders of Poland as a nation. Fortunately, there is an excellent video, in English, which is a fascinating study of what has been found at Ostrów Lednicki. The video is called “Island of Princes” (Wyspa Władców in Polish) and you can see it here:  http://www.tvp.pl/salestvppl/video/tajemnice-poczatkow-polski-wyspa-wladcow. I have watched it several times now. It’s a fascinating look into life at the very beginnings of the Polish state. Note: it’s about 45 minutes long, but well worth your time if you have any interest at all in Polish history.

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The 1940 Cold-Blooded Murder of 21,857 Polish Citizens: The Katyń Massacre

In 1939, the Nazi Germans and Soviet Russians divided Poland amongst themselves. The Soviets quickly arrested the “cream of the crop” of Polish Citizens: military officers, police, university professors, landowner, lawyers, and other leading Polish citizens, about 25,000 of the best Poland had. On or about March 5, 1940, Stalin approved an NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) order for the murder of these Polish citizens.

On April 3, 1940, and continuing through May 1940, these executions, cold-blooded murders, were carried out. The prisoner was handcuffed, taken to a soundproofed room or area, approached from behind, shot in the back of the head, the body taken out the back and dumped in a truck, and the next one led in. This went on for days and weeks until 22,000 of the finest Polish citizens had been murdered, their bodies dumped in mass graves, covered up. Many of them (~5000) were buried in a mass grave in the Katyń forest, and this tragic event has since been known as the Katyń Massacre.

In 1943, the invading Germans found the mass graves and publicized it. The Allies, weak-kneeded and not wanting to offend their “ally” Joseph Stalin, ignored this. They did not want to “offend” Stalin. After the war when German Nazis were being tried and convicted of their war crimes, the allies again chose to ignore this particular Soviet crime. It was not until the 1990s and the fall of Communism that the Russians began to change their tune, and not until 2010 that the Russian Duma (parliament) admitted that the Stalin regime was at fault.

But, blame aside, the stark fact remains, 22,000 people, the top leaders of Poland, were murdered at the hands of the Soviets. But today, Poland is a strong and proud, independent country, one that has risen beyond this tragic loss, has produced new leaders, and is a model of freedom as well as the resiliency of national spirit. Poland lives today. It was crippled in 1940, but rose beyond that. But those terrible events of 1940 began 75 years ago today, on April 3, 1940.

You can read a more detailed history of the Katyń Massacre in English here, or in Polish here. And for an excellent dramatization of these sad events, see the Polish film, Katyń, directed by acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda and nominated for an Academy Award.

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