Cursed Soldiers: “żołnierze wyklęci”

Today is the Polish National Day of the Memory of the Cursed Soldiers, or Damned Soldiers: in Polish, the żołnierze wyklęci. But what does that mean, and what’s it all about.

After the end of World War 2, when Poland was handed over to the Soviet sphere of influence, few Poles were happy with that outcome. Some who had been active in the resistance movement, fighting the Nazis, continued the underground fight to free Poland from the new oppressors, the Soviets. But just having been a member of the anti-Nazi underground movement, in the eyes of the Soviets, made you a traitor. These soldiers were considered “damned” or “cursed” by their own (Soviet puppet) government.

These Cursed Soldiers numbered in the thousands, but some paid the ultimate price for their patriotism. In a staged trial in late 1950, seven of these brave Polish heroes, after having been tortured and beaten and forced to make “confessions,” were sentenced to death in a staged trial, not even allowed to defend themselves.

On March 1, 1951, the were each murdered with a shot to the back of the head on the grounds of Warsaw’s Móktow prison, executed in the same NKVD manner as the 20,000+ Poles where were murdered at Katyń. There bodies have never been located.

In about 1992, after Poland threw off the shackles of Communism, these men had their rightful titles and rights restored, posthumously, and received many awards. And in 2010 the government instituted this day of remembrance.

You can read more about their story here:

You can read more about this National Day of Remembrance here:

For more information about this year’s remembrance, see this post here.

Hopefully, now, you won’t forget that freedom is rarely free.

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Sto lat, Polsko!

Today all over Poland–and many other countries–there is much celebrating as Poland celebrated their return to the map with the formation of the second Polish republic with the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War (World War I) on November 11, 1918. After 123, the nation of Poland returned to the map, having been partitioned by greedy “neigbors” Austria, Russian, and Germany in the late 1700s. The opening words of the Polish National Anthem are a reminder, “Poland has not yet perished.”

But it’s also important to remember that Poland as a nation has existed for over 1000 years. At one time the largest and most powerful country of Europe, Poland has morphed and changed over time. Today once again, Poland is a powerhouse of sorts, a member of the EU, member of NATO, and the only european to not experience the recession of the last decade.

All of this is due to the intense nationalism and patriotism of Poles. Even though I was born in the USA–as were my parents–I am Polish to my very core. I’ve always known I’m Polish at heart and in my soul. My paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents all came to the USA at a time when Poland did not exist, yet they, too, were Polish and passed that national fervor onto me–and for that I am thankful.

So today, I celebrate with the nearly 40 million people of Poland, plus the 10’s of millions of Polonia dispersed across the world. Happy (re)Birthday, Poland. Sto lat, Polsko!

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Where it began, 01 Sept 1939

Westerplatte. That’s where the German/Nazi invasion of Poland–and the start of World War 2–began on September the 1st, 1939. I was there. No, not at the beginning of World War 2–I was at Westerplatte on September 1, 2010, joining with thousands of others to commemorate the place where World War 2 began. 

It was a very moving experience. The President of Poland was there, and many other dignitaries. Lots of people, young and old, made the journey for the service. It began promptly at 04:48 AM (yes, we were up early), the exact moment when the first shots were fired. It was a moving moment, and it still moves me today. You can read my original post on this experience here. And I posted some of the pictures I took here

It is worth remembering, so we never forget. The total casualties of World War 2 eventually tallied somewhere between 50,000,000 and 80,000,000, and amazing number. If we don’t remember history, we’re bound to repeat it. Unfortunately, there are many today who do not remember. Sad.

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Kotwica and the Warsaw Uprising

What is “kotwica?” It is the Polish word for “anchor,” but it has a lot more meaning in Polish history–the kotwica was a World War II emblem of the Polish Underground State and the Armia Krajowa (the Home Army, or AK). The kotwica as an emblem was created in 1942 as an easily identifiable emblem for the Polish struggle to regain independence after Poland’s conquest and division by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Continue reading

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Getting in touch with my Ruthenian/Ukrainian Roots

Yes, I have a great love of Poland. And yes, I consider myself Polish by nationality. But, I am also part Ruthenian/Ukrainian. And that is not so unusual. You see, Poland was a very welcoming and open country, and very heterogenic in years gone by. As a matter of fact, when my relatives came to the USA from the area that was at one time Poland, that area was only about 2/3 Polish, the rest was mostly Ruthenian/Ukrainian, Jewish, and Lithuanian. For many years, until the partitions of the late 18th century, it was the “Polish-Lithuanian Commonweath.”  Poland was very cosmopolitan and welcomed people of various races and creeds–there was no reformation in Poland, and in fact, it welcomed protestants and lived with them in harmony.

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Moja Miłość do Kolęd — My love of Polish Carols

One of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas is going to midnight Mass (after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner–Wigilia) and hearing the choir at my grandparent’s decidedly Polish Catholic Church in rural Thorp, Wisconsin  (St. Hedwig’s) singing Polish Christmas Carols–kolędy. I recall my amazement when they sang “Silent Night” with strange words:  “cicha noc, święta noc.…”  And I recall a few others that they sang, including the beautiful melody of Lulajeże Jezuniu–it sounds like a lullaby, which it is! And then there was the magnificent strains of Triumfy–even the names sounds like a trumpet call of magnificent proportions! And there were others as well, but those three I remember the most for their uniqueness and significance in my memory.

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Happy Birthday, Marie Skłdowska Curie

Today, November 7th, 2017, marks the 150th anniversary of one of the greats in the history of Physics and Chemistry, the birthday of Marie Skłodowska, born this day in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland (then a part of the Russian Empire during the partition of Poland).

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Time for a short history lesson. September 1939, Germany invades Poland and World War II breaks out. Poland’s allies do not honor their alliances, and weeks later, the Soviet Union splits Poland with Germany. Poland has been conquered. Or has it? Poland remained steadfast in its desire for Independence, and even though given up as a sacrificial lamb to Stalin and the Soviet Union after the “end” of the war, the war was not truly over for Poland–it raged on in some form until 1989. Finally, Poland was free again.

It’s a long story, but you can get the short story version of it by watching this short, 4-minute video: “Unconquered.”

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Sibiracy is the plural of the Polish word Sibirak. In general, it refers to Poles who were “resettled” to Siberia. But in the context of today, February 10, it refers to the one or more million Poles who were actively forced from their homes in what had been Poland by the Soviets, beginning in 1940 and continuing into 1941. In the middle of the night, Soviet soldiers rounded up Polish families, gave them a few minutes to gather their possessions (wahtever they could carry) and loaded whole families into packed cattle cars, taking them on a many weeks long journey to Siberia. Once in Siberia, they were herded into crude barracks and put into forced labor. Many died. After the war turned with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, there was a general amnesty given. Maybe 1/5 of the Poles ever made it out of Siberia, some walking a thousand or more miles. Many died on the way. The survivors who endured today are called Sibiracy.

I wrote more about this topic a few years ago here: It still boggles my mind. Over a million people, and so few returned. And even more puzzling, this is not taught in any history books I ever read in school. It’s a mostly forgotten story. But it’s certainly worth telling now, and honoring the memory of all those lives lost, youth stolen from children, families ripped apart, lost opportunities, just tragic, very tragic…..

Posted in history, History of Poland, Kresy | 1 Comment

To Fry, or Not to Fry…That is the Question!

My mother’s mother’s parents were both from a small village in what was then Galicia, later Poland between the World Wars, and is now Ukraine. My Great-Grandfather was Polish, and my Great-Grandmother was Ruthenian. Since my earliest childhood memories, had pierogi for Christmas Eve dinner every year, and they were always boiled. Yet today if you go to Poland or talk to many other Polish people, even here in the USA, they fry their pierogi before serving them. Why fried? It’s not what I grew up with in my very Polish household.

I guess a better question is, “Why not?”  In truth, I now prefer my pierogi fried, and I think it adds a layer of flavor to them. I always fry mine now. For Wigilia I serve them with sour cream and with fried onions. At other times of the year, I add chopped bacon to the onions. But the question has always puzzled me as to why my mother, her mother (my grandmother), and my mother’s mother (my great-grandmother), only boiled them, and never fried them. I believe the answer is in the regional nature of foods, how dishes, even such widely Slavic dishes like pierogi, change over various regions.

Today if you go to Ukraine, you will be served the Ukrainian version of pierogi, called varenyky. They are in general never fried, only boiled. [They also have a small cousin, pelmeni, which are very small, almost like tortellini, but also boiled only.] I think my great-grandmother simply cooked as the people in her region did, and that’s that they made these little dumplings of goodness (called pierogi in Polish and varenyky in Ukrainian) and boiled them and served them that way. It’s how it was done in that area of the Kresy, the borderlands of Poland. So, in Poland pierogi are usually boiled then fried, but in the eastern areas, varenyky are only boiled. Yet they are basically the same thing. Pierogi, varenyky, basically the same thing.

So, the end result? Well, do what you like with them, call them what you’re comfortable calling them (pierogi, varenyky — also called Pyrohy, Pedehey, or heaven on a plate).  Fry them or not, they are still wonderful. There is no right or wrong, there is only the enjoyment of these wonderful, delightful dumplings that are popular throughout the Slavic world with some variations. Smacznego!

Posted in culture, food, Kresy, My Polish Family | 5 Comments