Warsaw, Poland on Sunday, April 11, 2010: Today, at 12:00 p.m. local time the whole country was in standstill for two minutes in a national mourning (to last one week), following a tragic presidential plane crash near Smolensk in Russia that had occurred on Saturday morning. The dead body of President of Poland Lech Kaczynski (60), landed in Warsaw this afternoon, after a farewell military ceremony held at Smolensk airfield, with participation of Vladimir Putin and Polish officials. After a due military ceremony, President Kaczynski’s body will be exposed at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, awaiting a burial.
“Crowds of people gathered in front of the Palace, placing there a veritable sea of candles and flower memorials” (PMN, Chicago) and also photos of the Presidential Couple (Lech and Maria Kaczynski) and of other victims. People stayed there until late at night on Saturday, and returned en masse on early Sunday morning. On Saturday, several requiem ceremonies were held, i.a. at Wawel Castle Cathedral in Cracow and at St.John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, to be continued on Sunday all over Poland.
The whole political life of the country will change, at least for the next 2.5 months, until the hastened presidential election, to be held probably in June 2010. According to the Constitution, until then, the Parliament Speaker, Mr. Bronislaw Komorowski, will be Acting President. His first decision was to declare “a time of national mourning” lasting one week. Similar decisions were taken by the heads of state of Russia (a mourning day, April 12), Lithuania (3 days) and Brazil (3 days of mourning, to honor the country’s large community of Polish origin). Never before such a massive (96 victims) catastrophe of any president’s plane have occurred in the whole world. On their way to commemorate the tragic deaths of over 20 thousand of Polish officers, state officials and intellectuals at Katyn Forest near Smolensk in Russia, committed by Stalin’s order in April 1940, President Lech Kaczynski, members of the official delegation and many invited guests perished in a crash of the presidential TU-154M jet, not far from the Katyn Forest Memorial Cemetery. Former President Lech Walesa commented on Saturday: “and now, just as Katyn decapitated Poland’s military elite, the crash has decapitated its contemporary leadership in many fields.”
The haunting memories of the Soviet mass murder of Poles at Katyn and other locations linger on for the last 70 years and heavily influence Poland’s history. As Russian Prime Minister (and former President), Vladimir Putin, remarked during a joint ceremony held at Katyn Memorial Cemetery (Polish and Russian) on April 7, 2010: “It is my personal opinion that Stalin felt personally responsible for this tragedy, and carried out the executions (of Poles in 1940) out of a sense of revenge,” referring to the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who ordered the atrocity as revenge for the death of Red Army soldiers in Polish prisoner of war camps in 1920. Putin said 32,000 troops under Stalin’s command had died of hunger and disease in the Polish camps.
The Battle of Warsaw in August 1920, one of the 17 most important world’s battles, was won by the Polish Army led by the Poland’s leader Jozef Pilsudski largely because of Stalin’s order to divert Red Army’s reserve troops to the South, in an attempt to cause “people’s revolutions” in Western Europe. Stalin believed Russia had enough troops to crush Poland and to march through our country to conquer Germany and other European states. He was deeply disappointed when the Army of just revived free Poland stopped the Red Army’s invasion of Europe and totally defeated the communists.
After 3 April 1940, at least 22,436 Polish POWs and prisoners were executed: 15,131 POWs (most or all of them from three camps) and at least 7,305 prisoners in western parts of Belarus and Ukraine. Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors; 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots. In all, the NKVD executed almost half the Polish officer corps. Altogether, during the massacre the NKVD murdered 14 Polish generals (Wikipedia).
In 1942, Polish railroad workers found a mass grave at Katyn, and reported it to the Polish Secret State; the news was ignored, as people refused to believe the mass graves contained so many dead. The fate of the missing prisoners remained unknown until April 1943 when the German Wehrmacht soldiers under Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff discovered the mass grave of 4,243 Polish military reserve officers in the forest on Goat Hill near Katyn. Joseph Goebbels saw this discovery as an excellent tool to drive a wedge between Poland, Western Allies, and the Soviet Union (Wikipedia).
Germans also used other channels to spread the news about Katyn mass murder to the Western Allies. A friend of mine, Dr. Gary K. Busch, an American scholar and businessman residing in London, e-mailed to me this information on April 8, 2010:
“In early 1944 my friend and mentor, Guy Nunn, was stuck in the German prisoner-of-war camp at Coldlitz. This was his third prisoner-of war camp, having escaped two earlier camps.He was the ranking OSS officer in the camp, having been recently captured in Hungary trying to subvert Admiral Horthy on behalf of Alan Dulles.
He was surprised to be summoned to the camp commandant’s office where he found himself talking to two high-ranking SS officers. They offered him a deal. If he would go with them from Coldlitz to a place in Poland and report on exactly what he saw there they would repatriate him immediately to the US. They wanted him to be a neutral observer and to report accurately, without any constraints, of what he witnessed. Guy was very wary of this proposal but agreed to send Arthur C., Guy’s OSS number two who was arrested with him. That being agreed, the Germans took him and fifteen other professional intelligence officers currently in their custody in various prisoner-of war camps, to the Katyn Forest where they witnessed the exhumation of the Polish officers’ mass burial. They were given free run of the exhumation and the evidence found which clearly showed that the killings had been done by the Russians. Having witnessed this the prisoners were set free and repatriated to their home countries where they reported exactly what they had witnessed at Katyn.
The Allies were fully aware that the Russians had committed the massacre of the Poles.
Guy stayed on in Coldlitz until its liberation. In fact he took the flag of surrender down the hill to meet the on-coming US liberators of the camp. It was felt that this would be safer to send an American down to greet them, despite the overwhelming numbers of British at Coldlitz. Guy said he wished he had gone to Katyn but he thought it might be a trick.”
The news of Katyn and other mass murders of Poles on Soviet-occupied territory of pre-war Poland reached the then Polish Government-in-Exile in London through many channels. The secret truth of Katyn prompted the Soviets to break the diplomatic relations with the legal Polish government in London and to prepare their own communist-controlled political solution for Poland, still during the war. When the then Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army in the West, and Prime Minister of the Government-in-Exile, General Wladyslaw Sikorski attempted to obtain proof of the Soviet mass murders and wanted to officially inform the governments of Great Britain and the United States about these atrocities, his plane was crashed in Gibraltar on July 4, 1943 and he was proclaimed to have died in the accident. Some Polish and foreign historians question the “Gibraltar Catastrophe” and prove that it was a cold-blood murder of the Polish Prime-Minister, performed by his Polish political enemies under the guidance of the British Secret Service. One of these historians and film documentary authors, Dr. Dariusz Baliszewski, devoted the last 15 years to prove this theory. The remains of General W. Sikorski were returned to Poland and were exhumated again in 2009, to confirm his identity. But his death still remains one of the greatest mysteries of Poland’s and the European history. General Sikorski’s elimination ended the hopes for re-establishment of free Poland after 2d World War and was often named “decapitation” of the leadership of our country. But one year later, in August to October 1944, Stalin’s decision not to help the Warsaw Uprising led to the extermination of the best soldiers of the then secret Polish Home Army (AK) and to full destruction of Warsaw by German troops and the death of about 200 thousand of its inhabitants. After Katyn and General Sikorski’s tragic death, this was the last act of “decapitation” of Poland’s political, military and intellectual elites during the war. Then followed the brutal communist repressions after the end of WWII, extended in time until Stalin’s death in 1953.
The truth of Katyn and of other mass murders of Poles by Soviets was banned from the post-war history of Poland for several decades, until the regime change in 1989. Only in 1989 Soviet scholars revealed that Joseph Stalin had indeed ordered the massacre, and in 1990 President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that the NKVD had executed the Poles and confirmed two other burial sites similar to the site at Katyn: Mednoye and Piatykhatky. On 30 October 1989, Gorbachev allowed a delegation of several hundred Poles, organized by a Polish association named Families of Katyn Victims, to visit the Katyn Memorial. This group included former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. After Poles and Americans discovered further evidence in 1991 and 1992, the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin released the top-secret documents from the sealed “Package №1.” and transferred them to the new Polish president Lech Wałęsa.
But not all of the hidden truth was revealed until now. Though former Russian President Boris Yeltsin told Lech Walesa “Pardon us, if you can”, no official apology for the Katyn and other mass murders of Poles by the Soviets was uttered by Russian authorities, including the President and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the actual President – Dmitry Medvedev. The Polish-Russian last joint ceremony at the Katyn Memorial Cemetery, to where Vladimir Putin invited his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk, held on April 7, 2010, was a big leap forward to acknowledge the Katyn truth. But no legal action followed so far. The investigation of the mass murders by Soviets by the Polish Institute of National Memory is very difficult and meets many obstacles from the Russian side. In Russia, there are still many influential groups claiming – against all evidence – that the Katyn murders have been committed by Germans.
The intention of the late President Lech Kaczynski, who insisted to visit Katyn Memorial Cemetery himself on April 10,2010, was to demand a more clear and univocal apology from the Russian authorities and to prompt the legal procedures. Yet, on that day, President Kaczynski met his own fate, and he and 95 other victims, including many prominent Polish political and military people were killed in an unexpected crash of the presidential plane, a Soviet-built TU-154M, before the airfield of their destination near Smolensk.
As Lech Walesa said, it was – once more – a “decapitation” of Poland, though not intended by the Russians this time. A former US Ambassador to Poland (1997-2000), now a high-ranking State Department official, Mr. Daniel Fried, exclaimed hearing the tragic news about the crash: “Oh, Katyn again, the damned.”
While Poland is mourning her dead leaders, the President in the first place, an investigation has been started to find out the cause(s) of the sudden plane crash, claiming 96 victims. With no intention to blame anybody for the accident, one can say that the Russians, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, were extremely helpful and sympathetic, personally appealing to the Polish people and organizing all sorts of help to the Polish government officials, the military, the prosecutors and the families of the victims. There is no sign of any Russian “conspiracy” or even intention to “decapitate” Poland’s leaders again, in spite of divergent views on history, Katyn and many other controversial issues, past and present.
The late President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, was often very critical of the present authoritarian Russian regime and personally he had engaged himself in the Russian-Georgian conflict, on the site of Georgia (last Saturday, President Saakashvili proclaimed him “A hero of Georgia”). But that never blocked President Kaczynski’s possibility to visit Russia and to engage in political talks with Russian leaders. President Kaczynski planned his visit to Moscow, on the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, on May 9, 2010. He also offered a seat in his “Air Force 101” Tu-154M plane to General Wojciech Jaruzelski (86), who had been invited to these celebrations by the Russian top leadership as a former combatant of the 2d World War.
At the first glimpse, not supported by detailed findings of the current Polish-Russian investigation of the April 10 accident, it seems that the Polish delegation flying to Smolensk for Katyn ceremonies, was in a hurry to attend the solemnities and to join over 400 other guests, who went to Katyn by a special train earlier. The technical condition of the presidential plane, 20 years old but overhauled and modernized in December 2009 in Samara aircraft repair plant was very good, and that aircraft was granted an extension of its flying life to more 5 years and 7500 flight hours. It has flown only 138 hours since the last overhaul and flight certificate.
Three possible causes of the crash are being examined now:
(1) bad weather (thick fog) at the Severnyi airfield,
(2) human errors (of Polish pilots and Russian air traffic control on the ground),
(3) technical defect of the plane.
To me, the first two causes seem the most probable. The Polish crew was warned of bad weather conditions in Smolensk still before the plane’s departure from Warsaw (at about 07:30 a.m. local time), then, when the presidential TU-154M flew over Severnyi military-civilian airfield near Smolensk (about 09:00 a.m. Polish time, and before 11:00 a.m. local Russian time), the fog was still dense and the visibility was no more than some 1500 feet. The Russian air traffic control de-turned a Russian transport plane IL.76 to Minsk, just an hour before. The controllers did not advise the Polish crew to attempt landing at bad weather conditions. But the Poles insisted to land and the plane came down too low, cut some tree tops in the forest and crashed against the ground 0.93 mile from the airstrip. The captain of the presidential aircraft, Mr. Arkadiusz Protasiuk, was considered one of the most experienced and stress-resistant pilots of the Special Air Force Regiment serving the Polish President, the Government and the Military. The Severnyi airport is primitive and has no ILS (Instrument Landing System). It has only radio-lanterns for plane guiding. To attempt a landing there in bad weather was a great risk. A mission control operator told Reuters anonymously: “The pilot was advised to fly to Moscow or Minsk because of heavy fog, but he still decided to land. No one should have been landing in that fog.” (Wikipedia)
The Polish pilots died in the accident. Maybe the investigation will discover why they wanted to land, after all. A similar accident occurred at Mieroslawiec military airfield in Poland on January 23, 2008, where a Polish CASA military plane hit the ground, killing instantly over 20 senior Air Force officers. That airfield had no ILS installed as well.
The most tragic result of the Smolensk crash is the death of 96 persons aboard, including two Presidents of Poland (Kaczynski (60) and Kaczorowski (74), the later being an Ex-President in Exile), 10 top Polish generals, including the chief of the Army General Staff and the commanders of the Land, Navy, Air Force and Special Forces, deputy Speakers of the Parliament, the President of the National Bank of Poland, many MPs, lawmakers, high officials of the Presidential Office, a Deputy Foreign Minister and also bishops and priests, social leaders, government ministers and guests, including the famous heroine of Solidarity, Mrs. Anna Walentynowicz.
Let their souls rest in peace! But the Polish politicians and the government officials should never again allow to fly so many prominent country leaders in one plane, even a presidential one. This is the biggest error ever made by the Polish decision-makers.
Note about the author: David Marius Dastych (68) is a veteran international journalist and a former covert intelligence agent (1973-1987 in the CIA), jailed in communist Poland for his anti-Soviet activity. He is a handicapped person since a mountain accident in France in 1994 but still professionally active, presently the owner and manager of Davids Media Agency in Warsaw. He is a columnist for Canada Free Press.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
David Dastych passed away Sept.11, 2010.
David was a former Polish intelligence operative, who served in the 1960s-1980s and was a double agent for the CIA from 1973 until his arrest in 1987 by then-communist Poland on charges of espionage. Dastych was released from prison in 1990 after the fall of communism and in the years since has voluntarily helped Western intelligence services with tracking the nuclear proliferation black market in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. After a serious injury in 1994 confined him to a wheelchair, Dastych began a second career as an investigative journalist covering terrorism, intelligence and organized crime.
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