Poland starts honoring war criminals of 1940s

Poster of the information campaign "2013 - year of the Cursed Soldiers". Some some structures of this military department (over ten) were poorly coordinated – outright criminals were in their ranks as well. 

History, More

Members of Polish Sejm are outraged: unlike Ukraine, rebels with blood of civilians on their hands aren’t glorified in Poland. The deputies mean the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which is responsible for killing Poles in Volyn. Indeed, in Poland, the soldiers that killed Ukrainians are barely commemorated. However, Warsaw has started creating a cult of war criminals which on top of fighting the communists were killing civilian Belarusians, Lithuanians, and Slovaks, Igor Isajev writes at texty.org.ua portal.

When politicians of the Polish ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) responded to the letter of Ukrainian intellectuals on the Volyn tragedy, they sententiously emphasized: “In Poland, we don’t honor the memory of people who have blood of civilians on their hands.” However, that’s not exactly the truth. Poland commemorates such people, and politicians of PiS do it with even more pomp than their predecessors.

“Cursed soldiers”

This term (żołnierze wyklęci) entered Polish parliamentary discourse at the beginning of the XXI century. In general, it stands for the Polish “forest brothers” which kept fighting the communists on the territory of Poland after the dismissal of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK) in January 1945. This resistance lasted until around the 1950s, though, unlike the AK,  some structures (over ten) were poorly coordinated – outright criminals were in their ranks as well.

From 2011 onwards, the 1st of March is a celebrated as a state holiday in Poland dedicated to the memory of warriors of the military anti-communist underground – it is the National Memory Day of the “cursed soldiers.” On this day in 1951, communists executed the death sentence against the leaders of one of the underground associations.

On the same day but in 1945, soldiers of the functioning AK department started massacring civilians in the Ukrainian village Pavlokoma – later this village became a symbol of martyrdom of Ukrainians in Poland. Here lays the danger of the cult of “cursed soldiers” – whilst for Central Poland they were fighters against communists, on its outskirts they became the embodiment of criminality.

Unfortunately, at that time the front of the struggle determined not only the political but also the national question. Here are a few examples of how Polish authorities honor heroes and criminals at the same time these days.

Zygmunt Szendzielarz — “Lupaszka”

This is the most well-known personality of the “cursed soldiers.” He was born in Stryi which is currently Ukrainian, but his activities were connected to the Vilnius region where structures of the Polish underground were strong.

Besides fighting against Soviet saboteurs, he was also known for crimes against Belarusians and Lithuanians. In 1944, his department killed Lithuanian defenders and civilians in the village of Dubingiai, not far from Vilnius.

In June 1948, “Lupaszka” was arrested by the members of Polish security service. Right after the arrest he was transported to Warsaw and imprisoned, where he stayed till February 1951. His remains were found a while ago.

This year, Polish authorities decided to rebury him at the highest level and give him the rank of colonel post mortem. On 22 April, a requiem was held in the Lodz Cathedral, in which Poland’s defense minister took part. “Taking leave of colonel Szendzielarz, we are saluting the independent Poland, which could’ve been gone by now,” the minister said during the ceremony.

Official ceremony commemorating Zygmunt Szendzielarz who, besides fighting Soviet saboteurs, killed civilians of the Lithuanian village. Photo: polskieradio.pl

Official ceremony commemorating Zygmunt Szendzielarz who, besides fighting Soviet saboteurs, killed civilians of the Lithuanian village. Photo: polskieradio.pl

On 24 April, a ceremony of reburial of Zygmunt Szendzielarz took place in Warsaw. President Andrzej Duda took part in it. “Today the dignity of proud Poland comes back… Poland that bows its head and pays tribute to its great son,” Duda said.

Speech of Andrzej Duda


Romuald Rajs — «Bury»

Another person connected to the Polish movement of resistance in outskirts of Vilnius, though this time he is accused by the Orthodox peoples of Podlasye. After actions in outskirts of Vilnius Bury moved to Podlasye, Hajnowka.

The department headed by Bury was responsible for the death of Orthodox civilians of the villages of Zaleshany, Koncovizna, Shpaky. In the village of Stari Puhaly Bury, he shot three dozens of Belarus village residents who refused to be listed as Catholics. The ones that agreed survived.

This year, on 27 February, local Polish nationalists organized the march of “cursed soldiers” in Hajnovka carrying the photo of Bury. They announced about honorary patronage of president Andrzej Duda. Information about it even appeared on the official web-site of the head of the state, though disappeared quickly after the media reaction.

“In connection with the messages in the media about alleged patronage of the Polish President over the 1st Hajnovka March of the ‘cursed soldiers’ we would like to announce that the president didn’t patronage these events,” the official statement of the Office of the President from 15 February stated.

Romuald Rajs killed three dozens of Belarusian civilians because they refused to convert from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. President Andrzej Duda was about to honor his memory. Photo: wyborcza.pl

Romuald Rajs killed three dozens of Belarusian civilians because they refused to convert from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. President Andrzej Duda was about to honor his memory. Photo: wyborcza.pl

Jozef Kuras – “Ogien”

He is one of the leaders of the anti-communist movement on Podhale in Southern Poland, where the Slovak community lives. According to the Union of Slovaks in Poland, he robbed and killed the local Slovak population. According to other sources, he shot over a dozen of local Jews.

Despite this, in 2006, the monument to Ogien in the town of Zakopane was personally opened by then-president of Poland Lech Kaczynski. “In order to restore memory, I decided to be here today… Ogien is a hero worthy of honor, though we also know that today his figure sparks controversies. Exactly this is the reason why I interrupted my vacation and came here,” he said then.

Ex-president of Poland Lech Kaczynski kneels before the monument to Jozef Kuras.

Ex-president of Poland Lech Kaczynski kneels before the monument to Jozef Kuras. Union of Slovaks in Poland believes that he killed and robbed civillian Slovaks. Photo: wp.pl

Mieczyslaw Pazderki “Szary”

On 6 June 1945, Mieczyslaw Pazderski’s department killed almost two hundreds of civilians in the Ukrainian village of Verkhovyny. Two days later, the outnumbered department was attacked by the Red Army; Szary himself died near the village of Huty. That was one of the biggest fights of the Polish anti-communist underground against the communists.

The Polish President awarded Mieczyslaw Pazderski with the Cross of National Military Rank and Partisan Cross… back in 1992. Celebrations take place in eastern Poland, but only local authorities participate.

The latter story is an exception. I talked to a couple of historians and representatives of Ukrainian minority in Poland: none of them recalled state officials honoring Polish soldiers that had killed Ukrainians.

This means that the words of Polish deputies about Poland not honoring people with the blood of civilians on their hands, unlike Ukraine (meaning the UPA), should be amended to add that it’s specifically Ukrainian civilians.


The criminal side of the heroes

Yet, on the territory of the former Polish-Ukrainian conflict, in particular in Przemysl, we can see many events dedicated to Bury and Ogien. Even though for a part of citizens they are undoubtebly heroes, many statements that these people are criminals exist in the public disourse in Poland.

Why does the criminal side of these people fade into the background? First of all, because in the Polish anti-communist underground there were no national-scale criminals, the way as the Ukrainian UPA leader Stepan Bandera is perceived as a great „black hero” for Warsaw.

Secondly, the memory of the “cursed soldiers” is important as a collective example of betrayal for the current Polish authorities. The Polish communists betrayed the “cursed soldiers” when they chased them. They were also betrayed by the Polish government in exile in London, which recommended them to lay down arms. “Betrayed” and “cursed” by everyone, they kept on fighting.

They fought for the “true Poland” – and as politicians of PiS suggest, their predecessors gave up on its ideals not only in the 1940s, but also in the 2010s.

That’s why the memory about these figures is also a part of Polish internal political debate. Not all Poles enjoyed events commemorating Lupaszka or Bury at the highest level. Public pressure, in particular from the PiS supporters, was most likely the reason that the President didn’t patron the events in Hajnowka.

Source: texty.org.ua

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  1. Avatar Nowhere Girl says:

    In this case I absolutely agree. In fact, Polish “cursed soldiers” are perhaps the closest Polish parallel to UPA. Both groups were also gone more or less at the same time – the last member of UPA who was killed in combat died in 1960, the last “cursed soldier” – in 1963. It is quite skocking by itself because, while everyone has a right not to accept what Poland and Ukraine have been turned into by communists, in early 60s circumstances were already completely different from wartime mentality. I can understand the UPA and the “cursed soldiers” to some extent, but I don’t believe that armed struggle was the best way to resist them. Also because there was no chance for a mass uprising against the communists and so small groups of fighters were able to do very little damage to the enemy. So it meant wasting power in vain – keeping people from fighting against the system in a more constructive way and not even being able to do more than assassinate a communist official every now and then.
    By the way, there was another criminal “cursed soldier” that shouldn’t be omitted here – Józef Zadzierski “Wolyniak”. It seems that he witnessed the Wolyn massacre and vowed revenge on Ukrainians. He and his men murdered over 100 Ukrainian civilians in the village of Piskorowice and it wasn’t the only such case. He was generally an unpleasant person, for example he supposedly beat someone up with a fence pale because that person called him a warlord.
    So generally, while I agree that the cult of Bandera can be very damaging to Polish-Ukrainian relations, the claim that “we don’t honor people who have blood on their hands” was the height of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, the current Polish authorities are much worse than their Ukrainian counterparts. The Ukrainian authorities are no Nazis, despite what Russian propaganda claims – they are completely within the political mainstream, they just give in to some ultranationalist sentiments (such as Bandera cult) for the sake of mobilization. And for the current Polish authorities the cult of “cursed soldiers” is a matter of principle because they just don’t accept a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Poland as society and the Polish communist authorities. They condemn the transformation of 1989 because it involved some compromise by the democratic opposition. (A telliing example is the way some famous words by Mazowiecki are taken out of their context. Mazowiecki spoke of a “thick line” marking off the past – PiS and proto-PiS politicians have quoted it as meaning that Mazowiecki promised impunity to communist criminals. But that is not what he said, “thick line” only meant that his government bears no responsibility for the state in which it overtook the country.) For them the way of resisting the communists chosen much earlier by the “cursed soldiers” was better and they don’t care about civilian casualties of this kind of struggle.
    The current Polish government is deeply anti-democratic (just think: why would a democratic and law-abiding government want to paralyze the Constitutional Court?), anti-Western, anti-European, homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-diversity. And because of this they may be verbally anti-Russian to a higher or lower extent – but the truth is that they remain Putin’s allies.

    1. Avatar laker48 says:

      What a fountain of totally unsubstantiated verbal diarrhoea about the current government of Poland, some valid points about the “cursed soldiers” notwithstanding. We’ll see tens if not hundreds of former Civic Platform (PO) government and party officials charged and brought to justice for their eight years long looting of the Polish economy and society.

      The chairman of the Constitutional Tribunal, prof. Andrzej Rzeplinski, would have been suspended as a judge and expelled by his colleagues from self-governing associations of judges in Canada, the US or the UK for his public comments in the media about the Tribunal’s rulings.

      Judges in those countries are forbidden to have any direct o phone conversations with anyone in the courthouses they work except for the courtrooms and chambers. They’re also prohibited from making any public or private comments about their rulings, and the only way they communicate them to the public are their oral and written rulings, judgements and reasons for those rulings and judgements.

  2. Avatar Rick says:

    Here we go again …

    The 1943 mass slaughter of Polish villagers in what was then German-occupied eastern Poland have left a lot of skeletons in the cupboard for those Ukrainian nationalists who blindly continue to venerate the memory of people like Bandera and Shukhevych.

    200 000 isn’t quite on the scale of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, but genocide it most certainly was. The Polish villagers (i.e. peasant farmers) posed no military threat and their only crime was that they were not ethnic Ukrainians.

    On the orders of the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalist UPA / OUN forces, Polish men, women, children, old people and babies all shared the same fate. Pregnant women’s babies were often ripped out of their bodies before they themselves were finished off. Any Ukrainians who dared to defend their Polish neighbours — and there were not a few of them — were also killed as traitors to the Ukrainian nationalist cause.

    The slaughter was as horrifying as it was methodical. No one was spared. Ukrainian men with Polish wives were ordered to kill them or face execution themselves. Worse still, many of the Polish villagers were brutally tortured and mutilated before they died. When the killing was over, it was time for the wives and children of the killers to come and help with the looting.

    There’s only too much evidence in the archives, including photographs of young children’s bodies strung up together on village fences as some sort of macabre trophy. The massacres were so appalling that even some members of the German army were moved to secretly provide Poles with arms so that they could defend themselves!

    Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this genocide was the fact that it was condoned by many members of the Uniate or “Greek Catholic” clergy, who actually held services to bless the perpetrators and their weapons before they set out to do their deeds. No doubt that explains why this church is still in denial about Bandera, who later in his life never expressed any sorrow for what he and his comrades-in-arms did.

    The sad truth is that even before World War II, Ukrainian nationalist leaders were stupid enough play the German card and side with Hitler. That explains why — before the war — they assassinated all Ukrainians or Poles who worked for Polish-Ukrainian understanding. They actually believed that the Germans would help them set up their own independent Ukrainian State!

    When Poland was divided up between Germany and Russia they continued to play the German card. And play the German card they did! Many Ukrainian nationalists became guards at Nazi death camps, going down in history as unparalleled sadists, while others took part in massacres of Poles and Jews, whose presence spoilt their dream of an ethnically pure Ukraine.

    Although we cannot forget that from the very first days of the German occupation the Ukrainian nationalist UPA / OUN forces actively supported Hitler’s efforts to ultimately exterminate all Polish Jews, their paramount goal was to cleanse the Ukraine of ethnic Poles, just as Hitler was “cleansing” Europe of Jews.

    I know it’s very painful and difficult for Ukrainians to accept that some of their national “heroes” — albeit inspired and at times abetted by the Nazi SS — organized the methodical extermination of non-Ukrainian civilians on a vast scale and saw that it was carried out with unheard-of ruthlessness and barbarian savagery.

    We all wish it hadn’t happened, but unfortunately it did — and no amount of semantic wriggling on the part of bogus historians and journalists can change the facts. The first step is for Ukrainians to realize that they’ve been brainwashed by the UPA / OUN propaganda machine.

    Recently a Ukrainian delegation to the Czech Republic was shocked to discover that the Czech president called Bandera a mass murderer and refused to have anything to do with them until they got their facts straight!

    The sooner Ukrainian politicians (and, even worse, members of the Uniate clergy) realize that glorifying those Ukrainians who took an active part in Nazi (i.e. German) -inspired genocide against Poles and Jews is a road that will get them nowhere, the better for the Ukraine and for Polish-Ukrainian relations, for the whole truth will come out in the end.

    Eventually the Ukrainians will realize that it’s in their own national interest to ditch bogus heroes like Bandera and Shukhevych, who are in the same category as German Nazi war criminals. What we’re talking about here is not tit-for-tat reprisal raids but terrorist genocide that was planned in cold blood — purely in order to rid the Ukraine of all “foreigners”.

    Like Khmelnytsky, Bandera and his pals were stupid enough to sell Ukrainians into slavery and ignominy. As one Ukrainian once put it on Radio Free Europe: “We Ukrainians, like the Poles, are in dire need of a book entitled ‘The History of Stupidity in Our Country’.”

    Rather than erect monuments to mass murders such as Bandera, Ukrainians should be erecting monuments to Petlura, who was Poland’s ally in the Polish-Soviet war.

    By clumsily attempting to doctor the historical truth, Ukrainian “historians” and journalists are doing a great disservice to the Ukrainian nation and are merely playing into the hands of Russia and Germany, neither of which want a strong Ukraine or a strong Poland. Indeed, what they fear most is a new European Union of Central and Eastern European states on the lines of the old Polish Republic. No one is more aware of this and no one fears this “danger” more than Vladimir Putin.

    How are Ukrainian teenagers going to feel when they eventually learn what their so-called national heroes really did? Fortunately at least one impartial Ukrainian historian — Viktor Polishchuk / Poliszczuk — has steadfastly refused to fall in line with the Ukrainian Canadian UPA propaganda machine and has left them an account of what really happened.

    1. Avatar Alex George says:

      Since very few people “blindly” believe anything of the sort, the foundation of your post is flawed.

      Yes this was a terrible massacre. It wasn’t the only one. There were others also by Ukrainians and by Poles as well. But it wasn’t just Poles and Ukrainians involved in massacres – other nationalities were also involved, including Germans and Russians.

      The question is what to do about it now – some people (particularly those influenced by the Kremlin or its western neo-fascist allies) only want to use these tragic events to foment current hatred and division. Others want to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again.

    2. Avatar laker48 says:

      You’re absolutely right. I’ve heard hundreds of those horror stories directly from the survivors of the Volhynia genocide, my late parents saved by their Ukrainian friends and neighbours included. Bandera lovers won’t be able to jam that truth.

      The Polish Home Army was 10 to 15 times more numerous than all the three factions of the UPA combined, not to mention that it was much better trained, organised, coordinated and armed. If they only wanted, they would have wiped out without a trace all OUN/UPA armed groups. The first Home Army (AK) attacks on the UPA ad its supporters took place at the end of 1943, months after the main wave of the Ukrainian genocide of Poles i western Ukraine in July and August 1943.