Poland’s President and Wife Among Dead as Plane Crashes in Russia

33

polish-presidentThe plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski today gutted a nation’s leadership and silenced some of the most potent human symbols of its tragic and tumultuous history.It was, literally, a nation colliding with its past: The aircraft ran aground on a patch of earth that has symbolized the Soviet-era repressions that shaped much of the 20th century, near the remote Russian forest glade called Katyn where thousands of Polish prisoners of war were killed and dumped in unmarked graves by Soviet secret police in 1940.

The toll cut a swath through Poland’s elite. The 97 dead also included the army chief of staff, the head of the National Security Office, the national bank president, the deputy foreign minister, the deputy parliament speaker, the civil rights commissioner and other members of parliament.

But also aboard the plane were war veterans and surviving family members of Poles killed by the Soviets. There was 90-year-old Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last “president-in-exile” during the Soviet years. And Anna Walentynowicz, the shipyard worker whose dismissal in 1980 sparked the Solidarity union protests that eventually led to the collapse of Polish communism.

And of course, Kaczynski himself, a former Warsaw mayor previously imprisoned for his opposition to communism.

“The contemporary world has not seen such a tragedy,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who called for two minutes of silence at noon Sunday. In Warsaw, people laid flowers and lighted candles outside the presidential palace.

Flying on a 26-year-old, Soviet-designed plane, these major Polish figures were headed for a Roman Catholic Mass to honor the 70th anniversary of the deaths at Katyn. It was to be a tribute to long-smothered truth.

The massacre was denied for decades by the Soviet Union, and even today, Russian reluctance to open the investigation files on the Polish prisoners remains a deeply sensitive topic between Moscow and Warsaw. To many Poles, the very name Katyn is shorthand for decades of secret grief and impotence in the face of Soviet power.

“I just have this feeling that Katyn is a sort of diabolical place in Polish history,” said Tomasz Lis, a prominent Polish journalist and author. “It’s just unimaginable; it’s horrible.”

As the news spread, a shiver of repulsion ran through a shocked Poland.

“This is unbelievable — this tragic, cursed Katyn,” Kaczynski’s predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said on Polish television. “It’s hard to believe. You get chills down your spine.”

The tragic irony of the crash was so complete that it seemed destined for conspiracy theory. Russian officials were careful to pledge in the earliest hours to closely involve Poland in the investigation. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, rushing to the scene of the crash, announced that he would personally head the inquiry.

Poland was invaded by the Soviet Union during World War II, and lived for decades under Moscow’s domination. Long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, ties with Russia remain strained by old anxieties over independence.

As the presidential plane winged toward the western Russian city of Smolensk on Saturday morning, thick cords of fog wrapped the city. On the ground, air traffic controllers urged the crew to land either in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, or in Moscow rather than risk navigating the fog, Russian officials said.

But time was pressing. The crew decided to risk the landing, and ignored the instructions from the air traffic controllers, the Russian air force said.

“The Polish presidential plane did not make it to the runway while landing,” Smolensk region Gov. Sergei Antufyev told reporters. “Tentative findings indicate that it hit the treetops and fell apart. Nobody has survived the disaster.”

On the ground, about 1,000 people, many of them Poles, were milling around the memorial site. A Polish priest was to say Mass once the presidential delegation arrived.

“We were getting ready for the Mass and everybody was expecting the president to arrive any minute,” said Yan Rachinsky of Russia’s Memorial human rights group. “Suddenly people started talking quietly about something. There were many concerned faces. . . . Soon people started running around and talking to each other. Everybody was wondering what was going on. It was an atmosphere of tension.”

The priest led a prayer. Then the Polish ambassador stepped up to break the news. The presidential plane had crashed, he told the crowd. There were no survivors.

“It was a moment of complete shock,” Rachinsky said. “We were standing there speechless. We couldn’t believe it.”

Tears wetting nearly every face, Rachinsky said, the group went ahead with the Mass.

By late afternoon, 97 bodies were being packed into coffins and flown to Moscow for identification. The flight recorders had been found, and investigators were studying them for clues.

In an address shortly after the crash, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was careful to emphasize recent improvements in relations between Russia and Poland.

“These days we conducted memorial events in Katyn together grieving over the victims of totalitarian times,” Medvedev said. “All Russians share your grief and mourning.”

This week, Tusk, the Polish prime minister, had traveled to Katyn to mark the massacre. In what was regarded as a turning point in the often frosty relations between Moscow and Warsaw, Putin also attended the ceremony.

Kaczynski, a frequent and outspoken critic of the Kremlin, was not invited to that ceremony.

Unlike Tusk’s visit, which was given prominent coverage in Russian media, Kaczynski’s plans to attend Saturday’s commemoration were all but unmentioned. A few weeks ago, the Russian Foreign Ministry publicly griped that Kaczynski had not sent official word of his planned visit. The ministry had heard of his intentions from press reports, officials said.

The crash throws Polish politics into uncertainty. Kaczynski was to run for reelection in October; a government spokesman said Saturday night that Poland would hold an early presidential election, but no date was set.

The leading left-wing candidate, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, was aboard the plane. And Polish law calls for another of the candidates, speaker of the lower chamber of parliament Bronislaw Komorowksi, to take over as head of state after the president’s death.

Kaczynski, 60, was elected to the presidency in 2005. He and his twin brother, Jaroslaw, were Soviet-era child actors who grew up to cut a prominent path through Polish politics. Kaczynski rose from the ranks of the Solidarity trade union before falling out bitterly with the group’s leader, Lech Walesa, who went on to become Poland’s first post-Soviet president.

In 2006 and 2007, the early years of Kaczynski’s presidency, his twin served as prime minister.

The circumstances of Kaczynski’s death carry a particular irony because of his long-standing interest in shedding light on some of the more painful moments of Poland’s past. As mayor of Warsaw, he championed the construction of the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, a tribute to the crushed resistance to the Nazis in 1944.

During his presidency too, Kaczynski frequently hearkened back to the heroic days of Solidarity’s struggle against communism.

“Poland needs to reconsider its mistakes,” he said in 2005. “But more than that, it needs a consensus based on truth.”

{LA Times/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}

33 COMMENTS

  1. Every one of these people are benie resha’im gemurim, and the Aibishter is paying them back. Yemach shemom vezichrom. My father ZTL used to say the Poles were just as bad as the Germans, if not worse!

  2. 1 and 2: This particular president was a great friend to us. Also, many of the people on this flight were responsible for bringing down Polish communism- an event that was actually quite HELPFUL to yidden. 25 years ago this would not have been a tragedy, but today it is. Not to mention, the country will have to hold new elections now for the president as well as a significant portion of Parliament, and for all you know, they might end up electing ACTUAL anti-semites, and we’ll be very sorry that this plane crash happened.

  3. Number 6 yes they were supposed to go with the president according to kol mevasser news line. If I may post it here the number 212 444 1100

  4. My family comes from Poland, B”H they came out in time. But read the earlier article from the Chabad rabbi, about how the president was a friend. Let’s be a bit more circumspect in our public comments.

  5. To few of the first post writers.
    Nations contain two basic categories, people and cattle. You appear to be part of the second category. I almost have no doubt that you would sell you fellow human being for kilo of sugar.

  6. And more cattle.
    And let me tell you, as a cattle you can not be Jewish nor stand for anything Jewish. What is different between the Avrohom, Bubie, “a true jew” or Ohio Guy and Polish anti Semites? I see no.

  7. Matys is the guy who would push the Polish Jews into the cattle cars then shipped them to Aushwitz. He is the great “defender of the Polish people” against the “Jewish usurpers of Polish land.”

  8. Excuse me Mattis,
    Avrohom,Bubie,a true jew, or Ohio Guy and their grandparents did not, nor would not kill Polish people.
    Do you really not see any difference between them and the Polish ant-Semites who killed thousands of kedoshim not only during the Holocaust, but during the hundreds of years the Jews lived in Poland with their constant programs and murders of innocent Jews?
    Shame on you. By not understanding the Jews natural aversion to the anti-Semitic Poles and calling them cattle, I think you would make a great Kapo.
    Mr. Kaczynsky was a freind of the Jews, however Jews not living in Poland wouldn’t necassarily be familiar with him.

  9. Oheiv yisroel, ???? ?? ???. Some comments here are worthy of a Jewish Sturmer. Matys, you owe the cattle an apology for likening them to these commenters. Behaimos are only stupid, not mean. Chayos would be a better analogy.

  10. Mandy: Either your with the Jews or your against us. Taking the side of Jew killers against your innocent brethren who are their victims, is disgraceful.

  11. Matys —

    Calling us Jews “cattle” is a symptom of your self-hatred. I strongly advise you to reconsider your wayward ways, before it is too late for you.

  12. This thread is a chilul hashem b’rabim… Ostensibly frum Jews rejoicing in the deaths of people who have done them no harm… Feh.

  13. Excuse me Mattis,
    Avrohom,Bubie,a true jew, or Ohio Guy and their grandparents did not, nor would not kill Polish people.

    I didn’t say their parents killed anyone neither you have information that parents of deceased did kill anyone.

    Do you really not see any difference between them and the Polish ant-Semites who killed thousands of kedoshim not only during the Holocaust, but during the hundreds of years the Jews lived in Poland with their constant programs and murders of innocent Jews?

    From their attitude I may suspect that they may not kill but be very happy for other peoples death. Like polish anti-Semites who were not necessarily involved in killing but were just happy to have Jews killed. And yes there were these polkas that killed Kedoshim of Yisruel.

    Shame on you.

    Shame on you for defending this cattle.

    By not understanding the Jews natural aversion to the anti-Semitic Poles and calling them cattle, I think you would make a great Kapo.
    Last time when I cheked, Chazal was teaching about different natural midos of Holy Nation than “natural aversion” for anybody. Rachamim, Tznius and so on. Do you remember?

    Mr. Kaczynsky was a freind of the Jews, however Jews not living in Poland wouldn’t necassarily be familiar with him.

    Actually I remember Mr. Kaczynski as not big lover of the Jews. Only recently he changed his attitude. Why you giving him Zchus of being Jewish friend and not for the rest of the 95 people on the plane?
    Bottom line. what I ask for is a basic human decency and you trying to … ???

  14. Stop arguing. It’s plain an poshut. Some people have no musag of what happened to our own people during the war. These people did not live with a survivor in the same house, did not hear the screams during their sleep, did not witness or nor do they fathom the the tears at Yizkor, and the hollow sad look in the eyes of those who lost EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. These people will never understand. They are not survivors of Gehonim, and they are not children of survivors.
    So, again I repeat, Yes, Yesh din v’yesh dayan. Friend aheen, friend aher: Eysov soneh es Yaakov. Period. End story. May they all get what they deserve. These passengers might have been little children at the time, but their parents were beasts!!! And yes, HKBH is paying them back. You know why? Because the Aibishter never forgets.

  15. And no, I am NOT rejoicing at their deaths. A true Yid NEVER “rejoices” at death. I am simply stating my firm belief that HKBH is paying them back.

  16. “You must first be a complete ordinary man if you want to be a Jew. To be a Jew, presupposes that nothing of the purely human qualities is lacking in you. You are a long way off from being a Jew if you have only qualities which Avraham had developed up till now. To be as kind, benevolent, humane, forgiving, unselfish, ungrasping, as Avraham has shown himself hitherto is no more than the ideal of every man, every Noachides should be.” Rav Shimshon Rephoel Hirsch – parshas Lech Lechu 17:1

  17. Maty’s you sound like a real confused rambler who doesn’t know right from left.
    Jews are rightfully allowed to be angry at Polish anti-Semites for all the murders and programs throughout the Poles’ bloody history towards the Jews and their collaborating with the Nazis.
    You are not more rightous than G-d who promises revenge on all those who persecuted the Jews. Yes, misfortune will come to the evil nations whos hands are bloodied with the innocent blood of the Jews.
    You’re sense of humanity is misplaced when you feel compasion towards the enemies of our people.
    Mr. Kaczinsky, though was a good freind of the Jews. I remember reading about it quite a while ago. I don’t think he died as a punishment from G-d for the sins of his people. We do not know Hashem’s cheshbonos.

  18. “I don’t think he died as a punishment from G-d for the sins of his people. We do not know Hashem’s cheshbonos.”
    Exactly!

  19. Matys, you’re right. I wish these super-efficient and all-knowing secretaries of H’ could tell me why I deserve my own pekl tzuris.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here