- October 5, 2012
Experience of a Scout. The Katyn Rally / Part One
“I love Poland, you should love it too” is the slogan which best describes the purpose of the International Motorcycle Katyn Rally, which began on September 1 at Piłsudskiego Square by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, in order to follow the 7,300 km-long historical route of the Polish soldiers.
On the way from the Grave
This year the rally was of special importance to the Lady of the Gate of Dawn scout troop, because they could not only play host to the motorcyclists in the Vilnius region in the eastern borderlands, but also take part and accompany them in the places where Poles were killed, orphanages and during meetings with Polish people living in Belarus and Russia.
We arrived to the Polish capital on September31 inorder to pray together in theTempleofDivine Providence, where the patron of the International Motorcycle Katyn Rally Zdzisław Peszkowski was buried, together with other distiguished Polish people.
On the following day, the 73rd anniversary of World War II, a column of almost 100 motorcycles, including not only rally drivers going to Katyn, but also participans of the 1st “We remember Paneriai”, we, the scouts together with history lovers and patriotism supporters, we went on a special pilgrimage in order to follow the steps of Polish people murdered in the East. An important place, where we began our journey, was Hajnówka, the birthplace of Danuta “Inka” Siedzikówna – a soldier of the “cursed” Polish army. Many young people do not know the whole story, the real, undistorted story of the people who were murdered only because they were defending the motherland, and were later betrayed.
The Rally in theVilniusregion
On the 100th anniversary of establishment of the Polish scout organization in the Vilnius region in 1912, the scouts had the privilege to take part in the beautiful initiative of the Katyn Rally, because the6,500 kmroute we covered in three weeks, taught us more about the history we had not known, we visited places where Polish people died, not spoken about or simply unknown. There is a lot of such places in theVilniusregion, mostly remembered by few, especially people that still remember the masscares or history lovers. Scoutmaster Fr Dariusz Stańczyk has always been using different methods to educate theVilniusregion youth, but the most important element has always been history. For many years he has been taking us to various places of heroic fights of the Polish people, such as during the November Uprising or the January Uprising, to Paneriai and other places where the defenders of the motherland were buried. We have known that this year Fr Dariusz Stańczyk would guide the participants of the 12th Katyn Rally through such places in theVilniusregion for the fourth time. The itinerary was rich and interesting.
The first important event in the itinerary was a holy mass in Paneriai nearVilnius, where 70 years ago the Nazi Germans, joined by Lithuanians collaborating with Nazi Germany, killed more than 100,000 Polish citizens, most of Jewish nationality, but also teachers and students from the nearby schools, scouts and other important people. Paneriai, called the Calvary of Vilnius, is a place of terrible history that was hidden for many years.
After the mass we went to the place of accomodation, that is the John Paul II, where we were welcomed by headmistress Janina Wysocka joined by the scouts. During the supper prepared by the girl scouts and Grzegorz, the chef of the rally, we had an opporunity to talk with each other, since we were waiting for a year for the trip.
Our stay in theVilniusregion was organized by Fr Stańczyk in such a way, that everybody who had not even been in the borderlands before had an opportunity to experience the charm of the area, visit the graves of the Poles killed in action or murdered, meet the local residents. The itinerary was rich, because we had an opportunity to visit the grave of prelate Obrębski, a great Polish person, and meet the local youth and officials in Maišiagala, to whom we donated a lot of gifts. A further item of the itinerary was the old manor house of Marshal Józef Piłsudski in Pikeliškes, after which we went to the school in Paberžes, where, after the school year initial assembly we were greeted with a song and delicious apples.
The meeting was well organized, smiles and good mood were present. Having enjoyed the delicious snack and tea we were to head to the graves of the Polish legionaries from 1920 located in Švenčionys, where a wreath was laid and the Polish anthem sung. We were visiting places that are symbols of Polishness and our history. The participants of the rally always go to Zalavas, where Józef Piłsudski was born. In the area where his manor house used to be, there is a giant oak tree.
Having laid a wreath and sung Polish patriotic songs and the national anthem we headed to the Gate of Dawn inVilniusto pray for a safe return. A touching event was a visit to the Antakalnis cemetary, where the legionaries from 1920, and the Rasos cemetary, where a mausoleum of Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s heart and of his mother is located.
The following day, before leaving forBelarus, the Katyn Rally for the first time visited the grave of painter Honorary Scoutmaster Anna Krepsztul, met her sister Danuta and the mayor of theVilniusregion Z. Palewicz. The participants were impressed by the exhibition and the paintings the painter was creating during her illness. It was worth to come by and end our stay in theVilniusregion, organized by Fr Dariusz.
Joined by the Polish consul fromLithuaniawe traveled through Medininkai towardsBelarus. The columnn of motorcycles and buses crossed the border and headed to Astravyets. Many of us were toBelarusfor the first time. Our impression was that the borderlands were the same everywhere, but visiting town by town and village by village we were discovering that they are totally diverse, not only regarding the style of architecture, but also the people, their language and their thinking is different too. In the borderlands the only people that are the same all the way long are the Polish people, of rich history, tradition, language and customs unharmed by time or repressive measures. Patriotism, worship and love towards history is rooted to such an extent that that the men, listening to stories about old times, Polishness, longing, war casaulties would say that it was the real Poland, in the borderlands.
Through Lida and Surkanty, a sight where the Home Army fought the Soviet Army, andGrodno, where legionaries’ graves are, we arrived at a Polish school in Vawkavysk. A meeting with the local Polish people boosted their morale, because we learned, that people who devote their life to promoting Polishness and patriotism are persecuted, and they are forbidden to go toPoland, only because they do not want to join any influential circles. It is said that there was a black list of Poles that are not allowed to travel toPoland, one of them is Halina Bułaj, a former headmistress of the Vawkavysk school, who is devoted to her work.
It is not understandable why the Polish consulate treats many Belarusian Poles in such a way, dividing them into the ones that can or can not visitPoland, because their mission is not that. The arrival of the Katyn Rally probably gives them some hope that the wrong will withdraw and they will be respected as other people of Polish origin. Hoping to return there next year we went to spend the night to Zavosse near Navahrudak, birthplace of Adam Mickiewicz. Every day of the Rally is a lesson of history and patriotism. In the evening by the bonfire, the words of patriotism becomes more understood and close. A question arises in our hearts, whether the Polish people still have to suffer, not only from other people, but from themselves as well?
We were trying to find an answer for this question by means of seeking a rational explanation. But how can we call rational and normal a life lead by the children in the orphanage in Bohdanovyche? Children, the biggest happiness of the world, have no one besides their two guardian mothers, offering them everything to feel loved. The story of each child is tragical, but they found a sence in their lives, and are loved, although they are useless for the state. We are happy that we could meet extraordinary people, find new friends and learn to love.
Places of Crime: Kurapaty, Katyn and Mednoye
For many years the truth about the Katyn Massacre was muzzled and censored, the people distributing information different from the propaganda information of the Soviet Union were put into prison or deported deep inside of theUSSR. The time of freedom has arrived when the truth was rediscovered any every Polish person can visit the graves of the Polish elite murdered in 1940 by the Soviets.
The objective of the Rally is to visit such places, places of massacres of the Polish people. We had possibilities to lay wreaths, light candles and pray for them in Kuropaty nearMinsk, which was discovered just recently as a place of another massacre of the Polish army troops. A huge area was a mass grave of Polish people, murdered by the NKVD only because they did not want to follow the communist ideology.
Kurapaty is one of the places, where the Polish people were buried and will remain unnamed. Several days later the Rally arrived inSmolensk, to theSevernoyeAirport, where on April 10, 2012 the Polish presidential airplane crashed, killing the president and his wife, as well as all 94 members of the delegation which were to attend the ceremony to be held during the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. A celebrated Mass was held and the Katyn Rally, joined by the 3rd Rally of the Polish Government Protection Bureau paid hommage to the great Polish people.
We spent the next two days in Katyn, where we could reconsider the events we experienced, reflect on the purpose to join the pilgrimage and prepare to the Mass on the military cemetary. Among the burning torches, the rustle of the pines and the sound of the bell reminding us of the people murdered, the chaplains of the Rally, Fr Wojciech Mikulski SJ and Fr Marek Kiedrowicz OFM Conv and Fr Scoutmaster Dariusz Stańczyk conducted a mass. Katyn will remain one of the most important symbols of Polishness, a place of memory and a mausoleum of great Polish people, forever.
Such a place is also the cemetary of people murdered by Soviet executioners in Mednoye. Another place of a terrible crime, which neither time nor repression have not managed to erase from the memory of the people. How important it is to remember these places and guard the memory of them. Such a guardian is the commander of the Katyn Rally, Wiktor Węgrzyn. Born shortly before World War II broke out, he visited these important places for the 12th time already. In his sermon, Fr Dariusz said that the commander was a great example of perseverance and constant readiness, although he was already 73 years old. On behalf of all the participants Fr Dariusz thanked Wiktor Węgrzyn for his approach and will to teach other people patriotism.
Kurapaty, Katyn and Mednoye are three places to which we had the honour to visit, pray, and pay homage to the ones murdered. We did all that not only as participants of the Katyn Rally, but also as scouts of the Lady of the Gate of Dawn scout troop. Our pilgrimage through the places of communist crimes ended inMoscow, where we paid homage the brutally murdered Home Army leaders, including General Leopold Okulicki. During those 12 days we stroke up a beautiful, sincere friendship. We were among the people, to whom the slogan God-Honour-Motherland is of greatest importance.
The first delegation of the Lady of the Gate of Dawn scout troop is grateful for the pilgrimage made during the 12th International Motorcycle Katyn Rally. We thank Commander Wiktor Węgrzyn for a possibility of participating in the pilgrimage, Jakub Chruściel, the coordinator of the route, the chaplains – Fr Marek, Fr Wojciech, and Fr Dariusz for the spiritual experience and all other participants for the friendship, sincerity and care.
Tłumaczenie Sławek Stępski w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Sławek Stępski the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.