65 years later, massacre of Polish troops recalled

Crowd gathers at city monument that marks World War II killings


News from around the Baltimore region

April 25, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

Wearing the medals she earned fighting in the Polish Underground during World War II, Alfreda Jamrosz struggled to keep warm yesterday as she waited to read a poem. She was among about 100 or so who had gathered at the National Katyn Memorial in Inner Harbor East to mark the 65th anniversary of the massacre of thousands of Polish military officers by Soviet troops.

"We have to remember these people who were killed not for any other reason but they were Polish," she said, warming up over a cup of coffee at the Polish National Alliance building on Eastern Avenue afterward. "We cannot just forget the innocent people."

The ceremony at the monument at President and Aliceanna streets marked two events. Those who gathered were there to remember an estimated 15,000 Polish soldiers who disappeared in April 1940. Three years later, more than 4,000 were found in mass graves in the Katyn Forest in western Russia. Although the Soviets had initially blamed the massacre on the Nazis, in 1990 the Soviet government acknowledged that the Red Army was responsible.

The group also was there to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the memorial, which took decades to become a reality.

By the end of the month, two panels will be added to the site to explain its meaning. The first will describe the monument and its symbolism - the golden flames reaching toward the sky represent rebirth or transformation. The white eagle is a national symbol of Poland. The panel also will tell the stories of Polish military heroes and explain the lone female figure in the memorial - Lt. Jawidga Lewandowska, a Polish Air Force pilot who was the only woman among those known to be killed in the Katyn Forest.

The second panel will give the history of the massacre.

The artist responsible for the drawings on the panels is a Baltimore-born Polish-American, Carla Hazard Tomaszewski, who donated her time and art. Tomaszewski said she found new significance in the massacre after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We say `never again' and it happens again and again. We don't want people to forget this," she said, adding, "There was no explanation of the figures up there. When we get people walking by from the new hotels, now they can read about it and have a deeper knowledge."

At the ceremony, people shivered in the cold and wind to pay tribute beneath an overcast sky. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and representatives of the Polish Embassy in Washington were among the dignitaries to attend.

Although most who were there were members of the area's Polish community, the monument offers meaning for everyone, said City Councilman James B. Kraft.

The memorial, Kraft said, is a reminder of what can happen "when intolerance becomes victorious."

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