Sunday, April 11, 2010

Glorious Poland

Sad the news of a plane crash on April 10, 2010, killing many of Poland's political, military and business leaders. They were en route to a memorial service commemorating the 1940 Katyn massacre of the nation's best and brightest.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the murder of some 22,000 of Poland's intellectual elite: military officers, police officers, professors, priests, rabbis, doctors, writers, teachers. The plan was to reduce the nation to an illiterate satellite of Moscow. In the long run, the plan failed. Resilient Poland regained its place among the learned nations of the world.

This is especially poignant as this week I read The Enemy at the Gate by Andrew Wheatcroft. The author describes the agony, the slaughter, and the near loss of Vienna to the Muslim Ottoman Empire in 1683. The Turkish attackers had tunnelled under the city walls already breached by bombardment. The inhabitants awaited their fate.

A little history. At that time, Vienna was key to Muslim expansion in Christian Europe. The first attempt to capture Vienna in 1529 had failed. This earlier siege was considered so serious that Martin Luther appealed to non-Catholics to come to the aid Catholic Vienna. Again, in 1683, Protestant troops assisted in the city's survival.

In the latter siege, relief came when John Sobieski, King of Poland, led the largest cavalry charge in history. With anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 horse bearing down on them, Ottoman troops retreated, never again to attack Vienna. "Long live the King of Poland" the inhabitants cheered as the victory procession moved through the battered city. Sobieski reported his triumph to other European leaders. Each letter began, "We came, we saw, God conquered."

During the Second World War, a Polish contingent formed part of the Canadian military in the liberation of France and invasion of Germany. An excerpt from a report on the 1996 death of resistance fighter Barbara Lielb Starowicz: "The liberation of the Oberlangen camp in north western Germany came in 1945 in one of the most magnificent ironies of the war. The First Armoured Division of the Canadian First Army comprised Polish veterans who were fighting under their flag and the Canadian flag.When the rumble of armour was heard in the camp, the Polish women, 1,728 prisoners of war, had no idea what it was -- German armour? Death in a scorched-earth retreat? The first tank entered, the crew was approached: We are Poles! They danced for days."

At this time of mourning, we think of glorious Poland with sadness and gratitude.

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