You might not be aware of it, but a Polish national holiday is nearing – on the 1st March, Poland celebrates the memory of the Damned Soldiers, or Cursed Soldiers as they are also called (pl. “Żołnierze wyklęci”) – the people who stood against communism and formed resistance to protect Polish independence and freedom after World War II.
The holiday was only recently announced, in 2010, although the idea was presented in 2009 by the combatants of WWII and their descendants. The date of 1st March was chosen as a symbolic reminder – on this day in 1951 an execution of seven members of a Polish resistance organization “Freedom and Independence”, who were the last coordinators of the fight against soviet occupation, was carried out.
Just as America has a long history of fighting for freedom, so does Poland. During the first years after the World War II, Polish nation was shattered and confused, struggling to shed its image as the post-war battlefield, and the Soviet Union saw that as an opportunity to take control of the country. The political situation made it difficult for Poles to oppose, and though they tried, Poland became another of Eastern Europe’s communist countries soon enough. It remained so until the late eighties – the situation only changed with the formation of an independent trade union “Solidarity” in 1989 which organized a widespread wave of strikes that finally led to the election of the first non-communist President of Poland, Lech Wałęsa.
The decades that preceeded these events, though, were difficult in the extreme. Although communism brought some improvement to standards of living, it was also responsible for economic depression and severe limitations in freedom of speech, belief and action. This led to many rebellious acts of the citizens of Poland, making the communist era the most socially disturbed period in the recent history of Poland. Not only did individual people try to fight the repression in their everyday life, but there were also organisations devoted to overcoming the Stalinist government and rebuilding free Poland, both politically, and by force. Among them, there was Freedom and Independence (Wolność i Niezawisłość), National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne), National Military Union (Narodowe Zjednoczenie Wojskowe), and the Underground Polish Army (Konspiracyjne Wojsko Polskie). Being a threat to the system, they were hunted by the officials, and member was a death sentence; even talking about these organisations was sure to get you in trouble. Most of the Polish anti-communist groups ceased to exist in the late 1940s or 1950s, hunted down by Ministry of Public Security services and NKVD assassination squads.
Now, luckily, this is not an issue. Poland had regained its freedom, and therefore is proud to remember the difficult times when the citizens had rebelled against the enemy and their resolve stayed strong regardless of the consequences. That is why the National Day of Memory of Cursed Soldiers was established – in honor of those who weren’t afraid to seek freedom, and fight for it.
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