By Sharon Roulier
In just a matter of minutes life can change so dramatically.
I was up early on Saturday morning, wanting to pack as much as possible into the day. After making my coffee, first on the agenda was to check my Facebook and harvest my “crops” on Farmville. I am so addicted to this game on Facebook, probably due to my Polish roots, as many of my relatives in Chicopee and also in Poland were farmers.
Before I could even get to my “field” the headlines on Yahoo News brought me back to reality.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, along with more than 90 other political, military and religious leaders had been killed in a plane crash. They had been traveling to attend a memorial service in the Village of Katyn, where in 1940 more than 20 thousand Polish citizens, prisoners of war, had been murdered by Stalin’s secret police.
Even though I have only been to Poland once, 20 years ago when The Catholic Observer ran a pilgrimage to Poland, Austria and Germany, I grew up hearing stories from my Babci of the country of my ancestry, and have always felt a strong connection.
I was so saddened to learn of the deaths of many of the country’s leaders and wondered how my relatives in Poland were doing.
Also through Facebook I have been able to connect recently with one of my cousins who lives in Podkarpacie, Poland. Elzbieta Kitrys was only 8 years old when I met her and the rest of my aunts and uncles on her family farm almost 20 years ago. She is now 27, married and the mother of a little boy.
I sent Elzbieta a message expressing my sympathies, and over the last few days I have learned so much about how the people of Poland have suffered. She wrote:
A terrible thing has happened. We lost not only the President, but also the most important person of the Polish political elite, military leaders, clergy, and the most educated person in the country.
We weep, we pray and we wait with fear for what tomorrow brings.
She told me of how hundreds of people continue to gather in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, to pay homage to victims of the disaster.
They light candles, many prayed in silence and concentration.
In one of her messages, Elzbieta listed every name and title of every victim of the disaster. But her comments afterward were especially touching:
Here is what she wrote in English, which is obviously not her first language:
These are not just names; these people had homes, families, position. In addition the Polish people are crying for them, families, children, husbands and wives. parents. They went to celebrate the memory of compatriots murdered 70 years ago. They will come back in metal coffins, in such a state that families will not be able for the last time to look at them, to say goodbye. It is not yet known whether it will be possible to identify any dead. At the moment, 17 people have been identified, most by their tattered clothes, wedding rings and special characteristics. Perhaps some of the identity can not be determined. And it is also a tragedy, for those who are waiting to bury their loved ones.
And, she said, such a tragedy has come full circle. Sadly, the victims were to attend the 70th anniversary memorial of those to died in Katyn.
The NKVD murdered 21, 768 Polish citizens, prisoners of war. This group consisted of both the Polish Army officers – including from the reserve, Police officers and noncommissioned officers of the State, and members of the Border Protection Corps. The number of murder victims included more than 7 thousand people arrested after Sept. 17, 1939 by the NKVD and detained in prisons in the occupied Soviet Eastern Poland Polish Republic, not having the status of prisoner. Victims of Stalin’s crimes were made buried in mass graves – in Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Tver, near Mednoye, Piatichatkach on the outskirts of Kharkov and in the case of 7 of thousands of victims in other unknown places.
So this week, as we stand in solidarity, we remember the empty desk in the Presidential Palace, empty chairs in the Polish Parliament, empty offices of military leaders as well as the empty hearts of the People of Poland.
Read more about the tragic plane crash and another local connection on www.iobserve.org.