Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"A Nation Is Built By Its Saints, Not By Its Monsters;" Should Poland Be Grateful to the Red Army? A Russian Responds

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei
Source: Wikipedia 
Should Poles and Poland be grateful to the Red Army for its actions during World War II?

June 6, 2014 was the seventieth anniversary of D-Day. I celebrated on Facebook and on this blog. I expressed gratitude to the young American men, average age 22, who charged into Nazi machine gun fire on Omaha Beach and other landing sites.

My friend Natasha Vaubel wrote to remind me to be grateful to the Red Army.

On Facebook, I acknowledged that the Red Army caused the greatest number of casualties to the Nazis. I said, though, that I am not grateful to the Red Army. I gave my reasons for this lack of gratitude. Just one such reason. The Red Army invaded Poland in 1939, along with Nazi Germany. After the war, I see the Red Army's advance into Eastern Europe as an invasion and an occupation.

Facebook friend Magdalena Paśnikowska advanced her reasons for gratitude to the Red Army. The Red Army made a huge contribution to defeating the Nazis. The average soldier should not be conflated with Stalin or other evil Soviet leaders, who did very bad things to Russians, as well as to Poles.

A Russian woman, Anna Domasheva, responded to the thread. Ms. Domasheva's response was so powerful and eloquent I asked for, and received, permission to post her response. Please read it below, in full, with very few, minor proofreading changes by me.

Ms. Domasheva referred to another blog post by me entitled "What the Heck is Wrong with the Irish?" Recently news has come out about an alleged mass grave of infants in Tuam, Ireland. People have been eager to attribute evil to the nuns who ran the orphanage associated with the alleged mass grave. I wanted to say that we don't yet know the full story of the alleged mass grave and we shouldn't rush to associate cruelty to children with one ethnicity – Irish people – one religion – Catholicism – or one order – the Bon Secours nuns.

***

Anna Domasheva writes:

First of all, if ever one person can stand for a nation – and I believe we all can – then I beg you for forgiveness, for the pardon of the unpardonable: for what your families, friends, and fellow countrymen had to endure.

I read this thread from the beginning and I noticed how closely the debate came at the end to Danusha's previous post ("What the heck is wrong with the Irish?"). Basically, it was becoming the same question, but with "Russians" instead of the Irish.

I thought about other historical comparisons, and a few names came to mind.


Feliks Dzierżyński: the founder and first head of the all-powerful Cheka-NKVD police, the foremost organizer of the Red Terror, having introduced torture and mass summary executions in Russia on an unprecedented scale, unimaginable in czarist times. [Dzierzynkski was Polish. The Cheka, his brainchild, went on to become the KGB.]

Wiaczesław Mężyński: successor of Dzierżyński as the head of Cheka-NKVD, idem for the professional activities.

Stanisław Kosior: head of the Communist Party of Ukraine in the 30s – and a major architect of the Holodomor.

Andrzej Wyszyński: a state prosecutor of Joseph Stalin's Moscow trials (his favorite sentence: "Kill them all as the mad dogs they are!!!")

These people are personally responsible for millions of deaths.

No, they did not personally rape and kill hundreds of thousands of women.

But do you believe that what the horde of dirty "Ivans" did in 1945 was more evil than what did these refined gentlemen – three of them belonging to ancient Polish nobility – did to Russia during the years 1918 – 1953?

I do not think so.

They gang-raped my country, murdering not only its body, but its soul.

They made – amongst other diligent servants of the regime – the crime of Katyn possible.

One could be tempted to ask: how is it possible that in an enormous country – run first by a bloodthirsty Russian lunatic and then by a bloodthirsty Georgian thug – the bloodthirsty himmlers-goebbels-görings of both the lunatic and the thug were Poles?

So – what the heck is wrong with the Poles?

Nothing.

Because a nation is built by its saints, not by its monsters.

Because "my" Poles are not Dzierżyński, Mężyński, Kosior and Wyszyński.

My Poles are: Witold Pilecki, Jan Karski, the heroes of Armia Krajowa, Warsaw Uprising and Solidarność.

And I thank them. I thank you. Thank you for the freedom. Spasibo. Za naszą i waszą wolność.

Can it be then that the army of thugs terrorizing the women of Eastern Europe/Germany in the spring 1945 – had also its true heroes?… albeit dead by the time Soviets entered Prussia?

The 22-year-old boys at Omaha beach could land in Normandy and land heroically and the majority would survive (sad majority though – 70 %) amongst other reasons thanks to their Russian counterparts: to the 18-years-old boys – every bit as bright-eyed and bright-minded as the American soldiers in D-Day photos – who were taken from their first university years to the front in the 1941 – and were all dead by the time the thugs came to Germany as winners.

No. No – happily enough, not of all them dead … A young artillery officer, appalled with the atrocities of Soviet troops, was arrested by NKVD in February 1945 in Eastern Prussia. He was destined to spend many years of his life in the Gulag, nearly die of cancer at the end of his term, overcome the illness and finally write a book that would contribute to changing the world to a freer place. The officer's name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose poem "Prussian Nights" Danusha cites in the very beginning of the thread.

-- Anna Domasheva

Ms. Domasheva sent the following photos; please scroll down to read her reasons for choosing these photos. 





Of the photographs, above, Anna Domasheva wrote: 

Here are several high school graduation shots of 1941 – and these are actually the last civilian photos for the majority of the boys and the male teachers (and in the photo from the Leningrad school – also for the girls, who would very probably die of starvation during next winter). The graduation balls in the Soviet Union were held Saturday evening June 21, and the war began at dawn on Sunday June 22.

The last two photos are by great Robert Capa. His famous "Magnificent Eleven" at Omaha beach needs no introduction. The second one is less known, though for me it's as emblematic of the World War II as the first. The shot was captured during Capa's voyage to USSR together with John Steinbeck in 1947-1948 (Steinbeck wrote "A Russian Journal").

The photo has no specific name, but I call it "Women or Victory Day".

These women could as well be Polish, Slovak, British or American – though of course it's above all women of Eastern Europe.

This is about the loss that no victory can restore to you. About the solitude of Victory Day.

20 comments:

  1. Very powerful piece Anna. Thank you on so many levels. Excellent writing and thoughts.

    Otto

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  2. An excellent assessment of the situation, Anna. Thank you so much for this. If only we could remember at all times that crimes are committed by individual monsters whose behaviour is not indicative of the whole nation, then people would never need to attempt to rewrite history. Thank you. Much appreciated.

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  3. My mother, grandmother, and aunt had been deported to Kazakhstan, from Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, in 1940. They wrote of many nice Russian people.

    I think that what we are talking about are major trends and policies, not good and bad individuals, both of which of course can be found in any nationality.

    Thus, Poles can be grateful to individual Russians, but not to the Red Army as a whole. That is at least how I look at it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Poles can be grateful to individual Russians, but not to the Red Army as a whole"

      Yes

      Delete
    2. "Poles can be grateful to individual Russians, but not to the Red Army as a whole"

      Yes

      Delete
  4. Hello Anna - and all - I have never blamed the Russian people for what happened during WW2 and after - I blame the regime. Russians suffered terribly under both Hitler and Stalin as Poles did.

    And I hope that the young men who fought and died in those armies - Russian, Polish, German, English, American, etc - are sleeping safe in "the everlasting arms" and will be woken from the sleep of death when the time comes, and that they will next open their eyes in an earth that is at peace - an earth restored to Paradise.

    I think the question that should be asked is this: What is wrong with the world? Why are people so easily persuaded to turn on each other and slaughter each other?

    The answer lies in the Inspired Scriptures, both Hebrew and Christian Greek.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My thoughts run along the same lines but I was unable to present them so eloquently. Thank you, Anna!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm sorry, Anna, but russified Poles are not my countrymen. Dzierżyński, Mężyński, Kosior, Wyszyński- bunch of renegades, each and every one of them. Exept for Dzierżyński, they are not known in Poland. Average Pole is happily unaware that they existed. And the same goes for Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski or Theodore "The Unabomber" Kaczynski. As a Pole, I don't want to be blamed for every scoundrel with "-ski" in his last name.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But they are - you take the good with the bad - except that Mezynski may not have been Polish

      Delete
  7. Very interesting read. Thank you for writing this Anna and thank you for posting Danusha. I just finished reading, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing" by Anya Von Bremzen. She writes very interesting tale of life as an immigrant and shares her family's stories over 100 years of Soviet and post Soviet Union life. Every country has it's monsters and it's saints as your words and Bremzen's words illustrate. I like fleshing out my understanding of the relationships between countries and countries that are occupied by others. Your thoughts help. A monster's actions and voice do not speak for whole nation of individuals who are more likely humane, yet terrorized.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ohh......, and Anna, The photos you shared are EXTREMELY moving. I can just sense the heaviness of all the souls gone at the end of WWII. All the women together with out their lovers, sons and fathers...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kimberly! I feel the same as you looking at these photos.

      Delete
  9. Dear Danusha, Otto, Bozena, Jan, Sue, Magdalena and Łukasz,

    thank you very much for your comments, they mean a lot to me. It's touching and it's what I was hoping for.

    Łukasz, I understand your position. The post was not about blaming with "-ski" in the last name. The post was about stereotypes - and the projections of disdain and hatred from the bunch of renegades unto more complex social units. Do the words like "russified" and "not my countrymen" imply that the renegades in question could never identify themselves as Poles ? What does "russified" mean exactly? Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski was the very close friend of the Emperor Alexander 1, the all too powerful Russian minister for foreign affairs and one of the most influential men of the Empire - and that did neither "russify" him, not prevent his becoming President of the Polish National Government during November 1830 Uprising against Russians.

    Generally speaking, the higher the social position of a person is, the more probable is the fact of his conscious sticking to his/his parents/grand-parents culture of origin. And if we take into account the very painful story of Polish-Russian relations ever since 1772, it becomes a matter of principle, of "noblesse oblige".

    With Mężyński following up so conveniently Dzierżyński, and that nice guy Wyszyński hanging just around the corner - can we talk about a lobby? If not - why?

    As for the argument that the "average Pole is happily unaware that they existed" - well, I can only say that "the average Russian" was happily unaware of them too until 1989-1991 ( and still many unaware today). But is it for "the average person" that the History's skeletons should be kept in the closet?

    Anna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Anna,

      Those renegades were born and bred in Russian Empire and they bonded their future with Russia. That's what I mean by "russified'. We can use other words, pick some other state. They chose Russia. Theirs Russia, not Yours.

      Prince Adam Czartoryski was close to the Emperor. No problem. Even closer to the Empress. That's fine. His father may have been Nicholas Repnin. It doesn't matter. Prince Adam was a Pole. He worked with Russians, or against them, for the good of his country. To be Polish doesn't mean that we have to hate Russians. We can like each other and still love our homelands.

      As for that lobby. No, Anna, I dissagree. It's not an appropriate word. Lobby is a group that supports and represents others. They weren't supporting or representing Poland. They enslaved Russia. And that created a mortal threat to my country. Free Russia is in our own self-interest.

      I'm grateful for Your post. Learned a lot from it. Thank You.

      Delete
    2. Hopefully you will be consistent and not see other lobbies within the communist movement

      Delete
    3. I see NO "lobbies". I see a criminal organisation made of losers with ambitions. Failed priests, bankrupts, petty gentry and unfulfilled intelectuals.
      I know what national group You had in mind, Mr Wallach. For Your information, I detest generalisation and conspiracy theories.

      Delete
  10. It looks like Anna's comment was posted three times. Not sure why. I deleted the first two times. If this is a mistake please let me know.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It is not clear that Mienzynski was Polish

    ReplyDelete
  12. NKVD murdered about 500 Polish people in 1945 as the result of "Obława augustowska". The Russian state refuses to inform where the bodies have been buried. The Memorial cooperates with the Poles. Summarising I can see the hostile state supported by probably around 80% of people and a small and unpopular group of activists branded as spies.

    ReplyDelete

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