The practice of concealing Polish heroes’ credits started at the beginning of the Second World War. Since the German attack, our allies: the United Kingdom and France applied a strategy of suppressing uncomfortable information. They tried to hide the fact they betrayed Poland by putting about misleading news that German aggression was partly caused by „the unbending attitude of the Polish government”. Over the years there have been many noticeable similar cases of mass media propaganda – for instance, recent press reports describing a heroic rescue operation in the Himalayas led by Polish climbers.
With those tactics, truth about the Polish September Campaign was effectively shouted down. Also concealed was the fact that Poland – despite being attacked from the west by Germany and from the east by Russia – managed to inflict such heavy losses on Third Reich that Hitler had to postpone his invasion of France for almost a year. During this time our country waged on war against Nazi Germany practically alone. The Polish Army never stopped fighting, not even for a moment. They created the Armed Combat Union (Związek Walki Zbrojnej) together with other structures of the Polish Underground State. The Motorized Cavalry Brigade, led by General Maczek, managed to cross over to France to back their armoured divisions. Polish Air Force pilots also made it to London and Paris and started combat training with British and French aircrews. The Polish Navy – destroyer ORP Orzeł – accomplished the legendary achievement of reaching the English coast to support the local navy. Thousands of Polish soldiers in similar ways made it through to the West to keep fighting against Germany.
In essence, almost the entire first year of World War II looked like this. During this period, as a matter of fact, Poland conducted the war against Germany only by itself (except for the Norwegian campaign – also supported by the Polish Army – Polish Highland Brigade).
Sadly, the huge commitment and effort of Poles again encountered a similar response from their allies – as in the face of German aggression in September 1939. In 1940 the French capitulated – surrendering their capital without even a single shot. Three weeks before this, the British started the panic evacuation of their troops from Dunkirk. While fleeing from Hitler’s army, they left hundreds of tons of heavy weaponry on the seashore – in consequence significantly supplementing Wehrmacht’s resources.
Heroes not fitting in with new political alliances
In the following years, other Polish achievements – in many cases crucial to the outcome of the war – again became very unwelcome facts. Breaking the Enigma code, taking Monte Cassino, discovering German tests on the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile (V2), and many others met again with the strategy of suppressing. As alliances changed, those whom just a moment before were praised with the words „Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” suddenly happened to be persona non grata. Even the crucial role played by Polish Air Force pilots in saving the United Kingdom from German invasion, was minimized on account of the new political situation between the Allies and the Soviet Union. Finally they were not even allowed to participate in the London Victory Celebrations.
After that, in the face of the shocking image of the Holocaust, there was also a conspiracy of silence regarding the huge engagement of the Polish resistance. A few years earlier, after the Polish Underground State discovered and worked out German genocide system, they tried desperately many times to convince the Allies to provide assistance in saving Jews. Regrettably, at the time, the rest of the world remained deaf to the reports of the tragedy taking place in Auschwitz and other German death camps.
Shortly after the war, as a result of giving up Poland to Soviet Union, the memory of heroes – idolized just moments before – suddenly died. Among others, this happened to the 1st Armoured Division of General Maczek and soldiers from the Anders’ Army. Despite the fact that Poland, since 1939, was occupied, Poles made an unparalleled military effort – as our army was one of the largest forces fighting against Germany on both fronts during the entire war. Nevertheless, in view of changing circumstances, Polish achievements needed to be forgotten.
At the same time, on the other side of the iron curtain, those distinguished who were trapped there were hunted by Russian Secret Police (NKVD). Moscow took scrupulous care with their new version of history – to make sure there was no place for the majority of Polish heroic accomplishments. A number of Poles, after years of devoted service for their country and liberating Europe from German regime, were sentenced by the Soviets to death on ridiculous charges of high treason or collaboration with the Nazis. Sadly, all this happened with near official approval from former brothers in arms: the Allies and the United States. During the Trial of the Sixteen (a staged trial in Moscow of 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State, who were kidnapped by the NKVD) the Allies and the USA loudly praised „the exemplary work of the Soviet justice system”.
In general terms the West and the East also agreed on common policy regarding the Polish Army, that kept fighting against Soviet occupation almost across the entire country. In the international arena they both pretended such an issue did not exist…
Falsification of history continued in the 21st century
In recent years we have witnessed a huge escalation in new attempts to re-write history regarding these events. Almost 70 years after the Second World War there could again be observed another process of wiping Polish heroes from the memory. The world’s biggest mass media inform us about Poland’s alleged cooperation with Nazi Germany in killing Jews, about imaginary collaboration of Polish Home Army (the world’s largest and most effective anti-Nazi resistance) with Hitler and obviously about „Polish death camps”.
Fake news produced by the largest international media companies such as: BBC, CNN, The Guardian, ZDF and Ringier Axel Springer lead directly to falsification of the then reality. These attempts – taking place before our very eyes – cause even deeper marginalization or complete erasure of distinguished Poles from history.
Endless nonsense in mainstream media
Over the following years the scale of manipulation in field of the new historical policy – in so called mainstream media – reached the level of absolute nonsense. Among others, this was clearly seen in a case of a tragedy that happened a couple of months ago in the Himalayas.
Elisabeth Revol and Tomasz Mackiewicz – a French-Polish couple carried out a winter ascent of Nanga Parbat, the eight-thousander “Killer Mountain”. But while climbing down from the peak at roughly 7,300 metres, both exhausted, they made an emergency call for help. Mackiewicz was already in very poor condition and he was not able to go any further. Revol despite being drained, tried to continue descending. The Polish Foreign Ministry came to the aid paying for Pakistani military chopper to attend. Four Polish climbers – Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarosław Botor – at the time attempting the ascent of K2 – volunteered for rescue mission. Due to severe weather conditions the helicopter managed to take them only to 4,800 metres. A deadly race against time had started. Even the smallest delay could be fatal for Revol and Mackiewicz. For this reason the Poles, without any hesitation, despite approaching dusk, started climbing the snow-covered slope of the mountain. Around 2 a.m., after ascending in darkness for over 1,100 metres, they reached the Frenchwoman. Unfortunately, it was already too late for their compatriot.
The first press reports about the Poles’ exploit appeared immediately after the rescue mission. In a blaze of glory the media described the extreme danger of climbing the mountainside in the middle of the night. There were releases praising this unprecedented achievement – which wasn’t made for setting a new record nor for reaching another summit – but made at risk to their own lives to save others.
Nevertheless, not many articles of this kind were published. As an international smear campaign against Poland started the very next day – a reaction to new legislation prepared by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, in which they penalise use of the term “Polish death camps” and similar ones indicating participation of the Polish State in the Holocaust. This leads to the question: What does this have to do with situation on Nanga Parbat?
Deleting information about Polish climbers
Sadly, a direct connection between these events was found. News about Polish hero-climbers, who, on their own initiative, selflessly put their lives at risk to save Frenchwoman, wouldn’t look good next to information questioning commitment of our country to saving Jews and accusing Poland of the Holocaust. For this reason, in a substantial part of the mass media, the record of the events in the Himalayas underwent a sudden transformation – the description of the Poles’ achievement simply disappeared. In the new version of the story one could find out that Elizabeth Revol was rescued by local Sherpas and that Pakistan sent a chopper out of its own good will.
Thanks to this manoeuver, the noble exploit of our compatriots quickly ceased to be a very uncomfortable fact next to information about imaginary “Polish Holocaust”. As a result of this new contemporary phenomenon – the denial of facts about accomplishments and sacrifice – our climbers have been pushed into the same abyss of oblivion as: Irena Sendler, Henryk Sławik, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Witold Pilecki, Jan Karski, Ulma family, Kawczyński family, Żabiński family* and thousands of other Poles.
This example reveals the extent to which uncomfortable facts have been wiped from our history and quite how many aspects of our activity it affects. From the questioning of the commitment of Poles to saving Jews to silencing the sacrifice and achievements of our climbers.
When the unwanted facts about Naga Parbat were successfully glossed over, the media returned to their historical propaganda. Among number of similar news, regarding the legislation prepared by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, the article in The Guardian may serve as a sample. Its author tried to prove that “(…)truth is that the rescuers (Polish – ed.note) were the exception”. This theory looks even more absurd considering the fact, that in the same publication, the information about almost seven thousands Poles awarded for saving Jews by the Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum – was mentioned just a couple of lines above…
by Kajetan Soliński
* Irena Sendler – Polish social worker who served in the Polish Underground State during World War II in German-occupied Warsaw. She organized a whole network smuggling Jewish children out of the German ghetto. She saved about 2,500 Jews. In 1943 she was arrested by the German Gestapo and during a brutal interrogation was tortured and beaten almost to death – but she still didn’t give up the list of saved children Germans wanted. The Polish resistance managed to rescue her and when she recovered she carried on saving Jews until the end of the war.
Henryk Sławik – Polish politician and diplomat, who during World War II saved 5,000 Jews by giving them false Polish passports with Catholic designation. In 1944 he was arrested and executed with his fellow Polish activists in the German concentration camp in Gusen.
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka – Polish writer and World War II resistance fighter. She co-founded the Council to Aid Jews (Żegota) – as a department of Polish Underground State. Żegota was set up to assist Polish Jews to escape the Holocaust. Her organisation rescued about 60,000 Jews, which accounts for half of all the Jews who survived the Holocaust in occupied Poland. In 1943, she was arrested by the Germans and sent to the Auschwitz Death Camp.
Witold Pilecki – Polish cavalry officer, intelligence agent and resistance leader. During the Second World War he volunteered for a Polish Underground State operation that involved being imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp in order to gather intelligence. While in the camp, he organized a resistance movement and informed the Western Allies of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz atrocities as early as 1941. He escaped from the camp in 1943 after nearly 2½ years of imprisonment and prepared the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on the Auschwitz Death Camp and the Holocaust (known as Witold’s Report), consisting of over 100 pages. The document includes details about the gas chambers, „selektion”, and the sterilization experiments. It states that there were three crematoria in Birkenau able to burn 8000 people daily. But the British government, which received the report, filed it away with a note that there was no indication as to its reliability. Pilecki did not give up and supplemented the document with the reports of two other eyewitnesses of Holocaust who escaped from Auschwitz (Jerzy Tabeau and Roman Cieliczko) – known jointly as the Auschwitz Protocols – and delivered them to the Allies but they again refused to take any action.
He took part as a soldier in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. He remained loyal to the London-based Polish government-in-exile after Soviet Russia takeover of Poland. He was arrested in 1947 by the Stalinist secret police and executed in 1948. Information was suppressed about his exploits and fate until 1989 by the Communist regime.
Jan Karski – Polish World War II resistance-movement soldier. In 1942 Karski performed a secret mission to obtain information about Nazi atrocities in occupied Poland. In order to gather evidence, Karski was twice smuggled by the Jewish underground into the Warsaw Ghetto for the purpose of directly observing what was happening to Polish Jews. Also, disguised as an Estonian camp guard, he visited Durchgangslager transit camp and Bełżec death camp.
In 1942 and 1943 Karski repeatedly reported to Poland’s Western Allies about the situation in German-occupied Poland, especially about Germany’s destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and about Germany’s extermination camps on Polish soil that were murdering Jews, ethnic Poles, and other nationalities. He had also carried out of Poland a microfilm with further information from the underground movement on the extermination of European Jews in German-occupied Poland.
Karski in person met with the British Foreign Secretary, giving a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. He then travelled to the United States, and in 1943 personally met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust. Roosevelt did not ask one question about the Jews, just said that would be checked after the war, and ended the meeting. Karski did not give up and went on to meet with many other government and civic leaders in the United States, including Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Cordell Hull, William Joseph Donovan, and Rabbi Stephen Wise. Karski presented his report also to media, members of the Hollywood film industry and artists, but without any result.
Ulma family – Polish family: Józef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria, and their six children, who were all murdered by the Germans in 1944, along with the eight Jews whom they had been sheltering.
Kawczyński family – Polish family: Jan Kawczyński, his wife Helena and their daughter Magdalena, who sheltered eight Jewish families on their farm near Warsaw. They were murdered by the Germans, who first killed their 10-year old daughter in front of them, before forcing Jan to watch his wife being murdered – prior to being shot himself.
Żabiński family – Polish family of zoo-keepers: Jan Żabiński, his wife Antonina and their son Ryszard, who from the beginning of World War II used their house and the zoo itself to shelter hundreds of Jews. Availing himself of the opportunity to visit the Warsaw ghetto ostensibly to inspect the state of the flora within the ghetto walls, Żabiński maintained contact with his Jewish colleagues, friends and their families from before the German invasion, helped them escape and sheltered them. The Polish Underground State kept helping him with maintenance costs and provided false passports for those who sought refuge elsewhere. They saved over 300 Jews.
Jan Żabiński was also an active member of the Polish Underground movement – the Home Army. In the rank of lieutenant he participated in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Upon its suppression, he was taken as a prisoner to camps in Germany. His wife continued their work, looking after the needs of the Jews.