National Remembrance Day of the Cursed Soldiers

On March 1 Poland marks the National Remembrance Day of the Cursed Soldiers, in honour of the once forgotten underground anti-communist heroes of 1944-1956. The commemorative ceremonies are being held under the patronage of the President of Poland Andrzej Duda.

The first day of March commemorates the anniversary of the execution of the death sentence on the last commanders of the “Freedom & Independence” movement.  On this day in 1951, Communists in a Warsaw prison executed Łukasz Ciepliński and his comrades who formed the leadership of a national resistance movement continuing the work of the underground Home Army after 1945. They were killed with a shot to the back of the head.

The next stage of enslavement

Dr. Maciej Korkuć of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in Krakow told the Poland.pl portal that in 1944-1945 when the Soviets occupied the entire country, they weren’t able to place their people within the legitimate structures of the Republic of Poland, so Stalin built a competing state, fully dependent on Moscow: "people associated with the underground independence movements and legitimate state structures were destroyed completely, and he incorporated almost half of Poland into the Soviet Union. That is why the armed and political resistance was something natural. For us, May 1945 was the next stage of enslavement, although at the time our allies in the West celebrated their freedom,” explains Dr. Korkuć.

The occupation of Poland by the Red Army and the incorporation of half of its pre-war territory into the Soviet Union meant that despite the end of the war in the West, thousands of soldiers did not lay down their arms. As has been noted by the Institute of National Remembrance, the post-war independence resistance, often called the anti-communist uprising, was the largest form of organized resistance by Polish society towards the imposed authority.

Museum of Cursed Soldiers & Political Prisoners in the Polish People’s Republic, Warsaw In 1945, that is the period of greatest activity of the armed underground, the movement consisted of nearly 200,000 conspirators – twenty thousand of them fought in partisan units, and thousands more provided food supplies, intelligence, shelter and communications assistance to partisans. Moreover, more than twenty thousand students from underground youth organizations joined forces against the Communists. In total this made up a group of more than half a million people, who together formed the “Cursed Soldiers” community. The last "forest" soldier Józef Franczak (“Laluś”) died in battle in October 1963. This was the year when The Beatles recorded their first studio album.

Remembering the past

The communist authorities conducted large-scale repression of the "undeterred", which resulted in many of them being sentenced to death or long-term prison terms. Military divisions, the police force and the security apparatus ruthlessly fought to support the anti-communist civilians. During the Polish People's Republic, falsehoods were spread about the soldiers belonging to underground organizations and the patriotic posture of some divisions was silenced.

The process of restoring the memory and rightful place in history of the people who fought against the communist regime was made possible only after Poland regained independence in 1989. This marked the beginning of the rehabilitation process of persons sentenced to prison during the Stalinist period and the victims of so-called judicial killings. Steps were also taken to find the burial places of victims of Stalinist crimes and ensure them dignified commemoration in cemeteries. A range of academic projects focused on the 1944-1956 period was also initiated.

Freedom and honour

Decisive support for the idea of a National Remembrance Day came from President Lech Kaczynski. It was he who in 2010 directed a bill to Parliament on the matter. "A National Remembrance Day of the Cursed Soldiers should pay tribute to the soldiers of the second resistance for the testimony of their courage, undeterred attitude of patriotism and attachment to the traditions of independence, for the blood they shed in defence of the homeland,” read the proposal for the project.

"The heroic struggle of the Cursed Soldiers was another act in the historic struggle for the freedom of Poland. [...] the undeterred attitude of the last defenders of the sovereign Republic of Poland clearly demonstrated our nation's most important values ​​that we, Poles, appreciate higher than our own life: freedom and honour, solidarity with others and dedication to the national cause,” President Andrzej Duda stressed in a letter to the participants of this year's commemoration of the heroes of the anti-communist uprising.

The ceremonies marking the National Remembrance Day of the Cursed Soldiers were attended by officials representing Poland’s highest offices.