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Poland commemorates anniversary of freedom-fighter killings

Artur Reszko/PAP

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, was among dignitaries at a ceremony on Sunday to mark the 77th anniversary of the so-called Augustow Roundup operation which saw at least 592 Polish freedom activists murdered by Russia’s NKVD and SMERSH forces in 1945.

The ceremony started with a morning mass at the parish church in the north-eastern village of Giby followed by a procession involving victims’ families, local authority officials and politicians who laid flowers and wreaths.

Morawiecki said at the event that today Poland is strengthening its security despite provocations from Belarus and threats from Russia. He said that in July 1945 at least 7,000 people had been rounded up in the area in what he called “a founding crime of communist Poland.”

Between July 12 and 18, 1945, NKVD and SMERSH troops in cooperation with Polish security services carried out an operation in the Suwalki region during which at least 592 Polish independence underground activists were murdered. They are presumed to have been executed and buried in an unknown location in present-day Russia or Belarus. The so-called Augustów roundup operation is often called “a little Katyn,” in reference to the Katyn Massacre, in which the NKVD murdered around 22,000 Polish officers and members of the intelligentsia in 1940.

During Sunday’s observances, a letter by President Andrzej Duda was read out by a senior military official in which Duda described the day of remembrance as “recalling a great drama of our history.

“We pay tribute to persecuted and slaughtered countrymen, who paid a dreadful price for their faithfulness to Poland,” Duda wrote, going on to promise the full truth of the events would be sought and the victims’ resting places uncovered.

“Seventy-seven years ago, units of the Red Army, NKVD aided by officials of the Security Bureau and communist confidants carried out a mass arrest of Polish patriots,” the president wrote. “The victims of that brutal campaign were soldiers of the Home Army and residents of the Augustow Forest supporting them.”

Another letter, by ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was read by a PiS MP. In it, Kaczynski said Soviet Russia had seen Central European democracies as a threat and had sought to “force all Central European nations into its political system” as it sought to divide the world into spheres of influence. He said the Augustow Roundup was one of the forms of oppression used against Poland.

“The bodies of the deported and murdered victims of this pacification still rest in nameless death pits unidentified to this day,” Kaczynski wrote. 


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