September 17 is not only the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. On this day, the people who were deported from the Soviet-occupied part of Poland to Siberia and other areas of the Soviet Union on the order of Stalin, are honoured. Major commemorations were held in Białystok, a city in the only area of Poland that was annexed to the Soviet Union and returned to Poland after World War Two.
The commemorations were conducted in front of the Heroic Siberian Deportee Mother monument, located next to the Museum in Memory of Siberia. Present in attendance were the city and provincial officials, members of parliament, religious leaders of various faiths, and of course surviving deportees and their families. Officials lay wreaths and flowers before the memorial. There was also an interfaith prayer for the deportees and other victims of Stalinist repressions. Flowers were also laid before the Katyn Memorial and the Tomb of an Unknown Siberian Deportee Monument.
“We pay homage to all those who never returned to their homeland, we bow down our heads before the graves scattered over the vast snowy deserts of Siberia and in the steppes of Kazakhstan,” Tadeusz Truskolaski, the Mayor of Białystok, addressed the assembled. “But we also remember those who managed to get out from that hell together with [General Władysław] Anders, but for whom the path back home was closed. Their story is an inalienable part of the history of our nation.”
Mayor Truskolaski stressed the need to maintain the memory of the Polish people who were forcibly deported into the depths of the Soviet Union. He stressed that the only thing the deportees were “guilty” of was their patriotism.
Indeed, the Soviets targeted people whom they saw as community leaders, whom they saw as prospective troublemakers. They were deported with their entire families.
Mayor Truskolaski, as well as other officials, such as Provincial Governor Bohdan Paszkowski and Speaker of the Provincial Diet Artur Kosicki, all stressed the special role that women, especially the mothers, had in the survival of those who were deported, praising their heroism, steadfastness, and self-sacrifice.
Tadeusz Chwiedź, the head of the Białystok chapter of the Union of Siberian Deportees had this to say about them:
“Speaking of the victims, we ought to stress the particular tragedy that our mothers went through […], who in such hopeless conditions saved their children, saved us, now elderly former Siberian deportees, from death from starvation,” said Chwiedź, adding that while trying to keep their children alive, but also to educate them in the spirit of patriotism and faith. “Our mothers were the ones that shaped our consciousness and our love for the Motherland and all things Polish. Through their actions, they showed us that love for the Motherland means the readiness to lay down one’s life for its freedom.”
Stalin’s spirit still haunts the halls of Kremlin
The brutal ideology that brought about the plight of the deportees told by the Museum in Memory of Siberia is, unfortunately, rearing its ugly head again. Then embodied by Stalin and communism, it is reincarnated in the forms of Putin and resurgent Russian imperialism.
Mayor Truskolaski pointed to the parallels between what Soviet Russia did in Poland after partitioning it between themselves and Nazi Germany, and what Putin’s Russia is doing now in Ukraine.
“We are not surprised by the news of Russian atrocities towards Ukrainian or the revelations about mass deportations of Ukrainian citizens from the east of the country. With the memory of the Polish-Russian relations in mind, we can bitterly reiterate that the way Russia behaves towards its neighbours remains unchanged to this day,” said Mayor Truskolaski.
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