Remembering sacrifices of free people against the evils of socialism, particularly acts perpetrated by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), reaffirms how important defending freedom – in every generation – is. If we do not remember and teach the sober lessons, we risk forgetting them – and repeating avoidable horrors of the past.
No nation represents the fight for freedom more than Poland. September 2019 is a sobering month in Poland. It should be around the world. While September represents the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland, it is more than that.
On September 1, 1939, the world dove into darkness when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The date is often recalled as start of a war for which the West was woefully unprepared. But on September 17, 1939, pursuant to the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union also invaded Poland. Less is made of that, but more should be.
The Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact was the ultimate deal with the devil, two ruthless and oppressive nations – one fascist, one socialist – determined to destroy a free people, stripping them of sovereignty, dignity and in too many cases life itself.
The Soviets would expand their domination of free peoples across Europe, eventually invading, undermining and dominating Czechoslovakia (now the free Czech and Slovak Republics), Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia (now Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Kosovo) and East Germany (postwar).
But in September 1939, grave and disturbing events occurred in Poland, revealing the true nature of Soviet oppression and true perversion inherent in an unchecked, centralized, socialist government.
With moral compass lost, atheism embraced, individual liberties suppressed, human rights forgotten, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics moved into Poland with their own version of the German blitzkrieg.
With the West unprepared, unable to rally, and disunified, action fell to the Poles, who had little capacity to respond in kind, and were thus swept up by the invading Red Army. Darkness fell fast. More than 125,000 Polish soldiers and police were captured, 42,000 sent to the Soviet Union, 43,000 sent to Germany.
On September 19, a day that “shall live in infamy” for Poles as Pearl Harbor does for Americans, the Soviet Socialists – through their “secret police” – took control of the rest. These 40,000 officers were then divided between forced labor camps.
Seven months later, in March of 1940, the Soviet Socialists decided to do away with “nationalists and counterrevolutionaries,” the deplorables of their day, devotees of Polish freedom, resolute anti-communist voices, avowed nativists. By formal order, the Soviet Socialists dictated that 25,700 Polish officers be executed.
The total number executed on the spot, in what became known as the Katyn Forest massacre, was 21,768. They had no escape. They were given no last rights. They were accorded no trial, due process or justice. They were unable to appeal to higher authorities, from Magna Carta to Rights of Man. The Soviet Red Army simply killed them all in cold blood.
Of the total, more than 8,000 were officers captured and imprisoned by the Soviets 80 years ago next week. Another 6,000 were police officers. The remaining 7,000-plus were suspected of favoring freedom, from “intelligentsia” and “factory owners” (small businessmen) to “farmers” and “priests.”
Those killed represented every stratum of a multi-ethnic society, from Ukrainian and Belarusian Poles to Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army. The condemning feature was their love of country and freedom.
So, this month, the devastation, loss of life, liberty and basic humanity incarnate in the Soviet Socialist party, justified by the lofty idea of socialism, is worth remembering. The Poles do not forget. When government is used as a sickle, liberties and lives are cut down in the name of equality.
The line between socialism and communism is one of degree not quality; when a centralized government asserts and assumes power to control “means of production” and distribution; when individual liberties are aggregated to the state – it is over. The slide has begun, whether by force, coercion or deception.
The Poles had to battle another 40-plus years – until an American President showed up on the scene who shared their passion for freedom, disdain for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and resolved to act on principle and aid their fight for freedom.
Like the Polish General Officer, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who joined America’s battle for liberty in 1776 and fought with George Washington, that American President did not miss a stride, pull a punch or blink in supporting Poland’s quest for freedom. That US President, of course, was Ronald Reagan.
Today, Poland is a free nation, carving its own future, aware of history’s pitfalls, freedom’s complexity, and who the Nation’s allies are and have long been. America is one. They are also aware, as they reflect on the memory and horror of the Katyn Forest Massacre, that freedom comes at a price, that socialism is false prophet, and that history is worth remembering.
For us, our job is to remember with the Poles – and with all who face or have faced deprivation of liberty at the hands of socialism, communism, or fascism – that the guardians of freedom, the sons and daughters of liberty, those who know history never sleep. Why? If we do not remember and teach history’s sober lessons, we risk forgetting – and repeating them.