Two particular names: Auschwitz and Katyn


21 September 2012, in the presence of the Polish and Ukrainian presidents, the official unveiling of the fourth cemetery of Katyn took place in the forests of Kiev-Bykivnia. Included in the Polish delegation, along with representatives of the highest government authorities and bodies of the Republic, the Polish Primate and clergy from many denominations, representatives of the Katyn Families, the command of the Polish forces and representatives of many Polish state institutions, was Dr Piotr M. A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. A mass was celebrated at the monument of Polish victims by Fr. Primate Józef Kowalczyk.

“From today, the heart of this moving war cemetery in Bykivnia will stand for all time as a memorial to the Polish nation to the victims of Katyn, a reminder that we are aware of the victims of the crime and their determination to fight for a better world, free people and free nations,” said President Bronisław Komorowski during the ceremony. “We stand here in thought, and we feel as if the past meets the present and future in this unique place. The silent cry of the victims buried here is a commitment for all of us,” said the Polish president.

“In this land, the representatives of different nations have found eternal rest. [...] This same memorial will become yet another tragic reminder of a history of which we have no right to forget,” said Wiktor Janukowycz, President of Ukraine. “By collectively exposing and condemning the crimes of Stalin, we do not revive historical justice so as to fulfil our duty to the dead; we do so to fulfil out duty to future generations. The memory of these terrible times of terror and repression of the millions of innocent victims of our two nations leads us to be on alert to prevent it from happening again,” Janukowycz urged.

The cemetery has been organised by the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom (ROPWiM), whose secretary is Dr hab. Andrzej Kunert. From 2010, Cywiński has also been a member of the Council. In his momentous speech, A. Kunert stressed, inter alia, that the two names of Auschwitz and Katyn have a particular resonation in the memory of the Poles.

“Today, 72 years after that terrible crime was committed, we open, unveil and dedicate the fourth Katyn cemetery, a Polish military cemetery in Kiev-Bykivnia,” said Andrzej Kuner. Mortui sunt ut liberi vivamus (They died so that we might live free) is the motto inscribed on one of the most beautiful Polish war cemeteries at the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lwów. It is the earliest and fullest defining meaning of its victims, Polish victims, as well as the victims of German and Soviet crimes during World War II inflicted in the independent and sovereign Republic and on its elite. The symbol of the first, German, was and is Auschwitz; the symbol of the second was and is Katyn. These two terrifying names appeared in the pages of Polish history in the same month, in April 1940,” Kunert remarked.

“The fate of Poland and the Poles was undone at the crossroads of the great evil powers of the 20th century, which were Nazi Germany and the Soviet Empire. For me, as the person responsible for the protection of and education about the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site, today’s attendance in Bykivnia, just as in April 2010 in Katyn, is very important. For us Poles - as Andrzej Kunert said - these places are different faces of the same tragedy. They recall today this same need of memory,” said Cywiński.

Bykivnia is the burial site of the victims of mass murder during the Stalinist times. The number of those buried in the area is calculated at 100-120 thousand. Most of the victims are Ukrainian from the years 1937-1938 (the so-called period of the Great Terror).

The Polish War Cemetery in Kiev-Bykivnia commemorates the fate of the 3,435 Polish citizens murdered by the NKWD, who — as the victims of the Katyn massacre and prisoners of the camps in Kozelsk, Starobelsk, Ostashkov — died in 1940.