Poland honours Cursed Soldiers

The ceremony began with the Polish national anthem, followed by a memorial roll-call. Tomasz Gzell/PAP

President Andrzej Duda, Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak and other high officials attended Sunday's National Cursed Soldiers Remembrance Day observations in Warsaw's Piłsudskiego Square.

In his address, Duda said that the Cursed Soldiers refused to lay down their arms after World War II because they wanted a Poland that was truly free and saw the country's post-war communist regime as hostile.

"The Cursed Soldiers did not lay down arms, because they did not want to live in a country where there was no real freedom, sovereignty or independence, and which was in fact ruled by the enemy," Duda said. He also referred to the communists' cruel treatment of seized Cursed Soldiers, and observed that those of them who had fallen in combat had more luck than those who fell into the hands of the communists.

Calling the Cursed Soldiers "those who never surrendered," Duda recalled the communists efforts to erase their memory, evident among others in their frequent burial in nameless and unmarked graves. This, the president said, was to prevent their possible recognition as Polish freedom fighters.

"History was to be silent about them forever. That's what the communists wanted. (...) That's why they buried them in nameless pits, and often dressed (the bodies - PAP) in Nazi uniforms to debase and humiliate them even more. This was also to obliterate all traces of them, so that even if they were found, they would not be recognised as Polish heroes," Duda said.

Błaszczak said the Cursed Soldiers' legacy, especially their belief in "service to the very end," served as an example for Poland's contemporary armed forces. Calling the Cursed Soldiers continuers of traditions laid down by Poland's pre-war head of state Józef Piłsudski, Błaszczak recalled Piłsudski's victory over the Red Army in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, and said the Cursed Soldiers similarly "disagreed with Soviet domination after 1945."

Earlier in the day Duda took part in a "Wolf's Trail" cross-country trek commemorating the Cursed Soldiers, later in the Presidential palace he handed out state distinctions to surviving members of the units.

During the awards ceremony in the Palace, Duda emphasised the cursed Soldiers' heroic struggle against the communists, and said that if not for their opposition and the fear it instilled in the regime, the later Solidarity Union would have been treated with much more severity by Poland's communist government.

"I deeply believe that if it wasn't for the heroism and the struggle of those days, and the fear felt by the communists in the face of your fighting attitude, the later anticommunist opposition in Solidarity would have been quashed in a decidedly more brutal way," the president said.

The Cursed Soldiers were underground partisan units who fought the communist regime after World War II. They fought against Soviet-imposed rule well into the 1950s and were treated as outlaws by the communist authorities.

An estimated 50,000 members of the Cursed Soldiers perished at the hands of the communists between 1944 and 1956. They were mostly buried in unmarked graves, the majority of which cannot be located.

March 1 is Cursed Soldiers National Remembrance Day in Poland, officially established by the Polish parliament in 2011 upon a motion by the late Polish President Lech Kaczyński. The March 1 date commemorates the March 1 1951 executions of seven leaders of the Cursed Soldiers underground in a Warsaw prison.