Polish presidential couple attend WWII Flanders liberation ceremonies

Polish presidential couple attend WWII ceremonies in Belgium. JULIEN WARNAND/PAP/EPA

Poland's President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda on Sunday in Lommel, north-east Belgium, took part in events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Flanders by the 1st Polish Armoured Division under Gen. Stanislaw Maczek.

The soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division fought for your freedom and ours, we hope that their sacrifice will not be in vain, that we will not let them down, that we will fulfil their testament to freedom and peace, Duda said.

The president added that the soldiers contributed to victories in such major battles as Operation Overlord, Falaise and Mont Ormel, in France. He said that on their way to the Netherlands and Germany, they liberated many Belgian towns. Following General Maczek's orders, they strived for their actions to limit the number of civilian casualties and cause minimal damage to houses, churches, monuments and material possessions.

"They liberated, among other cities, Ypres, Tielt, Ruiselede and Ghent. In their reminiscences General Maczek's soldiers said that it was in Belgium that they were met with special warmth and hospitality from their hosts," Duda added.

The ceremonies were also attended by the King of the Belgians, Philippe I.

The king said that during the six years of WWII, over 6 million Poles had lost their lives, while 5 million foreigners had been killed in Poland. The population was decimated, territory was occupied, and the political system destroyed, he added.

"Nevertheless your countrymen fought wherever possible and established the largest resistance movement in occupied Europe, while outside the country, Poles formed various corps that took part in the greatest battles for liberation." Philippe I said.

Gen. Maczek's son and granddaughter also attended the ceremonies along with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, head of Poland's National Security Bureau (BBN) Pawel Soloch and presidential aides Krzysztof Szczerski and Adam Kwiatkowski.

The First Polish Armoured Division under the command of General Stanisław Maczek took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy and played an instrumental role in the battle of Falaise by circling the German 7th (Wehrmacht) Army and 5th Panzer Army. Later, its victorious battle route led through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and ended with the capturing of the German town of Wilhelmshaven on May 5, 1945.