For Polish-born Israeli Giora Bar-Nir, Sunday’s plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and 94 others, was not only a deep shock but also tragically symbolic, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre in which the Soviets killed thousands of Polish army officers and intellectuals, including his father.
The president and his entourage had been en route to the official commemoration of the killings, which took place at the site of the atrocities in Russia on Sunday.
“I was in deep shock when I heard what had happened, and even though I do not believe it was connected in any way to the [anniversary of] Katyn, for the Polish people this is a double tragedy,” Bar-Nir (Jerzy Rabiner), who was three in 1940 when his father, Emil Emanuel Rabiner, was arrested and murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn Forest, told The Jerusalem Post
Bar-Nir and 15 families, all descendants of Katyn Massacre victims, will participate in a ceremony in Tel Aviv on Monday to commemorate the deaths of some 20,000 Polish army officers, including many Jews, murdered by the Soviet forces that had invaded eastern Poland at the start of World War II.
Most of those killed were Polish officers and intelligentsia already interned in Soviet prisoner of war camps.
The truth about their fate was only revealed in 1943, when the Germans took over the area and discovered the mass graves. For decades – even after German and Red Cross investigations found solid evidence that a massacre took place – the Soviet government denied its involvement. In 1992, the Russian government released documents proving that the Soviet Politburo and the NKVD (Soviet secret police) had been responsible for the massacre and cover-up. In 2000, a memorial was opened in Katyn.
“The timing of this crash is ironic,” Poland’s Ambassador to Israel, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, told the Post
. “Obviously the character of these two terrible events is totally different, but we are all in shock that it happened in connection to the official commemoration.”
Magdziak-Miszewska said that she had been a close associate of several officials killed in the plane crash and that she was still coming to terms with their deaths.
“I have been deeply moved by the reaction of the Israeli people to what happened,” added Magdziak-Miszewska. “Many ordinary citizens have been coming to our embassy yesterday and today bringing flowers and lighting candles. It’s very moving.”
She said that the president had been a “personal friend” of the Jewish state.
Regarding the Tel Aviv ceremony, Magdziak-Miszewska said that even though most events had been canceled because of the tragic crash, the embassy had decided to go ahead with the memorial for the Katyn massacre victims.
Bar-Nir said he was happy that the commemoration would still take place.
“There are not many people left connected to this event, so going ahead as scheduled is very important,” said Bar-Nir, who heads the Katyn Families Association in Israel.
Asked his personal story of survival during the HolocaustWarsaw Ghetto, Bar-Nir
said: “It’s a very long story that cannot really be shortened, except
to say that I escaped the Warsaw Ghetto when I was six and went to live
with a non-Jewish family on the eastern side of the city.”
His mother, Jadwiga, “was murdered by the Nazis,” said Bar-Nir, and
after the war he spent several months in a youth aliya camp in France
before immigrating to Israel in 1948.
A condolence book for victims of the massacre and for those who wish to
express sympathy with Poland’s more recent loss will be available at
the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv on Monday and throughout the week at
the embassy, a spokesman said. The book will be also available in
Jerusalem, at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, on Tuesday.