Sunday, October 19, 2014

Katyn Massacre Memorial - Saint Adalbert Cemetery

Location: Saint Adalbert Cemetery, Niles, Illinois

Features:  Memorial situated in Polish-Catholic cemetery.

History:  In 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to a non-aggression pact that secretly allowed for the separation of Eastern Europe into their respective spheres of influence.  For Poland this was to foretell a new division of the country.  On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and so began World War II in Europe. Several weeks later the Soviets rolled through eastern Poland, quickly capturing what little remained of the Polish Army shattered by the Germany attack.  In accordance with their treaty, Germany and the Soviet Union split the country in two.  The Polish prisoners captured in this rapid advance were held by the NKVD, the Soviet state security organization. While most of these prisoners were from the Polish officer class, there were also many intellectuals, lawyers, doctors and government officials.  In March, 1940, Stalin ordered that these prisoners be executed. by the NKVD.  When it was done, some 22,000 Polish nationals had been killed.  These executions occurred at various interment camps in Russia, but the discovery of mass graves at the forest near Katyn presented the world a name for these massacres.

In 2007, a memorial to the Katyn Massacre was established at Saint Adalberts Cemetery in Niles, Illinois, here in Chicago's Near Northwest suburbs.  There is a long history of Polish settlement in Chicago, which is considered the largest community of Poles outside of Poland.  Saint Adalberts Cemetery was established in 1872 to serve this growing community.   Named for Poland's first saint, the cemetery's 255 acres are filled with a beautiful display of over 300,00 historic graves, shrines and memorials.  The Katyn Monument was designed by noted Polish artist Wojciech Seweryn, who immigrated to Chicago in the 1970's.  More significantly, Seweryn was the son of a Polish Army officer killed in the Katyn massacre.  To add to the tragedy, Wojciech Seweryn was killed, along with Polish President Lech Kaczynski, in the 2010 Polish Air Force Crash near Smolensk. Along with Seweryn and the President, several government officials as well as relatives of victims of the Katyn Massacre were on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of the event.  All aboard were lost.  A new monument was placed in 2011 nearby the Katyn Memorial to honor those lost in the disaster.

Traveler's Notes:  This is a continuation of my exploration of locations within walking distance from home here in Park Ridge. Saint Adalberts Cemetery in nearby Niles is a scenic destination for cemetery walkers with its rich, gothic architecture and stonework. These memorials are of particular meaning to me considering my own Polish-Lithuanian heritage, but you don't have to be related to appreciate and honor the artistic expression of those who seek to remember.

Resources: Saint Adalbert Cemetery - Archdiocese of Chicago

Katyn Memorial

Katyn Memorial

Katyn Memorial

Memorial to the 2010 Air Disaster

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