Writing these remarks at the request of our editor- in–chief, I first wish to say that I did not take part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, having fought the battle of the River Bzura. But that is another story. A great deal has been written about the Battle of Monte Cassino beginning with the work of Melchior Wankowicz. British and American publications have given little coverage, if not altogether ignored, the tremendous contributions that the Second Corps made towards the great victory in that conflict.
So it is important for us to look at a recently published history which is quite lengthy (456 pages) and detailed: Matthew Parker’s Monte Cassino – The Story of the Hardest Fought Battle of World War II.
The author of course, describes all of those taking part in the four great battles that comprise Monte Cassino. This includes the British, Americans, Poles, New Zealanders, Moroccans, Algerians, French, Canadians and South Afrikaners. About a quarter of a million soldiers lost their lives at Monte Cassino, a sobering fact.
In this great conflict, the author makes particular mention of the Poles, their war efforts, character and customs. “These were soldiers who were very clean, smelled of good cologne, smoked using long, elegant cigarette holders, but who were at the same time, extremely serious about and focused on the war.”
The book also recalls an incident that occurred many years after WW II, which resonates today as we watch the current investigations regarding the handling of prisoners of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1983, in what was then West Germany (RFN), a television station broadcast a program in which it accused Polish forces of an atrocity. This broadcast claimed that a Polish Patrol, the first group to enter a monastery after occupying the territory, found three injured German parachutists and murdered them. These accusations created a furor in Europe. As the scandal mounted, Robert Froettloehr heard about it. He happened to be one of those parachutists, alive and well, residing in Germany. He quickly contacted the SPK (The Organization of Polish Combatants) in Germany and denounced this huge lie in writing.
Mr. Froettloehr was put in touch with the leader of that Polish patrol, Lieutenant Casimir Burkiel and the men were able to meet after 45 years as friends.
During the jubilee honoring the sacrifices of those who fought at Monte Cassino, Gustaf Herling- Grudzinski remarked to Maria Dabrowska “Here is the final cemetery of the Polish Republic”. Yes, she replied, “The Republic for which they fought, arm in arm, the Poles, the Jews, the Ukranians and so many others”.
The Cemetery at Monte Cassino brings these matters to mind, and so many others.
Henryk J. Lapczynski
Translated by Zofia Wisniewska