Gen. Walter Jajko, IWP Professor of Defense Studies and US Air Force Brigadier General (Ret.), delivered the First Annual Kościuszko Chair Military Lecture on Friday, 16 September. The subject of the lecture was the Battle of Britain, in general, and the 303rd Polish Squadron, in particular.
The event – coordinated with Aquila Polonica Publishing – marked the release of Arkady Fiedlers’ book 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron. The audience expressed great interest and purchased many copies.
The lecture was inaugurated by Mr. Christopher Olechowski, a Polish-American businessman, comparative literary scholar, and poet, who recited a poem about the Katyn Forest Massacre, entitled “The Katyn Ledger,” by his late father Jan. Olechowski Sr. was a Polish officer captured by the Soviets following their invasion of Poland, in alliance with the Nazis, in September 1939. He avoided the fate of thousands of his fellow officers, methodically executed at Katyn, only because he managed to escape and disguise himself as a civilian. Nevertheless, he was forced to endure Gulag slavery before receiving a chance to depart the Soviet Union along with Gen. Anders’ Free Polish forces.
As Gen. Jajko indicated, many Katyn victims desired to continue their fight for Poland’s freedom. This included the struggle against Germany on the Western Front, where many distinguished themselves, in particular the peerless pilots. Polish officers, soldiers, and aviators who avoided the Nazi-Soviet dragnet escaped to France via such countries as Hungary and Romania. Following the fall of France in June 1940, the Free Poles were evacuated to Britain to fight alongside the Allied forces for the duration of the war. Once on British soil, the Polish pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, which lasted from 10 July – 31 October 1940, in the 303rd Squadron within the framework of the RAF.
The Polish squadron was the highest-scoring unit in the Battle of Britain and incurred the least damage. Much of this was due to the bravery and dedication of the Polish pilots. In addition, Gen. Jajko pointed out, the Poles scored more hits precisely because they disregarded standard British air tactics, employing ingenious and daring ones of their own.
Gen. Jajko emphasized that the Battle of Britain was a great victory for the British, but unrequited sacrifice for the Poles. The latter, the first Allied nation to resist and consistently fight the Nazis, were eventually handed over to the Stalin at Yalta. Adding insult to injury, the post-Churchill Labour government of Clement Attlee failed to invite the pilots of the 303rd to the grand 1946 Victory Parade in London. The leftist British government had already recognized the communist puppet regime in Poland, which saw these pilots as enemies, in spite of their contribution to Nazi defeat. The Labour cabinet envisioned a British-Soviet postwar order in Europe and preferred not to antagonize Moscow.
In spite of immense Allied ingratitude, the pilots of the 303rd could live their postwar lives with a clear conscience. “Truly, the 303rd had served as the Antemurale Christianitatis” fighting in the spirit of the battle cry of Polish nineteenth-century insurrectionists: “For Your freedom and Ours!”
Please click here to read the full text of Gen. Jajko’s speech: Gen. Walter Jajko, Kosciuszko Military Lecture, September 16, 2011
Born after the Second World War in the Sherwood Forest region of England in the Polish Army’s postwar demobilization camp, charmingly referred to by Polish soldiers as “Beczka Smiechu” (“A Barrel of Laughs”), at the age of five Christopher Olechowski, along with his parents Jan and Janina, sailed to New York City in 1952.
He graduated from New York University with two Master’s degrees in Comparative Literature, and spent three years during the 1970s in Kraków (Poland) as a Kościuszko Foundation Scholar at the Jagiellonian University. During the winter of 1981, as a secret emissary of a small Polish exile organization “Pomost” to underground Solidarity, he was caught up in the turmoil of Gen. Jaruzelski’s Martial Law. Following that experience, Mr. Olechowski decided to focus his attention on the needs of the new Polish émigré post-Solidarity community by developing and directing various social, employment, and education programs. In 1993, he became director of a multi-million-dollar non-profit Home Health Care program, which he has, over the years, expanded and continues to operate. During those years, he also completed his Master’s Degree in Publication Administration at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
Today, aside from his day-to-day Home Health Care Program Development and Operations, he is a third-term chairman of his Community Board in revitalized Greenpoint/Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Most recently, in 2009, he was elected to serve as the National Adjutant General to the Polish Army Veterans Association of America (PAVA) as a “Heritage Member”: a second-generation child of Polish war veterans.
He resides in Greenpoint with his wife Jolanta, and has two daughters, Antonina and Monika.
Christopher Olechowski’s father Jan died in New York in 1956, at the young age of 39, when Christopher was only nine years old.
Jan Olechowski’s literary career as a journalist and poet began before the Second World War when, as a young, Christian nationalist activist, he published articles and verse in Christian nationalist publications. During the War he avoided certain death by managing to escape from the body of the Polish officers held by the Soviet NKVD, and whose ultimate fate was determined at Katyn and other Bolshevik killing fields. Subsequently, he was once again caught by a Soviet patrol, but was now disguised as a civilian. He was sent to the Siberian concentration camp in Murmansk. Following two failed escape attempts, he was sent farther away from the Soviet border to Arkhangelsk.
Jan Olechowski’s short volume of poems was last published by PAX in Poland in 1963 under the title “Selected Poems.” This modest collection was predominantly written during years spent as a soldier in General Anders’ Second Corps of the Eighth Army, which fought in the famous Battle of Monte Cassino. His poetry is very personal and expresses several themes, which include his longing for his beloved Poland, quiet reflections about time spent in Italy, and the plight of the Polish exiled soldier trying to overcome his bitter fate through prayer and allegiance to Poland’s venerated Holy Mother of Częstochowa. Jan Olechowski was referred to by many of his colleagues-in-arms as “The Poet of the Second Corps.” One of his poems, simply entitled “Prayer,” was a favorite of the Rev. Jerzy Popiełuszko, an outspoken priest killed by goons sent by the communist secret police during the 1980s in Poland.
“The Katyn Ledger” would only see publication in the UK in 1960. Most likely, it was written soon after the discovery of the mass graves in 1943. “The Katyn Ledger,” as the poet stated, was written in memory of a dear friend, Olgierd Szpakowski, who was a prisoner in Starobelsk and was executed, along with thousands of other officers, near Kharkiv. An English translation of the poem by his son Christopher follows.
Read into the Katyn ledger
The names.. lifeless words
And pray a litany for all those
Without lips, eyes, faceless
A number, stoned in silence,
Deathblow so cruel.
Oh lips that are no more
How would they cry when exploded
Eyes by suffering gnawed
Hollowed into night, muted,
In what horrified gaze
Did you bid farewell to this earth
In our fragile trembling days
Let our common plight uplift us
The last gesture of the dying
Deceived in the forest in Katyn.
A wind licks at the upturned graves
Obscure remnant of their executioners
We pray, in sorrow, under the cross
For the right to our own lawful deaths