Address by the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, Dr Janusz Stańczyk
Dear Members of the Families of Gen. Sosabowski and Cora Baltussen,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
67 years ago, on September 17th 1944 in the surrounding of Arnhem, the biggest air-borne operation of World War Two began under the codename of Market Garden, with the participation of 40.000 American, British and Polish paratroopers and glider infantry. Today, like every year, we meet here in Driel, to commemorate these events and to honour the fallen and survived heroes of the Battle of Arnhem.
Participants and witnesses of these times are decreasing in numbers, but the memory of them is ever alive. The courage of the Polish paratroopers and the spirit and self-sacrifice of the Dutch population remain alive in the consciousness of successive Polish and Dutch generations. And that is good! Because by cherishing the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers at Arnhem, by reminding that “freedom is measured by crosses”, we can better value and cherish our lives in peace, freedom and democracy. Poland experiences its freedom for over two decades, just as Europe liberated by the Western Allies was bequeathed with freedom directly after the war. Owing to half a century of experience with communism, we Poles know how costly freedom and democracy is and what great good the European Union is, providing the peoples of Europe freedom and prosperity for generations.
The Independent Airborne Brigade fulfilled its task in the battle of Arnhem, a difficult, almost impossible task. It left the battlefield unbeaten, although the operation Market Garden ended in defeat. The Brigade lost a lot of blood – over 20% of its manpower fell. Nevertheless, the Brigade maintained its combative spirit until the very end. Under its commander General Sosabowski the Brigade showed the highest qualifications of a soldier: discipline, courage and sacrifice. It went into history as the first Polish airborne unit engaged in combat.
Last year I addressed you, honourable veterans, with the words that: “despite their heroism and sacrifice they were robbed of the right to pride in their contribution on the battlefield. Attempts were made to tarnish the honor of the General”. Let these words be heard also this year. Let them be heard until the day when this unjust opinion disappears from the history books, as if incompetence or even lack of combative spirit of the 1st Independent Airborne Brigade and its commander general Sosabowski were responsible for the allied defeat. Let the historians have the ultimate say about why attempts were made to slander the good name of General Sosabowski, by placing him among those responsible for the defeat at Arnhem.
Honourable Polish veterans,
The 1st Independent Airborne Brigade commanded by General Sosabowski has a deservedly proud place in the history of the Polish armed forces. I pay tribute to you for your unsurpassed courage, patriotism and determination. You went into mortal combat so that we could enjoy peace and democracy. Living today in a free Poland, we can dedicate ourselves to building a common Europe: without borders, without prejudices, without hatred.
Honourable Dutch friends,
I thank you for maintaining the memory and gratitude. I thank the inhabitants of Driel and other places, where Poles fought, I thank the Dutch population. A few days ago I participated in the 65th anniversary of the Oorlogsgravenstichting – War Graves Foundation. One of the speakers – historian Jay Winter of the Yale University – remarked that in the West there has been a fashion for history for decades, a „memory boom”. This is true. But the remembrance and gratitude of the Dutch is not tendentious, it is not a fashion, but stems from the need to remain loyal to historical truth, to remain loyal to one’s own heart.
Let me honour Cora Baltussen, the founder of the foundation Driel-Polen, her family and all those, who cherish the memory of the soldiers of General Sosabowski on Dutch soil. At the aforementioned anniversary of the War Graves Foundation Queen Beatrix said to the Polish delegation: „now all the Polish graves finally have their recognition”. And so since May 31st 2006 the banner of the 6th Airborne Brigade of Shock Troops, the successor of the 1st Independent Airborne Brigade, is decorated with the Willemsorde, while General Sosabowki is the Knight of the order of the Bronze Lion.
Today I want to honour not only the heroic soldiers of Arnhem and other battlefields in the Netherlands, but also the inhabitants of these places, the Dutch people, who strive for remembrance and truth. It is thanks to you, that the General and his soldiers have received the recognition and honour, which they deserve in the history books. In the name of the Republic of Poland and the Polish people I thank you, the Dutch people.