Address by the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland in the Netherlands,
Professor Marcin Czepelak,
at the Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden, 74 years ago
Driel, 22 September 2018
Dear Mr. Mayor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Dutch Friends,
I remember when I came to Driel a year ago – at the very beginning of my diplomatic mission in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. I remember this day very well. During this year, I got to know You and your Homeland. And I must admit that you do not stop surprising me.
I was very surprised when last week I went to a meeting with Anthony Beevor – the author of the book “Battle of Arnhem”. On Friday evening, the Hartenstein Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek was full. I wondered what the pragmatic Dutch were doing on Friday evening at such a meeting. Why didn’t they choose a pub where they serve good beer, croquets and bitterballs?
Listening to the questions I was even more surprised – everyone knew the history of the Battle of Arnhem, as if they were professional historians. Many people asked about Polish soldiers and General Sosabowski. But this is not the end.
After the meeting, a young woman approached me and said: “Mr. Ambassador, we will never forget about the Poles.” And when she spoke, I saw emotion in her eyes.
I asked myself: what happened here, that 74 years after the military operation, which ended in a total defeat, and which cost the lives of almost 2,000 Allied soldiers and about 500 Dutch, the memory of Poles remained? What was the surprising meeting of the Poles and the Dutch? Who were these Polish soldiers – dear Dutch Friends – that you still remember them?
At that time I thought about the commander of Polish paratroopers – General Stanisław Sosabowski. He was the creator of the First Polish Independent Parachute Brigade. He shaped his soldiers and his character shaped the character of the entire Brigade.
We know that basic character traits are formed during childhood. Sosabowski’s childhood was not easy. He lost his father early. He was eleven years old; his brother – seven, sister – four. As he wrote: “The death of my father became the cause of my premature maturity. I lost my carefree and joyful childhood and youth. My mother’s salary of a widow was not enough for our needs. ” Indeed, Stanisław was poor as a church mouse. He did not even have a coat, and in the winter he simply ran to school, where he kept shivering from cold. He was helped by a priest who was one of the teachers. Thanks to him Sosabowski got a coat and started earning money by giving math and French lessons. He gave his hard earned money to his mother.
Already at that time Sosabowski was hard and unyielding. This came in handy when he became the commander of the Polish army. Trust me, Polish soldiers are not angels. But his perseverance helped him overcome much greater challenges that fate did not spare him.
Stanisław Sosabowski was born in 1892 in Stanisławów. It was a Polish city – a fortress that defended Poland against Tatars and Turks. Today it is a part of Ukraine. At that time in 1892 Stanisławów was occupied by Austria and Sosabowski was enrolled into the Austrian army. He fought bravely. After a year of fighting from the 250 soldiers who went to the front with Sosabowski only three survived. He himself was severely injured in the knee resulting in nerve palsy. He could not walk and was walking with crutches during his own wedding. Would anyone believe at that time that he would jump with a parachute at the age of 52?
And yet there was a moment in the life of General Sosabowski, in which he broke down. His younger son Jacek died in an accident. Earlier, his older son – bearing the same name as his father – Stanisław was also injured in an accident. In this case, he lost his left eye. This son of General Sosabowski became a doctor and a soldier of the Polish underground Home Army. On August 1, 1944 – that is, on the first day of the Warsaw Uprising, the young lieutenant Sosabowski commanded a unit that freed 50 Jews from the SS prison. Unfortunately, he was seriously wounded and he also lost sight in his right eye. Shortly thereafter, his father – General Sosabowski, landed in Driel.
Taking into account all the blows that General Sosabowski was not spared by fate, I am astonished by his faith in his fellow men. It is true that he was demanding, but he was not a despot. He counted on the ambitions of his soldiers, he knew how to motivate them and shape their characters. This is who he was – when he escaped from German and Russian occupation to Hungary, then to France, which soon capitulated and from there to Great Britain.
Wherever General Sosabowski appeared, he showed endurance, faith in man and open mindedness to new ideas. His love of sport also helped him survive.
When in 1940 in Scotland his soldiers encountered a harsh winter – instead of worrying, he organized a ski course for them. He was a ski instructor himself. There were no skis? No problem! Sosabowski borrowed them from fellow Norwegian soldiers. And every Polish officer went on a two-week ski course, returning tanned and in excellent physical condition – although – as General Sosabowski recalls – some were already after 40. This is very important for me, since I just turned 40.
And when nobody knew what to do with his soldiers, one evening he got an idea – if there are ski courses, there can also be parachuting ones.
You already know what happened next. How it was in Driel, how it was in Arnhem and how he was accused. For his service he did not even get the right to a pension and worked practically until his death as a simple warehouse keeper. He was left without help, without a general’s title, without money. And without a word of complaint.
Let us now think about general Sosabowski – about his courage, perseverance, devotion to his homeland, dedication and sense of independence. He passed all these values to his soldiers – those who landed here 74 years ago.
When many politicians today talk about Europe of values, I think that values are shown best by those who truly live according to them. You do not need to reinvent these values anew. You can see them here. All it takes is some imagination. Just close your eyes and see parachute canopy in the September skies. Let’s try …