Speech of Minister Head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression Mr. J.J. Kasprzyk at the 78th Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden.

Driel, September 17, 2022

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we remember a great battle and its heroes. For the Poles, a particularly important figure in the drama that took place here seventy-eight years ago is General Stanislaw Sosabowski. He prepared for this role for a long time and played it masterfully, yet he had to drink many a cup of bitterness and pay for other people’s mistakes. In the Battle of Arnhem, the soldiers of the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade rose to the heights of military glory, but it was also the swan song of their commander’s brilliant career.

Operation “Market-Garden” ended in failure and huge losses. And it could have been different. The fortunes of the campaign could have been reversed if only General Sosabowski’s advice had been heeded, before and during the battle. It is an enduring truth that an isolated voice can be the voice of reason, but sometimes such a voice is overshadowed by self-confident decision-makers leading others to their doom.

A great injustice was done to General Sosabowski, which in fact was never repaired during his lifetime. His story summarizes the fate of hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers from the World War II, including his subordinates, who were used and then sidelined. They were even denied participation in the great Victory Parade and their Homeland was put under Stalin’s rule. They wanted to return to Poland by the “shortest route”, but the road to independence turned out to be long and bumpy. 

The injustices of the past are a thorn in our hearts, but we have not come here to vent our grievances; on the contrary, we would like to express our joy that we have heroes who accepted everything that fate had in store for them with style and a certain nonchalance.

The great Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid wrote:
“So it matters less in what urn thou shall  rest, (…)
For thy grave they will yet unmake again,
Otherwise they will proclaim thy merits”.

The people of the Netherlands were able to show their gratitude to the soldiers who brought them freedom, and from the beginning they sought due credit for General Sosabowski’s merits. Over time, they were joined by others. In the movie titled “One Bridge Too Far”, General Sosabowski, played so well by Gene Hackman, is a hero who can see more than the other participants in the war meetings and whose vision reaches further than theirs. The memory of the Polish general has also been honoured by his British comrades-in-arms who funded a memorial to him.

Years later, we have a sense of bitter satisfaction that justice, though long overdue, has finally triumphed.

How apt were the words of another great Pole, Marshal Józef Piłsudski: “To win and rest on one’s laurels is defeat, to be defeated and not to succumb is victory”.