Opening speech by the chairman of the Driel-Poland Foundation Mr. A.J.M. Baltussen during the 79th Commemoration of the contribution of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade to Operation Market Garden

Driel, September 16, 2023
Excellencies, Generals, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to welcome you to the annual commemoration in Driel. Today we commemorate the incredible and unforgettable efforts of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade and its contribution to Operation Market Garden, 79 years ago.
A special welcome to Ms. Kassangana. Since the beginning of this year you have been an ambassador for Poland in the Netherlands. It is the first time that you are attending the commemoration. Having you here is a great honour.
Thanks to the deployment of the Polish brigade then, we are together now. Some of our Polish heroes came from a part of Poland that today belongs to Ukraine, where human dignity is currently being horrifically violated. That makes it exceptional that the Ukrainian ambassador is among us today. Mr. Karasevych, welcome!

I would like to warmheartedly greet also other ambassadors: Mr. Drent who is here to represent the province, the mayors of the airborne municipalities and other official representatives.
Last but not least, I would like to express my warm welcome to the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and next of kin of our Polish friends. I hope that you will continue attending this commemoration and that you will be with us next year and many years to come to honour your family members. That hope comes from the bottom of my heart.
This also applies to the veterans who joined the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade later and cannot be here due to age or health limitations. I know that you are following the commemoration digitally or you are with us in your thoughts.

Ladies and gentlemen,
In our midst there is also the Mayor of Overbetuwe, Mrs. Hoytink-Roubos. Also on behalf of the Mayor, to whom the commemoration is exceptionally dear, I would like to welcome you. I am very happy that you are all here.
It touches me that we are reflecting together again today. Because – the story of Driel is the story of us all – and the story of 79 years ago is the story of now as well as future generations.

That’s why, dear guests, I would like to take you back to an earlier date this year. To be precise: to 4 July.
On that day Bolek Ostrowski celebrated his 104th birthday. As far as we know, Bolek is the last living Polish veteran who took part in Operation Market Garden.
That 4 July, I, together with other members of our board, had the honour of congratulating him on this special occasion.

Ladies and gentlemen,
104 years! A leap back to his youth is a big one.
Bolek is one of the men who grows up in a part of Poland that now belongs to Ukraine, the Dubno region. He has a happy childhood there on a farm.
On 1 September, 1939, Nazi Germany invades Poland and the war begins. He is twenty years old.
Sixteen days later, on 17 September, Dubno is attacked again – and since then occupied by the Soviets. Life is hard. Bolek retrains and starts teaching, but in March 1941 he has to join the Red Army.
When Nazi Germany attacks the Soviet Union in June 1941, lots of doubts arise within the Red Army about loyalty and the Polish soldiers are deported to labour camps in Siberia.
The Polish government in exile pushes for their release – they succeed. Bolek is released too – and he wants to join the Polish army in exile. In March 1942 he travels to Kazakhstan which is the beginning of his long journey.

Via Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Persia, Baghdad and Tel Aviv he reaches Egypt. From Port Suez he leaves by ship for South Africa and finally arrives to Scotland via Rio de Janeiro, New Jersey and Halifax. It’s 6 October, 1942. In Scotland, Bolek joins the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade.

Dear all,
Next Thursday, 5 days from now, I kindly ask you to spare him a thought– and all his comrades. On that day, exactly 79 years ago, the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade lands here under heavy shelling– they do it for us.
At night the Brigade retreats to a farm near the Rhine. The next day they move to the village and establish headquarters in one of the houses. The German artillery fire is incessant, but Bolek survives.
The Battle of Arnhem comes to an end on 26 September. The deployment of Polish troops cannot turn the tide. Together with the British army, the Polish troops return to London and are later deployed in Germany.
Bolek doesn’t return to Poland. After the war the country is retaken by the Soviet Union and, like most of his comrades, Bolek is not welcome in his homeland. In 1958 he emigrates to Canada.

Dear commemoration attendees,
65 years later, last July, Bolek is sitting behind his laptop at the kitchen table in Canada with his daughter next to him. I am here in Driel, in the Information Centre and we have digital contact.
Besides being able to congratulate him, I am able to look him in the eyes.
But above all I have the honour of thanking him, from the bottom of my heart for his incredible selfless deployment. I do it on your behalf, on behalf of myself and on behalf of all of us.
It might have been the last time.
His health is particularly fragile, but his conviction is rock solid and still powerful.
In exactly such a way he ends our conversation, with the urgent call for responsibility:
“The commitment to freedom – it’s a must, freedom is worth it”.

Dear people,
Let us take up his call for responsibility together. Every day, again and again.
Last week his daughter announced that Bolek is in hospital and that he is not doing well. I would like to ask you to have him in your thoughts.

Thank you.