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From Lviv to the Capital

By March 18, 2018November 16th, 2022No Comments6 min read

By Halina Massalska

Translated by Monika Szafrańska

There are still many months left until celebrating the jubilee of the regaining of independence [by Poland], but history’s revision might already get started. During his first pilgrimage to Poland (in June 1979) Pope John Paul II prayed by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. In his homily he said:

We are before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the ancient and contemporary history of Poland this tomb has a special basis, a special reason for its existence. How many places in our native land has that soldier fallen! How many places in Europe and the world has he cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map! On how many battlefields has that solider given witness to the rights of man, indelibly inscribed in the inviolable rights of the people, by falling for “our freedom and yours”! The history of the motherland written through the tomb of an Unknown Soldier!

It was on 4th April 1925. To the attendees in a chamber of War Council Władysław Sikorski, the minister of military affairs of that time, spoke:

The representatives of the Government, a military and a society, assembled in this place today, are having the high honor of being witnesses to drawing a battlefield, that will be regarded as a symbol of many of our battlefields. From all the land of graves and crosses one place will be chosen as a bloody cachet of several generations’ fights, a unity and an independence of the nation…

The one called on to the act of drawing was the youngest recipient of the Virtuti Military Order, the ogniomistrz [an equivalent word to a sergeant in Polish Armed Forces] of 14th Regiment of Light Artillery, Józef Buczkowski. From among 15 cards perched in ballot box – on which the names of the most bloody battles were written (based on a collation prepared formerly by the Military Office of Historical Research) – he drew this one:

The Lviv battlefield from 1918-1919 along with Wereszyce battlefield, i.e. Gródek Jagielloński, in which the later 5th Division of Infantry fought bloody and sacrificial battles with Ukrainians. A long lasting, the fights’ fierceness, a moment of commitment appears here in all their fullness.

Certified by the Chief of Military Office of Historical Research, Brigadier General Kukiel and the stamp of the Ministry of Military Affairs.

That act of God was accepted by Lviv with much enthusiasm. – In a triumphant, non-mournful parade the bones of unknown soldiers will be transferred from Lviv battlefield into Warsaw, so that there, in the very heart of Poland, in a nimbus of immortality, in a glow of burning flame, they will stay forever. – one could read in an appeal issued by the Executive Committee under the leadership of Major General Jan Thullie.

The exhumation was conducted on 28th October in the presence of an august commission, including archbishop B. Twardowski, dean priest major Truszkowski, general Juliusz Malczewski, general J. Thullie, Lviv governor Dr. Garapich, president J. Neumann, the representatives of the Ministry of Military Affairs, delegations of Polish Heroes’ Graves Watch Association and two mothers who have never found their sons – Bronisława Widtowa and Jadwiga Zarugiewiczowa.

When the first three coffins were opened, the commission couldn’t state unequivocally that the soldiers in them were combat soldiers who fell in battle because no sufficient evidence was available, but the next three left no doubts that the bones of combat casualties were inside.

Among those three, one was meant to become the symbol of sacrificial devotion to the homeland. The choice was made by Jadwiga Zarugiewiczowa. With a shaking hand she touched one of the coffins – The lot fell upon the one that has had no charge in his life but he has cradled his Maciej’s cap with the white eagle blackened because of a dampness. He died on the battleground which was shown by the skull punched with a bullet and the leg broken by a shot. The Maciej’s cap signified that its owner had been a volunteer…

Transporting of the Unknown Soldier’s corpse from the Cemetery of the Defenders of Lviv to ArchCathedral Basilica took place on 30th October. On the streets shrouded with pall there was an endless wave of Lviv citizens, youth collectives’ delegations, a clergy, an army. While playing the national anthem the coffin was moved from a gun carriage into the cathedral’s interior by the officers. The gold chivalric emblems and the gold wreaths of laurus at a white and a crimson denoted the dignity of the relics seen of by Lviv with a sorrow and at the same time given to a Polish nation with pride.

In a chapel car, of which the door stayed open, the bones of the Unknown Soldier were following the Lviv-Warsaw route. Railway stations were welcoming the train with a sirens’ reverberation, orchestras were playing, army units were paying tribute, the population was demonstrating and wreaths were laid. Before sunrise the train was near Warsaw, feted as well. Assisted by the delegations and a large crowd the corpse was carried into St. John’s Cathedral. There, at the entrance, it was received by the Field Bishop, Father Gal. The funeral service was celebrated by cardinal Kakowski, in the presence of president S. Wojciechowski, prime minister Grabski, the speakers of the Parliament and the Senate, ten generals, mayor of Warsaw Pogorzelski, eleven military attachés including United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Belgium…

After the service the funeral procession set off to Saxon Square. The banners were pitching, the bells were resounding, and when they reached the destination at 1 p.m. cannon shots pealed out calling the capital and the whole nation for a minute’s silence.

Eight Virtuti Military Order’s soldiers carried the corpse into the mausoleum. The Minister of Military Affairs general W. Sikorski placed in the tomb the foundation act:
(…) The nation and the government of the brightest Commonwealth of Poland with its president Stanisław Wojciechowski in the lead and the participation of the legislative chambers’ representatives, the clergy of all creeds, the army, the public and local authorities, social associations and numerous people’s crowd on the Saxon Square in the Capital City of Warsaw, put into the tomb the corpse of a Polish soldier winkled out from the Lviv battlefield cursed by fate, who gave his life for the Homeland, paying common tribute to thousands of heroes, that during the 123-year fight for freedom have come a cropper on the field of glory due to the Homeland matter. In this tomb, which is a piece by a sculptor named Ostrowski, fourteen urns containing the soil from Polish battlefield are laid (…)

Though the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the beginning was visited very often, with the passing of time it became forgotten. However during the Nazi Occupation, it happened to be a very important place for the residents of Warsaw, who putting their lives at risk laid there the flowers to commemorate national holidays. In December 1944 Germans blew up Saxon Square, nevertheless the arcades with the Tomb remained safe. Some call it a miracle.

In 1989 soil from Katyn was laid there. Next year the democratic authorities commissioned reinstating the prewar plaques and adding new ones…
Every now and then different events remain. “The history of Homeland written by one Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, that’s all.

The source materials used to write this text were citations from the brochure “Cemetery of the Defenders of Lviv”, published during martial law in Poland by KOS, [Polish bi-weekly], Warsaw.