The following are fragments from the memoirs of Kazimierz, Count Plater-Zyberk, a soldier during the September Campaign, a member of Armia Krajowa (the Home Army), an exemplary activist in the Polish community in Canada, and one of the characters in Beata Gołembiowska’s book “In one suitcase” about the life of Polish aristocrats who emigrated to Canada.
As a 17-year-old boy I served in the Masovian Brigade during the September Campaign. I was the youngest soldier there and I fought alongside them until the final battle of Tarnawatka, which we lost. After that the Command ordered the Army to evacuate to Hungary. Unfortunately, we were attacked by the Soviets, most of our soldiers were captured and later died in Katyń. We, the youngest of the Chevau-legers Regiment, managed to avoid capture and had enough time to withdraw.
In October I was sworn to the Union for Armed Struggle, which later became the Home Army. After graduating from the Cadet School I took part in Operation Tempest, the aim of which was to acquire weapons for the planned uprising in Warsaw. Our unit operated in the Kozienicka forest: one of our successful missions was stopping and plundering a German train, filled with ordnance. Half of it we managed to supply to the Resistance, the rest we buried after the Uprising was suppressed.
In 1958, after the decree about reuniting families came into force, I emigrated to Canada, a beautiful and free country. We lost the war, despite the titanic efforts of the entire Polish nation, and that was the most difficult thing to accept. Fortunately I had many successes in my Canadian “fight”.
During the celebrations of the Millennium of Polish Christendom, as a vice-chairman of the Canadian Polish Congress I was made president of several projects that were part of the Millennium: building a Polish church in Montreal, building a Polish nursing home, and on the 500th anniversary of the birth of Nicolaus Copernicus, erecting a monument to celebrate our great astronomer. In 1980 it was the 40th anniversary of the massacre in Katyń, and I organised the construction of a memorial statue in Toronto. Some 280 Colour Guards turned up at the very stately unveiling, as well as clergymen from several religions, representatives of the Canadian government and around 5000 people of many nationalities.
As part of the struggle against Communism I founded the Union of Captive Countries, with members from seven different nations. Our aim was to revisit the Yalta provisions, and to form a federation of countries occupied by the Bolsheviks, which would negotiate with the West to join the European community. Who would have thought back then that this would become a reality?
Shortly after the end of the celebrations I turned my attention towards Poles captured and imprisoned deep in Soviet Russia. In 1978, during the Congress of the Polish Community of the Free World, I gave a speech on the subject, and the excited delegates voted to establish the Foundation of St. Andrew Bobola, whose aim was to collect funds to help our countrymen still living in exile in Russia. We’ve sent 2000 letters to all Polish community organisations and we collected $120,000 in donations. After Free Poland was reborn, the London Government in Exile was disbanded, and withdrew £1.5m from its bank accounts, donating half the money to Polish people living in Russia. Unfortunately, the 3rd Polish Republic didn’t do much to help them, denying citizenship to the vast majority.
Also, the decree about the return of property never came into force. My family house in Pilica, alongside many other once beautiful mansions and palaces, lies in ruin. Prof. Zachwatowicz, the main monuments conservator in the 1960s, wrote that 85 per cent of historic buildings in post-war Poland were destroyed. To this day many abandoned ruins deteriorate slowly, waiting for their rightful owners. They should be, along with the few that are still well-preserved, be returned to the people who were once driven away from them.
Kazimierz, Count Plater-Zyberk has been awarded 12 medals for his military and civic service. He now lives in Rowdon, Canada.