Canada’s Polish community in shock

Canada’s Polish community in shock over crash

2 hours, 37 minutes ago

VANCOUVER (CBC) – The death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and over 90 other dignitaries in a Saturday morning plane crash came as a shock to Polish neighbourhoods across Canada, adding grief to a community already preparing to mark a tragic anniversary from the Second World War.

Across the country, members of Canada’s Polish community spoke of both disbelief and sadness over Saturday’s plane crash, which came a day before the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyn Forest massacre, when Soviet secret police killed 22,000 Polish military officers.

In Toronto, where about 300,000 of Canada’s nearly one million Polish Canadians reside, people in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood laid flowers at the Katyn Memorial at King Street and Roncesvalles Avenue.

Canadian Polish Congress vice-president Juliusz Kirejczyk, standing near the Katyn Memorial in Toronto, said the magnitude of the tragedy was immense, noting that in addition to the president and his wife, Maria, the passengers on board also included the country’s army chief, central bank governor and other leaders.

“On that plane died the best the brilliant minds of Polish political life, of Polish economic life, of Polish cultural institutions,” Kirejczyk said.

In Nova Scotia, home to 4,000 Polish Canadians, Polish Association of Halifax president Alina Klimek said she learned the news when she was wakened at 7:30 a.m. by a call from a friend. After that, the telephone rang “constantly, asking do you know what happened,” Klimek said.

“All of us are in shock,” she added. “This is a national tragedy.”

Vancouver resident Jerzy Mazur, who left Poland in the late 1980s, said the catastophe came at an incongruous time, when Polish dignitaries were making their first official visit to Russia to commemorate the Katyn massacre.

“For the first time in history they were flying over there to a memorial to visit this place, and they all suddenly crashed. So it’s very ironic.”

Rev. Pavel Ratajczak at St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto said he and people he spoke to were still in shock.

“It’s something that seems unreal to wake up on this fine Saturday morning, a sunny day in Canada, and hear that the plane has crashed and 80 or 90 people have died somewhere in the far-off reaches of Russia,” he said.

That the accident occurred in Russia on the eve of the Katyn anniversary has also added to the emotions of the members of the community. A service at the Katyn memorial is planned for Sunday at 11 a.m.

Poland’s embassy in Ottawa and five consulates across the country also opened their doors Saturday for people to sign books of condolences, as did a number of municipalities.

Maceij Pajak, the pastor at Holy Ghost Parish in Winnipeg, said local residents began praying at the church in the early morning, clutching small Polish flags and sharing their grief with each other.

“This is a terrible story, but that story unites all of us,” Pajak said.

In Regina, members of the Polish community were to gather Saturday evening for a springtime social, an annual event that is usually well attended. However it was cancelled following the news of the crash.

John Findura, president of the Polish Canadian Cultural Club in Regina, said it was hard for the many Polish Canadians with strong ties to the country.

“We still have relatives there’s a lot of people here and in Saskatoon, and in other parts of Saskatchewan who have relatives, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in Poland.”

Teresa Babij of Edmonton said she spoke to her sister in Poland on Saturday.

“They are devastated, they are just glued to the TV, they are just reliving,” Babij related. “It was very tragic to the people there, and it’s just unbelievable.”

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