Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Body of Poland’s Second World War Prime Minister exhumed

This image is in the public domain because according to the Art.3 of copyright law of March 29, 1926 of the Republic of Poland and Art. 2 of copyright law of July 10, 1952 of the People's Republic of Poland, all photographs by Polish photographers (or published for the first time in Poland or simultaneously in Poland and abroad) published without a clear copyright notice before the law was changed on May 23, 1994 are assumed public domain.
by Kathryn Hadley

The body of Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile in London during the Second World War, was exhumed yesterday, Tuesday 25th November, in the hope to solve the mystery of his death in a plane crash in 1943. His marble tomb in Krakow cathedral was opened up and his body was transferred to Krakow’s Institute of Forensic Research and Jagiellonian University to undergo DNA and pathological tests. The prosecutors, who are specifically investigating a communist crime sponsored by the former Soviet Union, have the backing of the Poland’s President and Prime Minister.

During the Second World War, Sikorski took command of the Polish army in France and thereafter became the head of the Polish government in exile. At the time of his death, on July 4th 1943, he was returning to London from the Middle East where he had been inspecting Polish troops which were about to join the allies. He was notably accompanied by two British MPs, his chief of staff and his daughter. His plane crashed into the sea just a few seconds after take-off from Gibraltar, allegedly due to a technical failure. Apart from the Czech pilot, all the passengers on board were killed. British investigations in the aftermath of his death concluded that it was an accident.

New investigations in 1992 revealed, however, that, at the height and speed at which it was travelling, the plane could technically not have crashed. Some claimed that the pilot had deliberately brought the plane down. The mystery of Sikorski’s death remains and has since been subject to various theories: a murder planned by the Soviet Union or by the British government.

Ewa Koj, the prosecutor overseeing the investigation claimed that:

“Given Sikorski’s important role in Poland’s history – and having the tools and know-how that we have now – we cannot let this remain a historical mystery”.

One theory is that the murder was ordered by Churchill in an effort to maintain good relations with Stalin, at a time of increasing tension between Poland and the Soviet Union. But crumbling diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union also point towards the possibility of a Soviet sponsored murder. Just before his death, Sikorski had called for an investigation into the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest and the finger was increasingly being pointed towards the NKVD. A further cause for tension was the Soviet Union’s moves towards the creation of a communist sponsored Polish government for the postwar period.

Dariusz Baliszewski is a Polish historian and has spent fifteen years researching the crash. For him, there is little doubt that Sikorski was assassinated.

“The British were at least passive witnesses because nothing could take place at Gibraltar without them knowing”.

Sikorski’s body will be reinterred next Wednesday following a Catholic mass. The results of tests will take time and may not prove to solve the mystery of his death. The investigation may, however, shed new light by putting pressure on the British government to open up secret documents of the time.
(the above image shows Sikorski in Gibraltar just before his death)
For more information on Anglo-Polish relations on the eve of the Second World War read our article A Fatal Guarantee: Poland, 1939

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