Polish general fighting for justice dies tragically - HISTORY
Year
1943

Polish general fighting for justice dies tragically

On this day in 1943, Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski dies when his plane crashes less than a mile from its takeoff point at Gibraltar. Controversy remains over whether it was an accident or an assassination.

Born May 20, 1888, in Austrian Poland (that part of Poland co-opted by the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Sikorski served in the Austrian army. He went on to serve in the Polish Legion, attached to the Austrian army, during World War I, and fought in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920-21. He became prime minister of Poland for a brief period (1922-23).

When Germany invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, Sikorski became leader of a Polish government-in-exile in Paris. He developed a good working relationship with the Allies-until April 1943, when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin broke off Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations after Sikorski requested that the Red Cross investigate the alleged Soviet slaughter of Polish officers in the Katyn forest of eastern Poland in 1942.

After Germany and the USSR divided up Poland in 1939, thousands of Polish military personnel were sent to prison camps by the Soviets. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin created a pact with the Polish government-in-exile to cooperate in the battle against the Axis. Given the new relationship, the Poles requested the return of the imprisoned military men, but the Soviets claimed they had escaped and could not be found. But when Germany overran eastern Poland, the part that had previously been under Soviet control, mass graves in the Katyn forest were discovered, containing the corpses of over 4,000 Polish officers, all shot in the back. The Soviets, apparently, had massacred them. But despite the evidence, the Soviet government insisted it was the Germans who were responsible.

Once news of the massacre spread, a formal Declaration of War Crimes was signed in London on January 13, 1943. Among the signatories was General Sikorski and General Charles de Gaulle. But Sikorksi did not want to wait until after the war for the punishment of those responsible for the Katyn massacre. He wanted the International Red Cross to investigate immediately.

It is believed that Britain considered this request a threat to Allied solidarity and some believe that in order to silence Sikorski on this issue, the British went so far as to shoot down his plane. There is no solid evidence of this.

After the war, the communist Polish government officially accepted the Soviet line regarding the mass graves. It was not until 1992 that the Russian government released documents proving that the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, had been responsible for the Katyn slaughter-backed up by the old Soviet Politburo.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Pathfinder lands on Mars

After traveling 120 million miles in seven months, NASA’s Mars Pathfinder becomes the first U.S. spacecraft to land on Mars in more than two decades. In an ingenious, cost-saving landing procedure, Pathfinder used parachutes to slow its approach to the Martian surface and then ...read more

Death of the founding fathers

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States, respectively, die on this day, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Both men had been central in the drafting of the historic document; Jefferson had ...read more

Thieu vows to wipe out corruption

At a formal ceremony inaugurating the formation of a new multiparty pro-government political group, the People’s Alliance for Social Revolution, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu praises the organization as a “major step toward grassroots political activity.” An ...read more

South Vietnamese officers plot coup

Gen. Tran Van Don informs Lucien Conein of the CIA that certain officers are planning a coup against South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. Diem, who had been supported by the Kennedy administration, had refused to make any meaningful reforms and had oppressed the Buddhist ...read more

Dempsey defeats Willard

On this day in 1919, challenger Jack Dempsey defeats heavyweight champion Jess Willard in searing heat in Toledo, Ohio, to win the heavyweight championship of the world.Jack Dempsey was born William Harrison Dempsey on June 24, 1895, in Manassa, Colorado. “The Manassa Mauler” ...read more

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die

On this day in 1826, former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who were once fellow Patriots and then adversaries, die on the same day within five hours of each other.Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were the last surviving members of the original American revolutionaries ...read more

Lewis and Clark celebrate July 4

Staging the first-ever Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi River, Lewis and Clark fire the expedition cannon and order an extra ration of whiskey for the men.Six weeks earlier, Lewis and Clark left American civilization to depart on their famous journey. Since ...read more

The Clash play their first live gig

Formed as the first shots of the punk revolution were being fired, The Clash storm onto the UK scene with their debut performance on the Fourth of July, 1976, at The Black Swan in Sheffield, England, as the opening act for The Sex Pistols.While America celebrated the bicentennial ...read more

Playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon born

On this day in 1927, Neil Simon, the author of a long list of successful Broadway plays–many of which, including The Odd Couple, became hit movies–is born in the Bronx section of New York City.In one of his earliest jobs, in the 1950s, Simon wrote for Sid Caesar’s live comedy ...read more

Heat wave strikes Northeast

On this day in 1911, record temperatures are set in the northeastern United States as a deadly heat wave hits the area that would go on to kill 380 people. In Nashua, New Hampshire, the mercury peaked at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Other high-temperature records were set all over ...read more

Soviets rock for peace

A rock concert in Moscow, jointly organized by American promoters and the Soviet government, plays to a crowd of approximately 25,000. The venture was intended to serve as symbol of peace and understanding between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union. The idea of ...read more

Confederates surrender Vicksburg

The Confederacy is torn in two when General John C. Pemberton surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, Mississippi.The Vicksburg campaign was one of the Union’s most successful of the war. Although Grant’s first attempt to take the city failed in the winter of ...read more

Fiat unveils the “Nuova Cinquecento”

On this day in 1957, the Italian automaker Fiat (short for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) debuts the “Nuova Cinquecento,” a redesigned version of a model that it first released in 1936.Founded in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli, Fiat had dominated the Italian auto industry since ...read more