Visiting the Katyn Memorial, Roncevalles, Toronto, Ontario, the Polish community remembering Soviet brutality

Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
The Katyn Memorial, Roncevalles, Toronto, by Tadeusz Janowski
The Katyn Memorial, Roncevalles, Toronto, by Tadeusz Janowski | Source
Moscow: Stalin and Ribbentrop in the Kremlin, August 23, 1939
Moscow: Stalin and Ribbentrop in the Kremlin, August 23, 1939 | Source
Map location of Toronto, Ontario
Map location of Toronto, Ontario | Source

Grim events solemnly remembered

This strikingly stark memorial, executed in bronze by sculptor Tadeusz Janowski, commemorates the thousands of Polish prisoners of war executed by the Stalinist authorities during World War Two. Its jagged, dramatic lines and simplicity are evocative of a traumatic and far-reaching historical event.

The work, known as the Katyn Memorial, dates from 1980. The name of the memorial is derived from the fact that over 4000 mass graves were discoved at Katyn, in the former Soviet Union. These over 4000 executed prisoners were among over 15000 Polish prisoners of war who disappeared while under Soviet custody in 1940.

After the Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Aggression Pact signed by Nazi Germany the Soviet Union respectively, in 1939, Poland, viewed with greed by these two powers, was dismembered; and large numbers of prisoners were taken. The fate of those who were held in Soviet custody was at first unknown, but Soviet propaganda held for many years that they were victims of Nazi Germany, but it is now strongly believed that the Soviet authorities themselves, in the era of Communist dictator Joseph Statin, were in fact responsible for their deaths.

The monument, was unveiled 40 years after the deaths of these Polish prisoners. Similar monuments were over the years erected by Polish communities in various Western countries during the Cold War. In Great Britain (ironically for which the Nazi German breach of the 'Polish Guarantee' was the circumstantial cause of the entry of Britain and various Commonwealth countries, including Canada, into World War Two) the government of the day refused to associate itself with the unveiling of a similar monument, in case the Soviet authorities were offended.

It is also very sobering to recall that, not long after these dreadful events were being played out, there were some in political circles in both Canada and Great Britain who were seemingly unwilling to hear any criticism of the Soviet Union: part of a recurring 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' mindset (1).

The Katyn Memorial is situated in the Roncevalles neighbourhood, at the intersection of Roncevalles Avenue and Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.

March 6, 2013

Note

(1) Many commentators have spoken of Poland having been cursed by its geography. But historical assessment does not need to accommodate such a 'curse'. One could add that, whether this idea about Poland involved a geographical curse or not, it need not also have led to those who may have been pleased to share a strongly secularist outlook with Stalinist communists becoming myopic about the latter's excesses.

Also worth seeing

In Downtown Toronto itself, notable, historic buildings include E J Lennox's Gothic Revival Old City Hall; the Legislative Assembly of Ontario building; the United Metropolitan Church; St Michael's Cathedral; St James's Cathedral, Union Station and the CN Tower, and many others.

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How to get there:

Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. However, visitors to Downtown Toronto will find many sights to be easily walkable. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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