WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland on Tuesday honored thousands of anti-communist fighters persecuted and killed during the early years of the Soviet-imposed regime, which ignored their existence in history books for decades.
The nationwide observances, led by President Andrzej Duda, are part of democratic Poland's efforts to recognize the sacrifice of men and women who actively opposed the communist regime, which seized power in 1944 as the Red Army was defeating German troops at the end of World War II. The fighters were a taboo topic under communism. A national holiday in their memory was established in 2011, but its status and form was raised this year by the new, conservative government that took power in November and aims to restore the forgotten or banned chapters of Poland's history.
These fighters "were on the side of a free Poland, they fought to the end and never gave up," Duda said at a ceremony in the Presidential Palace, adding that punishments for such activities at the time included "prison, torture, suffering and pain."
March 1 marks the anniversary of the 1951 execution of seven leaders of anti-communist resistance at a Warsaw prison, following a trial before a military court that was to sow fear in the nation. Their bodies, like those of other victims of the regime, were dumped in unmarked holes in the ground. Some of those mass graves have not been found until today.
Remains of over 100 victims were revealed in 2012 under a lawn at a Warsaw cemetery. Some of them have been identified through DNA matching with their living relatives. The area has been turned into a memorial site for all those killed from 1944-56. State officials and families of the victims laid wreaths there on Tuesday.
With little written record of communist crimes, historians can only roughly estimate the number of those killed to between 8,600 and over 25,000. There were thousands of others who survived communist prisons. Most of them were earlier members of wartime resistance that fought against the German occupation of Poland.