Friends of U.S. Among Polish Plane Crash Victims

The unspeakable tragedy that visited Poland last weekend will lead to much speculation in the days ahead. I fully expect to take part in the discussions. For now, however, I can talk about two friends lost and their impact on Polish/American cooperation.

Dr. Janusz Kochanowski, 69, commissioner for Civil Rights Protection of the Republic of Poland, was a scholar and protector of human rights. W ³adys ³aw Stasiak, 44, chief of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, had climbed the ranks within national security circles to advise President Kaczynski.

As Janusz was entering into the final stages of his service to his beloved motherland, W ³adys ³aw was a rising star on his way to sure prominence within Eastern Europe. The love both men had for America followed in the footsteps of the great Thaddeus Kosciuszko, praised by Presidents Adams, Jefferson and Washington for the role he played during and after the American Revolution. On the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy in New York is a statue of Kosciuszko inscribed with the words: "To the Hero of Two Worlds."

In December 2008, I went to O?????wi??ªcim (Auschwitz), Poland, to represent this country at a somber memorial recognizing the 60th Year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During the dedications, an award was given by Dr. Kochanowski to Antonin Scalia, accepted for the justice by the U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe, for his work on human rights.

In the days before the ceremony, Janusz and I talked about how the liberal media in Europe would decry the selection. Janusz said, “I do for Poland and America what’s right not necessarily popular.”

Prior to visiting O?????wi??ªcim, I stopped off in Warsaw to visit with the then-head of the Polish National Security Bureau, W ³adys ³aw Stasiak. Mr. Stasiak knew of my visit to attend the ceremony at Auschwitz and asked if I would meet with a variety of government officials to discuss some matters related to criminality and terrorism. He was interested in how we approached these areas in America and wanted to adopt our methods.

After my briefing, we held a joint press conference where my friend talked of how Americanized Poles were. I joked by saying, “Now if you want really good kielbasa, come to Chicago.”

Dr. Kochanowski and Minister Stasiak were firmly attached to the continuum that started with Solidarno???????¦ and continued with Polish troops fighting fiercly alongside American forces in Afghanistan. Janusz worked hard to defeat the Russian Bear while W ³adys ³aw cut his teeth on urging Poland’s National Security Bureau to work as partner in our war on terrorism. Not unlike Kosciuszko they touched two worlds.

It was Easter when I last exchanged greetings with my two friends. In May, I was to travel to Warsaw to meet with W ³adys ³aw to discuss how our two countries could better cooperate. We had planned on meeting in early February in Washington when he was here to discuss with a variety of conservative groups why Poland needed the once-promised missile shield. Our meeting never took place owing to his early departure to escape one of those crippling snowstorms that hit our nation’s capital.

I was also headed to Warsaw in May to plan for a meeting that Janusz would hold with other ombudsmen from the European Union in September on individual and human rights in the age of terrorism. He was keen for me to present the American take on this issue.

I’m haunted by his April 4 e-mail. In it, he wrote: “We look forward towards your planned arrival to Poland, at the invitation of Minister Stasiak with whom I’m in constant contact. And on the 10 April at the invitation of the President I will be flying to Katyn to take part in the memorial service.”

History has again dealt a glancing blow to Poland ,almost seventy years to the day of the horror that was Katyn. Today, however, the tragedy directly impacts the United States. Lost aboard that flight were our most ardent Polish admirers. They fully understood the changes that were taking place here but were anxious to once again be known as our strongest ally in Eastern Europe. I pray for their souls and for Poland to continue to consider itself our partner in the new Europe.