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Poland's North Carolina hero

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, April 19, 2010

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Chapel Hill, NC - Sure, the recent plane crash that killed the president of Poland and a host of other important officials is a great and sad tragedy.

But what in the world does it have to do with North Carolina?

The connection is a little bit complicated. But bear with me, and you will learn something of the dogged determination of a North Carolina man whose fearlessness in telling the story of an earlier Polish tragedy made him better known in Poland than in his home state here in North Carolina.

On April 7, three days before the plane crash, at the invitation of the Polish government, Raleigh resident Allen Paul was part of a delegation that accompanied Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Katyn Forest. The Poles and Paul hoped that Putin would finally and formally acknowledge Soviet responsibility for the wartime execution of about 20,000 Polish army officers and other leading citizens.

Paul’s recently republished book, “Katyń: Stalin’s Massacre and the Triumph of Truth,” originally published in 1991, documents Soviet responsibility for the executions. It even provides a copy of the order signed by Stalin. It follows several families who lost husbands and fathers in the massacre.

Based on interviews and documentation, Paul describes the actual horror of the execution procedure. The prisoner “was pushed down the steps into the basement and shoved inside the execution chamber—all in a matter of moments….[A]n executioner stationed against the wall at the door would have stepped up quickly behind the victim. The muzzle of the Walther [a German-made pistol] was placed six to ten inches behind his head and then fired. …[T]he team … neatly stacked the newest victims like cordwood on those already in the pit.”

Paul’s book also describes how the United States failed to hold the Soviets accountable for these war crimes. “For good reason. American leaders accommodated Stalin during the war: the Red Army was bleeding the Wehrmacht white long before Allied forces landed at Normandy.”

But, according to Paul, “the government clamp-down continued well into 1953… As painful as it may be, the U.S. government should disclose all details concerning how we accommodated Stalin and why we turned back our backs on the Poles—especially after the conflict ended. Then, in good conscience, the U.S. government could call on the Russians to end their feeble attempts to rewrite history and release Katyn records they continue to withhold.”

Paul’s tireless efforts to search out and disclose the details of Katyn, his documentation of the details of Soviet crimes, and his call on our country to acknowledge its roll in failing to demand accountability have made him a hero to the Poles.

Back to the April 7 meeting between the Polish and Russian prime ministers, did Putin finally apologize for the Soviet crimes and for Russian efforts to deflect the blame?

No, although Putin did acknowledge and condemn the “cynical lies that have blurred the truth about the Katyn shootings.” But passing by the opportunity to accept full responsibility, he continued, “It would also be a lie and manipulation to place the blame for these crimes on the Russian people.”

Paul believes that the Russians will have to be much more forthcoming before the Poles can move towards forgiveness.

Perhaps the tragedy of the April 10 plane crash will help prod the Russians to do more to acknowledge and apologize. We can hope.

In the meantime, North Carolinians can be proud of Paul, and be very glad he turned down an invitation to join the group on the April 10 flight.

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D.G. Martin is hosting his final season of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/

 

This Sunday’s (April 25) guest is, Dan Barefoot author of “Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices.”

Dan Barefoot Shares His Book, Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices on North Carolina Bookwatch, Sunday, April 25 at 5 PM

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?,” Charles Kuralt famously asked at the bicentennial of the first public university in the New World.

Dan Barefoot’s Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices provides 220 years’ worth of answers, in the very words of the men and women who created and nurtured UNC-Chapel Hill. Readers will hear from Hinton James, who walked from Wilmington to become UNC's first student. They'll hear from early female and black students and from those who weathered the 1960s. Decade by decade, campus icons like Frank Porter Graham, Dean Smith, and William C. Friday have their say. So do illustrious alumni ranging from Zeb Vance to Thomas Wolfe to Andy Griffith to Phil Ford. So does even notorious UNC critic Jesse Helms. Most entertaining are the offbeat narratives from people like the early professor who tried to discipline students for stealing horses and hurling furniture at faculty, and the future chancellor who didn't graduate on time because he flunked the swimming test.

In this episode of UNC-TV’s local literary series North Carolina Bookwatch with D.G. Martin, Dan Barefoot shares his new collection of personal accounts from the people who transformed a picturesque wooded hill into a world-famous university.

Dan Barefoot was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 18, 1951. He is a 1973 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he also earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Carolina School of law.

Dan Barefoot is the author of four travel guides, Touring the Backroads of North Carolina’s Upper Coast, Touring the Backroads of North Carolina’s Lower Coast, Touring South Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites, and Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites; the biography of esteemed confederate general Robert Hoke entitled General Robert F. Hoke: Lee’s Modest Warrior; and a trilogy of ghost stories representing all of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Seaside Spectres, Piedmont Phantoms, and Haints of the Hills. Barefoot’s most recent books are Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities, Let Us Die Like Brave Men, and Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices. His newest book is Spirits of ’76.


Sunday, April 25, at 5 PM

Dan Barefoot

Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices

 

Sunday, May 2, at 5 PM

John Hart

The Last Child

 

Sunday, May 9, at 5 PM

Elizabeth Edwards

Resilience

 
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