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Lingering Bitterness Over May 9

Published: April 26, 2005 (Issue # 1064)


WARSAW, Poland - The 81-year-old Pole still bears the scars from eight years in Josef Stalin's labor camps - a fingertip crushed in a Siberian coal mine, headaches from a mine explosion, and the anger that boils up each time he remembers.

"I am an old man ... I feel it very strongly," Tadeusz Olizarowicz said. "It all has a negative effect on my emotions and my health."

As the world prepares to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9, the mood in Poland and other former communist republics is less than celebratory. Here, the feeling is that the end of the war simply replaced one horror - Hitler's - with another - Stalin's.

Poland was forced into the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, while the Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were incorporated into the Soviet Union. They did not regain their freedom until the collapse of communism in eastern Europe 15 years ago.

The lingering bitterness has led Presidents Arnold Ruutel of Estonia and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania to refuse invitations to Moscow for the May 9 celebrations, though Presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia and Aleksandar Kwasniewski of Poland will attend.

That Olizarowicz had already been thrown into a Nazi camp didn't help him with the Soviets. Today, he remembers the Nazis and Soviets as "equally bad."

"If you did something bad in the German camp, a guard would take out a gun and kill you immediately," he recalled. "But in a Soviet camp, they would starve you to death so the death was longer and more painful and then they would shoot you and finish you off with a sickle."

Olizarowicz's "crime" was serving in Poland's Home Army, the clandestine force that fought the Nazis, and which the Soviets feared would remain a rallying point for resistance. Convicted in 1947 of "anti-Soviet activity," he was among nearly 800,000 Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians shipped to labor camps.

During the train ride in cramped cattle cars, Soviet guards would count their prisoners by hitting them. They fed them only salty dried fish while denying them water on hot summer days. In a camp in Minsk, in Belarus, where he spent a year laying bricks before being taken to Siberia, Olizarowicz saw guards slashing the corpses of inmates to make sure they were dead.

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