The process of Polish rehabilitation in 2006
Shortly after the war, Queen Wilhelmina wanted to award the Polish Parachute Brigade for their actions during Operation Market Garden and wrote the government a request. However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eelco van Kleffens, opposed the idea. He thought an award for the Poles would upset the relations with the ‘Big Three’ and harm national interests. In 1948, Wilhelmina stepped down in favor of her daughter, Queen Juliana. The change of power within the royal family and the post-war rebuilding priority of the Dutch government, made the regal request redundant.
As a consequence, the collective memory of rewarding the Polish at Arnhem for their performances faded. Around 1961 the Poles at Arnhem became more renowned. Firstly, because Sosabowski wrote his memoirs and these were translated into Dutch. Secondly, Cora Baltussen and the committee ‘Driel-Polen’ organized a ceremony for the Polish veterans. The committee sent a petition to the Royal House, asking what happened to the initial request to award the Polish troops with medals. The request was forwarded to the Ministry of Defense, which considered the ceremony a ‘non-military, but political event’. After the death of Sosabowski in 1967, the discussion became less relevant again.
In 1999, journalist Geertjan Lassche became interested in the Polish contribution to Arnhem. At the military war grave in Oosterbeek he found a couple of headstones hidden in the corner of the cemetery. He spoke to Cora Baltussen and she informed him that the Poles at Arnhem were never awarded for their contribution. Lassche remembered the injustice that was done and, the research journalist, made a documentary on the topic in 2004. Besides doing research in Wilhelmina’s archive, he also spoke to Prince Bernhard about the outcome of his research and the fact that the Poles never received any homage for their actions at Arnhem.
The 93-year-old prince was clearly emotional on television and described the Poles as ”the best soldiers available” and declared it was an “outrage” that they had not yet received any merits for their contribution. Furthermore, the prince said,”In general, a typical trait for English commanding officers is that they highly dislike people who prove them wrong,” referring to Field-Marshall Montgomery. Finally, he said in a conclusive manner, “Montgomery personally, prevented Sosabowski and his men from receiving any medals.”
The documentary brought media attention for the Poles at Arnhem and was also picked up by two MPs, Frans Timmermans (PvdA) and Hans van Baalen (VVD). Both politicians asked if the –former- Minister of Defense, Henk Kamp, could still pay homage to the Poles at Arnhem. Prince Bernhard also sent letters to a television network, in which he said that he will stay true to his words and hoped that the matter will be solved shortly. The last letter was sent one week prior to his death, indicating that the Prince was preoccupied with the matter until the end. Needless to say, but the arrival of Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and his wife for an official state visit, also resulted in renewed attention for the Poles at Arnhem.
Minister Kamp, although initially reluctant gave in and asked the ‘Kapittel der Militaire Willemsorde’ to investigate whether the Poles could be awarded the highest decoration. After a year of research, the Kapittel came to the conclusion that the Polish Parachute Brigade as a collective entity would be bestowed with the highest award. The commanding officer, Sosabowski, is to receive the ‘Bronzen Leeuw’ (Bronze Lion), due to the short amount of time he spent in the Netherlands. On 9 December 2005, the Dutch government made the public announcement that they would pay homage to the Poles at Arnhem.
Approximately three months after the government’s announcement, the Ministry of Defense was tasked with the organization of the ceremony. It was decided that the event would take place on 31 May 2006 in The Hague and the 6th Polish Air Assault Brigade would receive the Militaire Willemsorde der 4e klasse. Queen Beatrix was to tie the prestigious medal to the standard of the incumbents of the 1st Independent Polish Parachute Brigade. At the ceremony, 64 veterans and 22 widows were present. This figure corresponds with about fifty percent of the 120 veterans and 40 widows that were still alive in 2006. Although most of the veterans wanted to come, a large portion suffered from health issues, which prevented them from flying. The ones that were present gave the Dutch and the younger generation Poles a taste of the old Polish way to remember their friends. Normally, Dutch remembrances are sober, quiet and ‘concise’. The Polish veterans, in contrast were cheerful, loudly giving -positive- replies to speakers and ‘human oriented’.
After the ceremony, the organization received almost from every participant cards and letters of gratitude. Also the Polish government was content with the Dutch decorations that were awarded in honor to their countrymen. In return, Poland showed their gratitude to the politicians, Hans van Baalen and Frans Timmermans. Finally, Geertjan Lassche, the research journalist who was the driving force behind paying homage to the -almost- forgotten Poles of Arnhem. On 10th May 2012, it was decided by the Polish government that September would become Sosabowski remembrance month. Henceforth, the qualities of the general and his troops was to honoured for years to come. Thus, creating a discrepancy between the Dutch government, who wanted to mark the 65th anniversary in 2009 as a closure, and the Polish government that felt the need to keep on remembering on a yearly basis.
Koninklijk Huis archief, 13 december 1946, ‘Koninklijke onderscheiding voor Poolsche militairen’ Kabinet der Koningin nr. 63.
Cees Fasseur, Wilhelmina. Sterker door strijd (Amersfoort 2002)
M.H. Brave-Maks, De Koningin in Londen (Zutphen 1980)
A.F. Manning, “Diplomatieke betrekkingen tussen Nederland en Polen in de jaren veertig”, (Kleio, XX, 1979), 202-206.
Archief ‘Bureau Onderscheidingen’, toegangsnummer 2.13.184, inventarisnummer 419, Semi-Statische Archiefdiensten, Centrum Documentaire Informatie, Ministerie van Defensie Den Haag., zie bijlage VIII en IX.
Semi-Statische Archiefdiensten, Centrum Documentaire Informatie, Ministerie van Defensie, Den Haag. Documenten van Hoofdkwartier Generale Staf 61.5015 zijn eind 2007 verwijderd. Zie bijlage X voor een digitale kopie van de brief ‘Comité Driel-Polen’, geadresseerd aan H.M. de Koningin te Soestdijk, 25 augustus 1961, behandeld op 12 september 1961.
Sosabowski, Ik vocht voor vrijheid, 239-241.
Semi-Statische Archiefdiensten, Centrum Documentaire Informatie, Ministerie van Defensie, Den Haag. Documenten van Hoofdkwartier Generale Staf 61.5015 zijn eind 2007 uitgeselecteerd. Zie bijlage XI voor een digitale kopie.
Interview met Geertjan Lassche (20 januari 2005), opgetekend door Malgorzata Bos-Karczewska op www.polonia.nl, laatst geraadpleegd op 14 januari 2010.
EO Televisiedocumentaire, God Bless Montgomery– De vergeten Polen in de Slag om Arnhem (14 september 2004).
Netwerk Televisie-uitzending, Onderscheiding Soldaten? (3 december 2004).
EO Televisiedocumentaire, God Bless Montgomery– De vergeten Polen in de Slag om Arnhem (2004). Zie ook Kershaw, ‘It never snows in September’, 243.
‘Beatrix reikt nog een keer Willemsorde uit’ (RTL nieuws 24 april 2006).
Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal. Vergaderjaar 2004-2006. Vaststelling van de begrotingsstaten van het ministerie van Defensie. Motie van de leden Van Balen en Timmermans (25 november 2004).
NOS journaal uitzending, Hoogste eer voor Poolse veteranen (31 mei 2006).
Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, ‘President Polen bezoekt Nederland’ (8 oktober 2004).
Interview van auteur met Mat Herben te Rotterdam op 12 mei 2011.
Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal. Vergaderjaar 2004-2005. Vaststelling van de begrotingsstaten van het Ministerie van Defensie voor het jaar 2005. Motie van de leden Van Baalen en Timmermans 29800 X nr.57
Wet van 30 april 1940 tot herziening van de Wet van 30 april 1815, No. 5, Stb. 33, houdende instelling van de Militaire Willems-Orde.
‘Willemsorde voor Poolse veteranen’ in: NRC Handelsblad (31 mei 2006).
NOS journaal uitzending, Hoogste eer voor Poolse veteranen (31 mei 2006).
Toespraak van Hare Majesteit Koningin Beatrix op 31 mei 2006, te lezen op www.koninklijkhuis.nl (laatst geraadpleegd op 13 januari 2010).
Interview met de kleinzoon van generaal Sosabowski, Stan Sosabowski op 5 mei 2013, Portimao, Portugal.
Onderscheidingen: Hans van Baalen en Frans Timmermans door Polen geridderd 13.12.2006, te lezen op www.polonia.nl (laatst geraadpleegd op 13 januari 2010).
Brief van Senaatsvoorzitter Bogdan Borusewicz aan de kleinzoon van generaal Sosabowski, Stan Sosabowski (daterend van 21 juni 2012), met een kopie van het decreet waarom de Poolse senaat op 9 mei 2012 heeft bepaald dat de maand september in het teken zal staan van generaal Sosabowski. Vertaald vanuit het Pools in het Engels met de hulp van mevrouw Dorota Sosabowska (Het originele document is in bezit van de familie Sosabowski).