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August 12, 2003 ...


Poland's Iraqi mission - a make or break challenge?

by Robert Strybel,
Warsaw Correspondent
WARSAW—For some time now, the gradually emerging Polish-led stabilization mission in post-war Iraq has been the regular subject of Polish media and public-opinion interest. In the weeks and months ahead, a nearly 10,000-strong multinational division under the command of Poland's General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz will attempt to assist in the development of a peaceful order and the restoration of the war-ravaged infrastructure in a country terrorized for three decades by the clique of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
The division operating in Poland’s south-central stabilization zone will comprise up to 2,500 Polish troops, 1,800 from Ukraine, 1,300 from Spain and smaller contingents from a number of other states. The division’s troop strength may change as other countries join in. Reinforcements are expected even from such exotic places as the Fiji Islands, the Philippines and Thailand, and negotiations with other countries are still under way. But the Hungarian commander has warned his 500-strong contingent could be withdrawn if it comes under direct enemy attack.
Polish soldiers successively shipping out first undergo a two-week acclimatization period in neighboring Kuwait. Once they arrive in Iraq, they are shown the ropes by American forces who gradually hand over control of things to the Polish command. Warsaw is closely following reports from Iraq, especially those dealing with ambushes and attacks on U.S. forces. The not always successful experiences of their Anglo-American coalition partners are lessons to be learned and mistakes to be avoided.
The soldiers have been prepared for severe desert conditions, where temperatures of 104°- 140°F are not uncommon, and sand gets into every part of the body, clothing and equipment. They have been taught how to deal with poisonous spiders, snakes and scorpions, as well as human threats. These could include terrorists faithful to the deposed Hussein regime, bands of marauders or irate civilian mobs. Above all, Polish military instructors have tried to drum into their troops the importance of the religious and cultural differences encountered in Iraq.
Whereas "being European" is largely regarded as a virtue in pre-European Union Poland, the Iraqis have a rather negative view of that concept. To them the European is not a modern, enlightened and cultured individual, but an invader, intruder, colonizer and exploiter defending his own selfish interests at the expense of Iraq and its people. At the very best, he is trying to undermine their traditions and impose his own. The Polish soldiers have therefore been taught to use all available means to convince the locals that they have come as friends and helpers, not occupation forces. The Poles wish to share their own experiences with the Iraqis and help them rebuild their war-ravaged country.
In addition, Polish soldiers have been urged to exercise extreme moderation. They should not hastily overreact to provocations but must have a quick reflex to instantaneously assess every situation. They are permitted to reply with firearms only to an armed attack in self-defense but must make a super-human effort to spare civilian targets. Whenever they hear shooting they must first ascertain whether it isn’t a wedding or funeral when the Iraqis customarily fire shots in the air. Everything should be done — the military instructors have stressed — to consolidate the image of the Polish soldier as a brave but responsible fighter. He cannot be viewed as a wimp, but neither should he go around playing Rambo.
The overwhelming majority of Iraqis living in the stabilization zone under Polish command are devout Shiite Moslems who attach great importance to holy sites. Issues of faith must therefore be approached with delicacy and tact, so as not to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities. Searches should not be carried out in mosques and religious leaders should be treated with great respect. In Moslem culture the dog is an "unclean" creature. Several British troops paid with their lives after carrying out a house search with dogs.
Soldiers leaving for Iraq were taught that official business and commercial transactions in that country are carried out in a social setting, amid informal conversation and refreshments. The shopkeeper treats his customer to tea, and the official may invite someone into his home and offer him whatever delicacies he has. Turning down a treat is viewed as a sign of disdain and arrogance. The exchange of small souvenirs — a key-chain, pen, lapel pin or even a Polish coin — sets a good mood for further contacts. The conversation should be general at first, and the Pole may praise Iraq as the cradle of human civilization, his host’s home and belongings, even his children, but never his wife! A married woman is the property of her husband, and an unmarried girl is under the care of her elder brother. Casual behavior towards accidentally encountered Iraqi females is expressly forbidden. Whistling, touching, even chatting up women can lead to serious incidents with the local populace.
How the Polish troops handle all those do’s and don’ts is hard to predict, since life is usually more complex than even the best of theories. The soldiers should not fire at groups of civilians, but what happens when an ordinary street crowd suddenly turns into an angry mob attacking them with stones, clubs and even firearms? Mosques should not be searched, but what if a terrorist is hiding in one or arms and ammunitions are being stored there?
The instructors and manuals stress that treats should never be turned down, but they also urge soldiers not to consume food and drink of unknown origin in a country where serious tropical diseases such as cholera, malaria, typhoid fever, food poisoning and mysterious respiratory infections are not uncommon. The order to stay away from Iraqi women is clear enough, but incidents may occur nevertheless. After a few drinks, a young homesick soldier, far from his wife or sweetheart, may succumb to temptation and you have an incident in the making. In such cases, the situation should be quickly dealt with, the outraged natives must receive a public apology and be assured that the offender will be properly punished.
Starting in September, when command of the zone stretching from the Iranian to the Saudi border is officially taken over by Poland, the Poles are in for a steady diet of these and other surprises and challenges. The success or failure of the Polish peace-keeping mission will largely depend on the Poles' ability to defuse various potentially explosive situations. Poland's part in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the current stabilization effort has enhanced Poland's international prestige and filled most Poles and Polonians with pride. For the first time since it peacefully overthrew communism in 1989, the Poles are exerting considerable influence on international affairs. And, for the first time since World War II, such a concentration of Polish troops is operating abroad.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has denied that Poland is mainly concerned about access to Iraqi oil. "When our country was striving to win its freedom in the 1980s, the Western countries did not turn their backs on us. Now we are repaying our debt of gratitude," he said during the ceremonial send-off of a group of departing soldiers. This then would appear to be a successive stage in Poland’s traditional lofty slogan. "For your freedom and ours." Also joining in the stabilization effort are civilian volunteers who are helping to rebuild the war-torn country's medical facilities and school system and distributing relief goods.
If the 10,000-strong division under Polish command succeeds in introducing peace, order and even some initial semblance of democracy in that part of Iraq, that will undoubtedly consolidate Warsaw’s position as a reliable U.S. ally. This may also strengthen Poland’s role as the regional leader of a more independent-minded "new Europe" which — despite its European Union membership — will not let itself be intimidated or bullied by Brussels.
At present, however, many different scenarios remain possible. Even before the entire Polish contingent arrived in Iraq, on several occasions Polish military camps came under mortar fire of unknown origin. Even an armed rebellion by Iraqis wishing to free their country of pale-faced "infidels" cannot be ruled out. Poland might then get a taste of its own Vietnam or Afghanistan with which even the superpowers (the U.S. and USSR) were unable to deal. If that happens, then in addition to its fatalities, material losses and moral setback, Poland would probably get to hear the anti-American French and Germans gleefully rubbing it in: “We told you so!”

August 06, 2003 ...


Sendler to receive Karski Award

The American Center of Polish Culture’s Jan Karski Award for Valor and Compassion has selected Ms. Irena Sendler as the winner of the 2003 award, which includes $10,000. Ms. Sendler was chosen by the committee for her successful effort to save 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto and other places in Poland during World War II.
This award honors the late Dr. Jan Karski, a great Polish hero, the first man to take an eyewitness account of the Holocaust to Allied leaders in London and Washington, DC. Karski’s courage and resourcefulness sustained him through the hazards of Nazi Europe. Dr. Karski, a Catholic who called himself a Jew, believed he had failed to move President Franklin Roosevelt to any real action. Later, John Pehle, head of the War Refugee Board, said Karski’s talks with Roosevelt “changed U.S. policy overnight from indifference to affirmative action.”
After the war, he chose to become involved at academia at Georgetown University. In 1977, his heroic acts were brought to light during the filming of Shoah. This quiet courier of courage was honored throughout the world. Israel made Karski an honorary citizen and planted a tree for him in Jerusalem’s Alley of Righteous Gentiles Among the Nations. Lech Wałęsa awarded him the Order of the White Eagle, the highest decoration of Poland and the American Jewish Committee bestowed their highest honor as the first recipient of the Eternal Light Award.
The Jan Karski Award for Valor and Compassion is presented to a person who best exemplifies criteria established by the committee, including: courage in undertaking a dangerous mission, compassion for people without personal gain and serving in anonymity. Irena Sendler, also a non Jew, risked her life repeatedly to take 2,500 children to safety and hide their identities in jars from the Nazis. Some children were sedated, carried out in potato sacks, placed in coffins and hidden until she could find Polish families to adopt them.
Sendler accomplished her incredible deeds with the active assistance of the Polish Catholic Church, Polish orphanages and brave Polish families. She was eventually captured, tortured and was scheduled to be executed. This courageous woman was saved at the last minute and went on to provide the children with their family information years later. No one could break her spirit. Sendler was the only one who knew their identities and refused to betray them. Living in Warsaw in poverty, Sendler was discovered by a group of students from Kansas. She has characterized her life “as merely ordinary” and said, “Humanity has no fear, if you see a person drowning, you must jump in the water to save them whether you can swim or not.”
Like Dr. Karski, she regretted she could not do more, and said, “I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death.”
The 2003 Jan Karski Award for Valor and Compassion will be presented at a luncheon on October 23 at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. The First Lady of Poland, Mrs. Jolanta Kwasniewska, has been invited to accept the award for Sendler. Many distinguished guests from around the world and members of the diplomatic corps are expected to join together to honor Sendler and the memory of the late Dr. Karski.
The Jan Karski Award Committee is chaired by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski is honorary chair and the distinguished international committee includes: Dr. Kenneth Adleman, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, David Chase, Nancy Donovon, Stuart Eizenstat, Barbara Haig, Minister Dariusz Jadowski, Dean Peter F. Krogh, Miriam Landau, Miles Lerman, Edward Mazur, Dr. Bronislaw Misztal, Deroy Murdoch, Albin Obal, Dr. Kaya Mirecka Ploss, Nathan Shapiro, Radek Sikorski, Dr. Abraham Sofaer, Congressman Stephen Solarz, Tad Taube, and E. Thomas Wood.


Tours to highlight East Side churches

The Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier and “We Care” Transportation have joined forces to provide a unique tour highlighting the historical importance and architectural splendor of Buffalo’s East Side Churches.
The guided tour includes visits to St. Adalbert, Corpus Christi, St. Gerard and St. Stanislaus churches and a luncheon at Scharf's Schiller Park Restaurant, featuring authentic German cuisine.
Although tours of Buffalo’s sacred places have been available on a limited basis for many years, the collaboration between the Landmark Society and “We Care” Transportation seeks to provide greater opportunity for the public to view these magnificent buildings.
Bill Koch, former president of the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, has been chronicling Buffalo’s churches for many years. He said, “The rich ethnic heritage of Buffalo has endowed the city with a wealth of religious architecture....Buffalo’s sacred places play a major role in the quality of life in our community, a role that goes beyond their use as a place of worship. Visually they have a great impact on the urban landscape. In the midst of change and decline in many of the older sections of our community, churches and temples represent permanence and dignity.”
The tours of East Side churches were designed to bring community awareness to the uncertain future of Corpus Christi and other parishes which are historically, architecturally and/or artistically significant, yet threatened with dwindling congregations and sizeable ongoing maintenance costs.
Initially, tours will be available for group sales. For further information on scheduling a tour, call Maria Burridge at “We Care” Transportation, 614-1114, extension 106.
Tours will be available on the following dates: September 10, 24, October 8, 22, November 5 and 12.
The tour price per person (minimum 35 pre-paid reservations) is: via school bus - $31.95 (limited availability) - includes lunch; via luxury motorcoach - $38.95 - includes lunch.
St. Stanislaus Church (1883), the mother church of Polonia, had at one time the largest Polish congregation in the United States.
St. Adalbert (1886) Church, in 1907 this church was designated by Pope Pius X as a basilica, granting the church certain ceremonial rights and making St. Adalbert the oldest basilica in the United States.
Corpus Christi Church (1907) has eight Indiana sandstone columns with capitals, carved in place by a young Scotsman, J. Sheppard Craig, each capital telling a complete story. The Franciscan Friars, who have operated Corpus Christi for 105 years, recently announced that they would end their commitment to the parish in December of this year. The Friends of Corpus Christi Planning and Development Committee has recently been formed to develop a plan to sustain the parish beyond the Franciscan Friars’ departure.
St. Gerard's Church (1902) is a Romanesque basilica with an Italian Renaissance facade. The interior takes its inspiration from the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome.
The Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier was founded in 1969 by a group of concerned citizens who purchased the oldest Federal Style house in Buffalo, New York. Coit House, owned by prominent early settlers, was vacant and slated for demolition.
This successful intervention not only saved part of Buffalo’s 19th century architecture, but provided new owners dedicated to its rehabilitation with covenants held by the Landmark Society prohibiting unauthorized exterior changes in the future.
The historic preservation movement began in the City of Buffalo with designation of this c.1818 Federal-style building as its first local landmark.

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