Speech by President Duda at the ceremonial parade on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Breda by Polish soldiers
Distinguished Representatives of the State Authorities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and of the Republic of Poland,
Excellency Mr Ambassador,
Distinguished Professor, (I`m greeting General Stanisław Maczek`s son, Professor Andrzej Maczek)
Distinguished Representatives of the Organizations of Poles in the Kingdom of the Netherlands,
Generals, Officers and Soldiers,
But first and foremost – Most Honourable Veterans, Our Heros!
On the twenty-ninth of October 1944, after two days of fierce fights, the 1st Polish Armored Division repelled German forces from another Dutch city. That time from Breda. To the inhabitants of Breda, it meant the end of war. Just like today, Polish flags flew here next to Dutch flags. Just like today one could hear the words: "Thank you, Poles! ", "Dziękujemy wam, Polacy! ".
See also: 75th anniversary of the liberation of Breda Who were those young men in uniforms with badges reading: "Poland"? Tired, wounded, covered with mud or lubricant from the tanks… Bent over the bodies of their fallen friends... Sharing food with the starving civilians... Why did they find themselves here, in Brabant, so far away from their Homeland?
For us Poles, the tragedy of the war began as early as September 1, 1939. Following five weeks of fierce resistance, regular Polish troops succumbed to the two aggressors – the German Nazis and their allies – the Soviets. That however was just the beginning of our struggle for freedom. The Polish Underground State – the biggest underground organization in the history of the world functioning against Germans under their occupation in Poland, and its government-in-exile in the UK established close cooperation with the Allies and formed the Polish Army on the British soil where general Maczek’s Division came from. Hundreds of thousands of Poles got involved in the partisan warfare, sabotage and intelligence actions against the occupants. We paid a very high price for that. Nearly 6 million Polish citizens, including 3 million people of Jewish descent lost their lives. They perished in the German death camps built on our lands, as a result of genocide and executions, in front-line battles, from slave labour, disease and hunger.
And still, we did not give up. Led by the motto “for our freedom and yours”, Poles were fighting fiercely against Germans, almost everywhere in Europe. From the first to the last day of that horrendous war.
General Maczek and his soldiers were aware of the enormity of evil they were struggling with. They also knew the value of every human life which they tried to protect.
General Maczek decided to enter Breda from the East, launching a fast and surprising offensive. With no support of heavy artillery or air force. With no cannon shots. He wanted to save as many inhabitants and their houses as possible. Such tactics, however, had to result in casualties. 151 soldiers of the 1st Polish Armored Division died in the battle of Breda. Several hundred sustained wounds.
Years later their brothers in arms were asked: "You looked death in the eye every day. You watched your friends die. You slept in ground pits, under the tanks. Was it worth it?” And they would always answer: "That was the right thing to do. We wanted to end that hell”.
But that's not all. General Maczek recalled: "The warmth and hospitality of the Dutch were very valuable for the division's soldiers – all those war – time rays of light that suppress the inevitable shadows. Despite so vastly differing attitudes and customs, no command of the Dutch language, the Polish soldiers were greeted with joy and enthusiasm, which surpassed everything that they had experienced [thus far] (...); they felt as if they were in their own country, and paid for that with true affection and sacrifice”.
That was also the reason why, after the war, many soldiers of the 1st Armored Division found their place on earth in the Netherlands. As well as loyal friends. Love and family homes. I am glad that right here, in front of the Breda City Hall, I can remind you that the soldiers of the 1st Armored Division and their commander were granted the honorary citizenship of the city. General Stanisław Maczek, who after the war received also the honorary citizenship of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has a street named after him here which crosses the street called "Polish Road”. Next year, a museum dedicated to the General is planned for opening in Breda.
However, a particularly important and beautiful gesture was yet another initiative undertaken by the people of Breda. In the 1960s, they established the Polish Military Field of Honour in Breda. There they brought and buried the remains of the fallen Polish soldiers, scattered before across the nearby burial sites. Precisely there, among his soldiers, rests General Stanisław Maczek himself. Just like Polish Air Force pilots, paratroopers from the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade of General Sosabowski, members of the resistance movement, prisoners of war and forced laborers.
That unique cemetery resembles a piece of Polish soil on the Dutch soil. It makes us ponder on the price of our freedom. But beyond that, it fills us with great hope. The hope that the sacrifice of the heroes buried here will become the cornerstone of a new Europe. A Europe in which free nations will live in peace and friendship, with mutual respect. Aware of their true history and, at the same time, building their common good future.
Now I would like to thank all the people of Breda for everything what You did for our Polish soldiers back then – and after the war. And thank You, Your Majesty and the People of Breda, very much for this beautiful day and wonderful celebration.
Glory to the Fallen!
May the memory of the heroic liberators of Breda live on!