Poland's president in exile

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

One other person on board that plane was 90-year-old Ryszard Kaczorowski. He was president of Poland's government in exile from 1989 to 1990. The World's Jason Margolis has more.

MARCO WERMAN: Another person on that flight to Russia was a man named Ryszard Kaczorowski. He was the last leader of Poland's government in exile. That government in London lasted throughout Poland's communist years. The World's Jason Margolis has the story.

JASON MARGOLIS: In 1939 Poland was invaded by Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Poles fled and formed a massive resistance army. Polish leaders established a government in exile in Paris and later London. That government in exile remained in tact for 50 years. Ryszard Kaczorowski served as its last President from 1989 to 1990. The Polish government in exile had little real power or influence after World War II. But the exiled government and Kaczorowski himself served an important purpose, says former U.S. ambassador to Poland, Thomas Simons.

THOMAS SIMONS: I think many Poles who had suffered and were suffering under communist oppression looked to that government as sort of a symbol of the Polish state, a free Polish state, and sort of as a little beacon of hope for the future.

MARGOLIS: Kaczorowski fought against the Soviets and the Germans in World War II. After the war he settled in Britain and joined the Polish government in exile. After the communists fell in Poland in 1989 Kaczorowski returned to his country honored as a hero. He brought with him symbols of the Polish Republic, the banner of Poland, Presidential sashes, and a copy of the 1935 Constitution. He presented them to Poland's newly elected President, Lech Walesa. Thomas Simons was there. He recalls veterans of the Polish Resistance Army lining a cathedral.

SIMONS: And these were old, old men these were in their 80's and 90's and they were standing with the battle flags of the home army units from the east, from Lithuania as well as from what is now Poland. Anyway, it was quite moving because it occurred to me that they were there before the communists and they're still here after the communists have gone. I think that Polish government in exile had a role in keeping that spirit alive.

MARGOLIS: Ryszard Kaczorowski was on Saturday's flight, part of the group going to a memorial at Katyn. Stephen Flanagan was a special assistant to President Clinton on eastern European policy.

STEPHEN FLANAGAN: President Kaczorowski's death just added to the sense of this was a tremendous and an ironic and tragic one considering that he had in a sense survived the events of the Soviet takeover that they were going to commemorate.

MARGOLIS: Ryszard Kaczorowski was 98 years old. For The World, I'm Jason Margolis.