I will be one of four heads of state present who is also a veteran of that war. Vladimir V. Putin personally invited me and, in spite of criticisms, I will go to Moscow. I spoke about it with President Kwasniewski. As a veteran of the Polish army and as a commander of a company deployed in Elba in May 1945, I have the moral right to be there. We should not forget that Poland has the fourth more important army of the anti-Hitlerian coalition and the only one whose flag flew with the Soviet in Berlin. That is why I regret that there is no Polish soldier in the monument built in Moscow but it would be a mistake not to take part in the ceremony. I will be there as a veteran and as someone who was deported. Mijail Gorbechev put a cross over the tomb of his father deported to Siberia. A stele was symbolically placed at his side in memory of the Polish victims. Gorbechev thus expressed his respect for our compatriots who were sent to the Siberia. They assured me that I will be able to go to this site during my visit. My father was also deported there in 1940.

I ignore why Moscow does not publish information relating to the past. The Katyn case, for example, affected the relationship between our two countries. I agree with Kwasniewski when he asks Putin to pronounce himself about what happened in Central Europe after 1945, but I am a realistic person. During the war, the Soviet front crossed Poland on four occasions and 600,000 soldiers remained there. Russian veterans say “we liberated Poland” and they are proud of that. If saying the opposite meant something I would do it but it would also lead us to losing the friendship of millions of people. Hitler’s victory would have meant the extermination of our people. The Soviet army deprived us from our independence but saved us from being exterminated.

My family comes from Eastern Poland where there have always been anti-Russian and anti-Soviet feelings. I am aware of the tragedy lived by the German people. I have seen the camps of refugees, women and old people, after a region of Pomerania became part of Poland. I wondered why the German soldiers showed such resistance; undoubtedly, for discipline but also because of their fear for the reds that they had in front of them and for the GESTAPO, which was behind them. I was one of the first to enter the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, on May 4, when my unit joined the Americans in Elba. I was hurt twice and I received May 8 as a big relief.

At that time, many Polish people expected a confrontation between the Soviets and the Americans and many of my comrades joined the guerrillas in the mountains with the hope to establish democracy in the country. It was an illusion. Who would have wanted to trigger World War III just to have democracy in Poland? They shed a lot of blood in vain.

Die Welt (Germany)

"Ich empfand den 8. Mai als riesige Erleichterung", by Wojciech Jaruzelski, Die Welt, May 3, 2005. Text adapted from an interview.