Today marks the 81st anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre and is the designated day of remembrance for the victims.
I don’t remember really learning about this event until I moved to Poland.
But once I was in Poland, I saw lots of monuments and memorials commemorating the more than 20,000 Poles who were murdered by Soviets in 1940. Since many of the mass graves were discovered in the Katyn Forest, this became the name by which the massacre came to be known.
One of the prominent Katyn memorials I saw was this one at the Lipowa Cemetery in Lublin, Poland.
When I first came upon it, hundreds of candles had been placed in a small square before the modest yet impressive memorial. Small children placed candles and I thought: this is how Poles cultivate their sense of gravity, solemnity, and history… when even toddlers are learning about the victims of communism.
Of course, the children do not begin by hearing the whole history of World War II. They are not informed about the means of execution or the unfathomable numbers of victims. No– their moral imagination is formed by visiting the cemetery with their family, choosing a candle or some flowers to buy at the entrance, and placing these reverently before monuments and graves.
How fitting it is to learn about history, tragedy, war, conflict, and death through, first of all, these simple and human gestures of reverence.
It seems to me that it is never too early to cultivate these habits and, in fact, that such activities may constitute a critical preparation for gradually receiving the weight of truth and tradition.