Life of Karolina and Ryszard Kaczorowski is an example of great love. They were married for nearly 60 years. Their acquaintances used to say about them: ‘Who can love so much today? For them great romantic love is so obvious as the fact that the man breathes!’. Till the day of 10 April 2010 arrived.

In the air catastrophe at Smoleńsk 96 people were killed. Among them Ryszard Kaczorowski – the last President of the Republic of Poland on Exile, residing in London. His wife, the First Dame Karolina Kaczorowska tells me about an unimaginable pain which she has experienced. And she asked: - how to live now? How to live without this love, without air?

‘I could die for Poland’

For Ryszard Kaczorowski and his wife the invitation to the ceremonies in Katyń had an unusual significance. It was the 70th anniversary of the crime on Poles. For many years compatriots in emigration had been fighting for commemorating the killed and pointing to those who had been murdering. However, the president’s wife Mrs. Kaczorowska did not fly with her husband. She says: - I was after several operations. I could not stand long, I often had to rest. I told my husband that I could not make it. But he often tried to persuade me. He used to say: ‘Let’s fly together. It will be me last travel, I am not strong enough either. I am not going to travel anymore!’. And I used to answer: ‘Rysiu, I cannot make it, I cannot, I will not sustain so many hours’. My husband asked even his daughter to make me change my mind. But I really couldn’t. Later an idea came to my mind that my husband would fly to Katyń with our daughter Jagoda. She is a citizen of Great Britain and when she arrived with her father in the country, it turned out that the Russian Embassy in Warsaw could not give her a visa as a British citizen without a special permission of Moscow. My husband told his cooperators that in this situation our daughter would stay in Warsaw and would not fly. Before that my husband had asked our daughter to fill in forms in order to receive a Polish passport. But, flying to Poland twice, she had forgot to take these documents and did not have the Polish passport. Then my husband got angry but today I understand it as the interference of the Divine Providence. If our daughter had had the Polish passport then, she would also have been killed.

My husband left London on Thursday 8 April. Being already in Poland, at the supper time at his cousin’s, my brother’s-in-law son, Przemek, asked: ‘Uncle, and what would you do for Poland?’. As I was told, Ryszard answered: ‘For Poland? If it was necessary, I could die’.

The last time he called me was Friday 9 April. He was invited to the supper by the military bishop of the Polish Army Tadeusz Płoski. There were 6 people invited there. And you know, that out of those 6 people, 12 hours later only our daughter Jagoda stayed alive? Only her did not fly to Katyń…


10 April 2010, Saturday. It was to be another ordinary. In the morning Karolina Kaczorowska was planning to go to the post office, later do shopping and return home, in order to see the broadcast ceremony in Katyń. But just before her leaving home, she turned on TV. – I heard the news about the air catastrophe with the president of Poland aboard. And in a while that everybody was killed… - she mentions. She adds, being moved emotionally: - ‘But it can’t have happened!’- I thought. I was changing channels nervously. Unfortunately, in English channels this shocking information was confirmed. It is difficult to describe pain and suffering. It was as if the world stopped existing for me. I am usually a sensitive person. I usually cry from emotions. But you know, after this catastrophe I experienced an inner shock, that for half a years I was not able to shed a tear. Nights were the worst. I had nightmares about the plane all the time. It was turning over and some balls, apples some fruit were pouring out of it….I woke up and was not able to go back to sleep till the morning.

Thanks to my faith I went through this time. Later there were also difficult moments when there appeared information that the casualties’ bodies had been swapped. I was begging God to find my husband’s body. I used to say in a prayer: ‘God, I will not ask for it anymore, but I am asking You now to find my husband’.

In 2012, due to the exhumation of the catastrophe casualties and after DNA investigations, the body of the former President of the Republic of Poland residing in London was found. The funeral of Ryszard Kaczorowski took place again, on 3 November 2012 in Warsaw and his body was laid in the Church of Divine Providence.

The exiles’ fate

Fates of Karolina and Ryszard kaczorowski is an example for what suffering Poles of XX century have experienced.

Mrs. Karolina was deported to Siberia in February 1940 as a little girl, together with her family from her home near Stanisławów. – We lost everything. If it had not been for our faith, I do not know if we could survive – says Karolina Kaczorowska. Her dad was arrested and deported to the labor camp. Her mother and brother were forced to work as slaves. The little girl was left alone, among unknown people. Only after the treaty Sikorski-Majski in 1941, the future First Dame with the army of gen. Anders got to Near East, to a social camp for Polish refugees. At that time her father and brother, who had managed to get out of the inhuman land, were fighting in the Army of Anders. After the end of the war, in 1948, the whole family met together in Great Britain and began to build ‘Polish life outside Poland’ on emigration. Karolina Kaczorowska became a teacher.

100 days in a death cell

Ryszard Kaczorowski was born in 1919. From his early childhood, before the year 1939, he was engaged in scouting. During the war he created the Grey Ranks in Białystok. In 1940 he was arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to death penalty. His parents were arrested, too and deported to Siberia. Kaczorowski spend 100 days in a death cell. Every day he was awaiting the verdict execution. ‘There was nothing in the cell beside the concrete floor. I and my cell mates had to survive hunger and cold. There were no blankets or beds. We were running round the cell, and at night we used to put sheets of the accusation act on the floor and we slept on them’ – he mentioned after years. After 100 days the death penalty was changed into 10 years of slavery work in a mine in Kołym. He regained freedom after signing a contract Sikorski-majski and, together with the Army of gen. Anderes he went through a battlefield of the second Polish Corpus. He fought, among the others, for Monte Cassino, Bolonia and Ankona.

Scouts’ love

I am asking Karolina Kaczorowska, how she met her husband. Was it love from the first sight? She tells me about ‘Polish’ London after the end of the war. There were a lot of Poles there, who were not returning the country. If they had done it, they would have been arrested. – And at that time every Polish woman got married! All men were saying compliments: what a beautiful woman you are, how much you resemble my sister. It was so boring, so banal. But Ryszard was not saying so. And it was what I liked in him at once – says Karolina Kaczorowska. We met thanks to scouting. He impressed on me in everything. He never said a bad word about anybody. He behaved so till the end of his life. He lived in harmony with everybody. He was a righteous Catholic and a patriot. He was very kind, elegant. And the same values like patriotism, love to Poland, Catholic faith were important to us. We fell in love with each other and decided to get married.

‘Poland outside Poland’

We got married on 19 July 1952. For all years of their life, the Kaczorowscy couple were engaged in the social activity of Polish emigration. They co-created ‘Poland outside Poland’ – organizations, parishes, schools, cultural, academic, social, combatant, political and scouting institutions. – For my husband scouting was everything – Karolina Kaczorowska emphasizes. – For over 20 years he had been the chairperson of the Union of Polish Scouting outside Poland. I had never forbidden him that social work. I knew that if he had to travel in relation to scouting meetings in the United States or Canada, this is more important than a family holiday at the seaside – she adds. – We passed this Polish interest to our daughters and they to our grandchildren.

Karolina Kaczorowska was also engaged in the social activity. She taught in parish schools, which were established for Poles in Great Britain. Those were private initiatives kept from money of the Polish emigration spread all over the world. At schools scouting teams were also established. – We normally worked the whole week, and we spent our free time on the social activity. It was something obvious for me and my husband – she says.

President in exile

On 19 July 1989, president of the Republic of Poland residing in London, Kazimierz Sabbat, died unexpectedly in London. According to the April Constitution of 1935, he appointed Ryszard Kaczorowski, as his successor, who was the minister for national matters in the Government of the Republic of Poland at that time, for the prime minister Edward Szczepanik residing in London. – It was an anniversary of our wedding. As every year, we were in the theatre. When we were leaving it, my husband was informed about the death of the president Sabbat. At once at night there was a vowing ceremony in the ‘Castle’ – in London headquarters of presidents of the Republic of Poland. The memorable date – in Poland gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski became the president of Polish People’s Republic in Poland, and in London my husband became the president of the Republic of Poland.

The most beautiful moments

When I am asking Karolina about the most beautiful moments, she says about regaining independence and sovereignty by Poland in 1989. – Nobody of my generation expected that during our life we would see independent Poland. I remember us arriving in Poland. My husband was passing presidential insignia of the Second Republic of Poland. And those were the most beautiful moments. First, on the airport ground, after 50 years I stood on the Polish land and heard the Polish hymn. It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. I will never forget how beautifully president Lech Wałęsa behaved. When there was a moment of passing the presidential insignia in the Royal Castle in Warsaw – in the prewar residence of presidents – in the beginning of his speech he said: ‘After 50 years the president of Poland returned home!’ I and my husband had tears in our eyes.

Karolina Kaczorowska also tells me about another beautiful moment from a few years ago, soon after the catastrophe. – My grandson came up to me and said about my husband: ‘My grandpa did not waste his life. He even died for Poland’. I was surprised. Those were the most important words for me after the catastrophe. He, a little boy, brought up outside Poland, understood that everything what my husband had done, was for Poland. And these words are a confirmation for me that my husband did not disappoint and he did not waste his life in fact – says Karolina Kaczorowska.

In the text I used fragments of interviews with Karolina Kaczorowska from 2012 and fragments of an interview which I had with the First Dame for the programme ‘Notations’ on TVP. The text was authorized by the President’s Wife in March 2017.

Krzysztof Tadej, a journalist for TVP


„Niedziela” 15/2017

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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