Daughter, Ambassador to Italy marks General Anders’ 50th demise anniversary

Poland's Ambassador to Italy Anna Maria Anders (L) told 'La Stampa' about her father General Władysław Anders' (R) life. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/P.Mojsak; Twitter/@PremierRP_en

Just as she represents the Polish state and safeguards its interests, so did her father General Władysław Anders, albeit in a different martial way, leading hundreds of thousands of Poles out of Russia, through Iran and the Levant, and commanding the Polish 2nd Corps to victory at the Battle of Monte Cassino – one of the turning points on the battlefronts of WWII. Poland’s Ambassador to Italy Anna Maria Anders paid tribute to her heroic father on Tuesday, at the Polish cemetery of Monte Cassino, Italy and recalled his exploits.

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“For all the time that I remember, my father dreamt of free Poland. He did not live long enough to see it coming about,” Ms Anders told Italy’s “La Stampa” daily, recalling that “he saved about 120,000 people from certain death in Siberia… The monuments dedicated to him in Russia stand out in the middle of nowhere, as well as in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and in various places in the Middle East, testifying to the presence of the Anders Army which would later join the allied forces in Italy... He led his troops to victory in Monte Cassino, Bologna and Ancona, thus playing an important role in the liberation of Italy.”

“He must have suffered terribly to see what was going on in his beloved Poland, while he and many of his soldiers continued to live in exile in the UK. He spent all those years trying to help both his people in exile and, where possible and in secret, those who had returned to Poland,” the Ambassador told “La Stampa”.

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’Always in a good mood, never bitter’

General Anders unflinching patriotism, his loyalty to free Poland and the past prosecutions that he suffered for sticking to his guns brought the ire of communist regime imposed on Poland by the Soviets right after the flames of WWII died down.

“He must have been upset when, in 1946, the communists revoked his citizenship. He has always spoken out strongly against the regime in public - he spent 22 months in the Lubyanka prison in Russia during the war… I noticed that people [in Poland] were fascinated by General Anders as a person. During the communist rule, talking about him and his army was an absolute taboo,” recounted the general’s daughter.

Despite the revocation of his citizenship and disowning by the communist regime in Poland, “in private, at home, he always seemed in a good mood, never bitter.” As Ms Anders stressed, talking about him was a taboo and “perhaps, for this reason, many wanted to know what he was like at home… In fact, my father was nonchalant, never demanding type and always had time for me.”

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’His soldiers adored him

“He has always been my hero, especially when he wore the uniform, with all those medals and decorations. He had so many that, laughing, I told him that it looked like a Christmas tree,” Ms Anders confessed adding “I loved my father… His soldiers adored him... They adored him not only because he had saved their lives by taking them out of Siberia, but because for them he was like a father. Many of his soldiers were so young at the time of the war. He had time for each of them, he was concerned about their education, their future.”

The general’s daughter said that the soldiers “of the II Polish Corps went to form a large part of the Polish community in the UK, with its clubs, theatres, schools and newspapers, after the war ended,” adding that “in London... my father continued to be a public figure, active both politically and socially. He established the Polish National Fund and in 1953 the Polish Educational Society, which today operates all over the world teaching young people the Polish language, history and culture.”

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Father's legacy

“Today in public appearances I often repeat that every commander should dream of being loved by his soldiers like my father was. He was like Moses. They would follow him to the end of the world. Today most of them are no longer with us, but those who remain have transferred their affection for him to me. I love them all, and I consider them my family,” she said.

“He died in London on May 12, 1970… It was [his decision] to be buried in Monte Cassino with his soldiers, because Poland, in 1970, was still under communist rule. Monte Cassino, with its 1,072 Polish tombs, is still today, for every Pole, a part of Poland in Italy,” Poland’s Ambassador said, adding that her father “was an exceptional man” and that she was “proud to be his daughter.”

The Ambassador recapitulated saying that “war and fate brought him to Italy, a country he really loved. I can't help but think that it is also the fate that brought me here as ambassador of Poland to Italy. This is my father's legacy.”

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From frat to general

Władysław Anders was born on August 11, 1892, to his father Albert Anders and mother Elizabeth nee Tauchert in the village of Krośniewice–Błonie, 60 miles west of Warsaw, in what was then a part of the Russian Empire.

Both his parents were of Baltic-German origin and he was baptised as a member of the Protestant Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland. Having graduated from a technical high school in Warsaw, Władysław Anders began studying at Riga Technical University, where he became a member of the Polish student fraternity Arkonia that remains active to this day, not in Riga but in Warsaw.

After graduation Anders was accepted into the Russian Military School for reserve officers. As a young officer, he served in the 1st Krechowiecki Lancers Regiment of the Imperial Russian Army during WWI. When Poland regained its independence in November 1918 he joined the newly-formed Polish Army. He was awarded the Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari for his merits during the Polish–Soviet War of 1919-1921.

After the war, Anders continued his military education in France at L'École supérieure de guerre and upon graduation he returned to Poland, where he served on the general staff.

Anders opposed Józef Piłsudski's coup d'état in Poland in 1926, but avoided persecution by the Piłsudski’s regime that assumed power after the coup. Piłsudski made him a cavalry brigade commander in 1931 and he was promoted to the rank of general three years later.

'His soldiers adored him... They adored him not only because he had saved their lives by taking them out of Siberia, but because for them he was like a father,' Ambassador Anna Anders recounted. Photo: Twitter/@PremierRP_en

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When Nazi-Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Anders commanded the Nowogródzka Cavalry Brigade. After many a heavy battle against the Germans and following the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, Anders retreated south, hoping to reach the Hungarian or Romanian border, but was intercepted by Soviet forces and captured on 29 September, after being wounded twice.

Initially jailed in Lviv, he was subsequently transferred to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow on February 29, 1940. During his imprisonment, Anders was interrogated, tortured and unsuccessfully urged to join the Red Army.

After the launch of Operation Barbarossa and the signing of the Sikorski-Maisky agreement, Anders was released by the Soviets with the aim of forming a Polish Army to fight against the Germans alongside the Red Army. Continued friction with the Soviets over political issues as well as shortages of weapons, food and clothing, led to the eventual evacuation of Anders' men – known as Anders' Army – together with a sizeable contingent of Polish civilians who had been deported to the USSR from Soviet-occupied Poland.

Anders’ Army and Polish civilians, including around 6,000 of Jews, travelled via the Persian Corridor into Iran, Iraq, and finally into Mandatory Palestine. In Palestine, the soldiers passed under British command. Here, Anders formed and led the Polish 2nd Corps, while continuing to agitate for the release of Polish nationals still in the Soviet Union.

The Polish 2nd Corps became a major tactical and operational unit of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Anders commanded the Corps throughout the Italian Campaign, capturing Monte Cassino on May 18, 1944, later fighting on the Gothic Line and in the final spring offensive.