August 23, 2018




Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a mutual non-aggression agreement, was signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in Moscow by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov.  The pact also contained a secret clause of establishing "spheres of influence".  It resulted in the outbreak of World War II, when Germany invaded and occupied western Poland on September 1, 1919, and when the Russians invaded and occupied eastern Poland on September 17, 1939.  A secret meeting took place on this day at Berghof, where Hitler assumed that neither Britain nor France would go to war for Poland without the Soviet Union. He established August 26 as the date for the invasion of Poland, but feared that at the last moment, somebody would make "a proposal for mediation".


Nazis Began the attack on Stalingrad:  The German 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army began their attack on Stalingrad, supported by intensive Luftwaffe bombing. Much of the city was reduced to rubble as fighting on the ground ensued into a house-to-house assault, with both sides receiving a stream of reinforcements. By mid-November 1942, the Germans had succeeded in pushing the Soviets,  at great cost, into narrow zones along the west bank of the Volga River. The Axis forces were overrun and the 6th Army was cut off and surrounded in the Stalingrad area.  Hitler ordered that the army to stay in Stalingrad and make no attempt to break out. Instead, attempts were made to supply the army by air and to break the encirclement from the outside. The Battle ensued for another two months, and by the beginning of February 1943, the Axis forces had exhausted their supply of food and ammunition. The remnants of the 6th Army surrendered.


Henryk Slawik (the Polish Wallenberg)  was a Polish politician in the interwar period, social worker, activist, and diplomat, who during World War II helped save over 30,000 Polish refugees, including 5,000 Polish Jews in Budapest, Hungary by giving them false Polish passports with Catholic designation.  Among his covert activities was the creation of an orphanage for Jewish children (the "School for Children of Polish Officers") located in Vác. In an effort to disguise the true nature of the orphanage, the children were visited by Catholic Church authorities, most notably by Nuncio Angelo Rotta. After the Nazis seized Hungary in March 1944, Sławik had appointed a new commanding officer for the camp for Polish Jews,and all of them were able to escape and leave Hungary, including the Jewish children of the orphanage. Sławik was arrested by the Germans on March 19, 1944 and sent to Gusen concentration camp. The Nazis brutally tortured him but he did not reveal the identities of his Hungarian colleagues. He was executed with some of his fellow Polish activists on order of Reichsführer SS on August 23, 1944.  Sławik's place of burial remains unknown.  His wife survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp and after the war found their daughter hidden in Hungary by the Antall family. In 1997 Slawik was posthumously awarded Righteous Among Nations, by Yad Vashem.

After the liberation of Majdanek camp by Soviet forces in July 1944, the camp became a detention centre for Polish prisoners of the Soviet NKVD. Among the prisoners were Volhynian members of the AK, and soldiers of the AK units which had been moving toward Warsaw to join in the Warsaw Uprising when they were captured and imprisoned.  On August 23, 1944, about 250 Polish inmates from Majdanek were transported to the rail station Lublin Tatary. From there, they were forced onto cattle cars and deported to camps in Siberia and other parts of the Soviet Union.


The European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Totalitarian Regime:   The first time this Remembrance was celebrated was on August 23, 2011. The commemoration was organized by the Polish Ministry of Justice and the Institute of National Remembrance, and were held in Warsaw Rising Museum, under the auspices of the Polish Presidency. The President of the Institute of National Remembrance, Dr. Łukasz Kamiński, in his speech made the following comments, ".....the 20th century was a time of mass murder, carried out on unprecedented scale. Most of the crimes, yet not all of them, were committed by the perpetrators adherent to one of the two totalitarian ideologies – Nazism or Communism. This period should not, however, be remembered as an era of criminals. The 20th century was the time of victims – millions of murdered and millions of those who managed to survive, yet their suffering have marked them forever......we owe it to the future generations so that they can understand what seems incomprehensible and learn from the bitter legacy of the 20th century....."

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