There rest more than a thousand Polish fallen from the Battle of Monte Cassino

The Monte Cassino Polish Military Cemetery, where the poppies drank Polish blood

If we asked many Poles about a sacred place in Italy, perhaps they would not think of Rome and would remember a beautiful and tragic song.

The Ardennes American Cemetery, with more than 5,000 fallen in the World War II
The Berlin 1939–1945 War Cemetery that honors 3,595 allied soldiers

That song is titled "Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino" (The Red Poppies of Monte Cassino) and is one of the most famous Polish compositions of World War II. It talks about the soldiers of the Second Corps of the Polish Army who fought in the brutal Battle of Monte Cassino (1944). The melody was composed by one of those soldiers, Alfred Schütz, during the battle, and the first three verses were written by another veteran of those combats, Feliks Konarski. The first two verses of the chorus say like this:

Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino
Zamiast rosy piły polską krew.

Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Were drinking not dew but Polish blood.

You can listen to the song here:

The fourth and final verse of the song was written on the 25th anniversary of the battle. Talk about the cemetery where the more than 1,000 Poles who died in that battle are buried:

Czy widzisz ten rząd białych krzyży?
Tam Polak z honorem brał ślub.
Idź naprzód, im dalej ,im wyżej,
Tym więcej ich znajdziesz u stóp.
Ta ziemia do Polski należy,
Choć Polska daleko jest stąd,
Bo wolność krzyżami się mierzy,
Historia ten jeden ma błąd.

Can you see the row of white crosses?
That’s where Poles with honor took vows.
Walk forward – the farther, the higher
The more at your feet you’ll find.
This land belongs to Poland,
Although Poland is far away,
For freedom is measured by crosses,
That’s history major mistake.

The Monte Cassino Polish Military Cemetery was inaugurated on September 1, 1945. It is close to the Benedictine abbey where that battle took place. Polish soldiers from the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division fought in that same place. The cemetery was designed by architects Wacław Hryniewicz and Jerzy Walerian Skolimowski and was built by hundreds of Italian workers and stonemasons, assisted by sappers from the Second Polish Corps.

The Monte Cassino Polish Military Cemetery, with the Benedictine abbey in the background (Photo: Polski Cmentarz Wojenny na Monte Cassino).

A large Virtuti Militari cross, the highest Polish military decoration, is inscribed on the cemetery floor, along with this text: "Przechodniu, powiedz Polsce, żeśmy polegli wierni w jej służbie" (Passerby, tell Poland that we have fallen faithful to its service).

An aerial view of the Monte Cassino Polish Military Cemetery (Photo: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej).

At the top of the cemetery there is an obelisk built by Polish veterans in tribute to the soldiers of the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division. The names of the 1,115 fallen that that Division had in Italy appear on the obelisk, along with this text: "Za naszą i waszą wolność my żołnierze polscy oddaliśmy Bogu shower, ciało ziemi włoskiej, a serca Polsce" (For our and your freedom, we Polish soldiers give our spirit to God, our body to the land of Italy and our heart to Poland).

One of the two stone eagles that guard the entrance to the cemetery, the work of Duilio Cambelloti (Photo: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej).

In the cemetery there are Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim Poles. Not all of those buried there died during fighting in World War II. General Władysław Anders, commander of the Polish Second Corps, asked before he died to be buried next to his fallen comrades in Montecasino, and his remains rest there today. Forty years later his wife, Irena Anders, who died on November 29, 2010, was buried next to him. She had been one of the first people to sing "Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino" during the war.

In the Monte Cassino Polish Military Cemetery there are more than 1,000 fallen from the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 (Photo: Ra Boe).

On the cemetery there is a large cross in the center of which is the White Eagle, the national coat of arms of Poland. In this sacred place two flags always fly: that of Italy, the country in which those heroes died, and that of Poland, the country for which they died. Between the two flags are the stone shields of the units that were part of the Second Polish Corps.

Polish soldiers paying tribute to their fallen compatriots at the Polish Military Cemetery in Monte Cassino, on the occasion of the 78th anniversary of the battle (Photo: Konsulat Honorowy RP w Neapolu dla Regionu Campania).

I dedicate this entry to all the Polish soldiers who fell in the Battle of Montecasino in 1944.

Cześć ich pamięci!

Honor to their memory!


Main photo: PAP.

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