Sunday, April 18, 2010
Last updated: Sunday April 18, 2010, 12:03 PM
BY NICK CLUNN
The plane crash that killed many of Poland’s top leaders is forcing organizers of events
celebrating the nation’s culture to keep festive traditions while also acknowledging a
devastating loss that has shaken Poles worldwide.
Organizers of the Pulaski Day Parade in New York City and the Polish Heritage Festival at
the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel — many of whom live in North Jersey — have already
discussed making changes that would attempt to strike the right chord. Some Poles
say the issue is similar to what Americans faced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“The parade is always a very positive event, but we don’t want it to be a funeral procession,” said Peter Eagler, executive vice president of the parade committee and a council member in Clifton.
The parade honors Casimir Pulaski, a Polish patriot who came to the United States to fight in the Revolutionary War. The theme of this year’s march — a celebration of the strong alliance between Poland and the United States — might change when the parade’s executive committee meets in three weeks, he said.
A banquet at the Marriott Marquis the night before the parade, and a morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral preceding its start on the first Sunday in October, will also provide opportunities for organizers to acknowledge the air disaster.
Balancing sobering remembrances with prideful expressions may prove most difficult for the Garfield contingent. Never before in the parade’s 73-year history has someone from the Bergen County city led the march from the cathedral as grand marshal. Stanley Moskol, the city’s deputy mayor, received the sash after fighting off a rare challenge from the mayor of Wallington.
“We have to remember the leaders who have fallen, but we also have to be one Poland moving forward,” Moskol said.
Today’s scheduled burial of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife will help the healing process. They were among 96 people killed when their plane went down in heavy fog after clipping a birch tree on approach to a Russian airport.
The delegation had planned to attend a memorial for thousands of Polish army officers executed in 1940 by the forerunner of the Soviet secret police in the nearby Katyn forest.
Pupils from a supplementary school that teaches Polish culture will attempt to address both tragedies surrounding Katyn at the arts center festival, said David Leja of the Polish-American Heritage League, the event organizer.
But Leja said there are no plans to cancel any of the regular attractions that have attracted thousands of Poles to the arts center’s amphitheater and parking lots for the past 38 years. The daylong festival of Polish food, music and dance is set for June 6.
Celebrating Poland might inject a dose a national pride when it’s needed most, Leja said. It also might give Polish-Americans who have reconnected with their roots because of the crash a positive means of keeping those ties, he said.
“It seems that unity builds during times like these,” he said. “There is sorrow, but there is also hope.”