It seems fitting to remember today all those who sacrificed their lives during fierce fighting on the Italian peninsula during World War II.
I recently posted about my visit to the 6th century abbey at Montecassino that was destroyed during the war and rebuilt from the rubble.
On that visit, I also stopped off to see the Polish cemetery, containing the graves of over 1000 Polish soldiers – and two hundred Bielorussians – who died storming the bombed out abbey during the Battle of Montecassino in May 1944.
The Polish Cemetery occupies a beautiful hillside position, with stunning views over the abbey that must have been so menacing at the time, but which is now so peaceful.
It takes a lot of imagination to understand how the bombings and gunfire must have sounded like, when today all you hear is the sound of the breeze rustling the trees and the birds chirping on their branches.
It makes an impression seeing the lines of graves of all those young soldiers so far from their homeland. There was a small but very interesting museum, with explanations in Italian, Polish and English.
Sadly, I got there as it was closing and had to race through much faster than I would have liked. It was interesting to read the accounts of the Allied commanders praising the bravery of the Polish soldiers.
As a history buff, I also liked seeing the old posters and propaganda from the time to see what drove the soldiers to fight so valiantly in this battle. It was interesting to read the speeches from the Generals and to see the posters from the time instructing the soldiers to fight the Germans in Montecassino for what they did to Warsaw and for the years of occupation.
I’ll have to go back to explore the museum more thoroughly – not so close to closing time on my next visit!
There are two poems engraved at the entrance. One is the following:
We soldiers of Poland
Gave Our soul to God
Our life to the soil of Italy
Our hearts to Poland
The other engraved poem is similar to the famous World War I poem about the poppies in Flanders. My son had recently studied the original poem in his history class, so it was interesting for us both to see this Polish World War II version.
If you’re visiting the Montecassino Abbey, don’t miss out on the moving Polish Cemetery. Today it is fitting that we remember those brave soldiers who died during their efforts to break the Gustav Line and end WWII.