“On 26 February 2000 – you can read in the “protocol of acceptance of the gift” preserved until today, – Mr. Henryk Gorzechowski, who lives in Gdynia, 7 b Lelewela Street, gave me a bas-relief in a tree with the image of Our Lady, carved in the Kozelsk camp by a prisoner of this camp, Henryk Gorzechowski Sr. This sculpture, known as the Our Lady of Kozelsk, exported from the camp by the surviving Henryk Gorzechowski Jr., was now owned by Mr. Henryk Gorzechowski – the grandson of the author of the bas-relief…”

Receiving the precious gift from the current owner, the Chairman of the Council of the Polish Katyn Foundation, Prof. Dr. Jacek Trznadel, promised not only to care for the bas-relief and its permanent conservation, but also to exhibit Our Lady of Kozelsk permanently – with all protection from destruction and theft – in one of the Warsaw churches. Another condition of the donor was to place the name of its author, the name of the donor, with a reminder of the merits of the Gorzechowski family for Poland, below or next to the sculpture.

No one should be surprised by the conditions set by the youngest of the Gorzechowski family. The bas-relief offered by him with the image of Our Lady of Katyn is “the most precious image for us Poles,” writes Adam Macedoński “the image of Our Lady, directly and tragically connected with the Polish officers murdered in Katyn…”

The bas-relief was created from a piece of natural-coloured board cut out of the bunk, 14.8 cm by 9.4 cm in size, with a small see-through hole (after a nail?) in the bottom right corner (when looking at the face). On the face of the board, the author quite shallowly carved the image of Our Lady in the crown, with two small angels supporting the crown. Our Lady has her hands folded on her chest, which means that while working on the bass-relief, the author was thinking about Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn.

The author achieved a very strong artistic expression of this work,” says Macedoński, “with a few necessary strokes with a chisel (or knife) made with the greatest precision. This small, not polychrome bas-relief “shocks everyone with its expression…and sadness.”

A bas-relief by Henryk Gorzechowski depicting the image of Our Lady of Kozelsk.

The author of these words, an artist, painter and draughtsman by profession, who many years ago tried to explain the history of creating Our Lady of Katyn, adds that the inscription „KOZIELSK 28-II-1940″ on the bas-relief is connected with the date of birth of Henryk Gorzechowski – junior, in February 1940 for several weeks – just like his father – a prisoner of war of Soviet camps.

Both were captured immediately after the Soviet army entered Poland. Henryk – senior, in 1939 a lieutenant in the Polish Army, while crossing the Borderlands towards the Romanian border. Henryk – junior, from 15 July 39 uhlan with census in the 3rd squadron of the 16th Uhlan Regiment became a prisoner of the Red Army after a skirmish near the Turya River. The father and son met in the camp in Szepietówka and from there they were sent to Kozelsk. They were together there in the winter 1939/1940 and on the day of his birthday, the junior received from his father a board with an image of Our Lady.

– There were no words,” answers Gorzechowski Jr. to the question about the father’s behaviour during the presentation of the gift to his son. – We just hugged each other warmly. That was the first time I saw tears in my Father’s eyes. Later I understood how great the symbolism of the events was…

The name Gorzechowski Gienryk Gienrykowicz was read out on roll call on 11 May 1940, along with others. After Henryk Jr. asked “father or son”, the NKVD officer silenced and then answered: “Wsio rawno. Dawaj – otiec” (Whatever. Take the father).

– My requests to go with my father were of no use. Father managed to say: “Whatever happens, take care of your mother”. As if he had a feeling. At that time, recalls the son many years later, I didn’t realize that the words of the NKVD officer “Wsio rawno. Dawaj – otiec” meant life for me and cruel death for my Father…

From Kozelsk, Gorzechowski Jr. was sent to the camp in Griazovec, then to the Polish Army in the USSR, commanded by General Władysław Anders, and from there to the navy. Since January 3, 1942 on the cruiser „Trinidad” he sails in the protection of convoys to Murmansk, then stays in the hospital, and then serves in the 1st Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment, which is a part of the 1st Armoured Division commanded by General Stanislaw Maczek.

And so, along the route of the Division, through the battlefields in France, Belgium, Holland, to Wilhelmshaven in German Saxony, in the backpack of the Polish artilleryman, travels the image of Our Lady, called by him Madonna Kozielska. Since May 1943, Gorzechowski Jr. knows what happened to his father and where he could have gone if they had been allowed to leave the camp together.

After the war Lieutenant Gorzechowski returns to Gdynia and dies here in October 1989.

– This bas-relief has always been hanging in our house for as long as I can remember,” says his son Henryk Wacław Gorzechowski in an interview conducted in August 2002 by Dr. Bożena Łojek from the Polish Katyn Foundation. – It was simply a family heirloom, which I grew up with. Little was said about its history at home, or maybe I don’t remember. At the end of the 1980s, father revealed its extraordinary history in public and for the first time a photograph of this unique bas-relief was printed…

The bas-relief with the image of Our Lady of Katyn can be admired in the Katyn Chapel in the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army in Warsaw. This unusual Relic is accompanied – like the soldiers surrounding the altar – by plaques bearing the names of Polish prisoners of war who were killed in the spring of 1940, the Martyrs of the Polish Golgotha of the East.

Jerzy Zawisza

Developing based on ‘Kaplica Katyńska w KATEDRZE POLOWEJ WOJSKA POLSKIEGO’ (‘Katyn Chapel in the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army’), Zeszyty Katyńskie No. 16, Warsaw 2002.