JANINA DOWBOR-MUSNICKI LEWANDOWSKA
by Senator Barbara Mikulski
Originally published in the commemorative booklet at the
The story of Janina Dowbor Musnicki Lewandowska is a story of the Polish people. It is a story about faith, patriotism, loyalty and courage. It is also about the only woman--that we know of--who was executed at the Katyn massacre.
Janina was a Polish patriot murdered by Soviet troops in the Katyn Forest along with over 20,000 Polish prisoners of war. These victims were army officers, and reservists, including clergy, doctors, teachers and lawyers. They were executed as part of Stalin's effort to crush the Polish people by killing Poland's best and brightest leaders.
One of these dynamic leaders was Second Lieutenant Janina Dowbor Musnicki Lewandowska. She was born Janina Dowbor-Musnicka around 1910. Her father was the commander of The Polish Army First Corps. Early in life, Janina developed three major passions: flying, parachuting and singing. She excelled at each.
.By age 20, she was the first woman in Europe to parachute from a height of over five kilometers. With her beautiful, charismatic voice she was given the nickname, the Poznan Nightingale [Slowik Poznanski]. In 1938, Janina married Lieutenant Colonel Lewandowski.
The next year, Second Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska was mobilized by the Poznan Army to defend Poland from German invaders in Wielkopolska. She was shot down and captured by the Germans, then transferred to the Soviets on September 24,1939, and taken to a camp in Ostashkow.
From there, on December 6, 1939, along with 80 other prisoners she was sent to a camp in Kozielsk. Janina took great risks to participate in the secret productions of molds for oplatki [wafers] and routinely participated in Catholic Mass. This subjected her to harassment and repeated invasive searches by her captors who never allowed her any privacy. She was fiercely loyal and devoted to her fellow Polish inmates, insisting on being transferred when they were.
On April 15, 1943, Second Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska's corpse was uncovered by the Germans who discovered the grave of the Polish soldiers at Katyn. Horrified to find the body of a Polish female officer and afraid of negative propaganda, the Germans simply labeled her "the corpse of a pilot officer."
The Soviets tried to conceal the unimaginable horrors of the Katyn massacre, but they could not hide the courageous story of Second Lieutenant Janina Lewandowska and the other brave Polish patriots who died. Janina continues to serve as a model of what is best about Polish women and culture. Her story of faith, patriotism, loyalty and courage, even under the most horrendous conditions, will continue to inspire generations of Poles and especially, Polish women.
Reproduced here by permission,