Queens may be 4,000 miles away from Poland, but the tragic plane crash on Saturday, April 10 that killed President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of his inner circle struck at the hearts of the borough’s tight-knit Polish community.
Ninety-seven people were killed when the Tupolev Tu-154 model aircraft carrying the President and political and military leaders attempted a landing in poor weather conditions. The crash reverberated through the streets of Polish enclaves in neighborhoods from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to Ridgewood and fledgling communities in Maspeth, Glendale and Long Island City.
Chet Szarejko, the vice president and political activities chair of the Polish American Congress, an umbrella advocacy organization, compared the reaction in Polish neighborhoods to that which followed the news of John F. Kennedy’s assassination nearly five decades ago.
“If you go through Greenpoint you would see Polish flags waving and the same in Ridgewood as well,” said Szarejko, who emigrated from Poland at the age of two.
“People were not celebrating but they were out in the streets.”
Szarejko added that the tragedy also had an impact on non-Polish speakers, underscoring “an aspect of brotherhood that we like to see in our community.”
“You saw that togetherness existed – not only among the Polish people but between the Polish and their neighbors,” he said.
According to published reports, among those killed were Kaczynski’s wife, the deputy speaker the Polish Parliament, the head of the National Security Bureau, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, the chief of the general staff of the Polish Army and the president of the national bank. In a chilling twist, the plane was en route to western Russia to honor the more than 20,000 Polish soldiers murdered there by the Soviet Union in 1940.
Szarejko said masses have been held in Greenpoint and in Rockville Center. He added that the Polish Consulate in Manhattan held an open house at which visitors signed a book in support of the Polish people.
“Polish has to recoup its losses and find its way again,” Szarejko said. “They will,” he went on, without skipping a beat.