Juriaan van Waalwijk & Moniek Hover
Breda, Cemetery/ Memorial
Because of his military experience, Stanislaw Maczek became commander of the 10th Motorised Cavalry of Poland in 1938. After the German invasion in 1939 he arrived in France via North Africa. In France he fought against the Germans alongside other Polish fugitives. After that he formed the 1st Polish Armoured Division in Great Britain.
After the Normandy Landings and the fierce fighting in Falaise (August 1944), Maczek arrived with his division on the outskirts of the Dutch town of Breda.
General Maczek had already seen plenty of devastation in Europe. For this reason he decided to liberate Breda house by house instead of using the full firepower of his tanks.
Many Polish soldiers died in the fighting in Breda, but the town was eventually freed by the Poles with almost no civilian casualties. They were given a rapturous welcome by the people of Breda and General Maczek was appointed an honorary citizen of Breda.
In February 1945 a decision was made in Jalta that many Polish already feared. The leaders of the three main Allies (United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) decided that after the war Poland would come under Russian influence.
The liberation of Europe had to be continued, but many Polish tank commanders were unwilling to advance any further. Unrest grew as they realised that they would probably never be able to liberate their own country, Poland. Baca (general Maczek) called his officers together and sent them to the tank commanders with the message: ‘On our banner it says: God, Honour and Fatherland, and although we no longer have our fatherland, we still have our honour. Together we swore to fulfil a mission and together we will achieve it with honour, however difficult our own future will be.’
The Poles obeyed their leader and continued with the battle. They liberated parts of the Netherlands and Germany and so made an important contribution to the ending of the Second World War.
The Allies recognised the new communist Polish government. This regime considered the Poles who had fought with the Allies to be traitors. The liberators of Breda were in fact exiled from their own country.
Stanislaw Maczek had his Polish nationality taken away and he settled with his family in Scotland. He had not served in the British army for long enough to claim a British pension, so to make ends meet he worked for some time as a barman in a hotel. When his former troops visited him there he was always treated with respect. When Poland became a democracy, Stanislaw Maczek was rehabilitated. He died in 1994 aged 102. It was his wish to be buried in Breda, next to his men in the Polish Military Field of Honour. And that happened. Andrew Maczek, the General’s son, remembered a lesson from his father: ‘True honour is never self-serving.’
Stanislaw Maczek (right) during the advance through France in 1944