Poland says grave with WWII soldiers is destroyed by Belarus

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s government alleged Thursday that authorities in neighboring Belarus were leveling a memorial site containing the graves of Polish resistance fighters who died battling Soviet soldiers during World War II.

Lukasz Jasina, the spokesman for Poland’s Foreign Ministry, said on Twitter that a cemetery in Surkonty, Belarus — a village where members of Poland’s largest wartime resistance force, the Home Army, fought Soviet army troops on Aug. 21, 1944 — was being “devastated by the services of the Minsk regime.”

“Those who think that the human memory of heroes can be eradicated are very mistaken. The regime will pay for these acts of barbarism,” Jasina wrote.

The allegation, based on reports from the Polish minority in Belarus, came a day after the Polish government said it was demolishing a monument to Soviet Red Army soldiers in southwestern Poland, one of dozens marked for destruction since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine six months ago. No soldiers were buried at the monument site.

There was no immediate comment from Belarus, and it was not clear if the developments were related. Belarus has destroyed two Polish wartime cemeteries since early July.

Minsk has been taking harsh steps against the Polish minority, arresting its leaders, ever since Poland backed the opposition against President Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected in 2020 in a vote that was internationally seen as rigged. Poland has also joined international sanctions on Belarus for its role in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Poland, like many of its neighbors, was invaded and occupied by Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II and then spent decades under Moscow-backed rule.

Since communism ended in the country more than three decades ago, there have been steps taken to remove hated communist symbols from public spaces. Efforts to remove the remaining Soviet memorials increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, cemeteries with the graves of Red Army soldiers have not been disturbed in Poland.

The cemetery in Surkonty is the final resting place of a few dozen soldiers from Poland’s Home Army, a resistance force that also fought the occupying German forces throughout World War II. The Home Army was under the command of a Polish government-in-exile that was based in London during the country’s occupation by Nazi and Soviet forces.

During the decades of Moscow-backed communist rule, Poles were forbidden from publicly honoring the memory of Polish victims of the Soviet Union or of those who fought the regime.

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