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Boston's Polish Community Absorbs News Of Deadly Plane Crash01:44
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As they enter the church Sunday, parishioners at Our Lady of Czestochowa in South Boston pass by a shrine to the late president of Poland, who was killed in a plane crash on Saturday. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)
As they enter the church Sunday, parishioners at Our Lady of Czestochowa in South Boston pass by a shrine to the late president of Poland, who was killed in a plane crash on Saturday. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Boston's Polish community was grieving Sunday, a day after their home country lost its president and dozens of other top government leaders in a devastating plane crash.

The 11 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa in South Boston was standing room only. This Catholic parish near Andrew Square is at the heart of the city's 6,000-strong Polish community.

Everyone entering the church passed by a small shrine with flowers and burning candles. It was a tribute to the late president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski. He was among the dignitaries killed in Saturday's airplane accident in Russia.

Outside the church, Tomas Daniki, who was born in Poland, said he felt "shattered" by the news.

"I woke up in the morning yesterday, I just turn on the computer and I went to my wife's room, I woke up her, woke up my mother-in-law," he recalled. "I told them. They couldn't believe."

Sitting next to him, Artur Marek said he was also feeling stunned.

"It's just under the reality, you know? I mean out of reality," he added. "The big, big thing."

Marek said the tragedy was compounded by the crash having happened near the very site where more than 20,000 Polish officers were massacred by Soviet troops 70 years ago this month.

"Priceless people died in the same place," he said. "It's kind of like mystic stuff. Very sad."

From Across an Ocean, Feeling Poland's Pain

At the European Baltic Deli across the street, a steady stream of Polish immigrants stopped by for foods that remind them of home — kielbasa, pierogis, beet soup, stuffed cabbage. Maria Gugala was one of the people shopping there. She's 74 and has lived in the United States for 50 years, but says she still feels Poland's pain.

"Everybody is very sad — very sad," she said.

Polish president Lech Kaczysnki was among the top officials killed in the crash. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)
Polish president Lech Kaczysnki was among the top officials killed in the crash. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

Initial reports say the pilot tried to land in thick fog and missed the runway, smashing into a forest. But Gugala says she wonders if the crash was really an accident.

"I no think so, this fog," she added. "Something is more happen for this plane."

Others in the community, including Kamila Hagar, 30, have similar doubts. She works at the deli, she was also born in Poland, and she says she's been watching CNN to get news of the accident and to watch crowds gather in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw.

"I think when you are immigrant here you kind of feel this patriotism right away," she explained. "You just grieve. You just feel like you lost one of yours."

Hagar said the accident is dominating conversation among most of her customers.

"I mean, you're a Pole living in America," she explained. "This patriotism just speaks to you even more, I think. You just are like, wow, it's someone from my country, it's my president."

Wondering What Comes Next For Poland

Agata Gojzewska of Braintree stopped by the deli before Mass wearing all black — a show of mourning, she said, for the people who had died.

She raised another point of concern for many local immigrants: "The part that everybody was wondering about was why so many people went in one plane and so many V.I.P. people."

The big question now, she added, is how Poland will fill its sudden power vacuum.

"Obviously I'm a little nervous because my whole family is over there," she said, "so I want to make sure they are all right and everything is going to be back to normal."

For now, Polish officials are reassuring people that the country will continue to function normally despite its massive losses.

This program aired on April 12, 2010.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.

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