Polish WWII soldiers exhumed in leader's death probe
The remains of three aides killed in a 1943 air crash alongside Polish World War II leader General Wladyslaw Sikorski were exhumed Thursday, in a probe fuelled by enduring conspiracy theories.
The bodies of General Tadeusz Klimecki, Colonel Andrzej Marecki and Lieutenant Jozef Ponikowski were removed from their graves at a Polish military cemetery in Newark, central England, Poland's PAP news agency reported.
The exhumation was requested by Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, created in 1998 to probe wartime and communist-era crimes.
In 2008, the institute launched a probe of the crash in Gibraltar in which Sikorski and senior members of his entourage died. They said documents and wartime tensions with Moscow lent credence to theories that he was killed on Soviet orders.
Ewa Koj, an investigator from the institute, said the aides' remains would be autopsied in the southern Polish city of Krakow.
Sikorski was exhumed from his tomb in Krakow in November 2008, an autopsy confirmed that he died from crash injuries.
"We're expecting a similar result to that concerning General Sikorski, but once we begin an investigation, we have to pursue all leads to the end," Koj was quoted as saying by PAP.
Sikorski led a London-based government-in-exile set up after Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. He found himself on Moscow's side once Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, but relations remained rocky.
He died aged 62 on July 4, 1943 when a British Royal Air Force plane crashed into the sea seconds after take-off from a British base at Gibraltar.
The Czech pilot, the sole survivor of 17 people aboard, told an RAF inquiry days later that his controls jammed, and it was never established why, according to declassified records.
A handful of factors have stoked conspiracy theories.
Proponents have pointed to the presence of a Soviet diplomatic plane in Gibraltar on July 4; the fact that there had been two previous incidents involving aircraft carrying Sikorski; and the fact that British intelligence's head in the region was Kim Philby, later exposed as a Soviet mole.
But most historians are sceptical that the crash was anything more than a tragic accident.
Whatever the truth, Sikorski's death had wide-ranging consequences.
It sapped his exiled government's authority, making it easier for London and Washington in November 1943 to recognise the Soviet seizure of pre-war Polish territory, which smoothed relations in the anti-Nazi camp.
It also paved the way for Moscow to install a pro-Soviet government in Poland in 1944 as it rolled back the Nazis. Warsaw's communist regime only collapsed in 1989.
© 2010 AFP