Brooklyn Poles mourn Sunday at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Greenpoint. (Photo: AP)
Poles across the world united in grief Sunday, shocked by the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of Polish officials in a Saturday jet crash in Russia that killed 96.
Poland’s capital labored to function, with interim leaders of the government and military taking their places.
On the streets of Warsaw, however, tens of thousands sang the national anthem and tossed flowers as the body of Kaczynski, 60, was transported to the presidential palace.
Russia said there was no indication the plane was having problems when it crashed in the fog near the same forest where 20,000 Polish troops were killed under Josef Stalin 70 years ago. It was to honor those lives that the leaders had undertaken the fateful trip.
To ease tensions between Russia and Poland in light of the crash and the countries’ tragic history, President Dmitry Medvedev declared Monday a day of mourning in Russia.
In Greenpoint, the Brooklyn neighborhood called “Little Poland,” the heartbreak was palpable. Polish flags were adorned with black ribbons and thousands packed Sunday church services, spilling onto the streets.
“It’s so sad because it happened where there is already tragedy,” said Anna Cioch, 41, said of the crash site near Katyn forest in Russia.
Kiki Garber spent all Sunday morning painting a large portrait of Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, who also perished as the crash. The canvas was still wet as Garber carried it to Mass at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. “They were genuine patriots,” the 54-year-old said of the Polish first couple. “Why did they have to die?”
Sylvia Wadolowski, 9, dressed in a Girl Scout uniform and carrying a Polish flag, said she had been following news of the crash online all weekend.
“I still can’t believe how it happened,” said her mother, Barbara. Kaczynski was remembered as “always fighting for the rights of all people,” she said.
Barbara Wadolowski’s respect for the Polish president was echoed in Warsaw.
“He taught Poles how to respect our traditions, how to fight for our dignity, and he made he made his sacrifice there at that tragic place,” said Boguslaw Staron, 70.