Helen Bitner-Glindzicz was Helen Herron, from Marlborough Road, when she met her Polish husband Richard (Ryszard) at a dance in Borderland, Muff, in 1961.
Richard was working at the Coolkeeragh Power Station at the time. Helen, a former Thornhill pupil, was out in the popular Saturday night venue in Donegal with friends when she ran into the man who would become her life partner for the next 46 years.
Not long after they met, Helen discovered the extraordinary story of how Richard had fled to England as a refugee after World War Two and the extent to which Richard’s family had suffered brutally during the early days of the second world war. It’s a story which has changed the direction of her life over the years, and one which, following the passing of her late husband in 2007, the Derry born mother of two is determined to share with others. Richard’s father Adolf Bitner-Glindzicz, his grandfather Stanislaw Antoni Grochowski, and his uncle Julian Grochowski were murdered by the Russians in the Eastern Borderlands of Poland, now Belarus, and are listed as victims in the ‘Belarussian Katyn List.’ All of the adult males on both sides of Richard’s family were killed or murdered in the war. More than 25,000 Polish officers, doctors, lawyers, landowners, and government employees were murdered under the orders of Stalin and Laurenti Beria in what has become known as the Katyn Forest Massacre.
What happened to Richard’s family is one of the stories featured in a compelling documentary called ‘The Officer’s Wife’ which will be screened as part of this year’s Foyle Film Festival, something which - after years of research - Helen says is deeply important to her.
“My husband died never knowing where his father and other members of his family were buried. The one thing we’re certain of course is that they were executed, killed in cold blood and Richard never had any closure. Derry is my home town, and I know that people there understand what it’s like to have to fight for the truth and to wait years for closure after the murder of their relatives. Richard came to England as a refugee without his father after the war, his story is just one of thousands.”
Helen, now 77, explained how for decades, people like her husband, who wanted to find out the truth about what happened in Katyn, were viewed as an annoyance by government leaders on the allied side. “When the massacre first came to light in 1943, the Poles were criticized by Oliver Harding, Antony Eden’s Private Secretary, for daring to want the tragedy investigated. Churchill in a Public Records Office memo dated 24/3/43 wrote “…there was … no use prowling around three year old graves in Smolensk” In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that in 1940 Stalin ordered the execution of 25,700 Polish soldiers in Soviet prison camps.
“My second reason for believing that this film is important is that since the Nuremburg Trials, the Katyn massacre, has been an embarrassment not only for the Russians, the Americans and the British but also for many historians, even contemporary historians of World War II.”
Helen said her late husband had become something of an expert on World War 11. She has pledged to continue to try and trace where her husband’s family were finally buried, in memory of the man she met so close to her own home town over 50 years ago.
“One person can only just keep trying. I feel it’s something worthwhile. I feel it’s necessary and I hope people of Derry will come and support the film when it’s there. I’m just thrilled that the Foyle Film Festival are screening it. I’m hoping to arrange a question and answer session after the screening too.”
See local press for more information on the screening date of the Officer’s Wife which is to be confirmed shortly.