Sunday, December 05, 2010

From The Wall Street Journal

Remembering Katyn

Jazz pianist—and World War II veteran—Dave Brubeck's history lesson.

Other than WikiLeaks, two notable events occurred over the weekend: Russia's parliament issued a resolution taking responsibility for Stalin's murder of 22,000 Polish officers in Katyn forest in 1940, and Dave Brubeck celebrated his 90th birthday in a set at the Blue Note jazz club in New York City. Permit us to connect the dots of history.

The Katyn resolution passed over the objections of the Communist Party, whose members continue to deny a Soviet role in the massacre. Also, the Polish government wants the Russians to go further, accepting legal responsibility and agreeing to compensation for the victims' families. The Polish director Andrzej Wajda put the event before world audiences with his haunting 2007 film remembrance, "Katyn."

Associated Press

Mr. Brubeck wrote 'Dziekuje' as a thank you to the people of Poland for resisting Communism.


Still, the resolution is progress. One senior Russian parliamentarian said, "Our task today is to get this lie out of our way." The parliament called for declassifying Russia's Katyn archives "to restore the honorable names of all who died." The Russian human rights group Memorial has also called for opening archives and identifying the perpetrators.

Toward the end of a long and very fine set Saturday evening at the Blue Note with his quartet, Mr. Brubeck, who turns 90 next week, took hold of the microphone aside his piano and began to talk about a remembrance of Poland. He said that President Eisenhower had sent the Dave Brubeck Quartet to Poland in 1958 to perform as representatives of the American people. Earlier in his career, Mr. Brubeck had represented the American people as a member of Patton's Third Army in Europe.

After a visit to Chopin's home and being surrounded by "all these pianos," Mr. Brubeck composed a Chopinesque jazz piece with the Polish name "Dziekuje." Mr. Brubeck asked if anyone in the Blue Note audience knew what "dzieuke" means. "It means 'thank you,'" a lady called out.

"That's right," said Mr. Brubeck. "It means thank you. And I want to play this piece as thanks to the people of Poland for resisting Soviet Communism."

It wasn't possible to ask Mr. Brubeck as he left the stage whether he had seen the Katyn story in the news earlier that day. We guessed he had. At the time of that 1958 trip he said of the jazz scene in Poland: "No dictatorship can tolerate jazz. It is the first sign of a return to freedom."

It is possible to minimize the Russian parliament's resolution of responsibility for Katyn. It is also possible that it is a small but significant step toward greater liberalization in the least-free nation of the former Eastern bloc.

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