An annual solemn ceremony will be held in the Town of Cheektowaga on Saturday to remember millions of people put to death during World War II, people who are not necessarily remembered as easily as the estimated six million Jews exterminated in Nazi death camps.
Of those roughly six million Jews rounded up, sent to camps and then systematically executed, about half were Polish citizens, and half of the estimated six million Polish citizens put to death by the Nazis, as well as the Soviets.
Polish Remembrance Day, which begins at noon Saturday (August 15) at the Resurrection Mausoleum at St. Stanislaus Cemetery, was first launched nearly two decades ago to remember the Polish citizens who also fell victim to Adolf Hitler's and Josef Stalin's respective wartime regimes.
"It's a liturgy we started 18 years ago," said Joseph Macielag, past president of the Polish American Congress. "It's an annual event, and it's always the closest Saturday to August 14. The date was chosen specifically because August 14 is the (Roman Catholic) feast day of Saint Maximilian Kolbe."
Kolbe, a Catholic priest, was among the millions of prisoners killed in Auschwitz. He volunteered to take the place of a fellow prisoner who was selected to die. That prisoner pleaded with the guards for mercy, but then Father Kolbe came forward and offered to go in his place. He was canonized in 1982.
Polish Christians and Jews were only some of the populations targeted for slaughter. Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, physically disabled and others deemed undesirable to the Nazis were also put to death.
In addition to recognizing non-Jewish victims - and the survivors - of the Holocaust, people of Polish heritage are also eager to raise awareness for a misconception created by use of the phrase "Polish" concentration or death camps. Though used by some to set Poland as the location for camps such as Auschwitz, Polish-Americans including Macielag say calling them "Polish camps" implies that they were operated by the Poles. The camps, of course, were run by the Nazis.
"The young people, when they hear 'Polish concentration camps,' they don't think of it as a geographical adjective. They think of it as an ethnic adjective and thereby stands the problem," said Macielag. " And it, of course, causes tremendous resentment among people of Polish descent because of the implication."
In the meantime, those taking part in this annual Polish Remembrance Day also remember the Jews who perished at Nazi hands.
"Our prayers are for all of God's people," said Macielag.