Warsaw Mourning - A new Book by Jeph Ellis


n April 10, 2010 a Russian built Tupolev aircraft replete with Polish Officials was en route from Warsaw, Poland to Smolensk, Russia. The passengers on board were traveling to attend a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the massacre in the forests of Katyn, Russia in 1940. The jet, carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, many of Poland?s military leaders, politicians, clergy, and relatives of the victims of the massacre, crashed in the woods just outside of the city of Smolensk while attempting to land in a thick fog.

All 96 passengers were killed.

In the wake of this tragedy, the week following was declared a ?Week of Mourning? in Poland. 

My family and I were living in Warsaw at the time. The day after the crash, President Kaczynski?s body traveled in procession from the airport through the streets of Warsaw to the Presidential Palace at the city center.  We were there.

Airplanes carrying the dead would arrive daily as remains were slowly identified back in Russia. That week Warsaw created an infrastructure to receive these planes transporting the dead as well as an infrastructure to receive the thousands of mourners. Much of the person to person aspect of this was given over to the Scouts, a group of young men and women who rose to the occasion, providing not only support, but inspiration.

That Sunday afternoon, April 11, 2010, I began what would become a week long documentation of the evolving shrines outside the Presidential Palace and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

The photographs of this experience were published on CNN.

In the days and nights that followed, I went into the center often with my camera. By the second day, fences had been erected around the offerings, but the Scouts remained. They were ever present at each site, vigil and rite that week.

The Scouts inspired me to follow the city's mourning process with my camera. I became part of it, lived in it, carried it with me.

The experience has never left me. I have had the photographs I took that week for a decade now. I have thought about turning them into a book since that very first week and began writing then as well. It wasn't until recently that I reworked my prose into a voice that would best be suited to get across my experience and share it. 

This April 10th marks the 10th anniversary of the crash.

Share this by email
Enter your search terms below.