Chicago artist killed in plane crash in Russia

April 10, 2010 9:10:40 PM PDT
Poland native Wojciech Seweryn, an artist who lived in Chicago, made it his life's work to honor the victims of a massacre that left his father and 22,000 other Polish army officers dead.

Four years after he discussed his desire to honor his father with Polish president Lech Kaczynski, Seweryn was part of a presidential delegation headed to a rememberance of the massacre.

On Saturday - the emotions of Seweryn's family turned from excitement to despair in seconds.

The presidential aircraft that Seweryn and President Kaczynski were on crashed in Russia as it attempted to land amid thick fog early Saturday. They and 95 other people were all killed.

Rev. Michael Osuch of St. Hyacinth Basilica said that whenever he and Seweryn talked about Katyn, "[Seweryn] would say, 'I want to go to see the place where my father died."

A service was held at the church Saturday mourning the loss of Seweryn and the others who were aboard the plane.

Soviet secret police killed Seweryn's father and thousands of other Poles in the Katyn massacre after the Soviets invaded Poland in World War Two. The events Seweryn and the delegation were heading for mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre.

"[Seweryn] was so happy because he didn't know that he would go with the president in the same plane," said Osuch. "He said, 'Oh, it is a pleasure - I am so happy the president invited me to go to Katyn."

A small crowd gathered at a sculpture Saturday night in Niles. Seweryn created it to honor those killed at Katyn.

"Times were difficult - we had no money to build it - we were begging for money," said Anna Wojitowicz, Seweryn's daughter. "He said, 'No, I will never quit."

In Mount Prospect, Wojitowicz took small comfort in the knowledge that her father died while paying tribute to his father, but she was worried about her mother, who stayed behind in Poland because of a heart condition.

Filled with pride, Wojitowicz's mother was watching television coverage when images of the crash filled the screen.

"She was hoping he was alive and she was screaming and crying and says, 'I know he couldn't survive because it's just pieces of metal - nothing else,'" said Wojitowicz.

The ill-fated trip may have had some of its roots in Chicago. Kaczynski visited St. Hyacinth Basilica in 2006, just after his election. At that time, he talked with Rev. Osuch and Seweryn about the sculpture and the artist's desire to honor his father.

There will be a special mass for the plane crash victims Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Hyacinth Basilica.