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Mariusz Handzlik: In Memoriam

The late Mariusz Handzlik, diplomatic advisor to President Lech Kaczyński, served Poland with boundless energy. He died in the presidential plane on April 10, 2010 en route to Smolensk. He is sorely missed.

April 11, 2020

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 15, 2010. We remember Mariusz Handzlik on the tenth anniversary of his death in a tragic airplane crash in Smolensk, Russia.

Mariusz was our friend since his days in Washington in the early 1990s. We saw each other as time and place allowed during his many visits in Washington, right into the opening stages of the Obama Administration.

He was a man of sterling integrity, boundless energy, a strong work ethic and deeply held convictions — paired with an amazing intellectual curiosity and openness of mind.

Mariusz accompanied his country’s president Mr. Lech Kaczynski to a memorial ceremony in Katyn honoring the 22,000 officers of the Polish army Stalin ordered his secret police to murder in the western Russian Katyn forest in spring 1940.

The perfect ambassador

Mariusz could have done a great job serving as Poland's ambassador to Washington. He understood the United States, had a great range of contacts — and genuinely liked the country.

In fact, he came half way on that road in late 2005 when Poland's outgoing president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, signed his nomination as deputy chief of mission. But instead of heading to his post, Mariusz signed up with newly elected President Lech Kaczynski.

While torn between returning to Washington and staying in Warsaw, one sensed he wanted to go to the presidential palace. There he could do more for his country.

Mariusz was keenly aware of Poland's need for the best possible relations with all its neighbors, and with Germany above all. He agreed with Poland's consistent line — he saw the United States as Poland's security anchor and Germany as its natural economic partner and political ally in Europe.

That policy has stood firm in Warsaw, unshaken as left-of-center governments followed right-of-center governments, back and forth.

A true workaholic

As one of his former bosses, Janusz Reiter, a former Polish ambassador to both Washington and Berlin, has commented, "Mariusz was a true workaholic. He was always busy, but what kept him going were two things: First, he was always excited about new ideas.

"And second, he was always on mission for the President whom he served with such deep devotion and loyalty. I have often wondered how he could work so hard. The answer is simple. President Kaczynski trusted him — and that motivated Mariusz."

And there was a third key factor. Mariusz cared deeply about friendship. Among his constant travels and other travails, more often than not he would conclude a text message or email with the sentence, "And thank you so much for your friendship."

A light extinguished

All of that vigor, curiosity and energy was cruelly extinguished some days ago in that airplane. What a tragedy.

Mariusz, we thank you for your friendship. And thank you for working so hard to improve understanding and the spirit of cooperation with that rare combination of boyish charm and optimism, paired with a profound sense of personal responsibility to do your utmost to overcome difficult — and at times treacherous — boundaries.

Editor's Note: This In Memoriam feature was co-written with Bogdan Kipling, a veteran Washington foreign correspondent and columnist.


More often than not, Mariusz Handzlik would conclude a message with the sentence, "And thank you so much for your friendship."

Mariusz Handzlik was a man of sterling integrity, boundless energy, a strong work ethic and deeply held convictions

Mariusz always had an amazing intellectual curiosity and openness of mind.