In the movie Braveheart, in the last scene before William Wallace ( played by Mel Gibson) is cut down by the executioner's axe, he shouts one last word before dying and dies with it: "freedom".
One can still understand that a grown man dies for freedom. But how to understand when a nine-year-old child wants to die for freedom! And not only die with this freedom in mind, but he wants to take a rifle bigger than himself in his hand and fight his enemies for the freedom of his homeland! Like a soldier! Is it possible?
There is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw. There are such monuments in many countries. But the one in Warsaw is different. A 14-year-old boy, one of the Lwów Eaglets, although his name is unknown, is buried here.
When one thinks about the Lwów Eaglets, many people shed tears, because how else to think about these kids. In the period between November 1918 and May 1919, when Warsaw was already celebrating the regaining of freedom, Lwow was defending itself in the east against the attack of the Ukrainian army. Polish forces were slim, and many Lviv residents volunteered to defend themselves, including children, the youngest of whom was 9 years old and smaller than the rifle he wanted to fight with. And how those kids fought! One of them, a bit older, 13 years old, was even awarded the Virtuti Militari Cross because "he was tenacious in battle". And he died in battle, like a thousand other kids.
But this is not just such an exception in Polish history. 25 years later, in the Warsaw Uprising, among 50 thousand insurgents there were many young people, including kids, who wanted to fight for Poland's freedom. In the Old Town in Warsaw there is a monument erected to these children-soldiers, defenders of Warsaw, who were too young to be allowed into adult cinemas but were already grown up to fight for Poland's freedom.
What was going through those kids' minds, why weren't they playing with toys, why were they taking up arms and going into battle? After all, no one had persuaded these children to fight, no one had trained them, participation in battles was not an element of Polish culture, so why did they volunteer there? Probably today's psychologists or other wise men would suspect that someone had administered narcotics to the kids. Because no other explanation could fit in their civilized brains.
The geographical location of Poland forced, in a way, freedom to be given a special value, a special place in the Poles' psyche, because maintaining or gaining freedom was connected with almost constant battles with neighbouring countries, whether east, west, north or south. There was hardly a generation which did not experience war. Freedom was a dream and a real goal, but one had to fight for it, and therefore risk one's life.
Surely in Poland (as in other countries) freedom is not a product for everyone, not everyone feels the need for it. Also, not every citizen of Poland feels Polish by blood and spirit, many just want to anchor themselves somehow and survive "in this country" for lack of a better idea. But in Poland, a country which is ethnically very compact, a country with traditions of noble democracy, freedom is sucked out almost from mother's milk, as if it was in Polish genes: A Pole longs to live in a free Poland, not just to survive "in this country" like some slave. And even Polish children knew that.
And this is a very strong desire. Like William Wallace in Braveheart.
(Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator)