Kazimiera Mika, the heroine of a moving photograph which documented German war crimes during their invasion of Poland in 1939, died in late August. She was 93.
The photograph which was seen by millions around the world was taken by American journalist Julian Bryan on Sept. 13, 1939, and it depicts Kazimiera Mika, then a 12-year-old girl, kneeling over her fallen sister Anna. She had been killed in Warsaw by gunfire from a German fighter plane.
The young 14-year-old who died had gone into a field to pick potatoes. She was shot by a Luftwaffe pilot in what was a gratuitous attack on civilians who were of no threat to the aircraft.
The journalist who witnessed Kazimiera’s mourning of her sister was shaken by the day’s events. He saw Kazimiera rush out and cry hysterically over the fallen body refusing to believe what had happened.
Bryan recalled how he had tried to put his arm round the girls and tried to comfort her. He recalls how he cried together with two Polish officers who visited the scene of the crime.
“What could I, what could we say to the child?” he said, describing the day of the photo as the most tragic during his time in Warsaw.
Poland’s institute for remembrance, IPN, paid homage to Kazimiera Mika in a social media post.
Upon his return to the US, Bryan used the photographs taken in Warsaw for a pictorial report in Life magazine and in the documentary film “Siege”.
He returned to Poland in 1958 and managed to meet the grieving girl in the photo. In the photography book “Colors of war”, published in 2010, he cites her as remembering the gray suit he wore on the day of the shooting and that she recalled after over a decade that he had comforted her.
Kazimiera Mika herself recalled the tragic events of that September and the criminal behavior of the Luftwaffe pilots.
“I cannot, even after all these years, forgive them,” she said in one of her last interviews.