“My time is near. When they will be leading me out of my cell to die, my last words to my friends will be: I am happy that I will be murdered as a Catholic for my faith, as a Pole for my country, and as a human being [I will die] for justice and truth […] My last farewell will be only to you [my wife]. I believe that the Holy Mother will take my soul […] and I will continue to serve Her and report to Her about the tragedy of the Polish Nation – murdered by one [nation] and abandoned by the others”.
(Final recorded words of Lieutenant Colonel Lukasz Cieplinski, one of seven “cursed soldiers” and a WiN officer. Cieplinski and Jozef Batory were held for three years at the Mokotow Prison in Warsaw, tried in a Soviet military court, and murdered by the communist regime on March 1, 1951.)
Historical Background of the Cursed Soldiers
For America and its Western Allies, the Second World War ended with victory celebrations in 1945 where good triumphed over evil. Hitler killed himself, the Holocaust was over, and justice was meted out for the worst perpetrators during the Nuremberg trials. The war also ended happily for the Soviet Union with its flag planted over the Reichstag, and it acquired vast territories in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. War reparations intended countries such as Poland that was devastated in the war instead flooded into the Soviet Union.
For Poland, one of America’s most staunch allies, good did not triumph over evil, and the war ended much differently. When Hitler’s troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, France and England did nothing more than declare war on Germany in September 1939, even though they assured Poland they would come to its defense if Germany invaded. They sent not a single soldier, plane, or tank to assist their ally. Then Churchill and Roosevelt secretly decided to hand Poland over to the Soviet Union a full year before the war ended. Arthur Bliss Lane, the American Ambassador to Poland, resigned in early 1947 so that he was free to tell the story of America and England’s betrayal of their constant ally, Poland. Details can be found in his book “I Saw Poland Betrayed.” It was Bliss’ view that Poles were hung out to dry by the Allies after 1945 and his memoir provides compelling evidence of this tragedy.
Instead of victory marches into their capital, the heroes of the Polish Resistance were murdered by the Red Army and the NKVD. Unlike the war-torn countries in Western Europe who would enjoy an assured return to prosperity, Poland was occupied by its constant, longtime enemy, the Soviet Union. Instead of justice, the end of the Second World War brought Poland new forms of terror and persecution.
Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany from the north and west on Sept 1, 1939, and then from the east by the Soviets on September 17, 1939. Neither invasion prompted any real international response. Polish patriots smuggled out reports about Auschwitz during the first years of the war, but these also provoked no special action. Also ignored was the disappearance of more than twenty thousand Polish military officers and many of its intelligentsia (university professors, priests, lawyers, politicians, and wealthy landowners, etc.) in the early days of the war. The Red Army murdered them in the forests near Katyn and Smolensk and then blamed the killings on the Germans.
The truth and individual’s memories of the Second World War continue to evolve with the passage of time. During the Soviet Union’s occupation of Poland, the Russians repressed discussion and journalism on these sensitive topics, and it wasn’t until after Poland became a free republic in 1989 that its people could freely tell their stories to the world. In some respects, reporting the truth and facts has been an enormous challenge because most of those who lived through the war have now passed away and their testimonies with them. Those who were young children during the war have a few vivid, but incomplete memories. They were usually not told many details of the war because of their parents’ fear of the Russians. The Polish population was never certain of whom they could trust with such sensitive information. One in three Polish citizens was classified as a “reactionary and criminal element” and subject to invigilation or surveillance by state agencies during the Russian occupation. Today, there is intense interest to share information about Poland’s years during WWII and under the Iron Curtain.
The Armia Krajowa (AK) was the Polish underground resistance during the war years. Its soldiers and partisans officially disbanded on January 19, 1945 to avoid armed conflict with the Soviets and possible civil war. Many units covertly continued their struggle under the Soviet occupation. The Soviets and Polish communists viewed the AK as a group loyal to the Polish government in exile and a force that needed to be destroyed by any means. Soviet agencies such as the NKVD dealt with the AK, and by the war’s end, 60,000 AK soldiers were arrested, and 50,000 of them were deported to Soviet Gulags and prisons.
(For a Brief History of the AK (Armia Krajowa) or Underground Resistance Fighters, please go to […] www.DonnaGawell.com and find the article about the Polish Home Army/Armia Krajowa.)
The stories of Jozef Batory and Jozef Bryk have been buried for decades, and it is only recently that information about these soldiers of the Armia Krajowa has surfaced. Both Jozefs had very different backgrounds and responsibilities during the war, but both of their lives ended tragically as a result of their sacrifices and willingness to fight for Poland’s freedom.
Jozef Batory was born on February 20, 1914, in Werynia, Poland. He was the eldest of fourteen children, but only nine survived childhood. Jozef studied law at the prestigious Jagiellonian University in Krakow around 1932 at age eighteen. The war interrupted his studies and then he joined IIn the rank of second lieutenant, he completed the Infantry Officer Cadetship Course at the 22nd Infantry Division. in the 2nd Podhale Rifle Regiment.
Like many of his peers, Jozef joined the Polish resistance forces at the beginning of WWII during the 1939 Polish September campaign. He was an active member of the anti-German resistance. In the early 1940’s, he became commandant of the Kolbuszowa district of the Home Army (AK or Armia Krajowa).
Under the Nazi occupation, Jozef and many others in the AK participated in the underground schools. Instruction at the high school and university level was banned, but these secret schools taught history, geography, and economics to the AK officers. These underground schools were a unique phenomenon in Poland. There were more than 300 lecturers and 3,500 students at the Warsaw University alone. Lectures, seminars, and exams in Law, Social Sciences, Humanities, Medicine, Theology, Mathematics and Biological studies were kept alive throughout occupied Poland. Many of these schools functioned successfully to the end of the war.
The only allowed subjects for the younger students were basic math, reading and writing and then only enough for the students to understand and follow German instructions. The Germans closely monitored the teachers in the grammar schools.
Many educators banded together in a secret society known as “TON.” In Rzeszow as in other cities, some teachers were caught and sent to concentration camps. One teacher known only as “Auriga” was caught and sent to prison in Rzeszow, according to Frank Batory, Jozef’s brother.
Jozef Batory’s most frequently used AK codename was Argus, which mean “beautiful at birth,” but he was also known as Orkan (the name of a Polish poet) and Wojtek. Most officers had at least three names and sometimes up to ten. Every partisan had a code name, but only a handful of soldiers knew each other’s to protect the identity and safety of their cell or unit.
After the war ended in 1945, Jozef Batory became a leading member of the anti-Communist organization, “Freedom and Independence.” Also known as WiN (Wolność i Niezawisłość), it was established on September 2, 1945, in Warsaw. WiN was a similar but different organization from the disbanded AK. Most of WiN’s intended activities were political and not military. The members, known to be trustworthy former AK soldiers, were allowed to continue their resistance efforts since they were so well trained.
The creation of WiN was a result of the refusal of the underground to yield to the Polish and Soviet communists. The commanding officers of countless resistance units bore the moral responsibility of those who steadfastly remained in the forests. In this atmosphere of prevailing communist terror and ongoing military operations against Poland’s underground forces, a need emerged for a purely political organization with an independent press. There was also an urgent need for false documents to provide new identities for the underground soldiers who wanted to leave the forests and return to civilian life.
Between1945-1947, WiN was the largest democratic resistance organization operating underground in Poland. It is estimated that it had 20,000 to 30,000 members in its ranks. WiN was established by the leadership of the disbanded Home Army. While it was not an official government organization, it provided valuable reports and exchanged correspondence with the Polish Government in Exile via couriers.
WiN’s Charter called for an open democratic electoral process within its ranks. It also abandoned the terms “Commandant” in favor of the title “Chairman.” WiN focused on the secret demobilization of partisan units in the field. It also shifted its activities to the use of propaganda and infiltration of communist governmental groups and their intelligence organizations on behalf of the Sovereign Polish Government in Exile.
The political goals of WiN were to create the beginnings of a democratic underground and for its citizens to take part in free elections. WiN hoped to transfer its ranks to a future democratically elected and sovereign government of Poland.
The WiN leadership and its ranks aspired to continue the core objectives of the Home Army. These goals were widely shared and accepted by the most of the population in Poland between 1945-1947 which encouraged favorable conditions for WiN to pursue conspiratorial activities and flourish.
It was soon evident that the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, and its Polish conspirators working with the Ministry of Public Security had installed a sophisticated network of agents throughout the entire country. Other underground organizations such as ROAK, KWP, and the Wilno Mobilization Centre were local in scope with only local representation. When Poland found itself under the Soviet sphere of influence, the possibility of implementing these goals was non-existent at best.
There were four headquarters of WiN, the “Freedom and Independence” organization. Jozef was assigned its Warsaw headquarters and was responsible for communications between other districts and abroad.
The arrest of the leadership of WiN was proceeded by several successful secret police penetration operations in the Rzeszow Area in late September 1947. Jozef was apprehended by the Communist Polish secret police, known as the UB on December 2. He and nine others spent three years in prison before being presented to the courts.
All these men were subjected to unspeakable torture that was directly supervised by the Soviet NKVD. In prison, the torture and persecution were unimaginable and was described by a captured WiN partisan in a book “The Dialectics of Pain.”
“I even sat on an electric chair with some sort of an apparatus. They attached clamps to my hand and ear. Once they turned it on, blood flowed from every crevice in my body … They also pumped water into me. They suspended me upside down from a beam attached to the ceiling. They gagged my mouth and dunked my face in a bucket full of water. And I would freeze. They told me only to give them a sign that I had hidden weapons. When I did, they freed me and told me to sign my confession. I’d tear them up. So they continued to torture me. They poured kerosene into my brother’s bucket [before they dunked his head in]. In comparison to that the beating all over one’s body was pleasure.”
Jozef’s brother Frank, who was a history student at the Catholic University in Lublin, attended the court session and was a witness to these events. He reported that eight officers and two women were brought to court. They were all former AK officers and members of Freedom and Independence (WiN.) The women were Janina Czarncka, a government worker from Belgium and Zofia Milowska, an ambassador from America to Poland. The eight men were Jozef Batory, Lukasz Cieplinski, Karol Chmiel, Adam Lazarowicz, Jozef Rzepka, Franciszek Blazej, Mieczyslaw Kawalec, and Ludwik Kubik.
The entire court session, which began October 5, 1950, was blatantly unjust and contrived by the Russians. Russian officers sat next to family members of the accused to keep them from speaking but were also there to determine if the Polish communists were obedient to their orders.
The brother of one of the accused men said this to Frank Batory about the trial: “If I didn’t see and hear this personally, I would never believe anybody that something like this could happen.”
This was a Soviet military court, but Frank Batory felt the trial should have taken place in a Polish court because it had been five years since the war ended. The accused were not allowed to testify or defend themselves. They could only say “yes” and admit to the Soviets’ accusations. If a prisoner attempted to defend himself, the judge would shout and stop the accused from testifying. The interrogators asked why they worked for the Freedom and Independence organization (WiN) and also what they like to do for the benefit of Poland. It went on like this for nine days, with no witnesses allowed.
None of the accused begged or asked for mercy despite the torture. To their credit, these men were educated and loyal supporters of a free Poland who took their AK oath seriously, without doubt or reservation. God, Honor, and Country were their highest goals.
On October 14, 1950, the judged delivered a guilty verdict for all the accused. Even the counselor must have sensed the injustice and asked the court to be merciful on them. Seven of the men were sentenced to death, but Captain Ludwik Kubik was sentenced to life in prison. The two women received jail sentences: Janina- fifteen years and Zofia- twelve years. Frank knew that the death sentence for these men was not truly a decision of the court, but of the Russian government. To him, his brother’s death was murder.
Lukasz Cieplinski (WiN president) reported Jozef Batory’s words at the hearing:
“During the investigation, I lay crucified in a pool of my own blood. My mental state was such that I could not be aware of what the investigating officer wrote.”
On March 1, 1951, these seven men were executed in Mokotow prison in Warsaw: the president of the IV Main Board of the WiN – Lieutenant Colonel Łukasz Ciepliński Captain. Józef Batory, Major Adam Lazarowicz, Major Mieczysław Kawalec, Captain. Franciszek Błażej, Captain. Józef Rzepa and Lieutenant Karol Chmiel. They were shot one by one several minutes apart by the notorious Polish executioner Piotr Smietanski.
None of the men’s families were informed of when they were killed nor did they receive their belongings or bodies for burial. Frank asked for Jozef’s body and was denied, and they wouldn’t tell him the location of his brother’s grave. Currently, the Polish government is attempting to locate the graves of these cursed soldiers and use DNA tests to determine their identity.
According to Frank, who is a knowledgeable historian and lecturer, the sham trials and proceedings were intended as propaganda against WiN and to humiliate and discredit the proud legacy of the Armia Krajowa and the Freedom and Independence (WiN) organization. The Soviets’ ultimate goal was to convince the people to think that socialism and communism was the best path for Poland. Today’s reader should consider that the despicable actions of these Russians lead to the formation of the KGB, the organization where Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia, began his political career.
Partisans killed by Soviets
Jozef Bryk, his wife, and children abt. 1954
Jozef Bryk is the author’s great uncle and also one of Poland’s “Cursed Soldiers.” He was born on April 27, 1910, in the small village of Niwiska in the province of Podkarpackie. He attended grammar school in the village and was a single man when the Second World War roared into his village in early September 1939. Jozef was a farmer and during the war years was also responsible for the care of his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters who had children.
The quaint, heavily forested village of Niwiska was the setting of one of the most unique and unfortunate areas during the war in Poland. The Nazis knew the territories of Poland quite well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire had occupied this region during the years of the three partitions and WWI. This remote wilderness area provided a perfect location for the Nazis to build the largest SS training camp outside of Germany. In 1941, most of the residents of Niwiska and the surrounding villages were evacuated to expand the camp. Nearby Pustkow, a former prison was transformed into a brutal concentration and death camp. When the Allies bombed and destroyed much of Peenemunde, Germany in 1943, Hitler moved his research and launching facility for the VI and V2 top secret missile project to Blizna, an adjoining village.
During the war, Jozef and his family remained in Niwiska on their small farm and were forced laborers under the German occupation. They were allowed to grow a small number of crops on their very poor lands. Living under the watchful eyes of the SS must have been a terrifying experience for Jozef and his loved ones. The horror increased when the Germans began the test firing of the V1 and V2 missiles with their launching pads just a 15-minute walk southwest of the Bryk home.
Jozef joined the Armia Krajowa which was very active in espionage and sabotage in this heavily militarized zone, but no details are known of his participation. He likely divided his time between military activity in the forests and his home. The only story of which his children are aware was about a night when he returned to his home to rest after a harrowing experience fighting for the AK. Jozef knew the Nazis were pursuing him and hid in the home’s rafters to sleep. The Nazis came to his house to arrest him, and Jozef could hear the turmoil from his hiding place. The Germans didn’t find him, but terrifying moments such as this stayed with him for the next twelve years of his life.
Life for partisans like Jozef who lived in the forest was unimaginably difficult. The winters were the most severe as it was difficult to hide in barns because their foot tracks could be followed. For this reason, they built bunkers in the forest, covered them with tree logs and sheets of tar so the moisture wouldn’t come inside, and would stay under a cover of snow for three to four months. Inside was a small well so that the water could be boiled, and a metal bucket served as a toilet.
The partisans tried to secure provisions for the winter: potatoes, macaroni and bread and marinated deer meat. Cooking was done on an alcohol-fueled stove. The villagers helped as much as they could with food, safe places to hide, and supplies. These locals were the eyes and ears of the Home Army providing information on the Germans’ activities.
After the war ended, Jozef likely had either witnessed or heard about trials outside of the larger cities similar to the one in Warsaw’s Molotow prison. The Soviets’ goal was to compromise the ideals shared by those partisans still seeking a free and independent Poland. During these terrible times, the frightened villagers must have been looking through their windows asking: “Are the people on the outskirts of our village the Communist People’s Army, the People’s Militia, or the ‘boys from the forest’?”
The Polish anti-communist underground had about 250,000 members, including approximately 40,000 soldiers who fought with weapons. They defended the rural population against robberies and persecutions of the NKVD, freed the innocent from prison, identified collaborators, and liquidated traitors.
The People’s Militia didn’t have their own uniforms until 1947, and the members of the Communist People’s Militia looked just like the partisans. They wore leftover uniforms and sometimes Nazi pants, as these were readily available. The partisans who went to conduct military operations wore red and white armbands with a “MO” “Milicja Obywatelska” (People’s Militia) which confused the communists even more.
After the 1947 “amnesty,” WiN gradually lost contact with smaller partisan units remaining in the field. WiN was concerned about reestablishing contacts with the partisans fearing infiltration of the communist “Kontrpartyzantka.”,
Jaroslaw Zarek, the Chairman of the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance), explained the situation of those who continued the struggle for Poland’s freedom: “They died only because they were Polish. It was enough to have a Polish surname, to speak Polish, or to go to church in order to be arrested, investigated, and then sentenced to death by an ad hock three-member kangaroo court, which most of the time ruled in favor of a shooting, and then have all your assets seized. Values related to being Polish – the love of freedom, devotion to the Western civilization and to the Church – went against the Bolshevik ideology, thus, deserved a death sentence.”
Without exception, the fate of all of these units was particularly tragic. The soldiers held up in the forests, particularly in the areas of Lublin, Białostok, Podlasie, in some areas of the Mazowsze, as well at the outskirts of Lublin and Rzeszow voivodships (Jozef Bryk operated out of Rzeszow during these years.) Some of the partisans remained in the forests well into the 50’s. They were hunted down, devastated by betrayals of their closest comrades in arms, blackmailed through repressions of their families, and at times, betrayed by their own family members. The last branches fought back into the late 1960s.
It was likely that Jozef Bryk found himself in similar tragic circumstances. In 1955, Jozef took his own life after suffering from severe anxiety and fear of the Russians harming his family. He left behind a widow and three small children.
In Poland, March 1st is the National Day of Remembrance of the “Cursed Soldiers” and pays homage to the soldiers of the anti-communist underground and remembers the execution of the seven leaders from the 4th Command of the “Freedom and Independence” association that took place in Molotow prison on Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw. Poland’s Minister of National Defense, Tomasz Siemoniak posthumously promoted those seven soldiers of the anti-communist underground to higher officer’s ranks.
Lieutenant-Colonel Łukasz Ciepliński and Lieutenant-Colonel Mieczysław Kawalec were promoted to the rank of Colonel.
Major Adam Lazarowicz was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Captain Józef Batory, Captain Franciszek Błażej, and Captain Józef Rzepka were promoted to the Rank of Major.
Monument to honor Jozef Batory in Rzeszow, Poland
Lieutenant Karol Chmiel was promoted to the rank of Captain.
Although Jozef Bryk and Jozef Batory left no final words, Mr. Andrzej Kiszka of the Polish Anti-Nazi and Anti-Communist Resistance, (Narodowe Sily Zbrojne Soldier or National Armed Forces) left us with these words that speak so poignantly for both men:
“I am an old man. I am 85 years old. I finished only an elementary school. The rest is the school of hard knocks which taught me a lot. Love your God, because He will give you the strength to survive, and even love people. God is just. Love your church, because it has always been, and always will be your pillar of strength. In the underground, in the UB prisons, the priests were always with us (as they were also jailed). And love Poland, because you can’t live without her. We were raised by our parents who lived enslaved (by the communist tyranny) but cultivated (a free) Poland in their hearts. For her, we were dying, we were tortured, we were imprisoned, and degraded. Even though my heart is aching from sorrow, I don’t regret those 29 years that were taken away from me. I acted, as my honor as a Pole, and as a soldier dictated. I am proud of it.”
Frank Batory, brother of Jozef Batory and
Donna Gawell (author), great niece of Jozef Bryk
Photo was taken in Poland in May 2018 during the interview meeting.