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Doomed Soldiers In Polish

The Home Army in the Vilnius Region after July 1944

A Historical Brief - Part 2:

In April 1945, contact with the Home Army Headquarters [in fact with the Armed Forces Delegation for Poland (Pol. Delegatura Sił Zbrojnych na Kraj)] was finally established. The first received order was to immediately evacuate the whole Province into central Poland.

Lt. Col. Julian Kulikowski nom de guerre "Ryngraf", professional officer of the Polish Army. From July 1944 to January 1945 the Commander of the Home Army Vilnius Province.

Left: Lt. Col. Antoni Olechnowicz nom de guerre "Pohorecki", the last Commander of the Home Army Vilnius Province – from April 1945 until June 1948 [the picture from 1946].

He successfully completed the Province’s evacuation into central Poland and re-created the Province structures based on soldiers and officers of the Vilnius Home Army. Having established direct contact with the staff of the Commander in Chief, he brought his units under the control of the Commander in Chief; this way he ignored the order to dissolve the Home Army. The soldiers under his command were active until mid-1948 when the Province was defeated by the UB (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa - Office of Security) as part of the ‘Operation X’.

Famous partisan units under his command were still active in the area: 5th Vilnius Brigade under the command of Maj. “Łupaszko” and the 6th Brigade under the command of Lieut. “Wiktor”, and from October 1946 Capt. “Młot”. The intelligence network also operated.

Lt. Col. “Pohorecki" received the death penalty in a show trial and was murdered on 8 February in Mokotów prison in Warsaw.

In April 1945, contact with the Home Army Headquarters [in fact with the Armed Forces Delegation for Poland (Pol. Delegatura Sił Zbrojnych na Kraj)] was finally established. The first received order was to immediately evacuate the whole Province into central Poland.

The Province Command took the following steps:

a) The legalization cell of the Province was essential during the evacuation and was to be divided into two parts. The first one, under the management of 2nd Lt. Michał Warakomski nom de guerre “Piotr”, was to leave for central Poland at a first available date in order to find suitable flats and begin activity aimed at facilitating the legalization of the Home Army soldiers in Poland. The second part, under the command of Romuald Warakomski nom de guerre “Hilary” was to remain in Vilnius and secure the activity of the Province.

b) The Quartermaster of the Province Lieut. Kazimierz Pietraszewicz nom de guerre „Konrad” was to divide the people of the 4th Unit, at his own discretion, into small groups, which would deal with smuggling some of the Province treasures to Poland.

c) They were to remain in Vilnius until their dismissal: the Province Command Chief of Staff, Maj. Wincenty Chrząszczewski nom de guerre “Ksawery” as an acting Province Commander, the head of Unit I Lieut. Bolesław Nowak nom de guerre “Majewski” as well as the head of Unit II, Lt. Col. N.N [1]. nom de guerre “Cichy”, both of them with their subordinate officers. This team was to constitute the base for possible future underground activity.

d) The main archive of the Province was to remain in Vilnius [apparently its later retrieval was taken into consideration]

e) The base for the smuggled soldiers was to be created in central Poland from the above mentioned cells.

Lieut. Stefan Czernik nom de guerre "Orwat". The head of Vo Unit [operational communication] of the Home Army Vilnius Province Headquarters until August 1945. The picture was taken in NKVD headquarters in Vilnius after his first arrest in April 1941.

Above: Lieut. Stefan Czernik nom de guerre "Orwat". The head of Vo Unit [operational communication] of the Home Army Vilnius Province Headquarters until August 1945. The picture was taken in NKVD headquarters in Vilnius after his first arrest in April 1941. He managed to escape from the transport in June 1941 together with many other prisoners. He was arrested for the second time in July 1941 – he was recognized in the street by a Soviet investigator who interrogated him in 1941. It was “Orwat” whom the Vilnius Province owed the ability to maintain radio contact with the Home Army Headquarters during the immediate period of time after July 1944. In the absence of equipment deliveries from the West, organizing the radio transmissions stations was an extremely important and difficult task.

A coordinated action of smuggling all the equipment and people from the Province began. Soldiers marked out for evacuation were crossing the border using, most of the time, false evacuation cards, issued in large numbers by the Vilnius “legalization” cell. They often took small arms with them and sometimes other organizational materials. After crossing the border, they were taken in by a receiving cell [usually in Białystok], and then directed deep into Poland. There were provided with contacts in the area. They were often provided with new sets of documents which enabled them to change their identity and conceal their previous connections. Throughout this period of time, the bordering provinces of Nowogródek and Vilnius, co-operated in the operation of smuggling soldiers to central Poland, although it often involved arranging transport through Vilnius for soldiers from the Nowogródek Region, who did not have such logistical opportunities [e.g. “legalization”]. Until June 1945, units of N.N. nom de guerre “Piątka”, Ryszard Kiersnowski nom de guerre "Puchacz" and 2nd Lt. Jan Wiśnicz nom de guerre "Lew" from Lida District were evacuated across the border in repatriation transports, and at least 300 people were smuggled from the Baranowicze and Nieśwież districts. In May, when the receiving institution had been arranged on the other side of the border, the smuggling began at full steam. In each repatriation transport, at least several dozen Home Army soldiers were smuggled.

ieut. Jerzy Urbankiewicz, a soldier of the Vilnius Province Headquarters Executive until October 1944. He was from Łódź, but during the occupation became close to Vilnius, where he was a co-organizer of several well-known operations of the local Executive, e.g. the elimination of Padaba – the officer of the Lithuanian security police [Saugumas]. He returned to Poland in 1956.

Above: Lieut. Jerzy Urbankiewicz, a soldier of the Vilnius Province Headquarters Executive until October 1944. He was from Łódź, but during the occupation became close to Vilnius, where he was a co-organizer of several well-known operations of the local Executive, e.g. the elimination of Padaba – the officer of the Lithuanian security police [Saugumas]. He returned to Poland in 1956.

Also, the operation of smuggling whole armed units across the “green border” was undertaken. This operation began at the beginning of 1945 and was successfully continued until the end of autumn. The way through the Grodno Region, leading to the Białowieża Forest, was paved; this route was used to smuggle individual units. The operation was divided into several stages. The first stage was to gather several units, working independently until then, in a designated point. The Province Command was probably convinced that it would be easier for bigger groups than small units to cross the border. At the same time, it shortened the period of greatest risk. Submitted “wild” units and the Province units went to gathering places; from there they walked towards the border led by experienced guides. After crossing the border, they were received by the institutions of the Białystok Province or by officers of the Vilnius Province with Lieut. Adam Boryczka nom de guerre “Tońka” in charge.

The first known unit which crossed the “green border” in spring 1945 was a 60-person company of N.N. nom de guerre “Chorąży”. At the end of November, a group which consisted of three units: “Siódemka Wilhelma”, under the command of Aleksander Alesionek nom de guerre “Piorun” which consisted of the soldiers from 7th Home Army Vilnius Brigade; the unit of Sergeant N.N. nom de guerre "Maroczy" which consisted of 3rd Brigade soldiers; and the unit under the command of Sergeant Władysław Janczewski nom de guerre “Laluś” – about 50 soldiers altogether [according to other data about 160 people] took the same route. Another successful crossing took place in September 1945; a 20-person unit under the command of Sergeant Wojnicz nom de guerre “Żuk” reached, without any hindrance, Sokółka District where it was taken over by the local institutions of Białystok Province.

Barbara Skarga nom de guerre "Ewa", the chief of the Vk Unit [underground contact] of the Home Army Vilnius Province Command from August 1944.

Left: Barbara Skarga nom de guerre "Ewa", the chief of the Vk Unit [underground contact] of the Home Army Vilnius Province Command from August 1944.

After “Jagienka”’s departure [the former chief] to Warsaw, “Ewa” was responsible for re-building the communications network, strained due to arrests. She managed the impossible – thanks to her work the Province could continue its operation.

She was arrested by the NKVD which tried to use her to testify in the Trial of the Sixteen; she was then sentenced to long imprisonment.

She returned to Poland in 1956...

Other units were not as lucky... The unit under the command of Edward Czeszumski nom de guerre “Edek” remained without contact with the Province Command from November 1944. When they eventually established contact with the Province and prepared for the smuggling, they were totally defeated by an NKVD unit in the village of Nowosądy on 6 June 1945. At least 30 soldiers were killed [some of them were executed before a Soviet firing squad after they had been captured]...

In Warsaw on June 1945, Maj. Antoni Olechnowicz nom de guerre "Pohorecki" prepared a written report regarding the Province activity. The following abstract outlines the attitude of the Province Command officers towards the reality in Europe at the end of the War:

"We were walking the same road, a thorny road but the only honest one, we did not get into either black or red cars that were passing us; Mr. Mikołajczyk got into one of the first red ones. He’d better watch out if we catch up with him”.

Reluctance to join in the talks with the Communists is clearly visible here. This uncompromising stance influenced the decision of keeping the Province structures even after the evacuation in order to use them in the future battle for a free Poland. Simultaneously, the report determined the Province forces under the Soviet occupation: “the following units have remained in the Vilnius Region to date:

a. units – about 400 people - armed

b. network – about 1,000 people - armed

c. about 2,000 people from outside the Home Army who could not leave the region legally".

Meanwhile, in July 1945, a trap was set up in Vilnius for the remaining Province Command. On 16 July, the acting Province Commander Maj. Wincenty Chrząszczewski nom(s) de guerre "Ksawery", "Kruk" was arrested. In August, the Vilnius “legalization” institution was caught as well. In effect, it marked the large scale end of the Home Army in the Vilnius Region. It is true that the intelligence network “Ausza”, which had taken over some of the “legalization” responsibilities, was still operating until 1946, but its activity was already limited. The Province moved to Lublin, Poland and resumed its activity there.

The remains of the Province structures, deprived of contact with their superiors, remained in the Vilnius Region. Partisan units were also still active, and joined by those who wanted to avoid military conscription or to hide from the NKVD. The fate of these soldiers was tragic. While in 1945 they could count on support from the intelligence network and smuggled into a different area, this possibility was no longer available later. Until mid-1946, these partisans were active, but then they turned into civil defense units. They eliminated NKVD agents and informers, burnt official administrative documents, “cautioned” against the officiousness of the officials, and even performed spectacular operations such as protecting the partisans’ natural base [forest] against destruction by blowing up railway tracks which were used to transport felled trees [the NKVD was doing numerous clearings in the forests to restrict the partisans’ moves – “ideas” similar to the ones that Germans used prior to this].

From 1947, the activity was reduced to a struggle for existence. Secret bunkers were built in forests and villages with the support of local people [decreasingly of the Home Army network soldiers as they were the first ones affected by NKVD attacks]; the place of stay was often changed to avoid numerous manhunts. Differences, essential until recently, started to fade away. Poles often fought in Lithuanian partisan units and Lithuanians – in Polish units. Robbery gangs operated in the area as well, but they were mercilessly fought by the underground as well the Soviets.

The NKVD sent so-called “green units” to fight with partisans. These units were particularly active in 1945-1946. There were provocative groups of soldiers, which consisted of NKVD soldiers pretending to be Home Army deserters or Russian Liberation Army soldiers under the command of Gen. Własow. Their method of “war” was deceit and treason. After establishing contact with partisans, a “green unit” stayed with them for a few days [in special cases they even performed joint operations] which was aimed at reducing vigilance. Soon, the partisans were invited to a lavish party on the pretext of the commander’s name day. During such a “party” most of the partisans were murdered and only a few spared in order to be tried in show trials.

Irena Chodakiewiczówna, maiden name Cieszewska, noms de guerre "Irena", "Irka", „Śmieszka"- Home Army (Armia Krajowa).

Left: Irena Chodakiewiczówna, maiden name Cieszewska, noms de guerre "Irena", "Irka", „Śmieszka". In September 1939, she was enlisted to the anti-aircraft defense service as a sanitary reporter in Vilnius, then she was in the ZWZ (Pol. Związek Walki Zbrojnej - Association of the Armed Struggle) – AK (the Home Army) underground. Throughout the duration of the German occupation, she was a liaison officer for Maj. Mieczysław Potocki nom de guerre “Węgielny” [The Inspectorate B Commander in the Home Army Vilnius Province]. Together with her husband, she prepared new bulletins from the radio watch. In November 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and did not falter, despite a difficult interrogation. She was ransomed by the Home Army in 20 April 1944 and, together with several underground soldiers, returned again to underground activity. After Vilnius was occupied by the Soviets, she became a liaison officer for the Government Delegation for Poland (Pol. Delegatura Rządu) and the Council of Polish Political Parties (Pol. Konwent Polskich Stronnictw Politycznych). Her husband Jan was arrested in December by the NKVD and she was arrested in June 1945. She was released as a decoy in August and escaped to central Poland. She hid in Bydgoszcz and Warsaw under a false name, while still remaining in contact with the Vilnius Mobilization Centre. She was arrested again in 1947, by the UB this time. She was persecuted until 1956.

In the winter of 1946/47, Polish units suffered further losses. Simultaneously, increased control over local people was introduced as well, which prevented their co-operation with the partisans. One of the last groups, which consisted of former Union of Free Poles [Pol. Związek Wolnych Polaków, a part of the Home Army], was eliminated by NKVD units on Good Friday 1947. In the following year, escaping to the forest was no longer a survival strategy. Only some individuals still had weapons. There is little information about it; it is only known that still in 1948-1952 the [Communist] Militia and NKVD units were eliminating the so called “biełopolskie bandy”. There were probably groups of former partisans still hiding in forest bunkers trying to make it through to “better times”.

In the meantime, the Vilnius Province structures were being re-built in central Poland. The last Province Commander, Lt. Col. Antoni Olechnowicz nom de guerre "Pohorecki" decided not to dissolve the structures completely, but to temporarily absolve the remaining members of their responsibilities and treat them as temporary soldiers. With the approval of all the staff, he also made a decision not to join the structures of the newly created WiN [Pol. Wolność i Niezawisłość - Freedom and Independence]. The new organization only covered the area of the “People’s Republic of Poland”, without the Borderlands. For the Vilnius people, this structure and the political stand expressed by it was unacceptable...

The Province structures re-built in central Poland consisted of the staff and two cells – “legalization” and quartermaster’s; this resulted from the nature of the activity, namely the organizational personnel being kept deep in secret and bringing help to the network’s soldiers. At the end of 1945, contact with the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief in London was established. The orders received from there proved that the decisions which had been taken were correct. The Vilnius Province remained an independent underground network in Poland and it kept its right to use the name “the Home Army Vilnius Province”. The Commander-in-Chief cancelled the order to dissolve the Home Army and ordered further work. The bottom line was to keep the network in secret and create the base for further potential battle. Simultaneously, the Vilnius network was ordered to collect information for the Polish government in London regarding mainly political and social issues.

Gdańsk was designated as the headquarters of the Province; it was a port, “the window into the world”, largely populated with returned expatriates from the Vilnius Region. In December 1945, the Province Command established contact with Maj. Zygmunt Szendzielarz nom de guerre “Łupaszka” who, since that time, brought his partisan units under the Province Command and began his activity in Pomerania. The first larger trap in the ranks of the organization took place in April 1945; a few officers of the Command were arrested, the communications network was partially destroyed and a growing propaganda-information cell was liquidated by Lieut. Feliks Selmanowicz nom de guerre “Zagończyk”. Only at the end of that year could the activity be resumed. At the beginning of 1947, Lt. Col. Olechnowicz travelled in person to the West, together with a representative of the Polish government, in order to draw up a plan of further action.

New tasks for the Province were determined in two ways. First of all, new underground structures had to be created, soldiers and officers helped and those facing arrests – legalized. Soldiers and officers who decided to continue their underground activity, created the so-called “Mobility Centre of the Home Army Vilnius Province”; they were to remain in contact, run self-learning groups, send information and “be ready to take military action”. In this respect, the Province’s activity was similar to the Home Army activity during German or Soviet occupation; it is only due to the absence of the Kedyw (Pol. Kierownictwo Dywersji - Directorate for Diversion) and a developed publishing activity, which does not allow us to recognize this period as a full continuation of former activities.

The second task that the Province received was to create an intelligence network and send almost full data on political, economic, social and military life in Communist Poland. Lieut. Zygmunt Szymanowski nom de guerre “Bza” was appointed by Lt. Col. “Pohorecki” to complete this task.

The intelligence network set up from the Vilnius underground soldiers, obtained and passed valuable information on to the West. Its value was appreciated not only by the Polish Government, but also by the Ministry of Public Security of Poland (Pol. Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego or MBP), which infiltrated illegal channels to the West. This, in the end, led to one of the biggest MBP operations directed against the Polish underground – the ‘Operation X’. It started in mid-1948 and lasted basically until 1956, in smuggling and various “mutations” that followed. Altogether, over 6,000 people were arrested, several dozen sentenced to death. Virtually all of the returned expatriates from the Vilnius Region were controlled and under “care” of, (continued into the 80’s) the Communist Milicja Obywatelska (People's Militia) and the SB (Pol. Służba Bezpieczeństwa - Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Polish secret police).

The entire Province Command was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out on nearly everyone, including:

Lt. Col. Antoni Olechnowicz nom de guerre "Pohorecki", Maj. Zygmunt Szendzielarz nom de guerre "Łupaszka", Lieut. Lucjan Minkiewicz nom de guerre "Wiktor", Lieut. Wacław Walicki nom de guerre "Tesaro", Lieut. Henryk Borowski nom de guerre "Trzmiel", Lieut. Wiktor Kuczyński nom de guerre "Wiktor", Lieut. Jerzy Łoziłski nom de guerre "Jerzy", Lieut. Jerzy Łukowski nom de guerre "Zbyszek" and many others...

Translated by Karolina Ginalska, Further Editing by Jan Czarniecki

Written by Dr. Piotr Niwiński PhD, Praca Zbiorowa, "Żołnierze Wyklęci. Antykomunistyczne Podziemie Zbrojne po 1944 roku” [Eng. Anti-Communist Armed Underground After 1944], Oficyna Wydawnicza Volumen, Warsaw 2002.

This Historical Brief is published here in accordance with the Greater Public Good Doctrine, and is a part of the "Fundacja Pamietamy" [1] and "Żołnierze Wyklęci - Zapomniani Bohaterowie" project.

[1] The primary goal of the Foundation "Pamietamy" is the restoration of the proper social and historical place for the individuals, who during second half of the 1940's, and beginning of the 1950's, undertook armed resistance against the Communist regime in Poland. The goal of the foundation is to commemorate those, who in the name of freedom, and in the name of human dignity, laid on the altar of freedom their own personal and professional aspirations, their personal freedoms, and above all, their lives.

__________

[1] N.N. - Polish acronym - Nieznany i Niezidentyfikowany - Unknown & Unidentified

 

 

 

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