Major Hieronim Dekutowski (1918-1949), nom(s) de guerre "Zapora", "Odra", "Rezu", "Stary", "Henryk Zagon"pol. "Gdzie nia")
Hieronim Dekutowski, a commando (Pol. Cichociemny) during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II, defended the people of the Zamość region from repressions. As a commander of the Lublin-Puławy Inspectorate of the Kedyw AK [the Home Army’s Directorate for Diversion], he carried out 83 military operations. After the war, he was one of the most famous heroes of anti-Soviet guerrilla warfare, the best known and the most wanted by the NKVD [the Soviet secret police - (Народный комиссариат внутренних дел Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del, НКВД] and the UB [the Public Security Office].
As a result of betrayal, he was arrested during an attempt to escape to the West. After over a year of prolonged brutal interrogations, he was sentenced to death and executed along with six of his subordinates on 7 March 1949 at the UB prison located at Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw. On the initiative of the ‘Pamiętamy’, (‘We Remember’) Foundation, associated with the Republicans’ League, a monument to ‘Zapora’ has recently been unveiled in Lublin.
Hieronim Dekutowski was born on 24 September 1918 in Tarnobrzeg. He was a Boy Scout of the Jan Henryk Dąbrowski Scout troop of the ZHP [the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association] and a member of the Sodality of Our Lady [a Roman Catholic Marian Society]. He had volunteered in the 1939 Defensive War (the September 1939 Campaign) and on 17 September that year he crossed the border into Hungary, where he was interned. He managed to escape from the camp and get to France, where he fought against the Nazis as part of the PSZ [the Polish Armed Forces in the West] formation, and then he was evacuated to England. In March 1943, he was sworn in as a ‘Cichociemny’ and adopted the codenames ‘Zapora’ and ‘Odra’. On the night of 16/17 September 1943, under an operation codenamed ‘Neon 1’, he was parachuted to the Polish base ‘Garnek’ 103 (near Wyszków). The flight from the UK on board the RAF-operated aircraft, Halifax BB-378 ‘D’, took 12½ hours (the previous attempt on the 9/10 September failed because of low cloud cover and lack of fuel in the aircraft; a number of the Halifax aircraft with Polish commandos were shot down by the Nazis).
Initially, Dekutowski was the commander of a unit of the Zamość Inspectorate of AK [the Home Army], defending the population of the region from expulsion. In January 1944, he was appointed a commander of the Lublin-Puławy Inspectorate of the Kedyw AK.
Władysław Siła-Nowicki, Dekutowski’s post-war superior, wrote in his memoirs: "Dekutowski very soon established himself as an outstanding commander. He was brave and fast in decision-making, yet cautious and possessing a tremendous sense of responsibility for others. He was well trained in the use of small arms and machine-guns, inconspicuous but endowed with great personal charm. He was demanding and maintained an iron discipline in his subordinate (military) units which, combined with his moderation and concern for each one of his soldiers, secured him great esteem among his subordinates. They called him ‘Stary’ [‘the old one’], even though he was not even thirty."
The units subordinate to ‘Zapora’, consisting of around 200 soldiers and carried out 83 military operations. Dekutowski participated in ‘Operation Tempest’ [a series of uprisings] in the Lublin region, then unsuccessfully tried to get through to lend support to the Warsaw Uprising.
GRATITUDE OF a ‘UB’ AGENT
After the arrival of the Soviets, Dekutowski remained in hiding. He was sought by the NKVD and the UB, finding refuge at the former Home Army’s quarters. Why did he not lay down his arms?
Bohdan Urbankowski recalls in his book Czerwona msza, albo usmiech Stalina ("The Red Mass, or Stalin’s Smile"): "It started from an event when four soldiers of ‘Zapora’, who lived near the village of Chodel, were asked to come to the local police station. As its Jewish commander Abram Tauber had formerly been rescued from the Nazis by one of them, and on numerous occasions found refuge at the quarters of ‘Zapora’s troops (‘Zaporczycy’), the Home Army’s soldiers had grounds to expect some sort of gratitude. However, Tauber ordered them to be tied up and single-handedly shot them all, one after another. In retaliation, Dekutowski attacked and destroyed the police station in Chodel. The date of his attack – the night of 5/6 February 1945 – marks the beginning of the anti-Soviet uprising in this region."
The Soviet invasion brought the repression and murder of Poles on a huge scale, especially of soldiers of the Home Army. Even if they managed to avoid deportation to Siberia, they would be taken to the infamous UB station at Lublin Castle (where, among other notorious murderers, operated the infamous Solomon Morel, currently prosecuted by the IPN [Institute of National Remembrance]). ‘Zapora’ could not stand aside. He even sacrificed his personal life to his fight for an independent Poland. He said to his beloved fiancée: "I'm going to retreat to the forest and join the partisans, and I may not survive; hence, we cannot be together." In response to the terror of Communism, he created a post-Home Army self-defence unit (consisting, as it did during the Nazi occupation, of about 200 soldiers), which carried out a series of daring retaliatory operations against the NKVD, UB, KBW [Internal Security Corps] and the MO [People's Militia or Civic Militia].
THE "SHAKER UPPERS" OF THE LUBLIN REGION
In the summer of 1945, at the order from headquarters and after the amnesty announced by the Communists, Dekutowski dissolved his unit (some of his soldiers coming out of hiding). However, Dekutowski himself, along with several subordinates, considering amnesty to be a deception and a trick, wanted to get through to the West, but the group was broken up by the secret police near Święty Krzyż [the Holy Cross] in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. They soon renewed the attempt – this time, after crossing the "green border" –and they were arrested by the Czech secret police. ‘Zapora’ reached Prague, but not knowing the subsequent route (the U.S. Embassy would not help him, claiming that the Soviet-occupied Czech Republic was a democratic country), he returned to Poland with a group of repatriates. As he was the most distinguished commander, the majority of the troops in the Lublin region declared their subordination to him, and he joined the newly forming WiN (Freedom and Independence). [an underground anti-Communist organisation]. He continued to carry out offensive and defensive military operations against the Communists, causing them significant losses.
WHY WERE THE SOLDIERS OF 'ZAPORA' ('ZAPORCZYCY') CONSIDERED SUCH A THREAT TO THE SECRET POLICE?
Władysław Siła-Nowicki: "About two hundred to two hundred and fifty highly idealistic soldiers, well-armed and trained, maintained by discipline, were causing half of the province to ‘tremble with fear’. This situation was reminiscent of some periods of the 1863 January Uprising (Powstanie Styczniowe), when the state power was stabilised only in the large centres, while in the rest of the country, it was only illusory. Of course, partisans relied on assistance from the locals from the vast majority of the villages, who were generous in providing support, accommodation and information."
Rafał Wnuk writes in his book Lubelski Okręg AK-DSZ-WiN 1944–1947 (Home Army – the Armed Forces Delegation for Poland–Freedom and Independence in the Lublin region, 1944–1947) that Dekutowski’s units’ network ‘stretched from Lubartów in the north to Tarnobrzeg region in the south, and from Zamość region to the east of the Kielce region’. The soldiers of ‘Zapora’ (‘Zaporczycy’) were supported by monks from the monastery in Radecznica near Lublin, where the commanders’ meetings were also held.
From the report of Ivan Serov [Rus. Иван Александрович Серов], the NKVD General, head of Smersh (СМЕРШ, acronym of SMERt' SHpionam, Russian: СМЕРть Шпионам, English: Death to Spies) [counter-intelligence departments in the Soviet Army] (16 April 1945): "A group of 11 armed bandits robbed a branch of the bank in Lublin, stealing 200 000 Polish Zlotys. Lt. Kulwaniewski, the governor of the first section of the WUBP (Office of Public Safety), who was present in the branch during the attack, resisted the robbers and was killed." In reality, though, a unit of ‘Zapora’ took 1,170,000 Polish Zlotys; the first section of WUBP in Lublin was the worst, - the investigation section - , and Antoni Kulwaniewski was a member of the WKP(b) [the All-Union Communist Party], an officer of the Red Army and LWP [People's Army of Poland], a graduate of the NKVD school for security officers in Kuybyshev.
In retaliation for Dekutowski’s attack, the Soviets had arrested 43 people, of whom 13 were sentenced to death and executed in the dungeons of Lublin Castle.
From another report by the Lublin district of WiN (March 1946), we read: "The security offices operate under the sole guidance of the NKVD. Their method of work is deception. At the end of March, a civilian secret police group, acting as a diversionary group of the Home Army, and citing ‘Zapora’, demanded to see the commander of the Chodel base. The soldiers whom they asked realised the trap-in-the-making in time though, and the attempt was thwarted. The group then went to Bełżec, where they managed to contact the commanding officer. They demanded that he gather his soldiers in order to carry out a common attack on an MO police station. As a result, the commander and several of his soldiers were shot dead."
MONIAKI, READ: MOSCOW
Stefan Korboński, an activist loyal to Mikołajczyk’s PSL [Polish People's Party], in his book W imieniu Kremla (On Behalf of the Kremlin), in an entry for the date of 3 October 1946, wrote: "PAP [Polish Press Agency] message from Lublin, according to which ‘gangs’ of ‘Zapora’ of the ‘WiN’ and ‘Cisy’ formations of the NSZ [National Armed Forces], armed with machine-guns, 50 soldiers in total, invaded the village of Maniaki and burned it down, including 11 farms belonging to former Home Army soldiers.”
Korboński’s footnote: reads "the message refers to a clash of 23 September 1946, when the unit of Hieronim Dekutowski, ‘Zapora’, had a fight with ORMO activists (paramilitary) from the village of Moniaki (not Maniaki), popularly known as ‘Moscow’, which ended in the death of one of them and penalties of flogging for the others."
Left: August 1947. From left to right: Major ‘Zapora’ and Cpt. Zdzisław Broński [codename ‘Uskok’].
Commentary I: "The most preposterous idea is that the members of WiN, which consists of clandestine Home Army soldiers, destroy the property of their comrades who came out of hiding. (...) These lies are calculated to arouse indignation in the community against the soldiers of the underground. It reminds me of the Gestapo tolerating criminals in order to blame their crimes on the contemporary conspiracy groups in order to put them in a bad light in the eyes of the country populace. Nowadays, the security services are faithful followers of these tactics. No wonder people call it the ‘Red Gestapo’."
The village of Moniaki (alongside several others in the Lublin region) even before WW2, was a breeding-ground of Communist contagion – future AL members [People's Army], MO [Citizens' Militia] officers and the secret police. ‘Zapora’ eliminated many UB and MO bases.
The captured Communists were generally given the punishment of flogging, and then set free. The death penalty was not simply for membership in the PPR (Polish Workers' Party) or secret police, but for extremely damaging activity, and still many UB members were spared.
He recaptured the prisons, releasing those arrested. His unit was prepared to attack Lublin Castle, and even the prison at Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw, but in both cases, an informer reported his plans to the UB.
Owing to the possession of captured lorries, within 24 hours Zaporczycy were able to carry out several military operations in two or even three counties, and make an immediate exit. They were constantly changing quarters, never being stationed for two consecutive nights in the same village.
Left: Summer of 1946. Soldiers from the division of Major ‘Zapora’, standing from left to right: - Zbigniew Sochacki [‘Zbyszek’], first aide to ‘Zapora’. On the 3 July 1946, he was injured in a fight with an operational group of the UB; he committed suicide by shooting himself; Sergeant Kazimierz Stefańczyk [‘Sokół’]; Major Hieronim Dekutowski [‘Zapora’]; Lt. Kazimierz Pawłowski [‘Nerw’], arrested on 1 July 1948, sentenced to death, murdered on 10 February 1949; Lt. Szczepan Żelazny [‘Żaba’], platoon commander in the unit of Major ‘Zapora’.
BY HELICOPTER FROM WARSAW
After another amnesty in February 1947, together with Władysław Siła-Nowicki, [codename ‘Stefan’] (an inspector of the WiN in the Lublin region), Dekutowski undertook talks concerning the terms of disclosure of Lublin’s independence guerrillas of the Lublin region. The discussions involved representatives of the Ministry of Public Security (among others, with Col. Józef Czaplicki, the head of Department III – Fighting bandits, i.e., fighting underground resistance partisans, nicknamed ‘Akower’ because of his hatred towards Home Army soldiers; and Col. Jan Tataj, the head of WUBP in Lublin).
In his book, Mokotów--Wronki--Rawicz: wspomnienia 1939–1954 (Mokotów - Wronki - Rawicz: Memoirs 1939–1954), Władysław Minkiewicz recalls: "As a result, a conference took place in the forests in the Lublin region, to which Romkowski, the deputy of security police [Roman Romkowski - Natan Grunsapau-Kikiel – ed.] and Luna Bristigerowa, the Director of the Political Department of the MBP, flew from Warsaw by helicopter." No agreement was reached, because the security police did not agree to free earlier-detained WiN members.
Siła-Nowicki: "At one point in the course of the negotiations, after some points of agreement were concluded, the ‘Zapora’ group, together with the guards of the MBP dignitaries, had a heavy drinking session, but always on an equal footing, so that neither party remained defenceless [both sides were armed and of equal numbers – ed]. Then they all got into a three-tonne lorry, ‘Dodge’, coming from the American equipment supplied to the Soviet army. ‘Zapora’ was at the wheel. He was trained in driving in field conditions, yet on a dirt road unfamiliar to him he was speeding as if looking for his death. On one of the corners the lorry hit a tree and was smashed to pieces. Strangely enough – none of the passengers was hurt."
‘OPAL’ THE TRAITOR
As a result of unsuccessful talks, ‘Zapora’, together with the commanders of sub-units of his grouping, made another attempt to escape to the West. On 12 September 1947, he gave his last order, passing the command to Cpt. Zdzisław Broński [‘Uskok’]. In a private letter to ‘Uskok’ he wrote: "Today I am leaving for the English side – I have been in touch with the guys regarding contacts over there. Remember not to let anyone cheat on you, when I get there I shall get our matters sorted as a priority – we shall keep in touch anyway. Take care – Hieronim". (In 1949 ‘Uskok’ detonated a grenade under himself, not wanting to fall into the hands of the secret police (UB) during their raid. [Read "The Death of Captain Uskok" here ...]
The soldiers of ‘Zapora’, arriving in succession at the staging post in Nysa in the Opole region (in mid-September 1947), were sent directly into the hands of the UB of Katowice. Dekutowski was arrested on 16 September. Today, it is known that one of the secret police agents, who led the arrest of ‘Zapora’ and his soldiers, was his deputy Stanisław Wnuk [‘Opal’].
Those treacherously captured were transported to the Rakowiecka Street prison and underwent brutal interrogations. The interrogators were: Jerzy Kędziora and a well-known sadist, Eugeniusz Chimczak (who also drafted the indictment). The interrogations lasted for over a year. [Read more about Polish secret police interrogation methods here ...]
IN NAZI UNIFORMS
Stefan Korboński: The ‘public’ was informed that the actual name of ‘bandit Zapora’ was in fact Hieronim Dekutowski only after the start of his trial.
On the 3 November 1948, in the dock of the Military District Court in Warsaw, apart from Dekutowski, there were his subordinates: Cpt. Stanisław Łukasik [‘Ryś’], Lt. Jerzy Miatkowski [‘Zawada’] – aide, Lt. Roman Groński [‘Żbik’], Lt. Edmund Tudruj [‘Mundek’], Lt. Tadeusz Pelak [‘Junak’], Lt. Arkadiusz Wasilewski [‘Biały’] and their political superior Władysław Siła-Nowicki. The prosecutor: Tadeusz Malik. The judges: Kazimierz Obiada and Wacław Matusiewicz (magistrates) and Józef Badecki (chairman; also gave judgment in the case of Witold Pilecki, and many other patriots).
Władysław Siła-Nowicki: "Mrs. Stiller [defence counsel for Nowicki – ed.] informed me that the presiding judge Józef Badecki is known for conducting the hearings in a very friendly and polite manner and also for very harsh sentences. Indeed, Judge Badecki, a cold-blooded killer, was very polite at all times. From the start of the process we were for him morituri [Latin: ‘those who are about to die’] ...".
Nowicki recalls that they were made to wear uniforms of the Wehrmacht for the hearing: "These uniforms were a disgrace to the prosecutors, not to the victims. And infinitely more important than our clothes were our statements in court during these perjured proceedings."
In court they all behaved with dignity, without repenting or admitting the absurd allegations. ‘Zapora’ took full responsibility.
On the 15 November 1948, the ‘court’ sentenced the Zaporczycy to multiple death sentences. After the hearing, they were transported back to the prison on Rakowiecka Street, still in Nazi uniforms and under heavy guard. Dekutowski was again subjected to a brutal interrogation, but as previously, he never betrayed anyone.
Władysław Minkiewicz: "They were driven later with bags over their heads, so that no one would recognise them (for fear of possible recapture) as the witnesses in various proceedings against their subordinate members of WiN."
Left: Major Cichociemny Hieronim Dekutowski [‘Zapora’, ‘Odra’]
JUMP OFF ON TO THE PAVEMENT
‘The source of chaos and conflagration’
The explanation of the verdict of the Military District Court in Warsaw of 15 November 1948:
"The repugnant reactionary centres in the form of the so-called London-based Polish government-in-exile or the Anders Army, which associated with secret services of the imperialist capitalist circles, have used for their purposes the unique topographical conditions of the Lublin province, and a number of brainwashed former members of the Home Army from the period of the Nazi occupation. (...) They found appropriate supporters of their ideology for the leaders. Among them are the defendants. Accused Nowicki represents a rather [sic ! – ed.] inspirational factor, as he himself calls it political. (...) Other defendants, with the leading role of Hieronim Dekutowski [‘Zapora’], are an implementing factor [sic! – TMP] of activity on a large scale. They form the core of the gang’s terrorist-robbery and sabotage activities, mostly performing the functions of commanders in these gangs. The brutality and cruelty of the accused had been exploited by their senior command to create in the Lublin province in the period from July 1944 until approximately [sic !– TMP] mid-1947 a source of chaos and conflagration, which with considerable effort from the government and society had to be destroyed."
‘Zapora’, together with his subordinates, went to the cell for ‘kaesowcy’ [Pol. col. "a cell for those condemned to death"], where over a hundred people were held. They attempted to escape – they decided to drill a hole in the ceiling and through the attic, to get onto the roof of a single-storey storage building, and from there go down on sheets tied together and jump off onto the pavement on Rakowiecka Street.
Minkiewicz: "For the night the mattresses were laid on the concrete floor and all benches against the wall, and a pyramid was made from stools to reach the ceiling in the toilet. Józef Górski [criminal prisoner – ed.] would climb on this pyramid every night with a spoon sharpened on concrete and would laboriously drill a hole in the ceiling, carefully collecting the debris into the typical prison bag, known as a ‘samara’. Then he would flush the rubble down the toilet so as not to leave any traces. To avoid being discovered, all who knew about it would take turns to stay awake for the night shift, and in some clever way signalled to Górski if anyone of the uninitiated woke up to use the toilet. Górski would then pause his work for a while and sit quietly on top of his pyramid. (...) After a few weeks the hole was broad enough to let Górski get out thorough it to the attic and make it all the way to the window above the low storage buildings. In fact, it was possible to attempt to escape then, but they decided to wait for moonless nights, which would give them greater assurance of avoiding pursuit by the KBW patrols, [Internal Security Corps] frequently circulating on Rakowiecka Street."
When the implementation of the plan was barely a few days away, one of the prisoners felt that the action was too risky and he reported it to the prison authorities, hoping for a shorter sentence for himself. Dekutowski and Siła-Nowicki were held for a few days in ‘karc’ [special punishment isolation cell], where they were kept naked, clapped in irons.
Nowicki was saved due to his family connections – he was a nephew of Dzierżyński [Rus. Феликс Эдмундович Дзержинский]. Aldona Dzierżyńska-Kojałłowicz, sister of the creator of Czeka [Rus. ЧК - чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия Chrezvychaynaya Komissiya - Extraordinary Commission, the first of a succession of Soviet state security organisations], wrote to Bierut: "I love him as my own son, so for the memory of my unforgettable brother, Felix Dzierżyński, I beg Citizen President for mercy to save the life of Władysław Nowicki."
It was different for Dekutowski. His family’s requests for mercy were to no avail, including the one from his eldest sister, Zofia Śliwa, made through diplomatic channels by the President of the French Republic (from the end of the 1920s she was living in France, and was awarded the Légion d'Honneur for her participation in the French resistance movement).
Irena Siła-Nowicka, wife of Władysław, writes about her visit to the prison-pass office on Sucha Street in Warsaw: "It was morning. The Colonel, who would sign the passes, was not there. So I sat and waited for him, and meanwhile the secretaries, young girls, were bustling among the files. Red files - the death sentence; green – everything else. They picked up the red files and one of them read the name: Hieronim Dekutowski. What a funny name – she said. And my heart sank – I knew what the red folder meant! So they typed some data for those convicted, but I knew nothing more – neither when nor where those judgments were to be executed." Then Nowicka went to the prison on Rakowiecka Street: "I walked to the gate together with a prison guard, then down the hall. Some men were passing next to us, carrying a man on stretchers. I do not know whether he was alive or dead, but it made a terrible impression on me. (...) After a while we heard the clatter of clogs – they were leading the prisoners. I could see Władek. He immediately asked: What about the others? I answered – I do not know, we have done all that was possible. I just could not bring myself to tell him about those files I had seen. (...) As it turned out later, on that very day, 7 March 1949, seven great people, Władek’s comrades, were shot in Mokotów. He heard those shots, saying the last goodbye to his dear friends ...".
WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP THE FIGHT!
The execution was ordered by Władysław Garnowski, the President of the Supreme Military Court.
Ewa Kurek, in her book Zaporczycy recalls the last moments of Dekutowski: "He was thirty, five months and 11 days. He looked like an old man. Grey hair, broken teeth, and broken arms, nose and ribs. Pulled-out fingernails. - We will never give up the fight! – he shouted, his last words to his commrades-in-arms. According to the documents, the sentence was carried out by shooting [at 19.00 hours – TMP]. According to the Mokotowska legend, however, the UB executioners had packed Major ‘Zapora’ into a sack hanging from the ceiling and kept shooting, satiating their hatred with a view of his blood dripping from the ceiling. Then, in five-minute intervals, they murdered his soldiers: ‘Ryś’, ‘Żbik’, ‘Mundek’, ‘Biały’, ‘Junak’ and ‘Zawada’. "
Gloria Victis! [‘glory to the vanquished’]
Written by Tadeusz M. Płużański
Translated by Dorota Krogulewska, with additional editing by Jan Czarniecki
Related Article(s): Major Hieronim Dekutowski, nom de guerre "Zapora" in the net of communist secret police agents