The last battle of the 5th Wilno (Vilnius) Brigade. Conversation with Janina Wasiłojć-Smoleńska, nom de guerre "Jachna".
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We are near Lubochow. Do you remember the second time the 5th Brigade, aided by the combined squadrons of "Zeus" and "Leszek", took over this place, among them the [Communist institutions of] MO [People's Militia] station, the Forests Cooperative, and the "Peasants Self-Help", in the end of October 1946?
- No. I don't remember. There were so many operations, and some of them escape me now. We took over many [Communist People's Militia] stations. On the other hand, others who come from these regions would remember these names, but this wasn't our home territory.
Now, I would like to talk about the last battle of the 5th Wilno Brigade of AK [pol. Abr. Home Army], and in particular two of its squadrons lead by "Zeus" and "Leszek", against very large units of Urzad Bezpieczenstwa [pol. Office of Security - Polish secret police] in the Pomorze region. This was the last large skirmish (there were of course, dozens others, but certainly smaller in scale) that took place in Budy near Brusy on September 24, 1946. Despite the fact that the combined forces of People's Militia and County Office of Security in Chojnice was more than twice the size of your units, yet, you managed to successfully disengage from the units of the communist regime. Do you remember how it happened?
- We spent the night in some sort of forester's house. In the morning we walked to our quarters in Budy. We were accompanied by horse carts carrying provisions - commandeered by, I think, "Morski" (Sergeant Waclaw Cejko). The "Leszek's" squadron took quarters on the farm located about two hundred meters from ours which was located in a small valley. We were surrounded by fields and grass-land; we were between several dozen meters on one side to several hundred meters on the other side from the forest. Shortly after our arrival, a suspicious man who insistently continued to observe the surroundings was detained. When the boys brought him in, and frisked him, it appeared that he had on him a list of local [Communist] Urzad Bezpieczenstwa snitches. "Zeus" began to interrogate him, and at the same time sent a currier to fetch "Leszek". When "Leszek" came, both of them ["Zeus" and "Leszek] spoke with the UB-owiec [Eng., a derogatory slang name used for a UB, Urzad Bezpieczenstwa functionary].
|Above: The road to the unit's headquerters passed over a footbridge like this one.
What happened to the [secret police] informer who was interrogated?
- When the UB began to "hammer" [with machine gun fire] at windows and doors, we had to immediately jump out of the building, and he hid under the table screeming: "Boys! May God lead you!" I don't know if he was genuine, or did it only in order to save his life. He stayed there when we jumped out of the building.
What ensued next?
- When "Leszek" was running to his squadron, the LMK gunner "Okon" (Sergeant Robert Nakwas-Pugaczewski) who kept watch near the tall embankment above their quarters, began to cover us with fire. We (our squadron) ran through the field up a small hill. We were completely exposed. When one runs under such circumstances it feels like it takes forever. We were very far from the slope and from the forest. We would run and then fall to the ground [for cover], and then we ran and fell down again. I remember to this day, that when one falls to the ground the bullets hit the sand next to the head with this characteristic fyoo, fyoo [sound .]. It was then that "Morski" and NN "Lot" got hit in their legs. With our help they made it to the forest. Then, we had to climb through wooded slope of the hill, which was, if I remember correctly, not manned by the Urzad Bezpieczenstwa [forces]. At the top was a small road, and I remember that boys screamed to me: "Sister! Jump!" to cross it as quickly as possible.
So, they left an opening for you to retreat, even though they could have completely surrounded you. Did they make an elementary mistake?
- They would have chopped us to pieces like ducks. We [were] on the bottom, and they [were] on the top. But, it probably happened [this way] because “Leszek” noticed a [enemy] soldier who was giving signals and they didn’t manage to surround us completely. When we disengaged from the chase to the distance of two to three kilometers, we hid along with our wounded in the middle of a copse, a square-shaped young forest. We sat there maintaining complete silence, and they walked through all pathways around us and didn’t notice anything. We waited there until dusk, and only when it was dark we marched away [from this place]. We left for Kartuzy.
|Above: Soldiers from the 5th WIlno Brigade of Polish Home Army. From left: Sergeant Robert Nakwas-Pugaczewski "Okoń", Corporal Bogdan Obuchowski "Zbyszek", Second Lieutenant Olgierd Christa "Leszek".
In the final analysis, the result of this skirmish wasn't particularly optimistic - one killed (NN "Szczygiel"), two wounded (Sergeant Wladyslaw Cejko, nom de guerre "Morski", and NN, nom de guerre "Lod"), and also one captured (Stanislaw Szybut "Wir"). However, taking under consideration great disparity in the strength, and the fact that you were cut off guard, it didn't end in your defeat?
- As I stated, it could have been a lot worst. They could have finished us all.
After this engagement, the activities of the Brigade were to procure food and funds for the soldiers who were gradually leaving the unit?
- We officially disbanded two months later at the end of November. I left the forest on September 21, 1946. I have to resolutely emphasize that it wasn't the skirmish at Budy that triggered it [the decision to disband]. After all, there were many engagements such as the one at Budy, where this and that person got killed or was wounded. It wasn't Budy that "finished" us off. If it was the case, then we should have disbanded right then, and yet, we were in the field for an additional two months. If someone wanted to leave [the unit] he wasn't prevented from doing so. A suggestion that it was the Budy skirmish that influenced disbanding our squadrons, found its way into some publications, and was based on someone's, and I don't know whose, accounts. This is how I remember the conduct, the chronology, and the consequences of these events. In his book [entitled] "With 'Szczerbiec and Lupaszka [pol. "U 'Szczerbca' i 'Lupaszki'] published in 1991, the Second Lieutenant Olgierd Christa "Leszek", a direct participant in these events, chronicled them in similar fashion - unlike some books and historical compilations of events surrounding activities of the Brigade in the Pomorze. W couldn't have survived being [continuously] tailed in the field through the winter. We would be found even if by the signs of footsteps in the snow.
|Photo: May 2007 - A farmhouse in Budy near/Brusy where the squadron lead by “Zeus” took quarters.
Then, what did the disbanding of the unit looked like?
- We were all that was left. We were truly in a horrible predicament. We had no directions, and didn’t know what to do next. We had neither contact, nor [any] information from the Command. The Second Lieutenant “Lufa" (Henryk Wieliczko) was trying to reach us, but never made it. Another currier, "Odyniec" (Second Lieutenant Antoni Wodyński) made it by the beginning of November, but was arrested shortly thereafter. When the decision to disperse the squadrons was made, it was explicitly emphasized, that it was [disbanded] only for the duration of winter, and then we would receive new orders. For this reason, a meeting was agreed to in Inowrocław in January, 1947. We were to meet there to decide what to do next. We were hoping that we would establish contact with Major "Łupaszka".
Then, what did the disbanding of the unit looked like?
- Not at all! After all [the secret police] found notes on "Leszek" that had addresses of all of his people. He kept them in order to reestablish contacts [with his men]. The activities [of the units] were to begin again in the spring. After all, these boys ["Zeus" and "Leszek"] who were twenty-three or twenty-four years old were responsible for people under their command, and they were "kids" themselves. It was different when we were with "Lupaszka". You have a commanding officer, you have orders, and here [these kids] had to make decisions on their own.
If I correctly interpret your words Madam, both you and now deceased Olgierd Christa ("Leszek") take an exception to the publications and books that describe activities of the 5th Brigade in Pomorze, Warmia, Mazury regions?
- Of course! Some of these books have numerous mistakes, misinterpretations, or over-interpretation of facts.
[What are they] specifically?
- For example, descriptions of some of the events have very little, if anything to do, with what the actual participants of those events recall. There are wrong first names and last names, wrong code names [nom de guerre(s)], [wrong] compositions of units, [wrong] ranks for officers, [wrong] addresses, [or wrong] locations of specific events. Yet another matter is the fact that some of the authors, unfairly and with bias, judge our activities, the facts, and circumstances; and, in a subjective fashion, disregard the capabilities we had then [during these times].
It’s true. Several months ago, while witching, actually, an interesting show, entitled “Żołnierze wyklęci” [eng. Doomed Soldiers”] in company of Józefem Bandzo (nom de guerre "Jastrząb"), we found a photo with Mr. Bandzo in it. The inscription pointed to the fact that it was someone else [rather than Mr. Banzo]. Things like this happen.
Do you have in mind some sort of specific publication?
- One will find mistakes everywhere, [even] in the [academic] historical compilations. They are [very prevalent], since the history of the 5th Brigade was falsified and manipulated for many years. But I think, that given the fact that there is only a handful of reliable sources, the authors should give greater weight to the accounts of actual participants in these events.
|Above: May 2007. Budy near Brusy. Janina Smoleńska near buildings where the 3 Squadron took quarters on September 24, 1946.
Among the most valuable publications on this subject is work by Mr. Kazimierz Krajewski, PhD, and Tomasz Labuszewskie, PhD entitled "Lupaszka', 'Mlot', 'Huzar'. Activities of the 5th and 6th Wilno Brigade of AK (1944-1952)" [pol. "Lupaszka", "Mlot", "Huzar". Dzialalnosc 5. i 6. Brygady Wilenskiej AK (1944 - 1952)] in which, however, they didn't avoid several factual mistakes, and conclusions hurtful towards us. One example is the skirmish at Budy, where several facts, and conclusions do not entirely resemble reality. At least, they are different from what "Leszek" and I remember. I am in possession of "Leszek's" written objections to this publication. I also compiled [a list] myself, that contains questionable [things] and think, and hope that, before another edition of "Lupaszka" is released, . it would be prudent for the authors to entertain our objections. Particularly, since it is the most solid compilations on this subject matter. Other [published] sources containing only some of the periods of activities of the 5th Brigade, being parts of Master's thesis, or doctoral thesis are unlikely to be re-released, and as such the possibility of correcting errors contained in them is rather remote. After all, many subjects are explained in the book written by "Leszek" entitled "U 'Szczerbca' i 'Lupaszki", published in 1999.
In your opinion, what are the issues that require most immediate clarification?
- Aside from the errors to which I alluded in general, I would like that the people who write about our fight against the Communist regime, and more broadly about our activities, would recognize achievements of 5th Brigade achieved in the Pomorze, Warmia, and Mazury regions, as much as they recognize activities of the 6th Brigade in the Podlasie [area]. In particular, since the area of Pomorze [where we operated] was away from our regular area of operations and, at least in the beginning, we didn't have as wide a support from the local population as the support experienced by other units. We needed time, even a short time, for them [the local population] to trust us.
As I see it, the comments and clarification authored by you and Mr. Christa span for several typed pages, and one could write a study that would span for at least several pages?
- I agree.
Going back to the subject of your activities - was the support of the local population important to your activities?
- If it wasn't for the support of local population, we wouldn't have lasted that long. I would have been impossible.
There is only a handful of your photos from the war that depict you. What is the reason for that?
- Probably because my commanding officer was "Zagonczyk" who before the war was connected with the so called ""Dwójka" [Eng., Number "2"] (Intelligence Unit , Section II) [pre-war Polish intelligence service], was categorically opposed to taking any type of photographs [of individuals in his unit]. In fact, the only known photo of him is the one taken during interrogations by UB [Polish secret police. See the only one existing photo of “Zagończyk" here].
|Above: May 2007. Budy near Brusy. This is the field through which the soldiers from the 3 Squadron had to crass while being fired upon by the secret police forces.
Were you tortured during interrogations?
- During the interrogations [my entire body] was blue from beatings. A human being involuntarily uses their hands to protect himself. Even many years after that, I still had adhesions from exactly that, protecting my body. They were beating [us] like professionals. For example, there was a Soviet advisor, who didn't speak at all, but only beat me. To this day I remember, that when I was laying down on the floor, and he was standing over me, I had such a wild need to grab his leg and to bite him. I collected myself, because I knew that he would turn me into an omelet.
Were there more humane UB-owcy [Secret Police Members]?
- During the entire time I was sitting in isolation cell, I was guarded nonstop by two guards. One of them was a young boy. When I was returning from interrogations he would ask me if how hard they were beating me. He would bring me water and would give me a cigarette. I didn't know who among our boys was arrested, and he told me that behind the wall they kept "Brzoza" (Zdzislaw Kreciejewski). I found out form "Brzoza" that they also had "Atlantyk" (Jan Majkowski). When "Brzoza" was transported away near Czersk to the Bruski family [estate] who were hiding weapons [for the resistance], he [the young guard] also told me about it. Several times, while I was interrogated, he would leave a dinner for me, that is soup, and placed it on the top of the heating radiator. He would console me, and would tell me to keep my spirit up, because there will be amnesty. He was called names by his superiors for doing that. But, this guard was probably from KBW [abr. Korpus Bezpieczenstwa Wewnetrznego - Internal Security Corps]. I don't know what his name was, but it [what he did] was important for me then, this support, when all around me was an atmosphere of hatred.
Where there any attempts to extract information from you when you were already sentenced and were held in the prison?
- They would arrive from time to time and would try to get information from me. Most often, when they captured one more of our boys. One day they came and wanted to find out about a note with nom de guerre(s) I wrote. When I pretended to have forgotten, they said . "Your friend 'Regina' told us .' I responded: 'She isn't my friend. [At the most] she is my acquaintance.
Was your family also victimized?
- Of course. When I was in the forest, they would prepare "kotly" , or "Regina"  would stay there. Hoping that this abuse would end, my parents moved to Szczecin. Finally, in 1948 both of them were arrested and spent 9 months in prison. We didn't have any contact with each other during this period.
Wasn't "Regina" considered to be very brave?
- For example, when one time "Zelazny" (Second Lieutenant Zdzislaw Badocha), "Lufa", "Zeus" and "Mercedes" (corporal Henryk Wojczynski) were "doing" [a Communist] bank. When they ran out and got into the awaiting car, "Regina" was nowhere to be found. They found out later that she went to some bakery to get some cookies. No one could believe her betrayal.
I would like to ask you a question that is of personal nature – When did you and Leon Smoleński “Zeus” developed affinity for each other?
- It was al because of [our] patriotism. “Zeus” revealed, and I have the letter he wrote to me from prison, that he can’t live amongst such injustice. He wrote to me that he felt responsible for the fact that I am sitting in prison and he remains free, and that he didn’t take care of me. Therefore, he felt, or at least declared in his conversations with our mutual friends, that if I received such severe sentence [translator’s note: Madam Wasiłojć received death sentence, later changed to 15 years], after so many years I could leave the prison severely sick, will need to be cared for, and thus, for patriotic reasons his responsibility was to wait for me.
|Above: The Cadre of the 4th Squadron, 5th Wilno Brigade of Armia Krajowa. From left: Platoon Leader Zdzisław Badocha "Żelazny", Platoon Leader Jerzy Lejkowski "Szpagat", Platoon Leader Leon Smoleński "Zeus", NN, Corporal Zbigniew Obuchowicz "Zbyszek".
He also wrote that he appreciated me only after I was gone. I wrote him back, and told him that it is great that he will wait for fifteen years, because it looks like the longer he waits, the more his feelings intensify. What a blossoming love it will be after fifteen years.
I understand that “Zeus's” was successful with waiting for you?
- The "patriot "indeed waited [for me]! We got married two years after I was released from prison.
You mentioned, that other women prisoners celebrated your 24th birthday in a very moving way?
- I woke up in the morning, looked, and saw the girls standing next to my bed. When they noticed that I woke up, they began to sing [for me.]
|Above: June 2008. Postolin near Sztum. Mrs. Janina Smoleńska among girls from a Girl Scouts patrol taking part in the IV Commemorative Foot Rally through the trails of Soldiers from the 5th Wilno Brigade AK of Major "Łupaszko”. Read more about the rally [in Polish] here: www.lupaszko.pl.
After this lighthearted "digression" let us return to the more serious matters. When were you released from prison?
- At first, I was released during a break in my sentence. On May 21, 1956 I was released for 6-months break. In1957, the Regional Court in Bydgoszcz shortened my sentence by several months with year probation. As a part of the sentence, my citizen and honorary rights were revoked forever - later they were changed to 10 years. When I was released, I didn't tell [anyone] that I was stripped from these rights. After some time I received notification via mail that I was chosen to be a "lawnik" [a civilian member] in the court. So in this paradoxical way, I was a "lawnik" for several years while my citizen rights were revoked.
|Above: June 2008. Bory Tucholskie. Mrs. Janina Smoleńska during her conversations with Grzegorz Pawlikowski.
You settled in Szczecin?
- After outing himself [to the Communist authorities] in 1947, "Zeus" had no place to stay and along with my parents travelled to Szczecin. In 1948 he was arrested and was investigated for 3 years. The Communists wanted to prove that during his outing [outing - pol. "ujawnienie" - revealing ones underground identity and/or underground affiliation as a part of the amnesty] he hid something from them, and they wanted to put him in jail for that. During this "odsiadka" [Pol., sitting in jail] he was interrogated by some UB-ek along with "Regina". "Zeus" said that during his interrogations (actually in order to defend himself "Zeus" would interrogate "Regina") they would both swear at each other, and would fight in such fashion that even UB-owcy were laughing. For example, based on "Regina's" testimony, they wanted to prove that he outed himself under an assumed name. When this accusation was proven false, she tried to prove that he had concealed weapons, and refused to reveal to them where. During the trial, she declared: "I hate him!." Under such circumstances, even that type of court had to declare her to be a witness that was not objective, and returned the paperwork to the prosecutor's office [for further investigation]. What could have the prosecutor's office do when she was their only prosecution witness? "Zeus" sat in jail little longer and then they released him.
What did you do aside from being a lawnik [a civilian member of the court]?
- I started to work and studied. After all, I was "genetically predisposed" [to teaching], and with the help of my father's friends I got a job at school. I didn't have [formal education in this field], and for this reason I was contracted for a period of one year. At the same time, I began my studies. I graduated from the Opole's WSP with the degree in Polish Philology. Throughout my entire life, being "genetically predisposed" towards [teaching], I worked as a teacher, and beginning with an elementary school, I went through every grade in the educational system. Lately, to my complete surprise, during a special ceremony I received the Szczecin University Medal. I didn't suspect that anyone remembered me, and yet, two of my former students who today are [both] university professors surprised me with it.
Were you in any way [further] victimized [by the Communist regime] after your release from prison?
- Absolutely not. When I filed a petition [with the court] to have my conviction reversed, I was sadly dismayed by the procedure itself. I missed my revolver with its four bullets. In the courtroom where my case [to have my sentence overturned was conducted] I felt as if I was interrogated again! They read this entire [bogus] "indictment" that was full of nonsense [fabricated by the secret police]. After several of my responses the prosecuting attorney stated " so this is the way your political consciousness formed." He also said that he "doesn't condone the methods." I thought to myself, "[here we have yet] another [proverbial] peace dove" and felt that it was profoundly distasteful. Then, I began to tell [him] about the methods employed by them - the Soviets - when they were disarming and hunting us, and later continued their "work" through their Polish-speaking UB servants.
Were you aware that aside from "Regina", at times after their arrests, or release from prison, some of the Soldiers from the 5th brigade would write reports for UB, and later SB against their colleagues? Some of them would do that until 70s, and even until the end of the 80s?
- No. I didn't know. Even when one of the squadron's commanding officers repeated several times when we met that an unpleasant conversation awaits us, I thought that he had some grievance towards me. Only after his death did I find out the truth . But, to tell you the truth - no one had matched "Regina's" record [of betrayal]. It was different in each instance. It is regrettable, that neither the Stalinist methods, nor those who employed them to physically and morally destroy people, are being exposed [to this day].
I think that we will conclude our conversation with [your] not so optimistic reflection. It is for the readers to judge both the past and the present. I thank you very much for the time you took to speak with me.
Janina Wasiłojć - Smoleńska nom de guerre "Jachna" passed away on August 5, 2010, at the age of 84. Gloria Victis!
This interview was conducted by Grzegorz Polikowski, and appeared in the special edition of the “Ilustrowany Magazyn Historyczny "MILITARIA XX wieku", nr 4 (11)/2009.
The photographs appearing in this interview are from the collections of Madam Janina Smoleńska, Dr. Piotr Niwiński, Grzegorz Palikowski, and those that appear in the book entitled "'Łupaszka', 'Młot', 'Huzar'. Działalność 5 i 6 Brygady Wileńskiej AK (1944-1952)" authored by K. Krajewski and T. Łabuszewski.
 kotły - col. expression. eng. traps – a place, house, apartment, meeting place that was manned by secret police operatives who would arrest unsuspecting resistance members who would visit such locale and/or contact point.
 Regina Żelińska-Mordas, Major "Łupaszka’s" currier. After her arrest she collaborated with Urzad Bezpieczenstwa and caused arresst of several dozen resistance members.
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