"Null and Void: Poland: Case Study on Comparative Imperialism" by Maria Szonert
Chapter 6, "Stalinist Gehenna", Excerpts
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The years 1945-1947 mark the zenith of the Soviet sponsored onslaught on the Independence Movement and the entire Polish society. Throughout Poland, the Soviets took over thousands of administrative positions at all levels of the government. Soviet advisors controlled every move of the non-Soviet apparatchiks in the Lublin Government. Soviet-controlled Military Courts and Summary Departments of civilian courts handed down thousands of death sentences, while thousands of prisoners died during inhumane interrogations, thousands were shipped to extermination camps in Siberia, hundreds of thousands were sent to prison, yet countless thousands of others, under threat of arrest, were forced to denounce, spy, and report on their closest friends and family members.
The security apparatus grew exponentially. The objective was to have one security guard for every 200 people. In December of 1945, the security forces consisted of 24,000 agents, 70,000 militia men, 32,000 soldiers of Internal Military Corp (Korpus Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego), and 7,000 prison guards.[i]
Death sentences poured down like hailstones throughout the country. Between 1945 and 1946, Military Courts handed down 1700 death sentences.[ii] It is estimated that between 1944 and 1948 at least 2,500 death sentences were handed down, while another 10,000 people were murdered during barbaric interrogations, not even reaching trial. In addition to those murdered, between 100,000 and 150,000 people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, many of them died in prison of inhumane conditions and lack of medical care; some of them were brutally murdered by the prison killers urkas. As collaborators of the prison guards, these prisoners were charged with the task of murdering their prison companions. This method of execution by using urkas was frequently used in Soviet gulags.
In the areas annexed to the Soviet Union, another 50,000 Poles were arrested, and yet another 50,000 were sent to labor camps in Siberia. These numbers are tentative as many details of Stalinist oppression are still locked in the Soviet archives.
Thus, after World War II officially ended, at least 250,000 Poles were directly repressed, not counting another 150,000 people sentenced to labor camps for economic sabotage. Including family members of these victims, well over 1,000,000 people were directly affected, and considering neighbors and friends, it is not an exaggeration to say that police terror affected several million people out of the total population of 21 million.[iii]
The extent of the murderous zeal of the Stalinist security forces is illustrated by one list of prisoners' deaths that occurred in just one town of Poland. Based on incomplete medical records from one prison in the small town of Wronki, 219 prisoners died between 1946 and 1957 of "natural causes." Tuberculosis, heart attack, and cancer are frequently listed as the cause of death, but closer analysis indicates that physical and mental torment of prisoners was used as a method of indirect murder.[iv]
Vicious persecutions swept the entire society; no one was immune or safe. In 1946, Tadeusz Łabędzki, a young activist of the Independence Movement, disappeared in the dungeons of the Public Security Ministry. Leopold Rutkowski, an activist of the Underground State, and Stanisław Tobiasz, a lawyer and member of the Polish Socialist Party, died during interrogation, while Lech Hajdukiewicz from the Independence Movement died of unknown causes in unknown circumstances. Jan Rodowicz, a hero of the Warsaw Uprising from Battalion "Zośka" jumped or was pushed from the prison stairwell to his death. Marian Grzybowski, professor of cardiology, died while being suffocated during interrogation. After his death, Doctor Jabłońska, the one who denounced him, took over his chairmanship position at the Cardiology Department. Władysław Tarnawski, linguistics professor from the Lwów University, deprived of medical help died in prison. Aleksander Krzyżanowski, officer of the Home Army who was sent to Siberia, upon his return from the gulag was arrested and died in prison. Zygmunt Kaczyński, a Catholic activist, died in prison. Antoni Antczak, an activist of the Labor Party, died in prison. Wacław Lipinski, commander in the defense of Warsaw in September of 1939, was murdered in his cell by urkas. Kazimierz Pużak, Chairman of the Polish Socialist Party and a member of the Council of National Unity, deprived of medical help, died in prison.[v] These are just a few examples of the ubiquitous human drama in the aftermath of the Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam decisions.
Only a small percentage of trials that handed down death sentences were public; most of the trials were top secret. The greatest secrecy however surrounded the executions that were carried out pursuant to these bogus trials. In Warsaw on Rakowiecka Street, these murders took place always during the night. Two functionaries from the Special Department would walk into the cell, handcuff the condemned, and lead the prisoner down to the basement, though the underground hallway, to the charnel house. Nearing the end of the hall, they would execute a shot in the back of the walking prisoner's head, the so-called Katyń style killing. The families never received the bodies or any information about the execution or burial. The assassins buried their victims in great secrecy, under the cover of nightly darkness, in anonymous mass graves, always in top secret locations.[vi]
Such a shot to the back of the head killed Witold Pilecki, the only known person to volunteer to be imprisoned at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. While there, Pilecki organized resistance and informed the Western Allies of Nazi camp atrocities. He escaped from Auschwitz in 1943 and took part in the Warsaw Uprising, only to be brutally murdered by the security forces of "liberated Poland."
Cichociemni ("silent-darks"), the patriotic icons who were dropped by RAF planes to embark on sabotage and diversion at the rear of the withdrawing German Army, such as Hieronim Dekutowski, Stefan Górski, Bolesław Kontrym,[vii] or Commander of anti-Nazi diversionary operations Emil Fieldorf, all recipients of the highest military honors of Virtuti Militari, were dishonored and brutally murdered by the security forces in the underground abyss on Rakowiecka Street while the Western World celebrated victory.
Those from the right and from the left, those educated and illiterate, the young and the old, and all those who were merely suspected of lack of enthusiasm for the Sovietization of Poland had to die. Among them was Bohdan Olszewski, a student from Warsaw. Sentenced to death in 1946, he was held in the Praga prison on the east side of Warsaw. From the window of his death-row cell, he threw several gryps[viii] (letters) to a female prisoner in the prison yard below. Bohdan was executed soon thereafter, but the woman survived and was able to smuggle his gryps out of prison, hiding it inside her shoe heel. This gryps is reproduced below. However, parts of the text were no longer legible by the time Poland was in the position to publish this last will.
At times it happens that a man feels instant affection towards someone. Well, it happens to me, it may seem strange at the moment, when death is hard by, that there is still so much courage in me to think about it, but I am a man, and a romantic...
You, Miss, appear so familiar to me with your gentle smile so charming just now, when I have to die. When death [.]
I only have a mother; for me she is the model of all mothers, the dearest person on earth, and you take a place next to her, at present. How humorous does it appear to you? There is something about you, Miss, very charming, something that attracts even through bars. I am happy indeed that I will see you again soon... again. When my earthly life soon... for you the forget-me-nots will bloom on my grave. [.]
If this is... for you, to tell my mother that I was dying with her daring image in my heart. Address Praga - Siedlecka 27a (near Basilica), St. [, last name] Olszewska. My name is Bohdan, [nom de guerre] "Olszynka," a third year student of veterinary sciences at the University of Józef Piłsudski, lieutenant of artillery, member of National Alliance, lieutenant of NSZ, accused of anti-Soviet propaganda, cooperation with the Nazis on behalf of NSZ, a fascist organization that planned alliance with the Nazis against the Soviets... NSZ are henchmen of the Nazis!!!
I am sorry for my directness; I say my farewell to you, truly, with great anguish and pain.
Could I at least know your name - please say...[ix]
Bohdan Olszewski "Olszynka" was executed on May 18, 1946.
[i] Dominiczak, Organy Bezpieczeństwa, p. 23.
[ii] Maria Turlejska, Te pokolenia żałobami czarne... Skazani na śmierć i ich sędziowie 1944-1954, (Londyn: Anex, 1989), 98.
[iii] John S. Micgiel, "'Frenzy and Ferocity' The Stalinist Judicial System in Poland, 1944-1947, and the Search for Redress," The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, University of Pittsburgh, No. 1101 1994, p. 32.
[iv] Kartki z dziejów UB i SB, 55-56.
[v] Ibid. pp. 30-33.
[vi] Ibid. p. 36.
[vii] Ibid. pp. 37-38.
[viii] "Gryps" means an illegal letter or message smuggled in, within, or out of jail.
[ix] Otwinowska, Zawołać po Imieniu, p. 88.