"THE LAST SOLDIER OF SOVEREIGN POLAND - SERGEANT JÓZEF FRANCZAK, nom de guerre 'LALEK' (1918-1963)" - Part 2
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HE SHOOTS LIKE THEY DO IN MOVIES
Today, Danuta Mazur suffers from a disorder affecting her legs. For days on end, she sits on the porch of a brick house in Wygnanowice. Some 59 years ago, in the middle of 1946, her friend asked Danuta’s father to lend a helping hand, and to shelter a boy for a night. - “I saw him for the first time” - recalls the woman, she is eighty today - “he was handsome, had a good figure, and a gentle voice, just the way I liked men to be, my preference. He had a belly though” - she adds. The tears pour down her already wrinkled cheek, as she says this.
Most of the time, they would meet secretly out in the fields, and only for a brief moment. The grain fields were lush, abundant, and alive, and their suggestive youthfulness whispered quietly of the ways to hide. She kept this secret from her father, who was among Franczak’s “guardians”. She would give him reports and information about the situation in the district. As the time went on, these “official”, short and to-the-point meetings, became more personal… Danuta would grab some food that she wrapped in her scarf, and would disappear for a few minutes. - “He brought me books, mainly romance novels” - the lady says. - “He once showed me the Suez Canal on the map, and said that a world war would begin there, and it would set us all free. I believed him. I believed because he said that. He was able to persuade everyone.”
Franczak does not want to expose his fiancé. Sometimes at night, he leaves a gift on her windowsill, at other times he observes her tucked away in the woods.
From time to time, Danuta would find out that "Laluś" was in a shootout with Communist police forces in Lublin; at other times, he was in a shootout with the “Ubecja” (a derogatory name for the secret police, derived form the acronym UB) in Lubartow. She would pretend that it didn’t bother her. While the war was officially over and everyone wanted to finally live a normal life, the end of the 1940s was a time of Communist terror. In the Lublin Voivodeship alone, the shootings happened every day. In order to locate and capture the partisans, the UB and the Communist army arrested thousands of innocent people and tortured them.
Hence, from mid-1948, and thereafter, “Uskok’s” unit of which Franczak was member, is forced to lay low, and conducts its operations only once a month. The Heads of the municipal and county committees of the Communist Polish Worker's Party are killed, and so are their spies, and snitches, who supported the hated system. But, each partisan operation brings an immediate retaliation. Sometimes there was one victim; sometimes dozens of people were killed. In his compilation work, entitled “Ostatni Lesni” [Eng. “The Last Men From the Forests”], Tomasz Lobaszewski, a historian from the Institute of National Remembrance, estimates that during July 1948 alone, the UB carried out more than two thousands operations against the “gangs” in the entire country. Tens of thousands of secret policemen and Communist military combed through the forests.
In May of 1948, “Lalek’s” unit falls into a trap - an ambush in the village of Cyganka, near Lublin. Two partisans are shot dead, and another two are wounded. After firing the last round, their commanding officer disappears - but, “Lalek” escapes without a smallest scratch - again.
“More and more people are becoming apathetic, and no longer believe in the imminent change for the better. People find themselves more, and more, adapted to this hated, but evermore, encroaching new order - only because they have to live somehow. We, the handful of desperados - as they call us - become an oasis of faith and victory in the desert of despair and hopelessness.“ - writes “Uskok”.
On Christmas Eve of 1948, the secret police manages to catch up with “Lalek”. They surprise him when he is alone in a store in Wygnanowice. But, he is faster once again. He shoots just like they do in the Westerns. One of the policemen gets hit, and Franczak, with a wound to his abdomen, manages to escape to a nearby forest. He will have to convalesce for several months before he is ready fight again. During this time, the secret police will get “Uskok”. At first, a secret police informant, code-name “Janek”, betrays “Babinicz” - the closest friend of Broński. In turn, under brutal interrogations, "Babinicz" reveals the location of bunkers, in which the charismatic commandant is hiding.
On May 21st, the entire area adjoining the bunker is surrounded. After a brief exchange of fire “Uskok” commits suicide. An elated secret policemen paints above the entrance to the bunker: “The Bunker and “Uskok” got f****d” (screwed), and they take the picture of the board. The entire unit's archive falls into the Communist hands. On one of the photographs, in which Franczak bends over a map, a number “One” appears over his head.
A LAWYER FROM LUBLIN
The story about the last Polish partisan should begin at this very moment. According to the Ministry of Public Security, there are still some 250 soldiers in hiding. They are hiding mostly in the Bialystok and Lublin area.
Increasingly, however, both individual partisans, and their units, have less and less contact with each other. More often than not, many of them are completely unaware that they are all that is left. A handful of men form “Uskok’s” unit, are still active until February 1953. By the end of August, the last seven soldiers from Wacław Grabowski’s, nom de guerre “Puszczyk” ‘s unit from Mława, are finished off. There is even a receipt in the UB archives baring the code name of the Communist agent “N-20”- the one who revealed their hiding place. For betraying these men, he got a mere 5 thousands Zloty; a laughable amount even for those times. All seven partisans perished...
Shortly after midnight on March 3, 1957, in the village of Jeziorko near Łomza, operational group of the Internal Security Corps and the Urzad Bezpieczenstwa, killed Lieutenant Stanisław Marchewka, nom de guerre “Ryba”. He was the last of the Doomed Soldiers in the Bialystok region. In February 1959, Michał Krupa was arrested near Leżajsk, and on December 30, 1961, in Biłgoraj area, Andrzej Kiszka, nom de guerre "Dąb" will also fall into the communist hands. [See: "The Forest Was My Only Safety here ...]
At this point, “Lalek” is still alive in his forest hideout. He is either incredibly lucky, or very prudent. Even though, his closest friends, and with time, even Danuta Mazur, will ask him to out himself, with the same determination, as always, he will refuse.
The decisive moment came shortly after the last “amnesty” in April of 1956, when he met with the attorney Rachwald. Unnoticed by anyone, Franczak showed up in the attorney’s apartment. Since the city was swarming with secret policemen, he had to be very careful. Not only was the city a command center for the ongoing terror, but also, the UB-men knew very well what “Laluś” looked like. They also knew that he would disguise himself. For example, in order to survey the area, where he was to stay a bit longer, he would disguise himself in woman’s clothes. We also know now, that he often used to hide in Lublin. Even to this day, there are many far-fetched legends surrounding “Lalek” and his skills. One such legend, is that he escaped to the West for a few years, the other, that after bribing high-ranking officials he hid in Warsaw for few years. In others, he had a certain general in his crosshair, or that he shot with his eyes closed, and never missed…
What we do know for sure is what he spoke about with his attorney. Danuta Mazur, for whom that fateful meeting meant a chance to legalize their relationship, discloses the mystery of that evening. He asked the attorney off-the-cuff - “What do they have on him, and what will happen to him should he surrender?” - “If he were going to be sentenced to 15 years, or less, in prison, he would out himself. Should he be sentenced for longer than that, he was going to keep on fighting.” Despite the announced amnesty, his attorney didn't have good news for him: - “They will not let slide easily just like that”. Franczak’s dossier accumulated by the secret police was truly impressive.
The Communist authorities accused him of several murders. The list began with the names of two Communist Jews, members in the [Soviet NKVD-controlled] Gwardia Ludowa [Pol. Abbr. GL – People’s Guard] who were shot during a firefight in Skrzynice, in the Winter of 1943. Further in the document, he was accused of complicity in the shooting of four Communist MO (Pol. Abbr. Milicja Obywatelska – People’s Militia) men, in July 1946; later, he is accused of shooting the head of the MO station, and PPR (Pol. Abbr. Polska Partia Robotnicza - Communist Polish People’s Party) in Rybczewiec, a certain Zdzisław Debski from Majdanek Kozicki. Later, Franczak was accused of killing yet another secret policeman from Rybczewice, in 1948, and then of killing the commandant of the Voluntary Reserves of the People's Militia (Pol. Abbr. ORMO) in the village of Wola Gardzienicka. In August of 1951, he was alleged to have shot dead a secret UB snitch in Passów. Added to that, are earlier mentioned shootings in Bojanice, Cyganka and Wygnanowice. It does not end there.
The files also show that on February 10, 1953, along with two other partisans, Franczak was to commandeer a government municipal fund building that belonged to the chain of stores named “GS”; during that incident, the commander of the People’s Militia station dies. “In time” - says one of his schoolmates, Wiktoria Olszewska, -“all evil in the area was attributed to him”. He allegedly even sent an anonymous letter to warn that a robbery will take place, and that he has nothing to do with it. His superior “Wiktor” died during this operation. Janina Wilkołek, back then a thirteen years old girl, repeats what the adults talked about: "Yes, he robbed, but he would then give it to the poor. He was the Polish version of Robin Hood."
“You will not escape a life in prison” - attorney Rachwald didn’t beat around the bush. He also added that this sentence could be given solely on the basis of what the prosecutors alone had on him. The stuff that the UB accumulated in their records, was more than enough to get him “accidentally” killed during an arrest, or else, he would not withstand the hardships of the interrogations.
Beginning with October of 1956, things started to mellow. Accused, and sentenced to death, ex-soldiers of the Home Army were being released from prisons.
“I told him that a neighbor of mine, who was sentenced to three consecutive death sentences, got out of the prison and returned to Wygnanowice” - says Danuta Mazur – “He hesitated, and didn’t out himself in the end. He hugged me, and said, that he will never leave the underground”
As if he was to confirm that he meant what he said, in the fall of 1956, he hijacked a vehicle carrying 108 thousands Zloty. Three years later, his dossier grows with new accusations: January 1959, he supposedly shot Mieczysław Lipski, an officer with the Voivodeship Communist Command of the People's Militia in Lublin. Even then, he knew that the rope tightened around his neck, and that he was wanted. – “He suffered, and only God knows how much” - his fiancé added.
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