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The Doomed Soldiers
Polish Underground Soldiers 1944-1963 - The Untold Story

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Doomed Soldiers In Polish

"The Home Army in the Vilnius Region after July 1944" (Pol. "Armia Krajowa na Wileńszczyźnie po lipcu 1944")

A Historical Brief:

The Vilnius (Wilno) Region was perhaps the only Polish region where the occupying forces changed five times. First, there was the Soviet occupation in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact [23 August 1939]. Then, afterwards the USSR handed over a significant part of the former Vilnius Voivodeship to the Republic of Lithuania in October 1939, commencing the Lithuanian occupation period. After the USSR’s invasion of the Baltic States in mid-1940 the Soviets returned. On 22/23 June 1941, the Germans invaded the Vilnius Region. Three years later, at the beginning of July 1944, the Soviets resumed their occupation for a third time, which was also referred to as the “third Soviets”, and, as recognized by an international agreement, this was going to be final. However, not many Poles believed it was going to be the final situation. It was not until the outcome of the Yalta Conference were revealed, that the Poles’ beliefs of recovering the region were shattered.

Simultaneously, due to a rapidly increasing level of terror from the occupants, people were forced to leave. Nevertheless, the period between July 1944 and August 1945 [when the evacuation of the Vilnius Province was completed] was a time of increased resistance against the Soviets. The German occupation ended with a huge uprising of the Polish underground. During the Operation “Ostra Brama” which was a part of the ‘Operation Tempest’, gathered units of Vilnius and Nowogródek partisan companies attacked Vilnius and on 13 July 1944, after around a week of fighting, and in co-operation with the Red Army, they took occupation of the city. On 17 July, the Home Army troops, which had concentrated in the Turgiel region, were surrounded by NKVD (Russ. Народный комиссариат внутренних дел - Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del - НКВД) and the Red Army troops. At the briefing in Bogusze, some Polish officers as well as the Commander of the united Vilnius and Nowogródek Provinces, Col. Aleksander Krzyżanowski nom de guerre “Wilk” [a short while previously to this] were treacherously arrested. The next day disarmament of the surrounded Polish troops commenced. Owing to a rapid response of Polish officers who managed to avoid the arrests, a few thousand partisans managed to escape the trap.

Col. Aleksander Krzyżanowski nom de guerre "Wilk", a legendary Commander of the Home Army Vilnius Province, treacherously arrested in Vilnius by NKVD on 17 July 1944.

Left: Col. Aleksander Krzyżanowski nom de guerre "Wilk", a legendary Commander of the Home Army Vilnius Province, treacherously arrested in Vilnius by NKVD on 17 July 1944. Despite enormous pressure, he did not begin to collaborate with the Soviets and was imprisoned in a forced-labor camp in Digilev, and then in Gryazowec. He managed to escape and reach Vilnius, where he was re-arrested and taken prisoner of the Soviet forced-labor camps. It was not until the end of 1947 that he came back to Poland, and was arrested again as part of the Operation X. He died in The Ministry of Public Security of Poland prison (Pol. Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego or MBP) in 1950 before his trial began...


Next, gathered in the nearby Rudnicka Forest – these troops were surrounded by the Soviets again. On 20 July the commanders who had not been arrested decided to dissolve the brigades and battalions under their command. The only ones who were to remain were volunteers. They were turned into a partisan Vilnius group under the command of Maj. Czesław Dębicki nom de guerre “Jarema”.

Two, 100-soldier units became a part of the group: - "Wisińcza" – with the commander Capt. Edmund Banasikowski nom de guerre "Jeż", - "Solcza" – with the commander Lieut. Adam Boryczka nom de guerre "Tońko".

A similar group commanded by Lt. Col. Maciej Kalenkiewicz nom de guerre “Kotwicz” was established from the Nowogródek units.

Meanwhile, the Province Command was being re-created in Vilnius. The command was assumed by Lt. Col. Julian Kulikowski nom de guerre "Ryngraf".

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.

Colonel Julian Kulikowski, "Ryngraf" was arrested by NKVD and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in forced-labor camps. He served his sentence in Vorkuta.

Above Left: 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. Above Right: "Ryngraf" was arrested by NKVD and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in forced-labor camps. He served his sentence in Vorkuta...

Organizational contacts, severed due to the front line and arrests, were being re-established. The communications network, essential in the new situation, was being re-built. An urgent problem was to draw up directives for the underground in the Vilnius Region. In view of the overwhelming number of enemy forces, the Province staff recognized that an open battle would not be successful. They decided to focus on protecting Polish people.

As early as 20 July, a meeting of the commander-survivors of the Vilnius region of the Polish Underground State took place. The following plan of action was agreed upon: to continue resistance as far as possible, to take particular care of the “legalization” activity and maintain a radio watch, to publish – apart from the organ “Niepodległość” (Independence) published by the Province Command – information bulletins as well as to recognize the submission to the [Communist] Polish Committee of National Liberation (Pol. Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, PKWN) in Lublin as a betrayal of the Vilnius cause.

These directives became the basis for further activity. However, the most important task was to protect people against arrests; this was done mainly through the activity of “legalization” - a cell issuing false documents. Throughout the duration of the third Soviet occupation, over 20,000 of them were issued – from the German Aussweis to “bronirowka” [ID Cards] . It enabled them to avoid conscription to the Red Army [announced in the Vilnius Region] as well as protected them [through identity change] against arrest. The cell was successfully active until August 1945 enabling, amongst other things, later evacuation of the Province. Its remained still functioning in 1946.

Also, the Province Command established the rules regarding partisans. “Wisińcza” unit commanded by Capt. Banasikowski was to take responsibility for protecting Polish people in the Ashmyany Region (Oszmańszczyzna) in the southern part of the Vilnius Voivodeship. Their responsibility was to protect the village against oppression from the administrative apparatus of the occupying forces and to provide care for escapees looking for shelter in forests in order to avoid conscription to the Soviet Army or NKVD terror. The “Solcza” unit, under the command of Lieut. Boryczka, was to operate in the southern part of the Vilnius Region near Vilnius. “Solcza” and “Wisińcza” units fought together in the Russian Wilderness until the route of the future march into designated areas was explored. However, as early as 19 August, an NKVD manhunt in this area resulted in an almost complete defeat of the whole “Wisińcza” unit in the Borowe estate, 3 km from Dubicze. On 25 August Maj. „Jarema” [withdrawing from Vilnius in order to establish direct contact with the Province Command] was arrested by an NKVD patrol. Lieut. Boryczka’s unit, which survived, moved to the Rudnicka Forest and waited for further orders. The news of these events quickly reached Vilnius. The Commander decided that further presence of the troops in the region full of enemy forces did not prognosticate success. In the first half of September, a liaison officer with the directives reached “Solcza” unit. The directives ordered to dissolve the unit, hide the weaponry, and provide the soldiers with safe hide-outs in the area. After nearly 2 weeks of preparation “Solcza” was dissolved.

After the evacuation to Białystok in April 1945, Waldemar Butkiewicz participated in another operation to eliminate an ex-MBP officer [a former Vilnius partisan who used to catch his friends from the resistance movement, straight from repatriation transports]. He died during the retreat after the operation was completed.

Waldemar Butkiewicz nom de guerre "Roland", the executor of Teodor Bujnicki, the cultural director of the Union of Polish Patriots (Society of Polish Patriots, Pol. Związek Patriotów Polskich, ZPP).

Left: Waldemar Butkiewicz nom de guerre "Roland", the executor of Teodor Bujnicki, the cultural director of the Union of Polish Patriots (Society of Polish Patriots, Pol. Związek Patriotów Polskich, ZPP). As a member of the Special Unit at the Garrison of Vilnius, he was a co-executor of the Operation “Modrzew” – its aim was to eliminate twelve of the most prominent activators of the Vilnius ZPP. The Operation was to show Vilnius society that the organization was the enemy of Polish national interests, despite using the word “Polish”.


However, this was not the end of the partisans. Apart from the biggest Vilnius group under the command of Maj. “Jarema”, other troops in the area were still active. Often they were the remaining vestiges of the defeated Brigades, for instance the group under the command of Lieut. Zyndram-Kościałkowski nom de guerre "Fakir”, or spontaneously created small units which consisted of young people trying to avoid conscription [e.g. Marian Brancewicz nom de guerre “Brant” ’s unit]. Another unit under the command of 2nd Lt. Marian Pluciński nom de guerre “Mścisław”, which consisted mainly of soldiers from the 5th Brigade, was active in the Święciany district.

A group under the command of 2nd Lt. Hieronim Piotrowski nom de guerre "Jura", which originated from the Reconnaissance Unit of the Province Command, was also active in the Naliboki Forest. There were many other different units. However, their contact with the Command was sporadic. The destroyed communications network still had a vast negative impact. For this reason, in the view of increasing pressure from the enemy and to save soldiers’ lives, the Province Command issued a general “Order No.1” for all the troops active in the area to transfer into underground activity. The commanders’ responsibility was to hide the weaponry and the soldiers in the area, whilst still remaining in contact with them. The area network was to gain control over the “wild” units, at all cost, in order to execute the order. The order, broadly distributed in the area, had a chance to reach most of the partisans. However, only a percentage of them obeyed it, as the reality turned out to be too cruel. It was easier to survive in the forest and defend oneself against chasing NKVD units than to put oneself at the mercy of an expanding network of NKVD-NKGB (Russ. Народный комиссариат государственной безопасности) informers which covered the Vilnius Region. Simultaneously, the conscription to the Red Army announced in the Borderlands forced many young people to hide. In September no more than 20% of those qualifying for conscription reported. This is how new units were created and their number grew due to increasing terror of the occupying forces. Young people who dodged military service or were suspected of underground activity were arrested, and even executed on site [in one week 100 people were executed in the Ashmyany Region].

“Wild” troops, usually under the command of inexperienced people, suffered heavy losses. In order to save those at greatest risk, the Province Command decided to change their former tactics once again. Underground activity and issuing false documents did not ensure safety anymore; too many people were escaping to the forest. To take control of this situation, Lt. Col. Kulikowski decided to create four partisan units, forming the so-called Civil Defense Vilnius Units.

aj Witold Paweł Szredzki noms de guerre “Sulima”, “Sum”, professional officer of the Polish Army, participated in the 1939 Defensive War. On 19 September he was taken captive by the Soviets; he then escaped and went to Hungary, and at the end of the year he returned to Lwów. In ZWZ (pol. Związek Walki Zbrojnej - Association of Armed Struggle)

Left: Lieut. Jerzy Łoziński nom de guerre "Jerzy", a counter-intelligence officer of the Home Army Vilnius Province, involved, in terms of organizational affairs, with a legal adviser, M. Głębocki nom de guerre “Cecylia” who was in charge of the counter-intelligence cell geared towards the Communist threat. He was arrested in June 1948 in a show trial and accused of, among other things, collaboration with the Germans. He received the death penalty and was murdered in 1949.


The first unit was going to be under the command of Cavalry Captain Władysław Kitkowski nom(s) de guerre "Grom", "Orlicz", a former Commander of the Province Command Reconnaissance Unit. The Commander of the second unit was Lieut. Witold Turonek nom(s) de guerre “Tur”, “Tumry”, the Commander of the 12th Home Army Brigade. The third, created and based on the active unit, was under the command of 2nd Lt. Witold Zyndram-Kościałkowski nom de guerre "Fakir". The Commander of the fourth was Officer Cadet Jan Lisowski nom de guerre "Korsarz".

The Civil Units were based on experienced partisan commanders. Their aim was to gain control over “wild” partisans in order to create large units which would be able to engage in battle with NKVD units pacifying the area.

It was intended to minimize losses and gain control over the area ; however, it was a short-term solution. The NKVD organized numerous manhunts, using information gathered as a result of previous arrests. Many battles and skirmishes took place, which usually resulted in the survival of only some of the units.

Smuggling soldiers into safer areas, e.g. the Białystok Region could be a solution; there were many more forests there than in the Vilnius Region and the region was less infiltrated by the NKVD. In January 1945, the Vilnius Province Command attempted to lead 2 large [around 150 people each] Vilnius Civil Defense units out to the West, under the command of Lieut. “Tumry” and Lieut. “Orlicz”. While it is true that a unit, which was a part of the Civil Defence units, under the command of Olgierd Wirgias nom de guerre "Wrzos" paved the way, in the meantime two parent units were defeated on 2 February 1945 in Rowiny [25 km east from Nowogródek]. Just before daybreak, a battle against overwhelming NKVD forces which were surrounding the village took place. Few partisans survived: 82 were killed, 25 captured, the others dispersed in the area. Both commanders survived, together with other soldiers and after many problems, were finally smuggled into central Poland. Only Lieut. Hieronim Piotrowski nom de guerre “Jur”, together with a few other soldiers, crossed the border by force of arms.

Two days after the defeat in Rowiny, on 4 February 1945, the NKVD manhunt partially defeated the third Civil Defense unit under the command of “Fakir”, who died in the battlefield. On 23 February, the consistently tracked unit, under the new command of Włodzimierz Mikuć nom de guerre "Jarema" was completely defeated in Ławże village [Turgiele district]. In view of the defeats suffered by Polish partisans and having lost contact with the Command, the commander of the fourth unit, Lieut. Lisowski “Korsarz” decided to surrender to the Soviets. Some of them, however, despite the guarantees given by the Soviets, were arrested, and some of them managed to evacuate to central Poland.

Also, the Home Army area network was geared towards the protection of Polish people, e.g. OD-23, that is, the Ośrodek Dywersyjny [Sabotage Centre] Ingalina, protected people who participated in underground activity. Not only were their own soldiers protected, but also stray partisans or escapees; they were taken into hide-outs and given documents. If necessary, sabotage patrols were organized, and they dealt with particularly annoying informers.

In the meantime, the Command suffered another wave of arrests. On 8 January 1945, the NKGB arrested, as a result of a trap, the Province Commander Lt. Col. Julian Kuligowski nom de guerre “Ryngraf”. Other members of the Province Command were arrested soon after.

Simultaneously, the Vilnius NKVD, taking advantage of the turmoil caused by the changed international situation, suggested talks. Their aim was the actual dissolution of the Home Army, revealing its members and ending all forms of activity. Instead, the Soviets offered them safe return to Poland. However, the talks with the NKVD did not bring any effects. The Polish side did not trust the Soviets who had broken all their promises in the past. On 25 May 1945, another Province Commander, Maj. Stanisław Heilman "Wileńczyk” was arrested. The Vilnius Province Command was taken over by Maj. Antoni Olechnowicz nom de guerre "Pohorecki". He remained in contact with the Province until it ceased to exist. The new Commander immediately continued to prepare the Province structures for evacuation into central Poland.

Maj. Stanisław Heilman nom de guerre "Wileńczyk", the Home Army Vilnius Province Commander from January to March 1945.

Left Maj. Stanisław Heilman nom de guerre "Wileńczyk", the Home Army Vilnius Province Commander from January to March 1945. He was intended by the Home Army General Staff for the Deputy Commander of the NIE organization. For this reason, he was the deputy of the Province Commander Lt. Col. Kulikowski, and in fact organized all the work of the Province. After “Ryngraf” was arrested, “Wileńczyk” took command of the Province for three months, until he himself was arrested. He was a good organizer and was aware of the Soviets’ attitude to the Polish underground. He started to prepare the Province organizations for evacuation into central Poland.

Right: Maj. "Wileńczyk". The photo was taken in NKVD headquarters in Ofiarna Street in Vilnus after his arrest in April 1945. He was sentenced by the Soviet military tribunal to 25 years’ imprisonment. He died in the Soviet Gulag system ...

Maj. "Wileńczyk". The photo was taken in NKVD headquarters in Ofiarna Street in Vilnus after his arrest in April 1945.

Continue to Part 2



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