It was the second half of 1946 - the first year of the on-going fight with the Communists. Not surprisingly, the headquarters of the loathed PUBP in Włodawa was getting the attention of “Jastrząb” for months. It was the source of fear and permanent threat to his unit, and hundreds of inhabitants of the region who collaborated with him.
It was the dispatch centre for search-and-destroy anti-partisan operations, and an information centre for the Communist agents. It was under complete control of the Soviet NKVD “advisor”, major Alexeyev. The compound also housed a detention centre, where initial interrogations (often very brutal) took place.
The rumours about beatings, and tortures, forcing prisoners to collaboration, gave the multi-story building on Piłsudski Avenue, a dreadful reputation.
The Włodawian PUBP was responsible for killing several dozen individuals during so-called ‘pacification operations’, hunted for resistance members, then delivered and imprisoned hundreds of members of the democratic resistance to the district Voivodeship headquarters, the Wojewódzki Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (abbr. WUBP) in Lublin. The list of grievances was so long that it was only a matter of time before “Jastrząb” and his men will make their move.
Later, both teams re-joined, and entered the town of Cytów to disarm the local People’s Militia station. At that time the telephone wires were cut. When the formation reached the Chełm –Włodawa road , they managed to stop a military car carrying officers of the Border Guard Forces (abbr. WOP – Wojska Ochrony Pogranicza - Border Defence Troops) from Chełm. The officers were not disarmed or harmed, but the tires of their vehicle were punctured with a few machine-gun bursts.
At the outskirts of Włodawa, “Jastrząb “gave his order to stop. During the assembly at the edge of the forest, he officially announced the main task, which was an assault on the PUBP in Włodawa to liberate the detainees. On Tuesday evening, on the 22nd of October 1946, around 6 p.m., three cars with partisans entered the town. They stopped for a moment at a very close distance to the town’s market square. Albin Bojczuk “Lew”, Zdzisław Pogonowski “Szakal” and two other partisans were sent to take control over the post office, and cut off communications. While on the main square, Jastrząb, who was sitting in the first vehicle, spotted Leon Zubiak walking in his direction - a Polish secret policeman. He was disarmed, pulled into the car and executed under the cover of noise of the roaring car engines (the primary reason for his liquidation was the fact, that an unsent letter was found in his pocket, that described “Jastrząb” and “Żelazny” as bandits. Zubiak wrote, that he will kill their entire family, including their five-year old brother, Józef).
They bravely approached the secret police headquarters in Włodawa; as bravely as they have done it earlier in the case of the Regional Command of the People’s Militia post - under the cover of a lot of noise. All partisans were in their military uniforms and “Jastrząb” led the assault group. He confidently stepped into the guard post, with a canteen situated behind it. What took place in the span of the next few minutes is described in “Żelazny’s” memoirs:
“The guard stops them with a question – ‘Stop, who goes there?’ With out paying any attention to the question, “Jastrząb” approaches the sentry and says - ‘Attention, you moron! Don’t you see that we are from Chełm? After uttering these words to the dumbfounded guard, he calmly heads towards the guardhouse. His men follow him, and silently disarm the surprised guard. There was a canteen in the guardhouse. It was dinnertime, and at the table were sitting about 20 UB-men. While entering “Jastrząb” greets them with the words ‘Greetings!’"
The secret policemen replied to his greeting, and started to eat again, but the surprise was over, as “Jastrząb” was recognized by one of the UB-men, who just a few months earlier was captured by the partisans, but was later released. Not sure about what was going on, the UB-men began to hesitantly get up. A “hands up” command stopped them for a moment. At that particular moment, an “unofficial employee” of the Security Office” entered from the neighbouring room. In the official secret police reports, he was described as Volodymyr Fedoshchenko, alias “Chumak” - the propaganda officer of the 1st Regional Ukrainian Nationalists’ UON Organisation [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) (Ukrainian: Організація Українських Націоналістів, Orhanizatsiya Ukrayins’kykh Natsionalistiv or ОУН] , who deserted earlier, and afterwards worked for the Polish secret police. Chumak launched against one of the partisans walking behind “Jastrząb” (His real name is unknown, but his nom de guerre was “Śmigły“) and snatched his gun. He didn’t have enough time to use it, as “Jastrząb” shot him. Unfortunately, “Śmigły“ was killed by the UB functionary Władysław Hulewski, who was retreating from the room. A few moments later, Hulewski was shot dead as well. During the subsequent exchange of fire, another secret policeman, Michał Czerkan was killed as well, while several others were wounded; among the wounded was the “Sovetnik” (Rus. советник - “advisor), major Alexeyev.
By stalling the remaining UB-men in the canteen with machine gun fire, the assault team headed towards the secret police headquarters, which at that point opened up on the attacking partisans. On the upper floor, the commandant of the PUBP, captain Mikołaj Oleksa barricaded himself, along with the NKVD advisor Major Alexeyev and eight other secret policemen. Via phone, they informed the commanding officer of the Polish Communist People’s Army 49th Infantry Regiment, Captain Wersocki, about the attack, and requested support. Despite heavy gun fire from the upper floors, the partisans managed to enter the building, laid their explosives, and detonated them. The explosion caused the staircase to collapse, making an assault on the upper floors and taking control of other parts of the building impossible. In this situation, “Jastrząb’s” men started to release inmates, imprisoned in the cellars of the building. Jan Jarmuł, nom de guerre “Wąż”, reminisced:
"[…] We blew up the doors, but we also took down the stairs, and we were not able to get there (on the upper floor of the Polish secret police building). 'Don’t worry' - said “Jastrząb” - Now we’ll start releasing [the prisoners] … you were locked up here, so you know the location of these cells". As long as I was shouting at the imprisoned men: get back beneath the street, lay down under the window from the street-side, as we will blowing up the doors with grenades, it was OK; but where the women were kept, there was shouting, screaming, and yelling […] We got grenades, but these locks, were of the box type from the Tsarist times, all these damned locks were on the outer side. And Leon said - "You know how we will open them? With grenades!" That is why I was shouting at people in the cells to get back. Leon was on one side of the corridor, and I was on the other one. We took the pins out, and [put] the grenades on these huge lock boxes. As the grenade went off, the spring ‘jumped’ the locks, so doors opened themselves ... When the women jumped out… oh, how they have been crying [from joy]! How they had kissed us!"
Above: Polish secret police County Office for Public Security (abr. PUBP - Powiatowy Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego) headquarters in Włodawa. This photo was taken in 1980', when it served as the headquarters of the dreaded successor of the UB, the Służba Bezpieczeństwa (abr. SB), and People's Militia (abr. MO - Milicja Obywatelska).
In one of the reports prepared by the secret policemen after the assault, it was concluded that: “those released (by the bandits) have been led to the school building (presently Tadeusz Kościuszko – Memorial Secondary School), where they were kissing each other, and later on, in small groups, they directed them to previously agreed locations. After showing the detainees the escape routes, the bandits and their cars began, at a slow pace, to leave the town area - the military reinforcements didn’t arrive, (the confrontation lasted, ‘till the bandits left the PUBP HQ - approximately one hour and thirty minutes)."
At least after dozens of minutes after the partisans left Włodawa, the first soldiers of the 49th Regiment began to arrive. But, as the report addressed to the Ministry of the Public Security and written by the commander of the Voivodeship Office for Public Security in Lublin, Franciszek Piątkowski, concluded: "after thirty minutes, the soldiers returned, but didn’t show any particular interest in the fate of the barricaded secret policemen in the empty building". In the same report, the head of the WUBP confirms (it is corroborated by one of the participants in the assault, Stanisław Pakuła, nom de guerre ”Krzewina”), that indeed, the soldiers shot a few rounds towards the partisans, but after being approached by “Żelazny” and listening to his speech, when he said, “Poles!!! Don’t shoot! We came to free our countrymen” they ceased firing and allowed the partisans to withdraw from Włodawa in peace. It is apparent, that these particular soldiers, who were stationed in the pre-war garrison nearby, were not keen to rescue the UB-eks (a derogatory name used to describe Polish secret policemen), as it took them as long as 1.5 hour to reach a cemetery at the crossroads of Lubelska Street with Pilsudski Avenue. We should not be surprised - as Leopold Pytko, the 49th Infantry Regiment soldier, who in a dissertation published in 1975 under the title “History of the 49th Infantry Regiment 1945-1947”, courageously assessed the actions of “Jastrząb’s” by stating: “The assault on Włodawa is a typical example of very detailed and smart planning. It surprised both the Włodawian security services, and the regiment’s soldiers alike."
As a result of this effective attack on the PUBP in Włodawa, which incidentally, was the last large-scale operation of this type against the UB in the entire country, approximately 70 people were freed. Unfortunately, the partisans suffered a few losses as well. An unknown and unidentified [Pol. abr. NN - Nieznany i Niezidentifikowany] to this day partisan “„Śmigły” was shot dead, and so was Wacław Kondracki, nom de guerre “Sybirak”. Kondracki died during the initial stages of the operation against the KPMO (Pol. abbr. County Office of the People’s Militia - Komenda Powiatowa Milicji Obywatelskiej) station in Włodawa. Despite the fact that a few of the partisans were lightly wounded, it didn’t stop them from disarming 10 soldiers from the 49th Regiment, with whom they came in contact with while retreating towards the village of Kołacze. After a brief speech, the partisans took their ammunition, but allowed them to keep their weapons, and subsequently released them.
Unfortunately, the fate of the main organisers, and leaders of this spectacular assault, was tragic. On January 3, 1947, during an assault on the propaganda- security garrison of the “People’s” Polish Army in Siemień, Leon Taraszkiewicz “Jastrząb”, was fatally wounded. The soldiers of the1st Region Radzyn Podlaski WiN unit buried him secretly at the cemetery in Siemień. On June 30, 1991, this legendary soldier was reburied once again, but this time, with full military honours.
Edward Taraszkiewicz “Żelazny”, who assumed command of the unit after his brother was killed, continued his lonely fight against the Communist regime until 1951. A dedicated unit, code name “W”, consisting of four infantry battalions, was established within the Internal Security Corps – its mission was to hunt for "Żelazny”. As the result of a large-scale operation that lasted several months, the hidden location of “Żelazny” and his three men, was compromised in Zbereż near the Bug River (in Włodawa county). On October 6, 1951, hundreds of soldiers surrounded the buildings in which the partisans hid. While piercing through the encirclement, they managed to push through its two rings, and even commandeered a car. But, as they were making it through, they came in contact with the headquarters of the on-going operation against them. They managed to kill one more secret policemen, and wounded several soldiers of the Internal Security Corps, but it was to be the last battle of Edward Taraszkiewicz "Żelazny". Along with one of his soldiers, Stanisław Torbicz, nom de guerre “Kazik", he was killed in action.
For half a century, while toiling with their pens, and describing these extraordinary men as common criminals and pathological murders, the Communist propagandists did their best to erase and degrade their legacy. It ought to be emphasized, that not only were the bodies of these dead soldiers profaned, and buried in unknown locations, but the authorities refused their families the right to express their grief, and to commemorate their loved ones. At last, after 1989, the truth about these last anti-Communist heroes began to gradually emerge. Even in the now “free” Poland, it took almost 20 years to commemorate them in the way they deserved - in the form of a beautiful monument that today overlooks the most fitting spot of Włodawa. The final fulfillment of long-overdue justice and tribute to these men, took place at the end of 2009, when the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, awarded both brothers, “Żelazny” and “Jastrząb” - post mortem, with the Grand Crosses of the Order of Polonia Restituta , one of Poland’s highest decorations for valour in the face of the enemy. How tragically fitting it is today, that on April 10, 2010, both brothers were also given an opportunity to thank Mr. President “in person” …
Written by Grzegorz Makus
About the author: Grzegorz Makus is a Polish historian, and author of Poland's most informative website dedicated to the history of the Doomed Soldiers, the "Żołnierze Wyklęci - Zapomniani Bohaterowie"
Translated by Maksymilian Fojtuch, with additional editing by Jan Czarniecki.
 The Order of Polonia Restituta (Polish: Order Odrodzenia Polski, English: Order of Rebirth of Poland) is one of Poland's highest decorations. The Order can be conferred for outstanding achievements in the fields of education, science, sport, culture, art, economics, defense of the country, social work, civil service, or for furthering good relations between countries. It was established on February 4, 1921 and can be awarded to both civilians and soldiers, as well as to foreigners. More about the Order of "Polonia Restituta" here ...
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