Joseph Batory and Jozef Bryk: Two Cursed Soldiers
Written by Donna B. Gawell
Published July 5, 2019
"My time is near. When they will be leading me out of my cell to die, my last words to my friends will be: I am happy that I will be murdered as a Catholic for my faith, as a Pole for my country, and as a human being [I will die] for justice and truth […] My last farewell will be only to you [my wife]. I believe that the Holy Mother will take my soul […] and I will continue to serve Her and report to Her about the tragedy of the Polish Nation - murdered by one [nation] and abandoned by the others".”
(Final words of Lieutenant Colonel Lukasz Cieplinski, one of seven “cursed soldiers” and a WiN officer in a letter smuggled out of prison to his wife, Jadwiga.)
The stories of Jozef Batory and Jozef Bryk seemed destined to be buried and forgotten behind the Iron Curtain. They were only recently brought to light after 1990 when the country gained its freedom. Until that time, it wasn’t considered safe to circulate information and stories of soldiers from the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and WiN (Poland’s anti-communist Freedom and Independence Organization.)
Batory and Bryk’s backgrounds and responsibilities during World War II were very different, but their tragic deaths united them. Both men sacrificed their lives in the fight for Poland’s freedom during and after the Second World War.
Jozef Batory was born on February 20, 1914, in Werynia, Poland. Like many of his peers, he joined the Polish resistance forces at the beginning of WWII during the Polish September campaign in 1939. In the early 1940s, Jozef became commandant of the Kolbuszowa district of the AK Home Army.
During the Nazi occupation, Jozef and many other officers in the AK covertly received a high level of military training in the underground schools throughout Poland. Instruction at the high school and university level was banned, but these secret schools taught the officers history, geography, and economics.
The underground schools were a phenomenon seen only in Poland. There were more than three hundred lecturers and 3,500 students at the Warsaw University alone. Lectures, seminars, and exams in law, social sciences, humanities, medicine, theology, mathematics, and biological studies were kept alive throughout occupied Poland. Most of these schools functioned successfully until the end of the war.
Jozef Batory’s most frequently used AK codename was Argust, which means “beautiful at birth,” but he was also known as Orkan (the name of a Polish poet) and Wojtek. Every partisan had a code name, but only a handful of soldiers knew each other’s to protect the identity and safety of their cell or unit. Most officers had at least three names and sometimes up to ten.
After WWII ended in 1945, trustworthy AK soldiers wanted to continue to fight for Poland’s freedom. These men and women were valued for their training and dedication and formed the anti-Communist organization “Freedom and Independence.” Also known as WiN (Wolność i Niezawisłość), it was established on September 2, 1945, in Warsaw by the leadership of the disbanded Home Army. Jozef Batory became a leading member of WiN.
WiN refused to yield to the Polish and Soviet communists who occupied Poland in 1944. In this atmosphere of prevailing communist terror, a need emerged for a purely political organization with an independent press. False documents were also necessary to provide new identities for the underground soldiers who wanted to leave the forests and return to civilian life.
Between 1945-1947, WiN was the largest democratic resistance organization operating underground in Poland. It is estimated 20,000 to 30,000 members were in its ranks. While it was not an official government organization, it provided valuable reports and exchanged correspondence with the Polish Government in Exile via couriers. WiN’s charter called for an open democratic electoral process and shifted its activities to the use of propaganda and infiltration of communist governmental groups and their intelligence organizations.
It was soon evident the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, and its Polish conspirators working with the Ministry of Public Security had installed a sophisticated network of agents throughout the entire country. When Poland found itself solidly under the Soviet sphere of influence, the possibility of implementing its goals was non-existent at best.
The arrest of the leadership of WiN was preceded by several successful secret police operations in the Rzeszow Area in late September 1947. The Communist Polish secret police, known as the UB, apprehended Jozef Batory. He and nine others spent three years in prison before being presented to the courts.
The Soviet NKVD directly inflicted unspeakable torture to these men. Cieplinski’s legs and hands were broken, and he had to be carried on a blanket by his fellow inmates for meals. In prison, the persecution was described by a captured WiN partisan in a book “The Dialectics of Pain.”
“I even sat on an electric chair with some sort of an apparatus. They attached clamps to my hand and ear. Once they turned it on, blood flowed from every crevice in my body … They also pumped water into me. They suspended me upside down from a beam attached to the ceiling. They gagged my mouth and dunked my face in a bucket full of water. And I would freeze. They told me only to give them a sign that I had hidden weapons. When I did, they freed me and told me to sign my confession. I’d tear them up. So they continued to torture me. They poured kerosene into my brother’s bucket [before they dunked his head in. In comparison to that, the beating all over one’s body was pleasure.”
Frank Batory, Jozef’s younger brother, was a history student at the Catholic University in Lublin. He witnessed the ten WiN officers’ court proceedings which began on October 5, 1950 and stated they were blatantly corrupt and contrived.
Frank reported his brother, Jozef Batory and nine former AK officers, also members of WiN, were brought to court. Russian officers and UB functionaries sat next to family members of the accused to keep them from speaking but were also there to determine the level of obedience of any Polish communists who were present in the courtroom.
This was a Soviet military court, and the accused were not allowed to testify or defend themselves. They could only say “yes” and admit to the Soviets’ accusations. If a prisoner attempted to defend himself, the judge would shout and stop the accused from testifying. The interrogators asked why they worked for WiN and also what they would like to do for the benefit of communist Poland. It went on like this for nine days, and the accused were not allowed to present witnesses on their behalf.
Newspaper articles carried stories that the accused men and women were “Traitors, spies and American servants [who] will be prosecuted.”
On October 14, 1950, the judged delivered a guilty verdict for all the accused. Even the counselor must have sensed the injustice and asked the court to be merciful on them. Seven of the men received a death sentence, but Captain Ludwik Kubik was given life in prison. The two women, Janina Czarncka, a government worker from Belgium and Zofia Milowska, an ambassador from America to Poland, received prison sentences. The brother of one of the accused men said to Frank Batory about the trial: “If I didn’t see and hear this personally, I would never believe that something like this could happen.”
The men were moved to the Mokotow Prison where they spent the next 137 days awaiting their execution. Appeals for clemency to Boleslaw Bierut, the communist president of Poland, went unanswered. Cieplinski understood his fate and swallowed a small portrait of the Virgin Mary which he always wore around his neck in hopes it would someday identify his body.
During their three years in prison, none of the accused begged or asked for mercy despite the torture. These loyal supporters of a free Poland took their AK oath seriously, without doubt or reservation. God, honor, and country were their highest goals.
On March 1, 1951, the UB (Soviet-controlled Communist Polish secret police), executed the seven brave men with a single shot to the back of the head in Mokotow prison in Warsaw. They were shot one by one, at intervals of five to ten minutes apart, by the notorious Polish executioner Piotr Smietanski.
The executed were Lieutenant Colonel Łukasz Ciepliński (the president of the IV Main Board of WiN), Captain Józef Batory, Major Adam Lazarowicz, Major Mieczysław Kawalec, Captain Franciszek Błażej, Captain Józef Rzepa, and Lieutenant Karol Chmiel.
Above: The grave of Jozef Batory and August Batory
The Soviets didn’t inform the men’s families of when they were killed nor did they receive their belongings or bodies for burial. Frank Batory asked for Jozef’s body and was denied, and they wouldn’t tell him the location of his brother’s grave. Currently, the Polish government is attempting to locate the graves of these doomed soldiers and use DNA tests to determine their identity.
According to Frank Batory, who is a knowledgeable historian and lecturer, the sham trials and proceedings were intended as propaganda against WiN and to humiliate and discredit the proud legacy of the Home Army and WiN. The Soviets’ ultimate goal was to convince the people to think that socialism and communism was the best path for Poland.
Jozef Bryk is the author’s great uncle and also one of Poland’s “Cursed Soldiers.” He was born on April 27, 1910, in the small village of Niwiska in the province of Podkarpackie. He attended grammar school in the village and was a single man when the Second World War roared into Poland in early September 1939. Jozef was a farmer and also responsible for the care of his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters who had children.
The quaint, heavily forested village of Niwiska was the setting of one of the most unique and devastating Nazi building and research efforts during the war: Camp Heidelager. The Nazis knew the territories of Poland quite well as the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupied this region during the years of the three partitions and WWI. This remote wilderness area provided a perfect location for the Nazis to build the largest SS training camp outside of Germany. In 1941, most of the residents of Niwiska and the surrounding villages were evacuated to expand the camp. Nearby Pustkow, a former prison, was transformed into a brutal concentration and extermination camp. When the Allies bombed and destroyed much of Peenemunde in 1943, Hitler moved his research and launching facility for the V-1 and V-2 top-secret missile project to Blizna, an adjoining village.
During the war, Jozef and his family remained in Niwiska on their small farm and were forced laborers under the German occupation. They had to turn over their crops and livestock to the Reich but were allowed to grow a small number of vegetables for their own use.
Living under the watchful eyes of the SS must have been a terrifying experience for Jozef and his loved ones. The horror increased when the Germans began the test firing of the V1 and V2 missiles over their house. The launching pads were just a 15-minute walk southwest of Jozef’s home.
Like many men and women his age, Jozef became a partisan in the Armia Krajowa (AK) which was very active in espionage and sabotage in this heavily militarized zone. He divided his time between military activity in the forests and his home.
Details of his life as a partisan are sparse because of the danger the stories of war presented for the entire population after the war under Soviet rule. The only story his children knew was about a night when he returned to his home to rest after a harrowing experience fighting for the AK. Jozef knew the Nazis were pursuing him and hid in the home’s rafters to sleep. The Nazis came to his house to arrest him, and Jozef could hear the turmoil from his hiding place. The Germans didn’t find him, but terrifying moments such as this stayed with him for the next twelve years of his life.
Life for partisans like Jozef who lived in the forest was unimaginably difficult. The winters were the most severe as it was difficult to hide in barns because the Germans could follow the soldiers’ foot tracks. For this reason, they built bunkers in the forest, covered them with tree logs and sheets of tar so the moisture wouldn’t come inside, and would live under cover of snow for three to four months. Inside was a small well for water, and a metal bucket served as a toilet.
The partisans secured provisions for the winter: potatoes, macaroni, bread, and marinated deer meat. Cooking was accomplished using an alcohol-fueled stove. The villagers helped as much as they could with food, safe places to hide, and supplies. These locals were also the eyes and ears of the Home Army providing information on the Germans’ activities.
After the war ended, Jozef likely witnessed or heard about the local roundups and trials outside of the larger cities similar to the one in Warsaw’s Mokotow prison. The communists were actively pursuing former AK soldiers in his area and used the former bank in Kolbuszowa as a prison for locals who they suspected as members of WiN. The Soviets’ goal was to compromise the ideals shared by those partisans still seeking a free and independent Poland.
People didn’t know who to trust. During these terrible times, the frightened villagers must have been looking through their windows asking: “Are the people on the outskirts of our village the Communist People’s Army, the People’s Militia, or the ‘AK boys from the forest’?”
The Polish anti-communist underground had about 250,000 members, including approximately 40,000 soldiers who fought with weapons. They defended the rural population against robberies and persecutions of the NKVD, freed the innocent from prison, identified collaborators, and liquidated traitors.
Above: Jozef Bryk and Family
The People’s Militia didn’t have their own uniforms until 1947, and the members of the Communist People’s Militia looked just like the partisans. They both wore leftover uniforms and sometimes Nazi pants, as these were readily available. The WiN partisans who went to conduct military operations wore red and white armbands with a “MO” “Milicja Obywatelska” (People’s Militia) which confused the communists even more.
After the 1947 “amnesty,” WiN gradually lost contact with smaller partisan units remaining in the field. WiN was concerned about reestablishing contacts with the partisans fearing infiltration of the communist “Kontrpartyzantka.”
Jaroslaw Zarek, the Chairman of the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance), explained the situation of those WiN soldiers who continued the struggle for Poland’s freedom: “They died only because they were Polish. It was enough to have a Polish surname, to speak Polish, or to go to church in order to be arrested, investigated, and then sentenced to death by an ad hock three-member kangaroo court, which most of the time ruled in favor of a shooting, and then have all your assets seized. Values related to being Polish – the love of freedom, devotion to Western civilization, and to the Church – went against the Bolshevik ideology, and thus, deserved a death sentence.”
Without exception, the fate of all of these units was particularly tragic. Some of the partisans remained in the forests well into the 1950s. They were hunted down, devastated by betrayals of their closest comrades in arms, blackmailed through repressions of their families, and at times, betrayed by their own family members. The last branches fought into the late 1960s.
It was likely that Jozef Bryk found himself in similar tragic circumstances. If he would have been arrested and put on trial, his wife and children’s lives might also be at risk, and they would lose their small home and farm.
In 1955, Jozef took his own life after suffering from severe anxiety and fear of the Russians harming his family. He left behind a widow and three small children. The cause of death on his parish death records reads “involuntary suicide.” Perhaps the priest understood Jozef’s desperate situation because his body was buried in the church cemetery, a privilege not given to those who ended their own life.
WiN Soldiers Honored by Modern Day Poland
In 1992, the Warsaw Military court overturned the Communist’s Court’s 1950 ruling, and Jozef Batory and the other executed men were acquitted posthumously on all counts. The 1992 ruling stated that the executed WiN soldiers “Fought and Died for a Free and Sovereign Poland.” In 2011, the Polish parliament declared March 1 a “National Remembrance Day for Cursed Soldiers.”
Right: Jozef Batory monument in Rzeszow, Poland.
Although Jozef Bryk and Jozef Batory left no final words, Mr. Andrzej Kiszka of the Polish Anti-Nazi and Anti-Communist Resistance, left us with his words that speak so poignantly for both men:
“I am an old man. I am 85 years old. I finished only an elementary school. The rest is the school of hard knocks which taught me a lot. Love your God, because He will give you the strength to survive, and even love people. God is just. Love your church, because it has always been, and always will be your pillar of strength. In the underground, in the UB prisons, the priests were always with us (as they were also jailed). And love Poland, because you can’t live without her. We were raised by our parents who lived enslaved (by the communist tyranny) but cultivated (a free) Poland in their hearts. For her, we were dying, we were tortured, we were imprisoned, and degraded. Even though my heart is aching from sorrow, I don’t regret those 29 years that were taken away from me. I acted, as my honor as a Pole, and as a soldier dictated. I am proud of it.”
Written by Donna B. Gawell
About the Author: Donna Gawell is an American author and genealogist with a passion for Polish history and culture. Her upcoming historical novel, War and Resistance in the Wilderness, tells the struggles of ordinary Poles placed in an extraordinary war story set in Camp Heidelager, the largest SS training camp outside of Germany. The real events in this story might have been buried and lost during Poland’s decades behind the Iron Curtain, but Donna learned of them when she met her “long lost” Polish relatives in 2016. The tales of this tragedy and the villagers’ heroism inspired her to write this story.
Donna is also the author of Travel Back to Your Polish Roots, 2018 which helps Americans learn to research their Polish genealogy and hopefully find “lost cousins” and travel to Poland to meet them. She also published Poland Under Nazi Rule: 1939-1941, the recently declassified CIA report written by Thaddeus Chylinski, the American Vice-Consul in Warsaw from 1920-1941. Both books are available on Amazon.
Donna’s website (www.DonnaGawell.com) contains many articles on Polish and WWII history and traveling to Poland.
Batory, Frank, personal interview in Kolbuszowa, Poland, 2018, May.
Bryk Family interviews, 2016 and 2018
Kurtyka, Dr. Janusz , Ph.D., Freedom And Independence - Zrzeszenie "Wolność i Niezawisłość", WiN, A Historical Brief (translated from Polish) published in Warsaw, 2002 in accordance with the Greater Public Good Doctrine, and is part of the “Fundacia Pamietamy.” The primary goal of the Foundation "Pamietamy" is restoration of the proper social and historical place for the individuals who during the second half of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s, undertook armed resistance against the communist regime in Poland. Retrieved from www.DoomedSoldiers.com
Stucki, Dr. Bohdan, Life and Survival in Polish Partisan Units, National Armed Forces Historical Brief, 1982, retrieved from www.DoomedSoldiers.com
Kusmirek, Jan, Stolen Lives, Derwin Publishing, 2010.
Williamson, David G, The Polish Underground 1939-1947, Pen and Sword Military, 2012
Karski, Jan, Story of a Secret State, Houghton Mifflin, 1944