"THE LAST SOLDIER OF SOVEREIGN POLAND - SERGEANT JÓZEF FRANCZAK, nom de guerre 'LALEK' (1918-1963)"
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In 1959, Danuta Mazur gave birth to his son. Naturally, she couldn’t say who the father was. Her family helped her find a perfect candidate for a “dad”. She wouldn't reveal who the real father was, but somehow, the officers and agents of the Secret police deduced who it was anyhow. They would come over and give the boy chocolates, and ask him about this gentleman with a nice hairdo. They boy did not know his real father, because “Lalek” would see his son only from a distance, and would kiss him only when the child was asleep. Franczak held his son in his arms only once, when the little tike was only one month old.
The boy met his father only once, and this is how he remembers it: - “It was time to harvest the hops, and as I ran past a pile of hops I saw someone’s hand. I ran to my mother screaming that there is a man buried in the pile. Then, I saw him walking back to the forest” - Do you remember his face? I asked – “Not really, it’s blurred."
“The secret police took me to the station a number of times, and threatened me that they'll murder me, if I didn’t sell Józef out” - says Danuta Mazur, and then she goes on to explain what the investigation looked like. The recollections of Danuta, “Lolek’s” friends, and his loved ones, fill the gaps in the materials remaining at the Institute of National Remembrance. These recollections are in stark contrast with the annotations made by the secret police agents. The Section III of County Office for Public Security (Pol. Abbr. PUBP) in Lublin, formally opened the Franczak’s case on October 16, 1951. The UB assigned it the code-name “Pożar”, or “Fire” in English. At the outset, everything was going badly for them. The “Resort” used its grid of agents to locate him, but before one managed to locate him, Franczak would appear in front of that person out of nowhere. Like, when he visited Wiktoria Olszewska’s uncle in broad daylight, pulled her uncle aside and they spoke for about 10 minutes. - “My uncle broke out in a cold sweat” - Olszewska remembers - “’Lalek’ didn’t want to hurt him, but said that if my uncle could survive one day being in a hide out, just like Franczak had for all these years, then he would understand what kind of hell he is going through. It worked.”
At times, “Lalek” would find out that a certain drunk had threatened to reveal his whereabouts. The next day, this person would find a note at his doorstep, saying that he should keep his mouth shut, or else, he will die. It was enough. At some other time, “Lalek” would put a gun to the abdomen of whoever would talk too much. One time, he even met with one of the secret police informers disguising himself as his UB handler. The informer soon realized that something was wrong, because Franczak gave the informer money shortly after questioning him. This isn’t the way the UB conducted its business, and thus, the provocation failed. “Lalek” quickly put a gun to the informer’s abdomen and told him that this was his last warning.
He didn’t always resort to violence to get his way. He did not have to. He hid successfully for so long, because he was well respected in the area. - “He would never unnecessarily endanger anyone’s life” - say his supporters, who have not revealed their identities; not even today. - "There were times when he didn't eat for a whole day. At times, he almost froze to death in Winter, but he wouldn't knock on peoples’ doors for help. Instead, he would help them as much as he could. He enjoyed great authority, was charismatic, and was admired for his strong character. At times, he seemed as though he knew what the Communist government’s plans were way ahead of time. Even the full-time secret policemen had begun to respect him.”
In one of the reports, an SB (Pol. Abbr. Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa – Office of Security, Polish secret Police) officer admits that for a number of years the authorities didn’t receive any information about “Lalek”. Moreover, he was always well informed about arrivals of the People’s Militia in the area long before they reached their destination. This is how he probably found out, in the early 60s, that a couple in Wygnanowice disguising themselves as photographers, were in fact, a couple of secret agents. From what Slawomir Poleszek from the Lublin IPN branch found out, is that “Lalek’s” accomplices, and a grid of his “safe keepers” who risked their lives to keep him safe, was as large as 200 people. These were his classmates, friends of his family, and other people who had anti-communist attitudes. It is now known, that among them were priests, teachers and local intelligentsia. Some suspect, that among them were also militiamen, members of the Communist Polish United Worker’s Party (abbr. PZPR) and soldiers from the other side of the fence.
During summer, Franczak would mostly hide in the grass fields, or grain crops. He slept in a quarry near Wygnanowice. In winter, he profited from his friends’ hospitality, and slept either in their apartments, or in the barn. In return, he helped around the house. He would paint someone’s house, build a birdhouse, or fix some machinery...
In the beginning, the secret police could deploy only a few dozen of local officers, some Motorized Reserves of the People’s Militia (abbr. ZOMO), and few military units to fight the well organized grid of “Lalek’s” anti-communist supporters. In December of 1960, the investigation sped up. The case rose in its importance to the Communist government, and from its initial designation as “Agenturalno-Poszukiwawcza” (Eng. “Agent-Search”), graduated into a full-blown “Rozpracowanie Operacyjne” (Eng. “Operational Case”). This meant bringing in dozens of secret agents, the use of the newest eavesdropping devices, and the implementation of sophisticated psychological games.
THE NEPHEW'S BETRAYAL
In the beginning they were just eavesdropping; they planted a bug in a house that belonged to his sister, Czeslawa Kaprzak, but the microphone broke after few weeks. The second listening device was installed in Celina Mazur’s house, his other sister. Here, after a week, Celina’s son dug out a cable in their backyard. The Militia had to remove the wire, explaining that it was a leftover from the war. Initially, the Headquarters in Warsaw didn’t like the idea of tapping Celina’s house. They changed their minds when, in 1960, they realized that constant observation would not produce any results. Only then, they agreed to plant three such devices in her house. As a result, they learned that from time to time, a mysterious man visited her house. But, it wasn’t enough. The direct surveillance of other family members didn’t yield any positive results either. One of the observation points had to be taken down, because the agents got very cold in winter. Others didn’t notice anyone, or anything unusual either, despite working for few weeks at a time.
Yet, fear fell upon the inhabitants of the places that were under the surveillance. Some neighbors caught the spying secret policemen while they were reporting to their headquarters over the radio. At times, they would see them sitting outside and listening thru the window.
In autumn 1960, the SB-men finally saw a glimmer of hope. The father-in-law of one of his sisters committed suicide, because he could no longer stand the tensions in the family because of Franczak’s situation. “In order to create a severe aversion to the ‘bandit’ and his sister”, the SB functionaries conducted a number of “interviews”. In April of 1962, an upset department chief of the III SB Section, Major Stanisław Lipiec wrote in his report: “these people are a problem for us, because they are impossible to break.”
The process of “inviting” “Lalek’s” friends for questioning, also failed. Within a few days of April 1963, in groups of four, sixty-two people were "invited" to come to the headquarters of the People’s Militia in Lublin. What the SB had hoped for, was that in order to coordinate their stories, these people would talk to each other in the waiting room. To the SB’s dismay, the microphones installed in the waiting room, didn’t record anything of value. While several hundred people were under constant investigation in Franczak’s case, it was all to no avail.
In April 1963, the nephew of Danuta Mazur’s father, Stanisław Mazur got his" invitation" to come in for a questioning as well. An SB-man asked him to collaborate, and in return, assured him full discretion and money - he didn’t refuse. In time, he even took some initiative in his work for the “bezpieka”. Stanisław Mazur is registered in the SB files as TW (Pol. abbr. "Tajny Wspolpracownik" - Secret Collaborator; plainly said, a snitch) code-name “Michał” (Eng. Michael).
Meanwhile, the beginning of the 60s was a very difficult time for “Lalek”. His friends felt that living in concealment for such a long time must have affected his mental well-being. He was depressed and tired, and thus, less careful. He supposedly told Danuta that he couldn't take it anymore. According to Czesława Kasprzak, however, - “He was in great shape. He said that the situation around the world is tense, and the bubble is ready to burst. He claimed, that their lives will soon change, and that a war is inevitable. He also said that, if he wished, he could have a thousand of armed men at a ready to fight at any time along his side” - Czesława says. In 1963 I ask surprised? - “Yeah! That's right! Even back then.”
“I dreamed about our son that night” - says Danuta Mazur, remembering the day that Józef died. When she says it, she cannot stop the tears from pouring down her cheeks. - “I dreamed that our son, Marek was drowning, but Józef was not there. I could always count on him, but then, in that dream, he did not help me.”
On October 21, 1963, thirty-five militiamen from the Motorized Reserves of the People’s Militia (abbr. ZOMO), and SB were in place, and ready. They only waited for a prearranged signal from “Michael”. He thoroughly informed them what “Lalek” was doing. And “Lalek? He was in Majdan Kozic Górnych, on the farm that belonged to his friends, Jan Bec and Wacław Bec.
FIREFIGHT LIKE AT THE FRONT
We know the exact description of the shooting from the report of Lieutenant Ludwik Taracha, who worked on Franczak’s case for years. The two men saw each other for a few seconds at some point in the past. Taracha was very thorough. While working on this case, he even spent several months in the area where “Lalek” would hide. They accidentally met somewhere on a forest glade once before. They passed each other the way some random strangers would. - “Józef knew who this guy was. He kept his finger on a trigger, and so probably did the other” - Danuta Mazur says. "But the shooting did not happen. God only knows who hesitated.”
Around 2:30 PM, on October 21, 1963, the entire village was surrounded. “Lalek” stumbled upon militiamen while leaving the barn. - “He retreated to the barn, and quickly returned carrying a rake on his shoulder. He pretended to be a farmhand” - says Olszewska.
“The body shape and his behavior told me that it was Franczak” - Taracha will later say. – “The [police] dog handler tried to stop Franczak, but he started to run into the barn. He came out on the other side two minutes later and started shooting.”
This was the end. Cornered, Franczak fought till the end. And, although a number of militiamen were aiming and shooting in his direction, he fired back while dodging bullets around the village.
- “It was like as if it was at the front. The bullets were flying thru the air, and the [Communist] military would stop farmers coming back from the fields, and ordered them to lay on the ground. I worried for my cows; I did not know what was going on” - says Janina Wilkołek, who was 14 years old then. - “Franczak’s grenades didn’t explode, and his gun jammed every so often” - says Anna Kasprzak, Wilkołek’s neighbor. - “We were terrified, but he [Franczak] wasn’t” - adds Wiktoria Olszewska.
On the table in Czeslawa’s apartment, her brother’s autopsy protocol is laying on the table. The traces of bullets that found their target are marked on the outline of his body.
Franczak got a round [of bullets] in his chest, abdomen and a leg. There was no way he could survive.
Czesława Kasprzak - “Only if he had reached the forest, then he perhaps could…”
Danuta Mazur - “His immediate family sold him out.”
Anna Kasprzak - “He didn’t have a chance.”
THE SECRET POLICE TOOK THE HEAD AWAY
There is a ruined hut in the place where he was mortally wounded. Several meters further away, there is a new house of Mr. and Mrs. Olszewski. Great grandchildren of Franczak’s classmates are playing in the kitchen. The older one is afraid of the stinging nettles around the ruins, and won’t go with her auntie to see where the tragedy took place. Franczak’s collaborators were very lucky; well, they all were, except for Kazimierz Mazur and Wacław Beć. Both ended up in prison for five and three years, respectively.
Józef ’s and Danuta’s son, Marek, found out who was his father was when he turned ten: - “A Communist Party zaelot taught history in my school, and when I said that the Russians attacked Poland on September 17, 1939, he nearly beat me up. He didn’t have to ask about my father; he knew everything.” - remembers Marek.
When Marek was a teenager, and just like any teenage boy, began to chase after girls in the neighboring villages, some people would stop him and talk about his father. These were very special meetings.
Marek Franczak was able to use his father’s last name as his own after the court ruled in 1992 that it was finally ok to do so.
“Lalek’s” tomb is at the cemetery in Piaski. The last partisan of sovereign Poland lies buried without his head. The head was chopped off in the dissecting room immediately after the autopsy, and has never been returned to his family.
“Where is my Józef?” - Danuta asks quietly.
Written by Michał Wójcik & Sławomir Poleszak (Institute of National Remembrance, IPN Lublin)
Translated by Beata Ziobro
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