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Zolnierze Wykleci

"VE Day in Grajewo, Poland". (pol. "Pierwszy dzień zwycięstwa w Grajewie")

Victory in Europe Day In Poland ...

May 9th is universally recognized as the day of the victory over Nazism and the end of World War II. Yet, paradoxically, it was on this very day that the partisans from the Democratic Resistance units from Grajewo and Łomża, won their largest battle with the emerging forces of the Communist regime in Poland. On May 8 and 9th, 1945, two hundred-man unit under the command of Jan Tabortowski, nom de guerre "Bruzda" [1] took over the city of Grajewo and freed political prisoners held in Communist jails.

Major Jan Tabortowski, nom de guerre “Bruzda”. Post WW II photo.  

In January 1945, the Soviet Red Army occupied the greater parts of the Grajewo and Lomza area. The inhabitants of this area remembered well the period of the first Soviet Occupation, which they called "The First Soviet" [Pol. "pierwszy soviet"]. To this day, this period is vividly remembered as one of terror, tortures, executions, and deportations of Polish citizens into the depths of the Soviet Gulag System. Most of the inhabitants correctly anticipated that the Soviets would once again try to finish off what they began during their first occupation of this area.

The "First Soviet" Occupation lasted from September 1939 until June 1941. Unfortunately, the very first visible moves of the Soviets and Polish Communists, who were solidifying their reign over Poland, confirmed these worries. The jails were once again full of political prisoners and resistance members who at first fought the Soviet, and then the Nazi occupiers.

The Soviet entry into the area of Bialystok (where the cities of Grajewo and Lomza are located) also coincided with an order issued by General Leopold Okulicki "Niedzwiadek" to disband the Home Army. The commanding officer of the Bialystok District of the Home Army, Wladyslaw Liniarski, nom de guerre "Mscislaw" refused to carry it out. He issued an order to continue conspiratorial activities under new name of Armia Krajowa Obywatelska [abbr. AKO - Eng., Citizen's Home Army].


Above: Major Jan Tabortowski, nom de guerre “Bruzda”. Post WW II photo.

When spring arrived, the partisan units and their self-defense patrols in the Bialystok Voivodeship (Eng., county) began activities aiming at paralyzing the newly formed Communist government and terror organizations. They disarmed the MO [Pol. Milicja Obywatelska - Eng., People's (Communist) Militia] stations, Communist administrative offices in the villages [Pol. zarzady gminne]; and liquidated militia, UB [Pol., Urzad Bezpieczenstwa - Eng., Office of Security] functionaries, and their collaborators. They also fought to restore peace and to prevent criminal activities in the area. It led to a phenomenon of dual-governance of this area where this entire territory was under the control of the "boys from the forests". The only exception was the capital of the Bialystok Voivodeship and the large cities in the counties, but not even those were "impenetrable fortresses" to the partisans. This situation was similar in the Area "D", which was a codename assigned by the AKO to the Inspectorate Lomza of the Home Army.

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Preparations & Concentration of Resistance Units

At the end of April, 1945, Jozef Karwowski, nom de guerre "Bystry" who commanded the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne [abbr. NSZ - Eng., National Armed Forces] unit in the Grajewo county, informed AKO's commanding officer, Franciszek Warzynski "Wawra", that he is planning to destroy the office of the County Office for Public Security [abbr. PUBP - Pol., Powiatowy Urząd Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego] in Grajewo, and to free the political prisoners who were detained there by the Polish secret police. "Walter" informed the commanding officer of the 1st Area "D", Maj. Jan Tabortowski "Bruzda" and asked for suggestions in this matter. Tabortowski agreed. The command of the NSZ agreed to conduct this operation within six days. It became apparent, however, that the manpower and resources of the NSZ unit were insufficient to conduct this operation on their own. As a result, Maj. Tabortowski called for a briefing. It took place in the beginning of May, 1945 on the property of Dominik Obrycki in Klimaszewnica near Radzilow. The briefing was attended by Lieutenant "Wawer", and the District's Chief of Intelligence, Lt. [cz.w] [2] Zygmunt Mazurek, nom de guerre "Kuba". Major "Bruzda" decided that the operation to seize Grajewo would be conducted by units from the Area "D".

The chief of intelligence was assigned to conduct surveillance of the city, to prepare detailed plans of buildings that were to be commandeered, and to ascertain the strength of the Communist forces that were stationed there. There were several encouraging reasons to attack the city. First, it would demonstrate the strength of the resistance units to the regime. Second, it would demonstrate organizational superiority of the AK AKO units over the NSZ, which incidentally, unsuccessfully attempted to conduct this operation on their own earlier. The relationship between both resistance organizations was not very good in this area.

The operation was to above all, free the people held at the PUBP and KP MO [Pol., Komenda Powiatowa Milicji Obywatelskiej - Eng., County Command of People's Militia] jails, where many members of AKO and NSZ were held. This operation would also paralyze operations of secret collaborators of the "people's regime" in the Grajewo area.

The next briefing, that most likely took place on May 6, 1945, was devoted to the planning of the operation. At its conclusion, "Wawer" sent couriers to the unit's companies with his signed orders. According to those orders, they were to arrive at the concentration point between May 6th, and 7th. The concentration point was to be in Zebry, near Wasosza. Since the manpower of the resistance units around Grajewo were insufficient to conduct this operation by themselves, on the same day Tabortowski contacted the commanding officers of other resistance units in the Lomza District.

  Lieutenant Franciszek Warzynski, nom de guerre “Wawer”. From October 1944 to January 1946 Commandant/Scout/Head of AKA AKO, WiN in Grajewo. Post World War II photo.

Above: Lieutenant Franciszek Warzynski, nom de guerre “Wawer”. From October 1944 to January 1946 Commandant/Scout/Head of AKA AKO, WiN in Grajewo. Post World War II photo.

The companies were to report to the concentration point in Przytuly on the same day. According to the issued orders, each company was to send a dozen or so armed partisans. The entire operation was to be conducted in complete secrecy.

The concentration of the partisans from the Lomza District went on until the evening of May 6th. At night, around 100 to 120 partisans lead by Tabortowski and Second Lieutenant Stanislaw Marchewka, nom de guerre "Ryba", who commanded the self-defense unit from the Area "D", marched to the forest near Zebry. In the morning of May 7th, the General Staff consisting of Lt. "Wawer", and his second in command, Sec. Lt. Antoni Kurowski "Olszyna", and the Chief of Intelligence and Propaganda from 2nd Lt. "Kuba's" unit, Staff Sergeant Jozef Rutkowski "Adam" from the Grajewo District, reached the concentration point. Because the area was saturated with Soviet and People's Militia patrols, all partisans were given orders to temporarily disperse and to observe caution.

Lt. [cz. w.] Antoni Kurowski, nom de guerre “Olszyna” who from June 1945 was second in command of the AKO District in Grajewo. Photo taken by Polish secret police in 1953.


The partisans remained in the Zebry forest through the night of May 7th and 8th. At the same time, the reconnaissance and intelligence unit conducted its activities of watching the city and reporting on activities of the Communist forces.

The platoon leader, Franciszek Waszkiewicz, nom de guerre "Wicher", who overlooked these activities, was sending his couriers to the concentration point to apprise them about the situation in the city. On the evening of May 7th, the entire partisan force encamped near Zebry was put on standby alert. During a briefing, 2nd Lt. "Ryba" read the order from the commanding officer in charge of the concentration, and assigned various sub-units to specific assault groups.

Above: Lt. [cz. w.] Antoni Kurowski, nom de guerre “Olszyna” who from June 194,5 was second in command of the AKO District in Grajewo. Photo taken by the Polish secret police in 1953.  

After the briefing, the partisans began to ready themselves to move out. They marched about 20 kilometers and reached Kolonia Uscianki village in the Bogusze municipality [Pol., gmina] in Grajewo County. They took quarters in one of the farmhouses. The village was about 4.5 kilometers to the west from the object of their operation. The partisans took quarters in farm buildings, a barn, and in the yard, while the commanding officers that stayed inside the house, discussed details of the forthcoming operation. They remained there throughout May 8th, and were joined once again by platoon leader "Wicher's" couriers. Before marching out, Major "Bruzda" once again called a general briefing in the front yard with all of the men in the units. "Ryba" gave a report, while the commanding officer made a brief review of all the sub-units, and then addressed his soldiers. He told them that the war was still going on, and that the Soviet Union wants to turn Poland into its next republic. He also told them that they must show the world that Poland doesn't agree with that.

At the same time, scouts sent by platoon leader "Wicher" reached Uscianki. They were to lead the unit into the city through safe passageways known only to them. The partisans left the village around 21:00 hours, and marched in a long column that span some 100 meters through grazing fields towards the city. They were not allowed to speak or smoke cigarettes. The tip of the column was lead by "Wawra's" men. At the outskirts of the city, the main unit was joined by sub-unit from the Grajewo Company under command of platoon leader "Wicher", and by an additional sub-unit from the Company in Rajgrod. All together, this group, that earlier took quarters in Koty-Rybno located 5 kilometers to the southeast of Grajewo, had around 30 partisans.

The goals of the operation

The main purpose of this operation was to seize Grajewo and to destroy the Communist institutions in the city. Grajewo was then a small provincial city of about 6,000 inhabitants. Its importance was elevated by the fact that an important railway connecting Bialystok and East Prussia [Pol., Prusy Wschodnie] lead through it. The city was at the intersection of two important routes; one connecting Lomza, and further through Rajgrod to the city of Augustow, and the other through Elk and Bialystok leading to East Prussia. [Read more about the Augustow Roundup here] As such, it was an important transportation artery in this area. Located at the central point in the city, or downtown, was the Plac Wolnosci [Eng. Freedom Square]. There was a church to the north, located to the right of what presently is Niepodleglosci Street. Along this street was a line of buildings, among which, around 60 meters from the church, stood the two-story PUBP headquarters building. It is difficult to ascertain an exact number of secret police functionaries who were inside the building on that day. We can be helped by the report filed by the scout with the resistance's intelligence, Zygmunt Mazurek "Kuba" that pertains to the estimated strength of the enemy in the Grajewo area. According to his report, there were 23 full time secret police functionaries - six officers, and 16 lower rank-and-file operatives. Officer Cadet Henryk Dubaniewicz headed the PUBP office. Immediately before the partisans' operation began, a UB [secret police] tactical unit lead by Staff Sergeant Janusz Wojtulewski (who died in a skirmish with the resistance on June 26, 1945) left the city. One of the UB men stated later that at the time the building was stormed by the partisans, only seven secret police men were defending it. He also said, that the tactical unit lead by Wojtulewski that left earlier, did so according to an earlier agreement with the partisans.

Stanislaw Marchewka, nom de guerre “Ryba”, head of the Self-Defense unit for the Area “D” (code name of the Lomza Inspectorate).  

According to the report furnished by the resistance scout from the intelligence unit, the KP MO [Pol., Komenda Powiatowa Milicji Obywatelskiej - Eng., County Command of People's Militia] unit had 100 men, among them: two officers, 16 junior officers, and 82 rank-and-file members. An additional 19 militiamen, among them three officers, and 16 rank-and-file militiamen, were part of the City People's Militia [Pol., Milicja Miejska] unit. An additional unit from the Railroad Militia [Pol. Milicja Kolejowa] having 39 men, was also present in the city. Additionally, Soviet NKVD and a local Soviet military command center located at Kopernik Street [Pol. Ulica Kopernika] had an additional 60 Soviet soldiers at their disposal.

The partisan units were divided into three main assault groups. The first one, lead by Sec. Lt. "Ryba", was to storm the PUBP building, to secure it, and to free the prisoners. All in all, this unit had 80 members. The second group lead by Lt. "Wawer", was to take up positions in the vicinity of the KP MO [the People's Militia] building. This unit had 50 soldiers. The third group lead by the 2nd Lt. Antoni Kurowski "Olszyna" was to move towards the Soviet NKVD and Military command post. Its role was to block the Soviet forces from coming to the aid of the Polish secret police. An additional resistance sub-unit was also assigned to block and cover all exit roads to and from the city. This unit consisted of soldiers from the local Grajewo Company. Wladysaw Rzeniewcz, nom de guerre "Dab", who was second in command of this Company, commanded it. It was agreed, that at the moment the attack begins, all communication lines will be cut off. "Wicher" himself cut off the electricity in the city.

Above: Stanislaw Marchewka, nom de guerre “Ryba”, head of the Self-Defense unit for the Area “D” (code name of the Lomza Inspectorate).

The attack on Grajewo

Around 22:00 hours the partisans entered Grajewo from the direction of the rail station. As earlier agreed, the partisans split into two groups. The previously assigned assault groups moved towards their assigned targets. "Ryba's" group moved near the PUBP building, behind the church, from the direction of the rectory. Because the UB headquarters was located along the line of other buildings, the direction of their attack and retreat was possible only in these two directions. The partisans took up positions across the street in front of the building. Anticipating that the rear of the building would not be guarded, Major Tabortowski gave the Communist functionaries an ability to retreat.

"Bruzda" along with couple of his people took up his position on the church courtyard, where for the duration of the operation they set up their command post. Here couriers from various parts of the city would come with actual reports.

After approaching the vicinity of the PUBP building, an armed sentry, who didn't even react to their presence, was liquidated. The partisans took up suitable positions. At 22:30 on "Bruzda's" signal the partisans opened fire at the County "Bezpieka" office.

  Present view of the former County Office for Pubic Security (PUBP) in Grajewo at 17 Mikolaj Kopernik Street.
Above: Present view of the former County Office for Pubic Security (PUBP) in Grajewo at 17 Mikolaja Kopernika Street.

After several minutes of heavily concentrated fire, which prevented the Communists from returning fire, the selected assault group began to make their way into the building. When the partisans began to run across the street, and momentarily stopped firing, the UB men opened up with their weapons for a moment.

The initial attack was conducted with precision, and was very quick. But, silencing specific points of resistance on both floors of the building proved to be more difficult. Around 30 to 40 partisans took part in the assault on the building. After an hour, the PUBP headquarters fell into the hands of the partisans. The prisoners held in their cells located in the dungeons of the building were freed.

Polish secret police dungeons in Grajewo.

Above: Polish secret police dungeons in Grajewo.

Present view of the cells of the secret police dungeons at the PUBP Grajewo. See inscriptions scratched by the prisoners on the doors to their cells.

Above: Jail cells at the County Office for Public Security (PUBP) Grajewo. See inscriptions scratched by the prisoners on the doors to their cells.

Among those freed were two PUBP functionaries who were jailed for disciplinary transgressions. One of them, named Henryk Zyskowski, was found and killed by the prisoners on the courtyard for particular cruelty to prisoners whom he had previously interrogated. The other was taken prisoner and was later shot. The partisans confiscated most of the documents, and burned some of them. They also commandeered several horses and a horse drawn wagon on which they put the confiscated items. The body of one dead partisan who died during the operation was also put on the wagon. During the attack, the dead partisan manned an RKM [light machine gun] and was hit during the exchange of fire.

At the moment the firing at the "bezpieka" [Polish secret police] building began, Lt. "Wawer" who commanded the group in the vicinity of the KP MO building gave command to open fire on the building, and to hit it with grenades. At first, the militiamen tried to repel the partisans, but their resistance didn't last very long. They began to leave the building with their hands up. The partisans rushed inside, freed imprisoned members of the resistance, and then demolished all the rooms. Neither side had any casualties - only one militiaman named Franciszek Lapinski was wounded. Another one, name Gostomski was beaten by the partisans for abusing prisoners.

When the fight around the PUBP and KP MO locales began, the unit of 2nd Lt. Antoni Kurkowski "Olszyna" took up positions around the Soviet military buildings. "Olszyna" was given orders not to engage the Soviets; however, when the sounds of gunfire in the city were heard by the Soviets, they attempted to leave the building and were shot at by the partisans. As a result of the exchange of fire, two Soviets, Lt. Lebedev (head of their assault group), and one of his men, were dead. After this "warning" the rest of the Soviets didn't make any further attempts to leave the building.

In the seized city, the partisans demolished offices of the Communist County Council [Pol., Starostwo Powiatowe], the Tax Office [Pol., Urząd Skarbowy], from which they commandeered 270 thousand Zlotys. In addition, the partisans commandeered: a radio receiver, typewriter, four pairs of horses, horse drawn wagons, one horse carriage, and documents removed from the demolished offices.

Expedited Sentences

At dawn, Maj. Tabortowski fired a flare into the sky. It was a signal for the partisans to retreat and to find their way to the concentration point. Around 4:00, walking in military formation, they exited Grajewo. They brought with them prisoners whom they had freed, along with captured UB functionaries, and six militiamen. They freed between 90 and 120 prisoners. After leaving Grajewo, they marched south through Elzbiecin, Kacprowo, and Lipnik, and reached their concentration point between the villages of Okol and Modzele. Modzele was at a distance of 10 kilometers from Grajewo. They stayed the entire day there on May 9th. Their camp site was secured by 3-men patrols placed at the edge of the forest. During the rest, they destroyed considerable amount of documents brought with them from Grajewo. A field court martial presided by Major Tabortowski began. It was to fish out from within the mass of freed prisoners former Gestapo agents, and "servants" of the new Communist regime. Zygmunt Mazurek "Kuba" had on him WSS [Pol. abbr. Wojskowy Sad Specialny - Special Military Court] documents authorizing him to carrying out death sentences against the Nazi and Communist collaborators that he kept since the occupation. After the investigation was over, five or six death sentences were carried out. The captured militiamen were also interrogated, but after promising that they will not work for the secret police, they were released.

Whilst taking encampment near Lojki village located 2.5 to 3 kilometers from their temporary quarters, the unit destroyed a Soviet communications bunker. Around 15-18 partisans lead by 2nd Lt. "Ryba" surrounded the bunker and covered it with fire. The Soviets, manning it, responded with fire. According to the account by one of the participants who participated in this operation, "Ryba" crawled to the bunker and threw grenades through the chimney. Several of the men manning the bunker died, and a few others were taken prisoner. They were taken to the encampment site where they were tried, and sentenced by the field court to death. One officer, a Sergeant, four privates, and radio operators were shot.

Furthermore, while they were at their encampment site, the partisans spotted a truck driving into the forest. When it was stopped, it was ascertained that it was carrying the head of the Soviet command station - an officer with the rank of Lieutenant. We can deduce that he was traveling to the communication’s point destroyed earlier by "Ryba" in Lojki. The Soviet officer was interrogated by the operation's commanding officer, and then shot. In the afternoon of May 9, 1945, Major Tabortowski gave orders to disperse partisan units, and gave soldiers orders to return home. All units returned to their home bases.

The Grajewo operation wasn't the only one carried out this day. On May 8th, and 9th, a 40-man strong unit commanded by Tadeusz Musial, nom de guerre "Zarys" destroyed the secret police jail in Dabrowa Tarnowska and freed around 80 prisoners. On May 9, 1945, a group of prisoners seized portions of a Communist jail located 100 kilometers from Bialystok. Nearly 100 prisoners from the AK-AKO, NOW, and NSZ were freed. While analyzing operations of the Polish resistance during this period, we can conclude, that the destruction of Communist jails, and prisons, and freeing political prisoners held there, was one of the specialties of the Democratic Resistance units.

Written by Dr. Slawomir Poleszak, Ph.D., IPN, Lublin

Photos appearing in this article are courtesy of “IPN, Sladami Zbrodni”. [Eng. “IPN, on the trail of crime”].


Above: Portion of WIG 1929 map showing Grajewo and its vicinity. The red line shows the route of retreat after the operation. The red circle around the villages of Okol and Modzele, shows the location of the concentration point of Maj. “Bruzda”’s unit, where they stayed on May 9, 1945 after retreating from Grajewo. Click on the map to enlarge it.
Sec. Lt. Stanislaw Marchewka, nom de guerre “Ryba” in 1950.
Above: Sec. Lt. Stanislaw Marchewka, nom de guerre “Ryba” in 1950.


[1] Major Jan Tabortowski, nom de guerre "Bruzda" died on August 23, 1954. He was severely wounded after an operation against the Communist People's Militia station near Przytuly. Unwilling to be captured and tortured by the Communists, "Bruzda" asked Lt. Stanislaw Marchewka "Ryba" to finish him off. Stanislaw Marchewka "Ryba" himself, will die on March 4, 1957 in a skirmish with UB and KBW forces.

[2] Pol. abbr. "cz.w." - czasu wojny - Eng. "in the time of war", or "during the war".





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