Saturday, July 20, 2024

New ban on commemorating post-war anti-communist partisans in Poland

Józef Kuraś “Ogień” (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Poland’s new Minister of Family, Labor, and Social Policy, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk of the New Left, has banned ceremonies commemorating Józef Kuraś aka Ogień” (Fire) and the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade (Brygada Świętokrzyska) of the National Armed Forces (NSZ). The problem is that this ban is based on old lies spread by the communists about Ogień and that brigade during WW2 and the post-war era. It is the same lies created and propagated by the communists after WW2 that were at the root of the international scandal following Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s laying of a wreath at a cemetery in Munich, Germany, in February 2018 in honor of the fallen from the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade.


Leszek Żebrowski

The principle that was adopted several hundred years ago during the religious wars in Europe – He who rules, his religion – is in itself despicable because it violates the conscience and will of the subjects. It is nonetheless now coming back to us in a new (?) guise. The passage of time teaches the rulers nothing; they want not only to have political power, but also to control our collective memory.

In Donald Tusk’s Poland, Minister of Family, Labor, and Social Policy Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk is now showing the way in this area. (Note that I will keep with the word “Minister” in Polish, not “Ministra,” the Polish new-speak for a female minister, which Donald Tusk’s left-liberal ruling coalition now uses, because this refers to a function, not a person with a specific gender. The same was true of Jadwiga of Anjou as King of Poland, not “Queen” or even “Princess.”)

That is to say, the ruling is to be categorical, prohibitory: “I have ordered the immediate cessation of the organization of events commemorating Józef Kuraś “Ogień” [Eng.: “Fire”] and the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade of the NSZ.

I do not and will not agree to the honoring of people who committed crimes against civilians or tarnished the Polish uniform in collaboration with the Nazis. The politics of remembrance is important, but it must be based on historical truth and promote values, not glorify those who brutally trampled them underfoot.”

Here, one can see her personal (“I have ordered”) and political will – to make changes and impose them on everyone. It would be useful to provide the Minister of Family, Labor, etc. with a thorough (and not superficial) education in this area. Some people are ready and able to do this. Still, we are endlessly spinning around in the realm of ideological slander and propaganda, moreover that of a bygone (?) era. It is clear from her post that she accuses Józef Kuraś of committing crimes against civilians. Of course, no examples were given, but one can assume that she is burdened by the ideology of the circles she passed through in the past.

Fake “diaries”

When there is a conflict, it is essential to remember that there are always two sides, and it is necessary to find out each of their reasons in a factual discussion and not to categorically and mindlessly take one of the sides. The accusations surrounding Józef Kuraś, aka Ogień,” are hypocritical, and knowledge about him and his activities is still negligible. For several decades, the communists lied, and after 1989, they did not go away in Poland, and neither did their propaganda. False beliefs grew, which are easier to accept in many circles than the truth.

Coming back to the historical issue at stake, let us talk about the false, alleged “diaries” or “notes” of Józef Kuraś, which are supposed to be the primary source of knowledge about him. All we know about this subject is the product – a forgery by the deputy head of the Provincial Office of Public Security in Cracow. The author is Soviet Mjr. Boris Vroblevskiy, and the alleged typescript (“copy”) was prepared per his instructions. Knowing the methods of the department and its Soviet supervisors (“it was not such things that were falsified, comrades”), one cannot uncritically accept the alleged “notes” as a historical source. “Ogień” kept his handwritten notes at his group’s stations, as is documented in surviving photographs; he did not write on a typewriter.

Moreover, and importantly, the notes have no composition or chronological order. The original has not been found to this day – perhaps after the typewritten “copy” was made, it was no longer needed and was destroyed to avoid a compromising situation. Subsequently, this version was perpetuated by Security Office (UB) Col. Stanisław Wałach (head of UB in Cracow) and communist forger Władysław Machejek.

They may be long dead, but their shoddy propaganda is still going strong. Several versions of these “notes” are circulating, including some highly poisonous. Among others, they are notoriously used by Holocaust scholars, publicists, and journalists. Therefore, anyone can draw from them what they want, a milder or a more extreme version. However, we have many other sources for the story of “Ogień”, and it is well worth confronting them with the propaganda version.

Polonophobia – The Polish peasant depicted as a bum and murderer of Jews

Hanging and “murdering”

Let us consider two events.

The first is the hanging of Katarzyna Kościelna from Ostrowsko (pregnant at the time) allegedly because she had spoken badly about “Ogień” – calling him a robber – in front of a neighbor. This is the version promoted by those who do not intend to investigate the case. And yet, it is not so difficult. It cannot be said that “Ogień” had nothing to do with this crime. He did, but nothing to incriminate him and his men!

It was a crime committed by common hoodlums, and the “people’s authorities” were not eager to clear up the matter, so the alleged criminal, Józef Kuraś, took it upon himself to do so. On his orders, the perpetrators were identified, captured, and sentenced to death. And not only for this crime. However, Col. Wałach wrote that “Ogień” killed the unfortunate woman because she allegedly supported the communist government!

The case of the “murder” of four adult members of the Zagata-Łatanek family is similar. In the propaganda version, it looks terrible. The “Ogień band” came and killed innocent people. The true story is altogether different: the Zagatas were known in the area for thievery and banditry. “Ogień” received requests from residents for protection. After verifying that these were not slanders (which were always easy to produce in those years), and after repeated but ineffectual warnings to stop their criminal activities, they were sentenced to death and liquidated. During those times, there were no court procedures or prisons. The saying in such cases was: “either the forest or the sand,” that is, the accused were either released (if the evidence of their guilt was insufficient) or subject to liquidation.

Let’s remember that the “Błyskawica” [Eng.: “Lightning”] grouping, which “Ogień” commanded in the Podhale region, not only had to fight against the highly repressive communists, but also had to maintain order in the area under its command. This is why he remained in the area for so long, with the locals’ support, and the group’s units were still able to operate there for several years after his death.

The communists had very drastic methods in their dealings with these people. What was it to them to take children just a few years old (!) into custody as hostages? Hasn’t the minister heard about this? Jacek Kuroń – twice a member of the PZPR (Polish United Workers’ Party), which is worth remembering – later interjected his two cents’ worth, continuing the communist propaganda. As if in a drunken stupor, he attacked “Ogień” in the style of Col. Wałach. However, he was now doing this during the so-called Third Republic period (after the fall of communism), accusing “Ogień” of committing shameful acts. And he lied outright that “Ogień” supposedly “first belonged to the Home Army (AK), then founded his own band.” So even the Home Army was a band? Only that it was not yet his own?

And Kuroń was, after all, a constitutional minister, just like Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk. She probably hadn’t heard of these and other practices because it wasn’t a subject for honest discussion in the circles she moved through.

Added to all this is the activity of “bogus bands” created by the communists to discredit the pro-independence underground. The full extent of this phenomenon and its “achievements” we don’t know and probably never will. Time has passed and erased its traces. However, we do know something. Among others, such a “band” was sent to the Podhale region under the command of a certain Bolesław Szwejgiert. He was quite an interesting character. He served in the NKVD, KBW (the communist UB “army”), Military Information – a branch of the Soviet SMERSH (counterintelligence agency) – and finally ended up in the secret police (UB), under the wing of the infamous “Bloody Luna,” or Julia Brystiger. His earlier superior from the KBW, Lt. Col. Hański, characterized him as “an intelligent, trustworthy officer.

He exhibited no small merit in uncovering the “Ogień” band in Podhale, personally leading the repressive actions in the Chochołowska Valley. As a result, a sub-unit of “Ogień” was liquidated. Szwejgiert showed initiative by forming a “bogus band,” but it was discredited very quickly. His men did not have a religious breastplate on their uniforms. When walking into highlanders’ huts, the soldiers did not know how to cross themselves… but the force of evil on this occasion caused plenty of destruction. Let’s examine everything step by step, carefully – all the stories of the communist secret police, which are still repeated today (even by the minister!), that “Ogień” was simply a butcher who committed crimes against civilians. We see that they have nothing to do with reality. After confronting the slogans with the facts, we should expect a retraction of the unauthorized accusations and an apology. For this, however, one must have some class. “Ogień” paid the highest price for fighting the Germans: the death of his wife, his two-and-a-half-year-old son, and his father. And for fighting the communists, he paid with his own life.

The motive of collaboration

Did the soldiers and officers of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade of the NSZ tarnish their uniform with “collaboration with the Nazis” or with the murder of civilians? Let’s not forget that collaboration with the occupiers took place on Polish soil during the occupation – and on a grand scale. The so-called Polish Workers’ Party (formed in 1942) and its militias, the People’s Guard and then the People’s Army (AL), were open agents of the Soviet state, which in September 1939 annihilated Poland in collaboration with the Third German Reich. Even later, after the outbreak of the German–Soviet War, there was incidental, often bloody, cooperation between the communists and the Third Reich.

Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk should know this very well; after all, those were not very distant times, and the groups she is active in today have a relevant organizational and ideological past. The motif of collaboration between the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade and, more broadly, the NSZ and the independence underground was a constant theme of the communists’ propaganda, as they sought to legitimize the power they had received from Stalin.

It is worth looking at the documentation being prepared at the then-communist Ministry of Justice regarding the extradition of the commander of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, Col. Antoni Szacki, akaBohun-Dąbrowski.” People’s Republic of Poland functionaries managed to place him (and other Brigade officers) on the list of war criminals at the UN War Crimes Commission in London, but then met a significant obstacle. Extradition required… evidence. In the absence of such, they therefore proceeded to fabricate material. The Office of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice carried out the order. Col. Marian (Moshe) Muszkat, the Warsaw authorities’ representative on the Commission, then decided that producing such “evidence” would be a total embarrassment to the People’s Republic of Poland, and further steps in this direction were abandoned.

This is not surprising, since in testimonies crafted for this use, one can read that the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade murdered Jews, for example, in… January 1943, although it was not established until more than a year and a half later. The secret characterization of “Bohun,” made in 1947 by the military intelligence of People’s Poland, is quite interesting. We can read there: “In 1939, he was considered one of the more capable officers in the army. He is a man of high intelligence, has a gift for winning people over, is proud, and is very firm regarding the affairs of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade or NSZ.

The communists, after all, wrote this exclusively for internal use. Not surprisingly, they repeatedly tried to liquidate him in exile. They even brought “Bohun” before a French court in Toulouse in 1950, but solid evidence of his commendable activities prevailed. These included the testimony of French Jewish women rescued by the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade from the Holýšov camp. The communists, on the other hand, had no counter-evidence. The history of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade has been very well described and documented in the past years. On the one hand, we have the unquestioned fight for independence; on the other hand, we have propaganda slogans that are generally based on lies and ideological degeneration. There is no single platform where one can honestly polemicize and discuss based on factual arguments. It seems that hiding the bloody collaboration of the communists, who were given full power by Stalin himself in 1944, required the notorious denigration of pro-independence circles and groups.

For more than a decade, starting as early as 1944, there was a ruthless struggle against the Polish Underground State, the Home Army, and the National Armed Forces (NSZ). Tens of thousands of people lost their lives as a result. From 1956 there were signs of stratification in this propaganda, such as the division into the “reactionary leadership” of the Home Army and the supposedly stupefied remainder. Later, there was pandering (for honor and candor) to entire circles of former combatants, as long as they began to recognize the primacy of People’s Poland. As for the NSZ, however, the communists remained adamant that they would not change their attitude toward this formation, until the end of their formal rule. And the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade became synonymous with treason, despite the tremendous achievements of this formation in the fight against the Germans, while the communists were to remain beyond all suspicion. In this ideological and political battle, which, as we can see, is still being fought today, arguments do not count. Instead of the force of argument, it is the argument of force that applies – which is now being exercised from the position of power. 

Checked out by the Americans

The most important arguments for today regarding the activities of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade and its achievements can be confirmed by the archives; slogans are not necessary here. The US Army thoroughly investigated the unit while it was still on the other side of the front. This was difficult because the brigade claimed to be a Home Army unit. Even in “Polish” London, this caused enthusiasm, but everything changed when it turned out to be a unit of the NSZ, moreover from the part not integrated with the AK. For the Americans, however, these were insignificant nuances. On May 14, 1945, the emissary of General Władysław Anders (the then acting Commander-in-Chief), Lt. Col. Alojzy Mazurkiewicz, addressed the soldiers of the Brigade: “You are the only unit that managed to go through all the hardships and drudgery of a soldier’s life with weapons in hand. You have the best possible reputation among the Americans. You have earned this opinion with your soldierly attitude and behavior. You were and are Polish soldiers, and your deeds will go down in history.

Many of the Brigade’s officers and soldiers were sent to the Polish 2nd Corps for training. The purpose was clear – there were plans to create a 4th Armored Division within it, and the whole Brigade was to become part of it. We have this in a report from Lt. Col. D.S. Funk to the commander of the US 3rd Army, General George Patton, on June 16, 1945: “Eventually this unit will be transferred to the 21st Army Group to join the 4th Polish Armored Division.”

Even more important is the statement in this report that “this unit has the status of Allied Forces.” Therefore, the officers and soldiers of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade were given the right by the Americans (as the only ones!) to wear the insignia of their army on their uniforms. However, the plans for the Polish Army quickly changed; the British no longer needed the Polish Army, and indeed it became a political burden for them, so these plans were not implemented. General Stanisław Maczek, commander of the Polish 1st Armored Division (one of the most outstanding officers of the Second World War – he never lost a battle!), met with the officers and men of the Brigade after the war. He told them: “You, soldiers of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, are a thorn in the conscience of many. Events have vindicated you because you fought the Germans and the Soviets. Those who acted differently will never forget you.

Today’s characterizations of the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade as a collaborationist unit that allegedly “tarnished the Polish uniform by collaborating with the Nazis” are puzzlingly consistent with the claims of the Russian version of Wikipedia. And yet Soviet historiography had previously proclaimed the same thing, considering the NSZ, including the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade, to be their “bitter enemies.”

Perhaps this is their most crucial mistake – fighting against communism in the face of the continuing analogous propaganda of what are now euphemistically called “leftist” circles. Could it be that Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk drew her knowledge from Russian Wikipedia? But since the minister wrote that “the policy of remembrance is important, but it must be based on historical truth and promote values, not glorify those who brutally trampled them underfoot,” perhaps she will take some definitive steps in this direction, such as in changing the street sign reading: “People’s Army (AL) Avenue” in Warsaw? Yes, the same AL is known for being notorious in the capital during its joint actions against independence fighters – in solidarity with the Germans. The AL wanted to shoot the Home Army soldiers in the back during the Warsaw Uprising. That was their operational plan.


This article was first published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly in March 2024.