Public execution in Dębica (1946)
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A public execution in Dębica was carried out in 1946 when three members of the Polish anti-communist Freedom and Independence (WiN) organization were publicly executed by the communist Polish authorities in the market square of Dębica in southeastern Poland.
On August 23, 1944 German soldiers left the town of Dębica, and the Red Army units captured it. However, the frontline remained on the Wisłoka river for a few months, until the beginning of 1945. Wehrmacht artillery shelled Dębica, soldiers of the Armia Krajowa, cooperating with the Soviets, fought the enemy. After some time, the Nazis, relentlessly pushed to the west, left their positions and the whole area of Dębica County was in Soviet hands.
However, Soviet advance was regarded by many as yet another occupation. Behavior of some Red Army units and the NKVD confirmed this notion - they persecuted Polish patriots, arrested and imprisoned them. Thousands of members of the Home Army were either shot or sent to Siberia. Under the circumstances, several members of the resistance movement decided to hide in the forests and to continue struggle for free Poland. After dissolution of the Home Army, a new organization, Freedom and Independence (Wolność i Niezawisłość - WiN) was created in mid-1945.
WiN in Dębica area
WiN was an anti-Communist organization, whose purpose was to rid Poland of Soviet occupiers. Among numerous units across the country, one was a group led by Jan Stefko (aka "Msciciel" - "The Avenger"). In the spring of 1946 Stefko's unit, with some 30 members, was staying in the area of Sędziszów Małopolski. There, an exchange of fire occurred between them and agents of the Communist secret services from the Ministry of Public Security (MBP).
After this incident, the group moved towards Mielec, where in the village of Przecław it attacked Communist forces which were staying at a palace of the Rey family, which had been nationalized. WiN members faced no resistance, they took jewelry and some paintings and left..
Capture of the group
On the way towards Jasło, the unit was caught in a trap set by soldiers of the Polish Army, militiamen and agents of UB. Four persons were killed, 16 captured and 10 managed to flee, together with Jan Stefko. The caught WiN members were charged and three of them were sentenced to death.
On Wednesday, July 10, 1946, Dębica's main square was full of people, as this was the market day. Two gallows were set - one in the square, another in the vicinity of the St. Jadwiga church. The purpose of the execution was obvious - to intimidate the population of the town.
It is difficult to establish how many people witnessed the event. At some point a truck entered the square, carrying three young men, members of WiN. The hangman, whose name probably was Stanisław Swieca, haltered all of them and soon afterward the truck drove off, leaving the condemned in the air.
The square was surrounded by the Communist agents who checked everything, making sure the execution was carried out without any obstacles. However, some witnesses claim that the head of one of the condemned men got out of the halter, but this was quickly fixed. Deaths were announced by doctor Roman Lic and Marian Stoklosa from Rzeszów prosecutor's office. None of the killed had a trial, they were only allowed to confess to a priest.
A legendary photo
Most probably, the whole incident would have been forgotten, had it not been for a photograph, taken by a gentleman named Józef Stec. The snapshot was taken from a window of a building, delivered to London and published in several newspapers in the West. Stec was quickly nailed and imprisoned, he spent many years behind bars.