Anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–46)

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The anti-communist resistance in Poland (1944–1946), also referred to as the Polish anti-Communist insurrection, was an armed struggle of Polish Underground against the Soviet takeover of Poland at the end of World War II in Europe. The guerrilla warfare, conducted by the resistance movement formed already during the war, included an array of military attacks launched against the Communist prisons and detention centers, state security offices, detention facilities for political prisoners, and prison camps set up across the country by the Soviet authorities.

In January 1945, the pro-Soviet government installed in Poland by the advancing Red Army formally disbanded the AK and invited its surviving members to come out into the open, guaranteeing them freedom and safety. Scores of underground fighters laid down their arms. Most of them were arrested and imprisoned; thousands were tortured, executed, and deported into the Soviet Gulag System. As a result, AK members quickly stopped trusting the new government, and some of them regrouped in a clandestine manner in order to oppose the new occupiers. They formed the Freedom and Independence (Wolność i Niezawisłość WiN) among other organizations and together, liberated hundreds of political prisoners. They were known as the "Cursed soldiers" of the Polish underground, and they were eventually captured or killed by security services and special assassination squads.[1]

Soviet westward offensive across occupied Poland[edit]

On the night of January 3–4, 1944 the advancing Red Army crossed the former eastern border of the Second Polish Republic in the area of Volhynia (near the village of Rokitno). In several months, they pushed the Wehrmacht further west, reaching the line of the Vistula river on July 24, 1944.[2] The Soviet advance stopped short, while the Polish Armia Krajowa attempted to liberate Warsaw from the Nazis ahead of the Red Army's offensive. The Warsaw Uprising led by the exiled government in London was crushed after 63 days. On July 22, 1944, acting upon orders from Moscow, the Polish communists who arrived in the eastern town of Chełm created the alternative pro-Soviet Committee, soon renamed the Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland.[3][4] With full political control by Stalin and Soviet sponsorship, the communists abandoned the parliamentary system of prewar Poland as well as any preferences of the Polish voters,[5] and based their new government's power solely on the Red Army control of the area.[6]

Meanwhile, acting together under the command of Soviet General Ivan Serov, the forces of NKVD, SMERSH and the Polish communist secret service (UB), which was modeled on the Soviet secret police,[6] began countrywide operations against the members of the Home Army and other Polish resistance units loyal to the government-in-exile in London. Some 25,000 underground soldiers, including 300 Home Army officers, were arrested, disarmed, and interned before October 1944.[7] On October 15, 1944, Lavrentiy Beria signed Order No. 0012266/44, which established a special NKVD Division 64, whose only task was to fight the Polish resistance. Tens of thousands were deported to Siberia. Many members of the Polish underground were given the choice between a lengthy prison sentence, and service in the Soviet-run Polish Armed Forces in the East.[8] Faced with an unacceptable choice, and knowing about the grave fate of their own leaders (see: Trial of the Sixteen), thousands of soldiers of the Home Army (which was disbanded on January 20, 1945) and other organizations decided to continue fighting for freedom after the defeat of Germany.

Polish anti-Communist Insurrection[edit]

'Cursed soldiers' of the anti-communist underground. Left to right: Henryk Wybranowski "Tarzan" (killed Nov. 1948), Edward Taraszkiewicz "Żelazny" (killed Oct. 1951), Mieczysław Małecki "Sokół" (killed Nov. 1947), and Stanisław Pakuła pseudonym "Krzewina". Photo: June 1947

The situation in Poland in the immediate aftermath of World War II has been described as an all-out civil war,[9] or near civil war by many historians,[10] as members of the independence movement carried out numerous attacks on both Soviet and Polish communist offices and institutions. In return, the Stalinist authorities carried out brutal pacification of civilians, mass arrests (see: Augustów chase 1945), deportations, as well as executions (see: Mokotów Prison murder, Public execution in Dębica) and many secret assassinations.[9]

The anticommunist movement responded with attacks on NKVD and Urzad Bezpieczenstwa camps, such as the Attack on the NKVD Camp in Rembertów. The underground units often engaged in regular battles with the Soviets and their Polish clients (see: Battle of Kuryłówka). Those who fought the communists, were relentlessly hunted down. The fight was brutal, and the units loyal to the Polish government-in-exile did not hesitate to attack even large cities, to free their fellow soldiers kept in various prisons and detention camps across Poland.

List of attacks on Communist prisons, camps and state security offices[edit]

In 2007, the Institute of National Remembrance Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (IPN), published the Atlas of the Independence Underground in Poland 1944–1956, listing scores of armed attacks on communist prisons after World War II, in which hundreds of political prisoners were freed. The most daring assaults were conducted before October 1946.

For a chronological list of anti-Communist operations, please use table-sort buttons.

City or town Month Year Resistance operation with number of prisoners liberated
  Biala Krakowska   May 12   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Biała Podlaska   November 28   1944   2 political prisoners freed during an attack.
  Biała Podlaska   March 9   1945   103 political prisoners liberated after an attack.
  Biała Podlaska   May 21   1945   5 political prisoners were freed after an attack.
  Białystok   May 9   1945   100 (or so) members of Home Army, National Armed Forces and National Military Organization escaped after the local prison was taken over by them.
  Biłgoraj   February 28   1945   40 political prisoners liberated after an DSZ unit captured the whole town.
  Biłgoraj   May 27   1945   A failed attempt by DSZ unit at destroying an SB prison.
  Bludek village in southern Lublin Voivodeship     1945?   An attack on a local camp for political prisoners, by DSZ unit from Tomaszów Lubelski; the camp was captured and burned down, and the NKVD commandant of the camp executed.
  Brzesko   May   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Brzeziny   September 6   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Brzeziny   May 15   1946   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Brzozów   December 13   1944   11 political prisoners freed after a local prison was captured by a Home Army unit.
  Dąbrowa Tarnowska   May 8–9   1945   80 (or so) political prisoners were freed after an independence unit took control of the town and the prison.
  Grajewo   May 8–9 (night of)   1945   100 (or so) political prisoners were liberated after several independence resistance units seized the whole town, killing 2 NKVD agents and 2 UB agents.
  Grojec   November 21   1945   A failed attack on a prison, in which 2 UB agents were killed.
  Hrubieszów   December 19   1944   12 Home Army soldiers kept in a local prison were freed by their own unit.
  Hrubieszów   May 27–28   1945   Acting together, DSZ and Ukrainian UPA units captured the whole town, burning down local prison and killing 5 NKVD agents.
  Janów Lubelski   April 27   1945   15 political prisoners liberated after an DSZ unit seized the town.
  Jaworzno   October   1945   A failed attack on the Central Labour Camp Jaworzno.
  Kępno   November 22–23   1945   A local prison was captured, 5 UB agents and a Red Army soldier killed.
  Kielce   August 4–5   1945   354 political prisoners liberated; 3 UB agents and a soldier of the Red Army killed after the unit under Antoni Heda took control of the city.
  Koźmin   September 1   1945   A local prison was destroyed.
  Koźmin   October 10–11   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Kozienice   May 5–6   1945   8 political prisoners freed, and a Red Army soldier killed after an independence underground unit took control of the town.
  Kraków   August 18   1946   64 political prisoners freed after a local prison was captured.
  Krasnystaw   November 22   1944   5 Home Army soldiers kept in a local prison, liberated by their fellow companions.
  Krotoszyn   August 24   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Limanowa   April 17   1945   13 political prisoners were freed after a local prison was captured.
  Łomża   May 21   1945   A local prison was destroyed, 2 UB agents were killed.
  Łowicz   March 8   1945   73 political prisoners were freed after a local prison was captured by the former Home Army unit.
  Łuków   January 24   1946   27 political prisoners liberated after a Freedom and Independence unit captured the town and the prison; 3 UB agents killed.
  Maków Mazowiecki   May 1   1945   42 political prisoners freed and 8 UB agents killed after an attack on a local prison.
  Miechów   April 25–2   1945   A local prison was destroyed.
  Mława   June 3   1945   An attack on a local prison in which unknown number of political prisoners was freed and 3 UB agents killed.
  Nowy Sącz   April   1946   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Nowy Targ   April 17–18   1945   A local prison destroyed by the unit under Józef Kuraś, 4 UB agents killed.
  Ostrów Wielkopolski   September 2   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Pabianice   June 10   1945   10 political prisoners were freed after a local prison was captured.
  Pińczów   June 3–4   1945   A failed attack on a local prison, 1 UB agent killed.
  Piotrków Trybunalski   June 17   1945   An attack on a detention camp for the Home Army soldiers; the camp was captured and destroyed and 5 UB agents killed.
  Przemyśl   May 14–15   1945   58 persons escaped after the arrested soldiers of the Home Army took control of the prison.
  Przeworsk   May 15   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Puławy   April 24   1945   117 political prisoners were freed, and 7 UB agents killed.
  Rabka   December 11   1945   A local prison was captured, 1 UB agent killed.
  Radom   September 9   1945   300 (or so) political prisoners were liberated, 2 Red Army soldiers and one UB agent killed.
  Radomsko   April 19–20   1946   5 political prisoners were freed after the town was captured and a local prison destroyed.
  Radzyń   Dec. 31 – Jan. 1   1945–46   A failed attack on the prison, carried out by the Freedom and Independence unit.
  Rembertów   May 20–21   1945   800–1400 men were liberated after an attack on NKVD prison camp (for more information, see: Attack on the NKVD Camp in Rembertów).
  Rozwadów   February 3   1946   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Rzeszów   October 7–8   1944   A failed attack on a prison located in Rzeszów Castle made by a Home Army unit under Colonel Łukasz Ciepliński. Home Army lost 2 men, Red Army also 2, Milicja Obywatelska – 2 as well.
  Sandomierz   March 10   1945   100 (or so) political prisoners broke free from the local prison.
  Sokołów Podlaski   October   1944   A failed Home Army attack on a local prison.
  Szamotuły   June 7–8   1945   2 political prisoners were freed after a local prison was captured.
  Szczyrk   July 19   1945   A failed attempt to capture a local prison.
  Tarnobrzeg   November 2   1944   15 Home Army soldiers freed from local prison by a Home Army unit.
  Tarnów   July 1   1945   35 political prisoners were liberated after a local prison was captured.
  Węgrów   May 17–18   1945   2 political prisoners freed after an attack on a local prison.
  Włodawa   October 22   1946   100 (or so) political prisoners were freed after a local prison was captured.
  Włoszczowa   April 22   1945   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Wyrzysk   May 24   1946   43 political prisoners were liberated, and 1 UB security agent killed after a local prison was captured.
  Zakopane   February 1   1946   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Zakopane   October 13   1946   A failed attack on a local prison.
  Zamość   July 22   1944   18 Home Army soldiers kept in a local prison were freed by their fellow companions.
  Zamość   October 7   1944   34 Home Army soldiers kept in a local prison were freed by their own unit.
  Zamość   May 8   1946   301 political prisoners were freed after an attack carried out by the Freedom and Independence unit.
City or town Month Year Resistance operation with number of prisoners liberated
As per Atlas of the Independence Underground in Poland 1944–1956 by the Institute of National Remembrance, 2007

Polish National Day of Remembrance[edit]

National Day of Remembrance commemorations in 2011

In 2001 the Polish Parliament (Sejm) passed a resolution recognizing the merits of underground organizations and groups fighting for Poland's sovereignty after World War II. The resolution acknowledged their unequal struggle against the Soviet takeover of Poland and gave tribute to the fallen and murdered soldiers and the imprisoned members of all persecuted organizations including Freedom and Independence. This was the first official recognition of such magnitude intended to honor the fighters of the armed anti-communist underground.[11] The bill was signed into law by President Bronisław Komorowski on 9 February 2011 and published in the Poland's Dziennik Ustaw Nr 32 / 160 on 15 February 2011.[12]

The original request to establish the anticommunist underground soldiers day in Poland was submitted in 2009 by the Polish war veterans' organizations including National Association of Soldiers of the Armed Forces (Związek Żołnierzy Narodowych Sił Zbrojnych) and the World Union of the Home Army Soldiers (Światowy Związek Żołnierzy Armii Krajowej). The initiative was backed by local authorities and central parliamentary clubs including Civic Platform and the Law and Justice. The legislative initiative for the enactment of the new national holiday was taken in 2010 by the late President Lech Kaczyński.[13]

Depictions in media[edit]

The novel Ashes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski, and the film based on it, depicted an event in the Polish resistance. In it, two anti-communist Home Army soldiers work to assassinate a commissar.

Notes and references[edit]