Capital punishment in Poland
Capital punishment remained in Poland law until April 1, 1998, but from 1989 there was a moratorium on executions, with the last execution taking place one year earlier. The death penalty is now prohibited in Poland for all offences.
According to its first Penal Code, of 1818, executions would be carried out by beheading by the sword or, in exceptional cases, by hanging. The latter was allowed only for male prisoners convicted of heinous crimes. This Penal Code was in force until integration into Russia in 1867.
Since regaining independence in 1918, Polish law allowed the death penalty for murder and treason in time of peace, and a number of other offences during wartime. For example, during the Polish-Soviet War (later to become famous) writer Sergiusz Piasecki was sentenced to death for armed robbery in the war zone, although his sentence was later commuted.
From 1918 to 1927 firing squad was the only method of execution. Through a presidential decree in 1927, hanging became the main method of execution, with firing squad retained for soldiers or people who had committed crimes against state security. Stefan Maciejowski served as the first civil executioner and was a well-known public figure until his firing for alcoholism. Probably the most notable execution by firing squad during the time of the Second Polish Republic was the execution of Eligiusz Niewiadomski, a painter and far right-wing extremist, who assassinated President of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz in December 1922.
It is noteworthy that for a number of years criminal law in pre-WWII Poland was considered less repressive than in Western Europe, also considering the capital punishment. When in 1931 one criminal code was passed, death penalty was incorporated there by just one vote majority. Attitude, however changed and in 1932 even 17-year-old convicts were allowed to receive the death sentence.
For a brief period during the Second Republic in the 1930s special military courts were introduced in present-day Ukraine. A number of people were hanged based upon decisions by these tribunals for crimes against state security.
For many years, there were no public executions under Polish authorities in the Second Polish Republic, but after World War II some notable Nazi war criminals were hanged in public. Former Auschwitz concentration camp commandant Rudolf Höss was executed before a large crowd of witnesses in the former camp area. Also former President of the Senate of the Free City of Danzig and gauleiter of Reichsgau Wartheland Arthur Greiser was hanged in public in Poznań on July 14, 1946. This was the last public execution in Poland, although the Minister of Interior could order public execution until 1950.
During the Stalinist era (1944–1956), the death penalty was a common instrument of political repression. The archetypal method was shooting a single bullet up into the base of the skull from behind; among people executed that way was Witold Pilecki, a hero of Auschwitz. The exact number of people executed until 1956 is unknown, but some sources estimated these numbers as about 3500.
After 1956 (events of Polish October) executions of political prisoners ended, and most executions were related to the crime of murder. The only exception was the case of Stanisław Wawrzecki, who was sentenced to death and hanged for economic crimes under pressure from communist leader Władysław Gomułka. The method authorized for soldiers and people who committed crimes against state security remained the firing squad.
The most recent confirmed execution of a female took place on September 21, 1949. Halina Żurowska, a former Home Army soldier, was executed by a single shot to the back of the head for espionage (almost certainly politically motivated charge) at Rakowiecka Prison in Warsaw. The last execution for an ordinary crime took place on April 7, 1922, when Józefina Paśnik was executed, along with her husband, by firing squad at the Citadel of Warsaw for murder.
From 1969 to 1995 344 people were sentenced to death and 183 were executed (all of sentenced and executed were males). In contrast to other states of the Soviet Bloc, the number of executions in Poland was relatively low.
After the collapse of communism in 1989 only a few death sentences were imposed:
1989 – Mariusz Trynkiewicz, sentenced for four counts of murder
1991 – Henryk Więckowski, sentenced for murder.
1992 – Eugeniusz Mazur, sentenced for four counts of murder
1993 – Henryk Moruś, sentenced for seven counts of murder
1994 – Janusz Kulmatycki, sentenced for murder of a police officer and Grzegorz Płociniak; sentenced for double murder
1995 – Tomasz Ciepielewski, sentenced for murder and Zenon Gliwa sentenced for double murder.
1996 – Zbigniew B., sentenced for double murder. Last death sentence in Poland.
None of them were carried out.
Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Poland has ratified, restricts the application of the death penalty to times of war or "imminent threat of war". In 2014, Poland ratified Protocol 13 of the Convention, which provides for the total abolition of the death penalty. The penal code of 1997 abolished the death penalty for all crimes; the code passed into Polish law on September 1, 1998. Poland has also ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 25 April 2014.
Today, most political circles are opposed to the idea of reintroducing the death penalty, although it has had support from some members of the former (2005–2007) right-wing government, namely former President Lech Aleksander Kaczyński. He had expressed his desire to reinstate the death penalty, clashing with the European Union over the issue. The national-conservative League of Polish Families (LPR) and the agrarian Self-Defense (Samoobrona RP) also showed some support for the death penalty for a short period of time. Some politicians of the centre-right Citizens' Platform (PO) stated that they would support death penalty if it was legal in the EU.
To support the move, Kaczyński has stated that the death penalty remains popular with most Poles and that abolishing the death penalty gives criminals advantages over victims. A poll by CBOS, a publicly funded Polish research institute, showed that 63% favored reinstating the death penalty. Both the Catholic Church hierarchy, as well as former President Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski had expressed their opposition to such a measure. Another poll, in 2007 by Angus Reid Global Monitor, showed that Poles were divided on the issue. 52 per cent of respondents said they opposed the death penalty while 46 per cent said they supported it, with a margin of error at 4.5 per cent.
During the years in which the death penalty existed in Poland, execution by hanging was carried out in eight prisons in the country. Typically, executions would take place around 6.00 p.m., when there were the most prison guards present.
The prisoner was unaware of the fact that the execution was imminent: he was not informed of the date and time when it would take place. Prisoners were only informed at the very last moment, as they entered the death chamber. Death chambers were usually located alongside washrooms and reportedly many of the condemned may have thought they were taken to wash themselves. A final meeting with their family (or the presence at the execution of a family representative) was not allowed. Families of condemned prisoners were not told in advance of the execution date. They only learned of the execution after it had taken place and their relative was dead.
Except for the prison guards, medical team and executioner, the only persons present were the prosecutor (not the judges) and, if the prisoner wished, a priest.
The prisoner had a right to a last wish – e.g. cigarette, simple last meal or writing a letter to their family.
After having his hands tied the prisoner was escorted to the death chamber. The execution chamber had two rooms – one for final preparations and the second containing the gallows. Then prosecutor read the verdict and informed the condemned prisoner that his plea for mercy had been refused by the Council of State.
There were two professional executioners in Poland (both of them members of the prison guard) who received a fee for performing an execution. Their names were kept secret to protect them from reprisals. Both were guards in Warsaw and, if the execution was to be carried out in another place, they travelled to the relevant prison before the execution.
Executions using firing squads were carried out in the military camp in Rembertów. From 1970 to 1988 three soldiers were shot for the crime of murder and rape.
- Podemski, Stanisław. "Stryczek i kula". Retrieved April 6, 2013.
- pl:Lista osób skazanych na karę śmierci w Polsce po roku 1945
- Poles Divided on Death Penalty Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research. September 26, 2007
-  Ostatnia egzekucja w Polsce(pl)