19 March 1909|
Thorn, German Empire (today Toruń, Poland)
|Died||10 January 2009
|Service/branch||Polish Land Forces
Związek Walki Zbrojnej
|Years of service||1939-1945|
|Rank||Generał brygady (Brigadier General)|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Order of the White Eagle, Virtuti Militari, Krzyż Walecznych|
|Other work||Professor, scouting instructor, freedom fighter|
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Elżbieta Zawacka (Polish pronunciation: [ɛlˈʐbjɛta zaˈvat͡ska]; 19 March 1909 – 10 January 2009), known also by her war-time nom de guerre Zo, was a Polish university professor, scouting instructor, SOE agent and a freedom fighter during World War II. She was also a Brigadier General of the Polish Army (the second and last woman in the history of the Polish Army to hold this rank), promoted by President Lech Kaczyński on May 3, 2006. The only woman among the Cichociemni, she served as a courier for the Home Army, carrying letters and other documents from Nazi-occupied Poland to the Polish government in exile and back. Her regular route ran from Warsaw through Berlin and Sweden to London. She was also responsible for organizing routes for other couriers of the Home Army.
Zawacka was born in Toruń (Thorn), part of the Prussian Partition of Poland, and graduated from University of Poznań with a major in mathematics. In the late 1930s she worked as a teacher at several high schools, simultaneously working as an instructor for the paramilitary organization Przysposobienie Wojskowe Kobiet (Female Military Training). During the Polish September Campaign, she was the commandant of the Silesian District of Przysposobienie Wojskowe Kobiet, participating in the defence of Lwów.
In October 1939 she joined the Silesian branch of Związek Walki Zbrojnej under the nom de guerre "Zelma", which later was changed to "Zo". In late 1940 she was moved to Warsaw and began her courier trips. She was also a deputy of Zagroda — the Department of Foreign Communication of the Home Army. In February 1943 she traveled across Germany, France and Spain to Gibraltar, where she was transported by air to London. In Great Britain she went through parachute training, and on 10 September 1943, dropped into Poland, as the only woman in the history of the Cichociemni.
In 1944 Zawacka fought in the Warsaw Uprising and after its collapse moved to Kraków, where she continued her underground activities. In 1945 she joined the anti-Communist organization Freedom and Independence (WiN), but quit soon afterwards and took up a teaching job.
In 1951 she was arrested and tortured by Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). She was sentenced to 10 years in prison for treason and espionage, but her sentence was shortened and she was released in 1955. After her release from prison, she earned a doctorate degree from Gdańsk University. She was a tenured professor at the Institute of Pedagogy at Mikołaj Kopernik University in Toruń where she established the department of Andragogy. She retired from teaching in 1978 after Służba Bezpieczeństwa closed the department. She was an active member of the World Union of Home Army Soldiers and cooperated with Solidarność in the 1980s.
Decorations awarded to Elżbieta Zawacka include:
- Order of the White Eagle (1995)
- Order of Virtuti Militari, Silver Cross, twice
- Cross of Valour 5 times
- Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta, also awarded the Officer's Cross
- Gold Cross of Merit with Swords
- Home Army Cross
- Army Medal
- Medal Pro Memoria