Grzegorz Przemyk

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Grzegorz Przemyk
Grzegorz Przemyk.jpg
Born (1964-05-17)May 17, 1964
Died May 14, 1983(1983-05-14) (aged 18)
Cause of death beaten to death by functionaries of Milicja Obywatelska
Resting place Powązki Cemetery
Coordinates: 52°15′03″N 20°58′14″E / 52.25083°N 20.97056°E / 52.25083; 20.97056
Residence Warsaw
Nationality Pole
Citizenship Polish
Education XVII High School by the name of Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski in Warsaw
Known for being victim of Milicja Obywatelska
Awards Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta
Grave of Grzegorz Przemyk at Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.

Grzegorz Przemyk (May 17, 1964 – May 14, 1983) was a young, aspiring Polish poet from Warsaw, who was murdered by members of the Communist People's Milicja Obywatelska. His killing was one of many such politically motivated murders perpetrated against democratic opposition by the Communist regime of Poland (see: Martial law in Poland).[1]

Beating and death[edit]

Przemyk's mother, Barbara Sadowska, a poet and a member of Workers' Defence Committee, was frequently arrested and questioned by the communist Służba Bezpieczeństwa for her activities in opposition movement. On several occasions officers questioning her expressed various threats, including suggestions that her only son, Grzegorz, may be hurt in an accident. Last time before the incident she was questioned by end of April.[1]

12 May 1983 was the day of Grzegorz graduation from a high school, as well as anniversary of death of Józef Piłsudski, statesman and leader of Second Polish Republic, considered by communist authorities as a class enemy. Celebration of this date was illegal in Poland and always attracted raised the police and Służba Bezpieczeństwa on alert.

Around 3pm, Grzegorz Przemyk and his friends — Cezary Filozof, pl:Piotr Kadlčik, Igor Bieliński, Kuba Kotański — left house together to celebrate graduation on the Castle Square in Warsaw Old Town. On the square, around 5pm, Filozof and Przemyk were stopped by policeman Ireneusz Kościuk, who demanded their identity documents. As they dined, Kościuk called police car and forced them inside while beating them with a rubber baton. Kuba and Piotr, who witnessed the events from distance, have split — Piotr ran home to notify Przemyk's mother, Kotański followed the car to nearby police station. Standing outside, he was hearing Przemyk howling with pain inside as he is being beaten. Filozof was with Przemyk all the time and witnessed two policemen, Kościuk and Krzysztof Dalmata, beating him first with a baton while he was screaming. Arkadiusz Denkiewicz, who was the duty officer at the time, came to the room and complained about the noise, instructing them to beat Przemyk more quietly, preferably on stomach. Dalmata was then holding Przemyk's hands behind his back, while Bogusław Bielec was hitting him on stomach with his elbow until Przemyk had fallen unconscious.

The policemen called an ambulance, reporting a "drug-addict" requiring treatment at psychiatric hospital. The driver, Michał Wysocki, could see that Przemyk was not drugged, but crouched, holding his stomach and unable to walk. Together with a paramedic Jacek Szyzdek, they moved him into the ambulance and transported to a hospital at Hoża street. By that time, Filozof arrived by foot from the police station. A psychiatrist Paweł Willmann referred barely conscious Przemyk to a psychiatric hospital for further investigation, explaining that he will get a gastric lavage and "soon get better". Przemyk's mother arrived and insisted on taking him home, fearing abuse frequent at the psychiatric facilities at that time. At home, Przemyk felt better and told how he was beaten by the policemen, while an officer advised to "beat in stomach to leave no traces".

On 13 May, Przemyk again started feeling very poorly and was seen by two doctors, second one suspecting liver injury and calls for immediate transport to Solec hospital for operation. By 11pm, Przemyk was still conscious and explained to the surgeon he was "beaten in stomach until he lost consciousness" and that it happened at a police station. He was operated on during the night, only to confirm severe and irreversible gastrointestinal perforation. Przemyk died at intensive care unit on 1pm on 14 May. The news about his death quickly spread, and by the evening, Sadowska's house was already guarded by a number of policemen, preventing friends arriving with condolences from entering.

On 15 May, the information reached underground and international media (BBC, RFE, Voice of America), but was blocked from the media in Poland. An opposition writer and poet Wiktor Woroszylski wrote an open letter to the prime minister Mieczysław Rakowski calling for a fair and transparent investigation. Rakowski noted in his private diary that, taking into account the activities of Sadowska, the security service might have "given her son a lesson". The opinion that the incident was SB's revenge on Sadowska is also widespread in opposition circles at that time.

On 17 May, a state newspaper Życie Warszawy published a short note about "two drunk and aggressive men" met by police officers on the Square who required an ambulance as they "had injuries". The note did not mention their arrest and visit at the police station. Cezary Filozof went into hiding, as it became obvious the investigation will be manipulated and he became the most important witness of the beating.

Przemyk's funeral on 19 May, which took place at the Powązki Cemetery, and which was celebrated by Jerzy Popiełuszko, turned into a spontaneous demonstration against the Communist regime, attended by 20-60'000 people, marching in complete silence.

Cover-up operation[edit]

On 20 May, at Ministry of Internal Affairs, the minister Czesław Kiszczak held a closed meeting to plan the government's response to the scandal. One of the officers, Romuald Zajkowski, presented results of an internal investigation concluding that this is "a purely criminal case rather than a political", which may lead to "conviction of a few sadists at the police" at worst, suggesting a regular investigation by law enforcement institutions.

This was however fiercely protested by general Józef Beim, head of the police, who did not agree to "sacrifice his men". Shortly after Kiszczak decided that the investigation must be controlled and lead to conviction of the paramedics, while policemen should not even appear as suspects. Prosecutor general Franciszek Rusak however published a note in Życie Warszawy mentioning start of investigation to "determine the mechanism of injuries" Przemyk suffered. This caused a very aggressive reaction from Kiszczak and his deputy Władysław Ciastoń, who threatened Rusak and requested that their version is presented from the very beginning.

Having read the note, Cezary Filozof reported himself to the prosecutor's office on 23 May and produced a detailed witness statement, which was fully consistent with the forensic pathology reports already received by Rusak. On 24 May a meeting was held at the Polish United Workers' Party central with prime minister, ministers and other key figures where a strategy of dealing with the upcoming scandal was discussed. Jerzy Urban advised the case needs to be carefully handled to avoid turning Przemyk into a "martyr". He suggested covering it up with publication of possibly compromising wiretaps of Lech Wałęsa and weakening the strong opinions about police brutality by promoting possible doctors' faults and bringing other doubts into the case. He also suggested, to calm down the situation, to suspend two policemen responsible. This was again met with a very aggressive response from Kiszczak. Eventually, the Party issued a statement "fully supporting" the Interior Ministry in the rise of "opposition unprecedented attacks". Wojciech Jaruzelski explained to Rakowski that Przemyk was a drug-addict.

Over the next months the police and Służba Bezpieczeństwa rolled out full-scale operation involving pressuring witnesses as well as prosecutors, collecting and publishing compromising information about Przemyk, his family and friends, using wiretaps, active measures, harassment, silent calls, confidential informers etc. These steps were suggested by two professors, Włodzimierz Szewczuk and Józef Borgosz, who consulted for the security service. They also invented a completely fake version of karate fight between Przemyk and Filozof, which was promoted for a while to compromise the statement of Kuba Kotański — the pain screams were since then officially presented as "karate screams".

On 30 June, the prosecution, after completing most medical analyses and witness interviews, planned to reveal an indictment against the two policemen, Ireneusz Kościuk and Arkadiusz Denkiewicz (beating to death) and two doctors Bronisław Jasicki i Paweł Willmann (medical negligence). Paramedics Michał Wysocki and Jacek Szyzdek were also suspected of possibly beating Przemyk in the ambulance or lift, but on 4 July these versions were rendered impossible after an experiment in both places — in none of the locations there was sufficient space to apply sufficient force to cause the injuries suffered by Przemyk, and there were no witnesses of any paramedics' misconduct at these highly visited places.

On 6 July, Służba Bezpieczeństwa succeeded in transferring the investigation from the district prosecutor's office to regional office, where prosecutor Anna Jackowska was assigned and supervised by pl:Wiesława Bardonowa, well known for her compliance with SB needs in political trials and extremely anti-opposition attitude. Deputy prosecutor general Henryk Pracki however still wanted to include witness statement by Cezary Filozof as it considered it to be logical and consistent with other evidence. Pressure from Kiszczak on Pracki continued during numerous other high-level meetings with the Party leadership.

Selecting the paramedics' misconduct as primary cover-up version, Służba Bezpieczeństwa launched a country-wide campaign against general ambulance personnel and paramedics, highlighting real and invented cases of negligence or petty theft against patients. This prepared the ground for arrest of Wysocki and Szyzdek. At the same time SB intensified pressure on the family of Cezary Filozof, threatening his parents and relatives with tax-evasion investigations, firing them from jobs and closing their small businesses. As part of the pressure, pl:Maciej Bednarkiewicz, the lawyer representing Sadowska, was arrested in unrelated and fabricated case. SB also forced early retirement of another lawyer involved, pl:Władysław Siła-Nowicki, as well as the prosecutor Henryk Pracki.

SB also cooperated with Ministry of Defence to force conscription of Cezary Filozof with the intent to isolate him from the investigation and possibly silence with an accident during military training. Filozof was under permanent surveillance with over 240 officers involved in discrediting him. The group operated on the orders of chief of police general Józef Beim, coordinated by captain Zdzisław Chwaszcz. 12 friends and relatives of Filozof were recruited as informants. Similar measures are applied to Barbara Sadowska. Both however held to their witness statements. Paramedics Wysocki and Szyzdek were eventually arrested for fabricated crimes and SB continued to pressure them into confession while in detention. SB officer Jacek Ziółkowski, personally Wysocki's friend, manipulated him into confession, threatening his children.

In November, another forensic pathology opinion is produced by professor Zdzisław Marek which confirmed, in spite of pressure from SB, that Przemyk could have been only beaten in the police station, which even further weakens the version of events promoted by the authorities. Their witness statements also do barely confirm any use of force by paramedics or doctors and Wysocki's behavior while interviewed by prosecutor makes his believe the confession was extorted, as it is completely inconsistent with forensic evidence.


In December, the indictment was ready to be passed to the court for trial. SB however disputed it and forced softening some of the claims, criticising the prosecution for "still believing that Przemyk was beaten on the police station". In April 1984, prosecutor Rusek was replaced by Józef Żyta, who vigorously started to clean up any traces of Kościuk and Denkiewicz from the indictment — officer Stanisław Wyciszczak was assigned to come up with every possible argument to present the most aggravating witness statements of Filozof and Kotański as unreliable. Forensic evidence however was still there, as the experts refused to modify it to suit police's version.

Kiszczak made one more attempt to pressure prosecutor Gonciarz remove the policemen from the indictment, which he refused and resigned from his position in protest. As result, the indictment was left unsigned, and thus formally incomplete. As a workaround, an unrelated prosecutor Anna Jackowska signed it after changing the qualification of policemen actions to simple "beating" while the paramedics were indicted of much more serious "fatal beating". The two doctors were indicted, as previously, of "negligence".

The trial started on 31 May and attracted broad attention of international media, but was only briefly reported in Polish TV. On the first day Barbara Sadowska resigned from her role of subsidiary prosecutor in protest of the biased indictment. Wysocki withdrawn his previous confession during the trial, but Szyzdek held it. Kościuk and Denkiewicz pleaded not guilty and refused any further explanations. Witnesses Filozof and Kotański held their statements on the beating they've witnessed on the police station. Forensic expert Zdzisław Marek also held his opinion that Przemyk acquired his fatal injuries on the police station.

A number of witnesses, including doctors, paramedics, Przemyk's friends, independently confirmed that immediately after the incident Przemyk said he was beaten by policemen. Each of these was however "balanced" by statements of large number of policemen, related to the case and not, repeating identical statements about "karate screams" and "suspect behavior" of the Przemyk group on the Square. Two unrelated prison doctors, Józef Mielczarek and Stanisław Krzak, were called to testify as medical experts and presented fantastic theories about mental disorders Przemyk must have suffered which, as they claimed, was proven by the fact that he initially denied passing his documents to policemen. As noted by many witnesses, during the whole trial prosecutor Bardonowa behaved in a way that has been described as "being the most dedicated defender of the suspected policemen, while taking any attempt to prosecute the victims".

On 9 July, Szyzdek unexpectedly withdrew his confession about Wysocki beating Przemyk. Nevertheless, on 10 July, prosecutor Bardonowa delivered her final speech, repeating all the statements supporting official version, withdrawn or not, and ignoring witness statements by Filozof, Kotański and the forensic experts.

On 16 July, Judges Janusz Jankowski, Andrzej Lewandowski and Ewa Gutowska-Sawczuk acquitted Kościuk and Denkiewicz. The doctors Jasicki and Willman were considered guilty of non-intentional negligence, and remitted. The paramedics were the only convicted for 2 years in prison for "brutal treatment of the patient" but after around a month silently amnestied and released. They lost their jobs, however, and suffered from depression since then. Their convictions were rendered invalid in 1989 after the fall of communist regime[2]

Relationship with Popiełuszko murder[edit]

Shortly after, in October 1984, a priest Jerzy Popiełuszko was murdered by Grzegorz Piotrowski, officer of Służba Bezpieczeństwa. Mieczysław Rakowski made a note in his personal diary on that subject that the acquittal of the policemen "might have only encouraged Piotrowski and his friends".

Repeated investigations and trial at The Institute of National Remembrance[edit]

Przemyk's investigation was restarted in 1993 after the fall of communism with his father Leopold Przemyk as subsidiary prosecutor. The case against the policemen crawled for years and in 2010, after a number of appeals, it was eventually remitted due to expiration, leaving Arkadiusz Denkiewicz as the only convict. Leopold Przemyk filed a case then with European Court of Human Rights, which in 2013 decided that none of the Poland's investigations in this case were intentionally delayed. In 1998, another investigation against Czesław Kiszczak was started Institute of National Remembrance for interfering with the original investigation from 1983. This prosecution collected a large number of evidence, but the case was also eventually remitted in 2012 after years of legal battles.

On May 3, 2008, Przemyk was posthumously awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, by the late President of Poland Lech Kaczyński. The song "Over My Dead Body" from the 1984 album "Meltdown" from Christian recording artist Steve Taylor was dedicated to the memory of Grzegorz Przemyk.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Agnieszka Bielawska (2008-05-14). "25 years after the death of 19-year old Grzegorz Przemyk". Nowe Media. Polskie Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Cezary Łazarewicz. Żeby nie było śladów. Sprawa Grzegorza Przemyka. ISBN 978-83-8049-234-9.