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Radom in the shadow of the gallows

Tomasz Domański

 

The events of September and October 1942 are forever etched in the Second World War history of Radom. In the course of these two months, the German occupation authorities carried out an exceptionally brutal investigation that resulted in the public hanging of 35 people in various parts of the city, while another 15 were killed on a gallows set up near the train station in Rożki near Radom. The majority of the victims were connected with the city’s arms factory. Needless to say, the executions caused an enormous stir throughout the occupied Polish lands.

 

Firearms for the Home Army

The tragedy that occurred in the Radom arms factory in 1942 was directly connected with the operations of an independent intelligence agency in Radom, known under the code name “Sosna”. It had been established in January 1941 and was headed by Second Lieutenant Jerzy Ewaryst Żetycki, pseudonym “Andrzej”. “Sosna” was engaged in gathering weapons and exposing the activities of the Germans and their agents (for example by inspecting correspondence, engaging in counterintelligence, etc.) in Radom, the capital city of the wartime district. It was directly subordinate to the head of the II Branch of the Radom and Kielce Area Command of the Home Army, Lieutenant/Major Zygmunt Szewczyk, pseudonym “Bartek”. An active contact of the “Sosna” agency was Maksymilian Szymański, pseudonym “Maks” and “Relampago”, the head of counterintelligence at the Home Army Końskie District Command. It soon turned out, however, that “Relampago” was collaborating with the Germans, and a decision was taken to effect his liquidation as quickly as feasible.

On 19 September 1942, a six-man execution team left Radom for Końskie. It comprised Second Lieutenant Żetycki, pseudonym “Andrzej” (its leader), Lieutenant Mieczysław Wrona, pseudonym “Szymon”, Zbigniew Gołębiowski, pseudonym “Budrys”, Józef Grabosz, pseudonym “Bill”, Tadeusz Stelmaszczyk, pseudonym “Aron”, and Kazimierz Kapel, pseudonym “Wróbel”. The latter, a resident of Końskie, was the group’s guide. But their train, heading in the general direction of Skarżysko, was also boarded by a gendarme patrol commanded by SS-Unterscharführer Bruno Siebeneichler. To date, we do not know if the Germans were tasked with arresting the members of the group, or whether their presence was coincidental, connected simply with the routine checking of passengers. Whatever the case may be, near the station of Rożki a firefight broke out between the Home Army soldiers and the German patrol. Second Lieutenant Żetycki and one of the Germans were killed, while “Szymon”, “Bill” and “Aron” were wounded, although they managed to escape.

But the broader outcome of the shooting was tragic – the identity cards of Józef Grabosz, pseudonym “Bill”, and Second Lieutenant Żetycki fell into the hands of the Germans, as did two “Vis” pistols. Worse still, Kazimierz Kapel, pseudonym “Wróbel”, was arrested. An investigation was immediately commenced in the case at the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei, abbreviation Sipo) Headquarters in Radom. It was headed in person by SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Fuchs, and directly supervised by SS-Unterscharführer Flath. As it turned out, the conspirators – until that time going from success to success – had made some cardinal errors, such as entering real data concerning their places of residence and work into the false identity cards. The serial numbers of the “Vis” pistols were also checked, and the Sipo investigators soon obtained irrefutable proof of the existence in the Radom arms factory of a well-organized ring that cooperated with the Home Army and smuggled finished pistols and components outside the facility (as a matter of fact, Home Army soldiers fostered similar contacts in numerous other weapons factories in the Kielce region, for example in Suchedniów and Skarżysko). These data, supplemented with reports submitted by informers and information gained through torture, allowed the Sipo to carry out a string of city-wide arrests. The first of these was conducted between 22 and 24 September 1942. In its course, the Germans detained clandestine Home Army operators (liaison officers, so-called fences), members of the Grabosz and Winczewski families (both were actively involved in clandestine activities), and also a number of chance people, more or less closely connected with the arrestees. Practically at the same time, during the night from 24 to 25 September, Gestapo men entered the pistol production department of the Radom arms factory and detained 40 workers. This was a very telling blow, for the majority of the arrestees were active in the resistance. And even though some of those threatened with arrest managed to avoid capture, the total number of Poles detained in the first stage of the German operation in all certainty exceeded 100.

For the course of the investigation, the arrestees were incarcerated at the prison in Malczewskiego Street and interrogated at Sipo headquarters at Kościuszki Street, where they were subjected to sophisticated methods of torture. Only a few people were released, while the majority were sentenced to death, most probably by a summary court (Standgericht) operating at the headquarters of the Security Police. Some of the detainees were incarcerated for longer periods of time. It is difficult to say why the Germans decided that the prisoners would be hanged, although it is highly probable that they considered this would have a deterrent effect, dissuading Poles from involving themselves in underground activities and undertaking any other actions aimed against the Germans. Such an interpretation would be supported by the choice of execution sites – all were public locations situated in busy points of the city. What is more, in the summer and autumn of 1942 executions by hanging were carried out in many townships of the Radom district.

 

The Germans take their revenge

On the morning of 12 October, on the order of SS-Untersturmführer Flath, 16 people were dragged out of their cells in Radom prison. Piotr Rołkowski was taken to Kościuszki Street, where – as far as we know – he was shot. The remaining prisoners were loaded onto a truck and taken to the train station in Rożki. All were hanged on a gallows that had been carefully erected beforehand. The following people perished[1]: Zofia Grabosz, born in 1920, a Home Army soldier known by the pseudonym “Lucyna” and a liaison officer of “Sosna”, wife of Józef; Stanisław Grabosz, 52 years old, brother of Józef, a house painter; Julia Grabosz, née Borysiuk, born in 1906, wife of Stanisław, mother of Mieczysław; Mieczysław Grabosz, 16 years old, son of Stanisław and Julia, a student; Bronisława Mróz, 42 years old, sister of Józef Grabosz; Antonina Gutkowska, born in 1892, a teacher; Władysław Janiak, 40 years old, an officer of the Polish Police; Kazimierz Kapel, 47 years old, a clerk and a Home Army soldier known under the pseudonym “Wróbel”; Feliks Mas, 29 years old, an employee of the arms factory in Radom; Halina Rołkowska; Adolf Rutka, 36 years old; Joanna Schleimacher (the surname “Szlajermacher” was engraved on the plaque commemorating the 60th anniversary of the murders), 29 years old, sister of Mieczysław Dąbrówka; Aurelia Szostak, born in 1919, a soldier of the Military Organization and subsequently of the Home Army, known under the pseudonym “Irena”; Henryk Winczewski, born in 1910; Jan Winczewski, 26 years old, brother of Henryk, a merchant from Warsaw.

The next day, on 13 October 1942, 10 other prisoners were hanged on a gallows erected near the Kielce highway, in the vicinity of the radio station in Wacyn. These were[2] Józef Bołdok, 44 years old, a functionary of the State Forestry Authority in Radom, brother of Stefan; Stefan Bołdok, born in 1902, an agronomist; Bolesław Dłużewski, born in 1911, a ticket clerk at the train station in Radom and a soldier of the Home Army; Tadeusz Gałązka, born in 1910, a grinder at the arms factory; Władysław Jastrzębski, born in 1918, an employee of the fire service at the arms factory; Ryszard Kiełbowski, born in 1915, a technical employee of the arms factory; Józef Molenda, born in 1919, an employee of the arms factory; Józef Saramonowicz, a foreman at the mechanical department of the arms factory, and Zbigniew Saramonowicz, an employee of the arms factory.

But this was by no means the end. On 14 October, a gallows was set up next to one of the buildings of the arms factory. It was put to use immediately – 15 men were hanged, while workers of the plant were forced to watch the grim spectacle. The following died[3]: Mieczysław Dąbrówka, born in 1919, a metal-worker at the arms factory; Stanisław Jastrzębski, an employee of the arms factory; Stanisław Kiełbowski, born in 1917, the manager of the “Bata” shoe factory and one of its technical workers; Lucjan Kociński, born in 1912, an employee of the arms factory; Tadeusz Kozerski, born in 1917, a relative of the Winczewski family and an employee of the “Bata” shoe factory; Jan Kurys, born in 1910, an employee of the arms factory; Stanisław Łozicki, born in 1910, an employee of the arms factory; Marian Łozicki, 16 years old, son of Stanisław, an employee of the arms factory; Roman Ptaszyński, 21 years old, an employee of the arms factory; Edward Rajski, an employee of the arms factory and probably a soldier of the Home Army; Adam Rzeszot, born in 1906, an employee of the arms factory; Jan Sapiński, born in 1901, a foreman at the arms factory; Czesław Stefański, 28 years old, an employee of the arms factory; Mikołaj Szlezyngier, 51 years old, a bricklayer from Rożki; Jerzy Wojdacki, born in 1921, an employee of the Social Insurance Office in Radom.

The last execution took place on 15 October 1942. Ten prisoners were hanged near the Warsaw highway. These were[4]: Halina Bretsznajder, born in 1905, a scouting activist and a Home Army soldier known under the pseudonym “Olga”; Eugeniusz Kurasiewicz, 33 years old, an employee of the municipal waterworks; Władysław Leśniewski, 25 years old; Pelagia Matuszewska, born in 1905, an employee of the “Społem” National Consumers’ Association; Jan Nadolski, the owner of a building materials depot in Radom and a soldier of the Home Army; Jan Prokop, born in 1907, a metal-worker at the arms factory; Edward Rogalski, born in 1910, an employee of the arms factory; Jan Sikorski, 39 years old, an employee of the arms factory; Ada Winczewska, born in 1919, the wife of Jan, who was heavily pregnant at the time of her murder; Stanisława Winczewska, born in 1892, the mother of Jan and Henryk.

Jewish prisoners – specially brought in by SS-Oberscharführer Ferdinand Koch, a pathological sadist with an obscenely twisted sense of humor who “worked” at the prison in Radom – were forced to act as executioners in all of these killings. The Germans made every effort to ensure the proper “setting”, forcing random passers-by and workers from the weapons factory to observe the murders. The bodies were left hanging all day long. But despite their organizational zeal, people who observed the events later stated that the first execution took place with a relatively small number of witnesses. Only later did the Germans stop a train coming from the direction of Skarżysko and force its passengers to observe the macabre sight.

These gruesome public executions did not, however, bring the case of “Sosna” and the Radom arms factory to a close: fresh arrests were made soon after Józef Grabosz, pseudonym “Bill”, and Mieczysław Wrona, pseudonym “Szymon”, appeared in Radom. When they made an attempt to reach their homes, they were both captured in an ambush organized by the Gestapo and its informers. The former was seized by the Germans in November 1942. And although he tried to commit suicide in the course of the assault, he was saved and subjected to severe torture. In all probability, it was then that he told the Gestapo about the families from Ciepielów, Solec nad Wisłą and Przysucha that had aided the conspirators following the shootout in Rożki. “Szymon”, in turn, perished on 18 January 1943 together with his father and mother, when their house came under heavy German fire; his mother survived the initial shooting, but was murdered in cold blood immediately after. The Germans recovered the identity card of Lieutenant Wrona, which contained information about his place of employment in Leipzig. These data allowed them to conduct further arrests in the aforementioned townships in January 1943. The Sipo then took a decision as to the fate of all the arrestees, including those who had been detained earlier, in September and October, and temporarily spared execution. Only a handful were released. The majority were deported to concentration camps, where many of them perished.

 

Bibliography

Archives of the Branch Office of the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Kraków, Ds. 12/67, vol. 18, Report on the course and results of the Gestapo investigation in Radom, pages 41–44 [the files have been transferred to the Branch Office of the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Lublin].

Franecki Jan, Zbrojne starcie w Rożkach i publiczne egzekucje w Radomiu w 1942 r., “Biuletyn Kwartalny Radomskiego Towarzystwa Naukowego” 1980, vol. 17, book 4.

Piątkowski Sebastian, Egzekucje publiczne w Radomiu w 1942 r., „Biuletyn Kwartalny Radomskiego Towarzystwa Naukowego” 2009, vol. 43, book 2.

Piątkowski Sebastian, Ekspozytura wywiadowcza SosnaOddziału II Komendy Okręgu Radomsko-Kieleckiego ZWZ-AK (19411945). Z badań nad organizacją i działalnością, in: Z dziejów Polskiego Państwa Podziemnego na Kielecczyźnie 19391945, ed. Jerzy Gapys, Tomasz Domański, Kielce 2016, pp. 149-166.

Piątkowski Sebastian, Więzienie niemieckie w Radomiu 19391945, Lublin 2009, p. 131.

Rejestr miejsc i faktów zbrodni popełnionych przez okupanta hitlerowskiego na ziemiach polskich w latach 19391945. Województwo radomskie, Warsaw 1980, pp. 140-142, 157.

 

Dr Tomasz Domański – a historian at the Kielce Branch Office of the Institute of National Remembrance. Together with Andrzej Jankowski, he has authored a monograph entitled Represje niemieckie na wsi kieleckiej 1939-1945 (Kielce 2011).

 

[1] Cf. the accounts of Stanisław Czaiński, Zofia Dąbrówka, Genowefa Frąk, Ludwika Grabosz, Halina Jamroż, Stefania Janiak, Stanisław Kwiatkowski, Władysław Lużyński, Anna Mas, Halina Szostak, and Anna Winczewska.

[2] Cf. the accounts of Julia Bołdok, Weronika Bołdok, Halina Dłużniewska, Jan Jastrzębski, Maria Jastrzębska, Mirosław Kieczmur, Paweł Kiełbowski, Stanisława Molenda, and Zdzisław Stępniewski.

[3] Cf. the accounts of Janina Dąbrówka, Zofia Dąbrówka, Maria Deryńska, Jan Jastrzębski, Eugenia Jastrzębska, Maria Jastrzębska, Paweł Kiełbowski, Alicja Kocińska, Maria Kozerska, Bronisława Kurys, Józefa Łozicka, Karol Rajski, Maria Rzeszot, Helena Sapińska, Antonina Stefańska, Stefania Stefańska, Aurelia SzlezyngerMagdalena Wojdacka and Maria Wojdacka.

[4] Cf. the accounts of Zofia Bretsznajder, Halina Jamroż, Anna Mikulska, Kamila Prokop, Władysław Rogalski, and Piotr Sikorski.