Pozawarszawska konspiracja więzienna na terenach okupowanych przez Niemców 1939-1945. (Udział polskiego personelu)
Authors: Krystian Bedyński
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In 1939-1945, the Nazi invaders organized over 1300 prisons and jails in the occupied territory of Poland. The institutions were instrumental to the policy of extermination the Polish nation which was among the aims of the invasion. Prisons and jails were places where Polish people were isolated, tortured and slaughtered. Inmates were transported to places of mass execution and to concentration camps; during evacuation in January l945, route columns were sent on ,,death marches”.
The prisons where such genocidal practices were particularly intense are still present in Polish historical consciousness as places of torture and martyrdom. A symbol of this kind is the Pawiak prison in Warsaw where the Nazi confined over 100 thousand persons; 37 thousand were put before a firing squad, slaughtered, or tortured to death, and 60 thousand were sent to concentration camps.
The Pawiak prison was also the site of the inmates' incessant struggle for freedom, survival, and preservation of dignity. In their struggle, the prisoners were assisted in a variety of ways by many Polish members of the staff compulsorily employed by the Nazi out of necessity especially during the first months of occupation. The assistance was both material and spiritual. The Staff would hand over to inmates articles such as food, drugs, cigarettes etc., and to confined priests - the Host. The Polish prison staff smuggled messages, contacted the prisoners' families, disclosed informers, warned against the Gestapo and helped to escape. Their acts resulted from patriotic, humanitarian and religious values.
Attitudes of a considerable proportion of Polish prison staff who sabotaged the rulings of Nazi administration helped to accomplish intelligence operations started in prisons as early as the autumn of 1939 by underground independance organizations. In December 1939, Warsaw District Headquarters of Siuïba Zwycikstwu Polski [Service to Poland’s Victory, SZP] recruited three prison guard officers who were ordered to organize intelligence divisions in each of the Warsaw prisons. In the Pawiak prison, the structure continued to operate till July 1944; it based on the work of Polish staff duty prisoners, and a group of outside liaisons.
Participation of the prison staff in intelligence operations undertaken by independence organizations broadened the notion of prison conspiracy, adding to it a variety of actions directly related to struggle against the invaders.
Symbols similar to the Pawiak prison were also other institutions in Nazi-occupied Poland and in Polish territories included in the Reich. On the local scale, the prisons were symbols of particular torment of their inmates and of underground involvement of the Polish staff.
The actual possibility of forming a prison conspiracy in Nazi-occupied territories depended on many factors. This was related to differences in the functioning of prisons systems in different regions. Individual administrative districts in territories included into the Reich differed in this respect from the occupied regions and from the eastern borderland of Poland, Nazi-occupied since 1941.
The basic factor that determined the nature and intensity of underground activities was the size of Polish staff and their individual motivation resulting from the system of values professed.
In territories included into the Reich, the prison system subordinated to Ministry of Justice controlled 142 formerly Polish prison institutions. Their arrangement in individul administrative districts was as follows: Warta Land - 49, Gdansk and West Prussia - 28, Silesia - 12, East Prussia - 6, and Białystok - 4. Among those taken over by Nazi invaders, the largest in respect of inmate population were the prisons in Sieradz (capacity of 1,146), Rawicz (1,075), Wronki (1,016), Koronowo (562), Poznań (464), and Łódź(420).
Some of the prisons were taken over together with their inmates and Polish prison staff who were ordered to work on. This corresponded with the order that all inhabitants of invaded territories return to work on pain of severe sanctions, the death penalty included. The order applied also to prison staff who stayed on in their original place of residence or returned from evacuation or POW camps.
Among those returning to work were guards who on the day of evacuation had been given secret orders to stay on and to take a job under occupation (Cracow, Wronki).
In some localities, during the first weeks of occupation, there was a shortage of candidates for prison guards among both the Polish population and the local German community. The invaders thus had to hire German-speaking Poles with some knowledge of prisons, as e.g. court ushers.
In November 1939, the process started of Polish staff being removed from prisons, in Warta Land in particular, and replaced with German guards brought in from the Reich, local Germans, and Poles who had signed the German nationality list. In 1943, the front situation becoming worse, some of the German prison staff were mobilized. Vacancies were filled with forcefully employed former Polish guards.
Thus according to the changing staff conditions, also the possibilities of clandestine assistance to inmates changed.
The possibility of intelligence operations in prisons in territories included into the Reich depended also on the functioning of independence organizations. The extent of repressions suffered by Polish people in those territories made it impossible to develop regular underground activities in prisons.
In some prisons in the Gdansk and West Prussia district where Polish staff were left on the job (Grudziądz, Koronowo, Starogard Gdański), the guards immediately started helping prisoners: they contacted the families and smuggled packages, letters and messages. Most important was assistance in organizing escapes, saving persons from transports to concentration camps, putting them in the infirmary, or finding them a job in the prison.
The Koronowo prison had special conditions for development of underground activity: throughout the period of occupation, its Staff included 44 Poles, 39 of them among the guards. Most guards became involved in various forms of assistance to prisoners; they cooperated with an inmate self-defense group and with an underground group of Koronowo women who rendered material assistance to inmates and helped their families coming on permitted visits. They also helped to find shelter for escaped prisoners.
The only Polish woman guard in the Fordon women’s prison was only employed in 1943. From the very start, she rendered material and moral assistance to political prisoners, and organized a local group who gathered food and drugs for the inmates.
Most limited were the possibilities of assisting prisoners in the institutions of Warta Land. The conditions were favorable during the first months after the invasion only when the invaders were forced to employ Polish prison staff and the system of internal and external supervision and surveillance had not yet been introduced to the full. In this situation, Polish guards mainly assisted inmates materially and morally and served as liaisons between them and their families. For example, a guard in the Leszno prison smuggled farewell letters of hostages wainting for execution; another one in the Rawicz prison orsanized a contact station for prisoners’ families in his own apartment; and a guard in the Kościan prison help priests to say masses in secret. Later on when few Polish guards were still in service, they could only assist inmates on a limited scale and with extreme caution. But even in this situaion, they were still willing to help.
During the first months after the invasion, a Polish clerk in the Kościan prison not only assisted the inmates but also documented Nazi crimes: among other things, he kept lists of the executed.
In prisons of the Warta Land district involvement of Polish prison staff in underground intelligence was practically non-existent. This was due to a rapid replacement of Polish guards and to organizational difficulties encountered by the underground in that district. Favorable conditions could be found in the Wieluń prison which had a large group of pre-war Polish Staff throughout the period of Nazi occupation. Moreover, one of prison staff leaders, reserve oficer of the Polish Army, was sworn as agent of Sieradz and Wieluń Inspectorate of the underground Armed-Struggle Union - Home Army (ZWZ AK).
In prisons taken over by the invaders in Silesia district, the Nazi administration created a climate of mistrust, suspicion and intimidation with respect to Polish staff temporarily left on the job. This limited and in some cases precluded the guards’ secret contacts with inmates and their families.
A special role in prison conspiracy in Silesia was played by Emil Lipowczan, forcefully recruited to the police and delegated to work as guard in Gestapo remand prison in Mysłowice. Acting for patriotic, humanitarian and religious reasons, he rendered comprehensive material and spiritual assistance to prisoners. He reached their families and warned persons threatened with arrest. He was assisted in this work by his entire family. Starting from 1943, he worked for Home Army intelligence.
Once the Nazi-Soviet war broke out in June 1943, the eastern territories of Poland - previously occupied by USSR – were taken over by Nazi administration. Extremely few Polish prison guards could actually be used by the new invaders as the staff had been pacified by NKVD in 1939-1941. For this reason, prisons of Białystok district were staffed with various persons; some of them were subsequently recruited by ZWZ AK intelligence. Many a time, ZWZ AK would also appoint its members to take a job in prisons and Gestapo remand prisons and to carry out information and intelligence tasks there while at the same time assisting detained AK soldiers. Such guards only rendered material and moral assistance to other prisoners with utmost caution as a side-activity which they pursued for humanitarian reasons.
In Nazi-occupied Poland (Generalgouvernement), the conditions were entirely different and more favorable for prison conspiracy. Nearly all prisons, also those subordinated to security police (except the Montelupi prison in Cracow), had Polish staff throughout the occupation. Besides, operating in ihe neighborhood of individual institutions were numerous legal, semi-legal and illegal organizations assisting prisoners and their families. Through persons who stayed in touch with the inmates, SZP-ZWZ AK would penetrate prisons on regular basis. The prison staff (pre-war guards forcefully reassigned to the job) not only assisted the inmates but also became involved in intelligence work. Tasks of this kind were performed mainly by guards purposely sent to the prison by an independence organization. Prison conspiracy has a variety of organizational forms. In Tarnyw, there was an highly centralized prison section; Lublin, instead, had several active but independent small groups of guards and duty prisoners. In Cracow, Częstochowa (prison in Senacka Street), and in a few other smaller prisons, the structure was atomized and based on independent underground work of individual guards. The extent of assistance rendered to inmates and of intelligence tasks assigned often depended on the committal and personality of the head of AK prison section; this can be said e.g. of the prisons in Jasło, Pinczów and Rzeszów. Significant was also the contribution of intelligence officers who supervised the prisons sections e.g. in Biała Podlaska, Siedlce, Wiśnicz and Zamość.
Added to Generalgouvernement in August 1941 was Galicia district. Polish guards were but a small group among the prison staff of that district; they were supervised by Germans, Ukrainians and other nationalities. In such conditions, the scope of assistance to inmates was extremely limited. Yet ZWZ AK intelligence officers would get in touch even with those few Polish guards and gain them over for cooperation. Prison conspiracy in Galicia and in the remaining eastern territories consisted first of all in individual guards’ committal and performance of tasks assigned by his superior intelligence officer. This form could be found in Lvov, Pińsk, and Równe.
The Nazi prison administration mistrusted Polish staff who were submitted to everincreasing surveillance by the Germans and other nationalities, and also by few quislings among Polish guards and informers among the inmates. Yet neither persecution nor repression (arrests, executions, confinements to concentration camps) applied to Polish staff could reduce the extent of assistance to political prisoners or check intelligence work in prisons.