Published in the Delaware County Daily Times July 2, 2019
By Joseph Batory, Times Correspondent
With so much interest in ancestry these days, it is always interesting to find a person from the past with your same name. This happened to me recently, and my discovery was chilling.
One of the leading members of the opposition to the occupation of Poland by the Nazis and the post-war Soviet occupation of Poland was a resistance leader with my name, Jozef (Joseph) Batory. Jozef had studied law at the prestigious Jagellian University in Krakow but the invasion of Poland by the Germans in 1939 ended his academic pursuits. He became a commandant in the Polish resistance during the war years. Aside from his military activities, Batory also taught in the underground (high school and university level) schools since the Germans had banned education for all Poles while they occupied Poland. When WW II finally ended, Batory continued to strive for Poland’s freedom as the leader of the Polish Freedom and Independence (Wolność i Niezawisłość), Anti-Soviet underground. Tragically, Batory was eventually arrested in the late 1940’s by the communist secret police, imprisoned for three years, submitted to a puppet Soviet trial, and executed in 1951.
Batory is among the legendary cursed soldiers of Poland. Their fates were sealed by their unwavering Polish patriotism and heroism. Also known as the doomed soldiers and the damned soldiers, the cursed soldiers (Żołnierze wyklęci) sprung from the remnants of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) which had used guerrilla tactics to mount resistance against the forces of Nazi Germany which occupied Poland during World War II.
When the war finally ended, Poland’s “reward” for being the first to fight the Nazis was to be handed to the Soviets who subjugated the Poles for more than three decades. The Polish
underground groups of insurgents then continued to fight against the new oppressors of Poland.
Thousands of these cursed soldiers were systematically hunted down by the Soviet military and secret police and submitted to brutal torture and/or forced labor and often murder. An estimated 50,000 members of the Polish anti-communist underground perished at the hands of the communists between 1944 and 1956. They were mostly buried in unmarked graves, the majority of which cannot be located, including that of Batory’s burial site.
In the ten years following the end of WW II, six million Polish citizens (one out of every three adults) were classified as “reactionaries/criminals” by the Soviet authorities. At least 300,000 Polish civilians (some estimates are as high as two million) were arrested by the Soviets. Of this group, there were 6000 executions and more than 20,000 other Poles died in communist prisons.
Finally, after the crash of communism in eastern Europe in 1989, the arrests and convictions of these many innocent Poles were declared invalid and annulled by the finally free Polish government.
March 1 is Cursed Soldiers National Remembrance Day in Poland. It was officially established by the Polish parliament in 2011. In the most recent ceremonies a few months ago, Polish president Andrzej Duda memorialized the cursed soldiers as never wavering in their fight for a free and sovereign Poland and he observed that their patriotism should never be forgotten. Duda concluded: “There would probably be no truly free Poland today if not for the heroism, suffering and toil of these patriots.”
In summary, despite the most horrific conditions in Poland beginning in 1939 and lasting 50 years, the cursed soldiers would not allow the dream of a free Poland to die. The struggle of this Polish underground was the ongoing inspiration for the eventual freedom that occurred.
In the midst of that heroism was the idealism and the moral commitment of Jozef Batory who gave his life so that Poland could someday be free. His sacrifice should never be forgotten.
NB—While there are several references to Poland’s “cursed soldiers” on the Internet, the most comprehensive summary is from Donna Gawell (Jozef Batory and Jozef Bryk: Two Cursed Solders).
Joseph Batory, a resident of Philadelphia, is the author of three books and more than 100 published articles on politics, education and history. He is proud of his Polish-American heritage.