THEY WERE DYING LIKE SAINT PEOPLE
Fr. JAN KRAWIEC
It has been 70 years recently since the death of guillotined five heroic youngest Polish martyrs because of hatred towards faith on 24 September 1942, in the evening hours, in a hard prisoner in Drezno.
In order to stop an active religious activity of the Salesians of Poznań among the youth gathering in the Oratory, on 20 October occupants arrested organizers of the oratory life – Fr. Władysław Bartoń and cleric Józef Holecki. The terrible terror which was in the occupied city, is proved by the fact that the Nazis had killed by shooting about 2 thousand Poles in September and October 1939 in Poznań. In this tragic situation the ‘Five’ with the other members of the youth’s choir, not having anything in common with political activity, move with their older friend and the choir conductor Stefan Stuligrosz to the Brothers of the Holiest Heart of Jesus to Śródka where they continue gathering for rehearsals and on Sundays they sing during Holy Masses still celebrated in some not closed churches and chapels in Poznań. Gestapo, realizing its plan, on 21 September 1940 arrests Edward Klinik at work, the former student of the Salesian Institution in Oświęcim which the Prussians had considered as a colony before the first world war and a hatchery of Polishness and distortion of spirit, disturbing in germanization of the Upper Silesia.
Two days later, that is, on 23 September 1940, in the evening hours, the Gestapo arrest the rest of the members of the ‘Five’ at their homes, belonging to the youth’s choir without any revision conducted earlier.
Beaten to unconsciousness
The arrested orators were taken to the Soldier’s House – the headquarter of Gestapo where next day an investigation started. During hearings and terrible tortures the boys, according to the truth, admitted that in September 1939, like thousands of young Poles, they had wanted to defend their homeland as volunteers but at that time, after the end of the September campaign, they were working peacefully and did not have or do not have any contacts with any political organization whose purpose is to separate a part of Polish land from the Third German Reich.
However, the consistent statements of the arrested did not respond with the gestapo, therefore the beaten and tortured oratory members were transported to the Fort VII in Poznań on 24 September evening, from where they were transported to further hearings during which Czesław Jóźwiak was bullied the most, who was thought to be a leader of the oratory group. The other members were also beaten and tortured a lot, which is proved by a secret message sent to the mother of Jarogniew Wojciechowski in which he asks his mother and sister for a prayer because he ‘was beaten to the loss of consciousness’ and memories written in a diary of Edward Klinik that the first investigation had been the most terrible day in his life which he would not forget. The whole ‘Five’ was transported from the Fort VII to an investigatory prison at Młyńska street in Poznań on 14 October 1940. In the new confinement where prisoners were guillotined, the boys did not break down but being together in a big cell for some time – the former prison chapel – admired by other prisoners, they were saying salesian prayers together and loudly and like in the oratory in October – the Rosary prayer, to which other prisoners joined as well. During the investigation, however, not enough evidences were gathered, which would have proved the betrayal of the state and having weapon by the arrested, therefore on 16 November 1940 all prisoners were transported to a prison in Wronki, in order to carry out the already started investigation there.
After transporting the oratory members to Wronki , not only were they shaven and dressed in prison striped clothes, but, what’s the worst, each of them was closed as a political prisoner in separate cells over which there was the writing: ‘HOCHVERRAT’ – a betrayal of the state. The writing frightened the young boys because everybody were aware that the prisoners accused of the betrayal of the state and held in these cells were shot in the nearby forests or liquidated in another way.
After nearly 6 months of their imprisonment in Wronki – on 23 April 1941, the ‘Five’ were transported to a prison in Berlin. The ‘Five’ being in the prison Neukolln were transported to a prison in Zwickau on 30 May 1942 where its lawsuit was to take place. In Zwickau, according to the announcement, in the building of the District Court, on 3 August 1942 at 10.45, a default judgment given by Strafsenat des Oberlandesgerichts in Posen (The extraordinary Court in Poznań) was read out to the accused and imprisoned oratory members, under which the accused were sentenced to death penalty on 31 July 1942, because of their preparations for a betrayal of the state.
Astonished and frightened convicts accepted the terrible and unfair judgment heroically and peacefully. After informing their parents about their being sentenced to death, the boys were transported from the prison in Zwickau to a prison in Drezno, situated near Muncher Platz 3, in which lots of death penalties were executed through guillotining prisoners coming from various countries occupied by the Germans. After their arrival at Drezno, the prisoners were placed in barred cells in which as the so-called Todeskandidaten – the candidates sentenced to death – dressed in special striped clothes, other than other prisoners, were nervously awaiting for guillotining.
Like heroic, deeply believing oratory members, fervent animators of religious life were getting prepared for the martyr’s death not only at large but also in prisons and how deep their faith and joy was to go to meet the Lord, to see him, as St. Paul said: ‘face to face’ (Corinthian 13.12) – we learn from the report of Fr. Franciszek Bansch, holding the post of a chaplain of the prison in Drezno not only during the Nazis terror, but also after the end of the war in NRD till the year 1949. Fr. Bansch gave confessions to the oratory members who were sentenced to death, and he was with them during their execution and being enchanted and impressed by their deep faith and heroic martyr death – in the deepest secret he was taking notes about the last moments of their life, which, hidden under the floor, survived till our times. We read, among the others, that the heroic martyrs died ‘uthominessancti’ – like the saints.