A dangerous act of defiance in Poland

An Avro Lancaster of No. 300 Polish Bomber Squadron RAF flying over the smoke-covered target area during a daylight attack on the oil refinery and storage depot of Deutsche Vacuum AG at Bremen, Germany, by 133 Lancasters of No. 1 Group and 6 De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 8 Group.

An Avro Lancaster of No. 300 Polish Bomber Squadron RAF flying over the smoke-covered target area during a daylight attack on the oil refinery and storage depot of Deutsche Vacuum AG at Bremen, Germany, by 133 Lancasters of No. 1 Group and 6 De Havilland Mosquitos of No. 8 Group.

Troops of the 1st Polish Corps man an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland. The train was armed with a 6-pdr gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren guns.

Troops of the 1st Polish Corps man an armoured train on a line at North Berwick in Scotland. The train was armed with a 6-pdr gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren guns.

It had been a long and bitter war for Poland. Its Jewish population had been all but destroyed while ordinary Poles endured all manner of persecution under the German occupation. The Polish Armed forces had suffered at the hands of Stalin. Those that had escaped to Britain had played a prominent part in the fighting from the very beginning, in Norway and in the Battle of Britain. Polish troops now found themselves in the middle of the struggle for Cassino, while many more were in Britain awaiting D-Day.

In Poland hopes were being raised as the Red Army approached from the east. The Polish underground was becoming more active and was preparing to break out into open warfare with Germans when the time was right.

It was not just resentment of the Germans that drove them but a deep patriotism. Among the many young men involved was 16 year old Julian Kulski, whose youth perhaps made him a little reckless. The 3rd of May was the Polish National Day and he wanted to mark it appropriately:

The Germans have marked the day by placing three times as many police patrols as usual on the streets, filling the city streets with open trucks loaded with SS police, and installing machine-gun emplacements in front of every German military building. The Germans are more jittery now because of the huge Russian offensive opening up on the Eastern Front.

Even on this special day the Germans will not permit people to attend the May Mass in church after curfew in the evening. This service is held throughout the month in honor of the Virgin Mary, but has to take place before the curfew hour. Moreover, both the singing of patriotic hymns in church and the preaching of sermons making reference to politics are strictly forbidden.

This afteroon I decided to attend the service. Saint Stanislaw Kostka Church in Zoliborz was crowded. Shafts of mellow sunlight fell from its tall, narrow windows onto the people below. The sheltered archways were banked with red and white flowers, and soft candlelight cast flickering shadows on the white walls.

I went straight up to the top gallery, which was also full, and stood by the door leading to the organ loft. I had decided that it would be grand if one of the oldest Polish melodies could be played during the holiday service.

So, near the end of the service I knocked on the door, and after a while the violinist opened it and asked what I wanted. I showed him that I had a pistol under my jacket. The pistol was not loaded, of course, and I wouldn’t have used it here anyway, but I hoped he wouldn’t know this.

I was let in at once. The door was closed behind me, and I approached the organist who was just ending one of the melodies specially intended for the May service. While the organ sheltered me from the sight of the congregation, I again showed my pistol and asked the organist in honor of our great day to play the hymn “God, Who Hath Poland Saved,” which had been our national hymn since the Uprising of 1830.

Neither my words nor my pistol would persuade the organist. He said he could not do it, for if he did, the priest and he and all his family would be executed. While talking to me he did not stop playing.

I explained to the organist that he would have witnesses — the violinist and the vocalist — to the fact that he had had to play the hymn at gunpoint. To my delight, when he had finished the one he was playing, he struck the chords of our national hymn, and to everyone’s surprise and joy we heard the stanzas of the melody that touches the heart of every Pole.

They were all so taken aback that nobody even moved. The people in the gallery were the first to begin singing, and they were soon followed by everyone else. The whole church then reverberated with the melody and words of the hymn:

God, who held Poland for so many ages,
In Your protection, glory, and great power;
Who gave Your wisdom to her bards and sages,
And gave Your own shield as her rightful dower.
Before Your altars, we in supplication
Kneeling, implore You, free our land and nation.
Bring back to Poland ancient mights and splendor,
And fruitful blessings bring to fields and meadows;
Be once again our Father, just, tender,
Deliver us from our dire shadows.

As the chorus repeated the refrain, the church was filled with the heartrending phrase:

Before Your altars, we in supplication
Kneeling, implore You, free our land and nation.

I did not wait any longer. I vanished from the church into the twilight, the last emotional words of the hymm resounding in my ears.

The people realized, of course, what might happen to them. In five minutes not a living soul remained in the church.

See Julian Engeniusz Kulski: Dying, we live: The personal chronicle of a young freedom fighter in Warsaw (1939-1945). For more on Julian Kulski see Warsaw Uprising.

Gun drill on a BL 4.7 inch /45 naval gun on board the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, formerly HMS Nerissa. She was handed over to the Polish Navy by the British government to replace ORP Grom another Polish destroyer which was bombed and sunk off Norway.

Gun drill on a BL 4.7 inch /45 naval gun on board the Polish destroyer ORP Piorun, formerly HMS Nerissa. She was handed over to the Polish Navy by the British government to replace ORP Grom another Polish destroyer which was bombed and sunk off Norway.

A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron walking toward the camera from a Hawker Hurricane after, purportedly, returning from a fighter sortie. Left to right, in the front row are; Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić; Flight Lieutenant John A Kent (Commander of 'A' Flight); Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak; Pilot Officer Jerzy Radomski; Pilot Officer Witold Łokuciewski; Pilot Officer Bogusław Mierzwa (obscured by Łokuciewski); Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg; Sergeant Jan Rogowski; and Sergeant Eugeniusz Szaposznikow. In the centre, to the rear of this group, wearing helmet and goggles is Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach.

A group of pilots of No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron walking toward the camera from a Hawker Hurricane after, purportedly, returning from a fighter sortie. Left to right, in the front row are; Pilot Officer Mirosław Ferić; Flight Lieutenant John A Kent (Commander of ‘A’ Flight); Flying Officer Bogdan Grzeszczak; Pilot Officer Jerzy Radomski; Pilot Officer Witold Łokuciewski; Pilot Officer Bogusław Mierzwa (obscured by Łokuciewski); Flying Officer Zdzisław Henneberg; Sergeant Jan Rogowski; and Sergeant Eugeniusz Szaposznikow. In the centre, to the rear of this group, wearing helmet and goggles is Pilot Officer Jan Zumbach.

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