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100th anniversary of the establishment of the Tatra Mountain Voluntary Rescue Service

The growing popularity of the Tatra Mountains and of the town of Zakopane in the second half of the 19th century contributed to the increase in the number of persons missing or seriously injured in the mountains. Emergency rescue service operations were becoming insufficient. In February 1909 Mieczysław Karłowicz and Mariusz Zaruski prepared the final version of an appeal to the public concerning the necessity of establishing the Tatra Mountain Voluntary Rescue Service (Tatrzańskie Ochotnicze Pogotowie Ratunkowe - TOPR). Karłowicz himself did not manage to sign the appeal, as he died in a snow avalanche at Mały Kościelec on 8 February 1909, during a solitary trip. The death of the young composer expedited the establishment of TOPR.

?The High Governor's Office of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Lvov issued a rescript of 29 October 1909 which did not prohibit the establishment of the association.' TOPR was the fourth officially operating mountain rescue service in the world and the first outside the Alps.

Mariusz Zaruski was appointed Chief of the Rescue Guards and Klemens Bachleda his deputy. A blue cross against a white background was adopted as TOPR emblem. Members of the first rescue team confirmed the oath taken before the Chief by affixing their signatures under the text of the oath. The team included: Klemens Bachleda, Szymon Tatar mł., Jakub Wawrytko, Jędrzej Marusarz, Jan Pęksa, Wojciech Tylka Suleja, Stanisław Gąsienica Byrcyn, Stanisław Zdyb, Józef Lesiecki and Henryk Bednarski. Mariusz Zaruski took his oath before TOPR President, Doctor Kazimierz Dłuski.

Bachleda died during a rescue operation of 6 August 1910, mounted to save an injured mountaineer on Mały Jaworowy Szczyt.

In 1914 Zaruski put forward Józef Oppenheim as his deputy, while himself, he set out from Zakopane commanding the 14th Infantry Company, later known as the 1st Zakopane Company. In 1918 Mariusz Zaruski joined the Polish Army. In 1923 he was appointed General Aide-de-Camp to the President of the Republic of Poland and soon afterwards was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

Józef Oppenheim was in charge of TOPR till 1939, he participated in over 70 rescue operations, most often as their commander.

The outbreak of World War II put an end to the activity of the TOPR Rescue Guards. Yet, accidents in the Tatra mountains continued to happen and the Nazi authorities ordered Zbigniew Korosadowicz to organize a rescue service, which under the name of Freiwillige Tatra Bergwacht TOPR carried out 55 rescue operations in the years of German occupation. Soon after the liberation of Podhale the rescue guards conducted one of the most difficult rescue operations ever. From behind the frontline in the region of Mount Przedni Salatyn 4 injured guerrilla fighters were rescued as well as 4 uninjured and 2 female paramedics.

At the beginning of the fifties, TOPR rescuers led by Tadeusz Pawłowski started the activities aimed to establish mountain rescue services outside the Tatra mountains. As a result, in 1956, the Mountain Volunteer Rescue Service (GOPR) was established and TOPR was transformed into its Tatra Section.

In 1958 rescuers were donated professional mountain search and rescue equipment enabling to conduct rescue operations in the most difficult Tatra mountain faces. In subsequent years they were equipped with communications equipment. In 1963 Tadeusz Augustyniak piloting an SM-1 helicopter made the first successful flight to the Valley of Five Polish Tarns. In 1974 the rescuers were joined by the dog called Cygan, under the handling of a highly merited rescuer Józef Uznański. The first on-duty regular helicopter rescue service in Zakopane was launched in 1975.

The association of Tatra mountain rescuers was registered under the original name of the Tatra Mountain Voluntary Rescue Service by the District Court in Nowy Sącz on 13 November 1991 and it has used the name ever since.

Jan Krzysztof
Chief of TOPR Rescue Guards