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Hieronim Dekutowski alias Zapora

Polish Army Major Hieronim Dekutowski was born on 24 September 1918 in Tarnobrzeg. Dekutowski was characterized by an active attitude of patriotic responsibility already in his youth. He belonged to the “Jan Henryk Dąbrowski” Scout Team and was a member of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He fought as a volunteer in the Polish defensive war of 1939, and on 17 September he crossed the border with Hungary, where he was interned. He escaped from the internment camp and fled to France, where he fought against the Germans as a member of the Polish Armed Forces. He was then evacuated to England. In March 1943 he was sworn in as a member of the so-called “Cichociemni” (the Silent Unseen) paratroopers. He adopted the pseudonyms “Zapora” and “Odra” (he mainly used the first one, however).

On the night of 16-17 September 1943 Hieronim Dekutowski was sent to the “Garnek” 103 outpost in the vicinity of Wyszków, as part of the “Neon 1” operation during which members of the Silent Unseen paratroopers were parachuted into the Polish territory. The flight from England aboard the Halifax BB-378 “D” aeroplane, which belonged to the RAF, lasted 12 hours and 30 minutes.

Dekutowski initially commanded the Home Army unit in the Zamość Inspectorate, defending the people of the Zamość region against forced expulsions. In January 1944 he became the head of the Home Army’s Directorate for Subversion (“Kedyw”) in the Inspectorate of Lublin – Puławy.

One of his fellow soldiers recalled him in the following way: “He soon gained the opinion of an outstanding commander. He was characterized by courage, swift decision-making skills, and at the same time, caution and a great sense of responsibility for the people. He was thoroughly trained in the use of hand guns and machine guns. He was inconspicuous, but also had great personal charm. He knew how to be demanding and he maintained iron discipline in his units, but he also combined that with moderation and concern for each soldier, as a result of which he was held in high esteem by his subordinates. They referred to him as “the old man” even though he was not yet thirty.”

Dekutowski’s unit consisted of two hundred men and carried out 83 combat operations and subversive activities. He took part in “Operation Tempest” (Akcja “Burza”) in the Lublin region, after which he unsuccessfully attempted to break through to the capital in order to help the soldiers fighting in the Warsaw Uprising.

Dekutowski did not lay down his arms after the Soviet forces entered Poland. In response to the communist terror, he created a post-Home Army self-defence unit, which consisted of about 200 men, just like during the German occupation. He conducted many courageous retaliatory actions against the Soviet Union’s NKVD, as well as the Department of Security (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa – UB), the Internal Security Corps (Korpus Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego – KBW) and the Citizens’ Militia (Milicja Obywatelska – MO). Because he was the most distinguished commander of the underground resistance, the majority of the Freedom and Independence (Zrzeszenie Wolność i Niezawisłość) units in the Lublin region submitted to his leadership. He even sacrificed his private life to the struggle for national liberation. He told his beloved fiancée: “I’m going to the forests, I don’t know if I’ll make it out alive, we can’t be together”.

Dekutowski was arrested by the communist security services in September 1947 in Nysa, together with the commanders of his group’s subunits. The captured freedom fighters were transported to the detention centre at Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw and were subjected to brutal interrogation. On 15 November 1948 seven members of Dekutowski’s unit were sentenced to death by a communist court. Hieronim Dekutowski was murdered by a shot in the back of the head on 7 March 1949. His remains were only found and identified in 2013.

For many years of the Polish People’s Republic, the communist authorities purposefully distorted his biography. The situation was different in the West, where in 1964 the legitimate Government of the Republic of Poland in exile posthumously awarded Major Hieronim Dekutowski “Zapora” with the Silver Cross of the Order of Virtuti Militari. It was only in 1994 that the Warsaw Regional Court determined that Hieronim Dekutowski and his murdered soldiers were engaged in the struggle for the sovereignty of the Polish State.

Tadeusz Płużański