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Antoni Żubryd „Zuch”

Antoni Żubryd “Zuch” was born on 4 September 1918 in Sanok. This pre-war graduate of non-commissioned officer school in Śrem took part in the defence of Warsaw in September 1939 as a deputy platoon commander in his home 40th Infantry Regiment “Children of Lviv” (40 Pułk Piechoty im. Dzieci Lwowskich). During the fighting he was promoted to the rank of sergeant and awarded with the Cross of Valour. After the capitulation of Warsaw, he was taken prisoner, but then released. He returned to Sanok, where he joined the underground movement.

At the beginning of 1940, he and his wife were arrested by the NKVD. The couple were released after the German attack on the USSR on 22 June 1941. “Zuch” was arrested by the Germans on 5 November 1941, imprisoned in Sanok, Tarnów, and then in St. Michael’s prison in Kraków. On 6 September 1943, the German Special Court (Sondergericht) in Cracow sentenced him to death. When the convicts were being taken to the place of execution, they attacked the escort and Antoni Żubryd – as the only one – managed to escape. He remained in hiding, but maintained contact with the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) and conducted combat training.

After the Soviets entered the Sanok region, the Polish underground sent him as an infiltrator to the infamous communist Public Security Office in Sanok, in other words, to the local headquarters of the secret police (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, UB). There he was supposed to warn conspirators about the planned arrests and assist in their escapes. In June 1945, when he was unmasked, he left his job and freed several arrested members of the Home Army. In retaliation, the secret police arrested Żubryd’s mother-in-law Stanisława Praczyńska and his four-year-old son Janusz for “collaboration with Żubryd’s gang”. In response, Antoni Żubryd – with the consent of his superiors – carried out an attack on Tadeusz Sieradzki, the head of the Public Security Office in Sanok.

The son and mother-in-law were released after “Zuch” threatened to shoot seven captive policemen from the local police headquarters in Haczów. Żubryd subordinated his unit, the NSZ Independent Operational Battalion “Zuch”, to the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, NZS). Composed of former Home Army soldiers and deserters from the police (going in Poland under a typical communist designation of Citizen’s Militia), from the Ministry of Public Security and from the Polish People’s Army, it was 300 men strong at its peak in 1946. The unit carried out more than 200 armed actions, executed secret police officers, police officers, Internal Security Corps soldiers, Polish Workers’ Party members and secret police confidants, but its main goal was to defend the Polish population from the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) attacks.

Żubryd was pursued by the communist apparatus, but remained untraced. The task of dealing with him was finally assigned by the secret police to his trusted subordinate, Jerzy Vaulin, whom they had managed to recruit. Documents reveal that on 24 October 1946 at 7 p.m. Vaulin shot Żubryd and his wife in a forest, at a site located about two kilometres from the village of Malinówka in the Brzozów district. On that tragic day Jerzy Vaulin first went with Antoni Żubryd, ostensibly to jointly check the route of a planned march for their unit. In the forest near Malinówka, he shot his commander in the back of the head. He then lured Janina Żubryd to the same place and murdered her on the spot. The bodies were discovered and transported to the vicinity of a local shop by a forester from Malinówka. On the following day secret police functionaries transported them to the prison in the Rzeszów castle. The bodies of Antoni and Janina Żubryd vanished without a trace there and their remains have never been found.

Żubryd’s death meant the end of his unit’s activity, although the hunt for its members continued. According to the IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) files, secret police officers killed 23 and arrested 115 of them. 38 collaborators of the unit were also captured. Communist authorities handed over Żubryd’s son, Janusz, to an orphanage run by nuns and supervised by the secret police. After being adopted by his mother’s sister, he took the surname Niemiec.

Tadeusz Płużański