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Józef Kuraś „Ogień”

Józef Kuraś (“Ogień”, “Orzeł”) was born on 23 October 1915 in Waksmund near Nowy Targ. In 1934, he became a member of the People’s Party (Stronnictwo Ludowe), a peasant party in Poland. Drafted into the army in 1936, he served in Sanok and Słobodka near Vilnius.

During the September campaign of 1939, he fought in the ranks of the 1st Podhale Rifle Regiment, a mountain infantry unit. After an unsuccessful attempt to get through to France, he returned to Waksmund. In November 1939, he became involved in underground activities. He was a soldier of the Tatra Confederation (Konfederacja Tatrzańska) and the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), he also commanded the People’s Security Guard (Ludowa Straż Bezpieczeństwa) units and the execution squad of the county branch of the Government Delegation for Poland (the highest authority of the Polish underground state and an agency of the Polish Government in Exile) in Nowy Targ.

In June 1943, in retaliation for the execution carried out by Kuraś’s unit on two policemen who were Gestapo agents, the Germans murdered his wife, two-and-a-half-year-old son and father. The bodies of the murdered and Kuraś’s family house were burned. It was then that Józef Kuraś adopted the pseudonym “Ogień”, which means “Fire” in Polish.

At the beginning of 1945, Kuraś participated in the creation of the structures of the police (the so-called Citizens’ Militia) and the secret police (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, UB) in Nowy Targ, implementing the recommendations of the opposition party, i.e. the People’s Party led by Stanisław Mikołajczyk, for its sympathizers to take over from within the control of the state power structures established on the territories liberated by the Soviets. When this vision turned out to be unrealistic and the communists’ grip on power proved firm, Kuraś formed the “Błyskawica” partisan unit.

On 13 April 1945, he held a briefing in the mountains for his former subordinates, announcing an open fight against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and against the communists. He carried it out in the Podhale region and in other parts of the Kraków province until 1947, in many places becoming a real local military power and even a political power to contend with due to the initial weakness and porousness of the communist rule. The units led by “Ogień” also organised actions against the Slovaks, who were in favour of the annexation of the Polish parts of Spisz and Orawa by the Slovak state. The “Błyskawica” group had an excellent intelligence service and enjoyed wide popular support.

On 21 February 1947, major “Ogień” was finally surrounded by units of the UB and the Internal Security Corps in the village of Ostrowsko near Nowy Targ and attempted to commit suicide. The next day he died from his wounds in a hospital in Nowy Targ. To this day, his burial place is unknown.

Tadeusz Płużański