Father Władysław Gurgacz

In Brief: Honouring a soldier, priest, and martyr

Who?  Father Władysław Gurgacz – a street is named after him in Kazimierz, just off ulica Daszyńskiego, and there is a plaque on the wall in his memory.

What did he do?  He was a member of the Polish Underground Army of Independence (Polska Podziemna Armia Niepodległościowa), fighting the Communist authorities after the second world war.

That explains soldier. What about priest? Father Gurgacz recognised his calling at the age of 17, and was ordained in 1942. He joined PPAN five years later, convinced that it was his duty to offer spiritual care to the organisation’s members. His actions caused consternation in some quarters of the Church, but he resolved to stay with the partisan movement come what may.

And martyr? In 1949, PPAN planned to ‘relieve’ a Kraków bank of cash. Father Gurgacz knew of the heist, but was not party to it. Nevertheless, he handed himself in to the security services, was tried for Catholic activities, and condemned to death. The sentence, death by firing squad, was carried out at the prison on ulica Montelupich, on September 14.

Wasn’t Montelupich prison a Nazi jail? Yes. It was the first port of call for professors arrested at the Jagiellonian University in 1939. But the Communists who followed the Nazis kept it going – using it as both a prison and a torture chamber for political prisoners.

Where was Father Gurgacz buried? Nobody knows, but many Polish cities have memorials to him, as one of the most famous figures associated with PPAN. His sacrifice is considered so great that he was awarded the Commander’s Cross, posthumously, in 2008. The letter of citation sums up his bravery, stating: “Father Gurgacz knew, that by joining the ranks of the Polska Podziemna Armia Niepodleglosciowa, he closed the door to any possibility of return to normal life. In the name of God’s love, and in the name of love for his country, he chose the fate of the doomed.”

Bookend biography: Władysław Gurgacz,Born 1914, Jabłonica Polska. Died September 14 1949, Kraków.

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