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Breaking up the prison in Pinsk on 18 January 1943

by Dignity News
80 years ago, on 18 January 1943, soldiers of the Home Army (AK), in a perfectly prepared and daring action, broke up the German prison in Pinsk, freeing about 40 inmates. They did this with virtually no losses of their own, despite the fact that the German forces in the city numbered at least 3,000 soldiers.

In November 1942, the Germans arrested cichociemni (Silent Unseen) soldiers: Capt. Alfred Paczkowski, a.k.a. “Wania”, Lt. Mieczysław Eckhardt, a.k.a. “Bocian”, and Piotr Downar, a.k.a. “Azor”. These soldiers were taken to a prison in Pinsk (today’s Belarus), where they endured a brutal investigation by the Gestapo. A decision was made at the AK Headquarters in Warsaw to free the prisoners.

This task was entrusted to another Silent Unseen-officer, Lieutenant Jan Piwnik, pseud. “Ponury”. Initially, it was assumed that it would be possible to buy out the prisoners, but “Ponury”, having carried out reconnaissance, decided to take control of the prison by force. Three more Silent Unseen soldiers participated in the operation: Lieutenant Jan Rogowski a.k.a. “Czarka”, Lieutenant Wacław Kopisto a.k.a. “Kra” and Lieutenant Michał Fijałka a.k.a. “Kawa”.

At the beginning of January 1943, the armed group reached Brześć, and then Pinsk. Here the decision was made to include AK soldiers from Brześć in the action. In order to prevent German repressions against the local population, it was agreed that the conspirators would speak only Russian or German during the attack on the prison. Polish soldiers marked the escape route out on the spot and prepared a field hospital for the wounded.

On 18 January 1943, at 5 p.m., a car with German police registration numbers drove up to the prison building. Inside there were four soldiers of the AK led by “Ponury”. One of them, disguised as an SS man, in flawless German ordered the guard to open the gate immediately. At this time two other groups commanded by “Czarka” and “Kawa”, using ladders, overcame the five-metre high fence and occupied the prison administration rooms, killing the prison commandant and his deputy. The rest of the staff were bound and gagged, and the prisoners were released from their cells. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Eckhardt “Bocian”, one of the imprisoned persons whom the Home Army Headquarters was particularly concerned about, did not live to see this moment.  In total, about 40 prisoners regained their freedom.

Interestingly, the plan and course of action was later shown as a model at Allied diversion courses.

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