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Józef Uznański, Tatra courier who saved people in the mountains in times of peace and during the war

by Dignity News

Józef Uznański, commonly known by his nickname “Ujek”, was born in March 1924 in Zakopane, where he also ended his life in 2012. He was an outstanding person in the history of Polish mountain rescue, skiing, and Tatra guiding, achieving the rank of PZN instructor and Tatra guide of the second class.

From an early age, Uznański showed extraordinary skiing skills, winning first place in children’s skiing competitions at the age of four. His skiing talent developed under the guidance of legends such as Bronisław Czech, Helena Marusarzówna and Stanisław Marusarz, which resulted in his participation in national and international competitions. Despite his young age, he attempted to qualify for the World Championships in 1939, but his entry was invalidated due to not reaching the required age.

World War II, which began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, interrupted his sporting career, but opened a new chapter in Uznański’s life as a Tatra courier in the Union of Armed Struggle – the Polish underground armed formation. His courage and cleverness have been immortalised in many anecdotes, including that of his famous escape from the occupying forces when he jumped out of the carriage of the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch, descending the Żleb pod Palcem – a route he knew thanks to his training with Bronisław Czech.

After the war, Uznański was arrested several times by the communist authorities who had taken power in Poland forcibly, but each time he managed to escape. Finally, after years of hiding, he returned to Zakopane, where he started working as a mountain rescuer and ski instructor, contributing to the development of modern mountain rescue in Poland.

He made a huge input into the development of rescue, including the introduction of the Gramminger kit, which enabled rescue operations to be carried out more efficiently. Uznański was also a pioneer in the use of avalanche dogs to search for the missing in the mountains.

For his services, Jozef Uznański was awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

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