Public execution in Dębica
refer to the execution of four Poles from anti-communist Wolnosc i Niezawislosc
organization in Dębica
On August 23, 1944 German soldiers left the town of Dębica, and the Red Army
units captured it. However, the frontline remained on the Wisłoka
river for a few months, until the beginning of 1945. Wehrmacht
artillery shelled Dębica, soldiers of the Home Army
, cooperating with the Soviets, fought the enemy. After some time, the Nazis, relentlessly pushed to the west, left their positions and the whole area of Dębica County was in Soviet hands.
However, Soviet advance was regarded by many as yet another occupation. Behavior of some Red Army units and the NKVD confirmed this notion - they persecuted Polish patriots, arrested and imprisoned them. Thousands of members of the Home Army were either shot or sent to Siberia. Under the circumstances, several members of the resistance movement decided to hide in the forests and to continue struggle for free Poland. After dissolution of the Home Army, a new organization, Wolnosc i Niezawislosc (WiN - Freedom and Independence) was created in mid-1945.
WiN in Dębica area
WiN was by all means an anti-Communist organization, whose purpose was to get rid of Soviet occupiers of Poland. It had several units across the country, one of them was a group led by Jan Stefko (aka "Msciciel" - "The Revenger"). In the spring of 1946 Stefko's unit, with some 30 members, was staying in the area of Sędziszów Małopolski
. There, an exchange of fire occurred between them and agents of the Communist secret services from Ministerstwo Bezpieczenstwa Publicznego
After this incident, the group moved towards Mielec, where in the village of Przeclaw it attacked a palace of the Rey family, which in the meantime had been nationalized. WiN members faced no resistance, they took jewelry and some paintings and left, this time towards south.
Capture of the group
On the way towards Jasło
, the unit was caught in a trap set by soldiers of the Polish Army, militiamen and agents of UB. Four persons were killed, 16 captured and 10 managed to flee, together with Jan Stefko. The caught WiN members were charged, three of them sentenced to death.
On Wednesday, July 10, 1946, Dębica's main square was full of people, as this was the market day. Two gallows were set - one in the square, another in the vicinity of the St. Jadwiga church. The purpose of the execution was obvious - to intimidate the population of the town.
It is difficult to establish how many people witnessed this event. At some point a truck entered the square, carrying three young men, members of WiN. The hangman, whose name probably was Stanisław Swieca, haltered all of them and soon afterwards the truck drove off, leaving the condemned in the air.
The square was surrounded by the Communist agents who checked everything, making sure the execution was carried out without any obstacles. However, some witnesses claim that the head of one of the condemned men got out of the halter, but this was quickly fixed. Deaths were announced by doctor Roman Lic and Marian Stoklosa from Rzeszów prosecutor's office. None of the killed had a trial, they were only allowed to confess to a priest.
A legendary photo
Most probably, the whole incident would have been forgotten, had it not been for a photo, taken by a gentleman named Józef Stec. The snapshot was taken from a window of a building, delivered to London and published in several newspapers in the West. Stec was quickly nailed and imprisoned, he spent many years behind bars.