On 4 January 1943, Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz – a Polish scout and sportsman, agent of the British secret service during World War II, and hero of the Greek resistance – was shot dead by the Germans in Athens. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Virtuti Militari.
The story of (un)usual man
Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz was an ordinary man, very gifted in language and exceptionally athletic. He was born in 1911 in Warsaw as the son of a Polish woman and a Tsarist colonel. When Jerzy was a few years old, his mother remarried, this time to a Greek, and moved with her son to Thessaloniki. There Iwanow, already in his teens, coached football and water polo. He was a keen sailor and an excellent swimmer. He repeatedly competed in all-Greek swimming competitions in the 1930s. At the same time, he received a comprehensive education, including at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which he graduated from in 1938. In 1935, he obtained Polish citizenship, which he was very keen on. This allowed him, among other things, to play for the Polish national water polo team. Needless to say, both his knowledge of foreign languages and his exceptional physical fitness were of great help to him in his later underground activities. During one of his stays in the Polish capital, he joined the Warsaw Academic Sports Association. He was a pillar of the water polo section, with which he won the Polish championship in 1937. Later, as a player in the national team, he repeatedly represented the country in foreign competitions.
Dedication to homeland
After the outbreak of war in 1939, he cooperated with the Polish military mission in Thessaloniki. He provided assistance to Polish soldiers who found their way to Greece from Romanian and Hungarian camps escaping through Bulgarian and Yugoslav territories. In 1940, “A” Agency of Branch II of the Supreme Commander’s Staff in Athens recruited him to work for Polish intelligence.
In the spring of 1941, Jerzy Iwanow-Szajnowicz, while in Palestine, sought admission to the Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade, which was preparing for the expedition to Tobruk. However, the opposite happened and he was de-commissioned to the British, becoming a Special Operations Executive agent. After specialised training in Alexandria, he was flown to Greece in the autumn of 1941, where he soon became a hero of the resistance, a man for whose head the Germans set a high reward.
Iwanow-Szajnowicz – with the participation of Greek workers – organised numerous sabotage actions in armaments factories working for the occupiers. In addition, he radioed the British with information about ship movements and German convoys sailing with supplies for the Afrika Korps.
Jerzy Ivanov-Szajnowicz avoided being caught for several months. In fact, he eluded the Gestapo twice. However, he was eventually captured and, together with his closest associates, executed.