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    The Daring Rescue of Prisoners from a German Train by the Gray Ranks

    80 years ago, on the night of May 19th to 20th, 1943, in Celestynów, the Assault Groups of the Gray Ranks (Polish: “Szare Szeregi”) rescued 49 prisoners from a German train. “The operation showed that the scouts are brave and effective soldiers,” said Rafał Brodacki, a historian from the Warsaw Uprising Museum.

    In the spring of 1943, the Home Army (AK) command received information that prisoner transports from the German concentration camp KL Lublin (Majdanek) were passing through Warsaw, heading to the German extermination camp Auschwitz. The circular route was probably due to the fact that a group of prisoners destined for the camp was joined in Warsaw. The idea of rescuing them emerged, and after reconnaissance carried out by Second Lieutenant Jerzy Zyms “Wolski,” the small Celestynów railway station, located 32 km southeast of the capital, was selected.

    “The access to the station was convenient, and the area was wooded. ‘Wolski’ found out that the train with the prisoners always stopped in Celestynów, and the so-called ‘prisoner car’ was attached at the end of the train, which facilitated the operation. Another favorable circumstance was that the station master was a Pole. About 300 meters from the station, there was a gendarmerie station and a three-person guard post. Trucks were requisitioned for the evacuation of the liberated prisoners and the transport of weapons. Several hours before the operation, on the morning of May 19th, Tadeusz Zawadzki ‘Zośka’ and Sławomir Maciej Bittner ‘Maciek’ went to Celestynów for reconnaissance. They went there in a civilian Opel Olympia car, which was acquired during the Arsenal Action,” said Rafał Brodacki.

    Aleksander Kamiński described the German police wagon used for transporting prisoners in his book “Stones for the Rampart”:

    “It is divided by a strong partition into two parts. In one, larger part, the transported prisoners are kept, while the convoy, consisting of the worst Gestapo scum, travels comfortably in the other part. The internal doors from the convoy compartment to the prisoner compartment are closed with two bolts and a sturdy lock. The only exit for prisoners leads through the convoy compartment. The two small windows of the freight car are only for the use of the escort. In the prisoners’ compartment, the windows are tightly boarded up, so there is no light or air.”

    From the participants’ accounts, we know that the wagon was armored with thick metal plates, and a mesh screen was installed on the window of the escort compartment to prevent grenades from being thrown in. A sketch of the prisoner car made by the conspirators has been preserved in the Archive of New Acts.

    The task of carrying out the operation was assigned to the operational unit “Motor 30” of the Headquarters Directorate of the Home Army, which included the scouts of the Gray Ranks Assault Groups. The commander was Captain Mieczysław Kurkowski ‘Mietek,’ and his deputy was Second Lieutenant Zawadzki ‘Zośka.’ Captain Adam Borys ‘Pług,’ a member of the Silent Unseen Special Operations Executive, acted as an observer on behalf of the command. “The Assault Groups of the Gray Ranks were made up of mature scouts who were emotionally prepared to participate in combat and sabotage actions. The first successful operation of rescuing prisoners under the Arsenal took place in March 1943 and proved that the Gray Ranks were fully-fledged combat units of the Home Army. Alongside military ranks, they also used scout ranks.

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