Communist Justice: Hoover Archives Acquires the Trial Papers of Count Ksawery Grocholski

Thursday, November 10, 2016
Ksawery Grocholski prison photos, 1946

Above: Ksawery Grocholski prison photos, 1946
 

Ksawery Grocholski with his daughter, Xawera, about 1945
Ksawery Grocholski with his daughter, Xawera, about 1945

Thousands of Polish patriots died at the hands of the Soviet-imposed communist regime, which took over the government of Poland in 1944.  Most died fighting the Ministry of State Security and Soviet NKVD forces, with the last of the forest units and individual resisters shot or captured by the early 1960s.  Many others, who did not participate in the armed struggle but were identified by the Communists as enemies of the new order, were imprisoned and sometimes executed.   The daughter of one such victim, Ksawery Grocholski, has donated to the Hoover Archives a complete, multivolume set of the trial documents of her father that she recently received from the Institute of National Remembrance, which administers the former Security Archives of Poland.

Count Grocholski was born on one of his family’s Ukrainian landed estates.  He was educated both locally and abroad, completing his studies in economics in Belgium.  After returning to Poland he settled in the countryside as a gentleman farmer.  After the war began in 1939, he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, but he was released with the help of his Austrian-born wife’s connections. Ksawery then joined the underground Polish Home Army.  As a counterintelligence officer, he specialized in identifying and collecting information on Gestapo agents and the Volksdeutsch in Warsaw.  He participated in the bloody Warsaw Uprising of August–September 1944.  After the war, he administered the family properties in Warsaw, including the Czetwertyński Palace, now the site of the American Embassy.  Whether or not he was actively involved in the main anticommunist underground organization (WiN – Freedom and Independence) is not clear, but, like the great majority of Poles, he was opposed to the Soviet occupation and the new communist order.  The rest of his story is told by Arthur Bliss Lane, the US ambassador to Poland, 1944–1947, in I Saw Poland Betrayed (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948, p, 285):

I had good reason to be apprehensive, because of a case involving the British Ambassador, Mr. V. Cavendish-Bentinck.  His family had known the aristocratic Grocholski Family of Warsaw for over thirty-five years.  During his first assignment to Warsaw in 1919 he and Count Grocholski had become warm friends, and a cordial relationship had continued over the years.  When Bentinck returned to Poland in 1945, it was natural that he should seek out his old friend and invite him to the British Embassy from time to time.  Undoubtedly they discussed topics of the day, including the intolerable conditions existing in Poland.  On one occasion while the Ambassador was paying a visit at Count Grocholski’s country house, the villa was surrounded by the U.B. [Bureau of Security], and the inmates, including Mr. Bentinck, were prohibited from leaving.  By insisting on his diplomatic prerogative of immunity from arrest, Bentinck was finally able to get away.  Grocholski was arrested, charged with association with the underground and with having communicated information to a foreign ambassador.  (Like all patriotic Poles who had been forced to remain in Poland as a result of the war, he had been connected with the underground Home Army during the Nazi occupation.)

At the public trial Grocholski “confessed” to guilt on the two charges.  Then, on January 14,1947, five days before the elections, the verdict in the case was announced: death.  The sentence was immediately executed.

Count Ksawery Grocholski before 1939
Count Ksawery Grocholski before 1939

The severity of his sentence was the government’s brutal way of warning the Polish people of the risk they ran if they talked to foreign emissaries about existing conditions.  The announcement of the verdict on the eve of the elections had a sinister connotation: the government would probably consider treasonable the imparting to American and British embassies information about frauds and repressive measures in connection with the elections.  Had not the Polish Government’s note of January 14 said that no further consideration by us of the election question was warranted?

The Communists won the fraudulent elections and solidified their power.Ambassador Lane resigned his post a month later to protest the takeover of the country by the Soviet puppet regime and the failure of the United States and Britain to keep their promise that Poland, the first nation to resist the Nazi onslaught, would have a free election after the war. 

The court papers indicate that Ksawery Grocholski was executed like hundreds of other Polish patriots, with a Soviet-style bullet to the back of the head in the basement of the prison on Rakowiecka Street, with his body probably dumped in one of the pits near the Powązki Cemetery.   The family was given no information about the details of his death until after the 1989 collapse of the communist regime.  To this day his exact resting place is unknown.  To add insult to injury, the graveyard pits were filled and new graves, reserved for prominent members of the ruling Communist Party elite, were created on top of the layers of dead prisoners.  Recent calls to move the newer graves to enable the exhumation and identification of the victims buried below, have been met with hostility from the descendants of the communist notables, many of whom have morphed into liberal (“European”) politicians and prominent businesspeople.  Meanwhile, Count Grocholski’s daughter, Xawera, is still waiting to lay a wreath and light a candle on her father’s grave.

The Hoover Archives’ holdings include a companion collection to the Grocholski Papers, the William John Tonesk Papers.  Lieutenanat Tonesk was an Office of Naval Intelligence specialist, later with the CIA, who was an aide to Ambassador Lane in Warsaw.  Although there are no classified reports in his papers, some of the materials document the situation and the oppressive political atmosphere of Warsaw in the immediate postwar years.  Tonesk grew increasingly disillusioned with the lack of appreciation and understanding by US authorities of the information he was trying to convey, so when Ambassador Lane quit in protest of the US failure to confront Soviet aggression in Poland, Tonesk soon followed.

 

Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford.edu