Last night I sadly read the news of the death of 99-year-old Polish economist Witold Jerzy Kieżun last Saturday in Warsaw.
He was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1939
Witold’s life has episodes typical of an epic story. He was born into a Catholic family on February 22, 1922 in Vilnius, then part of Poland. Both his father, Witold, and his mother, Leokadia Bokun, were doctors. His father died when he was 9 years old, after which the family moved to Warsaw. Witold was 17 years old when Germany, the USSR and Slovakia invaded Poland in September 1939. He was taken prisoner by the Germans on the 17th of that month, but managed to flee and return to Warsaw, later moving to Żoliborz with his mother, where they gave refuge to two relatives: his aunt Irena, of Jewish descent, and his cousin Leon, a Catholic, who died in 1940 in Auschwitz.
He fought in the Polish resistance with the Armia Krajowa
Like many other compatriots, Witold joined the Polish resistance as early as 1939, adopting the code name “Wypad” (Excursion). In addition to earning a living as a glazier, he devoted himself to distributing underground press and studied Mechanical and Electrical Engineering and also Law at the Underground University of Warsaw (Polish universities had been closed by the Germans, but the Polish resistance continued with the secret academic activity). Witold was part of the Armia Krajowa (AK, National Army), the largest resistance organization of World War II, serving in the AK Headquarters and in the “Karpaty” and “Gustaw” battalions. As part of his activity, he offered his apartment as a weapons depot, which could have cost him his life if discovered by the Germans.
The heroic action in which he alone captured 14 German soldiers
Like other AK fighters, Witold joined the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the biggest popular uprising of World War II, which lasted two months despite the insurgents’ limited means. In that battle, Witold reached the rank of second lieutenant and was awarded the Cross of Valor and the Virtuti Militari (the highest Polish military decoration) after capturing alone, armed with an MP-40 submachine gun and shouting intimidation, 14 German SS soldiers and seize a machine gun, 14 rifles and 2,000 rounds. He was 22 years old at the time.
His capture by the Soviets in 1945 and the hell of the Gulag
After the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising in October 1944, Witold was captured by the Germans and managed to flee again when he was taken to a prison camp along with other members of the Polish resistance. He managed to get to Krakow, using the false name Jerzy Jezierza, and there he was reunited with his mother. As happened to many members of the AK and other resistance organizations loyal to the Polish Government in exile, in March 1945 Witold was taken prisoner by the Soviet NKVD. He was interned in the Montelupich prison, formerly used by the Gestapo, and there he was interrogated, but did not reveal any information about the AK (the Soviets treated the members of this anti-Nazi organization as if they were collaborators of Nazism, even though they passed years fighting the Germans).
After being subjected to a mock shooting in Montelupich, a common practice of the Soviets to undermine the morale of their prisoners, Witold and his uncle Jan were taken to the Soviet Gulag of Krasnowodsk (now Turkmenbashi), in Turkmenistan, a coastal city on the Caspian Sea and on the edge of the Karakum desert. Hell started there for him. Poor diet, polluted water, and exhaustion took a toll on his health. He suffered from pneumonia, and after being transferred to the crude hospital in the concentration camp, he contracted typhoid fever, typhus, dystrophy, scabies, mumps and beriberi. They even left him for dead and threw him on a pile of corpses. A nurse realized that he was still alive and he was returned to the hospital. Although he was recovering, the consequences of beriberi would accompany him for life.
In September 1945 the Krasnowodsk Gulag was closed. More than half of the prisoners had perished. Witold was taken to Kogon, in Uzbekistan, where he met Japanese prisoners of war. In April 1946 Witold received an amnesty (despite not having committed any crime), being taken to the old Polish city of Brest (annexed by the USSR and incorporated into the Soviet republic of Belarus) and later to a prison camp in Złotów, Poland, where he was released in mid-1946.
His civil life and his meeting in 1949 with Karol Wojtyła
Upon his release, Witold completed his law studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and began working for the National Bank of Poland. In 1948 he was again arrested by the communist dictatorship for his militancy in the Polish resistance, being released two days later. In 1949, in Zakopane, Witold met a young priest named Karol Wojtyła (the future Pope St John Paul II). They spent a whole day talking about poetry and also about Witold’s experiences in prison and in the Gulag.
In 1950 Witold married Danuta Magreczyńska, also a veteran of Armia Krajowa and whom he had met during the Warsaw Uprising when she was a paramedic. They had two children: Krystyna and Witold Olgierd, who are still living and who reside in France and the United States, respectively. Witold and Danuta were together until her death separated them on August 9, 2013.
Witold’s career as a brilliant economist began in 1964 with a doctorate from the Central School of Planning and Statistics. In 1971 he became director of the Department of Praxeology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, but two years later he was dismissed for political reasons by the communist regime. In 1975 he obtained the title of professor at the Faculty of Management of the University of Warsaw. In 1980 he moved to the United States, being a reader at the School of Business of the Temple University of Philadelphia. During his stay in that country, he became a defender of the Solidarność union, which at that time was fighting for freedom in Poland.
Stalin’s lies haunted him to the USA in 1983
In 1981 he moved to Burundi, working for the UN Development Program. Two years later his contract with Philadelphia Temple University was revoked for being a member of the Polish resistance. Stalin’s lies continued to spread even in US academia during Reagan’s tenure, pointing to members of that anti-nazi resistance as collaborators of the nazis. Witold moved to Canada, being a teacher in Montreal, and in 1986 he returned to Burundi, where he met again with Saint John Paul II on his visit to that country in 1990. “Praise be to Jesus Christ!” The Pope said when he saw him , asking aloud: “What are you doing here?” 41 years had passed since their previous meeting but the Pope still remembered him.
A political advisor critical of George Soros’ recipes
After the fall of communism in Poland, Witold continued to live in Canada, collaborating regularly with the Leon Kozminski Academy in Warsaw. He and his wife moved to Poland in 1999. He was an advisor to several Polish presidents, and was critical of the economic recipes implemented in the country after the fall of communism, in particular with the handover of public companies to former members of the communist elite. He also criticized the recipes of foreign advisers like George Soros.
His mysterious kidnapping in 2001
In January 2001, Witold was kidnapped by two armed men who were only interested in his mobile phone and his address book. They stole nothing more from him and released him in a forest near Otwock. To this day the motivations for that kidnapping remain a mystery.
A Catholic, patriot and defender of national cultures
Witold preserved the Catholic convictions of his parents and remained a Polish patriot even in the times when he had to be away from his native country. “I must say that during a certain period of my life wandering the world a lot, I gained the conviction that we are a unique and talented nation. It is worth developing our characteristics of uniqueness,” he wrote in his Easter greetings in March 2018, in which he added: “The idea of liquidating national cultures is, in my opinion, a crazy impoverishment of the world.”
The recognitions he received in his later years
In his last years of life, Witold was a great defender of the Warsaw Uprising. The Polish postal service dedicated a stamp to him in 2014, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of that uprising. In addition to the already mentioned decorations, he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Poland Restituta, the “Pro Patria” Medal and honorary doctorates at the Kozminski University, the National Defense Academy, the Jagiellonian University and the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. He was also made an honorary citizen of Warsaw. He was a celebrity in the country, and the image of him during the Warsaw Uprising, smiling and wearing a German helmet adorned with the Polish flag, is one of the most famous images of that bloody battle.
Now Witold and Danuta are back together again, in the company of the Polish heroes and patriots who fought for the freedom of their Homeland. Rest in peace.
Cześć jego pamięci!
Honor to his memory!
Main Image: wSieci.