Member of the Polish resistance, she was executed in 1942, at the age of 22

Irena Bobowska, a young Polish Catholic woman in a wheelchair who defied the nazis

Poland is an admirable country whose history is full of incredible examples of heroism, among them that of the young Irena Bobowska.

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Since her childhood in a wheelchair

Irena, known as Nenia to her family and friends, was born on September 3, 1920 in Poznań. Her family was Catholic and very patriotic. Irena was the second of five siblings. She had a brother, Stanisław (born 1924) and three sisters: Urszula (1919), Teodora (1922), and Helena (1926). Her mother was Zofia Kraszewska and her father was Teodor Bobowski, an officer in the Polish Army, a veteran of the First World War and the Polish-Soviet War and was murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn massacre in 1940. Being very young Irena contracted poliomyelitis, which caused her to have to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Irena (second from the left) with her mother and siblings (Photo:

Her enlistment in the Polish resistance and the magazine 'Pobudka'

Even as a child, Irena showed great talent for drawing and poetry. Despite her disability, she enlisted in the explorers. Irena turned 19 two days after the start of the German invasion of Poland. In November 1939 she joined the Polish resistance, forming part of the Poznańska Organizacja Zbrojna (Poznań Armed Organization). Between 1939 and 1940 she directed the clandestine magazine "Pobudka", of just a few pages and which printed up to 300 weekly copies, but of which unfortunately no copy survives today. In it, Irena dedicated her literary talent to countering German propaganda and offering military and cultural information to the Poles of Poznań.

Irena, in her scout uniform, on a church kneeler in the early 1930s (Photo: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand).

Her arrest and the torture to which she was subjected

Irena was arrested by the Germans on June 20, 1940. Her younger sister Helena saw how she was arrested and went to tell her family. Irena was taken to Fort VII, then to Wronki Prison and later to Moabit Prison in Berlin. The Germans subjected her to all kinds of physical and mental torture, beating her, taking away her wheelchair and forcing her to crawl on the floor of her cell in order to move around.

Some beautiful poems that reached Auschwitz

Despite the hardships she suffered, from prison Irena continued writing poems, and some of them managed to get them clandestinely abroad, some of them reaching the Polish prisoners of Auschwitz, where those writings helped to endure the horrors of that extermination camp. On April 23, 1941, on the train that was taking her to Berlin, she wrote this poem titled "Modlitwa" (Prayer):

Za wszystkie dobre z Bożej ręki wzięte
Za skarby wiary, za pociechy święte
Za trudy, prace i trudów owoce
Chwile szczęścia i długie niemoce
Za spokój, walkę
Za chwile szczęścia i dni żałoby.

For all good things taken from God's hand
For the treasures of faith, for holy consolations
For hardships, works and fruits of hardships
Moments of happiness and long hardships
For peace and fight
For moments of happiness and days of mourning.

Her most famous poem is "Bo ja się uczę" (Because I am learning), which she left in her prison cell and in which she expressed how she endured the torture to which she was being subjected:

... Bo ja się uczę największej sztuki życia:
Uśmiechać się zawsze i wszędzie
I bez rozpaczy znosić bóle,
I nie żałować tego co przeszło,
I nie bać się tego co będzie!

Poznałam smak głodu
I bezsennych nocy (to było dawno)
I wiem jak kłuje zimno,
Gdy w kłębek chciałbyś skulony,
Uchronić się od chłodu.
I wiem co znaczy lać łzy niemocy
W niejeden dzień jasny,
Niejedną noc ciemną.

I nauczyłam się popędzać myślami
Czas, co bezlitośnie lubi się dłużyć
I wiem jak ciężko trzeba walczyć z sobą,
Aby nie upaść i nie dać się znużyć
Nie kończącą zda się drogą...

I dalej uczę się największej sztuki życia:
Uśmiechać się zawsze i wszędzie
I bez rozpaczy znosić bóle,
I nie żałować tego co przeszło,
I nie bać się tego co będzie!

This is its English translation:

... Because I'm learning the greatest art of life:
Smile always and everywhere
And bear the pain without despair,
And don't regret what happened,
And don't be afraid of what will happen!

I got to know the taste of hunger
And sleepless nights (that was a long time ago)
And I know how the cold stings
When you want to curl up in a ball,
Protect yourself from the cold.
And I know what it means to shed tears of helplessness
On many a bright day,
Many a dark night.

And I learned to rush my thoughts
Time, which ruthlessly likes to extend
And I know how hard it is to fight with yourself,
So as not to fall and get tired
The drugs seem endless...

And I continue to learn the greatest art of life:
Smile always and everywhere
And bear the pain without despair,
And don't regret what happened,
And don't be afraid of what will happen!

Irena in her wheelchair in a photo taken in Poznań in 1938 (Photo: Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand).

Her brave and defiant statement before the court that sentenced her to death

On August 12, 1942, Irena was brought before a military court in Berlin. She was allowed to speak in her defense, but instead of rejecting the accusations brought against her, she recounted during half an hour the abuses committed by the Germans against the Poles, from the time of the partitions of Poland in the 18th century to the occupation of the country by Nazi Germany. Finally, she ended her intervention by saying these words to the court: "Dziś wy mnie sądzicie, ale was będzie sądził ktoś wyższy" (Today you judge me, but someone superior to you will judge).

The last existing photo of Irena Bobowska, taken in 1939 (Photo: Wielkopolski Urząd Wojewódzki w Poznaniu).

Her words in the last letter to her mother

Irena was sentenced to be executed by guillotine. A few hours before her execution, Irena wrote a letter to her mother. She was not allowed to write in Polish, so she had to write it in German: "My dear mother! Today, or rather early tomorrow morning... I will go to death", her lines began.

In her letter, Irena said that she had been very lucky in her life: "all the people were good to me and I received much more than I could give. I think that all the evil of the world and all wars are due to the fact that people have not yet learned to understand each other. I can die in peace, because I know that moment will come, even if I don't see it. Also I can die with pride because I preserved it. my honor and my faith until the end."

A drawing made by Irena showing her cell in Moabit prison, in Berlin (Image:

Finally, she added: "The priest has already been in my cell and will come again with Holy Communion. I am in a good mood and I hope that my courage will accompany me until the end. You will have no reason to be ashamed of me". Her letter is a testament to Irena's spirited character, her bravery, and her solid principles: "It doesn't matter what we achieve, but how we fight ", she stated. These were her last words to her mother: "Stay with God; I go to Him and I believe He will accept me."

Self-portrait made by Irena in prison a few weeks before being executed (Image: Wielkopolski Urząd Wojewódzki w Poznaniu).

Her last attempt to save her companions and her execution

Irena was murdered at 4:36 in the morning on September 26, 1942 in the Plötzensee prison in Berlin. She was 22 years old. Before the execution she wrote a letter to the court asking for clemency for her fellow editors of the magazine "Pobudka" who were arrested with her, with Irena assuming full responsibility for the publication of the clandestine magazine. The court did not agree to this and that same day Stanisław Michalski and Radziwój Zakrzewski, members of the "Pobudka" team, were executed. Irena's poems and drawings survived because they were preserved by her mother, who died in 1987.

Information panel on Irena Bobowska Square in Poznań (Photo: MOs810).

In 2012, the city of Poznań dedicated a square to Irena Bobowska, on the corner of Przybyszewskiego and Dąbrowskiego streets. There, an information panel remembers her story. Today, several Polish female scout groups have Irena Bobowska as their patron. I hope that this article serves to bring the name of Irena Bobowska and her testimony to many English-speaking people.

Cześć jej pamięci!
Honor to her memory!



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