Stefan Korboński
born 2 March, 1901 in Praszka
died 23 April 1989 in Washington

patriot, social activist, soldier and politician
of the Polish Underground State

Biography

 

1945–47
 

On January 1945 Korboński, staying with his wife in the palace of the Regulski family at Zarybie, happened to have a close encounter with the general staff of a Soviet division which was then stationed in the palace for a short time, and watched the Soviet division’s radio station working.
London sent Korboński a message with the results of the Yalta Conference close to 10 February 1945. This was the core issue of two days’ debates of the RJN with the Delegate of the Government and with General Okulicki which were held in the house of Stefan Łokuciewski on Słowacki St. in Podkowa Leśna. Korboński also contributed to the final wording of the resolution adopted by RJN and pertaining to the “understanding and agreement with the representatives both in the country and abroad”, published in No. 1/154 issue of “Rzeczpospolita Polska” in March 1945.
The main body of the resolution was comprised of four concise sections; the first one said: “RJN wishes to express its conviction that the provisions of the Yalta Conference which were resolved upon with no participation in or agreement to on the part of the Polish State, impose on Poland, which was the first country in the world to launch armed resistance against the Nazi fascism – prior even to penalizing Germany – new heavy burdens and wrongful deprivations.”
On February and March 1945, the Soviet intelligence service made attempts to establish contact with the authorities of the Polish Underground State.
On 6 March the Delegate of the Government “Soból” received a letter from a Soviet Guard Colonel, Ruslan Pimenov, with a proposal to hold talks with a representative of the Commander-in-Chief of the First Belarusian Front, General Ivanov (in fact, General Ivanov was nonexistent, and it was an NKVD General Ivan Serov, who was behind that fictitious name). Being advised of it, Korboński, like “Soból” and “Niedźwiadek”, suspected a calculated ruse, and notified London of it. He also explicitly stated that neither of the two should agree to that meeting. “Soból” ordered Korboński to sever, until revocation, any further contacts with him in order not to expose the radio communication system.
On 27 March General Okulicki failed to come to the agreed meeting with Korboński, and a day later no one of the group of 16 delegates returned from the NKVD office in Pruszków. Korboński received a secret message about cars leaving the NKVD building in an unknown direction. Korboński notified London of it on Easter Sunday. He wrote at the end of his radio telegram: “What we presume is that the talks may still be on, or that they might have left for Moscow, or that they may be on their way to your place, or that they might have been arrested. Use your own judgment!”.
At the beginning of April, a message came from circles close to PKWN, confirming detention of the 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State. That was tantamount to having the top level structures of the Polish Underground State: its Council of Ministers at Home, its RJN Presidium, as well as the top authorities of the main political parties smashed. Moreover, the AK lost its Commander-in-Chief. The future of the Polish Underground State was the main topic of discussion at a meeting of authorized representatives of political parties, called by Korboński in Warsaw on 7 April 1945. Their next meetings, held on 16 and 24 April, resulted in reaching a unanimous decision to re-establish the RJN Central Committee and RJN itself, although comprised of fewer members and vested with powers to substitute for the arrested leaders. The idea to reestablish KRM was given up, however.
Authorized to substitute for Jankowski (authorization by telegram dated 10 April, 1945), Korboński happened to be the last one to fulfill the duties of the Government Delegate for Poland appointed by the Polish Government in Exile. At the end of April, while sorting the affairs of the civilian authorities in Podkowa Leśna, Korboński met for two days’ debates with General Okulicki’s successor, Colonel Jan Rzepecki, who formally acknowledged the control of the new substitute Delegate of the Government over himself and over the army.
The first formal act of the new underground authorities, i.e. of the Acting Delegate of the Government and of RJN, was their telegram of condolence addressed to the American nation upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Their next position paper respecting international affairs was the radio telegram of 24 April, addressed to the United Nations Conference in San Francisco. On 17 May they issued another proclamation stating the opinion shared by all the Polish Underground State authorities on the situation in the country and abroad. Referring to that proclamation, on 27 May Rzepecki and Korboński addressed partisan soldiers with a proclamation which “reminded them of the decree on the dissolution of the Home Army, and appealed to them for giving up armed struggle and coming out of the forest to work on rebuilding the country while taking all the precautions required not to run the risk of being betrayed and persecuted.” At a later date, between 18 and 21 June 1945, during the Moscow trial of the 16 Polish leaders, Korboński and RJN, again, issued an undated proclamation protesting against the lawlessness of the arrest and of the trial of the leaders of the Polish Underground State before a foreign court.
On 3 May 1945, at an RJN meeting, the Central Committee of RJN constituted itself. The meeting also approved the wording of the appeal to the United Nations condemning the arrest of the 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State perpetrated with malicious intent, as well as the repression by the Polish communist authorities against members of groups involved in the wartime struggle for the independence of Poland. Four days later Korboński advised RJN of his intention to reorganize the Delegation (which, after all, had already been planned by “Soból”). He said, that he was being entrusted with responsibility for keeping all the day-to-day affairs of the Polish Underground State running smoothly. It was at the same meeting that candidates for Korboński’s substitute were proposed: Franciszek
Białas from PPS and Józef Kwasiborski from the Labour Party (Stronnictwo Pracy, SP), and a motion was put forward for approval of Colonel Jan Rzepecki (pseudonym: “Ożóg”) as a successor to General Okulicki. For prestige reasons, Korboński also moved for having the new Commander-in-Chief promoted to the rank of a Brigadier General, but his proposition was not accepted.
The surrender of Germany did not stir any great emotions as it is evident from the radio telegram transmitted to the Government in Exile on 8 May 1945: “The end of the war has been met with indifference in Warsaw. This does not change anything for us.”
On 27 May, in connection with the decision to withdraw SL members from the Delegation, enforced upon the SL authorities by Niećko and Stanisław Wójcik, Korboński resigned his post, although he was to continue discharging his duties until the next meeting of RJN, scheduled for 27 June in Cracow. Despite the pressure from the governing bodies of his own party, Korboński was ready to devolve control of the Delegation agencies only to his successor appointed by the Government in Exile.
Several envoys of the Polish underground structures arrived at Korboński’s place in Podkowa Leśna in June, 1945, Ludwik Angerer (a courier sent by the Government diplomatic mission in Hungary) among them. For safety reasons, Angerer’s meeting with Korboński took place in Podkowa Leśna forest, in pouring rain. Their talks were about the need to transmit the message brought by the courier to London and about the issue of communication between the country and its diplomatic missions in Hungary and Romania.
At the RJN meeting in Cracow on 27 June 1945, following the sentence given in the Moscow trial of the 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State, and after the Provisional Government of National Unity (Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej, TRJN) was established in Moscow and arrived in Poland (which was on the same date!), Stefan Korboński resigned his office of the Acting Delegate of the Government and – as no successor to his office had been appointed by the Government of the Republic of Poland in Exile – he ceded his functions to Jerzy Braun from SP, chairing the meeting.
On the night following 28 June Korboński and his wife, still in Cracow, were arrested by the NKVD. They were at first detained in the prison controlled by the local political police, and then (on 4 July) brought to the prison building in Warsaw, in the district of Praga, belonging to the Ministry of Public Security (Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego). On 1 July after the detention of the Korbońskis, RJN issued its Odezwa do Narodu Polskiego i Narodów Zjednoczonych (Appeal to the Polish Nation and to the United Nations), with Testament Polski Podziemnej (The Testament of the Polish Underground State) enclosed to the Appeal. Korboński had been involved in the work on both the documents.
The first interrogation of the detainees was caried out while still in Cracow, on 2 and 3 July. Interrogations were carried out in the presence of an NKVD Colonel and the Captain of UB (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa [Security Office]) who arrested them. Korboński, considering it the right way to act, revealed his real name during the interrogation. His Warsaw interrogators included the minister of public security, Stanisław Radkiewicz and his deputy minister, Colonel Roman Romkowski. One of the interrogation sessions was attended by NKVD General Ivan Serov (pseudonym “Malinov”) himself.
Around 20 July Korboński was taken out of the prison building for a short talk with Stanisław Mikołajczyk, the TRJN Deputy Prime Minister. Several days later, after Mikołajczyk’s intervention, Korboński was released from detention to join his wife, who was released a few days earlier.
Attempts were still made (however fruitless they may have been) on the part of Radkiewicz, assisted by Romkowski and Różański, even at the date of his release, to have Korboński issue a proclamation calling for giving up the armed struggle and setting about rebuilding the country.
Korboński met SL members on 27 July in a flat in Nowogrodzka St. and, on the following day, held a meeting with Colonel Jan Rzepecki. A month later, together with Franciszek Kamiński, the Commander-in-Chief of the Peasants’ Battalions, Kazimierz Banach and Józef Niećko, he paid a visit to General Marian Spychalski to discuss the issue of BCh soldiers coming forward (which finally took place during the Meeting of the Participants in the Armed Struggle against the German Invader (Zjazd Uczestników Walki Zbrojnej z Niemieckim Najeźdźcą), and the issue of having the detained BCh soldiers released from prison. On 23 September Korboński met Colonel Jan Mazurkiewicz (pseudonym“Radosław”), who had been released from prison and was serving on the Home Army Liquidation Committee (Komisji Likwidacyjnej AK).
In the period between August and December 1945, Korboński returned to active political life.
Moreover, he was entered onto the list of attorneys, and even appointed Member of the Disciplinary Court of the Warsaw District Chamber of Legal Advisers, although he did not practice as an attorney at law or derive any income from such activity. He acted in his capacity as a legal counsel to the Pruszków Power Plant. Additionally, he provided legal advice to Zygmunt Augustyński from the “Gazeta Ludowa” Board of Editors during the proceedings in a lawsuit brought by the daily against Roman Werfel, an ideologist of the Polish Workers’ Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza, PPR), for calling the daily “an alien (anti-Polish) agency”. From 3–6 November Korboński participated in the funeral ceremony of Wincenty Witos.
As a result of articles published in SL “Wola Ludu”, the daily behind the split in the SL, the fraction connected with Mikołajczyk returned to the name with historical connotations: the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL), which was made public in a special announcement. From 4–6 November 1945 Korboński was busy providing legal assistance to signatories of the declaration on having PSL associated with Bolesław Ścibiorek’s group. At a still earlier date, on 20 September, the Supreme Executive Committee of PSL (Naczelny Komitet Wykonawczy PSL, NKW PSL) formally authorized Korboński to organize a Warsaw branch of PSL (whose temporary authorities had had the status of a powiat [county] level structure by then), thus vesting him with controlling power over the branch. Korboński was formally elected President of the Executive Board of the Warsaw Regional Branch of PSL on 6 January 1946 (he had been acting in the capacity of its temporary president before). Due to his executive powers, he was also appointed member of the Congress Commission of the PSL Central Secretariat which had been entrusted with the task to make arrangements for the PSL Congress scheduled for 19–21 January 1946.
The job was mostly about providing accommodation for 4,000 delegates to the Congress. Korboński succeeded thanks to a spontaneous response to his appeal by the citizens of Warsaw.
During the Congress, Korboński chaired the Statutory Commission, and was elected Member of the PSL Supreme Council. In the days following the closing of the Congress he drew up a draft electoral law, approved on 15 March 1946, with some amendments.
The Śródmieście unit of the Party soon numbered 4,000 members (it cannot be denied that there was a reason to call them“Peasants from Marszałkowska Street”
[“Chłopi z Marszałkowskiej”] which name was coined by PPR party members), and in the talks which Bolesław Bierut had held with Mikołajczyk, Korboński was mentioned as a candidate for a member of the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN) which was a Communist structure. In November 1945 his candidature for the office of a deputy minister in one of the ministries, either public security, justice, or public administration, was discussed by NKW PSL, but, ultimately, he did not perform any of the above functions. Like Bagiński and Stanisław Mierzwa, he did not even serve as a member of the State National Council resulting from a decision made personally by Bierut. Instead, he was appointed member of a special Congress Commission set up in view of a planned congress of PSL, and chairman of the NKW PSL Legal Services Commission which function was entrusted to him between 4 and 6 October.
Acting in that capacity, he represented PSL in its external relations with various institutions and at various meetings, e.g. with the Public Committee for the Planned Development of Public Radio Services (Społeczny Komitet Radiofonizacji Kraju), or with the All-Poland League for Combating Racism (Ogólnopolska Liga do Walki z Rasizmem). As the head of the PSL Legal Services Commission, Korboński often intervened with the Ministry of Public Security defending the cause of PSL members detained by the political police. It was also he who drew up a draft statute of Chłopska Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza (Peasants’ Publishing Cooperative) which was PSL’s official publishing house.
On 2 February 1947 Korboński was appointed Secretary of its Executive Board.
After Józef Niećko, Czesław Wycech and Kazimierz Banach formed leftist and pro-communist PSL-Lewica (PSL Left), Korboński, together with several other representatives of NKW PSL, effected division of the property of the above said cooperative publishing house.
Apart from political activity, Korboński was also involved in journalism: his texts, focused on history or recollection in their nature, were mostly published in peasant periodicals including “Kalendarz Ludowca” and “Gazeta Ludowa”, which was a PSL daily and where his article written in memory of Rataj was published, as well as his other articles including that about the Polish Underground State, or about the assistance rendered by KWC to Polish Jews.
On 16 March 1946 “Gazeta Ludowa” (No. 75) reported that fragments of the evidence given by Korboński in the Ministry of Justice before prosecutors in the Nuremberg Trials, Jerzy Sawicki and Mieczysław Siewierski, had been published by the Moscow “Prawda” daily. They were mostly related to the Nazi atrocities in German-occupied Poland. In spite of the fact that Korboński’s evidence was recommended to the International Tribunal in Nuremberg by the Soviet prosecutor, the head of the Polish Delegation for Nuremberg, Lieutenant-Colonel Stefan Kurowski (formerly Warszawski), would not allow Korboński to leave for Nuremberg. A similar situation took place on 3 March 1947, when he was to be a witness in the Ludwig Fischer trial before a court in Warsaw, but, again, his evidence was denied.
Wishing to get some touring experience of the territory awarded to Poland as a result of the Potsdam Conference, Korboński and his wife went on a short vacation (from 23–27 April 1947) to Lower Silesia. In Jelenia Góra Korboński met his former subordinates from the conspiracy, at that time employed in the Ministry for the Recovered Territories (Ministerstwo Ziem Odzyskanych) (with Władysław Gomułka, then-First Secretary of PPR, in charge): Edward Quirini (pseudonym “Kulesza”), an attorney at law, and Władysław Czajkowski (pseudonym “Polański”), who were in charge of the New Territories Bureau during the war. After his return, on 10 May, Korboński held a clandestine meeting with Charles Mills Drury, a Canadian General, Head of the UNRRA Mission. On the following day he participated in the funeral of exhumed Mieczysław Niedziałkowski, a co-founder of the Polish Underground State, and Jan Pohowski, a former Deputy President of Warsaw. On 23 June he took part in a post-exhumation
funeral of Maciej Rataj.
From October to December 1946 Korboński was involved in the arrangements made by PSL for the parliamentary election. It was not a safe task: in the pre-election period the political police murdered about 120 PSL activists.
On 16 December 1946 the Main Electoral Commission approved the Electoral List including “No. 1 List – Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe.”In No. 1 Constituency of Warszawa-Miasto, Korboński was number two on the list, second only to Stanisław Mikołajczyk. Besides that, his name was on two other lists: the public one, and the Białystok one. It was Jakub Berman who decided in his favor when Gomułka requested that Korboński’s name should be removed from the electoral list, saying that “he was the only one to try and save Jews in that reactionary underground pack of theirs.”
On 19 January 1947 Korboński, as one of 28 representatives of PSL, was elected deputy to the Polish parliament (Sejm Ustawodawczy RP). He was elected by the Warsaw constituency which was to be represented in the parliament by still another deputy, Wincenty Bryja.
At a meeting of 81 members of the Supreme Council of PSL on2 February 1947, Korboński was appointed to the Supreme Executive Committee of PSL for still another term of office.
He also authored the post-election protest pertaining to the election results forged in 52 constituencies. He gained knowledge of such irregularities while performing as an informal election commissioner. In the aftermath of the election he also wrote a paper Zagadnienia powyborcze in which he described the election proceedings, the PSL policy, and the situation within the party.
In the Sejm Korboński served, on behalf of PSL, as a member of three commissions: the Special Commission competent for reviewing the draft amnesty law, the Commission for Labor and Welfare, and the Propaganda Commission. On 21 February 1947 he made his first and last pronouncement at a plenary session of the Sejm, tabling minority motions respecting the ministerial draft of the amnesty law – calling for an amnesty for all members of the Polish underground structures. His speech stirred such emotions that the radio broadcast of the parliamentary debates was interrupted while he was speaking, and restarted only when Roman Zambrowski asked permission to speak. One third of Korboński’s pronouncement was crossed out of the shorthand notes.
On 30 April NKW PSL expelled from the party Józef Niećko and Czesław Wycech who had opted “to give up fighting PPR” (as early as 24 February their group started issuing “Chłopi i Państwo”, a weekly which in November 1947, after Mikołajczyk took flight abroad, became an official periodical of the so-called Reborn NKW PSL [Odrodzony NKW PSL]).
Korboński found out about the detention of Kazimierz Pużak on 8 June, and 10 days later about a decision to have him and his wife arrested. He was to have his immunity waived at a parliamentary session on 29 October. There were plans to sentence Korboński to death under the pretext that KWC had communists liquidated with the use of the shortened trial procedure. There was still another piece of information coming from the same source – General Ivan Serov was to bring from Moscow a detailed plan (including railway timetable data) of the detention and deportation of about 300 thousand people to the USSR in the event of a crisis leading to war. On 13 July 1947 Korboński was warned again of some new aggravating evidence respecting his wartime and post war activities. Two weeks later, on September 11, Stanisław Zarako-Zarakowski, a public prosecutor, vehemently attacked Korboński during a trial of members of the “Freedom and Independence” organization (Zrzeszenie “Wolność i Niezawisłość”).
On 15 July Korboński persuaded Mikołajczyk to call a clandestine meeting in his villa in the district of Mokotów at which he suggested, among other things, that the activity of the supreme bodies of the party should be moved abroad, and that the personal documentation on the party files should be destroyed (for fear of detentions). Mikołajczyk would not accept such solutions saying that he was against leaving the country.
After 1 August 1947 the Korboński couple, wishing to find out about a possibility to flee the country, left for Sopot. There Korboński made the notes which he used later on in his first book W imieniu Rzeczypospolitej (Fighting Warsaw).
Korboński advised Mikołajczyk of his decision to flee the country on 11 October, when he paid him a visit in his Mokotów villa. On 20 October, after the last meeting of NKW PSL chaired by Mikołajczyk and participated in by Korboński, the President of the PSL Supreme Executive Board told Korboński in private about his own intention to flee the country, asking him to leave two days after that. On the following day Korboński let Kazimierz Bagiński know about these plans, as they might have exposed him.



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