March 26 marks the 78th anniversary of the Arsenal Operation. “This was one of the most spectacular actions of the Polish underground. It became a symbol of dedication and sacrifice of Polish youth in the fight against the occupant, the fight for freedom and independence of our homeland,” said historian and curator of the Pawiak Prison Museum Robert Hasselbusch.
The purpose of the operation was to free prisoners transported from the Gestapo, the Nazi Germany secret police, headquarters to the Pawiak prison in central Warsaw. Among them was one of the commanders of the Grey Ranks unit, Jan “Rudy” Bytnar, as well as his father, Stanisław. The operation had the codename “Meksyk II.”
Both men were arrested by the Gestapo on March 23, 1943. They were first taken to the Pawiak prison in central Warsaw, where the initial interrogation of "Rudy" took place. Later he was interrogated and brutally tortured at the Gestapo headquarters in Szucha avenue.
“Friends from Bytnar’s underground group quickly found out about the arrest, and alerted the Gray Ranks, they were immediately ready to take him back. This was to be the first action of its kind in German-occupied Warsaw. On the same day, within several hours, they planned and prepared it. However, it did not take place at that time, because there was no commander in Warsaw who could give the order to carry it out,” said Hasselbusch.
The actual action took place three days later. "On March 26, 1943, near the Arsenal, 17 members of the Gray Ranks Assault Groups detained the truck transporting prisoners from Szucha Avenue to the Pawiak Prison. They managed to get rid of the guards and free over 20 prisoners, including Jan “Rudy” Bytnar,” said the historian.
Four Nazi German soldiers were killed in the fight, nine suffered wounds. Two Poles, Maciej Aleksy "Alek" Dawidowski, another friend of “Rudy”, and Tadeusz “Buzdygan” Krzyżewicz, were badly wounded and died soon after. “Rudy” died four days after operations as the result of wounds he suffered at the hands of German torture. The father of “Rudy” was sent to the Nazi-German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and died during its evacuation in January 1945.
,br> Among the Polish casualties was also one of the rescued prisoners. One Polish scout, Hubert Lenk, was captured by Nazi Germans and executed.
“In retaliation for this action, the Germans shot 140 Pawiak prisoners,” said Hasselbusch.
“It was an action carried out with courage and done by young people who had no previous experience, because no such activities had been carried out before. Yet thanks to their dedication, they managed to prepare and organise it,” he assessed.
He noted that the Arsenal Operation and its heroes, Jan "Rudy" Bytnar, Tadeusz Zawadzki "Zośka", Maciej Aleksy "Alek" Dawidowski and others became a symbol of the Polish youth’s sacrifice in the fight against the occupant, in the fight for freedom and independence of our homeland ”.
“It is also worth emphasising the great friendship between these young people, which made them ready to give their lives for each other. Their dedication, involvement in public affairs, in conspiratorial activities from the first moments of the occupation, and dedication to the cause can be a symbol of a patriotic attitude and an example for future generations,” added the curator of the Pawiak Prison Museum.