Investigation

Unfortunately it is already too late for the final and indisputable explanation of the circumstances of “Anoda’s” death. An investigation conducted in the 1990s was belated by at least several years. Will it ever be possible to confirm the hypothesis that Jan Rodowicz, the hero of the Strom Troops, legend of the “Zośka” Battalion was murdered? Will it ever be possible to conclusively invalidate the official version of the secret police about his suicide jump? 

According to historians the later has already taken place in the public consciousness, whether or not confirmed by the officials. The family and friends of Jan Rodowicz “Anoda” still believe that one day it will be possible to arrive at the historical truth. They have rejected the official suicide version from the very beginning as being against “Anoda’s” nature and personality. They say he could have jumped out of the window to run away but not to get killed.

Excuses – boiler, rat, weapon...

He was arrested on Christmas Eve – 24 December, 1948 – on the initiative of Lieutenant Colonel Julia Brystiger, director of the 5th Department at the Ministry of Public Security. At that time the name of this Stalinist era officer made Warsaw residents shiver. Formally the order had been issued by Maj. Wiktor Herer, head of the 4th Youth Division of the 5th Department at the Ministry, specializing in the surveillance of artistic and academic circles.

In the 1990s he told investigators that by arresting “Anoda” he and Ms Brystigier wanted to protect him from falling into the hands of Colonel Józef Różański, head of the Department of Investigations and the butcher of many Home Army soldiers.

The reason for his arrest was a hypothetical attempt on the life of the widow of Feliks Edmundowicz Dzierżyński (architect of the Bolshevik political police), who on 22 December 1948 visited at the Belvedere in Warsaw. An explosion of a boiler in the bathroom right before the lady’s bath provided the secret police with an excellent excuse to attack the Warsaw insurgents’ circles. The arrests started with “Anoda”, but soon after it spread to subsequent members of the “Zośka” Battalion. A few days after Rodowicz’s arrest it was clarified that the cause of the explosion at the Belvedere was a simple failure but this information had been ignored by the Ministry.

Those who remained at large after “Anoda’s” arrest were confused. At the news of his detention, his friends tried to think of the most likely reasons for his arrest – including the personal order of Bolesław Bierut, whose daughter studied at the Faculty of Architecture with “Anoda”. The case of a rat twirled on a rope to the accompaniment of unfavourable shouting about her president-father – even though authentic, would be equally absurd as the reason for “Anoda’s” arrest, who had nothing to do with it, as suspected attempt on the widow’s life.

The most likely reason for the arrest was the fact that the circles of “Zośka” Battalion were infiltrated by an agent of the secret police, who reported that Rodowicz knew the location of stored weapons and as commander in the famed battalion knew a lot which he could share. But maybe the time simply came for the final crackdown on the pro-independence underground and introduction of Stalinist terror?

Secret burial

At the beginning of March 1949 Kazimierz Rodowicz received a letter from the Chief Military Prosecutor Office, in which Maj. Mieczysław Dytry reported that on 7 January at 2 pm Jan Rodowicz “committed suicide by jumping out of the window while being transferred from prison. In spite of immediate medical assistance, he died right after the fall” and was buried at the Powązki Military Cemetery as Unknown. A few days later his family successfully located Jan’s grave, which his mother related in 1968: – The manager of the funeral parlour, who later turned out to be Janek’s acquaintance, because they conducted exhumations of “Zośka” Battalion soldiers in 1945, brought from his office a piece of paper with the number of Janek’s grave. He told everyone at the parlour [...] to keep it handy and said that “should anyone from the Rodowicz family come [...] please tell them that he was buried at such and such number”.

– His grave was in the middle of the cemetery in the second row, covered as the entire cemetery with snow – wrote Zofia Rodowicz. – The lady in charge of exhumation, asked by me face to face if she remembered my son’s funeral on 12 January, told me, that everyone at the parlour remembered that on that day, towards the evening, a few young people from the Security Police brought in a truck a body wrapped in a blanket, bought a prison coffin and without any witnesses, just by themselves, placed the body in the coffin and ordered to carry the coffin immediately to the municipal cemetery and bury as Unknown. […] I describe all this in such detail because it seemed quite mysterious… – emphasized Zofia Rodowicz. – While transferring the body to our coffin we observed no signs of fractures in his legs, no haemorrhages, injuries to the face or hands – said “Anoda’s” mother. – He was wearing his military English clothes, fastened with a safety pin at the neck, was carefully placed, combed; even the creases of his pants were straightened.

Mysterious cause of death

The exhumation carried out by “Anoda’s” family was attended by a medical doctor, Anna Rodowicz. She examined the body as far as possible in such circumstances and did not find any fractures, head injuries, which would be expected after a fall from high floor. She noticed however a trickle of caked blood behind the ear... and a round small hole.

The official cause of death cited by the chief of the Division of Prosecutor Supervision over Special Cases Maj. Mieczysław Dytry in a letter of 1 March, 1949 was “bleeding from aorta caused by fall from a window” following suicide jump. But according to unauthorized information conveyed to the Rodowicz family, Prof Wiktor Grzywo-Dąbrowski, who at that time headed the Institute of Forensic Medicine ruled out suicide immediately after “Anoda’s” death, because his chest was imploded, which suggested a different cause of death. This information was ordered to be kept secret but Zofia and Kazimierz Rodowicz got to know it thanks to professor’s associate, Doctor Konstanty Okolski, in those years director of the Hospital of the Infant Jesus.

The autopsy protocol, which Prof Grzywo-Dąbrowski refused to sign, cited bleeding as the cause of death. But the professor himself noticed crushed ribs, which the protocol did not mention and the family found a bullet trace. The truth however has remained impossible to determine.  

Disappearing documents

In the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) the case of Jan Rodowicz has been shrouded in mystery. State authorities, having publicized the window jump version motivated by a desire to escape or commit suicide, have kept silence for years, secretly quelling all initiatives to investigate the matter.

Only after the collapse of the system, already in August of 1991, the Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against the Polish Nation launched an inquiry into the circumstances of “Anoda’s” death. But it was hindered by missing documents related to the case, both from the Ministry of Interior as well as from the archives of the Military Persecutor Office. According to historians this indirectly confirmed the thesis of “Anoda’s” murder during the investigation. Had Jan Rodowicz really committed suicide, it would have been in the best interest of the Secret Police officers to prove it beyond doubt with the aid of extensive medical documentation. However the post-mortem protocol has not been found and the story of disappearing file marked “Jan Rodowicz Anoda” is very significant.

It unquestionably existed. It was spotted and even held in August of 1969 by Elżbieta Rodowicz, an employee at the archives of the Ministry of Interior, privately the wife of “Anoda’s” cousin, Wojciech. Because the two branches of the family separated after the war for safety reasons, she was not very familiar with Jan’s story and therefore when she spotted a file with the last name on it and a label “Shot during attempted escape” her spontaneous reaction was: Must be someone from the family...

That was enough – the next day the thick file with more than one hundred pages, sewn through with cotton thread with ends sealed by pieces of paper, disappeared and Elżbieta Rodowicz was fired on-the-spot.

Because at that time she did not even have time to look into “Anoda’s” file, she tried to do so in 1990. At the Ministry of Interior she was told that those records were transferred to the Ministry of Justice. However according to the statement of prosecutor Stefan Szustakiewicz, who in the 1990s conducted the investigation on “Anoda’s” death, no file has been found with documents regarding Jan Rodowicz, his arrest or death.

Last investigation

Out of necessity the last investigation used copies of protocols from interrogations of “Zośka” Battalion soldiers arrested at the time and witnesses’ testimonies.

In the 1990s the ex-officers of the Secret Police were already at least in their seventies. Both of them – Major Wiktor Herer and Lieutenant Bronisław Klejn – categorically denied that Rodowicz had been tortured at the ministry.

Klejn stated that he had interrogated Rodowicz only once at the order of his superior. His task was to keep him for several minutes and take him to his superior. He assured that was his first and only encounter with “Anoda”, since interrogating him was beyond the scope of his competencies.

– He escaped. Slipped away – admitted Klejn. According to the testimony of this retired officer “Anoda” jumped out of the wide open window in the room, where the guard was instructed to bring him in wait for Herer.

According to the officers, a one-storey utility building was added to the Ministry headquarters from the side of the neighbouring British Embassy. A jump onto its roof could, according to them, become the leap to freedom for “Anoda”.

It is worth noting that Klejn, according to his own words, did not even look out the window to see what happened to “Anoda”. He did not check for the prisoner’s fate.

– I was shocked. I returned as soon as possible to report that he had jumped out. It happened on the fourth floor. He could not have survived.  Later on no one talked about it anymore.

It is questionable that a smart but greatly disabled person would risk a jump from the fourth floor in an attempted escape to later climb over the wall and into the embassy area.

According to documents gathered at the Institute of National Remembrance, “Anoda” was interrogated at least four times: right after his arrest on 24 December, later on 29 December and on January 4 and 7.

During the investigation Bronisław Klejn claimed that he had not signed any protocols from Rodowicz’s interrogation and no such documents existed. Discovering his signatures on several protocols “appalled him” – as he put it. – They must have been fabricated already after “Anoda’s” death – he said.

There is no doubt that Wiktor Herer questioned Rodowicz. This is what Julia Brystigier [L2]wrote about him: Talented. Works well as part of the network. Makes quick decisions but sometimes ill-considered. His bad points are hot-headedness and no self-control.

Herer, asked by investigators, whether “Anoda” was beaten, answered:  – People who came to our department, were not to be beaten.

This is his explanation of “Anoda’s” death: – Bronisław Klejn was bringing him to me for questioning. He pushed Klejn away, jumped onto the window sill and threw himself out of the window.

According to the case file, “Anoda” was pronounced dead by doctor Zygmunt Rusaczewski while the autopsy was conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Kazimierz Rusiniak. Such names however were not listed in the registers of the employees or collaborators of the Ministry of Public Security.

In four years several dozen people have been questioned, but the truth about “Anoda’s” final moments was impossible to determine. Analysis of the exhumed remains conducted by the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Warsaw brought no conclusive answers.

– It was impossible to confirm the criminal offence hypothesis – explained an eminent anthropologist, Dr Bronisław Młodziejowski. To determine the cause of death beyond all doubt – whether from a bullet or as a result of chest implosion, it was already too late.

The investigation was dismissed. It is supposed that disappearance or destruction of Rodowicz’s file was meant to protect secret police officers and make it impossible to determine the truth about their deeds. 

During the exhumation conducted with the full sanction of the law the combat decorations of Jan Rodowicz, which were pinned on his clothing by his mother were taken to the Polish Army Museum.