Until her death, she waited for her beloved husband to come back home. His name was on the list of the Katyń massacre victims. Years later, the Military Policy major identified an officer’s badge found in the mass grave in Kharkov.
It is hard to say why exactly it was this museum piece that caught Maj Bartosz Klepczyński’s attention. During his visit in Katyń Museum, in one of display cases he noticed a badge with a pre-World War II symbol of the Military Police. A 4x4-cm piece of material looked much tattered. At that time, he didn’t know yet that the badge is made of silver, and that he would soon – like a detective – discover its original owner.
The badge, just like all other pieces displayed in Katyń Museum, was dug out of the death pit during exhumation of human remains of Polish officers and policemen murdered in Soviet camps in Katyń, Kharkov, and Starobilsk. Many of these – excavated after many years – things were damaged, and thus hard to identify. Katyń Museum asked the Military Police Training Center in Mińsk Mazowiecki for assistance. The Center has the device capable of producing images of such pieces, their precise 3D visualization. The Museum then published these images on the Internet in the hope that the families of victims would recognize some of them.
“I reconstructed – using 3D technology – several dozen pieces for Katyń Museum, such as gorgets, cigarette cases or soldier’s aluminum canteens on which the prisoners would often scratch their initials or the names of their co-prisoners,” says Maj Bartosz Klepczyński, a senior lecturer of the investigation and inquiry training cycle at the Military Police Training Center.
Following the Thread
Among the Museum documents, there was no description of the badge, and on its damaged surface any details – such as the identification number enabling to quickly find the name of the owner in the archives – were barely visible. Maj Klepczyński started his inquiry by going through the lists of Katyń massacre victims. The badge was made of silver, which meant it probably belonged to an officer. He read Jan Suliński’s paper on Military Policemen Murdered in the East in the Period of 1939–1949, and opted for two officers: Col Stanisław Sitek, Commandant of Military Police Training Center in Grudziądz, and LtCol Stanisław Kuciel, Commander of the 3rd Military Police Division in Grodno.
The Major combined the archive research with the reconstruction images for Katyń Museum. He started with the badge. When its 3D image appeared on the screen, he saw two little hollows: first, in the place where there usually was a mint symbol, and the second, where an ID number was often engraved. “We have a structured-light 3D scanner, which scans as deep as to even one-tenth of a millimeter. I was able to precisely analyze the surface of the badge. When I enhanced image resolution, I saw number 9. It was hard to notice before, because during exhumation someone wrote exhumation number on it with a pen,” says Maj Klepczyński.
He then read the paper on Military Police in Documents from the Period of 1918–1939 (Central Military Library, CBW). As it turned out, the Military Police Commemorative Badge was introduced by the order of Marshal Józef Piłsudski on December 31, 1931. This date and the badge’s low number suggested that the badge was probably awarded in 1932. In the archives of Digital Library of Wielkopole, Maj Klepczyński found the list of officers from this period, and it included both names: LtCol Kuciel and Col (then: Major) Sitek.
“I assumed that the badge belongs to the patron of our unit – Col Stanisław Sitek, who was shot in Katyń,” the major recalls. In fact, the Colonel was shot in Tver, not in Kharkov where the badge was found. “The transport documentation from the execution site pointed to Kharkov as the place where LtCol Kuciel was shot,” says the Major. In the library of the Military Police in Mińsk Mazowiecki, he found the list of military policemen who were killed in Katyń. The name of the Lieutenant Colonel was on it.
The Major’s search revealed that a military policeman, when awarded with a badge, would also receive a diploma signed by the Military Police Commandant, Col Felicjan Płato Bałaban, and a certification of awarding the badge with ID number and a number of the order of division commander. Maj Klepczyński went through all online numismatic auctions in recent years which auctioned the silver Military Police Commemorative Badge. In the Central Military Library, he scanned the officer’s yearbooks, orders of the Military Police command in 1939, account books where the badge fees were listed, and orders of the division commander.
Trail Goes to Gdańsk
“Quite quickly I came across two documents which confirmed who the badge belonged to. In the number book of the Military Police Commemorative Badge and in the alphabetical book of the Military Police Commemorative Badge listed as No. 9 was LtCol Stanisław Kuciel, Commander of the 3rd Division of the Military Police in Grodno,” recalls Maj Klepczyński. Identification process ended. Maj Klepczyński decided to find the family of LtCol Kuciel. He also wanted to find a diploma or a certification of awarding the badge.
“It wasn’t an easy task, because the name Kuciel is quite popular,” he says. He started his search surfing through the Internet and social media. In one of the newspapers in Trójmiasto (Tricity), he read the interview with Wojciech Kuciel, who told the paper that his father had been a military policeman, and was murdered in Kharkov. He found over dozen people named Kuciel on Facebook, and wrote to them. Two hours later, he got a response from Zofia Kuciel. As it turned out, she was a granddaughter of LtCol Stanisław Kuciel, and a daughter of Wojciech. Maj Klepczyński ended his search in Gdańsk – he met with a son of a man whose badge he had identified.
Wojciech Kuciel is 90 years old. He’s telling the World War II stories as if they just happened yesterday. He puts all documents on his table: a family photo album with photographs taken before World War II, his father’s letters from the camp, the family’s inquiries to the Red Cross about his fate.
On one of the walls, there are several photographs. The oldest one dates back to 1917, and shows LtCol Kuciel and his 17-year-old wife. Right next to it, there is a reproduction of the officer’s commission of LtCol Kuciel signed by Marshal Józef Piłsudski. “This document outlasted the war, because when the German army entered Grodno, my mother rolled it and dug in the basement,” Wojciech Kuciel tells his story.
In 1931, LtCol Stanisław Kuciel became a commander of the 3rd Division of the Military Police in Grodno. He lived there with his wife and three sons until 1939. They occupied a flat in a building, where on the ground floor, the command of the Military Police had its address. When the war broke out, Wojciech Kuciel was a fourth-grade primary school student. On September 1, 1939, he didn’t go to school. “That day, at five o’clock in the morning, we were all standing on our balcony: my father, my mother, my brother, and me. We were watching German bombers bombarding Grodno. I remember how strong was the blast of the bomb which exploded as far as 400 meters away,” he recalls. LtCol Kuciel took his family to their house in Siderce, and then went to war.
With time, his letters would come from Starobilsk. Some of them escaped destruction, and though the writing has faded, they are still readable. “We got the last postcard from our father on my birthday, on April 6, 1040. He wrote that I’d get my birthday present when he’d be back home. But this was the time when the Soviet started the massacre, which we did not know. We were still waiting for him,” says Wojciech Kuciel.
On one of his postcards from the camp, he wrote to his wife: “I fear that you will have to go to that place where Uncle Sosnowski built the bridge over the Amur River – I don’t remember its name… .”
“This letter proves that in the camps they were aware of the resettlements of officers’ families to Siberia,” explains the son of LtCol Kuciel. The Kuciel family was also forced to resettle. On the night of June 20/21, 1941, the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) arrested the mother and sons. However, the train they were on never got to its destination – between Baranavichy and Stowbtsy (Belarus) it was bombed by the German: the German-Russian war had just begun. “It was the only train which was shelled by the Germans. Its locomotive was on fire, four wagons burnt. We managed to run away and get through to Poland,” recalls Wojciech Kuciel.
After the end of World War II, the family still waited for LtCol Kuciel to come back. His death was never officially confirmed. His name was not on the lists of the Katyń massacre victims published by the German. “He is on the list of missing persons,” such two replies they got in February and July of 1946 from the Red Cross. “Years had passed before we learned that our father was murdered in Kharkov.
In 1963, my mother died. She waited for my father until the very end,” recalls Wojciech Kuciel. LtCol Stanisław Kuciel is the 1,380th name on the list of POWs of NKVD camp in Starobilsk. During exhumation work in Kharkow, a piece of paper with his name on it was found rolled into the Russian newspaper. He was buried in the grave No. 6,7/94.
In 2007, LtCol Stanisław Kuciel by decision of Minister of National Defense was posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel. Wojciech Kuciel doesn’t know why his father was awarded the Military Police Commemorative Badge, but he happily gave his consent to the Military Police Department in Bemowo Piskie about having his father as its patron.
autor zdjęć: arch. Żandarmerii Wojskowej