A mechanical engineer and politician helped run Poland for two years after the war, as minister for postage and telegraphs. But Mieczyslaw Thugutt performed this feat from Brockley. He also tried to help his friends in his occupied homeland – with tragic consequences on one occasion. At a time when we are all very conscious of conquest and the refugee exodus which follows, MIKE GUILFOYLE tells his story.
In the former Roman Catholic section of Brockley cemetery near to the Brockley Road boundary lies the Thugutt Family grave.
There is a small presence of graves from the Polish diaspora within this area of the cemetery.
When Mieczyslaw Thugutt died in exile in Wickham Road, Brockley aged 76, his ashes were interred here.
Mieczyslaw Thugutt trained as a mechanical engineer and was the son of the famous peasant leader and social activist, Stanisław Thugutt.
The father served as a soldier in the famed Polish Legions in the First World War and later became Vice-Prime Minister of Poland before escaping into exile to Sweden after the German invasion of 1939.
Back in Poland, Mieczyslaw attended the Masovian Land School in Warsaw, where he joined the socialist movement, including the Union of Associations of Polish Independence Youth and then of the Union of Polish Socialist Youth.
Together with other activists, he participated in the Third Silesian Uprising – when Poles battled to try to stop Germany seizing Silesia in May 1921.
After graduating from high school, he began studies at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Warsaw University of Technology.
In 1927, he officially became a mechanical engineer and started working at the university as an assistant.
From 1929 he worked at the Marconi Wireless Co., and in 1930, at the Lilpop, Rau and Loewenstein factory.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he was initially in Vilnius, and from 1940 in Stockholm, in Sweden, where he headed the Polish branch of the Ministry of the Interior.
In September 1942, a year after his father died, he left for Great Britain. Here he mediated between the Polish government-in-exile based in the capital and the underground movement in Poland.
He helped to supervise clandestine radio broadcasts codeword Swit (Dawn) from Great Britain to occupied Poland.
He refused to return to Communist-led Poland after the Second World War, becoming politically active in Polish emigre politics until ill-health resulted in his death in 1979.
During a Commission for the Investigation of German War Crimes held in Warsaw in 1948, a tragic story from an eyewitness emerged on the fate of one of Mieczyslaw’s close school friends, Stanisław Dubois.
Following his arrest as part of the Polish resistance movement in Warsaw in 1940, he was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp.
During an interrogation, he was asked if he knew Mieczysław Thugutt – he answered that he was his friend from school.
Finally, he heard that Mieczysław had sent him a food parcel and it was given to him.
Prisoners were not allowed to receive parcels at the time. One-kilogram parcels were only allowed in December 1942.
The interrogating Gestapo officer had all of Dubois’s personal files and treated him brutally.
On Monday, 22 August 1942, two SS men from the Political Department called out his number and took him from his workplace.
They led him to block 11. The prisoners of the hospital block 21 saw Dubois passing by, he even smiled and waved his hand goodbye.
He was walked into the baths, where the prisoners always had to undress completely before an execution.
That’s where two Leichenträgers – prisoners used for carrying corpses – saw him. I learned from them that Stanisław Dubois, brought onto the yard without his clothes, a moment before he was hit by the bullet, shouted: “Poland is not yet lost.”
Dubois was executed by being shot in the back of his head with an automatic rifle.
Wondering what caused the death of Stanisław Dubois, the eyewitness came to the conclusion that the food parcel that came from Mieczyslaw Thugutt – then in exile in Stockholm – with Dubois’s name and the number assigned to him, was the reason for which Dubois was executed.
Mieczyslaw is also referenced in the recent remarkable book on Witold Pilecki, the heroic Polish Resistance leader and escapee from Auschwitz.
In another tragic twist of fate Pilecki was executed in the same brutal manner in 1948 – but by the Communist Government for among other charges espionage for foreign imperialism.
In other words, he was accused of helping British intelligence.
Mieczyslaw Thugutt features as one of the lives in a third brief biographical guide to 30 of the illustrious deceased buried in Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries published in May 2020 by Mike Guilfoyle.
Remembering Fred’s Longer Days
Former opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the work of an activist who was a regular South London Press contributor, as a book of his writings is published.
Fred Roy’s Longer Days launched on February 22, is a collection of essays, excerpts and letters collected by his daughter Hazel.
Mr Corbyn, between crucial debates in the House of Commons on Ukraine, mentioned Fred’s long working hours and the exploitation of the 1930s which are recalled in the book.
The former Labour leader had remembered many of the details of the book and said he wished he had met Fred, who lived in Dulwich until his retirement.
Hazel said: “Jeremy was immensely generous with his time and charming to everyone – he had just come from a long parliamentary debate on the Ukraine.
“I can think of no other political leader who would have been so generous and so considerate in helping us promote an unknown family memoir.
“He remembered great swathes of the book despite the million or one other things he has been doing since he read it.
“All Fred’s grandchildren and a great grandchild were at the launch as well as theatre friends who read from the book at the launch in Clerkenwell.”
Book excerpt: Outbreak of First World War: WW1 breaks out Aliens were speedily rounded up at the start of the war; even bakers who had lived here for generations were not spared.
Frenzied mobs stoned and looted their shops, many were beaten up injured, even killed, simply because a great, great grandparent had permitted himself to be born in Kaiserland.
Naturally we were not told these things or allowed to witness them.
Every morning on my way to school I had to pass the burnt out ruins of the shop where only days before we had bought our daily bread.
It saddened and sickened me, as I had liked the lady who had often given me a currant bun or surplus cake to eat on the way home.
But before long some of the patriotic fervour even rubbed off on the children as young as myself.
Anyone we disliked was dubbed “a stinking rotten German” and Hun replaced the Indians in our cowboy games.
Shown lurid pictures of the evil Hun tossing poor little Belgian babies into the air and then impaling them on their upturned bayonets horrified and frightened us.
“That will happen here if we fail in our duty to King and country” we were told.
Just what we were to do as children was never made clear but we shared the general determination to do our bit – whatever that was.
Main Pic: Mieczyslaw Thugutt’s grave
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