Cold cases of priests ‘murdered’ by communist secret police to be reopened

According to IPN president Dr Karol Nawrocki, chief among the renewed investigations are three opposition priests who died in suspicious circumstances in 1989. IPN

The cold cases of priests who died in unclear circumstances and are widely believed to have been murdered by the Communist security services are to be reinvestigated by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN).

According to IPN president Dr Karol Nawrocki, chief among them are three opposition priests who died in suspicious circumstances in 1989.

Nawrocki said: “Further analyses of the cases of priests murdered in the 1980s and of anti-communist opposition activists from several cities are under way.

In 1989, as the Communist system was collapsing and the round talks were about to get underway, a series of deaths of opposition priests shocked Poland.Cezary Słomiński/PAP

"It may be possible to find the perpetrators of the crimes.”

In 1989, as the Communist system was collapsing and the round talks were about to get underway, a series of deaths of opposition priests shocked Poland.

In January 1989, Father Stefan Niedzielak died in unexplained circumstances. Although the investigation was discontinued by the Public Prosecutor's Office in 2009 due to the lack of evidence, everything indicates that the elderly priest was murdered by the Security Service.

In January 1989, Father Stefan Niedzielak died in unexplained circumstances. Although the investigation was discontinued by the Public Prosecutor's Office in 2009 due to the lack of evidence, everything indicates that the elderly priest was murdered by the Security Service.IPN

Father Niedzielak took part in the Warsaw Uprising and was a member of independence movement Freedom and Independence after the war.

In the 1980s, he set up the Katyń Family organisation and raised the Katyn Cross at the military cemetery in Powązki.

All this made him a target of the Security Service for surveillance and intimidation. On the morning of 21 January 1989, his body was found in the presbytery on Powązkowska street in Warsaw by a fellow cleric after he had failed to turn up for a morning mass he was supposed to conduct.

Father Niedzielak had taken part in the Warsaw Uprising and was a member of independence movement Freedom and Independence after the war. In the 1980s, he set up the Katyń Family organisation and raised the Katyn Cross at the military cemetery in Powązki.IPN

On the morning of 21 January 1989, his body was found in the presbytery on Powązkowska street in Warsaw. The official cause of death was a fall which led to a broken neck. However, the injury was characteristic of a karate chop.Public domain

The official cause of death was a fall which led to a broken neck. However, the injury was characteristic of a karate chop.

Nine days later on 30 January 1989, the corpse of Father Stanisław Suchowolec was found in Białystok. The priest was the chaplain of the Białystok Solidarity movement and a friend of Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was also murdered by the secret police.

His body was discovered in the morning by two fellow priests and his housekeeper. They found Father Suchowolec lying dead on the floor partially wrapped in a quilt, his hands and head were covered with soot. The priest's dog, Nika, was lying nearby also dead. There were traces of fire in the room.

On 30 January 1989, the corpse of Father Stanisław Suchowolec was found in Białystok.IPN

Investigators found a half-empty bottle of vodka and the autopsy showed that the priest had a high level of alcohol in his blood.

Experts concluded that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning due to the fire.

As a Solidarity priest, Suchowolec was under intense scrutiny by the Security Service. His flat was bugged and he had received threats and was beaten three times.

As a Solidarity priest, Suchowolec was under intense scrutiny by the Security Service. He was found lying dead on the floor of his apartment partially wrapped in a quilt.IPN

The priest's Volkswagen Passat was tampered with on several occasions. In August 1988 someone threw a stone at the priest's car. Two days later his parents' house was set on fire.

Numerous doubts began to surround the priest's death from the outset. The investigation was carried out in haste and without due care with a biased selection of evidence.

Witnesses say that Suchowolec was disturbed by a conversation he had with a man unknown to anyone, aged around 40, who turned up at his flat in the early afternoon. What the conversation was about is not known.

Suchowolec was the chaplain of the Białystok Solidarity movement and a friend of Jerzy Popiełuszko.Wojciech Kryński/PAP

Popiełuszko was kidnapped and beaten to death by the secret police in 1984. PAP

In 1985, three officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the deputy director of Department IV of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were sentenced to 14 years in prison for the death of Popiełuszko.PAP

Another doubt was caused by the alcohol found in the priest's blood. The priest was known for his abstinence.

The biggest question mark, however, related to the fire in the priest's flat. The fire burned for only about 20-30 seconds and did not cause much damage. The surface of the table, which was engulfed by the fire, was covered with a sticky, oily substance, which was later proved to be the cause of the fire.

In addition, the blunt force trauma to the head, which was said to be the result of a fall from bed, was ignored.

At the beginning of July 1989, Father Sylwester Zych died in unclear circumstances when his body was found at a bus station in Krynica Morska.IPN

Later that year at the beginning of July 1989, Father Sylwester Zych died in unclear circumstances when his body was found at the bus station in Krynica Morska.

Father Zych had already been convicted for allegedly helping a group of young independence activists involved in the killing of a militia officer.

Before entering prison, he was told by Security Service officers that he would be murdered after his release.

Already having been convicted for allegedly helping a group of young independence activists, before entering prison he was told by Security Service officers that he would be murdered after his release.CC 2.0

When he left the prison after serving four and half years, he was beaten up several times and he received anonymous letters and phone calls threatening him with death.Press materials

During his time in prison, he was disciplined 41 times, and he was kept in solitary confinement for months. He came out physically and nervously broken.

When he left the prison after serving four and half years, he was beaten up several times and he received anonymous letters and phone calls threatening him with death.

Since the 1960s, the Security Service kept an operational file on every priest in Poland. The files of priests Niedzielak, Suchowolec and Zych were maintained and updated until their deaths. However, during the investigations they all disappeared.

The IPN says that by reopening the cold cases files they hope to be able to find the men responsible for the deaths. Grzegorz Rogiński/PAP

IPN spokesperson Dr Rafał Leśkiewicz said: “These were crimes, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice.”

He added that it may be several months before IPN prosecutors bring charges.