‘Forgotten’ WWII hero named ‘Blind Antek’ who destroyed Nazi supply depot finally remembered with plaque
One of the masterminds behind Poznań’s biggest acts of wartime sabotage has been remembered after a plaque honouring his deeds was unveiled in the city.
Best-known by the pseudonym Blind Antek (Ślepy Antek), Antoni Gąsiorowski earned his nickname after losing his right eye in a fight as a youth.
Working as a coachman for the Hartwig shipping company, he was well-known in the working class area of Chwaliszewo, with many accounts claiming he was something of a rogue and local character.
Recruited to Poland’s resistance movement at the start of 1942, he had been persuaded to join by the charismatic Michał Garczyk, a career soldier who had been conscripted to the German army in 1918 only to swiftly dessert and later join Polish forces fighting the Wielkopolska Uprising.
Gąsiorowski’s job gave him excellent, first-hand knowledge of the city’s boatyards, and though he had never previously demonstrated any political inclinations, as a proud patriot he is said to have enthusiastically seized the opportunity to join the underground.
Cajoling six friends to join him – including his brother – Gąsiorowski and his associates were handed the initial duty of gathering reconnaissance relating to the storage facilities in the boatyard.
Already on the underground’s radar, these had been previously identified as an important logistics point. According to intelligence, tyres for combat vehicles were being stored there, as well as weapons, food, winter clothing and blankets that had been collected from the German public following propaganda appeals – all were destined for the Eastern Front.
Formally approved by General Sikorski, an operation was then planned to destroy these facilities. Codenamed Akcja Bollwerk, Gąsiorowski and his cohorts provided inside expertise as to the layout of these warehouses and formed a core part of the group created by Garczyk to subsequently destroy them.
On the evening of February 20th this unit entered the complex and set about placing flammable materials around the six targeted warehouses – including the Hartwig warehouse for which Gąsiorowski had a key.
Then, at some point between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on February 21st, the group set light to the warehouses, but only after they had stolen three sacks of sugar, flour and peas to be redistributed to the needy.
As apocryphal as it might be, according to one urban legend Gąsiorowski exited the scene after playing the Polish national anthem on a gramophone.
With the largely wooden warehouses so tightly packed together, it did not take long for the blaze to take hold. For hours, German fire crews battled to extinguish the fire and had to resort to drawing water from the Warta River.
By the time they succeeded in dousing the flames, around 5,000 tyres had been destroyed as well as piles of winter warfare uniform and huge amounts of food. An official report set the destruction at between 1 and 1.5 million Reichsmarks, though historians have since argued that the amount could have been up to three times larger.
So brilliantly had the fire been planned, an initial Berlin-led investigation placed the blame squarely on an electrical fault. However, these findings failed to satisfy the local Gestapo who soon deduced that it had been purposefully set.
Acting on tip-offs, the perpetrators were rounded-up, including Blind Antek. Arrested on June 25th whilst unloading a cart on Wolnica street, he offered fierce resistance before being bundled into a van and ferried either to the nearby prison on today’s ul. Młyńska or – accounts differ – to the Gestapo building on what is now ul. Niezłomnych 1.
Subjected to a violent interrogation, he is said to have gravely wounded one of his tormentors after lunging at him and biting his throat. Clearly infuriated by this, his interrogators ratcheted up their torture. The following day, Antek was dead, his official cause of death given as “abdominal pain”.
Gąsiorowski’s co-conspirators fared little better. First imprisoned at the city’s Fort VII, eleven – including Michał Garczyk – were sentenced to death at a court hearing held on October 16th, 1943. After signing farewell letters most likely penned by their guards, they were then hung on December 16th at the jail on Młyńska.
For decades after, the Communist authorities failed to recognise Akcja Bollwerk, and it was only on the 40th anniversary of the action that a commemorative stone was unveiled. Later, on the 75th anniversary, a square was renamed to celebrate Bollwerk.
As for Gąsiorowski, he was remembered in 2015 when a small passage in Chwaliszewo was christened Zaułek Ślepego Antka (Blind Antek’s Alley). Now his name is again on the lips of locals thanks to the plaque erected in his honour in the same alley that bears his name.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, praised Gąsiorowski whilst acknowledging his faults: “one could have described him as a hooligan, someone who undoubtedly had problems with the law and did not avoid fights. He was not a flawless hero.
“And yet, when the hour came, he rose to the challenge and acted heroically.”
The President of the Institute of National Remembrance, Dr. Karol Nawrocki, also touched on Gąsiorowski’s colourful past, referring to him as “a man of flesh and blood” who nonetheless stepped up to the plate “to suffer and die for Poland in the noblest of ways.”
In a surprising twist, the ceremony was – unbeknownst to the organisers until later – attended by the friends and family of Gąsiorowski.
Rewriting the narrative somewhat, 91-year-old Gizela Wierzbicka recalled a different side to Antek: “he always stepped in to defend children being bullied by bigger groups,” she said. “He used to eat soup with me and my family in Garbary – he was a good man.”
Whatever the case, it is fitting that his actions are finally being given the credit they deserve.
“Unfortunately, most Poles do not know the story of Blind Antek,” said Dr. Nawrocki. “We want to show him in a broader context… he is a figure that should be ingrained in Poland’s conscience and who should be remembered by history.”