WWII hero’s ‘final wish’ honoured with giant mural in his name
A large-scale mural dedicated to the memory one of the most celebrated heros of the Warsaw Uprising who died last year, has been unveiled in Warsaw on what would have been his 100th birthday.
Occupying 210 square metres and the entire wall of a building at 12 Tarczyńska street in Warsaw’s Ochota district, the design by historical mural painter Rafał Roskowiński is based on two archival photographs of Professor Witold Kieżun from the time of WWII.
The largest of the images is an outline of the most famous photograph of Kieżun as a soldier during the Uprising, wearing a helmet, carrying a heavy machine gun and smiling after the successful capture of the Police Headquarters and Holy Cross Church on Warsaw’s Krakowskie Przedmiescie on the 23rd August 1944.
At the same time he also succeeded in seizing 14 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition from 14 German soldiers who he took captive.
The second smaller image at the forefront of the mural, presents Kieżun in civilian dress and is based on a photo taken of him on the balcony of his home in 1943.
Involved in the Polish underground resistance from the start of WWII as a soldier of the Home Army, from 1944 Kieżun’s flat in Żoliborz served as a weapon storage location for the Home Army.
When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, Kieżun participated actively throughout its entire duration, serving as Second Lieutenant in the special combat unit ‘Harnaś’, and was known by his codename ‘Wypad’.
On 23rd September 1944 Kieżun became the recipient of Poland's highest military order the Virtuti Militari awarded to him personally by Commander in Chief of the time, Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski.
Following the fall of the Warsaw Uprising on the 3rd October 1944, Kieżun became a prisoner of war but managed to escape from a prisoner convoy and find his way to Kraków, where he continued to be active in the Polish resistance.
However in March 1945 he was arrested by the NKVD and imprisoned in the city’s notorious Montelupich Prison, widely considered one of the worst Nazi prisons in Poland, where he was tortured but didn’t betray any confidential details or names.
He was later transported to the Soviet Gulag of Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk) where he miraculously survived near death from the disease Beriberi.
When the camp was disbanded in September 1945, Kieżun was first relocated to an NKVD hospital in Uzbekistan before being sent back to an NKVD camp in Brest, where he was handed over to the Polish Communist Ministry of Public Security and imprisoned for a time in its labour camp in Złotów before being released in mid-1946.
He would go on to become a distinguished Economist with lectureships at American Universities and also serve as a Chief Technical Advisor of the United Nations Development Programme in Burundi, Rwanda and Burkina Faso.
The idea for the mural honouring Kieżun was put forward last year by the Fundacja Marki Polskiej im. prof. Witolda Kieżuna (Professor Witold Kieżun Foundation) and was carried out in cooperation with Nie Zapomnij O Nas Powstańcach Warszawskich (Don’t Forget About Us Warsaw Uprising Heroes Foundation).
The project received the blessing of Kieżun himself before his death in June 2021.
In a description of the mural’s crowdfunding page, Bogusław Szostkiewicz, president of the Professor Witold Kieżun Foundation said: “I can remember my conversation with Professor Kieżun about this topic as if it was yesterday, he really liked the project.
“We wanted to win our race with time, to honour our friend as he deserved to be through his life for Poland. Unfortunately, procedures as well as bureaucratic issues meant that we didn’t make it.
“The Professor won’t be able to take part in the unveiling ceremony. But the mural has to be realised. We have to make it by the 6th of February”.
Featuring a hand-written letter by Kieżun from shortly before his death, the crowdfunding page shows Kieżun writing that the idea is “beautiful and moving” and that he would be “incredibly happy” if he were able to live to see the realisation of the project.
Patryk Markuszewski, president of ‘Don’t Forget About Us Foundation’ added: “We owe the Professor our most valuable lessons in history, life and true humanity. We want the memory of him to be alive in the city which he loved so much.”
The organisers of the mural succeeded in making their deadline and the mural’s unveiling ceremony took place at 11am on Sunday the 6th of February, on the exact date of what would have been Professor Kieżun’s 100th birthday.
Present at the unveiling were friends and family as well as two Warsaw Uprising Veterans, 98 year old Zofia Czekalska codename ‘Sosenka’ a courier for the Home Army, and 97 year old Jakub Nowakowski, codename ‘Tomek’, one of the last living soldiers of the ‘Zośka’ battalion.
Posting about the unveiling on their social media, the ‘Don’t Forget About Us Foundation’ said: “Thank you to all of you who donated your bit to make this project happen. In this way – together – we have honoured our Hero and in a small way realise his dream about a big celebration for his 100th birthday”.
The unveiling ceremony was followed by the laying of flowers of Kieżun’s grave in the Pantheon of Fighting Poland Soldiers at the Military Cemetery in Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery.