Elżbieta Zawacka

Elżbieta Zawacka after the Second World War.

Elżbieta Zawacka was a courier and emissary of the commander of the Polish Home Army, the most important resistance organisation in occupied Poland. She became a symbol of women’s involvement in combat during World War II. After the war she worked to ensure that the role played by women in service would not be forgotten.

Elżbieta Zawacka was part of the department of foreign communications of the Polish Home Army. She set up routes to the west for couriers of the Polish resistance and worked as a courrier herself as well. She crossed the Polish pre-war border over a hundred times during the war while carrying money, reports and news. In February 1943, as the emissary of General Stefan ‘Grot’ Rowecki, she travelled across Germany, France, Andorra, Spain and Gibraltar to reach London where she spoke to the staff of Władysław Sikorski, the prime minister of the Polish government in exile. She had two tasks: to improve the courier service and – at the explicit request of General Rowecki – to ask for the women in the Home Army to receive the same rights as their male colleagues.

Elżbieta was given parachute training and was one of the few emissaries to come back to Poland. In doing so, she became the only woman in the elite group called the cichociemni (the silent unseen).

From March 1944 she served in the directorate of the Women’s Army Service that operated within the Home Army headquarters. She fought in the Warsaw Uprising, a large operation by the Home Army to liberate their capital from Nazi occupation.

After the war she joined the anti-communist movement. In September 1951 she was arrested by the Security Service and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After being released she worked at the University of Gdańsk and at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. She was one of the founders of the World Association of Home Army Soldiers and the initiator of the “Pomeranian Home Army Archive” Foundation in Toruń. In 2006 she was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the Polish Army to honour her achievements. Elżbieta Zawacka died in 2009.

Elżbieta Zawacka before the Second World War. From the collection of the General Elżbieta Zawacka Foundation.