Inside: Montelupich Prison

Krakow’s Montelupich Prison has been the scene of some of the darkest moments in the city’s recent history. British and Soviet spies, anti-Communist activists, high ranking Nazis and the victims of Nazi oppression have all found themselves behind its walls in the company of common and uncommon criminals.

Unlike many other historical monuments in the city, Montelupich continues to operate in its original role. The prison, officially called the Krakow Detention Centre (Areszt Śledczy Kraków), is situated on ul. Montelupich, north of the Old Town near Nowy Kleparz.

Both the prison and the street take their name from the Montelupis – a noble Italian family who established themselves here in the 16th century by converting an even older property on the site. The prison covers an area of about a hectare and is now comprised of eight buildings of varying antiquity behind its high, perimeter walls.

Inside Montelupich Prison (photo: David McGirr)

History Behind Bars

During the period of the partition of Poland, the buildings on this site were used by the occupying Austrians as a barracks and, from 1905, as the seat of a military court. The first prisoners were incarcerated here by the Austrians during World War I.

Shortly after the establishment of the Second Polish Republic in 1918, head of state Józef Piłsudski signed the Decree on Temporary Provisions for Prisons (Dekret w sprawie tymczasowych przepisów więziennych), establishing the new state’s prison service and the rights of prisoners. The decree set out legal punishments for inmates and, in Article 11, the rights of prisoners to receive ‘consolation from a priest’ and an education equivalent to that provided to all other citizens.

Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Montelupich was taken over by the Gestapo and pressed into service as a mechanism for oppression. For some Cracovians, it became the last stop on the road to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Polish prisoners held here were a convenient source of victims for retaliatory executions. In 1944, 100 Montelupich inmates were shot in retaliation for the attempted assassination of the Nazi governor of occupied Poland, Hans Frank.

When the Soviet Army arrived in Krakow, the notorious NKVD set up shop on ul. Montelupich. Thousands of Poles who had fought with the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) against Nazi occupation passed through its doors in the post-war period, many of them destined for exile in the furthest reaches of the Soviet Union.

In the years immediately after the war, several high-ranking Nazis were held in Montelupich. Most grimly satisfying of all, Amon Goeth – the hated and feared commandant of the Płaszów concentration camp so chillingly portrayed in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List– was held here until his execution in 1946.

Six more buildings were added to the site between 1955 and 1976, and the existing facilities were modernised in the 1970s. One of the newer buildings now houses the District Inspectorate of the Prison Service in Krakow. The prison itself now has 173 cells with a maximum capacity of 644 prisoners and houses both male and female offenders.

Montelupich is also the main medical centre for prisoners in southeast Poland. The prison hospital can accommodate 103 patients in 22 secure wards and also provides psychological treatment.

The Governor

The Krakow Post visited Montelupich at the invitation of Tomasz Wacławek, spokesperson for the Małopolska Prison Service, to find out more about the institution today, and to see the historical sights that only a few, unlucky Cracovians get to see.

Montelupich governor Robert Bartyzel (right) and Małopolska Prison Service spokesman Tomasz Wacławek (photo: David McGirr)

Robert Bartyzel has been the prison’s governor since January 2012. He started his career in the prison service in 1987, after graduating in construction studies at the Krakow University of Technology. We asked him about his experiences as the head of Krakow’s most famous big house.

Can you tell us about some famous prisoners who have ended up in Montelupich over the years? And have there been any escape attempts?

“We have hosted a few serial killers, mostly during the Communist era, Nazi officers who stood trial after World War II, and people held by the Communist and Nazi regimes, including Stanisław Marusarz who won a silver medal in the ski jumping world championship in 1938 – the first ever Pole to do so. In 1939, he joined the Polish underground, but was captured by the Nazis in 1940 and sentenced to death. Luckily for him, he managed to escape the prison and fled to Hungary. Today, one of our most notorious prisoners is Brunon K., the lecturer from Krakow’s University of Agriculture who is suspected of a plot to blow up the Polish parliament.”

What are the prisoners’ main complaints?

Mr Bartyzel smiles before answering: “There are prisoners whose hobby is writing complaints every day. Most of them are to do with food – too hot, too cold or not spicy enough. Others complain that the pigeons disturb them, or that the cells are too small or too dark. In most cases the complaints are not really serious. I do want to say that we cater to the special diets of prisoners who need them, including kosher food for Jewish prisoners, and special meals for Muslim prisoners and diabetics.”

Have there been any non-Polish prisoners in Montelupich in recent years?

“Not many. I estimate several dozen. Most of them from Russia, the Ukraine, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries.”

Do you ever meet former prisoners on the street? What do they say to you at such moments?

“It happens very often. I live in a town near Krakow where a few of our former prisoners also come from. Usually they greet me with polite ‘Hello,’ but that’s all”.

Tomasz Wacławek, who hovers protectively at the governor’s elbow throughout the interview, adds: “It’s more common for prison guards to meet former Montelupich prisoners, and in some cases they face aggressive behaviour.”

The Tour

Roman Helowicz, titled ‘Director of Confinement,’ showed us around some of the more interesting parts of the prison including the cells, isolation facilities, the exercise yard and the prison chapel. During the tour, he pointed out a corner of the prison yard above the cellar were the last execution in Poland was carried out, by hanging, in 1988.

Montelupich Prison chapel, decorated by former inmates (photo: David McGirr)

Mr Helowicz was also keen to explain that the prison does its best to rehabilitate prisoners during their time inside. “We use the latest pedagogical methods in our programs. We have a diagnosis facility for psychological examinations, an education office, a library, recreational and sport rooms, a film club, art classes, a job seeker’s club, a therapy room, a chapel and more,” said Mr Helowicz.

Are prisoners allowed out of their cells during the day?

“Every prisoner has the right to spend an hour every day in the prison exercise yard. In addition, if a prisoner needs to visit a doctor or meet with a social worker, they do so out of their cells. Some prisoners work outside the prison, so they leave their cells in the morning and return at the end of the working day.”

Mr Helowicz also described the many recreational facilities and events provided for prisoners, which include theatrical performances, music, photographic exhibitions and sport tournaments. Many groups are involved in trying to ensure that prisoners return to society better prepared to play constructive roles. These include social services, job centres, and voluntary organisations such as the drug rehabilitation organisation MONAR.

Ninety three years after the decree that established basic rights for prisoners in Poland, and despite the intervening upheavals, today’s Polish prison service prides itself on upholding and expanding on those provisions.

Front page photo: Main gate of Montelupich Prison (David McGirr)

 

38 thoughts on “Inside: Montelupich Prison

  • February 23, 2013 at 8:31 pm
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    interesting to me

    Reply
    • February 25, 2013 at 9:51 am
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      A very interesting article. There have been several opportunities I have been a guest of the Cracow Prison adminisration and I can confirm a very high level of professional working of the staff. There are big efforts in caring the dignity of the the inmates and preparing them to a former life without criminal activities, especially in the sector of creativity, music, theater. And the public relations work of Tomasz Waclawek ist very professionel and effective, indeed.
      I am working as a pedagogue in a big German prison and we have very intensif contacts to our polish fellow-collegues in the district of Cracow.
      Gerd Ruhl

      Reply
      • August 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm
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        Dear Mr. Gerd Ruhl.. my father was imprisoned from 1939-1945
        I would like more information. thank you Sandra from Canada

        Reply
  • February 26, 2013 at 9:18 am
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    Interested, indeed.
    But a bit too nice to be totally honnest.
    The journalist couldn’t be a bit more critical? Didn’t he heard about the loud case of this romanian prisonner, Claudiu Crulic, not guilty, who died in 2007, after being prisonner during 4 months, 4 months of hunger strike ???
    I highly recommand this biographic animation, especially to you Nissan Tzur, the journalist and Robert Bartyzel, to not forget, to prevent other drama :
    Crulic: The Path to Beyond

    Reply
    • March 14, 2013 at 12:13 am
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      Edek, very good answer, good point of view.

      Reply
  • August 7, 2013 at 8:36 pm
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    Regarding info on inmates from 1939-1945 jews and non jews..
    in montelupich prison .. Do you have this information.
    I am contacting you from Toronto ,Ontario Canada.. sandra

    Reply
  • August 26, 2013 at 5:25 am
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    Reply
    • October 27, 2013 at 7:23 pm
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      hi there web pages.. but whom am I addressing.. thanks Sandra from canada

      Reply
  • August 26, 2013 at 1:49 pm
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    Hi Again,, Is there any historical information about the montelupich prison and their inmates and the war trials for the commendant of the prison . Sandra from canada

    Reply
    • October 27, 2013 at 4:41 am
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      To find those information you have to travel to Krakow and look at Krakow Archives. Or alternatively contact IPN ( Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation or Bureau of Provision and Archivization of Documents) Krakow Office. Here is the email address

      oddzial.krakow@ipn.gov.pl
      regards
      Grace

      Reply
      • October 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm
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        hi grace. thank you.. I have sent them an e mail with my inquiries.. thanks sandra

        Reply
  • February 19, 2016 at 5:40 am
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    My mother was taken to this prison from the streets in Poland in Nov 41 till Dec 41 and then taken to Bielefield till 1945 then to Hoexter and finally to Wentorf before coming to US via Boston

    Reply
  • February 19, 2016 at 9:54 pm
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    hi Jeanette mm My name is Sandra from Toronto canada, i posted a question a few years ago about montelupich prison. I found in New Jersey who survived the war by being held in the prison during the war. If possible can you contact me through this site. I have a few questions regarding the cells and situation of the prisoners. also has your mother been back to poland since 1945.
    I look forward to your reply. I have been waiting a few years for a response to this site. thanks sandra from canada

    Reply
  • February 19, 2016 at 10:03 pm
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    Hi there again Jeanette, the time stamp of the comment say 9:54 p.m. it is now 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. on Friday Feb. 19,2016
    I hope you receive this comment in your e mail account. I have a lot of questions . maybe you or your mother knows the answer.
    thanks again. Sandra Have you been in contact with the Krakow society in Israel.
    4:oo p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

    Reply
    • February 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm
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      Hi Sandra
      I am sorry to say I cant help you. My mother died 3 years ago. And I only found papers after her death. I never knew she was in prison tll I found papers. All it said was she was in prison in warsaw.and then transferred to a work camp in germany

      All these secrets I will never know the answer to.. all our lives we were told we were polish till one day when my father was drunk he told us we were german. Our name…Biber never sounded polish. No one had ever talked about our grandfather Jan Biber. So I know nothing.
      tI found all these pictures before the war, during the war and after that I will never know who or where pictures are of and where

      Reply
      • February 20, 2016 at 9:14 pm
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        Sandra,

        Few people talk about the war and most are deceased so many questions cannot ever be answered.
        I came to US with my parents in 1949. All my relatives are in poland and i didnt discover them till my parents death. What a shame.

        Reply
  • February 21, 2016 at 1:27 am
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    Hi Jeanette,i am sorry to hear about your mother.It is difficult to find papers afterwards and especially 70 years after the fact.I too have found documents now from that time. You posted your comments on the Montellupich Krakow site.. so i assumed that your mother A”H was there. If you want to do more research on family and history you can contact The Holocaust Museum in Washington. and you can go online to find anything that you want to know. I have contacted them too and found them informative.
    Have you thought of going back to Poland. ? What about Yad Vashem in Israe;. Usually after the war everyone posted names of families lost . If you have any questions of how to proceed. I only know about Krakow but I am sure there are societies from other cities set up in the States. Wish you luck . take care, Sandra from Toronto,
    7:26 p.m. toronto time. saturday night feb 20 2016

    Reply
    • February 21, 2016 at 5:03 am
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      Sandra

      I dont speak polish very good and I have only contacted a few relatives and some didnt bother to respond. They all live in the south where the mountains are and am not a spring chicken.
      I would like to find out my grandfsther since no one ever talks about him since he wax german. Who was he and why the secrecy .i dont have any keads.
      we are not jewish, we are catholic.

      Reply
      • February 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm
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        Hi Jeanette ,, Everyone suffered in the second world war. But the only way to find out anything is to go to Europe .All documentation has been destroyed or lost over time. So secrets are hard to uncover. Looking for information unless you can network on the internet. Good Luck.. After reading up what you wrote i was able to locate some people who came on the same ship to Canada as my parents.. So now i have a picture of the ship. take care, sandra

        Reply
      • February 22, 2016 at 4:11 am
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        Hi Jeanette ,, since you first posted i have done some research and i have this site for you to contact bogdan in canada.
        http://www.dpcamps.org/wentorf.html
        You may find this helpful.. take care again. and good luck. sandra from toronto,
        sunday feb 21 2016

        Reply
        • February 22, 2016 at 6:21 am
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          Sandra,

          thanks for the info regarding that site, I found it once before,

          I am going to write the church/cemetary Rajcza where my grandmothet is buried. I wrote them once before but they never answered, I am so curious about my grandfather.was he in the german army? He probably was in his 60s so maybe he was in an earlier war. Who knows.
          i wish there was a website where u can post pictures and naybe people can look and see if they recognize anyone,

          Reply
          • February 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm
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            hi jeanette
            i have this site that has archives ,,
            oddzial.krakow@ipn.gov.pl
            this is for krakow but they have archives in different cities . I was able to find my father’s and his family birth registration. i hope this helps. sandra

          • February 22, 2016 at 8:26 pm
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            Whoa Sandra.
            You r really into this. Thanks for all your leads. I live in Chicago where we came after landing in Boston. I am 68 yo. We had a sponsor. Did u too? Dont even know how that happened. The sponsors here became our adopted grand parents. And even their siblings dont know anything like.how.we became tbeir adopted relatives g
            This is si interesting to say the least.

  • February 23, 2016 at 1:44 am
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    Hi Jeanette,, My father had uncle’s in toronto from his mother’s side and they sponsered the family, my father and mother and brother. i was born in toronto,One of my father’s uncle lived in Chicago. They passed away a few years ago. I still have distant cousins living there but there is no contact. These uncles in toronto, i had three became like grandparents too.. we used to visit my older great uncle and aunt once a week.. I never thought of them as grandparents , just older adults. They were involved in any family functions.Your thoughts about your sponser was something that I had thought about till you mentioned it.
    It is a very , very small world. All the best, Sandra

    Reply
    • February 23, 2016 at 2:00 am
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      Samdra,

      Somehow I got an address of an International Tracing Service in Germany so I am going to contact them

      You and I must be the only ones on this site. Lol

      Reply
      • February 23, 2016 at 2:15 pm
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        Hi Jeanette,, You will be very surprised that they receive inquiries daily from all over the world..
        You can go online and start your own trace.. Did you try Ancestry site. for landings and immigration information.Ellis Island was one port of entry.The ITS service was always available but now by law they were open to the public a few years ago. Everything was on paper and now it is computerized and digitized.
        Let me know how your search progresses.. It must be difficult not knowing your past. you can probably write a book.
        Take care, Sandra

        Reply
  • February 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm
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    hi jeannette, the best thing i would suggest is to turn to the internet and look at the various geneological websites, e.g. the mormons and ancestry and find my past , and put in whatever information you have and then perhaps you will find something that will help you.
    those three sites are very comprehensive. and to contact the cemeteries. and if you have your birth certificate you can pursue that to. contact the office registry where you were born.
    I hope this helps. You will probably be successful.
    Take care, sandra

    Reply
    • February 23, 2016 at 6:04 pm
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      Thanks Sandra
      I will look and see what ican find. All iknow about my grsndfather is hus bsme Jan Biber znd he was married to Karolina Drozdek and I have the year of her birth and death. And the cemetary where she was buried. I contacted tbem a few yeard ago and never got a response…, Rajcza cemetary. I will try sgain
      If nothing, then…oh well.

      Good luck to you.
      Jeanette

      Reply
  • February 23, 2016 at 9:18 pm
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    Hi Jeanette, i have done some research on line
    i googled the name of the cemtery see,, the virtual sites. hope this helps. sandra

    Rajcza – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Rajcza [ˈrai̯t͡ʂa] is a village in Żywiec County, Silesian Voivodeship, in the historic province of Lesser Poland, close to the border with Slovakia.

    Search domain en.wikipedia.orgen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajcza

    Cemeteries – Heritage Sites – Rajcza – Virtual Shtetl

    Rajcza. Information about the town. Location; Local history; Maps of towns, street names; Jewish community before 1989. … Cemeteries. Heritage Sites – Polska …
    Search domain http://www.sztetl.org.plsztetl.org.pl/en/article/rajcza/12,cemeteries/
    Rajcza – Virtual Shtetl
    Cemeteries: Sites of martyrdom: Judaica in museums: Andere: Location; History; … In 1894 Rajcza became the property of the Lubomirskis family, who extended the palace.
    Search domain http://www.sztetl.org.plsztetl.org.pl/en/city/rajcza/
    Gmina Rajcza – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Gmina Rajcza is a rural gmina (administrative district) in Żywiec County, Silesian Voivodeship, in southern Poland, on the Slovak border.
    Search domain en.wikipedia.orgen.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gmina_Rajcza

    Reply
    • February 23, 2016 at 9:36 pm
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      Hi again .. i found this site have a look i copied the family name drozdek you mentioned

      http://www.ipgs.us/iwonad/surnames/namesd.html

      Drozdek Trembowla – Galicia\
      Zwardoń – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      Catholic church. Zwardo … Zwardoń [ˈzvardɔɲ] is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Rajcza, within Żywiec County, Silesian Voivodeship, …
      Search domain en.wikipedia.orgen.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZwardońMore results

      Reply
      • February 24, 2016 at 2:42 am
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        Thanks again thats as far as I got,,, she was from ujsoly where my father was born..but dead end,,, nothing on Jan Biber her husband,,,, it might even be bieber,, who knows

        Reply
  • February 23, 2016 at 11:25 pm
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    Hi Jeanette, good luck on your research let me know how i can help.. take care sandra

    Reply
    • February 24, 2016 at 2:47 am
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      Susan
      Thanks for all your help. I will let you know if I find anything.

      it would be nice if my step brother in Ujsoly would answer me.

      let me know where you get in your search

      Jeanette

      Reply
  • May 3, 2017 at 4:19 pm
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    My mother was arrested on 10th January 1945 at taken to Montelupich for a few weeks before ‘exported’ to Belsen, which she survived. I remember as a child of 7 going past the prison knowing Mama was there. Then they had metal shutters which only let in light from an opening at the to end.

    Reply

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