Polish marine hero to be laid to rest in Poland

The ceremony in Montrésor, France. Photo: PAP/Marcin Obara

The two-day ceremony of moving the remains of Rear-Admiral Józef Unrug and his wife Zofia to Poland started on Monday in Montrésor, central France.

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On October 2, admiral Unrug and his wife will be laid to rest at the Navy Cemetery in Gdynia, northern Poland. The ceremony taking place on Monday and Tuesday is conducted not only to commemorate him, but is also an execution of his will, in which he asked to by laid to rest in Poland, next to his fellow soldiers.

“We come to the French soil, which was a temporary burial place for the ashes of Rear Admiral Józef Unrug. We thank France for accepting our hero, but we take his remains to Poland. We follow his demand to honour his fellow officers of the Polish Navy, unfairly put on trial and sentenced to death by Stalinist courts. Rear-Admiral Józef Unrug and his wife may now return home,” Jan Józef Kasprzyk, the head of Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression (UdsKiOR), said at the ceremony.

Mr Kasprzyk, along with representatives of Polish and French authorities, the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) and relatives of Unrug family, took part in the funeral procession to John the Baptist church in Montrésor, where the Holy Mass was celebrated.

On Tuesday the remains of admiral Unrug and his wife will be placed on board of a frigate ORP “General Tadeusz Kościuszko” in the Military Port in Brest.

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Commander of Polish Navy

Józef Unrug was born in 1884 in Brandenburg, former German Empire, in a family cultivating Polish traditions since the 16th century. During WWI he served in the navy of the German Empire as a flotilla commander and the commandant of the submarine school.

“Soon after Poland regained independence, he left Kaiserliche Marine [German Navy – ed.] and moved to Poland, along with other Polish officers, to serve in the Polish army. In 1919 he announced that he was ready to rebuild Polish Navy. In 1925 he become its commander,” the UdsKiOR informed.

In 1933 Mr Unrug was promoted to the rank of Counter Admiral and shortly before WWII, he got nominated for the position of the Fleet of Coast Defence commander. The fortress of Hel was the longest defending position of the Polish army during the “September Campaign”. It surrendered on October 2, 1939.

Admiral Unrug was subsequently taken prisoner by Nazi Germany. He refused to answer questions in German, claiming that he “is a Polish officer, who forgot the German language on September 1, 1939.” He also refused a position at Kriegsmarine [Nazi Germany navy – ed.] that was offered to him. Throughout the war, he was held at seven prisoner-of-war camps. He was freed when American troops liberated the Murnau POW camp in Bavaria.

After the war, he took part in the demobilisation of Polish troops in the West but refused the pension offered by the British government, because many Polish soldiers fighting alongside the Allies did not receive such an offer.

Admiral Unrug decided not to return to Poland after WWII. He died in 1973, and his wife – in 1980. They were both laid to rest at the cemetery in Montrésor.

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