A Polish Catholic priest who died in Germany in 1987 was murdered by poisoning and was a “victim of the communist system”, according to the results of a new official investigation in Poland.
“There is no doubt today that Father Franciszek Blachnicki was murdered, he was poisoned,” said justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, announcing the findings yesterday alongside the head of Poland’s state Institute of National Remembrance (IPN).
“The investigation has allowed us to categorically reach…the brutal truth that Father Franciszek Blachnicki was another victim of the communist system…[which] perceived him as a great threat,” added Ziobro. “He was persecuted, harassed, imprisoned and…brutally murdered.”
Blachnicki, who during World War Two had been imprisoned at Auschwitz by Poland’s Nazi-German occupiers, ater founded the Light-Life Movement (also known as the Oasis Movement), which originated in Poland in the 1950s and still operates today as a renewal movement within the Catholic church.
The priest’s activism, which included public criticism of the persecution of the church in communist Poland, brought him into conflict with the authorities. In 1961, he was sentenced for producing illegal publications.
In 1981, Blachnicki was in Rome when the communist authorities imposed martial law in Poland, which prevented him from returning to his homeland. He instead settled in Carlsberg, West Germany, where he campaigned for the liberation of eastern European nations from communism.
In 1987, Blachnicki died suddenly in Carlsberg, with the cause of death officially declared to be a pulmonary embolism.
However, an IPN investigation in 2001-2005 found that the priest had been under the surveillance of the communist security services at the time of his death and indicated that he might have been poisoned.
But the investigation was discontinued in 2006 due to insufficient evidence of a crime.
In 2020, the IPN decided to resume the investigation, including exhuming Blachnicki’s body, with the permission of the church, to allow a forensic autopsy to take place.
“After the resumption of the investigation by the IPN, in cooperation with justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, today we know that Father Franciszek Blachnicki was murdered on 27 February 1987,” announced the head of the IPN, Karol Nawrocki, yesterday.
“We have established beyond any doubt that the death occurred as a result of homicide, by administering deadly toxic substances,” added Andrzej Pozorski, a prosecutor and head of the IPN’s investigative unit.
While the IPN has not yet published its findings, it says that they are based on analysis conducted in cooperation with Poland’s Institute of Forensic Expertise and two medical universities, as well as interviews with people who had knowledge of the incident and archival documents from Poland and abroad.
The IPN and justice minister also have not identified who specifically may have been responsible for commissioning and carrying out the poisoning of Blachnicki.
They did note, however, as did the 2001-2005 IPN investigation, that the communist security services sent two agents – married couple Jolanta and Andrzej Gontarczyk – to Carlsberg to surveil, report on and seek to undermine Blachnicki.
Today Jolanta Gontarczyk, now known as Jolanta Lange, is an activist who has led campaigns promoting the rights of refugees, migrants, disabled people and the LGBT community. She was the founder and remains vice president of Pro Humanum, a human rights and anti-discrimination NGO in Warsaw.