On Oct. 19, 1984, a gentle and courageous priest named Jerzy Popiełuszko, age 37, found himself in a horrible spot. For years, the official chaplain to Poland’s Solidarity movement had been monitored and harassed by the communist state. He was much beloved by the people of Poland, and thus he and his faith and his freedom fighters were a mortal threat to communist ideology and the regime. He had to be stopped.
The state aggressively continued to close in on the priest. He nervously knew his time was short. The time arrived that Oct. 19. Three thugs from Poland’s secret police seized and pummeled him. He was bound and gagged and stuffed into the trunk of their Fiat automobile.
Father Popiełuszko’s first beating that evening was so severe that it should have killed him. He was a small man afflicted with Addison’s disease. He previously had been hospitalized for other infirmities, including stress and anxiety. But somehow this Oct. 19, the priest was managing to survive as he fought for his life in the dark trunk of the Fiat. In fact, somehow, he loosened the ropes that knotted him and extricated himself from the car. He began to run, shouting to anyone who could hear, “Help! Save my life!”
He was run down by one of the goons, Grzegorz Piotrowski, who unleashed himself and his club upon the priest’s head with a ferocity as if he were possessed. Piotrowski later conceded that he didn’t know what had gotten into him. His comrades thought he had gone mad, “so wild were the blows.” He later said, “I became — never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The beating was like a flogging. Father Popiełuszko’s pounding was relentless.
The priest’s tormentors next grabbed a roll of thick adhesive tape to bind his head. They ran the tape around his mouth, nose and head, tossing him once again in the vehicle, like a hunk of garbage on its way to the heap. After that came yet another thrashing still, with one of the communist secret police ultimately delivering a final deadly blow to the priest’s skull.
The killers drove to a spot at the Vistula River. They tied two heavy bags of stones, each weighing nearly 25 pounds, to the priest’s ankles. They lifted him in a vertical position above the water and then quietly let him go. He sunk into the blackness below.
The killers felt an immediate sense of guilt in their consciences. They drove away, downing a bottle of vodka to try to numb what they had done. “Now we are murderers,” one of them said to himself.
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