“Each Polish priest deported [during World War II] to the USSR was a blessing for the faithful, who in many instances had been left without priests since the Revolution,” wrote Fr. Władysław Bukowiński who was beatified in Karaganda on September 11, 2016.
Fr. Władysław Bukowiński was born in Berdyczów (now in Ukraine) to a landowning family on December 22, 1904. In 1920, the Bukowińskis moved to Poland and in 1921 Władysław took up law studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. After graduating, he entered the seminary. Having been ordained, he worked in Rabka and in 1936, Fr. Bukowiński was appointed lecturer in the seminary and Cathedral parish priest in Lutsk.
Prisons and camps
While serving on these posts, Fr. Bukowiński witnessed the outbreak of World War II. On September 17, 1939 the Soviet Army invaded Poland, making it a tragic day for the eastern provinces of the country. The Seminary was closed and Fr. Bukowiński was arrested by the NKVD (the Soviet Secret Police). He was kept in prison until June 1941 when German armies attacked the Soviet Union and moved east. Forced to retreat, the NKVD decided to shoot all prisoners. Fr. Bukowiński miraculously survived. He was released and could return to the Cathedral parish.
“If I die, I’ll die among them [his parishioners]. And then I will help them from heaven” (Fr. Władysław Bukowiński)
Germans entered the city and the occupation began. It was this period in the priest’s life that he remembered as the worst, calling it the “period of hatred” to illustrate the strife and ubiquitous killing. Later, Fr. Bukowiński believed that all the prison and camp terms he served (altogether, they lasted 13 years) were not as hard on him as that period of hatred.
Meanwhile, the military situation had changed and the SovietGerman front began to move west. The Soviet authorities began imposing their rule on the conquered territories in Poland. On January 3, 1945, in Lutsk, Msgr. A. P. Szelążek, the diocesan bishop, was arrested along with Fr. Bukowiński and several other priests on charges of conspiring for the Vatican and slandering the Soviet authorities in alleged reports for the Holy See. A most exacting period of investigations and prison and camp sentences began, which in the case of Fr. Bukowiński was to last for ten years until 1954!
Fr. Bukowiński was held in a camp in the Chelyabinsk district, felling trees and braving hunger and cold. In spite of these harsh conditions, he tried to help other prisoners, lift their spirits, and bring them together for talks in the evenings to repel the atmosphere of hopelessness. He brought solace to his inmates, including many priests. Helped by his extensive knowledge and innate talents — good interpersonal and organizational skills and optimism — he would visit the ill, and bring people together for evening talks or even lectures on history, philosophy and social matters.