Capital punishment in Poland

Capital punishment in Poland

Capital punishment remained in Polish law until April 1 1998, but since 1989 there was a moratorium on executions. The death penalty is now prohibited in Poland for all offences and the last execution took place one year earier.

Since regaining independence in 1918, Polish law allowed the death penalty for murder and treason in time of peace, and a number of other offences during wartime. For example, during the Polish-Soviet War the (later to become famous) writer Sergiusz Piasecki was sentenced to death for armed robbery in the war zone, although his sentence was later commuted.

There were two authorized methods of executions: hanging for general offences, and the firing squad for soldiers or people who committed crimes against state security. Probably the most notable execution by firing squad during the time of the Second Polish Republic was the execution of Eligiusz Niewiadomski, a painter and far right-wing extremist, who assassinated President of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz in December 1922.

For a brief period during Second Republic in 1930s special military courts were introduced in present-Ukraine. A number of people were hanged upon tribunals decision for crimes against state security.

For many years, there were no public executions under the Polish authorities in the Second Polish Republic, but after World War II some notable Nazi war criminals were hanged in public. Former Auschwitz concentration camp commandant Rudolf Höß was executed before a large crowd of witnesses in the former camp area. Also former President of the Senate of the Free City of Danzig and gauleiter of Reichsgau Wartheland Arthur Greiser was hanged in public in Poznań on July 14, 1946. This was the last public execution in Poland, although the Minister of Interior could order public execution until 1950.

During the Stalinist era (1944-1956), the death penalty was a common instrument of political repression. The archetypal method was shooting a single bullet up into the base of the skull from behind; among people executed that way was Witold Pilecki, a hero of Auschwitz. Exact number of executed until 1956 is unknown, but some soured estimated these numbers as over 3000.

After 1956 (events of Polish October) executions of political prisoners ended, and most executions were related to the crime of murder. The only exception was the case of Stanisław Wawrzecki, who was sentenced to death and hanged for economic crimes under pressure from then communist leader Władysław Gomułka. The method authorized for soldiers and people who committed crimes against state security remained the firing squad.

From 1969 to 1995 344 people were sentences to death and 183 were executed (all of sentenced and executed were males).

The last execution took place in April 21, 1988 in Kraków, when murderer and rapist Stanisław Cz. (his full name was never released to the public) was hanged.

The last death sentence was imposed in 1995 (Henryk Moruś).

Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Poland has ratified, restricts the application of the death penalty to times of war or "imminent threat of war". Poland has also signed, but not yet ratified, Protocol 13 of the Convention, which provides for the total abolition of the death penalty. The penal code of 1997 abolished the death penalty for all crimes; the code passed into Polish law on September 1 1998.

Today, most political circles are opposed to the idea of reintroducing the death penalty, although it does have support from some members of the former (2005-2007) right-wing government, namely President Lech Aleksander Kaczyński. He has expressed his desire to reinstate the death penalty, clashing with the European Union over the issue.

To support the move, Kaczyński has stated that the death penalty remains popular with most Poles and that abolishing the death penalty gives criminals advantages over victims. A poll by CBOS, a publicly funded Polish research institute, showed that 63% favored reinstating the death penalty. Both the Catholic Church hierarchy, as well as former President Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski had expressed their oposition to such a measure.

Execution procedure

In recent years when the death penalty existed in Poland, execution by hanging was carried out in eight prisons in the country at about 6.00 p.m., when there were the most prison guards present.

The prisoner didn't know about the executions date and time. In fact, prisoners were not informed about the execution until the very last moment, when they entered the death chamber. Death chambers were usually located alongside washrooms and reportedly many of the condemned may have thought they were led for wash. Also the family members weren't told about this. A final meeting or the presence at the execution of the family wasn't allowed. The family was informed post factum.

Except for the prison guards, medical team and executioner, the only persons present were the prosecutor (not the judges) and, if the prisoner wished, a priest.

The prisoner had a right to last wish - i.e. cigarette, simply last meal, writing a letter.

The tied prisoner was escorted to the death chamber. The execution chamber had a two rooms - one or final preparations and the second with the gallow. Then prosecutor read the verdict and informed him that his plea for mercy was refused by the Council of State.

There were two standing executioners in Poland - both were members of prison guard, who received a premium for performing an execution. Their names were kept secret. Both were guards in Warsaw and, if the execution was to be carried out in another place, they travelled earlier.

Executions using firing squads were carried out in the military camp in Rembertów. From 1970 to 1988 three soldiers were shot for murder with rape.


* [,75480,4660532.html?as=2&ias=3&startsz=x History and procedure (Polish)]
* Polish President and Public Support Capital Punishment []
* "Kronika darowanej śmierci", Polityka (April 19, 2008)

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