JÓZEF PATER was born on 31 July, 1897 in Żyrardów, Błoński powiat (at the time a part of the Russian Empire), the son of Marcin and Paulina (nee Dreksler) Pater. He was Catholic. Little is known of the Pater family’s time in Żyrardów. We do know, however, that by the time that Józef was in middle school, the Paters had moved to the south-central Polish city of Częstochowa.
As a teenager, Józef’s interests were varied. By the age of 15, he had become an active member of the Polska Partia Socjalistyczna’s Frakcja Rewolucyjna (the revolutionary faction of the Polish Socialist Party, also known as the PPS.) and worked with his compatriots towards universal rights for all, basic labor laws, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press–all in the name of creating a free and democratic Poland.
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At the age of 17 years old, Józef moved to Krakow to study art. That same year, he also joined the 1st Squadron of the 1st Lancers Regiment of the Legiony Polskie (Polish Legions.) By 1916, Józef had transferred to an infantry regiment of the Legion and may have seen combat against the Imperial Russian Army. His association with the Legion came into contention in 1917, however, when the soldiers of the Legion were told that they were to give their allegiance to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany. Pater, like many of his comrades-in-arms, refused. As a consequence for his refusal to obey orders, it is believed that he was shipped off to an internment camp, along with his fellows.
Records indicate that Pater joined the military once more in 1918 as a volunteer in the Polish Army. Before retiring in 1929, he was awarded The Cross of Valour and The Cross of Independence with Swords: two of the greatest honors Poland is capable of bestowing on its soldiers.
When Nazi-Germany set its sights upon the occupation of Poland, Józef girded himself for war, once again, becoming the Chief Commanding Officer of the Gwardia Obrony Narodowej: a group of resistance fighters who, in 1940 allied with the Związek Czyny Zbrojnego (The Union of Military Action) or Czynu. On 15 February 1941, Józef Pater – and presumably his wife, Helena – were arrested in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and sent to Pawiak Prison in Warsaw.
During his time in Pawiak, Józef was tortured by his captors, who demanded that he submit any information on the Polish resistance that he had. According to Franciszek Julian Znamirowski, his friend and the commander of the ZCZ, he provided his torturers with no useful information. It is estimated that at least 100,000 Catholics and Jews were sent to Pawiak – approximately 37,000 were executed there, and 60,000 were sent to various concentration camps.
On 18 April 1942, Józef Pater was transported to KL Auschwitz and was assigned prisoner number 31225. In July of that same year, he was murdered by the camp’s Nazi SS personnel.
On 22 September 1941, Helena Palige Pater was transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was murdered (date unknown). Ravensbrück, located in northern Germany, was known as the women’s concentration camp. Józef’s older brother, Bronisław (born 06 September 1890), was also involved with the resistance. On 17 January 1943, he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp, where he was murdered (date unknown).
One source (Za Murami Pawiaka) reports that there were two sons of Józef and Helena that were also killed in the camps. Another book, Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944, reports that one son, also named Bronisław (born 1920), was killed at Majdanek; however, there is conflicting information because there were two men named Bronisław Pater, one the brother and one the son of Józef. One of these two was transported to Majdanek on 17 January 1943 and never returned. They may have both died at that particular camp.
Author: Séamus Bellamy, with information provided by Donna Pointkouski (Józef’s relative)
Editor: Marina Amaral
Sponsored by: Michael Frank Family Charitable Fund