“Tatar’s” Unit Girls. Maria Zubek, Helena Barbacka, Barbara Mitas.

Anna Żalińska

From March 1940, the Women’s Military Service (Wojskowa Służba Kobiet, WSK) was created, as an auxiliary service of ZWZ (Union of Armed Struggle), under the command of Maj. Maria Wittekówna (it operated within the structures of the Organizational Branch of the Home Army Headquarters and was based on the women’s auxiliary service units existing before the war). In the spring of 1942, the Girl Guides Organization with the Girl Scout Emergency Service was incorporated into the WSK. Women were to engage in underground activities primarily as couriers and runners, as well as field nurses, informants, organizing economic and office support for the Home Army and its command and in guard service – in underground resistance as well as in the armed uprising planned in the future. [1].

One of the commandants of the Women’s Military Service under the Nowy Sącz Home Army Inspectorate – the city and district of Nowy Sącz was Jadwiga Golachowska “Sawa”. Exposed in July 1944, she avoided arrest and went into hiding in the area of Łącko.[2] Her position as the commander of the WSK was taken over by Zofia née Uhl Kubiszowa (“Ofka”), a runner. Soon after taking the command, already on 30 September 1944 she also was exposed, arrested and sentenced to a concentration camp (where she survived until the end of the war).[3]

Apart from the functioning of the organization described above, sometimes women would end up in partisan units, directly in the military structures of the Home Army. Initially – according to the memoirs of Julian Zubek –  the orders of the ZWZ Command of the Nowy Sącz district prevented women from joining partisan units.[4] Already in March 1941 Gen. Stefan Rowecki “Grot” sought to give women the same rights as men had in voluntary military service. The situation was finally legitimized by the decree of the President of the Republic of Poland in exile, Władysław Raczkiewicz on the voluntary service of women of 27 October 1943 Based on it, on 18 January 1944, the Commander of the Home Army Gen. Tadeusz “Bór” Komorowski issued the order 129/I, which allowed for the participation of women, both in the underground resistance period and in the future uprising, in all military activities of the underground, including combat.[5]

One of the organizers and commanders of a Home Army partisan unit with women from Nowy Sącz in its ranks was Julian Zubek “Tatar”, a pre-war graduate of the State Teachers’ College in Stary Sącz, a physical education teacher.[6] From mid-1944 he was a unit commander of the 9th Company 3rd Batallion of the 1st Podhale Rifle Regiment of the Polish Army. Even before the unit was officially formed at the command of his superiors in the underground structures, Zubek would organize combat training, as early as from mid-1940. He gathered around him mainly young men and, under the guise trips to the mountains, he trained them in the scouting ways, as well as how to handle weapons and give first aid. Above all else, they got to know their future area of sabotage operations and gained forest experience (through all-day and night orienteering trips, with a compass, in the area of Przechyba, Turbacz or Jaworzyna). There were also girls in Zubek’s “Forest Military College”. Moste of them had fisnished pre-war military courses and Polish Red Cross nursing courses. They expanded their knowledge and shared what they knew with others. Among the women who went on “trips” organized by Zubek and later kept cooperating with him in underground partisan movement, the commander recalls: Michalina Chrzanowska (assisting with food supply and intelligence), Krystyna Cholewska (“Kuba”, member of the forest unit), Barbara Mitas “Lajla” (later“Baśka” – in the unit), Maria Steindel (Zubek’s future wife) and Aleksandra Żabecka. The last one greatly contributed to the organization of trainings, when she rented and was running a mountain shelter in Przehyba.[7]

Zubek also mentions two other women cooperating with the unit: Helena Barbacka and Genowefa Szarysz (“Czarna”), who were recruited to the ZWZ-AK in cooperation with Zubek’s unit. They acted as couriers and field nurses, they joined the underground movement through the underground system of triads by the previously sworn members of the unit.[8]

Helena Barbacka was “drawn” into Zubek’s unit by Adam Ślepiak “Żar”. The last member of their underground “triad” was Kazimierz Prohaska. It was in the autumn of 1942 when she became a runner, sworn in with the alias “Gencjana”. It was the name she used to sign articles she wrote before the war, as a student, for the inter-school magazine “Zew gór” (“call of the mountains”).[9] The contact point was located in her house, i.e. in Villa Marya at Jagiellońska 61 Street (the same one from which in July 1941 her uncle, painter Bolesław Barbacki, was taken to later be executed), as well as in the Savings Bank Office, where she worked (at 2 Szwedzka Street). She would take wounded into her home and provide them with medical help, harbor members of the underground and refugees.[10]

Until April 1944 Adam Ślepiak worked as an accountant at the Jan Jasiński perfume wholesale company at Jagiellońska Str. Right after the Easter holidays, which fell on April 9 and 10 that year, the German police entered the company, searching for him and Kazimierz Prohaska. “Żar” managed to escape.[11] At that time, the obvious choice for somebody wanted by police was a forest partisan unit.

Memoirs preserved an account of one of the courier operations, in which Adam Ślepiak took part, and afterwards, needing medical aid, he received it from “Gencjana” in her house. In April 1944, on his back from Hungary with another courier, “Żar” was carrying a smuggled light machine gun in his backpack. Near Stary Sącz they stopped in a bar. Waiting there for a meal, they were surprised by the Germans. It seems that someone from the staff gave the partisans out, after the machine gun, not well enough hidden. They both managed to escape, but were separated. Wounded “Żar”, eventually got to Helena Barbacka’s house. After having his wounds treated, he returned to a safehouse in Zyzda family in Dąbrówka. He got there, to his delight, just when his companions were singing “Eternal Rest” for his soul.[12]

Helena Barbacka, at risk of exposure, in September 1944, joined Zubek’s forest units as a regular member.[13] This gave the unit the opportunity to celebrate a joyful event – on 23 November 1944 Helena Barbacka and Adam Ślepiak got married. A modest ceremony took place in the little church in Dąbrówka, and was celebrated by the priest of the parish, Michał Kuc. One of the partisan friends, “Niedźwiedź”, secured the ceremony by standing on the lookout.[14]

In the unit, Helena would take care of the sick in the field hospital, wash, and – according to the recollections of Maria Zubek – kept the camps chronicle.[15] She would also cook, although there not always was anything to cook. Black flour soup with blackberries or mushrooms was not an uncommon meal. After about four months in the forest she returned home the day before the New Year’s Eve. Her husband, Adam Ślepiak, “came out” with the rest of the unit only after the Germans retreated completely.[16]

After the war Helena worked as a clerk in the bank, and Adam Ślepiak graduated from the Kraków University of Technology. Helena was awarded with the Partisan Cross and with the Knight’s Cross of Polonia Resituta. She continued the family tradition, performing at the Workers’ Theatre (named after her uncle Bolesław Barbacki) and was an active member of the Sącz Land Club[17].

Another woman who joined Zubek’s forest unit in August 1944 was Barbara Mitas “Lajla”, later called “Baśka”. She came from Nowy Sącz. Zubek called her the good spirit of the unit.[18] She was first cooperating with the unit providing intelligence and food products. When she learned that staying in Nowy Sącz will put her at risk of arrest, she was forced into hiding until the end of the war. Barbara Mitas, as a woman of remarkable strength, took part in direct combat operations, carrying weapons and ammunition. If necessary – and the forest unit often changed the location of their base – she would burden herself with the duties of a porter, metaphorically and literally, carrying on her shoulders the heavy partisan belongings[19].

The presence of a few women in a masculinized unit also brought about tensions in male-female interactions. In Zubek’s branch, “Baśka”, not involved in any relationship, was particularly vulnerable to the advances of colleagues. Zubek finally prohibited Baśka from joining the camps, and assigned her to the field hospital together with “Tatarzyna”. Although reportedly she was capable of using her strength to fend off unwanted adorers who got to insistent.[20]

Maria Zubek née Steindel ”Myszka” House also spent several weeks in the branch. “Mouse”, wife of the commander. On 3 June 1943 in the chapel of the Jesuit Fathers in Zabełcze she was married to Julian Zubek. The groom invited two friends from Kraków to the ceremony.[21] The newlyweds lived for a short time in Nowy Sącz, and their apartment was the center of underground meetings. When they had to leave the city, the boys from the forest unit changed Maria’s alias from “Myszka” to “Tatarzyna”.

The time that “Tatarzyna” spent with the unit was a period of her advanced pregnancy. Her duties included tending to the kitchen (although men also had kitchen duty) and taking care of the sanitary facilities. The unit was our home, our fellow soldiers were our brothers, of whom we had to take care as heartily as possible Maria Zubek recalled years later. And the forest units often struggled with hunger, filth and cold[22].

When the time came for Maria Zubek to give birth, she was taken in at the home of doctor Zbigniew Wroniewicz “Turek” in Łomnica. Both he and his wife helped provide food medical aid. Ms. Wroniewicz provided the young “Tatarak” with diapers and shirts acquired in the countryside, and after the mother left with the child, she kept regular contact with them, helping if the need arised.[23] Family was a huge support for the forest units, providing them with food and clothing. Besides that, the anonymous today, spontaneous help organized in villages, where shoes or clothes were repaired, was not without significance.[24]

Staying in touch with partisans could have ended tragically. That was the case of the Polański family. In their cottage, at some distance from the other buildings of the Majchrówka village, bread would be baked for the unit. Two partisans, completely surprised by the German sweep, died there with weapons in hand. The Germans set fire to the house and did not spare its inhabitants: 21-year-old Maria Polańska with her eleven-month son, her mother Maria Izworska and an older shepherd died.[25]

Julian Zubek’s unit  ceased operations in January 1945, when its members handed over their weapons to the war commander of the city, Guard Col. Ivan Nagatkin in front of the District Office building and went home.[26] Below I quote a more extensive fragment of the account of Władysława Lubasiowa (née Szkaradek) on that period. She herself was wanted by the German police and was hiding in the forest.[27] Her remarks perfectly describe the situation of men and women of partisan units, and in general of the Home Army underground, after the Germans left and later, after the war.

Shortly after the detonation of the ammunition storage in the Nowy Sącz castle, which took place on 18 January 1945, Władysława decided to assess the situation in the city in person. On the way to Nowy Sącz, she was accompanied by Fedko, a partisan from the “Zawisza’s” unit.

We got through the [castle] rubble, through a passage that looked cleared and… I saw a “nice” welcome in Nowy Sącz, my family city. There, on a make-shift wooden fence – big, colorful posters: “Filthy dwarfs of reaction – begone” and two terrified “manikins”, each with an inscription on the back: AK and NSZ [Home Army and National Armed Forces] – and a stout, large shoe giving them a powerful kick… On another one – a huge broom and the same letters on the “manikins” with a slogan: “We will sweep the reaction out of Poland”. I will never stop seeing these posters until the day that I die  – I thought stunned.
And like a prophecy I heard the Ujejski Chorale coming from a distance… I stood there bewildered, and was suddenly brought around by Fedko’s hoarse voice:
– What should I do?
We looked at each other and I shrugged to appear indifferent.
– Throw your weapon in the bushes somewhere, or in an ice-hole on the Dunajec River and go back to plowing your field. Spring is coming. The seasons do not fail, or at least they did not fail so far. Armies come and go… different regimes exist – and change… And the earth remains.[28]


[1] Cf. Marek Ney-Krwawicz: Komenda Główna Armii Krajowej 1939–1945. Warszawa 1990, pp. 79–81, Andrzej Chmielarz, Wojskowa Służba Kobiet, “Biuletyn Informacyjny. Miesięcznik Światowego Związku Żołnierzy Armii Krajowej” 2020, № 7 (361), p. 3.

[2] ANKr O/NS, Związek Kombatantów Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej i Byłych Więźniów Politycznych. Zarząd Okręgowy w Nowym Sączu, ref. 31/558/713, Kilka sylwetek Kobiet bardziej zaangażowanych w Ruch Oporu na terenie województwa, maszynopis, p. 6

[3] Ibidem. 6.

[4] Julian Zubek “Tatar”, Ze wspomnień kuriera, Kraków 1988, p. 85.

[5] A. Chmielarz, op. cit., p. 4-5, cf. also: Maria Wittekówna, Szefostwa i referaty WSK w komendach ZWZ-AK [in:] Słownik uczestniczek walk o niepodległość Polski 1939–1945, Warszawa 1988, pp. 511–512.

[6] About pre-war activity of Julian Zubek, especially in sports, see: Piotr Kazana, Przedwojenna działalność sportowa mjr. Juliana Zubka, “Almanach Sądecki” 2016, № 3/4 (96/97), pp. 67– 85.

[7] J. Zubek, op. cit., p. 22.

[8] Ibidem, p. 25.

[9] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, ref. 31/559/33, Wspomnienie z okupacji Heleny Ślepiakowej z 25.02.1970 r.,

[10] J. Zubek, op. cit., p. 85.

[11] ANKR O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa…, ref. 31/559/33, Wspomnienie z okupacji Heleny Ślepiakowej,

[12] ANKR O/NS, Związek Kombatantów Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej…, ref. 31/558/1448, Józef Bieniek, Wspomnienie o Adamie Ślepiaku – Żar,

[13] ANKr O/NS, TVS Archive of Wiesław Szkarłat from Nowy Sącz, audiovisual recording „Chłopcy od Tatara”, an interview with Helena Ślepiak.

[14] J. Zubek, op. cit, p. 174.

[15] ANKR O/NS, Związek Kombatantów Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej…, ref. 31/558/962, Maria Zubek, Udział kobiet w ruchu partyzanckim polskim i radzieckim na Sądecczyźnie, p.1.

[16] ANKr O/NS, TVS Archive of Wiesław Szkarłat from Nowy Sącz, „Chłopcy od Tatara”, an interview with Helena Ślepiak.

[17] Ibidem.

[18] J. Zubek, op. cit, p. 103.

[19] Ibidem.

[20] Ibidem pp.22, 59, 65, 104.

[21]There was one story connected with the invitation: one of the guests, Jerzy Ustupski, wanted by Gestapo, traveled with a falsified Kennkarte. The Gestapo officer checking his papers on the train let him go at first, but he got interested in Ustupski’s hooked nose of a highlander. The Gestapo officer, thinking that he is dealing with a Jew, forced Ustupski to prove his descent, ordering him to take of his trousers in the station toilet, which ended up with a major scare and chasing the departing train accompanied by the laughter of the amused Germans. Quoted after: J. Zubek, op. cit., p. 26.

[22] ANKR O/NS, Związek Kombatantów Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej…, ref. 31/558/962, Maria Zubek, Udział kobiet w ruchu partyzanckim polskim i radzieckim na Sądecczyźnie, p.2.

[23] Ibidem; J. Zubek, op. cit., p. 162.

[24] B. Faron, Okupacyjne zimy. Impresje, „Rocznik Sądecki” 1998, vol. 26, p. 201.

[25] J. Zubek, op. cit., p. 141.

[26] Ibidem, pp. 204–205.

[27] She stayed in hiding in a shepherd’s hut, among others, with Captain “Hala” – Henryk Musiałowicz, who together with Jerzy Kardaszewicz (“Doctor”) manufactured grenades, Wladyslawa performed courier duties, contacting, if necessary, the above-mentioned Zubek’s unit, cf.: Władysława Lubasiowa, Światła obrazów i cienie, „Almanach Sadecki” 2000, № 1 (30), p. 53.

[28] W. Lubasiowa, op. cit., p. 59–60.