Father Jan Antoni Kitliński
2 October 2021
There is a little certain information about the life and activities of Father Kitliński before the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. The date and the place of his birth as well as details of the beginning of his priestly ministry remain unconfirmed. Probably, he was born as Antoni Jan Kitliński in Michałowice in 1909 to father Szczepan Kitliński and mother Antonina, née Piwowarek. Likewise, little is known about his childhood and the beginnings of his priestly ministry. Tadeusz Ejmont recalled that his father ran a photography studio in Warsaw and that he remembered Father Kitliński from underground secretly conducted education.
The earliest information concerning Father Kitliński related to his service as parish priest of St. Barbara’s Church on Wspólna Street in Warsaw. It is known that he held this position some time, before the outbreak of the war and after the evacuation of the authorities from the capital, he was appointed head of the Praga, district of Warsaw, by Father Stefan Kowalczyk- Vicar General and notary of the Military Ordinariate of Poland. The immediate reason for this rapid reorganization was the evacuation of the Polish government and The General Staff (formerly The Main Staff) of the Polish Armed Forces, including the Catholic Bishop in the Military Ordinariate of Poland Józef Gawlina who had appointed Father Kowalczyk to this position before leaving the capital on September 4th, 1939. Kowalczyk reorganized the pastoral work, dividing the Warsaw district into four sub-districts and appointing the priests who would be responsible for them. Apart from Jan Kitliński, these included Stefan Piotrowski and Jan Salamucha.
First weeks of the occupation the priests spent the sorting out organizational structure of the pastoral ministry and training in underground work during secretly conducted education. Most often, these meetings took place in the chapel in Marymont – northern neighborhood of Warsaw or in Kowalczyk’s home. They dealt with safety rules: how to behave when arrested, how to hide illegal activities etc. The leader of the meetings was always one of the Home Army officers. Altogether, ten such meetings were held. Kitliński’s codename was Szczepan, taken from his father’s name.
Subsequent meetings to discuss current conspiratorial tasks were held, mostly on Hoża and Barska Streets. The last meeting like this took place on July 30th, 1944. In the meantime, each of the chaplains carried out various underground tasks, such as administering the sacraments to diversionists or running underground secretly conducted education. Father Kitliński also ordained the banners of newly-formed scout troops and dispensed sacraments to the Józef Piłsudski 1st chevan-léger regiment known as Szwoleżerowie.
Kitliński was informed unofficially by Father Piotrowski about the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising at 11 a.m., and officially by a runner soldier at 3 p.m. He left two auxiliary priests from the Society of Saint Francis de Sales in his district – Franciszek Borowiec and Tadeusz Blezień. As the armed action in Praga ended in a failure, Jan Kitliński hid in the basement of St. Florian’s Cathedral together with about 200 other civilians and Father Borowiec. He spent the first days of the fight there. On August 5th, a large group of about 1,000 participants of the Warsaw Uprising withdrew from the vicinity of the church, and from the next day the building was occupied by the Germans. After initial searches and suspicions about hiding armed people, a German officer personally inspected the civilians present in the church, and after determining that there was no threat present, he dismissed his soldiers. He also allowed the faithful to return to their homes, subject they stay there. The ban was because the street was watched and controlled by soldiers with machine guns, who had orders to shoot at any potential enemy. The forced isolation lasted until August 11th. During this time, priests held masses and prayers in their homes.
On August 11th, the Germans gave the order to evacuate all the people from Praga to a transit camp. There was very little time to gather belongings – only one hour. The transport of people to the transit camp in the barracks on Esplanadenstraße [nowadays: 11 Listopada Street] lasted until 1 p.m. There were around 1,200 people in that group. Further groups were transported to Zakroczym. Father Kitliński took part in dividing the people into groups and assigning priests and doctors responsible for them. On the same day he also obtained permission to celebrate mass, however, without authorization for music and loud singing. The Germans even gave him extra food for the occasion. The liturgy was celebrated with wine and small pieces of sliced bread. The celebrant was assisted by Father Józef Fałtynowicz, who went with the first group of 800 people to Zakroczym the next day.
Father Kitliński remained in the camp until its abandonment and final decommissioning on August 21th. After having led away the rest of the civilians, he applied in German to the command for the resumption of his pastoral activities in the church of the Sacred Heart of Mary to which he received authorization. After several days of negotiations, on August 28th, the parish resumed their activities. Till September 7th, the parish documentation was intensively issued and updated, in particular the birth certificates. This was because Germans used them as a condition for the civilians staying in their houses.
On September 7th, the parish priest of Zarzeń offered Father Kitliński to cross the front line to the Soviet side. Kitliński refused. On the same day the Germans started to displace people from Warsaw. People were gathered in marching columns on Ostenstraße [nowadays: Grochowska Street]. Father Kitliński was supposed to go at first with one of the groups, but ultimately he stayed at the presbytery until September 10th, ministering to dramatically dropping in numbers groups of inhabitants. On Sunday September 10th, the general attack on Praga began and the Germans retreated, having previously set fire to the wooden church to create a smoke screen. From the night of September 11th, the priest and civilians who had taken shelter in the church were met by Soviet soldiers. On September 13th, the priest was appointed chairman of the local citizens’ committee. Despite the military insistence that he urge people to evacuate to a safer place, he remained in the rectory and ministered until the end of the Warsaw Uprising. He was a member of the Warsaw-Praga Citizens’ Committee until mid-November 1945. He then ministered at St. Anthony Church in Warsaw.
After the war, Father Kitliński was sentenced by the communist authorities to six years in prison in a show trial. After completing his sentence, he served as a priest until his death on October 2th, 1981. Towards the end of his life, he wrote memoirs of his experiences during the Warsaw Uprising.
Translate: Zuzanna Zapadka
- Archives of Oral History [Polish: Archiwum Historii Mówionej] – Tadeusz Ejmont, https://www.1944.pl/archiwum-historii-mowionej/tadeusz-ejmont,340.html (retrieved: 14th September 2020)
- Museum of Scouting [Polish: Muzeum Harcerstwa] – akta – Wspomnienia księdza prałata Antoniego Kitlińskiego, proboszcza parafii Św. Barbary przy ul. Wolnej w Warszawie
- “Gdy zaczniemy walczyć miłością…”. Portrety kapelanów Powstania Warszawskiego, red. Grzegorz Górny, Aleksander Kopiński, Warszawa, 2004
- Salon24 – Trial of Father Kitliński [Polish: Rozprawa księdza Antoniego Kitlińskiego] https://www.salon24.pl/u/lustratorpolski/424469,rozprawa-ks-antoniego-kitlinskiego (retrieved: 14th September 2020)