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Józef Cyrek

Józef Cyrek (born 13 September 1904 in Bysina; d. 2 September 1940 at Auschwitz) was a Polish writer and Roman Catholic clergyman, member of the Society of Jesus involved in the religious publishing industry, who shortly after the Nazi invasion of Poland was arrested by the Gestapo, imprisoned at several places of detention, and lastly deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he was murdered.

He has in recent years been accorded the title of Servant of God and is in the process of being beatified by the Catholic Church.

Life and death

Stara Wieś zespół klasztorny jezuitów kościół par. p.w. Wniebowzięcia NMP 01 JoannaPyka
The Jesuit complex at Stara Wieś
site of Józef Cyrek's novitiate

Józef Cyrek was born in Bysina, a village some 34 km (21 miles) south of Cracow, on 13 September 1904 – when the area was under Austrian occupation – to the family of Józef Cyrek, a farmer, and his wife Barbara née Sobal who died when Cyrek was 18-months' old. Cyrek was thus from his earliest years inured to physical work having been obliged to help out with the agricultural work of the family. He went to school at Bysina and at nearby Myślenice, continuing secondary education in Cracow and in Pińsk in Poland (now Pinsk in Belarus). During his secondary studies he entered the Society at Stara Wieś (already in independent Poland; see picture to the right) on 6 December 1924. He studied in Cracow at Jagiellonian University (philosophy) and in Belgium at Louvain (theology), where he also took holy orders on 24 August 1934. After his return to Poland in 1935 Cyrek worked for the religious publisher, the Wydawnictwo Apostolstwa Modlitwy ("Publications of the Apostleship of Prayer") of Cracow, the oldest Catholic publishing house in Poland (now called the Wydawnictwo WAM). In 1938 he became the editor of the periodical Hostia ("The Host"), an organ of the Eucharistic Crusade (see Croisade eucharistique), becoming the chief secretary of the movement. In May of the same year he participated in the 34th Eucharistic Congress in Budapest.

As a writer Cyrek authored two biographies, one of Piotr Skarga (1536–1612), a Counter-Reformation figure whose sermons have been compared with those of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (published in 1936); and another of Stanislaus Kostka, a Polish saint of the sixteenth century who at the age of 16 fled from his boarding school to pursue a religious vocation and died of malaria two years later (and whose relics repose at the church of Sant'­Andrea al Quirinale in Rome): Cyrek's biography of Kostka was published in 1937. It is however the simple catechism that Cyrek wrote for children in 1938 that has been most widely praised, and awarded with a prize by the government of the Second Polish Republic. He was also a prolific contributor to such periodicals as Przegląd Powszechny (see Przegląd Powszechny), Wiara i Życie (see Wiara i Życie), Misje Katolickie (see Misje Katolickie), Młody Las (see Młody Las), and Posłaniec Serca Jezusowego (see Posłaniec Serca Jezusowego), an organ of the Apostleship of Prayer movement.

The Cracoviense Collegium Maximum
SS. Cordis Iesu
place of Józef Cyrek's arrest by the Gestapo

On 6 November 1939, just sixty-six days after the Nazi invasion of Poland, the Gestapo carried out the so-called Sonderaktion Krakau, an operation in which virtually all of the professors of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow were arrested and imprisoned in the ulica Montelupich as part of the larger plan of Nazi Germany to eliminate all Polish intelligentsia.

Four days later, on 10 November 1939, Cyrek was arrested by the Gestapo together with 24 other Jesuits of the Jesuit College of Cracow (the Cracoviense Collegium Max­i­mum SS. Cordis Iesu, see picture to the right) – eight of them employees of the Jesuit publishing house Wydawnictwo Apostolstwa Modlitwy – and likewise imprisoned in the ulica Montelupich. (The date of 10 November 1939 however did not mark the first Gestapo visit to the Jesuit Collegium, as the premises were twice before subjected to searches, on 14 October 1939 and 16 October 1939, the first search being the occasion of the arrest of the rector of the college, Wiktor Macko, and Stanisław Bednarski, the director of the publishing house.) Although the Jesuits were never informed of the reasons for their arrest, it was clear that they opposed the vision of the Nazis and for that reason were treated as the enemies of the Third Reich.

After a detention of c. 43 days in duration at Montelupich, Dembowski was transferred on or about 23 December 1939, together with the other arrested Jesuits, to another notorious Gestapo prison at Nowy Wiśnicz, in reality (if not in name) a Nazi extermination camp in which prisoners were worked to death. On 20 June 1940, after six months (180 days) at Nowy Wiśnicz, Cyrek, together with the other Jesuit prisoners, was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp, then in the process of being formed.

At Auschwitz Cyrek was accorded a particularly brutal treatment in a penal company, the so-called Straf­kompanie consisting of several prisoners whose gruelling tasks in­clud­ed pushing an enormous road roller with which they had to level the Appellplatz (roll-call ground). In addition, he was singled out for special tortures associated with the taunts directed at his Christian faith described in a recent book (2005) by Iwona Urbańska. Cyrek died in the camp's Revier or infirmary – as a result of exhaustion, starvation, and the beatings he had received – on 2 Sep­tem­ber 1940, that is, seventy-four days after arrival (9 months and 23 days after the initial arrest). He was the first of the group of 25 Jesuit prisoners arrested on 10 November 1939 to die in captivity. Cyrek was 35-years' old – just eleven days short of his thirty-sixth birthday. His personality has been described in his Auschwitz memoirs by a fellow prisoner, Adam Kozłowiecki, the future cardinal, who speaks of Cyrek's "extraordinary goodness and his delicacy in his engagement with his social environment".

Józef Cyrek is currently one of the 122 Polish martyrs of the Second World War who are included in the beatification process initiated in 1994, whose first beatifica­tion session was held in Warsaw in 2003 (see Słudzy Boży). A person nominated for beatification receives within the Roman Catholic Church the title of "Servant of God"; once he is ac­tu­al­ly beatified he is accorded the title of "Blessed", a prerequisite for sainthood conferred in a process known as canonization.

Cyrek's name is incorporated in the bronze plaque that hangs on a courtyard wall outside the Finucane Jesuit Center at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, commemorating 152 Jesuit victims of the Nazis during the Second World War.


  • Wielki sługa Boży ks. Piotr Skarga Towarzystwa Jezusowego ("Piotr Skarga of the Society of Jesus"; 1936)
  • Twój wzór św. Stanisława Kostka: dla młodzieży polskiej ("St. Stanislaus Kostka as an Example for the Polish Youth"; 1937)
  • Katechizm dla polskich dzieci ("Catechism for Polish Children"; 1938)
  • Adoracje dla Krucjaty Eucharystycznej ("Prayers of Adoration for the Croisade eucharistique", 1939)
  • Katechizm: wydanie nowe katechizmu Józefa Cyrka dostosowane do wymagań Soboru Watykańskiego II ("Cyrek's Catechism revised in the light of the Second Vatican Council"; ed. Jan Charytański, et al.; 1968)

Works by others edited by Józef Cyrek

  • Józef Bok (1886–1952), Przewodnik Krucjaty Eucharystycznej czyli Rycerstwa Jezusowego (1939)

See also

  • 108 Martyrs of World War II
  • List of Nazi-German concentration camps
  • List of Servants of God
  • Sonderaktion Krakau
  • Servant of God
  • The Holocaust in Poland
  • World War II casualties of Poland
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