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American Traces in Katyn Massacre Victims

American Traces in Katyn Massacre Victims

This article was written by Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, Ph.D., 2020-2021 VOC Senior Research Fellow in Poland Studies. It is the third in a series of five articles about The Katyn Forest Massacre. To view all five articles, click here.

Among the almost twenty-two thousand victims of the Katyn Forest Massacre, a 1940 Soviet genocidal against the Poles, were people whose lives were connected to the US and even on a path to significant careers there. It is worth knowing some of the outstanding professionals whose fate took them, in some stage of their life, to America.


Janusz Libicki (1902–1940)

Janusz Libicki was an excellent economist. During World War I, as a sixteen-year-old boy, he commanded a youth division protecting the Warsaw railway junction. He fought in the Polish-Soviet War. After the war he attended the military academy and became a reserve lieutenant, after which he started working at a bank. In 1926, he resigned from this job and began studies at the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Law[2].

In April 1929, Libicki became an assistant for the Economic Seminar at Jagiellonian University. In 1930, he graduated from the Faculty of Law and, only one year later, received his PhD. In 1931, he got married, and in 1932–1933, he obtained a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship[3]. In 1933, Congress noted that “Dr. Janusz Libicki, of the University of Cracow, Poland, has made a special study of American banking with reference to the Federal Reserve System, the results of this study are being published by the Polish Academy of Social Science in Cracow.”[4]

In 1935, also thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, Libicki studied in Great Britain. In 1936, he received his habilitation, and as a docent he lectured at the Faculty of Law and the Agriculture Department at Jagiellonian University, as well as at the Higher Trade Seminar. In 1937, he became a non-tenured professor. During his academic career, Libicki authored eight academic works the premises of which are still relevant, as he conducted research about the innovative theory of production costs, supply-side economics, and the original issue of the optimal taxation. The outcomes of his academic research are still current.

Like many other victims of the Katyn Massacre, after the attack of the Soviets, Libicki was called (as a reservist) to fight in defense of Poland.




Zygmunt Mitera (1903–1940)

Zygmunt Mitera was an outstanding geophysicist. He studied at the Mining Academy in Cracow, receiving his diploma in 1929. He was a scout and was actively involved in the activity of the Polish Scouting Association.

Mitera was interested in geophysics and, as a fellow of the Polish government, studied in Berlin, Sweden, and France. In 1931, he arrived in the US, where he began studying at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. While in the US, he needed to learn English very quickly, so he started teaching German and French, which he spoke fluently, in exchange for English lessons.[8] Singing was his passion while in Cracow, and he continued to sing in Colorado; his performance of Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” was mentioned in the local press.[9]

In 1932, the Kościuszko Foundation granted Mitera a fellowship to go to Texas and California, where he gained experience in the oil industry. In 1933, he received his doctorate in Colorado, becoming the first Pole with a PhD in geophysics. Although he could have stayed in the US and found a well-paying job, Mitera decided to go back to Poland. He became a lecturer at the Mining Academy[10] and worked for the company Pionier, where he was head of the geophysical department. In 1934, he co-authored the almost one-hundred-page book concerning the seeking, mining and processing of oil.[11]

In 1938, Mitera established (alongside his friend Stanisław Wyrobek) the private company Geotechnika, which was based in Przemyśl, Poland. He intended to find deposits of petroleum, natural gas, and oil. The company purchased a twelve-channel seismic reflection acquisition system and started several ambitious exploration projects. They had plans to incorporate more machines in 1940. From 1933 until the outbreak of the war, Mitera was a lecturer and assistant professor (adiunkt) at the Mining Academy in Cracow. He was the author of several academic articles published in professional magazines, such as Przemysł Naftowy, Przegląd Górniczo-Hutniczy and Roczniki Polskiego Towarzystwa Geologicznego. He was also a lecturer at Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow. As a reservist, he was called to the Polish Army at the beginning of WWII. He was captured by the Soviets in 1939 and sent to theStarobelsk camp, where he met Józef Czapski. The latter was a close friend of Mitera’s late brother, Kazimierz (a painter). In 1948, Czapski wrote letters to Mitera’s sister, Mieczysława Mitera–Dobrowolska, who was looking for her brother, as his remains were not identified in 1943. Czapski told her that her brother had been a cook in the camp, and that he was always enthusiastic and full of optimism. Czapski also said Mitera had a sense of humor, describing his adventures in the US, and singing songs in the camp.[12]

Józef Marcinkiewicz (1910–1940)

One person who could have had a huge career in the US was the mathematic genius Józef Marcinkiewicz. His teacher, Antoni Zygmund—who was considered one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century and the creator of the Chicago school of mathematical analysis—repeated as much over and over again.



Initially, due to poor health (weak lungs), Marcinkiewicz was home-schooled (his father, Klemens Marcinkiewicz, could afford it, as he had earned money in the US, and after coming back to Poland bought a house and around thirty hectares of land). Later, Marcinkiewicz entered the fourth grade at King Sigismund Augustus Gymnasium in Białystok, Poland, where he got only a C+ in mathematics on his School Leaving Examination. Moreover, before entering university, he hesitated about whether to study Polish literature or mathematics. He was a kind of artist, as he was interested in music and painting and wrote poetry. He also spoke fluent English, French, and Italian.

Marcinkiewicz’s exceptional mathematical talent was revealed at Stefan Batory University in the city of Vilnius (part of Poland at the time), where he enrolled in 1930 in the Department of Mathematics and Natural Science. Being only a second-year student, Marcinkiewicz attended lectures on the orthogonal series, requiring some erudition, particularly in knowledge of the Lebesgue integral.[15]

In 1933, Marcinkiewicz finished university. Because of his talent, he graduated after three years of study; only two years later, in 1935, he got his PhD, and in 1937, he received his habilitation at the age of twenty-seven. Both his master’s thesis and his PhD featured original results in mathematics. During the two years between his MS and PhD, Marcinkiewicz completed his one year of mandatory military service and then spent the academic year (1935–1936) as an assistant at Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow, Poland, working with other prominent mathematicians, such as Stefan Kaczmarz and Julius Schauder.

Marcinkiewicz taught about twelve hours each week and was an active participant in mathematical discussions at the famous Scottish Café. He was admired and respected by many prominent mathematicians. In 1936, he came back to Vilnius and began to work as a senior assistant professor at Jan Kazimierz University (at the age of twenty-six). Thanks to a scholarship from the Fund for National Culture in 1938, he went to Sorbonne University in Paris, France, where he was offered a professorship at one of the American universities. He declined, as he had already accepted another offer from the University of Poznań in Poland.[16] In Paris, he met his fiancée—the post-war professor of Polish, Irena Sławińska (the war interrupted their wedding plans).

In 1939, at the age of twenty-nine, after only six years of his academic career, Marcinkiewicz had already published fifty-five articles on real functions in mathematics (singular integrals, differentiability of integrals, interpolation polynomials), trigonometric series, orthogonal systems, complex analysis, probability theory, and theory of operators or interpolation theorems).[17]

Marcinkiewicz’s most important and deepest findings are on interpolation theory, which is used nowadays and referred to as the Marcinkiewicz or Marcinkiewicz-Zygmund interpolation theorem (with the so-called weak-𝐿 𝑝spaces, known now as Marcinkiewicz spaces, which are essential for the general form of this theorem).[18]

In 1939, Marcinkiewicz was at University College London in in April–August, also visiting Cambridge University and Oxford University (presenting his works and ideas), when the announcement of a general mobilization in Poland was declared. He decided to go back to Poland and attend the Polish Army as a reserve officer. He was captured by Soviets in 1939, sent to the Katyn Forest camp, and killed in 1940. Marcinkiewicz’s relatives claimed he had written a mathematical thesis when he was in Paris and London, and they asked his mother to hide it. Unfortunately, his parents were deported (they died in Siberia), and when the thesis was found, it was destroyed. Nobody knows what discoveries the thesis may have contained. In his last letter, Marcinkiewicz seemed concerned about the book. Even in the camp, he taught about his research until the end of his life. In his last letter that he sent to his family from the camp, he asked about his notes.[19]

In 1940, Marcinkiewicz’s teacher and friend, Antoni Zygmund, emigrated to the US, where he created the famous School of Mathematics with prominent students such as Alberto Calderón, Leonard D. Berkovitz, Paul J. Cohen (1934–2007; awarded the Fields Medal in 1966), and many others. Zygmund made the name of Marcinkiewicz known among mathematicians. Throughout his life Antoni Zygmund repeated that Marcinkiewicz was his most brilliant student and mathematic genius.

Marcinkiewicz’s name in mathematics is connected with the Marcinkiewicz interpolation theorem, Marcinkiewicz spaces, the Marcinkiewicz integral and function, Marcinkiewicz–Zygmund inequalities, the Marcinkiewicz–Zygmund strong law of large numbers, the Marcinkiewicz multiplier theorem, the Marcinkiewicz–Salem conjecture, the Marcinkiewicz theorem on the characteristic function, and the Marcinkiewicz theorem on the Perron. His works inspire not only mathematicians but also computer programmers across the world.


[1] Photo from

[2] Bochenek Miroslaw. 2021. “Janusz Wojciech Libicki and his contribution to the Polish Economy (on the eightieth anniversary of the Katyn Massacre).” Legal, Economic and Sociological Movement 83 (1), 243-56.

[3] Bochenek Mirosław, 2021, „Janusz Wojciech Libicki and his contribution to the Polish Economy (on the eightieth anniversary of the Katyn Massacre).” Legal, Economic and Sociological Movement 83 (1), 243-56.

[4] Report of the Librarian of Congress for the Fiscal year ending June 30, 1933, 180.

[5] Photo from

[6] Photo from Archiwum Nauki PAN i PAU w Krakowie,,

[7] Photo from Archiwum Nauki PAN i PAU w Krakowie,

[8] See more: Archiwum Nauki PAN i PAU w Krakowie,

[9] The Colorado Transcript, Number 24, April 13, 1933, 4.

[10] Bronisław Barhański, “I oni też tam byli,” Biulety AGH, November, 15, 2021,

[11] Weigner, Stanisław Wiktor; Mitera, Zygmunt; Paraszczak, Stanisław; Pilat, Stanisław; Wygard, Ignacy Wykłady o poszukiwaniu, wydobywaniu i przeróbce ropy naftowej: kurs zorganizowany dla pracowników przemysłu naftowego w mies.: lutym i marcu 1934 r. Lwow, 1934.

[13] Photo from Lech Maligranda, “Józef Marcinkiewicz (1910–1940) – On the Centenary of His Birth,” Department of Engineering Sciences and Mathematics Luleå University of Technology, 138, DOI: 10.4064/bc95-0-10

[14] Photo of J. Marcinkiewicz and his signature from Maligranda, “Józef Marcinkiewicz.”

[15] Nikolay Kuznetsov, “The Legacy of Józef Marcinkiewicz: Four Hallmarks of Genius,” Notices of the American Mathematical Society, no. 5,, 67:690,

[16] Maligranda, “Józef Marcinkiewicz.”

[17] W. Żelazko, “A Short History of Polish Mathematics,” Mathematical Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences,

[18] Kuznetsov, “The Legacy of Józef Marcinkiewicz.”

[19] Stanisław Domoradzki and Zofia Pawlikowska-Brożek, “Józef Marcinkiewicz (1910–1940) w świetle dokumentów i wspomnień. W stulecie urodzin,” 29,