Obituary: Michael Lis

Michal Gradowski (Michael Lis), wartime saboteur: born 20 July 1908; MC 1943; three times married (one son); died France 8 August 1994.

MICHAEL LIS, the Polish wartime saboteur, later a businessman in Paris, had an unusually active war even for a Pole.

He came from a family called Gradowski - Michal Gradowski was his name at birth - in what is now western Ukraine, then part of Tsarist Russia. He was educated abroad, taking a degree in agriculture at Louvain. He went back home to fight in September 1939, as an army 2nd Lieutenant, but had the misfortune to be captured by the Soviet forces that had joined the German army in overrunning Poland. He escaped by jumping off a train in the darkness, and managed to find his way to Warsaw, which was in German hands.

There he fell in with friends who were already working, they claimed, for British Intelligence. They used him as a courier; he successfully smuggled a packet of microfilms to Budapest. His contact there, a Polish priest, invited him to journey on to Istanbul; but he was again arrested, this time at the Hungaro-Yugoslav border, and once more escaped by jumping off a train.

This time he landed on a kneecap and broke it. He was lucky to run, on the verge of starvation, into another priest, this time a Hungarian - they had to converse in Latin, as Gradowski had no Magyar - who saw him back to Budapest.

Next time he disguised himself thoroughly, as a Baltic baron called Ostrog, equipped with a forged laissez-passer supposed to bear Dr Goebbels' signature. This sufficed to get him on to a German aircraft to Belgrade airport, by then also German-occupied, where he ate in the German officers' mess and made copious mental notes; reaching Istanbul eventually in a taxi he shared with a German consul.

There he met the heroic Christine Granville, a Polish countess who was then working with his Warsaw friends, running a highly successful escape line. She put him in touch with the Special Operations Executive, whose Albanian section was hunting for a Polish officer to work with the teams of Polish slave labourers sent to Albania by the Germans. In spite of his knee injury, Gradowski learnt to parachute. At this point he changed his surname to Lis - Polish for 'fox' - a suitably short name for secret wireless traffic.

He never met any Poles in Albania; but he made himself so useful to the guerrilla fighters he did meet there, and displayed such cheerfulness under conditions of grave hardship as well as such bravery in the face of the enemy, that he was awarded a Military Cross. He was brought out by small boat to Bari in Italy, where he fell in love with Sheila Lyons, who became his second wife. He reached France in time to play a role in resistance in the closing months of German occupation.

Lis settled in France after the war, at first with his own small company dealing in plastics, then as a Paris representative of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson, dealers in sheep dip and fertilisers. His genial personality was the delight of his friends, particularly fellow- members of the Travellers' Club; the close of his life was clouded by protracted illness, in the care of his beloved third wife Pamela Truelove.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss