Obituary: Michael Lis
Thursday 18 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.
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