Zjednoczenie Polskie w Wielkiej Brytanii


Jan Mokrzycki Obituary

Jan Mokrzycki, prominent Polish community leader in UK (1932-2023)

Jan Mokrzycki, who was the dynamic President of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain for 10 years, died on December 25th 2023 at his most recent family home in Gravesend, aged 91.

As a long-term President of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, this Midlands-based retired dentist became a dominant figure among the London Poles as he campaigned for Poland’s entry into the EU and for the rights of Poles in the UK once that entry was achieved. Along with his Federation colleague, Mike Oborski, he set up a pressure group in 1995 called “Poland Comes Home”, producing regular issues of a magazine and the internet to persuade British politicians and British business of the need for Poland to join what was then the European Community. He organized public debates on the issue involving British ministers and MPs, ambassadors of Central European countries and prominent academics. His letter in February 2001, supporting ratification of the Nice Treaty, which was to open up the EC to eastern expansion, was circulated to every Member of Parliament and was quoted approvingly by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in the subsequent debate in Parliament.

After Poland’s accession to the EC (later the EU) and the opening up of the labour market in the UK to Central Europeans, he considered it his duty to ensure that young Poles would not face discrimination on coming to the UK. This was the time when the number of Polish-born UK residents increased tenfold from 60,711 according to the 2001 census to 654,000 according to the 2011 census, and later topped a million. He opened up talks with British trade unions, such as GMB and Community, about the successful recruitment of Poles into their ranks, set up a unit monitoring hate crimes against Poles and liaised regularly with the Immigration Department of the Home Office in monitoring treatment of Polish citizens at the border, which included occasional visits to Dover. He circulated a Polish language leaflet called “A Safe Start” which gave concrete advice on how to avoid abuse by criminal employers, and he convinced the British Embassy in Warsaw to help in its distribution. A later 14 page Federation publication called “How to live and work in the United Kingdom” received a mass circulation with a print run of 40,000 and was made accessible free of charge at bus terminals and parishes throughout the country as well as being distributed in Poland by the Polish Foreign Office (MSZ). The Home Office and the TUC also helped in its distribution. He pushed for an Early Day Motion to retain the Polish A level examination, and set up a Polish credit card decorated in Polish national colours and linked to the Bank of Scotland, in order to encourage Poles to set up bank accounts, which gave the Federation an added income of £800 per quarter. The Federation was also able to offer home insurance at advantageous terms.

In 2004 he condemned the use of the term “Polish Concentration Camp” which had been used by Michael Howard in an interview with BBC Radio 4, implying inadvertently that Auschwitz and other camps, had been set up by Poles. This led to a sustained campaign, supported also by the Polish Embassy, which over time led to the BBC and British media agreeing to desist from this inaccurate and insulting description. He also played a leading role in negotiations with the German government over extending the right of Polish wartime victims of forced labour in Germany and Austria to receive compensation even if they now lived in the UK.

Jan Mokrzycki was born in a middle-class family in Warsaw in November 27th 1932, the son of two successful Warsaw doctors. In a number of interviews, he had visibly described his dramatic childhood during the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 and the subsequent brutal German occupation when he lived with this grandmother, following the arrest in 1942 of his closest family by the Gestapo, and the subsequent execution of his father, uncle, and grandfather. His mother survived the horrors first of Auschwitz and then Ravensbruck concentration camps. Jan lived with his grandmother and her friends in a villa  on the eastern side of the Vistula in Sulejowek, but soon after the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans began on the west bank of the river Vistula in August 1944, Soviet officers arrived on the east bank and expelled Jan’s family from the villa, so as they could observe the slow collapse of the Uprising. The expelled family spent the next months on a tomato farm and did not return to the ruins of Warsaw until 1945. After appealing as a child on Warsaw Radio for news of his family, Jan was reunited after the War with his mother, still unaware that his father had not survived. Faced with the possibility of arrest and deportation to Siberia, his mother smuggled herself and her 12 year old son out to England in 1946 by way of Czechoslovakia and Austria.

As a child growing up in post-war Bolton where he was billeted on an English family, Jan started proper schooling by learning the English language from scratch. In the meantime, his mother continued to work as a doctor until her retirement in 1983. Young Jan did well at school and by 1955 he was offered a place at Newcastle University to study dentistry. Jan served as President of the Student Representative Council at Newcastle University and for one year was on the executive committee of the National Union of Students. He qualified as a dental surgeon in 1959 and that same year he moved first to Coventry with his new wife Magdalena Okonska, who as a child had been deported from Poland to Siberia. He then settled in Kenilworth and was active in the local Polish community where he initiated the programme “Poles Apart” on the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio, which bacame the station’s longest running series.

He was also active in the local Kenilworth District Liberal-Democrat Party and was an unsuccessful candidate for the Liberal Democrat Party at Loughborough in the 1970 parliamentary election.

In 1995, following his retirement, and after serving on the Federation of Poles Council, he was elected as Vice President of the Federation of Poles in Great Britain, the main representative body of the Polish community in the UK since 1947. He was elected President of the Federation in 1997, then served as General Secretary in 1999 and again as President from 2001 to 2009, and then still as Vice-President until 2011. He was on the Federation executive for a total of 16 productive years

He also chaired the Festival Committee in the Noughties which organized annual festivities at Bletchley Park for several years, building on the reputation of the Polish cryptographers who first broke the Enigma Code and laid the groundwork on which British cryptographers like Alan Turing  were able to develop the work when the German enigma machines became more sophisticated.

In 2000, Jan Mokrzycki was also made general secretary for one term of the European Union of Polish Communities, of which the Federation was a member. He was also a long-time trustee of the Polonia Aid Foundation Trust in London which distributed considerable funds to Polish cultural and academic initiatives.

As a result of his activities, he was awarded the Polish Order of Merit and the Cavalier’s Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order (one of Poland’s highest decorations).

He is survived by his wife Magdalena, and two children, Jan and Wanda, as well as by 6 grandchildren, one of whom, Danusia Francis, represented Jamaica as a gymnast in the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.