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The Countess of Auschwitz

Gloucester Road underground station is a rather perplexing combination of buildings. As you turn into Gloucester Road from Courtfield Road you are presented with the Ox blood tiled facade of what was once the deep line station and adjoining it is the original Victorian station building.

The original station was opened in 1868 by the Metropolitan Railway, with the more modern version which gave access to the deep-level platforms opened in 1906 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. Today the two buildings have been amalgamated into one station, but they make interesting viewing. The sober, slightly austere Victorian building standing square with a hint of a well to do Brompton town house and next to it the slightly louche new kid on the block, warm, inviting and welcoming.

Inside you find a rather cavernous platform area, vaulted in a greyish brick with period lamps hanging from the ceilings. Last year I used it many times over the course of a couple of days. During the morning and afternoon rush it's a busy and rather confusing station with many platforms and because of the earlier amalgamation three different lines, the Piccadilly, Circle and District. During the evening and into the night when less frequented it can feel rather sinister and due to the acoustics a little eerie. Returning late one night I lingered on the underground Piccadilly platform to retie my shoe laces and having done so found myself alone, the train that had brought me having departed. As the sound died away all that was left was the low hum of some station machinery. Then from an indeterminable direction I started to hear voices, followed by footsteps. Looking around I saw nobody else on the platforms. Now I'm not trying to apportion any supernatural claims to this, the acoustics as I said earlier are slightly strange and I must admit to not hanging about to see where these noises were coming from. However, the sound of footsteps did put me in mind of an event that occurred at the station some seventy odd years ago.

Back in the late 1950s the lift that gives access to the deep line Piccadilly platforms was controlled by an operator, usually the station foreman. On the 24 May 1957 Emanuel Akinyemi was on duty and he would collect tickets from passengers alighting from the Piccadilly trains before taking them to street level via the lift. Around half past ten that evening a train had just departed and Emanual at his post at the far end of the platform believed that nobody had alighted from it. A minute or so after the noise of the departing train had subsided, Emanual heard the sound of running footsteps on the emergency stairs which usually indicated a passenger without a ticket trying to avoid the collector. Deciding that the fare dodger had too much of a head start he remained at his post. As the sound faded, he heard a woman's voice echo from the platform area, shouting "bandit". He went to investigate and found a well dressed elderly woman slowly walking towards him. As he got closer he noticed that she had both hands clasped in front of her clutching her chest. He said to her: “What about the bandits?” and as he helped her towards the lift she replied: “I have been knifed.” He then noticed blood seeping between her fingers which was running down her jacket.

The victim of this attack was Teresa Lubienska, a 73-year-old Polish countess. She lived in a flat in Cromwell Gardens, Kensington but at one time had belonged to a Polish aristocratic family. She had lived a rather privileged but turbulent early life. Whilst a married woman in her thirties she lived on a large estate in south east Poland. The Bolshevik revolution of 1918 saw Lenin created a Polish Revolutionary Committee, PolRevKom, in effect a Bolshevik government for Poland. All titled lands were seized and when her husband Edward remonstrated with the occupying soldiers, they bayonetted him to death. Teresa and her two children were forced to flee taking only the possessions they could carry. She managed to place her son, Stanisław, at a military academy while she and her daughter lived in rather diminished circumstances, finally ending up in a small Warsaw flat. During her time there she became an active member of the Polish Red Cross. In 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and Stanislaw, by now a junior officer in the Polish army was mobilised to defend the country, but died in the first days of the fighting.

Incensed by the loss of her only son, Teresa began to work for the Polish resistance movement organising assistance for the civilian population of the capital. Her flat was also the venue of clandestine meetings of the Polish resistance cells. In 1942, she was betrayed to the Nazi authorities, and incarcerated in Pawiak prison for interrogation before being sent to Auschwitz concentration camp awaiting a death sentence. Fortunately, due to the intervention of the Swedish Red Cross her sentence was commuted and she spent the rest of the war in the camp. Upon liberation she came to the UK and with the help of friends set up a new life in London, where she formed the Association of Ex-political Prisoners to help displaced victims of the Nazi regime.

On the 24 May 1957 she had dined with friends at a house in Ealing and had travelled back to Gloucester Road station for the short walk back to her flat. She was helped into the lift by Emanuel Akinyemi and taken to street level during which he asked again "where is the Bandit", but he received no reply.

Once in the station concourse he dialed 999 for an ambulance and was soon joined by the beat constable, PC Ron Sherfield who accompanied the injured woman to St. Mary abbott's Hospital and en-route she said her last words: “I was on the platform.........then stabbed.” She died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

The post mortem showed that she had five wounds caused by a small 2 inch single bladed knife. She had been stabbed three times in the chest (two piercing her heart) once in the stomach and once in the back. A tattooed number 44747 on her arm gave a clue to her identity and past.

The subsequent investigation showed no attempt to steal property from her and so it was thought unlikely to have been robbery. The small knife seemed a strange weapon for an assassin to use and a well-lit platform is not an ideal place to carry out a pre meditated murder. The police seemed rather baffled.

The train on which the Countess had travelled was identified but the driver and guard were unable to assist and a search of the tunnels found no further clues. Over 18,000 people were interviewed and several suspects were identified, but were eliminated from enquiries. A man seen loitering on the station on days prior to the assault was found but was in care at a mental hospital at the time of the crime, which to this day remains unsolved.

The countess's daughter claimed that the motives for the murder were political, but this was ruled out by the authorities.

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