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This past May, I had the opportunity to visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw, Poland. This is a really intriguing museum that does a really fine job of bringing to light Poland's brutal WWII experience under the occupation of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It mostly covers the 2 month period between August and October 1944 where the underground resistance of Poland, called Polish Home Army, rose up against German occupation using a collection of stolen and makeshift weapons built-up throughout the previous 5 years. Numerous displays and artifacts showed not only the weapons used by the Home Army but also the utter destruction of the city in the aftermath of the battle.

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Much of the fighting was done ferociously from street block to street block, sewer to sewer, and the Home Army was able to take most of Central Warsaw in the first week of the fighting. This uprising was ultimately prompted by the belief that the advancing Red Army, right on the doorsteps of Warsaw, would quickly come to their aid and end the 5 year German occupation of their city. However, Stalin instead decided to halt his forces on the other side of the river and wait for the Germans to crush the uprising first. German forces would be left weaker and the Soviet Union wouldn't have to deal with the possibility of pro-Western Polish sentiment standing in the way of a post-war Communist Poland. In the end, over 16,000 members of the Polish Home Army were killed and another 200,000 Polish civilians were killed in the aftermath, leaving 85% of the city completely destroyed. This museum pays tribute to those who fought and were lost fighting for Polish freedom.

Figure Above: [Kbsp wz. 1938M serial number 1048 on display at the Warsaw Uprising Museum in May 2022. The rifle is encased in a window display so the picture is a bit hard to see]

Figure Above: [Kbsp wz. 1938M serial number 1019 on display at the Warsaw Uprising Museum in May 2022. The rifle is encased in a window display so the picture is a bit hard to see]

One intriguing display that caught my eye was a rifle that looked oddly like a miniature version of a Browning Automatic Rifle. Upon further inspec
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tion of the nameplate, I saw that it was labeled the Kbsp wz. 1938M (Karabin samopowtarzalny wzór 38M or Self-repeating rifle Model 1938M) which I had never heard of before but knew right away that it was a self loading rifle because of its exterior features. This rifle was unique as it was an early example of a semi-automatic weapon developed and considered for adoption by a European power prior to the start of WWII. It was originally developed by Polish engineer Józef Maroszek who had been building prototype self loading rifles since the early 1930's and won a Polish government Self Loading Rifle trials test in 1934.

Starting in 1936, several samples of this rifle were manufactured and a small batch of roughly 150 of them were ordered to be manufactured in Radom by the Polish Army in 1938. Because of the invasion of Poland in 1939, we don't know if the Polish Army intended for it to be put into general production and the only known use of this weapon in combat was by the designer himself who claims to have shot at two low flying German aircraft with his invention during the evacuation of the Weaponry Technology Institute. Allegedly the gunner of one of the planes was injured and pilot of the other aircraft was killed while Józef was firing through the cabin window of the train car he was occupying (according to his post-war memoirs). An unknown number of these rifles are said to still exist to this today but at least 6 are accounted for.

The 1938M uses a Browning style upward tilting bolt locking mechanism, has a gas tube midway up the barrel, and ejects spent shells through the top of the receiver. Furthermore, it’s chambered in 8mm Mauser and is fed through the top of the receiver using stripper clips into a non-detachable box magazine with a capacity for 10 cartridges. It weighs just 9.9 lbs, has an overall length of 44.60 inches, and a barrel length of 24.6 inches. The rear sights is a typical Mauser tangent leaf design that is adjustable from 300 to 2,000 meters.

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Figure Above: [Notice safety lever right above the trigger guard and the bolt handle adjacent to the receiver]

Upon my return home to the United States, I did a little more research into this rifle and the other examples known to still exist around the world. I soon discovered that the particular rifle on display at the Warsaw Uprising Museum (Serial Number 1019) was the subject of an international dispute between the Polish government and a firearms collector who then resided in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Without full knowledge of the backstory, I’ll share what I’ve gathered from several onlines sources and articles published about the incident. For example, this article published by the Denver Post in 2013, Settlement in case of rare Polish rifle seized from Virginia gun collector, discusses the dispute in more detail. Here’s an additional blog post from Guns.com in 2014, The Strange Case of the Kris Gasior and His Kbsp wz.38M Rifle, referencing the episode. You can also find some additional scattered information online from the Washington Post and Washington Times but not much after the year of the incident.

This story begins on March 8, 2013, when several agents of the Department of Homeland Security (it’s been noted in several different sources that it varied between 2-4 agents) entered the Virginia home of Kristopher Gasior who then proceeded to seize a Kbsp wz. 1938M rifle from his private weapons collection. The reason behind this sudden confiscation? The Polish government claimed that because this rifle was stolen from them during WWII, it was therefore rightly Polish state property. Even though the rifle was brought home as a war trophy by an American G.I. after the war, Polish officials reasoned that war trophies could only be of captured enemy origin and because Poland was an Allied power alongside the United States, that this was still Polish property.

Kris, himself a Polish immigrant coming to the United States in the 1980’s, acquired the rifle in 1993 from another collector but when he decided to sell some of his collection online, the Polish government noticed. They considered the rifle to have highly important cultural and engineering significance to them and quickly jumped on the opportunity to retrieve this extremely rare weapon.

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Figure Above: [Notice the gas tube midway up the shaft and the muzzle break at the end of the barrel. The bayonet lug fits a Polish wz.29 rifle bayonet and the front sight is a typical Mauser design]

Long story short; Kris, the United States government, and the Polish government seemed to want to avoid a long drawn out international claims battle and he decided to come to an agreement with the Polish government to transfer ownership of the rifle to them for $25,000 (far less than the $65,000 he put it on the market for). As part of this deal the Polish government agreed that this rifle would be displayed at the Warsaw Uprising Museum and so there it currently resides for gun enthusiasts like me to look at and take pictures of.

This, of course, wouldn’t be a proper rare weapon if this rifle wasn’t featured in a Forgotten Weapons episode with Ian McCollum, who filmed an overview of the gun at the James D. Julia Auction House in the Spring of 2017. Ian shows us a breakdown of the rifle and its inner workings as he beautifully does every time. The one Ian is showing in his video however is serial number 1048, while the one involved in the 2013 controversy is #1019. According to the archives of the 2017 James D. Julia auction sale, the Polish government (more specifically, the Polish Ministry of National Defense) purchased rifle #1048 at the April 2017 auction for $69,000 from the private collection of Bob Faris, American firearms expert and Korean War educator who passed away in 2012.

It looks like the Polish government won't pass up on the opportunity to get all known examples of the Kbsp wz. 1938M back into Poland but opted to just buy it at auction this time rather than go through the headache of getting the U.S. State Department involved. Rifle #1019 is at the Warsaw Uprising Museum as pictured above, #1027 is in the collection of the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw (although deactivated), and #1048 is now in Poland as of 2017 but I'm not certain where this one is displayed or kept at the moment.

Other known examples of the Kbsp wz. 1938M outside of Poland; #1014 is in the hands of a private German collector, #1030 is in the private collection of Wacław Ustupski (a Polish-American collector based in Chicago), and one is said to reside in the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow (serial no. unknown). There could be more out there in private collections that simply haven't been made known to the public or simply lost to history. One could pop up in an attic sometime in the future but more likely they were destroyed in war.
 

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Oh man, I remember all of the drama back when this was taking place. Glad that the rifle is on display where it can be seen and appreciated by visitors. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

One slight correction: The rifle in the Warsaw Uprising Museum is #1019. The one sold at auction in 2017 is #1048. Poland reportedly paid $25,000 to the collector for #1019.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Oh man, I remember all of the drama back when this was taking place. Glad that the rifle on display where it can be seen and appreciated by visitors. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

One slight correction: The rifle in the Warsaw Uprising Museum is #1019. The one sold at auction in 2017 is #1048. Poland reportedly paid $25,000 to the collector for #1019.
Ahhh right you are! I made some updates on the original post to reflect this. It looks like the Polish government still bought #1048 in April of 2017 but I'm not sure where they're keeping this one.
 

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So according this this #1048 is also going to the Polish Army Museum. I can't find any more recent references but I would assume it is on display now alongside their deactivated example. Thankfully the article says that #1048 won't be deactivated.
 

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Long story short: the Poles stole a gun from an American collector with the assistance of the US government. To say more than that is just window dressing on a crime.
Oh, this way of acting is typical for the Polish authorities - you hear of it every day. What really surprises me is the fact that the US Government decided to take part in this!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
So according this this #1048 is also going to the Polish Army Museum. I can't find any more recent references but I would assume it is on display now alongside their deactivated example. Thankfully the article says that #1048 won't be deactivated.
I didn’t have a chance to visit while I was there, unfortunately. Maybe someone here has a picture of it on display.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Oh, this way of acting is typical for the Polish authorities - you hear of it every day. What really surprises me is the fact that the US Government decided to take part in this!
That shouldn’t surprise you at all. I’m not exactly sure how it went down (someone else with more working knowledge or experience can chime in here) but I assume the Polish Embassy in D.C. contacted the State Department who assigned the case to some middle level bureaucrat in Dept. of Homeland Security with no understanding of firearms. Someone with more free time than me could probably submit a Freedom of Information Act inquiry into it. The whole episode should spook anyone who thinks the U.S. government will defend your private property.
 

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The State Department did the same type of intervention in North Carolina at a gem shop/museum that had a skull that was a trophy from Saipan.
 

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I think it is reasonable that Poland wanted it back. From their point of view they were just recovering stolen property. It sounds to me like the US authorities are the ones who went overboard. Countless artifacts, paintings, etc. went missing from occupied countries during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. Many have never been recovered. Repatriation is normal if/when something is found. This example just made people a bit twitchy because it was a firearm and not a painting.
 

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I think it is reasonable that Poland wanted it back. From their point of view they were just recovering stolen property. It sounds to me like the US authorities are the ones who went overboard. Countless artifacts, paintings, etc. went missing from occupied countries during and in the immediate aftermath of the war. Many have never been recovered. Repatriation is normal if/when something is found. This example just made people a bit twitchy because it was a firearm and not a painting.
This isn’t a one of a kind gun, or something with a unique connection to a famous polish person or historical event. It was just a low production semi auto design. There were others out there just like it, and the polish government was clearly willing to pay money for them. They just chose to steal the one.
 

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That shouldn’t surprise you at all. I’m not exactly sure how it went down (someone else with more working knowledge or experience can chime in here) but I assume the Polish Embassy in D.C. contacted the State Department who assigned the case to some middle level bureaucrat in Dept. of Homeland Security with no understanding of firearms. Someone with more free time than me could probably submit a Freedom of Information Act inquiry into it. The whole episode should spook anyone who thinks the U.S. government will defend your private property.
I think think too this was the case of "stolen artifact of special CULTURAL significance" - in this case it makes more sense and even I (!) must admit the Polish autorities had some point here. It IS a one of a kind weapon, only singular pieces survive, and it is of extreme importance for Poland because it is only one of few types of weapons produced for the army before the war, and definitely among the rarest pieces. Indeed it can be easily compared in historical significance with lost pieces of art etc. - you must bear in mind there were not many firearm types developed in Poland - it is not the US, UK or Germany, so the significance of domestic wepon designs is completely different here. Apart from this it could also be seen as Polish state property from the legal point of view. I'm quite sure if this weapon had any waffenamt markings or post-capture German stamps indicating German "ownership", then its status would be far less obvious - this would be officially a German weapon captured by a US GI. I'm quite sure some capture papers would even strenghten the position of the US owner. But without that... It seems it is rather a a case of a scandalous and arrogant way of executing the right - but that is a long Polish state tradition, and I suspect not only Polish...

As for being deactivated, I haven't seen this gun, but I'm 99% positive it was not deactivated. It is true firearm artifacts in Polish museums were all being deactivated in the communist era and 90's, but after the turn of the century things started to change and currently the museums are not obliged to deactivate firearms - they can keep them live as long as they have the means to keep them safe. The the Warsaw Uprising museum definitely has the funds to do it.
 

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Guns seized from an enemy are legitimate war booty, or were in WW2. The Nazis seized the gun from the Polish. Then an American soldier seized the gun from the Nazis. Both cases were entirely legal. The Polish government would have done the same thing, in fact they probably did with Nazi guns taken at the end of the war.
The whole case stank to high heaven.
 

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Guns seized from an enemy are legitimate war booty, or were in WW2. The Nazis seized the gun from the Polish. Then an American soldier seized the gun from the Nazis. Both cases were entirely legal. The Polish government would have done the same thing, in fact they probably did with Nazi guns taken at the end of the war.
The whole case stank to high heaven.
This, 100%.
Sorry, but arguing 'cultural significance' is BS. As David said, legitimate war booty.
 
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So according this this #1048 is also going to the Polish Army Museum. I can't find any more recent references but I would assume it is on display now alongside their deactivated example. Thankfully the article says that #1048 won't be deactivated.
Many years ago, when s/n 1048 was in Bob Faris' collection, I asked him if several of us present could strip the gun down to see how it worked. Of course, he said, and group of us went at it, feeling our way, as the procedure was not obvious. Eventually we discovered that it had a cracked receiver, and clearly was not safe to fire. Our overall impression was that the gun was constructed more like a sporting rifle than a military weapon, not easily maintainable or rugged enough for military service.

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