Settlement in case of rare Polish rifle seized from Virginia gun collector


A composite image of various angles and views of the wz. 38M Maroszek semi-automatic military rifle. The Department of Homeland Security seized it from Kristopher Gasior, a Fredericksburg collector of historical weapons, earlier this year, and now it is the subject of an intense legal feud between Gasior and Poland. (Kristopher Gasior)
November 11, 2013

The bitter international dispute that began when the Polish government had U.S. federal agents seize a rare rifle from a Fredericksburg gun collector has ended. Poland is buying the weapon.

The collector will get $25,000 for the wz.38M Maroszek rifle, along with a promise that it will be displayed in the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The country also agreed to send Kristopher Gasior, the 54-year-old Virginia collector, a thank-you letter noting his “valuable contribution to preserving Polish historical memory and to honoring Polish heroes and freedom fighters by saving and preserving this unique rifle.”

The conclusion is, in many ways, anticlimactic for a case that put at stake not only a piece of Polish history but the rights of collectors and veterans to keep relics that they brought back from faraway places.

“They basically agreed to all the conditions that I presented about six months ago,” said Gasior, who had the gun seized from him after he listed it for sale on his Web site. “I kind of wasted several months haggling with these people.”

An official at the Polish Embassy declined to comment on the case. Gasior and his attorney confirmed that a settlement had been reached recently and provided documents indicating the matter had been resolved.

The dispute began in March, when four federal agents came to Gasior’s door and demanded the rifle. They were acting largely on information provided by Poland, which viewed the Maroszek as a “great piece of cultural and scientific significance.” The weapon was made specifically for Polish troops just before World War II, and Poland contended that it was likely stolen by invading soldiers.

The rifle was undoubtedly valuable. By Gasior’s account, only 150 were made in 1938 and 1939, and about nine still exist. Polish officials said it might be even more rare; they were able to document only five preserved to this day.

But to whom it belonged was very much in doubt — so much so that the U.S. government asked to be removed from the case after seizing the weapon.

Gasior — a married father of two who speaks proudly of his parents’ service in the Polish Home Army and of learning to read from his family’s Polish military history books — contended that he bought the rifle in 1993 from another collector, and he considered it a sort of “war trophy,” carried into the United States legally by a soldier who got it during World War II.

Polish officials contended that could not be so, because war trophies are taken from enemies, and the Maroszek was made for Polish soldiers who fought on the same side as U.S. troops. Because the gun was made exclusively for Polish military members, it belonged to Poland, they said. That it might have been seized by the Germans and then passed to American hands did not change that.

The settlement leaves the particulars of the Maroszek’s history and status as a war trophy unresolved. In a letter to Gasior, an official at the Polish Embassy said the country had no information about what happened to this particular weapon during World War II but acknowledged that Gasior bought it in “utmost good faith.”

John Keats, Gasior’s attorney, said that was an important concession because “somebody made this allegation that the gun was stolen, and they showed up armed to the teeth and scared him and his family to death when they came to get the rifle.”

“We’re very pleased,” he said of the settlement. “Basically, if we would have gone to court and won the case, this is what we would have been looking for.”

Gasior had initially listed the gun for sale for $65,000, though he said in several previous interviews that he would have given Poland a steep discount had the country sought to buy the rifle initially.

He said the case had left him frustrated, but he was happy that Poland had agreed to pay for the rifle and display it on his terms.

“I just wanted to end this thing,” he said.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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