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The quiet hero of Breitscheidplatz

Slawomir Orlik
December 22, 2016

It was supposed to be his last drive of the year - but for Polish truck driver Lukasz Urban, the journey came to a terrible end. Now his homeland is mourning the quiet hero.

Polen Besitzer des LKW's der bei dem Anschlag verwendet wurde
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Str

He should have been at home now, helping to prepare for Christmas. His wife and 17-year-old son, his parents and extended family were all already waiting for him in the small village of Roznowo, some 40 kilometers south of Szczecin.

His colleagues describe him as "one of the most reliable drivers." Their boss, Ariel Zurawski, agrees. The company owner is also Urban's cousin. At work they would tease tall, thickset Lukasz by calling him "Inspector" - "Lukasz was very meticulous, he liked everything to be in order," his cousin says. "I could always be sure that he would stick 100 percent to every journey time, every law and traffic regulation. You don't find workers like him any more." Lukasz' colleagues are in shock. He was a good man, they say.

Polen Besitzer des LKW's der bei dem Anschlag verwendet wurde
Ariel Zurawski, Lukasz Urban's cousin and the owner of the trucking company.Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/Str

Strange movements

When Zurawski tracked the truck's GPS signal on Monday afternoon, he immediately sensed something was wrong. "The vehicle was supposed to wait outside the ThyssenKrupp depot on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer to be unloaded," he says. Instead, the truck, laden with 25 tonnes of steel, suddenly veered off through the Tiergarten park and Berlin City West. "That was a very bad omen," says Zurawski.

A few hours later he saw his truck on TV. "Right from the start I was absolutely certain that Lukasz was not responsible. We've known each other since we were children: Our mothers are sisters. I knew I could vouch for him hand on heart. All of us here are deeply shocked," says Ariel Zurawski.

A fighter

The picture painted by Lukasz Urban's colleagues matches the dramatic scenario outlined by a German tabloid newspaper two days after the attack. This reconstructed the final seconds in the truck cabin on the basis of police reports, which suggest that the Polish truck driver tried right until the last to avert the tragedy. Perhaps he was able to prevent an even greater disaster; perhaps, if not for him, even more people would have been crushed beneath the wheels of the massive truck? Some German media are speculating along these lines.

Lukasz' cousin, Ariel Zurawski, is convinced that he did indeed fight until the end. He was shown photos by the police, for identification purposes. "In the pictures the police showed me you could clearly see that he had injuries, he'd been cut and beaten. He must have defended himself, and fought," says his boss. No one in Roznowo is surprised by this. "It fits with his character," his colleagues agree.

Deutschland Anschlag mit LKW auf Weihnachtsmarkt in Berlin
The truck was used as a weapon.Image: Reuters/P. Kopczynski

Community in shock

Roznowo is a village of barely 200 people: detached houses, and a few small prefabricated buildings. Everyone there is in shock. Lukasz' neighbors are stunned; and on Monday evening, when the 37-year-old driver's father saw the pictures on television, he collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital.

"I heard about it that night, when a neighbor called me," says Alina Mikolajczak. She lives in the village and knows the Urban family well. "Lukasz and my son were friends; we've known him for years. A family man, always polite; he lived in the same house as his parents, and looked after them."

The villagers can talk of nothing else. Wherever they meet, in the grocery store or in church, they comfort one another. Talking about it helps the community cope with the shock. They talk and pray together for the soul of their young hero and for his relatives. "Our thoughts are with Lukasz' family," says Teresa Niewiadomska, the community spokesperson. "This disaster has turned their whole lives upside down."

Wrong time, wrong place

Very few people are prepared to talk to the press. They want to leave the family in peace, they say. The relatives are currently being looked after by the community family center and a psychologist. "We must respect the relatives' despair and grief," says Niewiadomska. "The whole village will help if needed."

Deutschland Gedächtniskirche
Grief at the site of the attack, Breitscheidtplatz, Berlin.Image: DW/N. Conrad

No one can quite believe yet that Lukasz Urban isn't coming back. His cousin, Ariel Zurawski, is also finding it hard to say goodbye. "He was determined to be back in Roznowo by Thursday and to finally buy a present for his wife," says Zurawski  - he hadn't managed to yet because of all the work in the run-up to Christmas. "And then he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Lukasz' death has been a shock for the entire haulage industry. The tragedy has sparked a discussion about security for Polish truck drivers. One in four long-distance truck drivers in Europe is Polish. The day after the disaster, Polish truck drivers commemorated Lukasz Urban with a "one-minute horn blast". In the center of Szczecin, a memorial has been put up to commemorate the victims of the Berlin attack. City and regional representatives from all over the country have joined the local mayor in laying wreaths. Lukasz Urban is being hailed as a hero - not just in Poland.

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