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Gangland Szczecin – ‘the grypsers’


Szczecin has recently been shocked to discover it has been described as a very dangerous place full of gangs and gang warfare, in a documentary aired on ‘the Discovery Channel’ entitled ‘Inside the Gangster’s Code – the Grypsers’.


Grypsers in Nowogard prison, Poland

On March 28, 2013, Discovery Channel transmitted a programme, set in Szczecin, in the series ‘Inside the Gangster’s Code’ entitled ‘the Grypsers’. The programme is narrated by Lou Ferrante, a former member of the Gambino crime syndicate in New York, who spent eight years in prison in the United States, and was a witness in prison of ‘race wars’ between white and black inmates. The programme only came to the attention of the local media on 31 May.

The origin of the word ‘grypser’ is interesting. Apparently it comes from the non-standard dialect of Polish spoken by prison recidivists, and is used as a means of communication that is non-understandable to the law-enforcement authorities. The ‘Grypser language’ includes vocabulary from Yiddish, German, Ukranian and Russian, and the origin of the word ‘grypser’ comes from the Low German ‘gripps’ meaning ‘intelligence’.

The programme depicts Szczecin as a dangerous border town between east and west, in the grip of narcotics and gang violence. Lou Ferrante visits the prison in Nowogard to talk to the inmates, self-described ‘grypsers’, who supposedly control the prison. He also accompanies heavily-armed police around Szczecin, visits drug dens and speaks to a masked informer.

The programme appears very similar to the Danny Dyer hooligan documentaries, ‘the real football factories’, the main difference being that the narrator, Lou Ferrante, is a genuine former gangster, whereas Danny Dyer is a wanna-be hooligan fake.

Szczecin, in the nineteen-nineties, following the end of communism, did have a genuine gangster problem. The leader of the main Szczecin gang, Marek  M, ‘Oczko’, had considerable power in the city at that time. However, ‘Oczko’ was arrested in 1998, and given a thirteen year sentence for directing gangs. In 2008, he was sentenced to a further twenty-five year term for his involvement in the murder of the head of the Belarussian mafia, Wiktor Fiszman. Ever since ‘Oczko’ lost his freedom, however, the streets of Szczecin have been reasonably safe.

In my opinion, you will not learn a great deal from this documentary. It is in the interest of its makers to ‘big up’ violence in order to ensure high viewing figures, but the truth of the matter is that Szczecin is a very ordinary city, without especially high levels of criminality, and is no more in the grip of gangs than any other European city.

The world of the ‘grypsers’ is in some way interesting. We will write more about this in

Extract from “Inside the gangster’s code – the grypers’ below:




Olaf Cai Larsen

Norwegian Cai Larsen, a freelance software developer and amateur film-maker, moved to Szczecin four years ago after meeting his current partner, Monika. Whilst living in Poland, Cai has worked hard on his Polish through the study of classic Polish films. Cai will be contributing reviews of Polish movies for the Szczecinian.

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