*** war and social upheaval: The Cold War country trends Poland

The Cold War: Country Trends--Poland

Cold War Poland
Figure 1.--Poland was devastated by World War II, both the population and physical plant. The Germans almost totally obliterated Warsaw. And Poland's Communist Government was able to rebuild only slowly. Here we see a Warsaw street scene not during or right after the War, but 12 years later in 1957. By thus time scenes like this were no longer seen in the West. The press caption read, "Warsaw water boy: Central heating and running water are just hear-say luxuries for Poles like 8-year-old Jeny Lutcinaki, who totes a bucket of water from a street source to the war-damaged ruins of a Warsaw house that has been his home since birth. This is one of a series of five exclusive photos of current Polish scenes made by Associated Press staff photographer Leslie Priest during the recent election in which Poles endorsed continued Communist domination." Of course Communist-run elections throughout Eastern Europe were shams. And the failure of Communist regimes throughout the Soviet Union's Eastern European Empire to deliver decent living standards would eventually bring down the whole Soviet structure.

The most crucial country for a variety of cultural and geopolitical reasons was Poland. Poland because of its geographic location became the epicenter for the Cold War. For without a compliant Communist Poland, a the Communist East German regime was untenable. Unfortunately for the Soviets, Poland proved the most difficult Eastern European satellite country to control. It is interesting to speculate as to just why Poland proved so difficult for the Soviets to dominate. Poland was the only Eastern European satellite that had until the 18th century been a major European power. With the Polish partitions of the late 18th century, the Polish nation disappeared from the maps of Europe. What did not disappear was the Polish Catholic Church which became the repository for Polish nationalism for three centuries. Stalin spoke derisively of the Vatican, asking how many divisions the pope commanded. In fact it was a Polish pope in the 1980s that would play a critical role in the unraveling of the Soviet empire Stalin constructed in Eastern Europe.

World War II (1939-45)

After the NAZI invasion of Poland rapid defeat of the Polish Army (September 1939), the Polish Government set up in London to coordinate resistance activities. Most of the word focused on NAZI occupied Poland and horrifying reports were carried in the Western press. The destruction of Poland was, however, a cooperative effort between Hitler and Stalin who at that stage of the War were virtual allies. Less information reached the West about Soviet-occupied Poland, especially the fate of the Polish army interned by the Soviets. Efforts by the London Government went unanswered. After the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941), Polish POWs in Soviet hands were allowed to fight either with the Red Army or to join the Western Allies. At this time the absence of large numbers of officers known to have been interned by the Soviets caused increasing alarm by the London Government. Then the NAZIs reported they had discovered the graves of large numbers of Polish soldiers in the Katyn Forrest which they claimed had been shot by the Soviets. When the London Government pressed Stalin, the Soviets set up their own more compliant Polish resistance government. When the Red Army reached the Vistula and the Polish Home Army loyal to the London Government rose up against the NAZIs in Warsaw. Stalin then ordered the Red Army to stop until the NAZIs has suppressed the Home Army.

Soviet Occupation of Poland (1939-41)

Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Poland's fate was sealed on September 17, when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Already shattered by the NAZI invasion, the Polish Army offered little resistance to the Soviets. Polish soldiers were interned in camps by the Soviets. Soviet actions in eastern Poland were extremely brutal. An estimated 0.1 million Poles were killed by the Soviets (1939-41). The most publicized killings were the Polish officers shot by the NKVD in the Katyn Forrest, but this was only a part of the wide spread executions of Poles by the Soviets. Some estimates suggest that 2.0 million Poles were deported to Siberia and other areas in the Soviet Union.

Launching the Cold War (April 1944)

The Cold War is usually seen as beginning after the end of World War II. It is clear now that Stalin had launched the Cold War in Eastern Europe about a year before VE Day. Most wars are easy to date. World War I began when the Germans smashed into neutral Belgium (August 1914). World War II began when the Panzers smashed into Poland. The Cold War is a little difficult to date, in part because Stalin launched it before most Americans and Brits really understood it was underway. Different authors date it differently. We believe it began when Stalin broke relations with the Polish Government in Exile (April 1944). Once the Red Army had entered the boundaries of pre-War Poland and set up a puppet government in Poland--the Lublin Government. This was a major shift in Stalin's thinking. When working with Hitler his policy after invading Poland (September 1939) was to destroy Poland as a nation. And like Hitler he set out to destroy the Polish intelligentsia as a step in wiping out the Polish nation. The Katyn Massacre discovered by the Germans (1943) is only the best known of the terrible atrocities committed by Stalin and the NKVD in Poland. After the German invasion (June 1941), Stalin gradually shifted his policy and would tolerate a Polish nation, albeit one shifted west and under his control. One historian writes, "In letters to FDR and Churchill in late April, Stalin denied involvement in the 'monstrous crimes' against the Polish officers and claimed that the 'London Poles' were allowing themselves to be used as 'tools' for anti-Soviet purposes. On April 25 the USSR broke off relations with the London-based Polish Government. A week later Stalin decided it might be useful to dissolve the Comintern .... The big story succeeded in pushing the news of the murdered Poles into the background." 【Gelltely】 Poland would proved to be the most contentious issue at both the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, in essence the beginning of the Cold War. The Western Allies were unable to prevent the subjugation of Poland, but as brutal as it was, Allied pressure meant that it was not the same as what Stalin began to do in 1939.

Lublin Government (July 1944)

Stalin like Hitler after invading Poland (September 1939) sought to wipe out any vestage of Polish nationality. This changed after the German invasion (June 1941) and Stalin;s need to mobilize all possible sources of resistance. This included the Poles hekd in Soviet POW camps. The NKVD had shot many of the officers, but the soldiers were possible Red army recruits. They wee allowed to either join the Red army or join Polish formations in the West. Stalin also had to deal with the London-based Government-in-Exile, but dealings were difficult, especially after information on the Katyn Massacres surfaced. Thus Stalin wanted a more compliant Polish Government that would not ask awkward questions or oppose his dictates. The Red Army crossed the pre-War Polish frontier (July 21, 1944). The Soviets proceeded to set up a Committee of National Liberation in Lublin led by communists and left-wing socialists. This became known as the Lublin Government. They declared themselves as the sole legal government of Poland. After the German defeat, the Lublin Government transformed itself into the provisional government of Poland.

Warsaw Uprising (August-October 1944)

The Soviet Red Army in Operation Bagration (June-July 1944) destroyed the Wehrmact's Army Group Center, the most powerful German Formation, opening the way for a drive into Poland. The London-based Government in exile's Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa--AK) was in a quandary. They did not have the heavy weapons to take on the Germans. But if they allow the Soviets to liberate Poland, what would have been the good of the AK. The Government-in-Exile decided that they would rise in Warsaw and present the Soviets with a functioning Government when they reached the capital. The most dramatic resistance effort by the Polish Home Army was the uprising against the NAZIs in Warsaw when the Soviets neared the Vistula (July 1944). After Operation Bagration (June-July 1944), Warsaw on the Vistula was the principle barrier standing between the Red Army and Berlin. The Poles did not greet the Red Army in the same way that populations in the West cheered the Americans and British. They had no illusions about what would follow in the wake of the Red Army, a Stalinist dictatorship. The Home Army (loyal to the London goverment-in-exile) decided on a desperate gambit at the Red army approached the Vistula. They would stage an insurrection and free Warsaw. The Home Army rebelled (August 1) anticipating the support of the Red army. Instead Stalin ordered the Soviet troops to stop on the far side if the Vistula. The German reaction was savage. On one day alone the SS rounded up and shot 25,000 Polish men women and children. The Americans offered to drop supplies, but Stalin refused permission for the flights to use needed Soviet air bases to refuel for the return trip. The Poles fought valiantly on, finally capitulating (October 2). The Germans at Hitler's orders virtually razed the city. The Soviets finally took Warsaw with little resistance from the Germans (January 1945).

Yalta (February 1945)

The Yalta Conference was the final Allied conference before the NAZI surrender (February 4-11, 1945). The Big Three were represented by President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime-minister Winston Churchill, and Marshall Joseph Stalin. It was held at the Tsar's palace in the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. Although President Roosevelt was in failing health, Stalin refused to leave Soviet territory. At the time of the Conference NAZI Germany had not yet been defeated. The Soviets were in complete control of Poland and had reached the Oder River. The Western Allies were on the Rhine. Both were preparing for the final assault on a Reich devastated by the Allied bombing campaign. The Red Army was enormous, consisting of 12 million soldiers in 300 divisions. Eisenhower in contrast commanded only 4 million men in 85 divisions. Many authors date the Cold War from Yalta because Poland was a contentious issue at the Conference. Stalin demanded a Polish Government under Soviet influence. Roosevelt and Churchill argued for an independent Poland with a democratically elected representative government. Among the Yalta provisions was a commitment of "free and unfettered" elections in Poland. This of course meant little in a country dominated by the Red Army. Some conservatives have accused Roosevelt of selling out the Poles and other Eastern European countries at Yalta. There is no doubt that Roosevelt's declining health affected his performance at Yalta. There is no evidence that it substantially changed the outcome. The Red Army held Poland and Eastern Europe. The Western Allies did not have the ability to change this short of War and there was neither the military force in Europe or the support domestically for military action. The simple fact was that with the fall of France (1940) the military balance in Europe had been irrevocably changed. Roosevelt was not pleased with the outcome, but as he admitted to an adviser Adolf Berle, "I didn't say the result was good. I said it was the best I could do." Roosevelt concluded that more could not be done with the Soviets during the War at Yalta, but the issue would have to be addressed in the new United Nations after the War. 【Dallek】 Interestingly. many of the conservative critics of the Yalta Conference were the same people that had fought Roosevelt's efforts to oppose Hitler in the years before America entered World War II.

President Truman (April 1945)

After President Roosevelt's death (April 1945). Vice-President Truman became president. Roosevelt had not significantly involved Truman in the administration. When Truman first met with Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Truman not only explained he planned to insist on Polish self-determination, but lectured Molotov on the Soviet commitments mae at Yalta. Molotov who had negotiated the Non-Aggression Pact with the NAZIs, complained, "I have never been talked to like that in my life." Truman replied, "Carry out your agreements and you won't get talked to like that." Relations continued to deteriorate into what we now know as the Cold War.

NAZI Surrender (May 1945)

Soviet and American armies met at the Elbe. The Red Army stormed Berlin (April 1945). Hitler shot himself in his bunker as the Red Army soldiers approached. He appointed U-boat commander and staunch supporter Admiral Dönitz the new NAZI leader (but not Führer). The Germans in the final weeks of the War shifted as many forces west as possible so they could surrender to the Western Allies. Eisenhower puts a stop to this, demanding an immediate, unconditional surrender. The Germans finally surrender at Reims, the SHAEF headquarters (May 7, 1945). Kritel and Jodl sign an unconditional surrender. Stalin insists on a separate surrender ceremony on the Eastern Front. Dönitz seems to have thought that the Allies would recognize and deal with his Government. The Allies instead arrest him and every top NAZI they can find. The Allies also arrest Keital and Jodl. Both were surprised, seeing themselves as military men. Large numbers of Germans in the east fled west with the Wehrmacht. Those who remained were expelled by the Poles as the Western border was fixed, in many cases brutally.


Poland was the first country to resist NAZI aggression and no country suffered more from World War II than Poland, although destruction in the Soviet Union and Yugoslav as also massive. Warsaw was of course the greatest example of this. The city was badly damaged during the initial German invasion, both by aerial and artillery bombardment (1939). Warsaw held out for 3 weeks, much of it under heavy German bombardment. And then much of what was still standing was destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising (1944) and subsequent German demolition. The devastation extended to other cities and towns throughout the country. Enormous damage was done by the German Army and Air Force during the initial campaign (September 1939). This was almost entirely in western Poland. The Soviets invaded eastern Poland (September 17). Little damage occurred because the de spirited Polish Army offered little resistance. In addition to the fighting, there was also organized German plunder, The Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941), this meant the area of eastern Poland annexed by the Soviets. Again the physical damage was relatively limited because the Wehrmacht pushed east so rapidly. There was, however, extensive damage as the Wehrmacht pursued anti-partisan campaigns. Additional damage occurred in fighting between Poles and Ukrainian. And as the Red Army pushed into Poland, the Wehrmacht conducted a burned earth program of destroying everything of any value. This included even towns and villages. Warsaw was of course the greatest example of the mindless destruction, but only one example. Most ither Polish cities wee heavily damaged. Krakow escaped the damage inflicted on many other Polish cities, but only because of the rapid advance of the Red Army.

Potsdam and Borders (July 1945)

The Potsdam Conference convened (July 17). It bean with Churchill, Stalin, and Truman. Churchill was replaced by Labour Leader Clement Attlee after a General Election. The Polish delegation led by Boleslaw Bierut agreed to the Oder-Neisse line as the western Polish border. This effectively transferred part of East Prussia and other eastern areas of Germany to Poland. Stalin formalized the annexation of eastern Poland. Poles living in the east were deported west to the new Polish state.

Transitional Government (1945-47)

The Soviets in Poland set up a a provisional government. It includes representatives from PPR, PPS, PSL, and other minor parties. The NKVD begins arresting members of the Home Army who had resisted the Germans. Many are sumarily shot, although this is not publicized. Stanislaw Mikolajczyk is the only member of the London government who dared return to Soviet-dominated Poland. He becomes the leader of the Polish People's Party. The Provisional Government (Tymczasowy Rz¹d Jednoœci) governs Poland (June 29, 1945 - January 17, 1947). Radical policies of the provisional government are agreed by the various parties. These include nationalization of industry and the expulsion of about 3 million Germans and Ukrainians. The Home Army groups attempts to resist the Red Army. They do not have the military force to confront the Soviets. Instead WiN, UPA and NSZ groups conduct terrorist actions. They are not finally pressured until after the 1947 election. Parliament passed the Agrarian Reform which broke up landed estates, by guarantees the property rights of small holders (September 6, 1946). The Provisional Government is called the 'gentle revolution" (³agodna rewolucja). This meant a relatively soft approach in cultural matters. The Czytelnik Publishing Collective headed by Jerzy Borejsza played a major role. He attempts to gain the support writers without demanding formal declarations of political loyalty. A referendum was held: TRZY RAZY TAK (Three Times Yes) (June 30, 1946). The first Three-Year Plan is launched (Trzyletni Plan Odbudowy Gospodarczej) (January 1, 1947). Wincenty Pstrowski initiates the principle of Stakhanovite working in Poland (ruch socjalistycznego wspó³zawodnictwa pracy).

Cold War: Stalinist Era (1944-53)

Historians debate precisely when the Cold War began. The debate is really moot. The Bolsheviks who seized power in Russia (1917) were astonished that they had succeeded in of all places backward, largely agricultural Russia with only a small industrial proletariat. They expected that industrialized Western Europe with a large industrial proletariat would soon follow and could not understand why no other countries followed their lead. There were differences among the top Bolsheviks (including Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others) over tactics, but not on the goal--the destruction of the Capitalist West and liberal democracy). Stalin's pact with Hitler (1939) was a part of this process, often lost with the ferocity of Soviet resistance to the German invasion (1941). If one wants a more recent date, it must be Stalin's decision to smash the Polish Government-in-exile and recognition of the Lublin Government he controlled (1944). This was of course when few people in he West even understood that Stalin had launched the Cold War. Most considered the Soviet Union a valiant ally. Soviet actions in Poland Berlin, and other Eastern European countries after the War made it increasingly clear that they were determined to build an Eastern European empire and not permit the people in the region to freely elect their leaders. Soviet and Western authorities in Berlin begin to quarrel from an early point. The American public was not prepared for a confrontation with the Soviet Union. War propaganda had depicted Stalin as Uncle Joe, a kindly and heroic war leader. President Truman invited Winston Churchill, now out of effort, to Fulton, Missouri to speak. He gave his famous Iron Curtain speech (March 5, 1946). President Truman enunciates the Truman Doctrine, the - containment of Soviet Communism.

Elections (1947)

Poland holds its first elections since the NAZI and Soviet World War II invasions for Parliament (Sejm) (January 17, 1947). The results are manipulated by OBÓZ DEMOKRATYCZNY (PPS, PPR, SD and others). The Polish People's Party (PSL) and other opposition parties had restricted access to media and their ability to freely campaign is limited. The OD wins 80 percent of the vote. The PSL polls only 10 percent according to the official count. Their actual number of votes is not known. The new Sejm elects Bolesław Bierut president (March 1947). Rz¹d Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej is led by Józef Cyrankiewicz (PPS) as prime-minister and Władysław Gomułka as vice prime-minister. The OD has 394 seats. The PSL had only 28 seats.

Stalinist Poland (1947-56)

Stlain used the Red Army and security forces which had occupied Eastern and much of central Europe to assist local Communist parties to defeat other parties and establish communist dictatorships. The Polish People's Party (PSL) and its leader Stanislaw Mikolajczyk become more and more isolated (Summer 1947). The PSL resisted Stalin's efforts to turn Poland into a satellite people's republic. The PSL and Mikolajczyk are attacked in the media as agents of foreign reactionary forces. Mikolajczyk learned that he was about to be arrested and fled Poland (October 1947). As a result of this and a series of other arrests, the PSL ceases to be a parliamentary opposition party, This means that there is no real legal opposition to the the governing OD. The purges begin in Poland. The PPR and PPS expel pro-Western members (July 26, 1948). This coincidences with the breakdown of Four Power administration of German occupation and the inset of the American Berlin Air Lift. The PPR at its Plenum moves toward a more hard-line Stalinist position reflecting the intensifying Cold War (September 1948). This same trend occurred throughout Eastern Europe, except Yugoslavia where Stalin lost control. Now that relations with the West were breaking down, Stalin no longer saw the need to tread slowly and cover Communist takeovers with a veneer of democratic pretense. Hardliners accuse Gomuka of "odchylenie prawicowo-nacjonalistyczne" (right-wing, nationalist deviations). This was the same type of language Stalin used in his purges in the Soviet Union. The PRR ejects him from the Party. Bierut had up tobthistime maintained a pretense of bezpartyjny (unaffiliated to any party) is elected PRR First Secretary (September 3, 1948). He immediately orders the collectivization of agriculture along Soviet lines. This was one of the basic tenants of Stalinism. It also reverses the Agricultural Reform Act of 1946. Bierut oversaw a widening series of purges. The final step toward a Stalinist Poland occurs with the Unification Congress (Kongres Zjednoczenia) uniting the PPR and PPS (December 10, 1948). The new governing party is the Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (PZPR) which openly declares itself to be a Marxist-Leninist party. Its chief executive or Chairman (Przewodnicz¹cy) is Bierut. The PZPR adopts major Soviet policies. Jakub Bermanwas put in charge of PZPR initiatives in science and culture (January 1949). He will retain his position as leader of the PZPR Ideological Front" until the reform movement of 1956 took hold. The Szczecin Congress of the Writers' Union following PZPR instructions adopts Socrealizm (Socialist Realism) as the mandated creative method. Authors who resisted were expelled and often arrested. The Vatican weighed into the struggle. It issues its decree against Communism, forbidding Catholics to cooperate with Communists and putting all Communist publications on the Index. It was not aimed specifically at Poland, but as the strongest Church behind the Iron Curtain, Poland is especially affected. Trade Union Council becomes the Communist dominated CRZZ. The CRZZ chooses Alexander Zawadzki as its new chairman (June 1 1949). He urged the unions to mobilize workers to increase production which he explains is the only source of prosperity and progress.

Anti-Soviet Disorders (1956)

There was little open opposition to Soviet-imposed Communist police states. Such opposition would mean arrest and likely execution. This began to change after Stalin's death, but only slowly. Then after Khrushchev seized power he stunned the Communist World by denouncing Stalin at the 20th Party Congress (February 1956). His Secret Speech soon leaked out as there were foreign delegates present. Officials in Eastern Europe began to think that an end to Stalinist oppression and liberalization was possible. This combined with growing resentment throughout the Soviet Eastern European Empire caused problems for the Soviets that Khrushchev had not anticipated. Communist planned economics was not working. Capitalist Western Europe powered by the German Economic Miracle was already out pacing Communist Eastern Europe. Repressive rule, low wages, and poor working conditions resulted in strikes breaking out at Poznan. Workers wanted 'bread and freedom' from Soviet rule. The Poles elect a reformist government which did not have Soviet approval (October 1956). The Soviets, even in the post-Stalinist era, were unwilling to tolerate such defiance within their empire. Khrushchev visited Warsaw while Soviet armies massed on the Polish border. The Poles largely acceded to Soviet demands. Khrushchev decided to accept Gomulka.

Wladyslaw Gromulka

Wladyslaw Gomulka was born in Krosno, a town in southern Poland, Subcarpathian Voivodeship (1905). As a youth after World War and Polish independence, he joined the Communist Party and became a local trade union leader. Unlike America, labor unions were the core of Communist support throughout Europe. Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland (1939). Warsaw was in the German occupation zone and Gromulka was active in the resistance . He became general secretary of Polish Communist Party and thus a target of German security forces. The Rd Army launched Operation Bagration (June 1944). This opened the way into Poland and destroyed Herman Army Group Center, the most powerful German formation existing at the time. Stalin despite assurances made at Yalta (February 1945) established a communist government in Poland, at first a coalition for cosmestic purposes. Gomulka was given the vice-presidential post in post-War government. He did not ingratiate himself with Stalin. He resisted attempts by Soviet advisers and slavishly pro-Soviet Poles to pursue Stalinist policies. After he expressed support for Josip Tito in Yugoslavia, he was dismissed from office and retired from public view (1948). The NKVD had him arrested (1951) as part of purges taking place throughout the Soviet Eastern Europe Empire. It is widely believed that h would have been executed had it not been for Stalin's death (1953). During the Soviet 20th Party Congress, Nikita Khrushchev shocked the Communist World and launched an attack on Stalin and the Cult of Personality (February 1956). He condemned Stalin's Great Terror and charged that Stalin had abused power. He announced a major change in Soviet policy and ordered large numbers of political prisoners released. Khrushchev's de-Stalinzation policy caused people in Eastern Europe to believe a new more liberal regime was now possible and perhaps even independence from Soviet rule. Only months after the 20th Party Congress, massive anti-government and anti-Soviet demonstration occurred in Poznan (June 1956). The marchers included workers protesting poor living standards, low wages and high taxes. They were dispersed by Soviet tanks. This was followed by the Hungarian Revolution. Khrushchev visited Poland a few months later (October 1956). He decided that Gomulka would be allowed to serve as first secretary of the Communist Party. The deal made was that as long as the Polish government followed the Soviet led in foreign affairs they could pursue their own domestic policies within limits. Gomulka proceeded undo Stalinist policies and liberalized the Communist rule in Poland. As a result, only 10 per cent of agricultural land was collectivized. And Poland was allowed to trade extensively with the capitalist West. Poland experienced an economic downturn (1970). Protests leading to riots broke out in northern Poland. The protests were caused by Government's decision to sharply increase prices for food and other staple consumer products. The Government had maintained a system of fixed, extremely low food prices to maintain popularity in the cities. The result was little investment and little incentive for farmers to increase conduction. The H]Government was forced to use scarce foreign exchange reserves to import food. This proved unsustainable. The Polish People's Army and Communist Citizen's Militia were used to suppress the disorders. Some 42 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded. The Government was widely believed to have kept the real numbers from the public. Gomulka as a result, resigned. Edward Gierek replaced him.

Polish Economy

Poland gradually rebuilt its industrial base after World War II. Heavy industry (iron, steel, shipping, and mining industries) were significantly expanded. The industrail plants and factories while brand new, but operating under Communist economics were inefficient and noncompetitive with European industry. This meant that Polish industry can not support wages offering workers a decent standard of living. Consumer goods were generally shoddy and available in only limited supply. Production was not geared to consumer demand. Economic planners had no real incentive to respond to consumer demand. And Communist price fixing meant that farmers had no incentive to increase production. Asa result food shortages were common. This same dynamic occurred throughout Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, although it was less visible there. Economic developments are of huge importance given that it was in Poland that not Eastern European Communism began to unravel as well as the Soviet Union itself. Solidarity was a labor movement protesting low wages, poor working conditions, and the lack of other consumer goods. A Polish reader describes how during the Communist era, each enterprise or institution had their own holiday homes Employees and their families could stay there at no cost, although they could be charged for extras. Our reader's father worked in a factory. He remembers a lovely 2 week summer stay at Międyzdroje, a beautiful small town on Poland's Baltic Sea.

Catholic Church

The NAZIs and allied Soviets invaded Poland launching World War II (1939). The occupation of Poland was a disaster not only for the Polish people, but for the Catholic Church as well. Priesrs were among the groups arrested and killed. The Germans and Soviets set out to destroy the Polish nation and the Church after the dissolution of the Polish state, the Army, and the universities, was the only important national institution left standing. The German suppression of the Church was most brutal in the areas of Western Poland annexed to the Reich. Priests were shit or arrested and interned in concentration camps where many perished. The Germans are believed to have killed some 3,000 priests. Others were deported to the General Government. And had the Germans prevailed in the War the priests in the General Government as well as the general population would have eventually been targeted there as well as part of Generalplan Ost. This was a foretaste as to what the NAZIs planned for the larger Reich after the War, the destruction of Christian churches and the creation of a new NAZI state religion. The Soviet authorities in the parts of eastern Poland that they invaded and occupied also attacked the Church. Priests were among those Poles the NKVD shot or deported. And after the Red Army drove out the Germans (1944), Soviet authorities renewed the attack on the Church. Poland's new Stalinist leaders under Soviet tutelage launched a brutal campaign of suppression, adopting the tactics of the atheists campaigns in the Soviet Union. This did not end until Stalin's death (1953). Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski had become an international symbol of resistance to totalitarian Communism. The 20th Party Congress ushered in a new era (1956). Communist Party reformers ended much but not all of the brutality. They did not, however, end its efforts to suppress the Church which was a integral component of Marxism. They recognized that the devotion of the Polish people was too strong to attack frontally. A kind of informal truce developed between the Communist State and Catholic Episcopate. The open assault on the Church would end, but a range of less brutal restrictions. In return, the Church would not only refrain from involving itself in politics, but recognize the legitimacy of the Communist state. As a result, Polish Church gained a range of toleration and freedoms that were unprecedented in the Soviet Empire. The Church was allowed to publish periodicals, although the Government severally limited the number of copies published. The Church's right to control the selection and training of its priests was recognized. Most astounding was allowing religious education to again take place in state schools. There were, however, restrictions and these were expanded as the spirit of the 20th Party Congress waned and the Communists continue its struggle with the Church. The clergy remained stridently anti-Communist and the bishops would at time speak out against government policies. This of course was anathema to the Communists who saw all criticism as essentially a crime and only confirmed the need to destroy the Church. Only the steadfast devotion of the Polish people prevented this. The Ministerstwo Bezpieczeństwa Publicznego (Ministry of Public Security of Poland -- MBP) covertly surveilled the clergy. Priests who stepped over a poorly defined line were arrested for a wide range of real or imagined offenses. The Communists also set up a wide range bureaucratic obstacles. The most serious was to make it difficult to build new churches for the faithful seeking defy the Communists. The Communists had total control over the media and used it to relentlessly attack the Church. This was less effective than it might have been had not the wider population understood that the Government controlled media could not be believed. The state and church eventually came to understand that they lacked the power to destroy the other. A kind of uneasy stability developed. Although Communist rule continued repressive, they were unable to suppress the Catholic Church. Not only does did Church survive the Stalinist era, but it flourished. The Church emerged as the most prestigious national institution, the only one that stood up to Soviet domination. And then two earth shattering developments rocked Poland. First the Catholic Church chose a Polish Pope--John Paul II (1978). At first the Communists did not understand how important this was and were unsure how to address it. Second, Polish workers founded Solidarity (1980). This shocked the Communist authorities in Warsaw and Moscow--workers were supposed to be the bed rock of Communist rule. Instead they were deeply devoted to the Church, mystifying to doctrinaire Communists. Together the Polish Church backed by the Vatican and Solidarity began the destruction of the Communist state and with it the entire Soviet Empire.

Counterculture: The Hippies

The counterculture movement emerged in the United States, partly associated with the Vietnam War (1960s). The issues involved resonated in many other countries, especially the democracies of Western Europe which had constitutional guarantees for free expression and personal behavior. This was not the sort of behavior that went well in the Soviet Union and the Soviet controlled peoples democracies of Eastern Europe. This all changed somewhat when Stalin died (1953) and Khrushchev denounced Stalin and launched his de-Stalinization policy. Communist officials in the Soviet satellites were not that enthralled about this because they basically had limited real domestic support and relied on the Soviet Union to keep them in power. Some continued Stalinist policies. Other like Poland maintained their police state, but tolerated a level of liberalization. 【Tracz 】 It is in this context that Poland had their own Hippy experience. A HBC readers provides a description of what occurred in Poland. The Polish Hippy subculture was not anything like the West, but it did exist. This is especially interesting because it is in Poland that the Eastern European Communism and eventually the Soviet Union began. Of course it was Polish workers that began the process, but Hippies were part of the Polish cultural milieu.

Jews in Communist Poland

Jews were tragically the target of violent attacks after World War II. The NAZI World War II Holocaust essentially succeeded in destroying Poland's once large, vibrant Jewish community. Many of the pitifully small number of survivors did not want to returned to their pre-War homes and destroyed communities. And some of those who did return were incredibly attacked by their Polish neighbors. This occurred in the immediate aftermath of the War (1946-47). The Communists and Soviets were responsible for many atrocities in Poland. There are differences of opinion as to the extent of these attacks. It is a subject that was generally covered up by Poland's post-War Communist government and a general public desire to paint the nation as victims and heroes in the struggle against the NAZIs. We certainly do not want to suggest that Poland did not bravely stand up to Hitler and play an important role in the struggle. And there was relatively little collaboration in Poland with the NAZIs, with the exception of the Holocaust. And there does seem to be some truth to the claims that many Jewish survivors were attacked or otherwise abused by Poles after the War. 【Gross, Fear.】 The Polish Government immediately following the War, opened its borders to allow free Jewish immigration. While the post-War Polish Jewish community was a fraction of its former self, it played a role in Cold War politics, primarily because of the Soviet desire to gain Arab support in the Middle East.

Pope John Paul II (1978)

The popular Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, who fought for a church at Nova Huta is elected Pope. As John Paul II, he is the first non-Italian pope in almost nearly 500 years and further strengthens the Polish Church (1978). The Soviets and Polish Communists were unsure as to how to respond. John Paul II is perhaps the most beloved modern pope. He was the first Polish pope, notable because of the country's long history of Catholicism. He was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in the small town of Wadowice near Krakow (1920). This was shortly after Poland was resurrected as a result of World War I. There were in the city 8,000 Catholics and 2,000 Jews. Wojtyla was called 'Lolek'. He was the second son of Karol Wojtyla Sr. who was a retired army officer and worked as a tailor. His mother was Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, a schoolteacher of Lithuanian descent. The family were strict Catholics, but unlike many neighbors were not anti-Semitic. A close friend was Jerzy Kluger, a Jewish boy. Kluger later played a role in Vatican's recognition of Israel. Karol not only had Jewish friends, but was intrigued by Judaism. He reasoned as a youth that anti-Semitism was patently absurd as Jesus and his apostles were all Jews. Karol lost his mother at a young age and his father as a youth. He studied to be a priest during World War II at a time that the NAZIs attacked the Church and other Polish institutions. At the time the NAZIs were arresting seminarians. As a young priest he also faced Stalinist repression in Poland after the War and perfected the Church's tactics of successful confronting an atheist police state. Later as a Polish prelate he led the fight for a church at Nova Huta. His success in confronting Communism in Poland was largely responsible for his elevation to the Papacy.

Solidarność (1980s)

Solidarność (Solidarity) had deep roots in Polish history. The Red Army and NKVD laid the foundations of a Communist police state as Soviet power drove out the NAZIs in the final year of World War II. It violation of commitments made to the Allies, Stalin not only refused to deal with the London-based Polish Government-in-exile, but actually arrested and executed their supporters in areas of Poland freed from the NAZIs. Communists stole the 1946 parliamentary elections, putting the final touches on a Communist dictatorship, called euphemistically a People's Republic. It gradually became clear that backed with Soviet tanks, these Communist dictatorships could not be removed by force, although there were periodic violent outbreaks of resistance in Poland and elsewhere in the Soviet empire. Nonviolent action against Communist authorities began very early in the history of Communist Poland. At first they had little impact on the Government and were suppressed with great violence by the authorities. Poland was different than the rest of Eastern Europe in that the Roman Catholic Church was so deeply ingrained in the lives of the people and the country's national ethos. Try as they may, the Communists were unable to destroy the Church or break that bond. This provided an organizational basis for passive resistance. It took some time for anti-Communists to develop tactics to confront the Communists. Here another factor was the gradual development of limitation on the use of force by the Communists. Under the Stalinist regime of the early 40s, even non-violent tactics would not have worked. And over time to the surprise of the Communists, there economic system as in the Soviet Union was proved not to work. This mean that people in the Soviet Empire could not live the same prosperous lives as in the West. So in addition to national and religious opposition, economic opposition developed among the very people that according to Marxist doctrine was the bedrock of Communism--industrial workers. After three decades of Communist control and indoctrination and basically ineffectual civil resistance -- Polish workers began to develop tactics through which Polish society could begin to challenge Communist authorities and their Soviet masters. Various Polish groups supported by the Church began organizing and consolidating itself in a broad coalition of social forces. The result was the foundation of Solidarność (August 1980). This coincided with the election of Ronald Reagan in the United States (November 1980). This mean from the beginning Solidarność had strong international support as well domestic support. Solidarność at its core was rooted its in trade unionism which both confused and delegitimized the Soviet imposed Communist regime. It undermined the ideological but clearly dishonest claim that the Communist People's Republic was a free “workers’ state”. Solidarność undermined the Communist controlled unions which were in fact a mechanism for controlling workers. Solidarność created the independent political space which allowed for alternative institutions, activities, and open discussion could not only occur, but flourish. Solidarność leaders had learned that they could not win in a violent confrontation with the Communist authorities backed by the Soviets. Thus Solidarność carefully pursued its political objectives using strict nonviolent discipline as carefully calculated self-imposed limitations. It would not be an easy struggle again geography, Poland's location between Germany and Russia, intervened to make this a mammoth challenge. Kremlin leaders could read a map. Poland separated the Soviet Union from Germany. And perhaps the highest priority of Soviet foreign policy was to prevent the unification of Germany, especially unification under a free, West German leadership. And there was no way to prevent unification once Poland's Communist regime was overthrown. And it was not long after Solidarity was founded that the Soviet Union reacted.

Crisis (1981)

Polish Communist Party leaders began to realize that they were facing a very real crisis and were unsure how to respond (1980). They were not used to negotiating as they had held power in Poland since 1945 with the Red Army and NKVD putting them in power and threatening ton intervene if needed. The Solidarity movement had grown out of all proportions to what Communist officials had to deal with before. Solidarity had achieved a level of support that they were able to make demands for reforms that the Communists could no longer ignore. Officials were divided as to how to deal with the Solidarity challenge. Poland's economy was on the verge of collapse. Socialist economics fail where ever tried. And Poland was no exception. As a result, Polish workers were poorly paid. Workers were not only poorly paid, but food and consumer goods were heavily rationed. This was all in sharp contrast to the prosperity and affluence of Western Europe. We are not sure just how much Polish workers knew about conditions in the West, but surely they had some idea. But even more importantly they were all too aware of their own economic conditions, food shortages and the lack of consumer goods. Not only was this the impact of the failure of socialism, but there was also mismanagement and taking out extensive foreign loans that were used for projects that proved no more successful than the Polish economy as a whole. Communism had clearly failed. Officials did not only have Solidarity to contend with. The Soviets were not at all happy with their Polish colleagues for allowing an actual free labor union to form, let along to become an important force. The possibility of Soviet military intervention was growing. Polish officials were increasingly thinking that there would have to be a 're consolidation' of power. General Jaruzelski was the Prime Minister and the First Secretary of the Party. He decided that without Martial Law, Soviet military intervention was inevitable. There is every reason to believe that he correctly assessed the situation. His decision was thus a kind of self-defense action. We know that the Soviets, were increasingly uneasy about the growth of Solidarity believed that they were gaining the upper-hand over the Party. And they were threatening to invade.

Martial Law (December 1981)

Polish authorities to avoid Soviet intervention declare martial law and arrest Solidarity leaders (December 1981). Hundreds of more union leaders were being interned throughout the country.Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was the Polish Army commander who orderedv the crack down on Lech Walesa's Solidarity Movement (1981). The Polish Government officially disbands Solidarity, but a underground resistance continued (1982). Precisely what happened is still not know with any certainty. General Jaruzelski apparently attempted to use emergency powers to force the moderates in the Polish Communist party and in Solidarity to rally around the banner of national unity. But of course only Solidarity leaders were being arrested. Jaruzelski has been heavily criticized and charged with attempting to crush Solidarity. This is probably true, although this does not mean that his inttentions were to brutalize the Polish people. Based on his own personal experience, he saw a Soviet military intervention as the worst of all possible outcomes. Something to be prevented at all costs. Jaruzelski's actions have to be assessed taking into account that he had no way of knowing that Mikhai Gorbechev woukd take power in the Soviet Union and back away from using force to maintain the Soviet empire. If Gorbachev had not taken power, it is almost certain that the Soviets would have intervened if needed in Poland to maintain a Communist Government. There were protests throughput Poland. Military and Party para-military groups violently suppressed all resistance. They used water cannons, tear gas, batons, truncheons, and clubs, but for the most part not deadly gun fire. There was on exception. The Zmotoryzowane Odwody Milicji Obywatelskiej (Motorized Civic Militia -- ZOMO) units at Wujek were given a 'shoot-to-kill' order. ZOMO was a militia group especially equipped and trained to deal with public protestors. The Army and police had been found to perform badly in 1956.) The ZOMO unit at Wujek reportedly killed 9 and wounded 21 protestors. This was a Solidarity hot bed, centered on the Wujek Coal Mine in the sprawling industrial city of Katowice. While there is no precise numbers of deaths in all of Poland, they are believed to be less than 100 individuals. In terms Communist barbarities, this is not a large number, suggesting a degree of restraint on the security services. .

Impact of Martial Law (1982-89)

Jaruzelski tried to return the country to a semblance of normality. And run it with the public cowed and the Solidarity leaders locked up. The protest demonstrations were successfully shut down. He participated in a reorganization of the Front of National Unity. This was an East Bloc organization the Soviets used to manage their puppet parties. It was renamed the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth. Jaruzelski invited a Hungarian delegation to Poland (December 1982). He was apparently especially interested in how the Hungarian Communists crushed the insurgents after the the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. 【Paczkowski, et. al.】 Of course in thus case a Soviet military intervention was required, something he desperately wanted to avoid. The United States Reagan Administration adopted a range of sanctions, but martial law for the most part shut down Solidarity and silenced open descent. Martial law was suspended on (December 31, 1982) and formally lifted (July 22, 1983). This meant outward appearances. Solidarity was still shut down and its leaders imprioned. And the clamp down on Polish society continued. The police were still very actively suppressing any descent. The government and its security forces censored, persecuted, and prednisone thousands of journalists and opposition activists. This done without charges even after lifting martial law. Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister and defense minister (1985). He became the Chairman of the Polish Council of State, essentially head of state and in firm control of the country. His power base was the LWP generals and other officers in the Communist Polish Army. But more imprtantly, Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed General Secretary in the Soviet Union introducing major changes that would changed the dynamics of power thriughout Easrern Europe. As in the Soviet Union, the iron laws of economics were not suspended by martial law. And the Polish economy continued to spiral downward. The cost of living rose over 100 percent during 1982 alone. The socioeconomic crisis deepened, surpassing the severe situation experienced in the late-1970s that had brought Solidarity into existence. Severe rationing of basic foods (sugar, milk, and meat)in addition to gasoline, clothing, and other popular consumer products. And even the basic ration was not always available. The median income reportedly declined an estimated 10 percent from the already low Soviet empire level. During the continued Communist era of 1980s people attempted to leave Poland, something that was difficult to do give the country's geographic location and government polices. Estimates range around 0.1-0.3 million. Not a lrge number, primarily because it was not easy to do so. Not as difficult as in East Germany, but still a difficult undertaking.

Ryszard Kuklinski

One of the heroes of the Cold War in Poland was Ryszard Kuklinski, a Polish Army officer who became a valued agent for the CIA. Kuklinski concluded that the best way to help achieve real Polish independence was to was to work for the CIA as a spy. He operated for 9 years sending Washington a mountain of information on Poland, the Soviets, and the Warsaw Pact. He rose in the military hierarchy and help prepare Warsaw Pact war games. He was also a participant in the Polish military debates as to whether or not to declare marshall law and suppress Solidarity by force. Kuklinski decided to leave Poland just at the time that the Soviets were threatening to invade (1981). 【Weiser】

Mikhail Gorbachev (1985)

The history of Cold War Poland could have been very different if it had not been for Mikhail Gorbachev. Gen. Jaruzelski's fear of a Soviet military intervention was very real and well founded. He and his family suffered terribly when the Sovuets invaded Poland (1939). It was a nightmare. Thus the actiins he took in Poland with Martial Law have to be viewed with that in mind. Now because of Gorbachev, there was no Soviet intervention in Easrern Europe even when the Communuist regimes collapsed (1989), but Jaruzelski had no way of knowing that in 1982. Gorbachev did not become General Secreary until 1985 and even then he might not have been able to prevent a military intervention until he was more firmly installed. There are good grounds for critcising Jaruzelski and Martial Law, but an honest historian has to consider what the alternatives were in 1982 as part of any assessment of Jaruzelski.

Democratic Elections (1990)

Finally it was in Eastern Europe that the whole Soviet system would begin unraveling. The Communist regime in Poland was brought down by the very workers it claimed to represent. The Communists can not repeal the laws of economics. The Polish economy goes into a tail spin. Inflation reaches 100 percent. The Government decided to negotiate with Solidarity. The Government lifted martial law (1983). That was, however, cismetuc. The clmpdown on Polish siciety cintinued. Miraculously, it woukd be developments in the Siviet Union that woukd begin the next chapter in Polish history. It is not often in European history that liberal ideas would emenate from Russia. The Government permits Solidarity to operate openly (1989). The economy continues to deteriorate. Inflation reaches 250 percent. Poland holds its first democratic election since the 1930s and World War II (December 1990). Solidarity leaders Lech Walesa is elected Poland's new president.


Dallek, Robert. Franklin Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy.

Gellately, Robeet. Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War (2013), 496p.

Gross, Jan T. Fear (2006). Gross is a Princeton University scholar. He is a Polish Jew who emigrated from Poland during the Cold War. The Communist Government facilitated the emigration of the country's Jews.

Paczkowski, Andrzej, Malcolm Byrne, Gregory F. Domber, and Magdalena Klotzbach. (1 January 2007). From Solidarity to Martial Law: The Polish Crisis of 1980-1981 : a Documentary History (Central European University Press 2007).

Tracz, Bogusław. "Hippiesi, kudłacze, chwasty: Hipisi w Polsce w latach 1967–1975" [Hippies, mopheads, weeds: Hippies in Poland between 1967 and 1975] The Polish Review Vol. 61, No. 3 (2016), pp. 114-18.

Weiser, Benjamin. A Secret Life: The Polish Officer, His Covert Mission, and the Price He Paid to Save the Country (Public Affairs, 2004). 383p.


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