Poland - A Nation in Conspiracy

Mad Dreams, Saving Graces - Michael Kaufman

On 13 December 1981 martial law was declared in Poland. Telephone lines were cut. Tanks enforced roadblocks. Police arrested and imprisoned thousands. The intention was to crush Solidarity, the independent trade union led by Lech Walesa.

Solidarity offices in cities across the country were raided. The police seized records and equipment and posted guards. Most of the Solidarity leadership was arrested but some escaped capture and went into hiding. A life of conspiracy against the communist regime awaited them.

Polish Correspondent

Michael Kaufman arrived in Warsaw in 1984 as the correspondent for the New York Times. Two and a half years since the mass arrests had taken place. Most of those imprisoned had been released but 700 leading opposition figures remained in jail. Lech Walesa was freed but kept under constant surveillance.

Solidarity activists who escaped capture had organised clandestine networks. These networks were involved in a number of activities.

  • Printing illegal newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Broadcasting on portable radio transmitters.
  • Collecting money for the underground.

Micahael Kaufman met regularly with his kolporter (bootlegger of illicit publications). He never knew his real name.

At our meetings...[he] would deliver shopping bags of illegal publications that included factory newspapers...videotapes...posters, and books from a dozen underground publishers...the volume was remarkable. (pp. 44-45)

One of the illegal publications was called The Small Conspirator. This was a guide on how to carry out clandestine activity. This guide and similar publications evoked the memory and exploits of previous Polish conspiraces: anti-czarist uprisings of the 19th Century, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, etc.

Michael Kaufman found that there was a constant awareness in Poland of history and tradition. Each year on 1 November, All Souls' Day, Poles gathered in cemeteries to lay flowers and light candles on graves.

The smoke of millions of memorial candles fuses in a pall that by early afternoon hovers over the capital city like a canopy of lamentation...there are fresh flowers and ribbons on all the thousands of monuments and memorial tablets acknowledging the deaths of known and unknown heroes of named and unnamed wars...private grief melds into national mourning...Poles "attach themselves to the nation". (p. 49)

Father Jerzy Popieluszko

On the last Sunday of every month special masses were said for Poland at St. Stanislaw Kostka church in Warsaw. The church would be filled to capacity with three thousand inside and another ten to twelve thousand outside. They came to listen to the sermons of Father Jerzy Popieluszko. A 37 year old priest who was closely identified with Solidarity.

In 1979 striking steelworkers had asked Father Popieluszko to serve mass at their Warsaw foundry. They made him their patron. Coal miners, doctors and nurses, actors all sought him out. His sermons at St. Stanislaw Kostka had become a symbol of national resistance to the communist regime. Michael Kaufman often took foreign visitors to St. Stanislaw Kostka to hear him preach.

On the morning of 20 October 1984 Father Popieluszko did not arrive at the St. Stanislaw Kostka church to conduct the early morning mass. The previous night he had preached at a church in Bydgoszcz, 120 miles northwest of Warsaw. Fellow priests at St. Stanislaw Kostka contacted Bydgoszcz and learned that he had left for Warsaw after dinner with his driver. The worried priests called the episcopate and the police.

By the afternoon police in Torun had found the driver. He told how he and Father Popieluszko had been abducted by three men but that he (the driver) had escaped.

As word of Popieluszko's disappearance spread...Masses were being said in every church in the country. At St. Stanislaw Kostka, vigils continued through the night as people gathered with candles. (p. 147)

On 30 October the police found the body of Father Popieluszko. He had been murdered by policemen.

..a mood of torturously confused sorrow settled over Poland. Vigils at the churches drew more and more people. Memorial candles placed on the sidewalks stretched for blocks around St. Stanislaw Kostka church. (p. 151)

Prominent Solidarity activists accused the General Jaruzelski government of creating the "basis and climate" for the killing.

Nearly 500,000 people attended the funeral at St. Stanislaw Kostka church.

One of the eulogies at the service was given by Karol Szadurski, a mill hand who worked with Father Popieluszko.

My friend, I believe all of Warsaw is here. Do you hear how the bells of freedom are tolling? Do you hear how our hearts are praying? Your ship carrying the hearts of Solidarity sails on with more and more of us. Let the Lord accept you among Polish martyrs... (p. 156-157)

In the spring of 1988 a wave of strikes spread through Poland. The cry of Solidarity was heard once again. The strikes peetered out but in September a more serious round of strikes began. In 1989 communism in Poland collapsed.

Mad Dreams, Saving Graces. Poland: A Nation in Conspiracy

Author - Michael T. Kaufman
ISBN - 978-0394554860
Publisher - Published by Random House, in 1989.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - BookFinder

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This page was added on 09 July 2011.