Wojciech Jaruzelski was born in Poland on 6th July 1923. During the Second World War he joined the Polish Home Army. In 1943 he went to the Soviet Union and the following year accompanied the Red Army when it began its campaign to liberate Poland from Germany.
In 1945 Joseph Stalin established a communist dominated coalition in Poland. Jaruzelski joined the Communist Party (later renamed the Polish United Workers' Party). He remained in the Polish Army and attended the Polish Higher Infantry School and the General Staff Academy. In 1964 he became a member of the Polish United Workers' Party Central Committee later that year was appointed as Poland's minister of defence.
In 1980 Poland suffered from severe food shortages. Lech Walesa, along with some of his friends, founded Solidarnosc (Solidarity). It was not long before the organization had 10 million members and Walesa was its undisputed leader. In August 1980 Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to a wave of strikes over much of the country. The Gdansk Agreement, signed on 31st August, 1980, gave Polish workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.
In 1981 General Jaruzelski replaced Edward Gierek as leader of the Communist Party in Poland. In December 1981, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and Solidarnosc was declared an illegal organization. Soon afterwards Walesa and other trade union leaders were arrested and imprisoned.
In November 1982 Lech Walesa was released and allowed to work in the Gdansk shipyards. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, but there were still considerable restrictions on individual freedom. In 1985 Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister to become the country's president.
Reformers in Poland were helped by the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had gained power in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Gorbachev made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe. Jaruzelski was now forced to negotiate with Walesa and the trade union movement. This resulted in parliamentary elections and a noncommunist government and in 1989 Solidarnosc became a legal organization.
Jaruzelski remained president until being succeeded by Lech Walesa in December 1990.
Poland's communist regime Wojciech Jaruzelski
THE line dividing a hero from a traitor has been a thin one throughout much of Polish history, and Poles never quite worked out into which category to place General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who died Sunday aged 90.
The stiff-backed general wearing dark sunglasses was the face of the military regime, which seized power in 1981 and crushed Solidarity, the communist bloc’s first independent labour union, because it had become a threat to Communist Party rule in Poland and even to the Kremlin’s control over its central European empire.
But Jaruzelski was more than the Soviet Union's loyal factotum. He was born in 1923 to a noble Polish family and grew up steeped in the Catholic faith and anti-Russian mythology that was a hallmark of his class. The world of privilege collapsed in 1939, when Poland was carved up between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
As class enemies, the Jaruzelskis were deported to Siberia along with hundreds of thousands of other suspect Poles. He buried his father there and his eyes were burned by the glare of the Siberian snow, forcing him to wear dark glasses for the rest of his life. Despite his family's suffering, Jaruzelski never lost his affection for the Russian people.
Joining a Polish army being formed in the USSR, he fought the Nazi troops and watched as Warsaw was destroyed during a hopeless 1944 uprising against the Germans. Marching later through the ruined capital, he said that he lost his faith both in Poland's martial mythology and in God. From then on he believed that Poland's only option was to be Russia's stalwart ally.
Intelligent, well-educated, ambitious and unswervingly loyal to the new order, Jaruzelski rose fast through the ranks of Poland's communist army. He was a general by age 33. In 1968 he was defence minister and helped lead Poland's participation in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, something he later said he regretted. Troops under his command opened fire on protesting Polish workers at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in 1970.
On December 13th 1981, Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law and sent the military into the streets to destroy Solidarity. He always argued that he had been under intense Soviet pressure to act, and that if he had not imposed martial law the Soviets would have invaded, calling his choice “the lesser evil”. But his opponents insisted that the Russians had no such intentions, and that it was Jaruzelski who had asked them to intervene to keep the Communist Party in power.
Martial law revealed itself as a dead end. A wave of labour unrest in 1988 forced Jaruzelski to the negotiating table with the outlawed Solidarity movement. Partially free elections in 1989 saw the communists crushed, and by August of that year Poland had its first non-communist prime minister.
Jaruzelski proved loyal to the new order. He resigned from the presidency in 1990 and was replaced by Solidarity’s leader, Lech Walesa. He spent the next quarter century defending his patriotism, arguing that he had acted in Poland's best interests while remaining realistic about its subservience to the Soviet Union. His opponents saw him as a communist stooge and a traitor. Every year hundreds of protesters would gather on the night of December 13th outside his modest Warsaw villa. Most of them came to protest against his decision, but a significant minority cheered him too. A poll taken in 2011 showed that 44% of those surveyed agreed with the imposition of martial law, whereas 34% were against. Another poll, from 2009, found 46% saying Jaruzelski would be remembered negatively and 42% positively.
The Death and Life of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski: Another Look
NEWS ANALYSIS: A deathbed reversion to Catholicism proves, again, St. John Paul’s gift of discernment.
Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, former president of Poland (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Polish general and former President Wojciech Jaruzelski, who led efforts to crush Solidarność, the pro-democracy labor movement, was despised by many, but Pope John Paul II believed the communist leader’s Catholic baptism would eventually win out.
The former communist leader’s death on May 25 at age 90 offers a chance to take another look at the way St. John Paul II’s gift of discernment transformed history.
In December 1981, as a result of Jaruzelski’s imposition of martial law to repress the fast growth of Solidarność — and avoid an invasion from the Soviet Union, according to the general — approximately 10,000 regime opponents were jailed.
Martial law was harsh: In the process of clamping down on the whole society — air traffic was stopped, phone lines were cut, movement was forbidden and censorship was ordered — about 100 people were killed.
Eight years later, he negotiated a plan to legalize Solidarność, hold partially free parliamentary elections and create a new presidential office, which Catholic Solidarność leader (and shipyard electrician) Lech Walesa won in December 1990 — all without bloodshed.
Clearly, in life, Jaruzelski left a mixed legacy.
His death provoked angry debates in Poland over whether he should be buried with military honors in Warsaw’s Powazki Cemetery, along the Lane of Honor with military colleagues who defended the country during World War II.
Archbishop Jozef Michalik, president of the Polish bishops’ conference between 2004 and 2014, told KAI, a Polish Catholic news agency, “It’s exceptionally difficult to evaluate this man. When a person crosses the threshold of eternity, we should remember only God knows the true state of his conscience.”
President Bronislaw Komorowski approved the general’s military burial but nixed a national day of mourning as “too divisive.”
As Jaruzelski’s ashes were interred, protesters at the cemetery waved signs reading “Disgrace” and “Traitor,” with images of people who died as a result of communist crackdowns on regime opponents.
Yet, at his funeral Mass, held in the Cathedral of the Polish Army, his old nemesis Lech Walesa knelt in the front pew. And, at the sign of peace, Walesa sought out Jaruzelski’s family to shake their hands.
Walesa, who co-founded Solidarność, was placed under house arrest for 11 months, arrested the very day Jaruzelski declared martial law. The two rivals reconciled in 2011, when Walesa visited him in a Warsaw hospital.
In a photo of their meeting, posted by Walesa on his website, a small image of Mother Mary can be seen on the wall behind the general, a surprising touch, considering he called himself an atheist in line with the Soviet ideology he enthusiastically implemented.
In fact, Jaruzelski was such an orthodox Communist Party member that, in 1966, he refused to enter the Catholic church where his mother’s funeral Mass was being held, and he hesitated to follow the cross leading a procession to her burial — until his sister made him join the other mourners.
So the Jaruzelski family’s decision to have a Catholic funeral Mass surprised the Polish public, until word emerged that, 13 days before he died, the general requested Communion, made a confession and was given his last rites.
It was a return Pope John Paul II had long anticipated.
Watchful Polish Pope
Pope John Paul was intensely engaged in his homeland’s 10-year transition to democracy: From 1980, when the fast emergence of independent trade unions in factories, shipyards, mines and workplaces across Poland led to the creation of a national labor federation known as Solidarność, through martial law, through a ban on Solidarność, which was lifted in mid-1983, through the gradual re-emergence of organized anti-communist opposition and the initiation of formal talks between the state and opposition in 1989.
The Catholic Church served as a consistent mediator and interlocutor, with the state and with the opposition, throughout the decade.
Pope John Paul II visited his homeland nine times, more than any other country. Three of the visits occurred under communism: 1979, 1983 and 1987.
On his first pilgrimage, in 1979, almost 10 million people attended at least one of the Masses offered by the Holy Father. That visit is credited with helping galvanize the Polish people to realize the power they had in numbers and to reaffirm a Christian vision of community.
For communist elites, who had been afraid to deny Pope John Paul II permission to visit, since that would make them look weak, his visit highlighted the ominous threat of popular discontent.
According to Lech Walesa, John Paul delivered two pivotal messages in 1979: “Be not afraid” and an invocation to the Holy Spirit: “Let your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth, the face of this land,” as the conclusion of a June 2 homily in Warsaw’s Victory Square.
In that prophetic homily, John Paul sketched a vision of Christian Europe without the Cold War divisions established at Yalta in 1945, when the victors of World War II reorganized Europe:
“Thus, my dear fellow countrymen, this pope, blood of your blood, bone of your bone, will sing with you, and with you, he will exclaim, ‘May the glory of the Lord endure forever.’ We shall not return to the past. We shall go forward to the future.”
Just one year later, the Solidarność movement was flourishing, animated by a new sense of national unity and a commitment to non-violence. Astonishingly, about 10 million people, one-fourth of the country’s population, were active.
But this florescence occurred against a backdrop of fear that, at any point, the Soviet Union might intervene — even invade Poland — to prevent “counter-revolutionary” reform, as it did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Pope John Paul II was highly aware of this risk, as was Lech Walesa and the Polish communist leadership. The Holy Father did not want to provoke believers into political opposition that would call down the wrath of Moscow, causing death and destruction.
Even during his 1979 pilgrimage, after the first days demonstrated his explosive popularity, he received a confidential, back-channel letter from Polish communist leader Stanislaw Kania (considered sympathetic to the Church) about the risk to national security of his message. And, it seems, he adjusted his language to more religious themes, according to Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi in His Holiness: John Paul II and the History of Our Time.
His purpose was not to concede to the enemy, but to help protect the nation from the Soviets — and to preserve state-church dialogue. As Jaruzelski later observed, the Pope was “consolidating hope and courage” for an effort that would go beyond even Poland to dismantle an entire ideology.
Balancing the twin goals of supporting an oppressed Catholic people yearning for freedom, while negotiating for that freedom — with the oppressors — was the delicate task John Paul set for himself.
In October 1981, Moscow forced First Secretary Kania to leave power (after a listening device picked up his criticism of Soviet leadership) in favor of Jaruzelski, a longtime defense minister who was in a post comparable to prime minister.
According to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II had an ongoing relationship with Wojciech Jaruzelski, based on the Holy Father’s confidence that the communist leader was fundamentally a Catholic, whose course of action was forced on him by the Soviet Union, especially Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Communist Party from 1964 to 1982.
The legendary journalists explained that, after the imposition of martial law:
“Wojtyla spoke of ‘salvare il salvabile’ — saving what was savable. Patience and caution — and faith — were essential. [Vatican Secretary of State Augostino] Casaroli instructed the papal nuncios in Western Europe to urge their host governments not to cut off economic aid to Poland in protest. Wojtyla’s analysis, supported by American intelligence, held that Jaruzelski would come to resemble the late Marshall Tito of Yugoslavia rather than the typical Moscow puppet, particularly if the Church did not back him into a corner. Wojtyla also believed that Jaruzelski, who as a child had attended a school run by the Marian Fathers, was a secret believer. Over the next few years, this would prove a powerful element in the pope’s calculations” (p. 351).
John O’Sullivan confirms in The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World that, in quiet alliance with the Church, Jaruzelski was able to gradually chart a course away from the Soviets.
In 1982, O’Sullivan wrote, “Moscow believed that Jaruzelski and the Polish Party were insufficiently ruthless with the Church. More than that, Jaruzelski apparently believed that the Church was an indispensible ally in normalizing the country — or at least that Poland could not be normalized against its determined resistance.”
Pope and President
Meanwhile, the Church was also maneuvering to facilitate support for Solidarność, functioning underground. During the martial-law period, aid flowed to Solidarność from the Church and numerous Western governments.
In a private meeting at the Vatican on June 7, 1982, without translators or note takers, President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II met to discuss the premise they shared: The communist world would collapse, largely as a function of spiritual inevitability.
Assuming Poland had the best chance of leading the way out of communism, the U.S. government shared classified documents on Poland with the pope, and he shared the Church’s intel from inside the country in turn.
In June 1983, John Paul II spent eight days in Poland.
Although this second visit to his homeland was supposed to be restricted to religious themes — and once again, millions attended Mass — one of the biggest headlines was the Holy Father’s meeting with Lech Walesa in a secluded location in the Tatra Mountains on the last day of his visit.
Earlier in the day, Pope John Paul had held a two-hour unscheduled meeting with Gen. Jaruzelski in Krakow’s Wawel Castle. As a result, John Paul was able to tell Walesa that Jaruzelski would lift martial law soon the way to dialogue and reconciliation was opening.
The general suspended martial law on July 22, 1983, a month after the pope’s visit. Although the regime remained oppressive, Solidarność was able to re-emerge even stronger than before.
That Leonid Brezhnev had a heart attack and died eight months before certainly contributed to Jaruzelski’s increased latitude.
But the Christian view of history does the most to explain these events: God enters human history through his servants. St. John Paul transformed Poland through the events kicked off with his first visit in 1979. He served as an instrument of the Holy Spirit to renew the country, and those who opened their hearts to this project — democrats like Walesa and communists like Jaruzelski — were renewed, too.
Pope John Paul and Jaruzelski’s relationship entered another phase after 1985, when the Polish leader became close to the Soviet Union’s new first secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev.
In January 1987, Jaruzelski met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican to report on Gorbachev’s “new thinking” regarding relations between Warsaw bloc countries.
Later, Jaruzelski reported, as retold in His Holiness: “I told the pope what I knew about Gorbachev and what role Gorbachev was playing, what were his intentions, what difficulties he faced, how important it was to support him, how to understand him, and what a great chance this was for Europe and the world — even if everything was not happening as smoothly as one may desire.”
Mainly, Gorbachev believed each country in the Soviet sphere should chart its own course of reform.
Gorbachev came to the Vatican in December 1989 to meet Pope John Paul II for the first time. According to His Holiness, the two men had already established shared interests and a willingness to work together through secret correspondence and “through Jaruzelski as interlocutor.”
The fist used by Moscow to hammer the Polish people in 1981 was now, less than 10 years later, an instrument of the saint-pope’s vision of history.
Victor Gaetan writes from Washington, where he contributes to Foreign Affairs magazine.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski was Poland’s last Cold War autocrat and came to be considered both ruthless and pragmatic, a traitor and a patriot
Regarded throughout his career as a pragmatist, Jaruzelski was defence minister under Wladyslaw Gomulka in 1970 when orders were given to Polish troops to shoot shipyard workers who were striking over food price rises in the northern port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, Szczecin and Elblag. Forty-four people were killed and more than 1,000 injured, 200 of them seriously.
Jaruzelski took over as prime minister of Poland in 1981, when he imposed martial law and suppressed the anti-Communist Solidarity movement. Thousands of Solidarity activists were interned, and several dozen killed in clashes with police or assassinated by secret agents.
But Jaruzelski, who described himself as a “Polish patriot”, denied responsibility for the 1970 killings and later maintained that martial law was justified to forestall an imminent Soviet invasion. Many Poles also conceded that, although he fought hard to maintain Communist Party rule, Jaruzelski reacted to the transition to democracy with good grace.
In early 1989 he went against many of the hardliners within his party to press for “round-table” talks with Solidarity aimed at devising some form of power-sharing. The partially-free parliamentary elections of that year ended in victory for Solidarity, and within three months Poland had the first non-Communist government to be formed in Eastern Europe for more than 40 years.
Inscrutable behind the dark glasses which he wore because of a medical condition, Jaruzelski remained an enigma, some Poles viewing him as a patriot and others as a traitor. Yet perhaps the most puzzling aspect of his story was how a boy from a respectable Polish Catholic family who had spent time in a Soviet labour camp had come to embrace Communism in the first place.
Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski was born on July 6 1923 into a Roman Catholic family of landed gentry with strong associations with Poland’s cavalry regiments. Brought up in Kurow, near the eastern city of Lublin, he attended a Jesuit school regarded as a training ground for the sons of Poland’s elite.
Following the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 1939, hordes of Poles were forcibly transported to Soviet Russia. Jaruzelski, then 16, was put to work in the coal mines of Kazakhstan while his parents were sent to labour camps in Siberia — he never saw them again.
Yet Jaruzelski became a fervent Communist and, by 1943 (the same year his father died in captivity), was training to be an officer in a Red Army school. He was commissioned into the army of General Zygmunt Berling, a Polish unit formed under Soviet command to fight the Nazis, who had reneged on the non-aggression pact and invaded Russia in 1941.
Jaruzelski took part in the siege of Warsaw and its subsequent capture, and went on to fight in the battle for Berlin. Back in Poland, he was involved in hunting down bands of anti-Communist guerrillas who refused to surrender. He was sent to the general army staff academy in Warsaw in 1948 and graduated after three years with honours. He also joined the Polish United Workers’ Party — the country’s Communist party. In 1956, at the age of 33, he became the youngest brigadier-general in the army.
Jaruzelski entered the Polish parliament in 1961, and the next year was appointed deputy defence minister and promoted to the post of armed forces’ chief political commissar. In 1968 he was made defence minister with the rank of a three-star general. That year, when Warsaw Pact forces, led by Soviet tanks, invaded Czechoslovakia, Jaruzelski sent a Polish contingent to help suppress the uprising.
Two years later, in 1970, unrest had moved to Poland. Trouble began before Christmas , when the government announced a huge rise in the cost of food, provoking strikes focused around the country’s northern shipyards. Although most historians believe that the order to use force against the strikers probably came from Gomulka, Jaruzelski’s role remained unclear. He is said to have told Gomulka that he would not allow troops to be used against civilians but tanks and soldiers were deployed, and as defence minister he was directly responsible. There is no evidence that he defied instructions, and he did not resign in protest.
The year 1970 was a turning point in Polish history. It marked the end of Gomulka’s regime and became an emotional rallying point for protesters. When, in 1980, worker unrest exploded again under Gomulka’s successor, Edward Gierek, one of the key demands of the Gdansk strikers was that the government should erect a monument to those who had been killed in 1970.
To begin with, the Gierek government’s response to the new crisis was to negotiate. Championed by Solidarity, workers were granted the right to strike and promised higher pay and improved social benefits. The crisis eased, but in 1981 government delay in introducing promised reforms provoked fresh disturbances and, with its leadership in disarray, the Polish government chose Jaruzelski as its fourth prime minister within a year.
It was a gesture intended to demonstrate to Moscow that authorities in Warsaw were still in control of the situation, and Jaruzelski acted fast, producing a 10-point programme for economic recovery based on an appeal for a three-month period without strikes, which won support from the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and from Roman Catholic priests. But the three-month moratorium was ignored. A strike of textile workers in the city of Lodz set off industrial unrest across the country. In September 1981 Jaruzelski received a blunt order from the Kremlin to take “radical steps” to crush anti-Soviet groups. On December 13, after further abortive negotiations, he declared martial law. He headed the military council which suspended Solidarity and ordered the arrest of its leaders, including Lech Walesa.
In a televised broadcast Jaruzelski explained that extremist elements had driven Poland to “the edge of the abyss”. The measures he had imposed were designed to save the country from civil war, and once the national situation had returned to normal they would be removed. He denied that he had acted on instructions from Moscow, but he was given a hero’s welcome when he visited the Soviet capital in March 1982.
After Western sanctions, and under pressure from the Pope (who appealed to the general as a fellow-Pole), Jaruzelski eased some of the restrictions and soon released the Solidarity leaders. Martial law was lifted in July 1983, with promises of a general election in 1984. They were not held, however, until 1985, when Jaruzelski resigned as prime minister to take over the post of president, with a civilian, Zbignien Messmer, appointed to the premiership.
But in 1988 Poland experienced another wave of crippling strikes. Faced with a severe economic crisis and encouraged by the new face in the Kremlin, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jaruzelski’s ministers announced that they were ready to end their boycott of Walesa and include him in “round table” talks on the country’s future.
Most Poles accepted that Jaruzelski fought a hard battle to persuade his colleagues to sit down with Solidarity and gave him credit for not sabotaging the process when the talks led to elections in June 1989, which the Communists lost. “Some people didn’t want to accept the election result,” he admitted. “But trying to stop Solidarity taking power after the election would have [been] like trying to stand in front of a car going at 100 miles an hour.” Narrowly re-elected president in 1989 by a parliament that included members of Solidarity, Jaruzelski resigned his Communist party posts. The following year he stepped down early, paving the way for Walesa to be elected in his place.
Out of office, Jaruzelski found himself the subject of investigations concerning the 1970 killings, the imposition of martial law and the disappearance of thousands of Central Committee files. Apart from occasional appearances before investigating tribunals, he kept a low profile and spent much of his early retirement ensconced in his modest Warsaw villa writing his memoirs, Why Martial Law? (1993). The book quickly became a bestseller, and Jaruzelski’s popularity soared. An opinion poll in 1995 showed that 54 per cent of Poles considered martial law to have been a correct decision.
By this time, too, Poles had become disenchanted by the eccentric presidency of Lech Walesa, and in the 1995 presidential elections the former Communist Aleksander Kwasniewski swept to power. “There is now a chance for real understanding,” a delighted Jaruzelski told an interviewer. “But instead of triumphalism on one side and a feeling of defeat on the other, there must be a prevailing sense that democracy won.”
Jaruzelski continued to regard himself as a man of the Left, and was scornful of former comrades who started ostentatiously going to church. Yet in 2003 he announced his support for Poland’s membership of the EU as an “act of patriotism”. “I see no moral contradiction here,” he said. “We were once in the Soviet sphere of influence and had to live with it. This was the historical logic. Joining the West is now best for Poland.”
After years of legal wrangling and delays, Jaruzelski finally appeared in court in 2000 to answer charges of ordering the shooting of striking shipyard workers in 1970. The trial was expected to last 30 years. In 2006 he was charged by the Institute of National Remembrance on two counts relating to abuses during his time in office, but he pleaded ill health and avoided appearing in court.
According to several reports, though, he was still fit enough to be caught, earlier this year, in a “compromising position” with his nurse, several decades his junior. “If my husband does not get rid of that woman I will file for divorce,” noted Jaruzelski’s enraged 84-year-old wife, Barbara.
She survives him. Together they had one daughter.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski, born July 6 1923, died May 25 2014
Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski was a communist Polish political and military leader. He served as the party’s national secretary and prime minister form 1981-1990.
Image, Jaruzelski & Nicolae Ceauşescu, Communism in Romania Photo Collection
An officer in the Polish Army, he was trained at the Polish Higher Infantry School and the General Staff Academy, and joined the Polish United Workers’ Party (the former Polish Communist Party), of which Central Committee he became a member in 1964.
In 1968 he was heavily involved in the “cleansing” of the Polish army due to Moczar’s anti-Semitic campaign. In the same year, he led the invasion of Czechoslovakia. In 1970 he was involved in the plot against Wladyslaw Gomulka, and probably took part in organization of the massacre in the coastal cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, Elblag and Szczecin.
Jaruzelski became the party’s national secretary and prime minister in 1981, when Lech Walesa’s movement (Solidarity) was starting to earn national and external popularity. The Soviet Union became more and more concerned and threatened with invasion - a very credible threat, as they had invaded Afghanistan two years before.
The policies of Mikhail Gorbachev also stipulated political reform in Poland. By the close of the 10th plenary session in December 1988, the Communist Party had decided to broach leaders of Solidarity for talks. These talks, which became known as the “roundtable talks,” with 13 working groups in 94 sessions from February 6 to April 15, radically altered the shape of the Polish government and society. The talks resulted in an agreement in which real political power was vested in a newly created bicameral legislature and in a president who would be the chief executive. Solidarity was legalized. After the elections, the Communists, who were guaranteed 65 percent of the seats in the Sejm (the parliament), did not win a majority, and Solidarity-backed candidates won 99 out of 100 freely contested seats in the Senate. Jaruzelski, whose name was the only one the Communist Party allowed on the ballot for the presidency, won by just one vote in the National Assembly.
Although Jaruzelski tried to persuade Solidarity to join the Communists in a “grand coalition,” Lech Wałęsa refused. Jaruzelski resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party but found he was forced to come to terms with a government formed by Solidarity. In 1990 Jaruzelski resigned as Poland’s leader. Subsequently, Jaruzelski has faced charges for a number of actions he committed while he was defense minister during the communist period.
An original press photograph in our picture collection of Wojciech Jaruzelski wearing his trademark dark glasses.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski was a Polish military officer and communist politician. He was the last communist leader of the People’s Republic of Poland. He served as First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party from 1981 to 1989, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985, and the country’s head of state from 1985 to 1990. He resigned in 1989 leading to the first democratic elections in Poland. Jaruzelski is seen by many as the man chiefly responsible for the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 in an attempt to crush pro-democracy movements, such as Solidarity.
Some random facts you might not know about Wojciech Jaruzelski:
•Wojciech Jaruzelski was born on 6th July 1923 and raised on the family estate in Wysokie.
•He suffered permanent damage to his eyes while working as a forced labourer in coal mines in Kazakhstan, which led to his generally wearing dark glasses when outdoors.
•He was a Lieutenant in the Red Army, actively involved in the fighting which freed Warsaw from German control, later decorated for his soldiering in Western Pomerania, and crossed the River Oder (Odra) to fight in the Battle of Berlin.
•His wife Barbara had a doctorate in German philology. They had one child, a daughter.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski and Pope Jan Pawel (John Paul) pictured in 1987. Click on photo to enlarge image.
Wojciech Jaruzelski: Poland's last Communist leader, who imposed martial law on the Soviet satellite in 1981
General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last Communist ruler, badly wanted history to judge him kindly. He worked hard in the latter years of his life to explain and rehabilitate himself after his imposition of martial law and brutal repression of the free trade union Solidarity in 1981 had made him the most hated man in Poland – and, for a time, an international pariah.
And while many Poles eventually accepted his argument that martial law was the lesser of two evils (the alternative being a Soviet invasion), for others he remained forever a Soviet stooge, a traitor and a criminal. His personality was an enigma a stiff, poker-faced demeanour and his trademark dark glasses only reinforced his sphinx-like aura.
In the end, his life was a story of an intelligent and highly ambitious man – and more specifically, a Pole – operating between the terrible millstones of 20th-century history: Nazism and Stalinism, patriotism and Soviet domination, Communism and demands for freedom.
His first taste of that history came at the age of 16, in 1939, when he and his father, guilty only of being members of Poland's lesser nobility, were deported by the Russians from their large estate to hard labour camps in Siberia, where his grandfather, an anti-Russian guerilla leader, had perished many years earlier. Educated by priests at an elite school in Warsaw, he found himself felling trees in waist-deep snow. His father died. The glare from the snow started an eye ailment which compelled him to wear dark glasses in bright light ever after.
When the Hitler-Stalin alliance broke up, he joined a Polish army being raised by the Soviets and took part in the Soviet "liberation" of Poland from the Nazis. By then he had learned to speak fluent Russian and had become a convinced Communist. He volunteered and served in KGB units which were setting up Polish security forces to crush Polish nationalist resistance.
Committed to a military career, he studied in Polish and Soviet military academies and gained the patronage of powerful Soviet generals, whose backing proved vital to his career. In 1947 he joined the Polish Communist party and thus set off on a fast, double-track rise to power, becoming a general at the age of 33 and defence minister at 45.
At the same time he was rising rapidly through the ranks of the party at 48, he was elected to the main centre of power, the Politburo. From there, he and other party leaders watched as discontent mounted, until in 1980 it spilled over into mass stoppages, which compelled them – in a dramatic departure from Communist orthodoxy – to accept free trade unions and grant the legal right to strike. The various strike committees joined together in a new trade union which they called Solidarity.
For 15 months, Solidarity's power and influence grew: it numbered 10 million members out of a population of some 36 million. Frustration over its failure to extract any reforms from the regime led to (then outrageous) demands for free elections and a referendum on Poland's alliance with the Soviet Union. The economy, for years a disaster area, had virtually collapsed. The Party, demoralised, divided and with a third of its three million members defected to Solidarity, could not cope. Polish hardliners were fuming restlessly, while Moscow kept up a barrage of threats and intimidation, including manoeuvres close to Poland's borders.
The regime's only hope was the military. On 11 February 1981, General Jaruzelski was made Prime Minister, while keeping the defence portfolio. In the autumn he was also made first secretary, or No 1, of the Communist party. Two other generals were moved into the Politburo and Interior Ministry. He commanded immense power.
Secret plans for a military takeover swung into action. Small units were sent into towns and villages, officially to help distribute food, but in fact to gather intelligence and create the impression of the Army as the people's friend. Then, on the night between 12 and 13 December 1981, tanks moved into the cities, and roadblocks were set up on bridges and intersections.
Tens of thousands of Solidarity supporters were dragged from their beds and arrested. Some 10,000 were interned. Between 10 and 100 were reported killed. Posters everywhere declared that Poland was under martial law. Solidarity was banned. Protest strikes were crushed by the feared ZOMO paramilitary police.
The news unleashed international outrage and protests, and for more than three years Jaruzelski and his regime were shunned by the West. Communist leaders greeted it with praise and relief.
Martial law, which was suspended a year later, may have averted a Soviet invasion, but it hardly solved the government's problems. Solidarity continued to flourish in the underground. Despite reform plans, Jaruzelski failed abysmally to improve the economy. Poles became desperately poor, and in the spring and summer of 1988 workers protested with long and bitter strikes.
Meanwhile, with would-be reformer Mikhail Gorbachev at the helm in Moscow, the danger of Soviet intervention was receding and the way opening for change. In 1988, Jaruzelski, alone among Eastern European Communist bosses, agreed to negotiate a move towards democracy. The result was the historic Round Table talks with Solidarity (in which he did not take part personally), which ended with a power-sharing deal: free elections to 161 of the 400-seat Seym (Parliament), the creation of a freely-elected Senate, free opposition media and the re-legalisation of Solidarity. The ensuing elections were an overwhelming victory for Solidarity, which then provided the Prime Minister while the Parliament elected the General, unopposed, as President to reassure Polish and Soviet hardliners.
But developments in the Soviet Union soon made his role superfluous, and at the same time Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, was pressing hard for his job. He asked Parliament to cut short his six-year term, and in December 1990, with considerable dignity, he stepped down.
In the following years he published his memoirs and gave many interviews in which he expressed deep regret for many actions, but sought to justify them. "I served the Poland that existed," he said. He let it be known that he had considered committing suicide rather than impose martial law on his fellow Poles, which he saw as the only route open to him.
The alternatives, he declared, would have been a putsch by hardliners in the military and the Party, civil war, and most probably a Soviet invasion and occupation. This can still be debated endlessly, but he repeated time and again that martial law was a "purgatory" necessary to avoid "hell". He has even claimed that if he had not acted, Gorbachev's campaign for glasnost and perestroika and the bloodless fall of Communism could not have happened, or at least not for many years. And he would like to be remembered as the man who opened the way for democracy in Poland, although he had to admit that memories of martial law were sharper.
But as he lived on quietly in his modest suburban house in Warsaw, his past continued to haunt him. A parliamentary investigation was opened into the possibility of treason and other crimes committed during the imposition of martial law, and into the disappearance of Communist Party documents, but they came to nothing. More seriously, in 2000, he found himself having to answer charges in court that he gave the order for troops to open fire on rioting workers in four Baltic ports in 1970. Forty-five workers died and 1,165 were injured. The general, anxious and popping anti-depressants, laid the blame on others, long since dead.
In the end he seemed proud of Poland's new democracy and would comment on political events in a remarkably enlightened way. "I was the link from the past to the future," he said.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski, politician: born Kurow, Poland 6 July 1923 married Barbara (one daughter) died Warsaw 25 May 2014.
The Introduction of Martial Law in Poland
13 December marks the anniversary of introduction of Martial Law in Poland. An authoritarian government, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and the Military Council of National Salvation (WRON), introduced severe political oppression in an attempt to crush political opposition.
In 1980-1981 the Communist Party of Poland suffered from a substantial crisis. It could not cope with the expansion and pressure of ‘Solidarity’ movement, its growing popularity and demands to extract reforms from the government. The Party itself was divided by factional struggles and confusion in the leadership. Poland’s economy had practically collapsed. On the other hand, there was pressure of dissatisfied Kremlin and its threats of supposed armed intervention. Plans for reconsolidation of power were prepared in secret. General Jaruzelski - Prime Minister and the First Secretary of The Party - believed that without Martial Law, the military intervention was inevitable. His decision was an act of self-defence, necessary to keep the hold on the country.
On Sunday morning, 13 December 1981, millions of Poles awoke to find that the entire country was placed under a state of martial law. Appearing on television, in the only available channel, Jaruzelski said:
Today I address myself to you as a soldier and as the head of the Polish government. I address you concerning extraordinarily important questions. Our homeland is at the edge of an abyss. The achievements of many generations and the Polish home that has been built up from the dust are about to turn into ruins. State structures are ceasing to function. Each day delivers new blows to the waning economy.
Jaruzelski declared that his intention was to maintain “legal balance of the country, to create guarantees that give a chance to restore order and discipline” and “save the country from collapse”. For the Poles however, it meant putting an end to the hopes for political and civic freedoms. Thus started severe repressions – many people were arrested and imprisoned. Those who were not – were intimidated, forced to stop their activity or emigrate. For those who were already abroad, closed borders meant that coming back to the country was not possible at all. Multiple organisations and pro-democratic movements, including ‘Solidarity’, became illegal overnight. Moreover, the streets were filled with tanks and armed soldiers. Telephone lines were controlled, airports closed and mail regulated by censorship. Another restriction of freedom was an imposition of curfew. Similarly, the mass media, public transportation and educational institutions were placed under strict control. It was clear that the new regime wanted to mercilessly crack down on the opposition.
Introduction of Martial Law was a general strike for “Solidarity”. The trade union was made illegal and most of its leaders were interned. Those who avoided arrest started to reconstruct ‘Solidarity’ in the underground. The amount of social opposition was impressive. During the initial impositions of martial law, several dozen people were killed. The shipyards in Gdańsk and Szczecin were pacified, as well as the Lenin Iron Mill in Nowa Huta and Iron Mill in Katowice. In Katowice, on 16 December, happened the most dreadful incident, when six miners from the Wujek coal-mine were killed by members of the military police ZOMO.
Foreign reactions to events in Poland were immediate. Soon after the announcement of General Jaruzelski, the news reached all corners of the World. If the Soviets reacted with a sigh of relief, the response of the Western governments was generally negative. The politics of the communist regime was particularly condemned by the United States and its President, Ronald Reagan. On 23 December, he made a special announcement addressed to the nation “about Christmas and the situation in Poland”. Reagan promised to continue shipments of food to Poland, but also imposed economic sanctions against the government of Jaruzelski, followed by the sanctions against the Soviet Union.
Martial Law lasted till July 1983 being officially suspended on 18 December 1982. All that time was a trauma for the Poles and democratic opposition. The situation of already run-down Poland drastically deteriorated and the country was pushed toward bankruptcy. The prospects for the future were dark, but it was only a matter of time before the ultimate fall of communist regime.
A. Dudek, Z. Zblewski, Utopia nad Wisłą. Historia Peerelu, Warszawa 2008.
Poland's Transformation: A Work in Progress : Studies in Honor of Kenneth W. Thompson, ed. M. J. Chodakiewicz, J. Radzilowski, D. Tolczyk, Charlottesville 2003.
Obituary: Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's Last Communist Leader
Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last Communist leader of Poland, has died. He was 90 years old.
Jaruzelski, who died following a long battle with cancer and a stroke earlier this month, is considered one of the most divisive political figures in Poland’s turbulent post-war history.
Much of the controversy surrounds his decision, announced on December 13, 1981, to declare martial law in the country:
As a result, the burgeoning Solidarity trade union was banned and its leader, Lech Walesa, interned for almost a year. Curfews were imposed, telephone lines were disconnected, and national borders were sealed. The clampdown lasted for 18 months, resulting in nearly 100 deaths and some 10,000 detentions.
For many, the move made Jaruzelski the country's arch-villain -- a Communist stooge who did everything in his power to prevent his nation from becoming democratic and independent.
The general himself, however, remained convinced to his death that his decision to impose martial law was a “necessary evil” that “saved Poland from looming catastrophe.” Some agree with this view, arguing that the move saved the country from an impending Soviet invasion and prepared the way for a peaceful democratic transition in the latter half of the 1980s.
But what baffles most was his faithfulness to the Soviet Union and adherence to Communism, seemingly defying all expectations from his youth.
Jaruzelski was born in 1923 into an aristocratic family and grew up on an estate in Bialystok, in the eastern part of today’s Poland. His father, an ardent anti-communist, had fought in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21, which prevented the spread of Bolshevism after World War I.
When Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939, the family fled to Lithuania before Jaruzelski and his father were deported to Siberia.
While his father perished, the teenager survived the hardship of forced labor in the coal mines of Karaganda, in today's Kazakhstan. But not without great cost. Jaruzelski's back was permanently damaged, as were his eyes from the constant snow glare, which forced him to wear the black sunglasses that would become a much-heckled trademark.
Notwithstanding, he embraced Communism.
Towards the end of World War II, Jaruzelski joined the Polish army units being formed under Soviet command. Together with the Soviet army, he watched Warsaw burn in 1944, as the pro-Western Polish Home Army was slaughtered by the retreating Nazis.
Jaruzelski and the Soviets marched into the rubble several months later, laying a foundation for the bitter contempt many Poles felt toward their Eastern liberators during the Cold War years.
After participating in the takeover of Berlin in 1945, he was re-deployed against the remnants of the Polish underground forces. He also became a fully-fledged military intelligence agent and joined the newly established Polish Communist party.
His rise through the military and party ranks was meteoric. In 1956 he became a general and was defense minister by 1968.
What followed would further convince detractors of his wickedness.
Jaruzelski ordered Poland to join the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the same year he also purged the military of its Jews. He read secret reports about the killing of 15,000 Polish army officers at Katyn during World War II, but chose to toe the party line and trumpet the lie that it was a Nazi atrocity, not a Soviet one. And in December 1970 he decided to crush the uprisings in several northern Polish cities.
At least 42 died, mainly in Gdansk, in an event that planted the seed for the country-wide Solidarity movement that would oust him from power two decades later.
In 1989, with cracks appearing in the Iron Curtain, Jaruzelski legalized Solidarity and negotiated with them at the historic round table talks.
He peacefully stepped down as Poland’s president one year later, telling the nation in his farewell speech that he should be held responsible for crimes committed.
"The words 'I apologize' sound banal. However, I cannot find any other words," he said.
Jaruzelski retreated into public life, but was put on trial for imposing martial law in 2008, based on documentation from Poland's National Remembrance Institute.
The trial divided the country, before a district court ruled in 2011 that he was too ill to continue.
That same year saw a remarkable meeting, when Walesa, in an act of reconciliation, visited his ailing former jailer in a Warsaw hospital, later posting a picture of the moment on his website under the words, "Get well, general."
Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL&rsquos Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.
A Corporal’s Letter To The General: Lech Wałęsa’s Famous 1982 Note To General Wojciech Jaruzelski Found In The Hoover Archives
The original copy of the most celebrated Polish letter of the 1980s has surfaced in the Hoover Institution Archives. This three-sentence note by the Polish Solidarity trade union leader and the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Lech Wałęsa, was written from his internment to Poland’s communist prime minister, General Wojciech Jaruzelski. Because Walesa signed it, ironically, “Corporal Lech Wałęsa,” Polish historians have dubbed it “a corporal’s letter to the general.” The letter was found in the miscellaneous papers of Poland’s last communist minister of the interior, general Czesław Kiszczak, which were received by Hoover in May of this year from the family of the minister, who died in November 2015. After preservation treatment and processing, Wałęsa’s letter and the other papers, as well as more than a thousand photographs and numerous videotapes, will be added to the small Kiszczak collection already in the Archives.
The Soviet Bloc of the late 1970s was undergoing serious economic and political problems. As the crisis continued to worsen, voices calling for reform and fundamental change of the system became forceful. Poland was the first country in the bloc where, by 1980, a mass opposition movement had emerged. Founded during a strike in the Lenin Shipyard of the city of Gdańsk, it took the name of Independent Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity (Solidarność). Its leader, Lech Wałęsa, was a charismatic young electrician its membership had reached ten million by late 1981, making it the largest labor union in the world. With the situation escalating out of the communists’ control, General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law on December13, 1981. More than ten thousand dissidents and Solidarity activists were interned in special camps and prisons. Officially, Wałęsa was not imprisoned but considered a “guest” of the communist regime, spending eleven months in several government resorts, the last of these being Arłamów in the far southeastern corner of Poland near the Soviet border. It was here that the chairman of Solidarity wrote his famous letter:
Arłamów Nov. 8, 1982
General Wojciech Jaruzelski
It seems to me that a time is approaching for clarification of certain matters and for working toward an understanding. There has been some time for many on both sides to understand what can be done and how much can be done.
I propose a meeting and serious discussion of subjects of interest, and with goodwill we will find a solution.
Corporal Lech Wałęsa
The letter is written in Walesa’s characteristic style, including spelling mistakes. The Solidarity leader preferred to address Jaruzelski as general rather than prime minister, probably to emphasize the fact that Poland was being governed under martial law. Having decided that, he chose, not without irony, to recall his own modest military rank, which he earned during army service in the early 1960s, rather than that of presiding officer of the largest trade union in the world.
The motivation, the timing, and the form of the letter have all received attention from historians. There is no unanimity. Some suggest that it may have been inspired by communist security services, with which Walesa collaborated to some extent during 1970−76, and which held secret documentation of those contacts, a powerful tool for potential blackmail of the Solidarity chairman. Wałęsa himself claimed that it was the idea of his wife who had visited him in Arłamów only several days earlier. Be that as it may, Poland was at a standstill neither the communist regime nor the Solidarity Union was gaining ground, with political repression, economic near-collapse, massive food shortages, and another harsh winter looming. Wałęsa's note broke the stalemate. The letter was immediately faxed to Warsaw to the general and the original filed in Kiszczak’s papers. Jaruzelski immediately consulted with his deputy premier, Mieczysław Rakowski those meetings are covered in detail in Rakowski’s voluminous diaries, originals of which are also in the Hoover Archives. The next day, November 10, was marked by the long-awaited death of the Soviet Bloc’s supreme overlord, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, emboldening Poland’s top communists to act without further delay. Wałęsa was released on November 11, which coincidentally was the Polish Independence Day, a national holiday celebrated before World War II and eliminated by the Communists.
Nevertheless, in late 1982 independence for Poland was neither imminent nor inevitable. It took six more years of determined struggle by the great majority of the Polish nation, as well as the moral and material support of powerful international allies − Poland’s native son John Paul II, President Reagan, and Prime Minister Thatcher − to keep the independence project alive. It also took the third successor to Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and his futile effort to reform the Soviet system, which unintentionally led to further weakening of the cohesiveness of the Soviet Bloc, an opportunity taken advantage of by the Polish opposition and political dissidents in neighboring countries. Wałęsa, who throughout this time was closely watched by the security services, was the universally recognized leader of the Polish struggle, though his leadership was more symbolic than direct. Solidarity’s victory in the semi-free elections of June 1989, Poland’s first after nearly fifty years of foreign domination, showed the total bankruptcy of the communist regime. It also provided an example for the other peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to follow.
Hoover Library & Archives have the largest and most comprehensive holdings on twentieth-century Poland outside Poland. These are especially rich for the period of the 1980s. They include the papers of anti-communist opposition activists as well as communist functionaries. Hoover’s collection of Polish independent publications of the 1976−90 was for many years the most comprehensive in the world and is still consulted by researchers from Poland.