I already was an adult when I learnt that my father was In jail in his youth. Of course, I was very surprised. What’s more, my parts never said anything about it. My father had to wait to be rehabilitated after 1990.
My father Francis, his mother and my elder brother came to Lower Silesia from Żywiec in 1946. He completed his high school education with “O” levels in a small township of Kamieniec Ząbkowicki. At the age of 22, he got a job with the National Bank of Poland. He had never belonged to the Home Army (AK) or any other organization fighting for liberty. On the contrary, he had joined the Association of Polish [Communist] Youth (ZNP). He was sociable, playful, and like most of his peers he didn’t shun off boozing.
Zbiggy and Thaddeus used to be his nearest buddies. They knew each other way back from Żywiec. Everyone knew that Zbiggy worked at the Security Service Office (UB). He boasted about it. He used to take his buddies to the forest and let them fire his personal duty gun. He used to show off his strength and influence. Nobody knew how he used to manage to account for the rounds spent. Instigator? Denunciator? Who can fathom that today? My father had never said a bad word about him. He also had a good opinion about Thaddeus. They used to drink vodka together and used to go to dances. They listen to Radio Free Europe together, the radio station broadcasting from Munich and banned Poland by the communist authorities. Still, maybe that was why the Poles kept on listening to RFE for years.
It was the evening on the 16th of March 1953, just a few days after Stalin’s death. Thaddeus with my father and a group of friends were listening to the radio. They were listening and giving their comments. Akin to others – they counted on changes in the country. Maybe General Anders would arrive on a white stallion. It was eleven at night. Two functionaries from the Department of Security Office from Ząbkowice Śląskie (formerly infamous Frankenstein in Schlesien) and the Citizens Militia commander from Kamieniec Ząbkowicki jumped over the fence of the yard and violently knocked at the front door. ‘Where are your weapons?! they called from the threshold. The showed the prosecutor’s search warrant and began their search. It was a very thorough search. Even our granny’s bed was painstakingly examined.
As they didn’t find any arms, my father naively thought ‘That was it.’ He was very surprised though when he heard ‘Get dressed! You’re arrested!’
He was taken to the UB in Ząbkowice. Having taken away his shoe laces he was thrown into a cellar. My mother didn’t know anything. Militia didn’t want to tell her where he had been taken to the Department of Security Office. His mother kept on trying to help him somehow. However, no attorney wanted to take up the case in his defence.
‘You’ll be wasting your money,’ they told her. ‘He has to spend his time in and no attorney is able to help him.’
This news only deepened my mother’s despair.
The interrogation time at the UB was awful. He had no contact with his family. There was no window in the cellar he was kept in just a dim light bulb lit the area for six to eight hours a day. There was no toilet and those arrested had to relieve themselves into a 200 litres steel drum which was emptied once a week, always on Sundays.
‘Not to have to smell your stench.’ was the UB officers comment. ‘When I went to the first interrogation,’ my father told me, ‘I pinned in a ZMP (Association of Polish [Communist] Youth) badge into my jacket lapel thinking it might help. That, even more, aggravated the UB functionary.’ ‘You are trying to ridicule me! he erupted. ‘People’s Republic entrusted you, and you, what!’
‘One day I saw Zbiggy by my cell.’ ‘Zbiggy,’ I called out. ‘Zbiggy, at least give me a smoke…’ But he turned away on his heel and said ‘You must have mistaken me with someone else Sir,’ and so much I saw him.
Two months later my father was sent to prison in Kłodzko.
‘Conditions were better there than in custody.’ He said years later. ‘One bath a week in the shower and obligatory walk.’ In the room “under the cell” where I stayed, there were three inmates stuck within two and a half by four meters. There was one metal bed fixed sideways to the wall, which had to be closed up for the day. We had to sit on the floor. Each weekday was counted on the floorboards. It was our calendar.’
‘No interrogations were carried out in prison. Together with other inmates, handcuffed and escorted by the militia he was transported by train to Wrocław to face a court hearing. When they got out from the railway car, people threw cigarettes and food to them. It was allowed to pick the cigarettes up, no food though.’
The hearing was held at the Special Committee Against Fraud and Economic Sabotage – Wrocław Branch. Today, it can be said it was fortunate because if he was adjudged from another clause he would not end up with one-year imprisonment. The trial itself was very brief. After the indictment was read sacramental words fell. ‘What do you have to say in your last word?’ asked the judge. ‘I wasn’t even asked whether I was guilty or not. Being very surprised and stressed I didn’t know what to say.’ ‘Ask for a lenient sentence,’ whispered the militiaman. ‘I obeyed him and said so, and was sentenced to twelve months of labour camp.’
The return journey from the court to prison was without any complications. The cigarettes received at the station were scrupulously broken into small pieces during the inspection.
The labour camp in Wojcieszów was in the limestone quarry, one of the biggest in Lower Silesia. There not a trace left behind it today. It was fenced off with barbed wire and a double wire mesh fence.
‘I was assigned to the brigade loading limestone to the furnace. The daily norm was fifteen tons. Failure to do so was punished with for instance the decrease in food ration or stoppage of correspondence. Family visits took place once a month. Those that persistently refused to keep the norm were punished with so-called hard bed, that meant sleeping on wooden planks without any bedding. Inmates that exceeded the norm above 115 per cent were rewarded with longer visits. On the camp commandant’s request, the prisoner could conditionally be released. Obviously, the court took into account so-called “exemplary conduct in the camp. We were escorted by the prison guards on our way from work to the barracks. Prisoners’ numbers were read out in the yard in front of the main gate – no surnames though. We were forewarned that in case any escape attempt or exit from the line would result in “using firearms without any warning”.’ ‘Understood?’ ‘Yes, Sir!’ should be the answer.
‘My mother came to visit me in the camp. She barely recognised me. I couldn’t recognise her too. She was hunchbacked, skinny and desperate. She was only fifty-four. The visit took place in the presence of guards.’
‘You’re not allowed to talk about this!’ they frequently harshly repeated.
‘Mom!’ I shouted as she was about ten meters away from me, ‘Bring my beloved pullover when you come here the next time!’ ‘What do you need our old doggie Rover for, child? she asked dumbfounded.’ And so our conversation went on.’
Thanks to the fulfilment of his norm, my father was released home three months earlier – for Christmas 1953.
In 2015, sixty years later, my father reviewed his case file kept by IPN (the Institute of National Memory). Not much was left. No-one in the broader sense of justice answered for this court criminal offence. Zbiggy is present in the records under the pseudonym the “Hungarian”, and as explained by the IPN employee it is impossible to determine his identity. His superior, with the pseudonym the “Pole” is also out of the judicial system. The judge that sentenced my father died in 1979 not being bothered by anyone.
After 60 years, Francis was acquainted with the court files