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Chapter 7: Aftermath of the 20th Congress

7.1 Regulating our national problem (1956)

The exams are over. I did not expect a B from Marxism; that was probably the only area in which I was rather competent. The physics exam, that lasted 40 minutes, resulted in an A. Fortunately, the first question was about radiation and I was reasonably well prepared. I did not handle the other four questions as well as the first. The A was not well deserved. But I was lucky; A in physics might be a decisive factor, as far as being accepted into a doctoral program is concerned. […]

Conversation with K, whose analysis I always appreciated, was very informative. L and R were also present. He told us that Khrushchev’s report was read at Soviet party meetings but no discussion or questions were allowed. The situation in our own party is not much better; what is being discussed at the top remains hidden. That is not what we need now.

He thinks that the phrase “need to regulate our nationality problem,” used by Novak, has a smell of anti-Semitism. Speaking of Gomulka, K said that he might do what Pilsudski did before the war. General Pilsudski emerged on a wave of democratic enthusiasm but later destroyed it. Gomulka was known to have dictatorial tendencies; but who knows, he added, perhaps prison changed him. [...] K also told us about unrest in the south of the Soviet Union, similar to what we had in Poznan. [...]

[a friend from the orphanage] invited me and my mother to his church wedding. The ceremony was new to me, and very interesting. B told me that he did not ask for a religious ceremony. What is wrong with considering such ceremonies to be nothing but tradition? The church would most likely oppose this kind of attitude. Their goal is to reinforce religiosity through all kind of ceremonies. Mutual respect between the church and the party is desirable but probably not possible. That is unfortunate; many communist ideas are based on religious ideas of equality, justice, and love. About 80% of songs sung at the wedding were either Russian or Yugoslavian. [...]

We had another party meeting devoted to the 20th Congress. Once again I heard K’s analysis. But this time it was not a loose set of reflections, like several days before; it was a well-organized talk. He feels that many of us are demoralized, and that we need another injection of optimism. What happens to our party is now in our hands and we should be fighting for what we believe is right. The discussion was also very interesting. [...] A layer of new aristocracy was formed in the Soviet Union. Stalin created this system to govern a country without democratic traditions. I did not know that in addition to regular salaries, some people were receiving large bonuses, in sealed envelopes. [...]

I learned that Novak is just one of several party members from a group formed after a meeting with the USSR ambassador Ponomarienko in Natalin. Comrades Migdal, Witkewicz, Klosiewicz, and Zawadzki, as well as Marshal Rokosowski, also belong to this anti-Semitic faction. According to their memo, 80% of management positions at IBJ are held by Jews. K found that the correct number is two out of about twenty.

[What a coincidence. A blogger reminded me today that Hitler blamed German Jews (less than 1% of the population) for the defeat in WWI.] The only correct communist formulation, according to K, is to oppose factions of any kind, Jewish or not. How can communists’ anti-Semitism be explained? These leaders are probably responsible for many bad things in Poland and they try to divert attention from possible accusations. They want to blame Jews for what was wrong in our country. This might actually work for them, considering the history of Polish anti-Semitism. [...]

7.2 About torture

Can torture be justified? S thinks that it has to be used sometimes. But it cannot be justified in the context of communists beating communists. Spychalski has many permanent injuries, including a detached kidney and two vertebral fractures. Was Stalin right to allow this? The first Soviet camp, Solovki, was set up for enemies of the revolution. But then it was used for those who were only accused of being enemies. How to consolidate morality--thou shall not kill--with reality of wars and revolutions? This problem has most likely been discussed by numerous philosophers. But where is the solution? [...]

Most people are not idealists. But that does not mean they are not good. Consider T, for example. Before 1939 he lived in Eastern Poland. But he ran away after it was taken by the Red Army, and when deportations to Siberia started. During the war he worked in the ammunition factory set up by Germans. Can he be blamed for this? He is now an expert; he likes what he does, and he makes good money. He has a wife and a daughter. Such people go to church regularly, more or less, and learn moral principles. They try to obey these principles; they confess sins, and they are happy. What is wrong with this? They are not even aware that by earning money they contribute to social progress. [...]

Why am I a communist? Because I believe that capitalism, a system based on exploitation, should be replaced by a social system based on justice. But what is wrong about being a selfish capitalist? It is impossible to be selfish without at the same time contributing to social progress, as long as one does not do to others what he does not want them to do to him (killing, stealing, torturing, etc.).

I am reading The Communist Manifesto again. It is difficult to argue with Marx that the capitalism he knew was not good. But what about today’s capitalism? Isn’t it true that modern capitalism has been much more productive than our “classless society”? Isn’t it true that the average standard of living, in advanced capitalist countries, is higher than in our countries? Isn’t it true that scientific and technological progress in Western Europe, and in the USA, is much faster than in our countries? [...]

During the Polish Army military service in Koszalin. I am sitting on the left side,
next to the hand of another soldier, in front of our artillery instructor.

Two days ago, R said that Polish and Soviet units, several divisions, were moving toward Warsaw. The uninvited Soviet delegation, he said, landed in Warsaw for urgent talks. The talks were not very friendly. Gomulka asked for immediate withdrawal of Soviet army units. This was confirmed at our party meeting today.

I also learned that our security units intercepted a list with several hundred names of party leaders to be arrested immediately after the plenum. It is clear that the Soviet side
[Khrushchev] counted on the victory of the Natalin faction. They were ready to gain control by using brutal force. Fortunately, all this was avoided at the last moment. Anti-soviet feelings were ignited in Poland, even among many party members. Neither Khrushchev’s letter to Polish comrades, nor the declaration of the Chinese Communist Party [about the event] were published in our press. Someone (Gomulka?) probably decided that such publications would have a negative effect on our general population. Lenin was right that one day of revolution has a greater effect on social developments than several decades of peaceful evolution. [...]

7.3 Budapest uprising (1956)

Today I was informed that the “Soviet side” removed “radiation measurements” from the list of fields for post-graduate studies. I told this to Professor Pawlowski. He thinks that the field I selected was probably crossed out by someone in Warsaw, probably at the university or at IBJ
[Institute of Nuclear Studies]. They want to have a monopoly in that field in Poland; they do not want his assistant to enter the field. This would be perfectly consistent with what happened to some of his proposals, he explained. I told him that I want to study in France. Next time I will ask him for a letter of recommendation. But first I must wait till the political situation becomes a little less explosive. I will write to Tunia [my father’s sister in Paris] immediately. [...]

What was avoided in Poland
[Soviet invasion] is happening in Hungary right now. Last Tuesday I was at a large meeting; everyone who condemned the Soviet Union was enthusiastically applauded, and those who condemned Stalinism but defended new Soviet leaders were booed. The danger of a civil war is real. What would I do in the case of such a war? I would have to join one side or another. Wars do not need passive observers; wars need soldiers. Would I defend those who use tanks to suppress revolutionary movement, as happens in Budapest? Communists are fighting with communists. Marx and Engels did not anticipate this in their 1848 manifesto. Nor were Moscow trials in the 1930’s-- communists killing communist-- anticipated by them.

Crazy world, nearly every individual wants the same thing-- freedom and comfort. But brutality and misery dominate in world affairs. Where is my place? War is not an empty speculation. One has to defend his convictions. What are my convictions? Am I a communist? Yes, I am. What does it mean? It means I am for a classless system of equality, justice and brotherhood. I do not believe in life after death but I believe in the possibility of creating a paradise on earth. That is easy to say. What is not easy is to decide how to achieve this goal.

Perhaps those who believed that Stalin’s idea of the revolution in one country was a mistake were right. Perhaps those who opposed Lenin’s idea of bypassing capitalist evolution in Russia were right. Perhaps Bolsheviks should have supported Kerenski in February 1917, after abdication of the Tsar. [...] Ludwik, do not fool yourself. What you are writing is nothing but a justification of your political capitulation. You want to stop being politically active. You are a traitor to our cause. No, I am not a traitor. In the case of upheaval I would not hesitate to follow those who think like myself.
HMM, these entries are important. But who betrayed whom? [...]

Our radio broadcasts information about the Soviet offensive in Budapest. Why is Hungary invaded? The loss of one country would be less costly than the damage done, to our reputation. Lenin would call it one step backward to prepare future steps forward. Yes, I know, England and France also attacked Egypt. But why should we follow such an example? Why shouldn’t we be better than them? What the Red Army does now weakens international communism.
This is another important entry; invasion of Hungary was a clear indication that brutality and violence are here to stay, after the 20th congress. Who was betraying whom in Budapest?[...]

7.4 What would I do?

What would possible paths of action be, for an individual, if we were also invaded by the Red Army? (a) Be on the Soviet side, trying to bring the situation under control, (b) Fight against the Red Army, (c) Do nothing; find a little corner and hide, waiting for the outcome, (d) Run away from the chaos, for example, via Gdansk or Szczecin, (e) Be obedient, doing what is ordered by those in power. Only a minority of people would follow the first two paths; most people would follow the last three paths. [...]

In a telephone conversation Tunia, said that I should not hesitate to come to Paris. Their home will be my home, she tried to assure me. It is nice to have a family. [...] Yesterday mother told me about a conversation she had with a new orphanage teacher, who left Poland to study in Belgium. But in 1939 she escaped from there to the Soviet Union. She was at once arrested and tortured with electric current. At one point the woman was told that she was to be executed, and they walked her out. This happened three times.

In Siberia, where they eventually sent her, she found another exile and they had a child. But that girl was taken away from them two years later, when the fellow was sent to another location. The woman was freed recently and her party membership was restored. But she is extremely nervous and depressed. Would my father also be emotionally disturbed if he survived the ordeal? [...]

The rector
[president] of Polytechnic agreed to recommend me to our Ministry of Higher Education and Science. They already applied for the passport, which I will probably receive in about two months. Pawlowski is on a trip to the USSR; I hope he will write the letter of recommendation after the return. But there is another possibility. Perhaps he is tentatively arranging something for me in the Soviet Union. That would explain why the recommendation was not produced before his departure. How would I now react on an offer to study in Moscow, or in Leningrad? [...]

If all goes well I will be in France in February or March. Three months should be sufficient to find a place, and to start learning the language. If I am lucky, I might be able to start studying there at once. The Polytechnic will give me a four-month leave of absence without pay. In this way, I will have a place to return to, if nothing comes of my plans. In that case I would be able to start doctoral studies here, probably working on a neutron detector whose sensitivity does not change with energy. Being a Polytechnic assistant should not prevent me from conducting my studies at IBJ. [...]

According to the Ministry, my passport will be ready in January. That is good news. I stopped learning English and started learning French. It was confusing to learn two languages at the same time. People say that the most efficient way to learn French is in France. Why is it so? Why is listening to French on a radio, several hours a day, insufficient? Because constant needs to say something are also very important. Knowing about 50 words one should start using them constantly. […] U said that she received the passport earlier than promised; she will be able to leave in December. What if this happens to me as well? Then I will go to France without waiting for Pawlowski’s return. Perhaps he will send the recommendation by mail. […]

7.5 Signs of Rising Anti-Semitism

[my mother’s sister] said that anti-Semitism is rising and she is thinking about emigrating to Israel; most of her friends have similar plans. She told us about what happened at the university. Professor Infeld [a famous scientist] entered to deliver a lecture. One student raised his hand and said loudly that he does not want to learn from a Jew. No one protested; Infeld left the auditorium. He has already left the country. I remember how enthusiastic he was when he returned to Poland from Canada. How come I did not hear about this episode?

Suja also told us about an incident at their local party meeting. One comrade delivered a speech in which Jews were blamed for abuses of Stalinism. Some one objected, suggesting that an anti-Semite should not be a party leader. But the anti-Semite was elected to the executive, in a secret ballot. One of Suja’s friends received an insulting anonymous telephone call. The telephone was not connected to the general city network; it was connected to a special security organization network.
[Suja was an accountant working for that organization.] [...]

How can I go to France and leave my mother in Warsaw where anti-Semitism is rising? It is not hard to imagine what can happen here. Is it true that the only solution is to leave Poland? It is my Poland as well. Mother wants to be with the Guterman and Okonowski families
[our relatives in Israel]. Perhaps she and Suja should go there when I am in France. I want to remain Polish. This will not prevent us from visiting each other, after my return from France. They will always be welcome in the home of my future family. [...] One thing is clear; I am responsible for my heroic mother’s old days. [...]

It is March; I already have the passport and the French visa. But Pawlowski wants me to continue working until the return of Pensko
[another assistant]. The purpose of my trip will be to explore research possibilities in my areas of interest. Therefore I must prepare a more detailed description of my doctoral study plan for him. How else will he be able to compose a realistic letter of recommendation for me? [...]

Several days ago I met M. He is also highly disappointed in our current political situation. “How naive we were,” he said, “I do not want to be in the party anymore.” I am very surprised; he was the most enthusiastic member in our executive committee. [...]

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This is Chapter 07.
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Chapter 01 Brief Summary click
Chapter 02 Extracts From My First Notebook click
Chapter 03 Anya, Ika and Other Problems click
Chapter 04 Death of Our Leader click

Chapter 05 Last Years at Polytechnic click
Chapter 06 Beria was the Villain click
Chapter 07 Aftermaths of the 20th Congress click

Chapter 08 Warm Welcome in France click
Chapter 09 Communists Killing Communists Again click

Chapter 10 Fourth Year in Paris click
Chapter 11 Climbing Toward the Doctorate click
Chapter 12 The End of the Tunnel is Not Far click
Chapter 13 Back to Poland With the Doctorate click

Chapter 14 Missing Diaries click
Chapter 15 Year of Blessings click
Chapter 16 Appendix for Questions and Comments click