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Peter Jašek

Candle Manifestation of 1988

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • 20th century history
  • End of Communism
  • Velvet Revolution
  • 1988
  • Candle Manifestation
  • Soviet Union

The day communism began to fall in Slovakia.

The anniversary of the 25 March 1988 Candle Manifestation is an annual event that resonates deeply with Slovak society as a symbol of Slovak resistance to the communist regime. Its ethos of non-violent protest could be also seen as an important one for the neighbouring countries, especially those behind the Iron Curtain.


It began in exile

A less-known fact is that the idea of organising a manifestation in defence of religious freedoms and human rights arose in the Slovak political exile, precisely within the Slovak World Congress (SWC). This was actually a rather logical consequence of the long-term activities of the Congress, which since its inception in 1970 had not only brought together most of the exiled Slovaks but under the leadership of the chairman Štefan Roman also made considerable efforts to fight the communist regime and Slovaks' right to self-determination.

At the SWC General Assembly in July 1987 in Toronto, Marián Šťastný, a famous ice hockey player, was elected the Congress's vice-chairman. Influenced by reports from Slovakia, especially those concerning the murder of priest Štefan Polák in October 1987, he devised a response that would resonate with the world's public and also constitute an act of defiance against violation of religious freedoms and human rights in Slovakia. The protest was to take the form of manifestations in front of the Czechoslovakian embassies in democratic countries. He selected 25 March as the scheduled event date - it may be a coincidence that this date was also his name day. He also resolved to reach out to people in Slovakia.

Today it is difficult to believe that news of the prepared demonstration in Slovakia had to be smuggled to leading Slovak dissident Ján Čarnogurský by Šťastný's mother-in-law sewn into the lining of her hat and written on chocolate paper.


Preparations for the demo

The normalisation leadership in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the 1980s was no longer the same regime that sent hundreds to the gallows, further thousands down uranium mines, or which conducted the thorough screening and marginalisation of tens of thousands who didn't believe the August 1968 occupation was really an international aid. Gorbachev's perestroika from 1985 not only changed relations between the superpowers, but also the attitude towards satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe. Brezhnev's 1968 imposed doctrine of international obligation 'to protect the achievements of socialism' was replaced by Gorbachev with Sinatra's My Way, as the eastern bloc began to crumble.

Although scarcely perceptible from the outside, the Czechoslovakian regime - which had lost foreign support - was shaken internally too: from the end of the 1960s, the aged government leadership slowly and without fanfare faded from the scene. The emerging generation may also had been pushing for Gorbachev's inspirational reconstruction, but they lacked the scope and possibly also abilities. Although they introduced partial reforms which liberalised the regime, they couldn't change its nature. That's why the authorities were still in the position to persecute actual as well as supposed opponents; shots were fired on the border with the West, State Security forces continued to bully and intimidate the opposition, anti-Church atheistic propaganda did not lose momentum, political trials were conducted, and oppression did not weaken.

All this went hand-in-hand with increased dissident activity. With Gorbachev's ascent, Dubček was emboldened, dissidents from the Hungarian minority became more prominent encouraged by the impression of a relaxed situation in Hungary, and previously forbidden names reappeared in artistic circles. Increasing numbers of people - who had previously remained only passive observers - stood up to oppose the regime. The October 1987 edition of the Bratislava/nahlas publication openly criticised living conditions in Bratislava, which indicated that normalisation's 'time without history' was coming to a dramatic end.

Other key signs of gradual change came from religious believers. Crowds numbering tens of thousands packed one Slovak pilgrimage site after another, the number of religious samizdat publications grew, and when at the beginning of 1988 a petition was launched for genuine religious freedom, tens of thousands people signed in their own names.

In was in this atmosphere that Šťastný's message about the prepared demonstrations found fertile ground within the secret church. And like the biblical seed, it yielded abundant crops The words of a leader of the Fatima Community, Rudolf Fibyh 'I have a candle as well as the will' became the catalyst for the secret church's involvement in upcoming events. Opposition activist František Mikloško shouldered the demanding task of convening the demonstration planned for Hviezdoslav Square in Bratislava.


Victory of Truth

From the very first moment that the demonstration was announced, it was clear that a fundamental encounter between citizens and the normalisation regime would take place. The announced programme envisioned a silent manifestation supporting the appointment of bishops for vacant dioceses in Slovakia, and the upholding of complete religious freedom and human rights in Czechoslovakia. Endorsement of these ideas was to be expressed by the lighting of candles. Information about the manifestation was largely circulated by foreign radio stations such as Vatican Radio, Radio Free Europe, and the Voice of America where Slovak journalist Anton Hlinka worked and promoted the event in the West. Equally important information channels were secret church structures, whose activists constituted a network throughout Slovakia.

On the other hand, the communist authorities - which viewed the manifestation as a political provocation - set out to prevent it from being held, or to minimise the number of protesters via various disruptive measures overseen by a specially convened commission. And sure enough, the regime utilised all the 'weapons' at its disposal: it mobilised party apparatus; propaganda machinery released news articles and television broadcasts to discredit the organisers and denounce the demonstration as 'an abuse of religious feelings' and an event organised by the West's 'bourgeois propaganda centres'; universities gave students holiday, forcing them to travel home from their accommodation, and threatened expulsions; several cultural diversion activities were organised, including an extraordinary television screening of the Western film Angélique.

Various security methods were used for the ruthless suppression of the demonstration: publicly - limiting transport and mobilising emergency units; by the state - summoning and detaining known secret church activists; and practically - with a series of preventive measures, threats and intimidation. Even the municipal authority services prepared street cleaning vehicles, using a pre-Easter deluge as a pretext.

The anticipated encounter landed a crushing victory for the demonstrators, and the regime suffered a moral debacle that profoundly shook its confidence in Slovakia and reputation abroad. Despite the security measures, thousands of people gathered. Their candles were not dimmed by the spring rain on the March evening, nor the incursions by the yellow-white police cars, street cleaning vehicles, or water cannons. The 30-minute manifestation in Bratislava - which the protesters attended despite the security forces' repressive measures - once again revealed the regime's true colours and its inability to solve accumulated social problems in any way other than through repression.


Precursor to the Velvet Revolution

Global public opinion strongly condemned the response of the Czechoslovakian authorities against the believers. From the Slovak perspective, it was very important that the manifestation showed virtually the whole world that there was active resistance against the communist regime in Slovakia - so that at least briefly, the future country became known to the world's people as a separate entity, not only part of Czechoslovakia. The European Parliament referred to the 'Slovak city of Bratislava' in its resolution condemning the attack on the protesters.

The manifestation also showed an effective way in which to fight the normalisation regime. It was the ethos of non-violent resistance, symbolised in this case by lighting candles, reciting Rosary prayers, and singing religious songs, which thanks to their transcendental nature and moral prevalence showed what had seemed impossible - to stand against armed forces of a seemingly omnipotent regime, and in a direct confrontation achieve a moral victory. This was what destroyed the communist authorities' illusion that it could intimidate and discourage people from their hope for a free life. With its non-violent resistance, this manifestation also heralded the 'gentle' nature of the fall of the communist regime and the transition to democracy in 1989. This 'Gandhi' form of protest with religious undertones can also be highlighted as Slovakia's special contribution to the fight against communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

In retrospect, it may seem equally important that the manifestation (similarly as previous petition campaigns) proved that in the environment of Catholic dissent - as the dominant component of anti-communist resistance in Slovakia (like the fertile ground of the exiled Slovaks) - there was resistance to the regime; and that such resistance was founded on democratic principles based on human and civil rights, as well as the fight for religious freedom.

Article by Peter Jašek

The original version of the text was first published at postoj.sk

Cătălina Vrabie

The Prague Spring

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • 1968
  • 20th century history
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Prague Spring
  • Eastern Bloc
  • Soviet Union

In early 1968, Czechoslovakia was witnessing a process of liberalisation under the leadership of Alexander Dubček. As the newly appointed First Secretary of the Communist Party, Dubček tried to establish 'socialism with a human face' by launching a series of far-reaching reforms. This brief period of time became known as the Prague Spring and it ended with the joint military invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and several other Warsaw Pact states.

The opportunity for crucial change in Czechoslovakia came on 5 January 1968, when Slovak Alexander Dubček replaced the hardline Czech communist Antonin Novotný as the First Secretary of the Communist Party. Dubček was aware of the growing popular discontent in the country and acknowledged the necessity for change, albeit with the Communist Party as the main driving force behind these changes. Following Dubček's appointment, demands for reforms increased. Several pressure groups emerged within the Czechoslovak society, encompassing a series of demands, such as the rehabilitation of the previous purge victims, the abolition of censorship, economic decentralisation and the exclusion of the Communist Party from other areas outside of politics.

The first few months under Dubček's leadership did indeed bring about notable changes. Reformers gradually replaced supporters of Novotný in the state apparatus and the leading bodies of the party. Censorship became more relaxed and the national press started to attack the previous government by publishing stories of corruption concerning Novotný and other officials who were close to him.

However, the major turning point came with the launch of the Action Programme in April 1968. This political scheme was underpinned with the Dubček's vision of 'socialism with a human face', a form of socialism through which the gap between the party and society would be narrowed.

Given that the most stringent need was that of an economic reform, the plan called for a minimum intervention of the state in economic affairs. The Soviet model of centrally planned economy proved to be highly damaging for Czechoslovakia, putting a strain on both local and national initiative. Under the new scheme, the role of the government was to be limited to general economic policy and long-term planning. Both industrial enterprises and agricultural cooperatives were provided with greater freedom in finding new markets. Furthermore, full equality in economic relations was to be instituted between Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R.

Another crucial aspect of the Action Programme was the granting of individual rights and liberties. Complete freedom of speech, debate, association, and travel were to be established for the citizens of Czechoslovakia. At the same time, following pressure from the former political prisoners who had been wrongfully prosecuted until 1968, arbitrary arrest was forbidden, and the courts were provided with a greater authority. The Action Programme also put into question the nature of the party's leading role in Czechoslovakia. Whereas the Communist Party was still holding the reins of power in the state, it was proclaimed that the Party should be more responsive to the feelings of the society as a whole. Therefore, according to the Programme, the Party was supposed to win over the population in a genuine way, by encouraging freedom of expression and assembly.
Last but not least, a Czecho-Slovak federation was proclaimed, following complaints voiced by Slovaks that the government was ruling asymmetrically, favouring Czechs. The legislative power in Slovakia was to be held by the Slovak national council and the Slovak council of ministers became the executive authority in Bratislava. Eventually, this came to be the only measure adopted during the Prague Spring that was kept after its suppression.

The changes in Czechoslovakia were anxiously observed by the Soviet Union, but also by the other states of the Eastern bloc. Dubček had repeatedly proclaimed the country's commitment to socialism and to the Warsaw Pact, and had even gone to Moscow immediately after his appointment. But the Soviet leaders were worried that the enthusiasm generated by the reforms would push Dubček in an even more liberal direction, thus endangering the stability of the satellite bloc.

Thus, the Prague Spring was forcefully put to an end on the night of 20/21 August 1968, with the invasion by the military forces of the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries, including the German Democratic Republic, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. Almost all of the reforms that were established during Dubček's stay in power were eliminated, and Czechoslovakia entered a period of the so-called normalisation, which meant the return to the previous political model.

The Prague Spring is said to have inspired Mikhail Gorbachev with his reform policies of Glasnost and Perestroika. Today, together with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the Solidarność movement in Poland in the 1980's, the Prague Spring is considered a key event in the history of the Eastern Bloc, which paved the way for the collapse of communist regimes in Europe.

by Cătălina Vrabie

Calvocoressi, Peter, World Politics since 1945, Pearson Longman, 2008
Crampton, R.J., Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and After, Routledge, London and New York, 1997
Dowling, Maria, Czechoslovakia, Arnold, London, 2002

Cătălina Vrabie

The October Revolution

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • Eastern Europe
  • October Revolution
  • 1917

The October Revolution came to be one of the most notable events of the 20th century, with major repercussions for the political map of Europe. As the second phase of the larger Russian Revolution of 1917, the insurrection which took place on 25 October [7 November]* in Petrograd (modern day Saint Petersburg) resulted in the Bolshevik's seizure of power and subsequent establishment of the world's first communist state.

In 1917, Russia witnessed significant changes on a political level. The February Revolution brought about an abrupt end to the centuries-old rule of the Romanov dynasty with the forced abdication of tsar Nicholas II (who would later be executed). As a consequence, the so-called dual power solution was implemented, with the command of the state being divided between the Petrograd Soviet Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and the provisional government. The escalating crisis within Russian society caused by the poor conditions of living, food shortages and mass unemployment, was only aggravated by the decision made by the provisional government to continue fighting the war against the Central Powers. Therefore, mass demonstrations began to take place whose leadership was often assumed by the Bolsheviks. Acknowledging the opportunity to take power, the Revolutionary Military Committee was born within the Petrograd Soviet, which planned to occupy strategic locations in the city.

On the day of 25 October [7 November], the Bolsheviks decided to make their move and led the uprising against the provisional government in Petrograd. The Red Guards took control over all major government facilities, including the railway stations, post and telegraph, with little to no opposition. Lenin announced a proclamation called "To the citizens of Russia!", in which he declared the seizure of power by the Military Revolutionary Committee. At night, the assault on the Winter Palace in Petrograd was launched. The insurgents surrounded the palace and some of them even managed to get in. The Bolshevik forces gave an ultimatum to surrender to the then trapped and practically defenseless members of the provisional government, who, ultimately, agreed to give up their powers.

While looking back at the 20th-century history, few events have been mythicised to such an extent as the October Revolution. This can be, in part, attributed to Sergei Eisenstein's 1928 film reenactment of the events, October, which helped perpetuate the image of a bloody struggle in the Winter Palace with thousands of casualties. Moreover, this image was further reinforced by the official Soviet historiography. In reality, the October Revolution was a small-scale event, with no blood shed during the 'storming' of the Winter Palace.

In accordance with the communist ideology, the October Revolution – later also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution – destroyed an entire social system and replaced it with a better society, far superior than anything that had existed before. As later events have shown us, this proved to be a dangerous utopian vision. The October 1917 moment marked the beginning of 70 years of rule of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, which would only come to an end with the events of 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

by Cătălina Vrabie


*October Revolution actually started in November 1917. Its name derives from an Old Style calendar used at the time in the Russian Empire. In this article Old Style dates are accompanied by the New Style dates placed in brackets.


Figes, Orlando, A people's tragedy. A history of the Russian Revolution, Penguin, 1996
S.A. Smith, The Russian Revolution. A very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002

Fruzsina Czeglédi

Visegrad Cooperation

21 August 2018
  • Lech Wałęsa
  • 1991
  • Visegrád Group
  • end of the 20th century

The V4 countries, the Visegrad Group or Visegrad Four – these terms appear quite often when Central-European politics are discussed. But what is the story behind them?

The Visegrad Four, also known as the V4 group, consist of four Central European countries: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. The name "Visegrad" comes from the middle ages and constitutes a reference to a cooperation between the Bohemian King John of Luxembourg, Casimir III of Poland, and the Hungarian King Charles I of Anjou. In 1335 the three monarchs met for a two-month congress in order to address common threats and issues being faced by the region at that time. The summit took place in Visegrad, the royal seat of Charles I of Hungary, located on a top of a hill (hence the name Visegrad – Slavic for "high castle"). The Congress of Visegrad is considered to be the starting point for the political and economic cooperation between the countries in the region. Its outcome comprised of various financial and trade agreements, peace treaties, and even a marriage contract between Bohemian and Polish dynasties, Luxembourgs and Piasts. The collaboration in the middle ages determined relations between the states until the end of the 14th century.

The idea of common regional goals resulting from a similar regional history proved to be even more durable, however, as it resurfaced again at the end of the 20th century. As the communist regimes collapsed, it was obvious that a new political and economic order was underway. But what role would the Central and East European countries play in the new Europe? To some politicians, similar heritages of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland predisposed them to partner up and to create a common, stronger standpoint from which the negotiations with other European countries could be carried out. As Vaclav Havel, the President of Czechoslovakia commented: "Can we agree that we do not wish to place obstacles in each other's way, or even envy each other, but on the contrary, that we want to assist each other?".

The official recommendation to renew the Visegrad cooperation was given by József Antall, the Hungarian Prime Minister, in Paris in 1990. The Visegrad Declaration was signed on 15 February 1991 by Vaclav Havel, József Antall, and Lech Wałęsa, the President of Poland. The agreement was built upon political guidelines such as: construction of democratic systems, elimination of totalitarian legal remnants, implementation of the rule of law, creation of liberal economies and fulfilling the requirements for joining the European Union.

After the initial emphasis on the political issues, the focus had then shifted more onto cultural and educational matters. The Bratislava-based International Visegrad Fund – so far the only institutionalized form of V4 cooperation – was created in 2000 for the purpose of supporting cultural, research and educational projects, as well as of intensifying contacts between Visegrad societies. The V4 countries organise as well several platforms where representatives of the member countries and also non-V4 participants can discuss issues ranging from history to information technologies or current political developments, such as Think Visegrad (V4 Think-Thank Platform), Think BDPST conference and numerous projects supported by IVF, including the 2017 editions of the In Between? project.

By Fruzsina Czeglédi

Antoni Zakrzewski

The Operation 'Vistula'

21 August 2018
  • Second World War
  • Operation "Vistula"
  • 1947
  • resettlements

The resettlement of almost 150 thousand Ukrainians, as well as Boykos and Lemkos, started on 28 April 1947. Its consequences are still visible today.

After the Second World War mass deportations of civilians were a common phenomenon. One of the groups influenced by the resettlements was the Ukrainian minority living in the South and South-Eastern parts of the post-war Poland. In 1947 Polish communist authorities decided to forcefully relocate Ukrainian inhabitants of three voivodships (Krakowskie, Lubelskie and Rzeszowskie) to the so-called Recovered Territories (Polish: Ziemie Odzyskane; lands which belonged to pre-war Germany but became part of Poland after the Second World War). The deportations affected also Lemkos and Boykos communities who also lived in the area.

Officially, the main goal of the relocation was to protect civilians by toppling the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Nevertheless, the region whose Ukrainian inhabitants were destined for deportation was bigger than the area influenced by the UPA's activity. The authorities' actual aim was mostly to enforce assimilation of the Ukrainian minority by creating a rupture within the autochthonic communities.

Direct pretext for the operation was the murder of general Karol Świerczewski, the Deputy Defense Minister on 28 March. He was claimed to be shot by UPA in an ambush in Bieszczady mountains. One month later the Central Committee of the Polish Workers' Party decided to start the resettlements on 28 April. At first the operation was codenamed "East" (Polish: Wschód), but later renamed to "Vistula" (Polish: Wisła).

Suspected members of UPA or the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) were sent to camps even before the operation had officially started. The most infamous was the Central Labour Camp located in Jaworzno, on the former premises of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau. Behind barbed wires were imprisoned not only UPA members but also other people who happened to be arrested during the relocations, including children, priests and members of intelligentsia.

Relocations within the operation "Vistula" followed one established sequence. Chosen villages were surrounded by soldiers and militiamen during the night. At dawn the inhabitants were told that they had 2-3 hours to collect a limited number of their belongings and livestock. Afterwards they walked to gathering points from which they were transported west by train. The journey itself could last even a fortnight. At least 27 deaths were caused by the horrific travel conditions.
At the final destination the relocated Ukrainians often discovered that most of the post-German buildings were already inhabited by Polish settlers, while those still vacant had been plundered or destroyed. What is more, food was scarce, since the deportees had left their crops at home and usually didn't have enough resources to prepare for the relocation. Moreover, people who fell victim of the operation "Vistula" were undergoing the process of forced Polonisation: family, cultural and religious contacts were limited and discouraged, and children were punished for speaking Ukrainian in public.

During the operation "Vistula" 140 662 people were resettled. The operation was terminated on 31 July 1947 but the relocations continued also after this date. Coming back to the fatherland regions was illegal and strictly forbidden; only few individuals risked returning in the early 1950's. Even the political thaw which started in Poland in 1956 and led to a reduced oppression against Ukrainian minorities did not encourage the deportees to come back. This void can still be observed in empty villages and destroyed churches slowly but steadily falling apart in the South-Eastern part of Poland.

After 1989 operation "Vistula" was condemned by the Polish Senate, intellectuals and the Polish President.

Text by Antoni Zakrzewski



  • Documents from the archives of the secret services, Łódź, Warszawa, Kijów 2012.
  • Kazimierz Miroszewski, Zygmunt Woźniczka, Obóz dwóch totalitaryzmów Jaworzno 1943-1956. Materiały z konferencji naukowej "Historia martyrologii i obozów odosobnienia w Jaworznie w latach 1939-1956", Jaworzno 2007.
  • Miroszewski Kazimierz, Centralny Obóz Pracy Jaworzno, podobóz ukraiński (1947-1949), Katowice 2001.
  • Misiło Eugeniusz, Akcja „Wisła" Dokumenty i materiały, Warszawa 2012.
  • Ukraińcy w Polsce 1944-1989, Walka o tożsamość, Warszawa 1999.
Antoni Zakrzewski

February Revolution

21 August 2018
  • 1917
  • February Revolution
  • International Woman's Day

In 1917 a movement which started as rapid protests managed to disband the centuries-old tsardom in just a few days.


Down with the government! Down with the war! Comrades, arm yourselves with everything possible—bolts, screws, rocks, and go out of the factory and start smashing the first shops you find!
- unknown worker shouting to his colleagues day after the outbreak of Revolution


In the highly industrialized Petrograd, then capital city of the Russian Empire, workers' demonstration happened very often. And the third winter during the First World War was the harshest one yet. Due to low temperatures and snowstorms trains with food and firewood kept being delayed. It is no wonder then that during the winter months of 1916 and 1917 strikes were held in several workplaces, including the Putilov Plant where the revolution of 1905 started.

The day considered to be the beginning of the February Revolution was the International Women's Day, when female workers from the textile factory marched to the Nevsky Prospect to demand a bigger supply of bread. 23 February [8 March] began with street protests and disorders, demands for "Bread!"- recalled later Mikhail Ivanovich Tereschenko, one of the eye-witnesses of February Revolution*. – Political demands and slogans against the government were also heard: "Down with the Tsar!" and so on.

At first, it was fear of hunger which led many people to the streets, but with time their demands changed and evolved into political ones. Revolution spread and more people gathered on the streets. On the third day, protests turned into a regular fight. As Tsar was outside of Petrograd, Duma decided to replace policemen with soldiers. Most of them were young and unqualified cadets who openly agreed with protesters' demands. Instead of supporting the state, they joined the insurgents. On the next day revolutionaries managed to seize the arsenal, free prisoners and take over Petrograd Cartridge Factory which became their source of ammunition.

The situation was so serious that on 2 March 1917 [15 March 1917] Duma advised Nicholas II to abdicate. Tsar decided to cede power to his youngest brother Michael Alexandrovich who, however, declined the offer. The tsardom was dissolved. Ruling power was divided between two newly established institutions: Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies (also known as Petrograd Soviet – representatives of the workers council) and the Provisional Committee of the State Duma. The latter constituted the Provisional Government which was led by the new prime minister prince Georgy Lvov.

This dual power solution caused a constant power struggle between Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet. Russia became a republic but economic and political problems kept mounting. The second revolution, known as the October Revolution, broke out only a few months later.

by Antoni Zakrzewski


*February Revolution actually started in March 1917. Its name derives from an Old Style calendar used at the time in the Russian Empire. In this article Old Style dates are accompanied by the New Style dates placed in brackets.


Figes Orlando, Tragedia Narodu. Rewolucja rosyjska 1891-1924, Wrocław 2009.
Hasegawa Tsuyoshi, The February Revolution, Petrograd, 1917, Seattle 1981.
Lyanders Semion, The fall of Tsarism. Untold stories of the February 1917 Revolution, Oxford 2013.

Antoni Zakrzewski

Creation of the Home Army

21 August 2018
  • Warsaw Uprising
  • Armia Krajowa
  • Polish Underground State
  • Operation Tempest

Armia Krajowa (Home Army) was probably the biggest resistance movement in Europe. What are its origins?

I pledge to resolutely keep secret whatever may happen to me. So help me God!
- the last lines of oath pledged by new soldiers of Home Army

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and then Soviet forces in 1939, representatives of the Polish government decided to leave the country as they wanted to avoid being captured and forced to capitulate. Polish Government-in-Exile was created, based first in France and later in London.

During this time the Polish Underground State was also established. It consisted of many institutions mirroring state apparatus. The secret state, supervised by the Government-in-Exile, had its citizens, administration, press, and courts. One of the most important parts of the Underground State was its military arm which continued to fight for freedom against the occupiers.

At the beginning the military organisation was called Służba Zwycięstwu Polski (English: Service for Poland's Victory), but in 1940 the name was changed into Związek Walki Zbrojnej (English: Union of Armed Struggle), also known under the abbreviation ZWZ.

On 14 February 1942 Władysław Sikorski, the General Inspector of the Polish Armed Forces, ordered a further reorganisation of the Underground State’s military arm. Sikorski’s command is considered to be the birth of Armia Krajowa (AK – English: Home Army), though except for the new name the order did not entail any major changes in the organisation itself. The decision was supposed to help raise the profile of the service and boost coordination of all the actions conducted under General Stefan “Grot” Rowecki.

Armia Krajowa just like its predecessors remained an “umbrella organisation” which consisted of soldiers and civilians grouped in more than two hundred different political organisations and military units. In 1944, this powerful mass movement consisted of over 380 000 voluntarily soldiers – more than 10% of Polish citizens. Many historians consider it to be the biggest European partisan movement during the war.

AK soldiers made acts of sabotages like derailing trains and damaging locomotives. They were also responsible for the execution of SS general Franz Kutschera.

Special units performed verdicts of the underground court e.g. death penalty for treason. Different sections were devoted to the gathering and creating weapons, training of new members or contact with other movements.

What is more, AK had its own intelligence and counterintelligence services. One of their most spectacular actions was the interception of the V-2 rocket. It was hidden in the river Bug and later analyzed by the Polish engineers, before being smuggled in parts to London.

But the Home Army did not focus on the military actions only. A special section carried out information and propaganda activities. One of its most top secret projects was “Action N” – counterpropaganda aimed at German soldiers. To break their morals, AK published and delivered well-made fake leaflets which spread pessimistic predictions about the state of Nazi Germany signed by non-existing German underground organisations.

All this collective effort led to the most important action – Operation Tempest in 1944 with the Warsaw Rising as its apogee and a series of smaller risings against German occupiers. The aim was to defeat Wehrmacht and free Poland before the intervention of Soviet Union. On 19 January 1945, two days after Red Army took Warsaw, Armia Krajowa was dissolved by the order of last commander general Leopold Okulicki “Niedźwiadek” who officially disbanded AK and released soldiers from their oaths.

by Antoni Zakrzewski



  • Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, Courier from Warsaw, Detroit MI 1983.
  • Stefan Korboński, Polskie państwo podziemne. Przewodnik po Podziemiu z lat 1939-1945, Warszawa 2008.
  • Norman Davies, Boże igrzysko. Historia Polski, Kraków 2007.
  • Wielka księga Armii Krajowej, Kraków 2015.
  • Nr 284 gen. Sikorski do gen. Roweckiego: rozkaz o zmianie nazwy ZWZ na "Armia Krajowa" O. VI L. dz. 627/42. Dnia 14 lutego 1942 r. [w:] Armia Krajowa w dokumentach 1939-1945, t. 2, czerwiec 1941 - kwiecień 1943, Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków 1990, s. 199.
  • scienceinpoland.pap.pl


Katarzyna Szczerbowska

Fashion '89 or the beginnings of recycling

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • Fashion

Clothes sewn according to patterns from catalogs and Burda, treasures found at bazaars and in second-hand stores, re-designed parents’ clothes, trousers dyed anew, blouses made from cloth diapers, shoes with special designs cut out - any method of acquiring an original costume was ok.

If at the end of the 80s someone from behind the Iron Curtain wanted to look good, he or she had to show off with a lot of real inventiveness. This happened differently across the map of Eastern Europe, but the proletarians of all the countries there were united in their enormous creativity.

PRL (People's Republic of Poland)

The main inspiration came from western films, music videos and photos found in foreign newspapers. Some people sewed clothes they had spied before at the tailors, others tried to copy them at home by means of dyeing old clothes or narrowing trousers legs or sleeves, either manually or on their own sewing machines. On special occasions, clothes were bought in stores of the dollar network Pewex, but as an imported blouse cost there as much as three average salaries, only a few could afford shop regularly in this paradise, tempting as it was with its real scent of the west. Fashion depended on the environment.

The most elegant young men in the humanities faculties wore black trousers, white shirts and classic denim jackets, of course dyed black. On their shoulders hung light leather bags, the straps slung diagonally, in a military style, across their slender chests. They wore suede lace-up shoes, sometimes beige, but preferably black. Their girlfriends usually wore long black skirts, and in the autumn a long coat was compulsory. Those who wanted to demonstrate their independence and freedom reached for surplus military jackets, usually American or Canadian. In the movie "Siekierezada", Janek Pradera wore a Canadian army jacket. The movie, based on a book by Edward Stachura, perfectly matched the freedom myth. Teenagers sewed skirts, dresses and blouses out of cloth diapers, usually putting the stitches in by hand.

The advantage of these clothes was that you could dye them any color in a cooking pot. Socks and scarves were dyed a furious yellow-green with Rivanol, which unlike clothes dyes, was available everywhere at that time. In general, the height of any girlish dream was to pick up an outfit from Hoffland. As the risk of meeting someone in the same clothes at a party was very high, most fashionable ladies crumpled logos under brooches and other added features, or subtly altered their dress or trousers before they joined the ballroom battle.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia

There were no Pewex stores, second-hand shops or clothes bazaars. The biggest dream was an item of clothing, sent by family from Poland – this was the method by which Baltic young people got their hands on jeans (or the regional "justy" that left ones legs a ghostly bluish hue after a rain storm) and colorful dresses. The Polish church did not provide packages with clothes, so as not to attract the attention of the authorities; it was usually limited to chocolate, dark yellow cheese and salted butter from the Netherlands.

Attending religion lessons or mass itself was a form of rebellion against the order established by the authorities. In the Baltic states, there was no question of a sudden outbreak of garish, bright purple, winter jackets sometimes designed by Polish manufacturers, so the streets were dominated by drab greys and dark, dull autumn colors that are difficult to define. A stretched sweater, knitted by grandma, and original combinations of dad’s shirts and your older brother’s trousers allowed you to stand out from the crowd.

The avant-garde girls wore long skirts, sewn by their mothers or aunts. It was hard to get any material in the shops, so teenagers who wanted to wear something original altered their parents’ and grandparents’ clothes. They narrowed bell-trousers and shortened skirts from the 60s that their mothers had worn. Fathers’ shirts that hung on skinny girls like the caricature of a dress were very helpful in the creation of a certain image. Scarves, which gave each face a unique frame, were very popular, and soon became a mandatory accessory for school uniforms, suits, sweaters and coats.


Thanks to parcels from families living in West Germany, East Berlin was the nearest western fashion capital for eastern countries. There, you could see real denim jeans and jackets on the streets (these had been "thrown" over the Berlin Wall). People also wore cotton blouses with ironed-on prints depicting the idolized faces and hairstyles of foreign musicians, as well as slogans in English.

Some of them were pretty odd -nobody really knows why white, disposable paper jackets with logos for engine oil or butter brands on their backs were very popular. There were many other examples of creativity: interesting shoes, jackets and coats could be purchased from friends who had richer relatives abroad. Many people made a living from selling on these gifts. East Germany was the land where the hand-to-hand trade flourished the most. Groups of friends gathered, in a state of pious adoration, around those of their number who had access to an incoming wave of clothes.

When information about a new delivery spread, you had to come running to the apartment of the happy "redistributor", or else others would be faster in this hunt for interesting items of clothing. In 1989, in the east of Germany, there was no money for expensive materials, decorations or buttons. Therefore the leather-like "Dederon" and other chemical textiles were invented. The jeans brands "Shanty", "Wisent" and "Boxer", which sadly didn’t match up to their counter parts from the west, were also produced there. The magazine "Sibyl", which showed contemporary fashion in eastern Germany, was very popular. As only some people could afford exclusive or western fashion ,a sewing machine was standard equipment within each family.


Kent cigarettes (with their golden stripe) were the informal currency in Romania, and the clothes' world was ruled by jeans or classic trousers and nylon sports jackets. Absolutely everyone had one of these jackets, and it didn’t matter whether they came with a stand-up collar, a hood or standard collar. They were mostly navy blue, just the same hue as the blue of the Romanian flag.

However, people generally also loved to wear black, brown or white jackets, and women often chose red or orange. Young people wore hoodies and cotton blouses under the jackets, while the older folk wore patterned sweaters and classic shirts. The real dream items, which would really make you stand out from the crowd, were leather jackets and duffel coats. Elegant Romanian women paraded in black skirts and jackets and white blouses or classic black dresses. Baggy parents' clothing was also re-designed by tailors.

The collars of shirt or the waists of old grandmother's skirts were made smaller. To get original sweaters you had to rely on the knitting skills of your mother or grandmother. Unfortunately, it was not at all easy to get hold of wool. Romanian stores, even in the greatest crises, never lacked oranges and olive oil, but to obtain wool you had to dismantle old sweaters. This was, without being ironic, the real beginning of recycling: the same raw material produced several generations of clothes.


In Bulgaria, richly decorated folk costumes were the inspiration for fashionable girls. In a country where there have been traditional songs sung and dances performed in every bar and restaurant for centuries, folk costumes were, like the traditional salads with peppers and vinaigrette sauce, evergreens, and relatively easy to get hold of.

There was no shortage of talented embroiderers and seamstresses, so their products had a myriad of patterns and all the colors of the rainbow. To achieve an original effect, it was enough to combine an embroidered folk blouse with modern trousers. In winter, traditional fur hats were worn as accessories to coats. The Bulgarians were not embarrassed to wear their folklore and therefore the streets of Bulgaria were dominated by a "merry" styling, which was absent in the other countries of the so called people's democracy.

Like everywhere else in southern Europe, the most popular costume for men was a suit and white shirt - a look that never goes out of fashion. The black suits and simple white shirts worn with classic suit trousers are still popular in Bulgaria today, both for special occasions and as everyday wear. On the golden shores of the Black Sea, girls spied the newest clothes trends on guests of the hotel 'ghettos' for currency holders from the rotten West.

With a little luck you could buy jeans or a cotton shirt - maybe even from a Pole or an East German in coastal towns like Kamcia. In this way the natives acquired original clothes, and the tourists got to spend their extra cash on Bulgarian watermelons and souvenirs.


Czech ballerinas, also called “cwiczki”, with their flexible thin rubber soles, pure cotton fabric and elastic band across the instep, were cult footwear in Czechoslovakia. They were pretty and comfortable. Almost everyone wore them in the land of stewed cabbage and dumplings, and ladies in all of Czechoslovakia’s neighboring countries dreamed of owning a pair. To stand out from the crowd, people dyed them in all possible colors, cut out patterns in them, or sewed in colorful details on the shoes. What else? Young people tended to wear denim uniforms and long sweaters. Blouses with wide sleeves and men’s shirts were hits – these were best a few sizes too big, of a funny style, and taken out of granddad’s wardrobe before being dyed anew a strong color. Short jackets that gave the impression they were a little too small were very popular - they were hard to get buttoned up.

The avant-garde youth mostly opted for leather motorcycle jackets, and the greatest winter prize was a fur-lined American pilot’s jacket. The Czechoslovakian Pewex was called Tuzex and, like in Poland, you could buy western trousers or tops there. A lot of clothes were brought from Poland, Hungary and East Germany, and jeans were sewn by the Vietnamese minority in Czechoslovakia. Sometimes you also came across interesting clothes in department stores in Prague and other big cities like Brno and Bratislava.


Thick roll neck pullovers or stretched (worn out) sweaters, white coats and surplus jackets distinguished trendy Hungarians from the more conservative people, who dressed in suits, and finally from those who were indifferent to fashion and wore jeans, cotton T-shirts and checked shirts. A sweater was the sign that you were dealing with a member of the intellectual elite. It was usually black, with a simple pattern, knitted most often by a grandmother, aunt or mother. Music videos and western record covers were a good source of inspiration for the creation of fashionable outfits. Usually the Beatles or Led Zeppelin performed the role of arbiters of elegance. Wrangler jackets and dungarees, spotted on American stars in music videos, were particularly desired. A long woollen scarf, the longer the better, was a compulsory accessory.

Elegant ladies ordered clothes at the tailor's or re-designed their old things themselves.

Many contemporary Hungarian designers like Dóra Abod have taken inspiration from the fashion of the 80's. In her collections she attempts to evoke the rock scene atmosphere from 25 years ago and is quick to reach for leather and shiny fabrics. Fans of turtlenecks and classic clothes can these days dress themselves in USE Unesed garments, and Nanushka is popular among lovers of large shirts.

Many ideas for the creation of original clothes were repeated in different countries, where people were weary of looking at the empty shelves in communist shops where clothes were sold only in theory. What could the people do? An old, popular saying goes: "the tailor cuts his coat according to his cloth". But even in these melancholy times, the communities cut off from the clothes that had been introduced in Paris, Milan, New York, did not allow themselves to be pressed into one common format.

The Czechs had their “ćwiczki”, Poles had their great clothes bazaars and master tailors, the Bulgarians made use of their tradition, and the Germans surfed on the wave of the West. And even though the streets were dominated by greyness, there were always people who wanted, and were able, to shine thanks to their great imaginations, stubbornness and creativity.


Viktor Tarnavskyi, „Dzieci swoich czasów. Ruchy młodzieżowe w Rosji a zmiany kulturowe po upadku ZSRR, Wydawnictwo Trio, 2007

Beata Łaciak, „Obyczajowość polska czasu transformacji, czyli wojna postu z karnawałem”, Wydawnictwo Trio, 2007

Jacek Kurczewski, Mariusz Cichomski, Krzysztof Wiliński, „Wielkie bazary warszawskie”, Wydawnictwo Trio, 2010

Przemysław Zieliński, „Scena rockowa w PRL. Historia, organizacja, znaczenie, Wydawnictwo Trio, 2007

Moda. Historia mody XX wieku, Taschen, 2012

The writing of the section about clothes in Poland was assisted by the recollections of, among others: Wojciech Stanislawski, historian and editor of "Rzeczpospolita", Jacek Kaminski, longtime editor of "Gazeta Wyborcza", who currently works with “Lampa” magazine, and the theater expert Maryna Bersz.

The writing of the section on clothes in the Baltic countries was assisted by the recollections of, among others, Marija Paskevic, a Polish woman who grew up in Lithuania and was a high school student in 1989. She now lives in Norway, where she works in a bookstore and studies pedagogy.

The writing of the section about clothes in Romania and Bulgaria was assisted by the recollections of, among others, Hubert Kropielnicki, editor of the weekly "Przekrój", who spent his holidays in these countries in the years around 1989.

The writing of the section about clothes in Czechoslovakia was assisted by the memories of, among others, Ján Krivoša, First Secretary, Embassy of the Czech Republic, and also used the websites: www.pagyna.wz.cz/80leta.html and www.mezizenami.cz/clanek/nesmrtelna-80-leta as useful references.

The writing of the section about clothes in the GDR was written with the help of, among others, Joanna Janecka, Department of Culture, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Warsaw, and also used the website: http://www.zeitklicks.de/ddr/zeitklicks/zeit/alltag/leben-in-der-ddr/mode-im-sozialismus/ as a useful reference.


by Katarzyna Szczerbowska


Carol Elias

Holocaust and Diaspora Survival: The Next Generations. Past, Present, Future

21 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • Jews
  • Memory
  • Second World War
  • remembrance
  • Diaspora

“The guardianship of the Holocaust is being passed on to us. The second generation is the hinge generation in which received, transferred knowledge of events is transmuted; into history, or into myth.” (Hoffman 2004, xv)


I am the child and grandchild of Holocaust, and what I call Diaspora, survivors. The effect of these traumatic events on my life is becoming more apparent as I get older until it became clear that I would have to trace their origins from the time of my parent's childhood up until now and begin to expose these hidden life-long feelings. The impetus for this journey began as an answer or explanation as to why I almost never say the words, 'I love you'. During my grandparent's war-torn generation the ability to express affection almost disappeared. It was as if expressing words of love after the horrors they had faced would somehow demean the enormity of the tragedy. If you could love again, then how bad could it have really been?

Innumerable stories have been written, and continue to be written even at this late stage, about the Holocaust and dramatic survival. As the population of original survivors is gradually disappearing, it becomes even more important for the next generations to gather as much of the factual information before it is too late. I have come to realize that not only had my mother’s family survived the Holocaust; but that my father's family had also 'survived' in pre-WWII Poland, living through anti-Semitic pogroms, emigrating to Palestine where they suffered enormously, eventually leaving for the United States, arriving in 1929 the year of the Great Depression.

All of them had experienced forced abandonment of the known to enter the unknown; changes in homeland, languages and names due to the historical, wartime events that were not in their control. These affected my parents and grandparents, and ultimately my generation as well. It is my purpose here to discuss the trans-generational traumatic effects that these experiences had had on a specific population, family being just one example. Eventually, we, the children and grandchildren will be required to come to terms with our ancestor's pasts as best as we can, incorporating them into our own lives; present and future.

It is my hope to begin this process as an intergenerational and international discussion. Many of us alive today have been affected by the Holocaust in some way; Jewish or not, survivors and their families or not, and yet we continue to relate to the Holocaust as if it had begun only recently. Unbelievably, we are a mere seventeen years from the centennial anniversary of the Nazi party's initial rise to political power in 1932. Any attempt to break the near-pervasive silence that has been the norm in war-torn, twentieth-century America, Europe and the world may hopefully yield positive results in unifying the global village of today.

Original Holocaust survivors hold a unique responsibility to continue to tell their own stories for as long as they can. One example of this is the autobiography, "Once We Were Eight" published when the author was 85 years old. In it he expresses his motivation for telling his own tragic story of survival including the loss of six out of eight members of his own family:

"'Zachor' – Remember. This has become my mission. I grab every opportunity that comes my way to share my history so that the Holocaust is not forgotten. One day, in the not too distant future, there will be no survivors to tell their stories, so it is imperative that I, and others like me, share their Holocaust experiences so that no one can ever doubt that the Holocaust happened. My goal is to educate students, and all who I encounter, so that they in turn will educate others. The history of the Holocaust must not die when survivors are not here to tell first-hand what happened during that terrible chapter in history. To me, it is still unbelievable and inconceivable that these horrific crimes were committed by civilized nations in the 20th century". (Fishler 2014, 156)

The Unter-Stanestie/ Vivos (Vivis) Pogrom: July 5-6, 1941

My mother and grandparents survived a pogrom which took place on July 5th and 6th, 1941 in the small village of Unter-Stanestie and in its tiny, neighboring, almost unknown, unmentioned village of Vivis (Vivos) in Romania (now Ukraine). A summary of the events are detailed below as part of a concise and accurate article:

“In Stanestii de Jos, a village east of Czernovitz…the locals organized a Ukrainian national committee to take control of the village ‘arresting’ the Jews and holding them in the mayor’s office or the saw mill. The Ukrainian nationalists soon began to murder their prisoners, and when the Russian army reached Stanestii de Jos, the pogrom was intensified. Upon his arrival, the Romanian gendarmerie’s commander put a stop to the blood bath, but by that time between eighty and one hundred and thirty Jews had already been killed. The fact that a local gendarmerie commander could stop a massacre underscores the fact that the impetus for pogroms often came from below... The Jews barricaded themselves in their homes, and the Ukrainians ‘patrolled’ usually armed with agricultural tools, for firearms were not widely available. The Ukrainians then decided to ‘fetch’ the Jews from their homes and concentrate them in one place. A list was compiled from which the names of the Jewish men were read out one by one, after which these were led away… Most of the Jewish men were beaten to death- only a few were shot….Chana Weisenfeld, who was …from Stanestii de Jos, related how Ukrainian neighbors rampaged through the village armed with hammers and sickles. According to Weisenfeld, more than eighty Jews were killed in the pogrom. Close to the village, local perpetrators killed a pregnant woman and beheaded her… The massacres of Jews by the local population sometimes seem especially puzzling because the perpetrators are civilians and the victims are their neighbors…. Later when it became clear that it was possible to murder with impunity, people murdered so that no one would be there to remember the stolen property.” (Geissbuhler 2014, 434-439)

The pogrom, like many others that occurred that summer of 1941, represented the Romanian's attempt to “cleanse the terrain” of its’ Jewish population. (Solonari 2010, 160) No Jews remained in Stanestie. My family’s survival was close to miraculous after my grandfather was captured and escaped. ChanaWeisenfeld, mentioned above, is my mother’s first cousin, aged 82 today. The pregnant woman, beheaded in the forest of Vivis, was my grandmother’s sister and my mother's aunt. Her name was Chaika. I am her namesake in Hebrew; Chaya, and in English; Carol.


After the pogroms, survivors travelled for several months, from July until October 1941, on foot or by wagon, surviving typhoid and horrid conditions, under constant Romanian guard until they reached the Transnistria concentration camps. My mother’s family survived. My great-grandfather did not. There, life under the harsh hands of the Ukrainian/Romanian/Nazi guards was exceedingly difficult.

Aharon Appelfeld, the prolific Israeli author, was born in Stanestie in 1932 like my mother. He survived the pogrom in which his mother perished and was sent to Transnistria. He describes life in the camp and the unendurable silence there. “During the war, one did not talk… Whoever was in the Ghetto, the camp and the forests, knows silence from within…The war is a hothouse of listening and of silences. Extreme hunger, quenching thirst, the fear of death makes words redundant. As a matter of fact, they are unnecessary. In the Ghetto and the camp only those who lost their sanity talked, explained and tried to convince. The sane did not talk.” (Appelfeld 1999, 95)

The history of the Holocaust in Romania is not well-known and even less well understood. This lack of clarity was due to the historical "unfolding of events…The fate of its Jews varied depending on the geographic areas where they lived …[and] the fact that Transnistria was not a part of the territory of Romania, but only under its administration, changing political circumstances and erratic government policies.”(Nizkor Project 1991, 1) This confusing geopolitical status ultimately led the survivors of Transnistria not to “talk about their tragedy because they were too traumatized…Their experiences were trivialized because Transnistria had not been publicly acknowledged for the tragedy it really was." (Bernhardt 1997, 1) As of 2004, a total of “between 45,000 and 60,000 Jews …were killed in Bessarabia and Bukovina by Romanian and German troops in 1941. Between 105,000 and 120,000 deported Romanian Jews died as a result of expulsions to Transnistria." There, "between 115,000 and 180,000 … Jews were killed.” (ICHR 2004, 306)

Politanki, Ukraine

Sometime soon after their arrival in Transnistria my mother's family received a reprieve of sorts that more than likely saved their lives. The Russian owner of a melon farm bribed guards to release 40-50 laborers from one of the camps. They were taken to a barn, each family to a room, and there they lived for close to three years near the tiny Ukrainian village of Politanki. They lived a mini-Schindler existence; hard labor in exchange for life, food, and advance notice if the Nazi or Romanian army approached. If they did, they were sent deep into the forest; food sent out to them and then brought back after the danger had passed. The farmer had been offered the highest award for saving Jews by the Israeli government; but he refused to accept it. Perhaps he had worried about future repercussions in his own country it became known that he had helped Jews and gone against his own government during WWII.

After the Holocaust

After the war ended, my grandparents returned briefly to Stanestie. There, killers roaming the forests were searching for and murdering any potential witnesses to the pogroms that had been carried out by local, non-Jewish villagers. Warned by a kindly neighbor, after spending a few hours at her home, they left before dawn, never to return. No wonder my grandparents left Romania as quickly as they could and ran to Germany, empty-handed. Nobody there was going to take responsibility for Jews who had survived anyway. The rapidly changing borders had made it convenient for many countries to say, ‘They aren't ours’. The lack of facts may be useful for those who say the Holocaust never happened on a large scale. As the last original survivors pass away, the voices of those who perished without gravestones will be extinguished forever. No, this concept is not new; but because of it I continue thework, to pay homage to members of my close family who I know had existed in Romania and Poland until July 1941.




Three-quarters of a century have passed since the beginning of WWII and we may ponder the continuing widespread interest in the Holocaust and its outcomes. Many of us are looking for connections to our pasts by trying to fill in the empty holes of what we have never known; the truth about the histories of our own families. It could be that I, like many of the group called second and third generation survivors of the Holocaust are cursed to go on a personal quest for answers, and were so cursed the moment we were born. Discussed by Eva Hoffman in her autobiography, she describes being the child of Holocaust survivors and what this may mean to her and others like her. She proposes that, “If I wanted to understand the significance for those who come after, then I needed to reflect on my own and my peers’ link to that legacy, to excavate our generational story from under its weight and shadow-to retrieve it from that ‘secondariness’ which many of us have felt in relation to a formidable and forbidding past.”(Hoffman 2004, xi)

I can use myself as an example of one who has experienced this search for knowledge and answers; the Holocaust as a 'rumor' or word that has no meaning, turned into a black hole of silence, sadness, depression, of those around me with no explanation. How could I be completely happy? I never felt like I truly fit in; now at least I know why. I may have been born in America, but my parents and grandparents were all of Eastern European, Austro-Hungarian background, mentality and culture; most having accents. I had always been proud to be American, but my 'Jewish-ness', 'child-of-Holocaust-survivor'-ness had always held a subconscious grip off-stage.
In order to explain what had motivated me to understand my mother's experiences during the Holocaust, we can examine the groundbreaking article, “The Generation of Post-Memory", where Hirsch purports the concept that memory of the Holocaust may be transmitted almost directly into the minds of the children of survivors:

"Post-memory describes the relationship that the generation after those who witnessed cultural or collective trauma bears to the experiences of those who came before, experiences that they ‘remember’ only by means of stories, images, and behaviors. But these experiences were transmitted to them so deeply and effectively as to ‘seem’ to constitute memories in their own right…To grow up with such overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one’s birth or one’s consciousness, is to risk having one’s own stories and experiences displaced, even evacuated, by those of a previous generation. …These events happened in the past, but their effects continue into the present. This is, I believe, the experience of post-memory.”(Hirsch 2010, 106)

We must continue to examine the impact that the Holocaust is having on the ‘next’ generations; how a child’s identity can become almost secondary to the heroic fact that their parent has survived the Holocaust. What achievement can rate next to that? It may come as no surprise that we, second generation Holocaust survivors, describe ourselves as such, as if wearing our own badge of courage. Self-esteem and identity have somehow been created out of their heroism. Hirsch and Miller describe the creation of the second generation’s self-identity through over-identification with the survivor parent and grandparent and reveal that “along with many other American Jews of our generation [we] have … devoted the last several years to the recovery of our own family stories and the search for lost Jewish worlds in Eastern Europe.” In addition, they suggest, “the legacies of the past transmitted powerfully from parent to child within the family…shape identity and …’post-memory’ can account for the lure of second generation’s …over-identification.”(2011, 4)
I can say that the Holocaust has had an incredible impact upon me even though I had never been part of it. I was born in a totally different country, environment and culture than my mother and my grandparents who had survived. As Hirsch explains, "post-memory describes the relationship of the second generation to powerful, often traumatic, experiences that preceded their births but that were nevertheless transmitted to them so deeply as to seem to constitute memories in their own right."(2010, 103) Yet there have been several instances in my life when I mistakenly used the first person to describe things that had happened to my mother during the Holocaust, and instead said they had happened to me. Hirsch wonders if as children of survivors we may "adopt the traumatic experiences of others as experiences that we might ourselves have lived through, inscribe them into our own life story… [and have a] frustrated need to know about a traumatic past." (2010, 114)


It could be that the ‘Second Generation Survivor Syndrome’ begins in infancy. Halasz describes how the “second generation offspring witnessed that silence… those exiled moments when he, the infant was hungering for relatedness. Instead he met the survivor parent's ‘fated exile’, a wall of silence.” He adds, "there may be unexamined danger in being named after deceased relatives, in that parents may only see the dead relatives in their children and therefore not ever really see or know their own child…For the second generation survivor, this may mean that the child in turn may grow up having a blurred or undefined identity.”(2002, 217) I began to be interested in learning about the Holocaust at an early age. I now believe that having been named after an aunt killed during the Holocaust may have been the basis for this early onset.

Post-memory may have also played a role in my early life with much of the transmission conducted in silence. There were no discussions of the events that had taken place; not at the dinner table, not in the living room, not as I grew older. It was my own personal curiosity that led me to start searching; in college, on the Internet and later, on trips to every major city in Europe which had had a Jewish history beginning after the Inquisition. For example, Lily Brett, a second generation author, describes her relationship to her mother, a Holocaust survivor, in an interview entitled "Walking Among Ghosts". She explains, "I wanted to be one of them …I didn't want to be separated from [her] by this enormous gulf." (Giles 2000, 56)

I had grown up with the loud silence of knowing that there was something out there, but what? A loud, earth shattering scream of nothingness, that reverberated in my ears from the time I was born. I knew nothing, and continued to know nothing for years. I never got the message or information from the original source itself. This now is very frustrating, because I would like to have heard my grandfather tell me the story at least once in his own words, to hear his fear and feelings. I would have liked to hear my grandmother speak, even once, about anything at all, or about the day they left their hometown without my grandfather. What this must have felt like I can only imagine. My mother has written her story, and although now she will answer questions if I ask, it is still a bit like prying open a can of sardines. Is this why I keep so much inside?

In a contribution to "Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators" the second-generation writer Lisa Reitman-Dobi relates her feelings, which are eerily similar to mine:

"all my life I've felt a tremendous weight on me, something that I could not understand, although I knew it had something to do with the Holocaust….I knew that the war, the Holocaust specifically, was a topic that had been relegated to the topmost shelf, something that wouldn't be addressed. By the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I was aching to know details… I craved more information…. I was not completely ignorant. On the contrary, it was because I knew a fair bit about the war that my curiosity was piqued. I had always known about the Holocaust. I had always known about the concentration camps. I can't say how. It's as if I were born with a degree of information that had been genetically installed, like my brown hair and brown eyes. I knew that an isolated, distant horror, something that could never happen again, mind you, had severed the past from the present without a trace. I knew that my mother's family had been shattered by the war but….I had never seen her mourn or cry or show any anger at the injustice during her childhood. I sensed that I was required to appreciate the rich childhood that had been denied my mother. But instead of happy, I felt sad. I felt sad for my mother, sad for everyone, and then guilty for feeling sad…. The reality was that I was in a perpetual state of mourning for that which I had never known, as much as there was to know." (A. Berger and N. Berger, eds. 2001,16-19)

We, the second generation, have been relegated to remember the Holocaust as if in a virtual time-machine; almost as if we had been there ourselves. This may not happen to every survivor’s child, but similar to a gene, like alcoholism or diabetes; some of us have the predisposition to be the carrier of the message. This might be set off by incidents in our own lives or perhaps this is learned behavior, gleaned from the sad, introspective, smile-less face; slow movements or hunched-over shoulders of our grandparents; physical exhibitions of their own never-released inner traumas. As our own middle age encroaches, we may be able to reveal the truth.

Yes, indeed, without a doubt, our own identities were formed by their connection to that horrible, historical anomaly; duly transcribed and reported in every tiny, minute detail by the Nazis; the Holocaust. This is what we had to compete with. Is it any wonder that we have been spoiled almost to death? We, call us what you will, the second, third, next, future generations are bearing the brunt of the anger, sadness, unknowable, untellable loss that our parents and grandparents had suffered. We, connected to them by blood and sorrow, must build on this and move forward with the same type of strength and courage as it took for them to be able to survive. Whatever has happened to them is done. They will not tell us any more than we already know. It is this silence that the second generation has endured that has made it so important to get the facts straight now before it is too late.

Alan Berger and Naomi Berger ask two simple questions; "What is the second generation's connection to the Holocaust? Their parents suffered, but what have been the effects on the offspring?" (2001, 1) The painful answers that have been shut away for decades have been seeping out slowly in books and films during the past ten or twenty years. Whatever has been locked away by the power of silence and fear of exposure is making its way to the surface. And exposing what exactly are we talking about here? My grandparent's fear of being discovered to have survived the Holocaust while millions of others had not? Hey, you guys, you were the victims here. Remember? The fact is perhaps they had not wanted to talk about being victims of the most heinous crime against humankind known to man; keeping silent for most of their lifetimes. It could be that the survivors themselves were trying to maintain their pride as well as protect us from the knowledge of what they had gone through. Hirsch adds that in their creation of a "protective shield particular to the post-generation, one could say that, paradoxically they reinforce the living connection between past and present, between the generation of witnesses and survivors and the generation after." (2010, 125)

Possibly my grandfather had felt that if he maintained his silence, it would be as if what had transpired during those terrible years during the war had never happened at all. In her extraordinary analysis of Lily Brett's autobiographical story, "Things Could Be Worse”, Catalina Botez examines the function that silence fills for Holocaust survivors. She claims "that silence can equally 'voice and hush traumatic experience', that it is never empty, but invested with individual and collective meaning. Essentially, I contend that beside the (self) damaging effects of silence, there are also beneficial consequences of it, in that it plays a crucial role in emplacing the displaced, rebuilding their shattered self, and contributing to their reintegration, survival and even partial healing." (2012, 15)

I can apply her theory to my grandfather, who never spoke about his own personal trauma to me as a child or young adult. Did Silence help him create a new life in America, raise two children, and build a successful business? I suppose that the key word is ‘partial’ when describing the amount of healing a person can go through after incredible trauma, losing half of his siblings and his parents while he, himself, survived. My grandfather was a lovely man, generous, caring and always wanted the best for his family. His children and grandchildren were proof of his strength throughout the untold horrors he had faced during WWII. But the scars were deep, and in all the years that I knew him, except perhaps toward the end of his life, his expressions of warmth were minimal. I knew that he loved me very much. He never said so.

I cannot explain even to this day what caused this withholding of information; to keep one of the major catastrophes in the history of mankind inside; not shared with members of your own family. Botez suggests that "silence is never empty or devoid of meaning, but 'inhabited' by poignant content pointing to trauma, loss and an inability to understand or cope with … loss".(Botez 2012, 17)20 Would they have been able to tell their stories without breaking?
It was that exactly; that inhabited silence; the practically void, brief, uncompleted lives of my grandparent's sisters and brothers; and the Unmentionables, the Unborn; the brothers and sisters of my mother and my uncle, who cry silently without tears. THIS is the epicenter of our sad melodrama, those almost forgotten souls. Overdramatized? I don’t think so. This is the Truth as I know it. It is what we do with the knowledge now that is essential, not only for me and individuals like me, but as a jumping off point for universal discussion and repair. As in a court case where thousands are represented; so shall it be here.

Stanestie/Vivos 2007

Something changed in me after I visited Stanestie in 2007. It is clear to me that not much has changed there; only the universal shame, guilt and pain in the local citizens has remained. The residents who were born after the war feel somehow responsible for the actions of their parents and grandparents even though they had nothing to do with them. As the book title suggests, the “sins of the fathers” have stayed with them; with tears in their eyes. (Woods 2013) One man around my age leads us through the Christian cemetery to the collective gravesite for the Jewish victims of the pogrom, shaped like a Star of David with a small commemorative plaque written in English, Romanian, Russian and Hebrew; we comfort him.

Politanki 2015

Recently, I made a personal and very difficult journey to the Ukraine, whose goal had been to reach the tiny village of Politanki where my mother had been in hiding from October 1941 until the end of WWII. I was finally able to begin to understand what Transnistria had been at that time. In the words of a middle-aged Ukrainian woman who we had met there; she described to my barely-Russian-speaking cousin what had been told to her by her grandmother many years before. “Eleven kilometers from here there were ghettoes that were run by very bad Romanian Fascists." She added, “Here, there were Romanians too, but they were not so bad”. Trying to figure out if there had once been a melon farm in the area seemed a bit too much for our language barrier to cross.

This trip made by one child of one Holocaust survivor, travelling nearly a quarter of the way across the globe, on roads that were not roads, at border crossings that could not be imagined; an impossible, impulsive drive to find the truth and see it with my own eyes. Not because I did not believe that it had happened; but because it had never been truly explained to me in words; only in shadows and sketchy outlines that left no room for imagination. Reality, in all its glory, sadness, emptiness, colors of pale green endless wheat fields, nothingness, had been registered and claimed! I had come to the most complete understanding of what my mother had gone through that any survivor’s child could; only after an incredibly hard and unusual trip, involving chance coincidences, other people, several countries, diplomatic assistance and Russian translation of information that probably couldn't even be found on the English language World Wide Web. This, I was able to do, with thanks to those know who they are. Now that I have seen first-hand where it all took place, can I say that post-memory has become my memory, too? I am not sure. But, the fact is, I was able to put in the last piece of the puzzle; and the puzzle has been solved!


Today, nearing 80 years since the beginning of the Holocaust; the largest organized mass murder in history, we continue to ponder the source of its inception; the root of the wasted intelligence on an evil plan developed only to try to eradicate one of the most ancient peoples known to mankind, and there is no end in sight to our conversations.

However well-adjusted my mother was in her adopted country of America, the shadowy phantom of Eastern Europe still lingered above her, as it did all survivors. She may have tried to escape the vestiges of the Holocaust by losing her accent; feeling at home in the United States; working; getting married and raising a family. But, "their children, whom they have proudly raised in a free country carry their parent's burden of traumatic memories, not always sure of the extent of their harmful grasp." (Botez 2012, 24) There is no question that my mother was unaware of the potential influence that her own Holocaust experiences might have had on her children. It is this late knowledge and recent understanding that we are dealing with here, and must find the correct path on which to send the message out to the world. It has taken me fifty-eight years to get to this point of self-analysis and self-understanding. It is not for the lack of trying, many times, and many ways. Is it better late than never? You bet, especially for my children's sake and perhaps others as well. Perhaps writing it all down will lead the revelations in the right direction.

One of the main reasons that I don’t say ‘I love you’ often is because it wasn’t said to me by my mother as I was growing up. It could be said that wartime isn’t exactly the proper atmosphere for giving affection. ‘Normal’ emotional involvement of a parent to a child in expressions of endearment are reduced to a minimum or eliminated completely when the threat of death hangs over you daily like a tiny dew drop dangling from the edge of a blade of grass at sunrise. You know it will fall; it’s just a matter of time.

My mother told me that what she remembers of her early childhood before the war was happy go-lucky. She didn't have any young friends, but she remembers playing with workers in the lumber mill and enjoying herself. This must have come to such an abrupt, unexplained and unexplainable stop that whatever happiness she had enjoyed as a child had been buried forever, never to be retrieved even later on in life. How can a person who has suffered trauma like this be expected to raise a child herself in a traditionally 'normal' way, and so on in the following generations? This is the question being raised here.

At a recent book-signing event for my book,“I love you, they didn’t say", (Elias 2015) in which I deal in part with the lack of verbal affection from my mother toward me as a child; my mother, for the first time, began to understand what had had happened to her during the Holocaust.She described to visitors at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. how she had experienced an almost complete emotional black-out for approximately three years, from her parents towards her, and from herself towards the outside world. It was quite a cathartic, heart-wrenching and heart-warming experience for me to hear her speak, when at first she could not understand why I had entitled my book this way.

I don’t need results from studies on psychological responses in children of Holocaust survivors; I just have to look at myself and my brother as a two-case sample study. We are two specimens of a unique twentieth-century phenomenon and whichever way we have turned out will continue on and on until we stop it or at least try to. I know where this detached demeanor comes from and even though I do, I cannot change it. Maybe this work, which started out as a way of organizing the stories of my mother’s survival, has now turned into something much, much more. Those who had lived through hell and come out on the other side could not have possibly comprehended the effect it had had at the time and would have on them later on. They could not have imagined the effect it would have on their offspring, and on the children of their offspring.

This article may open the doors for discussions, NOT necessarily for the survivors themselves, but for those who have come after them. We have to start to breathe. I am not guilty, nor is my mother, father, grandparents, nor are any of them. The world is a dangerous place and becoming more so every day. God says we are supposed to stay alive under any circumstances. Life is sacred in its most natural form; it is what matters. Without humanity we cannot continue to report the progress of mankind to each generation that follows. This is our mission; our purpose: to learn, grow, teach; to educate those that are here with us today and will pass on the memories to those who will come next; our own future generations.


1. Appelfeld, Aharon, “The Story of a Life”, Keter, Jerusalem, 1999.
2. Berger, Alan and Naomi Berger, eds. "Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of the Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators", Syracuse University Press , New York, 2001,
3. Bernhardt, Zvi, 'Introduction', "Transnistria: Lists of Jews Receiving and Sending Support", Jewish Gen, 1997-2015
4. Botez, Catalina, ""The Dialectic of Silence and Remembrance in Lily Brett's "Things Could be Worse"', Babilonia Numero Especial, 2012, pp. 15-29
5. Elias, Carol, "’I Love You, They Didn't Say’- Holocaust and Diaspora Survival : the Next Generations”, Orion Books, Israel, 2015.
6. Fishler, Raymond, "Once We Were Eight", http://www.thebookpatch.com. 2014
7. Geissbuhler, Simon, "'He Spoke Yiddish Like A Jew' - Neighbors Contribution to the Mass Killings of Jews in Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia in July, 1941". "Holocaust and Genocide Studies", 28, no.3, Winter, 2014, pp. 434-449.
8. Giles, Fiona, "Walking Among Ghosts: An Interview with Lily Brett", Meanjin, Volume 59, no.1, 2000, pp. 54-69
9. Halasz, George, "Can Trauma be Transmitted Across the Generations?" in "The Legacy of the Holocaust: Children and the Holocaust", eds, Zygmunt Mazur, Fritz Konig, Arnold Krammer, Harry Brod, Wladylaw Witalisz, Jagellonian University Press, 2002, pp. 209-223.
10. Hirsch, Marianne, "The Generation of Post-Memory", Poetics Today- International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication, Spring 2008, Vol. 29 (1), pp. 103-128
11. Hirsch, Marianne and Nancy K. Miller, "'Introduction'- Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory", New York Columbia University Press, 2011
12. Hoffman, Eva, Introduction, "After Such Knowledge: Memory: History and the Legacy of the Holocaust", Public Affairs: Persus Books Group, 2004, pp. xv
13. ICHR, “Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania”, http://miris.eurac.edu/mugs2/do/blob.pdf?type=pdf&serial=1117716572750
14. The Nizkor Project, "Shattered! 50 Years of Silence: History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria: The Unknown Killing Fields of Transnistria."
15. Reitman-Dobi, Lisa, "Family Ties: The Search for Roots: Once Removed", in A. Berger and N. Berger, eds. “Second Generation Voices: Reflections by Children of the Holocaust Survivors and Perpetrators", Syracuse University Press, New York, 2001
16. Woods, James, "The Sins of the Fathers", www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/07/22/sins-of-the-father

The author about herself:
I am a fifty-eight year old woman who has been living in Israel for the past twenty-three years. I have two children, both who have served in the Israel Defense Forces. My son finished his service last year and is now studying Graphic Design. My daughter, who is an officer in her third elective year, is a liaison between injured soldiers and the Army, and regularly visits families who have lost loved ones while. I hold a Masters and Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from major universities in New York State. I worked as a Guidance counselor in New York City before moving to Israel and raising a family. I attained a permanent Teacher’s license in Israel, where I have been an educator and supervisor for over twenty years.


The Romanian Revolution

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • Romanian Revolution

In mid-December 1989 events in Timisoara launched the revolution which resulted in overthrowing the long-term Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Before the dictator and his wife were sentenced to death and executed, over a thousand people were killed and several thousand injured in riots.


Based on timeline prepared by dr. Florin Abraham

On 14 December, on discovering the authorities’ intention to implement the Court’s decision to evict Reverend Laszlo Tokes, 30-40 parishioners of the Reformed Church protested in front of his house on Timotei Cipariu Street in Timisoara. The head of the local Militia decided to halt the eviction to avoid further tension.

However, on 16 December, Nicolae Ceausescu ordered Militia and Securitate forces to re-establish order and evict Reverend Tokes. The officers were met with resistance of hundreds of protesters gathering around the Reverend’s house and shouting anti-Ceausescu slogans. The intervention resulted in violent clashes which led to even more unrest: people gathering and tearing down portraits of Ceausescu and red flags, building barricades and breaking windows in town centre shops. As a result, tear gas was used and several protesters were arrested. Laszlo Tokes was evicted on the following day. This did not put an end to the protests, on the contrary: military units coming into the town for a victory parade were attacked by a crowd of 4,000 people shouting slogans against the regime. The law enforcement services responded with tear gas and water jets, while the army used tanks and opened fire.

The clashes continued after Nicolae Ceausescu had left Romania for an official visit to Iran. Facing the remobilisation of protesters, the authorities declared a state of emergency. As the demonstrations in Timisoara escalted, on 19 December the troops were sent to the town’s biggest industrial factories, in an attempt to keep the situation under control. Meanwhile, an anti-Ceausescu manifesto signed by SLOMR, a Romanian free trade union, was announced in some cities in Transylvania (Sibiu, Alba Iulia, Sebes, Deva, Targu Mures, Brasov, among others), calling people to strike.

On 20 Decemeber Timisoara went on general strike. Ioan Lorin Fortuna, one of the protest leaders, initiated the formation of the revolutionary committee called the Romanian Democratic Front (Frontul Democratic Român - FDR). FDR representatives held talks with the Prime Minister Constantin Dascalescu, laying down their demands: an inquiry into the killings which took place on 17 December and release of those arrested; resignation of Ceausescu and his government and the formation of a National Salvation government; guarantee of free press. On the same evening, Nicolae Ceausescu, who had by then returned from Iran, delivered a televised speech in which he condemned the events in Timisoara and accused foreign countries of involvement in Romanian domestic affairs.

On 21 December 1989, the FDR leaders read the Proclamation to 100,000 demonstrators from the balcony of the Opera House. In all the major towns of Transylvania, workers were striking in solidarity with Timisoara. The law enforcement forces were trying to dissuade people from openly protesting. At noon in Bucharest, hoping to win the popular approval of his policy and regime, Nicolae Ceausescu organized a public rally with the participation of tens of thousands of people. He addresses the crowds, promising increase in salaries, pensions, social aid and state allowances for children, but the people fled from the square. Troops were mobilized in the city to protect the Secretary General of the Party and his wife. The law enforcement forces intervened violently against the demonstrators, who shouted anti-Ceausescu slogans in several places in Bucharest, using tear gas and water jets, arresting people and even shooting at them. Military units were also mobilized in all the protesting towns in Transylvania, in order to intervene against the demonstrators.

On 22 December in all main towns of Romania, people took to the streets to continue the protests. General Vasile Milea, Minister of National Defence, refused to carry out Nicolae Ceausescu’s order to shoot the demonstrators and committed suicide. Nicolae Ceausescu declared a state of emergency throughout the country on national television and radio. The Army and Militia forces refused to shoot at people and took the side of the revolutionaries. Towards noon, the revolutionaries occupied the public television building.

At 12:06, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu fled the Central Committee building by helicopter. Soon the revolutionaries took control over the building and removed Romanian Communist Party flags. Petre Roman announced the victory of the revolution from the Central Committee balcony. At 12:55, actor Ion Caramitru and poet Mircea Dinescu announced the victory of the revolution from the Romanian public television studios. The public radio building were also occupied by demonstrators, who began broadcasting the revolution live. Appeals were made for calm and for ceasing of confrontations with the forces still faithful to the former regime. All over the country, big crowds of people gathered in the streets in support of the revolution.

Army was ordered to support the revolution and prevent further violence. Some former Securitate agents were attacked by angry revolutionary mobs in Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and Harghita County. A formation of the National Salvation Front Council, the revolutionary structure that would guide the country during the coming months and organize free elections, was announced and all the structures of the former regime were dissolved. Acts of terror later became widespread throughout Bucharest and the entire country, especially in strategic areas such as airports, ministries, military buildings, public television and radio. Military units were in disarray and began attacking each other.

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were captured at Targoviste after their brief flight and taken into custody by the Securitate. They were transferred from the Targoviste Securitate headquarters to the military unit under the command of Colonel Andrei Kemenici.

Television continued to broadcast live events near the Central Committee, including various military units opening fire. At 23:00, Ion Iliescu presented the Statement of the National Salvation Front Council to the Country (CFSN). The document summed up the objectives of the revolution: to institute the democracy, freedom and dignity of the Romanian people, to dissolve the institutions of the Ceausescu regime, to ensure power is taken by the CFSN and the Superior Military Council, which will then create local branches in order to provide local government.

During the night, fighting continued in Bucharest among unidentified group and all over the country, people were killed in the exchange of fire. Terror acts continued in the next days all over the country, resulting in several dead and injured, among both civilians and the military. The CFSN adopted exceptional measures calling for an immediate ceasefire in the country, the trial of the Ceausescus, the confiscation of weapons from civilians and the unification of the armed forces. On 24 December the CFSN leadership and the military decided to briefly try Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu and sentence them to death, with immediate execution.

On 25 December 1989 at Targoviste, the Exceptional Military Court accused Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu of genocide (64,000 deaths during their regime), undermining state power and the national economy and diversionist acts. They were sentenced to death and all their possessions were confiscated. At 14:50, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were shot dead by a firing squad. The Romanian Television broadcasted the news of the Ceausescus’ execution in the evening. At night, a short video was aired on Romanian Television showing the trial and execution of the Ceausescus. The CFSN decided to annul all the honours and titles awarded during their rule. Terror attacks diminished in intensity all over the country. The CFSN appointed Petre Roman as Prime Minster of the provisional government.

The first CFSN plenary meeting took place on 27 December to elect its officials (President – Ion Iliescu, Vice-President – Dumitru Mazilu) and adopt the new symbols of the country. The new leadership of the country was acknowledged by most states, including the United States, Hungary and the Soviet Union. 

Velvet Revolution day by day

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • communism
  • 20th century history
  • End of Communism
  • Velvet Revolution
  • Soviet Union

On 17 November 1989 the intervention of security forces against the rally’s participants marked the start of the “Velvet Revolution”. The event took place on the 50th anniversary of the closing of Czech universities by the Nazi Germans. It was held under the auspices of the Socialist Union of Youth, an official youth organization. The Prague rally also involved students from the independent movement, Stuha (Ribbon).

It began at Albertov Street, where tens of thousands gathered to hear speeches. From there, the procession headed to Vyšehrad, where the official event ended at around 6 a.m., although people spontaneously headed to the centre of Prague, where the protesters were surrounded and brutally repressed by the security forces on Národní Avenue. According to an independent commission of inquiry, a total of 568 people were injured. One of the secret policemen (working in the student movement under a false identity) played the role of a dead protester during the demonstration. The alleged death of the student, published by the opposition news agency, played a significant role in arousing the public. University students entered the strike in response to the brutal crackdown.

November 17 

• A student demonstration, attended by tens of thousands of people, took place in Prague on the 50th anniversary of the closing of Czech universities by the Nazi Germans. In the evening, the demonstration was ended by brutal intervention on Národní Street. This intervention met with great public opposition.

November 18

• Students from Prague universities went on strike to protest against the intervention on Národní Street. The students were supported by Prague theatre actors who, instead of performances, discussed the intervention and the situation of society with spectators. In the days that followed, their colleagues from all over Czechoslovakia joined the Prague students and actors.

November 19

• The Civic Forum (OF), which became the umbrella opposition movement, was established in the Prague-based Drama Club (Činoherní klub). Its aim was to initiate dialogue with the Communist leaders. Václav Havel became its unofficial representative. Public Against Violence (VPN), a similarly- oriented opposition movement, was later established in Slovakia. 

• Thousands of people walked through the centre of Prague chanting anti-regime slogans and demanding punishment for those responsible for the intervention on Národní třída. Similar rallies took place in many Czechoslovak cities in the days that followed. 

November 21 

• The Chairman of the Federal Government, Ladislav Adamec, met representatives of the striking students and the Civic Forum for the first time. 

November 22

• For the first time, Czechoslovak television aired live speeches during the demonstration on Wenceslas Square. 

November 24 

• Miloš Jakeš and other members of the Communist Party leadership resigned at an extraordinary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Karel Urbánek, a lacklustre member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, became the Party´s new Secretary-General. 

November 25–26

• Around 750,000 people attended mass rallies in support of the Civic Forum in Letna Park, Prague. Václav Havel and other OF representatives were not the only speakers. They were joined by Alexander Dubček and the Chairman of the Federal Government, Ladislav Adamec, who was, however, booed off stage. 

November 27

• The majority of workers joined the two-hour general strike under the slogan “The end of one-party rule”. 

November 29 

• The Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic abolished the articles of the Constitution relating to the leading role of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in society and education in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism. 

December 3 

• Ladislav Adamec introduced the new government, which was dominated by members of the Communist Party. Its composition aroused great public resentment. The Civic Forum threatened to call a general strike if there was no change. 

December 4

• The borders were opened for Czechoslovak citizens, who could travel freely to Austria without exit visas or customs declarations. Up to 250,000 people visited Austria during the following weekend. 

December 7

• The entire federal government resigned, including Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec, who recommended that Marián Čalfa be appointed to form a new government. 

December 8 

• The Civic Forum decided to nominate Václav Havel as Presidential candidate. 

December 10 

• The President of the Republic, Gustáv Husák, appointed a new federal government with representatives of both the OF and the VPN. He then announced his resignation to the Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. 

December 15 

• Marián Čalfa, Chairman of the Federal Government, organized a secret meeting with Václav Havel in the Office of the Government, during which he offered cooperation in promoting Havel's Presidential candidacy. 

December 19 

• Marián Čalfa, Chairman of the Federal Government, presented a policy statement in the Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and, on behalf of the government, put forward Václav Havel as candidate for President. 

December 21 

• The Extraordinary Congress of the Communist Party decided to dissolve the People's Militia, the Party’s paramilitary unit. 

December 28 

• Parliament passed the Co-optation Act to appoint new members. Among them was Alexander Dubcek, who became Chairman of the Federal Assembly. 

December 29

• The representative of the Civic Forum, Václav Havel, was elected President of the Republic at Prague Castle. The students ended their strike after his election.

Andrzej Włusek

3 October 1990 - Reunification of Germany

21 August 2018
  • iron curtain
  • German Reunification
  • fall of communism
  • 1990

On 3 October 1990 the process of reunification of Germany was concluded and as a result the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) and Berlin was reunited into a single city.

After the end of the Second World War, the German state was divided into four occupation zones, controlled by France, Great Britain, the USA and the USSR. With the pulling apart of the USSR and the Western countries, and the beginning of the Cold War, the Allies agreed to combine their occupation zones into one state entity, the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet Union was not far behind and created its own dependent state, the German Democratic Republic. The city of Berlin, despite its location in the Soviet part, was split in two, with the western part being granted the status of a free city.

Germany would remain divided for many years. In 1952, however, Joseph Stalin suggested that the state should be unified. The western powers initially agreed, but on the condition that free elections be held in the united Germany, with which Stalin obviously disagreed. Eventually, the idea of unification collapsed and the Soviet Union decided to close all border crossings between the two countries and construction of the Berlin Wall began, deepening the division of the former state. 

Another opportunity for unification emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite the politicians from both sides having already moved closer together, the breakthrough only came with the holiday season, when crowds of East-German vacationers in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland sought asylum in FRG embassies, paralyzing their everyday activities. These acts were an obvious demonstration of public aversion to the regime. In order to relieve the tension in Hungary, the barbed wire guarding the border with Austria was removed, allowing the Germans to cross the “green border” and so enter Germany through Austria. This event foretold the lifting of the Iron Curtain.

On 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the creation of the German Democratic Republic, the streets saw numerous demonstrations instead of grand celebrations. This climate caused Honecker to resign and, on 7 November, the entire SED Politburo followed suit. On 9 November, the border between the FRG and the GDR was opened to everyone, with no formalities required. In Berlin, crowds of people began to demolish the Berlin Wall. On 8 December, at the Congress of the SED, Prime Minister Modrow stated that the reunification of Germany should not be spoken of at all. Meanwhile at the Bundestag, Helmut Kohl – Prime Minister of the FRG, presented a 10-item plan for the reunification of Germany. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was quick to respond, saying that implementation of the plan was out of the question, since it infringed on the inviolability of frontiers guaranteed by the Helsinki Conference of 1975.

Thus a veritable battle for the reunification of Germany began. On 18 March 1990, elections were held in the GDR with the Christian Democrats winning over 40% of the votes. This encouraged Kohl to continue his efforts towards reunification. He announced a guaranteed exchange rate of 1:1 between the eastern and western Deutsche Marks, thus enabling the formation of a monetary union on 1 July 1990.

Despite the German desire and efforts towards unity, the four powers remained responsible for Germany as a whole, as had been guaranteed to the Allies under the Paris Treaty on the Sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany, concluded on 23 October 1954. On 5 May, the “2+4 Conference” began in Bonn, involving ministers from East and West Germany and the Four Powers. It ended on 12 September 1990, after heated debates, with the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”.

Item 1 of the Treaty stated that the united Germany did not and would not have any territorial claims against other states. The German army would be reduced to 370,000 and the Soviet troops would withdraw by 1994. In addition, the four powers renounced their responsibility for Germany. 

On 31 August, the governments of both German states signed the comprehensive “Treaty Between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic on the Establishment of German Unity” with effect from 3 October 1990. Parliamentary elections were held on 2 December 1990, and the results were as follows: Christian Democrats 44%, Social Democrats 33.5%, Liberals 11%, Alliance '90/Greens 4%, and Communists 2%. The two German states merged.

The unification caused the clash of two economic systems – socialism and capitalism. The situation in the eastern part, more sparsely populated and economically weaker, was much worse. This imposed a huge financial burden on Germany, and over the five year period between 1990 and 1995, the government spent twice the federal budget on the development of the former GDR. The program, known as “East German Economic Reconstruction”, had the aim of creating equal opportunities and introducing the eastern federal states to the free market. In the autumn of 2005, it was announced that the overall costs of reunification amounted to 1.5 - 1.6 trillion Euros.

Despite the reunification, the division into Ossis (“Easties”) and Wessis (“Westies”) was not eradicated, and continued to divide the citizens of this reunited state for years after the formal unification.


By Andrzej Włusek


W. Czapliński, A. Galos, W. Korta: Historia Niemiec. Wrocław 2010

Erhard Cziomer: Historia Niemiec 1945-1991. Kraków 1992

Jerzy Krasuski: Historia Niemiec. Wrocław 2008

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Katarzyna Ścierańska

The Introduction of Martial Law in Poland

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • Martial Law

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.

< p>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.

By Katarzyna Ścierańska

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.

Daria Czarnecka

Overthrow of Zhivkov's government on November 10, 1989

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • fall of communism

Todor Zhivkov was a communist autocrat. He attempted to keep close diplomatic relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when he became the First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1954, the Prime Minister (after destroying the opposition within the party) in 1962, and, finally, the Chairman of the Council of State in the years 1971 to 1989.

A plot by party activists and military commanders to organise a coup and move in a pro-Chinese direction was detected and thwarted thanks to Zhivkov's efforts. Zhivkov was also the author of the proposal submitted to Nikita Khrushchev in the mid-sixties to include Bulgaria in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Zhivkov's policy, high mobility of special forces, and comprehensive surveillance of society prevented any opposition in Bulgaria. Actually, movements supporting perestroika and glasnost, focused on human rights, not the opposition in the strict sense, were the main challenge of the Bulgarian government in the years 1987 to 1988. Their activity was inspired by the western standards of "green politics", and paid much attention to ecology, in addition to democratic slogans. The independent trade union "Podkriepa" (the equivalent of Polish "Solidarity") was founded as late as on 24 February 1989. The Turkish minority had the most destabilizing effect on the situation in the country.

In May 1989, the Turks living in Bulgaria began peaceful demonstrations against the policy of forced Bulgarisation introduced by Zhivkov. These quiet protests resulted in hysterical and brutal response of the government. Troops supported by tanks were sent against the demonstrators, and approx. 30 people died in the clashes. To contain the situation, the Bulgarian authorities allowed the Turks to emigrate. This led mass exodus - approx. 300 thousand people had left Bulgaria by August 1989. Further repressions by the government involved arresting the signatories of the "Letter of 121 intellectuals" (a protest against the anti-Turkish actions), and so the decree on "the mobilization of civilians in time of peace" was introduced.

The turning point for Todor Zhivkov was the CSCE International Ecology Conference "Ekoforum" which took place in Sofia between 21 October and 3 November of 1989. During the meeting, the Bulgarian environmentalists organized rallies where political slogans were also expressed. Despite initial resistance, the government had to capitulate. On 3 November 1989, the first legal demonstration was organized by the newly formed Bulgarian section of the Helsinki Committee. Eight thousand people participated in the event.

Nonetheless, the fall of Zhivkov did not entail changes in social mentality. It turned out that the party reformers and Gorbachev, who - despite public assurances of friendship - much disliked the Bulgarian autocrat, were Zhivkov’s biggest enemies. A new government was established as a result of a skilful coup led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petar Mladenov. According to the official version, Todor Zhivkov resigned. Mladenov's team made Zhivkov and his associates fully responsible for social unrest and the crisis. Then, as a result of escalating demonstrations, Mladenov's government sat down for talks at the Round Table.

by Daria Czarnecka

Axelrod A., Philips Ch., Władcy, tyrani, dyktatorzy. Leksykon, Warsaw 2000.
http://www.omda.bg/bulg/news/party/BKP.html [access: 3.11.2014]



This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Dagmara Dudek

Evangelical churches and the Peaceful Revolution of 1989

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • GDR

The role of Evangelical churches during the Peaceful Revolution has become a part of the public narrative on the events of 1989. According to this narrative, churches acted as a catalyst in the process of the overthrow of the regime. When discussing the Peaceful Revolution and last months of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), one can point to certain events, immediately associated with churches, which seem to be pivotal.

These are the protests in East Berlin, which significantly grew over the summer of 1989 and were brutally suppressed during the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the GDR and Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig culminating in a demonstration attended by nearly 70,000 people, which gave an overwhelming victory over the GDR regime. However, these events, to which I will briefly refer, are to be seen as an outcome of complex processes. Therefore, reflection upon the role of Evangelic churches during the Peaceful Revolution requires answering two questions: what was their position in the GDR? In what ways did churches support oppositional activities?

Churches and demonstrations in the autumn 1989

Protests in East Berlin in the months that had proceeded the fall of the Berlin Wall were directly connected to falsification of local election results, which took place on Mai 7, 1989. Since then, there were regularly protests every 7th day of each month. At that point, Gethsemane Church in East Berlin became a center, which was opened to critically-minded activists. Form October 2 onwards, peace prayers were held for the detained protesters from Leipzig. The commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the establishment of GDR were scheduled to take place exactly on October 7, that is when the demonstrations were expected. This highly politicized ceremony additionally attracted a lot of attention due to participation of Mikhail Gorbachev. Given this context and growing social disillusionment, clash between the state and the protesters on October 7 was inevitable. As a result of the violent riots, many people were severely injured, detained and some of them managed to flee to Gethsemane Church, which gave shelter to the protesters. Within days Gethsemane Church became a center, where information about the arrested participants of the protest could be obtained and where the so-called ‘memory protocols’ were written down.

Demonstrations were held across the whole country. A crucial role played St. Nicholas’ Church in Leipzig, where weekly piece prayers were held since September 1982. They later resulted in famous Monday Demonstrations. In the 1980’s the numbers of people attending piece prayers varied, but in 1988 and 1989 they started to grow significantly. After the protests in East Berlin had been brutally crashed on October 7, the next Monday Demonstration was only two days ahead. This was awaited with fear and anticipation, because the state resorted earlier to violence on an incomprehensible scale. Despite great risk, on October 9, the number of protesters amounted to 70,000. This completely unexpected number of people caused the state to refrain from using violence. The Berlin Wall came down exactly within a month.

East German churches in the first post-war decades

The position of the Evangelical Church (predominant denomination in East Germany after the war) in relation to state was precarious throughout the years. In the immediate post-war period, state sought to gradually constrain its activities, which was not an easy endeavor, given the size of the institution and its connections to West Germany. Religious beliefs were overtly in opposition to state’s attempts to build new identities and remodel values. This process, though it varied by years, encompassed secularization and ideologization of all spheres of public life. Organizations such as Free German Youth (FDJ) as well as political ceremonies were means of conveying new socialist values and remaking of persons. So was the Jugendweihe, a youth ceremony introduced in 1954, during which young East Germans pledged their loyalty to the state. The intention of the regime was to altogether replace Christian confirmation with an atheist celebration. Consequently, also children’s participation in religious instruction was at odds with secular education in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism.

The end of the 1960s brought relaxation in relations between the state and churches. After the Berlin Wall had been erected and GDR successfully sealed off, state appeared to be in a position to gain fuller control of its citizens and institutions. These developments naturally significantly obstructed communication and cooperation between churches across the German border; until the end of 1960s Evangelical churches in both East and West Germany were formally subordinated to a single all-German Evangelical Church in Germany (EDK). Due to political expectations and growing pressure, East German churches founded the League of Evangelical Churches in the GDR (BEK). This split, which can be interpreted as a way of coming to terms with the emerging political situation, did not, however, put a definitive end to contacts between various Evangelical representatives and individuals rooted in religious communities in both German states.

Towards engagement in political matters

Support given by churches to those opposing the GDR regime has a longer history than it is commonly assumed. Although many associate Evangelical churches in the first place with oppositional activities and demonstrations that took place in the autumn 1989, it should be noted that churches played an important role and facilitated critical engagement with socio-political issues already back in the 1960s and 1970s. This made the state resort to new strategies, which were aimed at eliminating any potential threats, and thus preventing acts of civil disobedience. One of them was a rule concerning public events, which came into force in 1970. According to this regulation, any prospective public events, with the exception of strictly religious ones, had to be reported to state authorities in advance, in order to obtain a permission. At that time and especially over the subsequent years, hardly any meetings organized by churches were entirely devoted to religious matters, and churches were becoming more and more supportive of social, political and environmental discussions relevant to society. Religious character of these meetings (they were for instance preceded by a service) often allowed to avoid the intrusion of the state into internal affairs of the Church. The regulation introduced at the beginning of the 1970s, paradoxically fostered within the next two decades cooperation between churches and groups actively engaged in the freedom movement. Intended as an impediment to political activities, the policy on public events became a leverage and enabled dissident activities under the roof of the Church.

Church as a realm of freedom

Over the years, Evangelical churches enabled many initiatives, which normally could not take place anywhere else, and would not be officially endorsed by the state. Some of them evolved into oppositional activities, such as for instance “Offene Arbeit”, which was a model of Christian social work with youth deemed by the state anti-social. These circles formed a basis for the establishment of “Kirche von Unten”, a protestant movement, which gathered oppositional-minded activists, who voiced their socio-political and environmental concerns. Organizing summer and winter academies opened to all interested participants, churches served as a platform enabling discussions on various socially relevant topics. They provided space for oppositional meetings, printing of underground press, exhibitions, screenings. A good example provides the Environmental Library [Umwelt-Bibliothek] founded at Zion Church in East Berlin, which, on the one hand, gathered banned literature and allowed to distribute materials concerning environmental and socio-political issues and, on the other hand, was a place, where oppositional groups could meet and discuss their activities. Churches also contributed to the development of alternative youth culture in the GDR. The so-called Blues-Messe attended by young people was a type of a service, which encompassed mainly blues music not played otherwise in any state-clubs geared towards East German youth. Also members of punk bands, who, due to their attitude not matching “socialist morals”, were denounced as anti-social, could find their place within the Church. As the discussed examples show, the scope of initiatives, which churches welcomed and supported, was quite large at the time.

Rethinking the role of evangelical churches

25 years after the fall of Berlin Wall the positive role of churches within the context of 1989 seems undisputed. However, it should be also noted that not all of the churches followed suit. In fact, only a handful of churches in big cities such as East Berlin or Leipzig welcomed prayers for peace or some forms of oppositional activities. Former opponents of the regime bring to attention the fact that churches provided space, and thereby supported freedom movements, but they also point to the complex relationship between activists and Church representatives. It is also noteworthy that the origins of the events of 1989 have been differently discussed by various milieus and communities in unified Germany. For instance, a narrative according to which the revolution was religiously-driven has been contested in public discourse by some of the dissidents. These political actors emphasize that it is the ordinary citizens (predominantly atheists) who started the Peaceful Revolution and contributed to the overthrow of the regime.


Aleksandra Krzemień

The fall of the Berlin Wall

21 August 2018
  • 1989
  • East Germany
  • GDR
  • fall of communism
  • Berlin Wall
  • West Germany

After the Second World War, as a result of the policy adopted by the Great Powers, Germany was divided into two states. 
The western part was occupied by the Allies, while the eastern part found itself under the influence of the Soviet Union. Berlin, as the capital city of the Third Reich, was also eventually divided into the various spheres of influence of the victorious states.

The authorities of East Germany, failing to deal adequately with the wave of migration heading for the western part of the country, decided to curtail this unwelcome phenomenon by building a wall. It is estimated that in the period 1949–1961 around 2.6 million people left East Germany. In 1961 the authorities of East Germany began to implement a carefully guarded plan to build a wall. Later this wall came to function as a symbol of a divided Europe.

After many years of separation, 1989 finally saw the opportunity to overthrow the previous order and restore a normal state. In the summer of 1989 huge numbers of East German citizens began to seek refuge in West German embassies throughout the Eastern Bloc, with the intention of obtaining permits to travel to the western part of their divided country. This upheaval of the population and the general international atmosphere brought changes to the authorities of East Germany, beginning when Honecker lost power in November. Egon Krenz became the leader of the state; however, despite the intention to mitigate the situation, the country was hit by a wave of protests and he failed to weaken the impact of the events. On 4 November, at Alexanderplatz in Berlin, a manifestation initiated by the Berliner Ensemble group was joined by half a million people. They demanded freedom of choice and opinion, depriving the Socialist Unity Party of its leading position, dismissal of the Government, and permission for opposition activities.

On 6 November the mass escapes hit the news, which became possible because on 1 November East Germany allowed non-visa travel to Czechoslovakia, and on 3 November it agreed to open the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany for East German citizens. On the weekend of 3 to 5 November over 10 thousand East German citizens, using various methods, travelled through Czechoslovakia to West Germany. The news spread through the media like wildfire: everyone was talking about “the symbolic fall of the Wall.”

While the events of 3 November were unprecedented, what was about to happen six days later would made 9 November a breakthrough point in the history of the world. The opening of the border between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and later between Czechoslovakia and West Germany, was a road of no return. The border between East and West Germany was not meant to last much longer.
On 6 November the Council of Ministers published a draft act on travel abroad for a period of thirty days a year. However, the procedure for issuing the travel permit was so lengthy that it instigated a wave of protests. On the following day the Law Committee of the People’s Chamber turned down the draft and demanded the visa obligation be abolished for business and private trips.

On 7 November Stoph’s Government resigned, and a meeting of the Central Committee was summoned. During the meeting various topics were discussed, but on 9 November Egon Kranz put an end to the pointless discussions and insisted on addressing the issue of departures. Willi Stoph, as the current Chairman of the Council of Ministers, suggested that a provisional regulation should be immediately introduced concerning travel and permanent departures abroad from East Germany. Applications could be submitted without stating a specific reason for the departure.

A press release was planned for 10 November, yet on the same day Schabowski, who was in charge of the media and absent from the conference and hence not familiar with the exact arrangements, began to read long passages from the regulation during a press conference. In response to questions regarding the document, he stated that the regulation came into force immediately. He replied to the question whether this also concerned Berlin using a quotation from the document, “Permanent departures can take place at all border crossing in East and West Germany.”

After the conference, press agencies reported Schabowski’s statement regarding the opening of the borders.
None of the leaders of the Socialist Unity Party managed to foresee what was about to take place on the night of 9-10 November in Berlin. East Berliners arrived at the border crossings in numbers far higher than expected by the border army.

Initially some attempts were made to stop the crowds, but at 9 p.m. the Chief Department of the 4th Ministry of National Security ordered the stamping of identity cards of those people going to West Berlin. While this meant that they would be deprived of their citizenship, this did not seem to matter anymore. Finally the stamping was abandoned and thousands of people crossed the border of the divided city without any control. People around the country began to enthuse about this freedom regained after decades of oppression.

by Aleksandra Krzemień


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Katarzyna Ścierańska

The Hungarian Revolution 1956

21 August 2018
  • Hungarian Revolution
  • 1956
  • communism
  • Eastern Bloc

The Hungarian Revolution, a nationwide uprising against the Soviet ruled communist system and the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic, broke out on 23 October 1956. The revolt lasted until 10 November and, despite its failure, is considered one of the most significant and tragic events in post-war Hungarian history and was the first crack in the Iron Curtain that divided the World into two hostile camps.

After 1945, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Army and the country fell under Soviet in-fluence. Having destroyed all political opposition, the communists took power and established a new government, totally subject to the Kremlin. In 1949 Hungary became the People's Re-public of Hungary, with Mátyás Rákosi, 'Stalin's best pupil', as its authoritarian leader. A time of cruel political repression and economic and cultural decline of the country then began. Dur-ing the next few years, thousands of Hungarians were arrested, tried, executed or deported to Russia. Severe subjugation touched the education system and the Catholic Church. The hardline politics of the Hungarian government were thoroughly approved by Joseph Stalin. His death, on 5 March 1953, was a signal for change in the policies of communist regimes. In July 1953, Rákosi was replaced as Prime Minister by the reformist Imre Nagy. He gained popular consent, though the Kremlin distrusted him. Despite his removal from office, howev-er, it was far too late to contain the changes that had begun. After Khrushchev’s famous 'se-cret speech' of February 1956, in which he attacked the period under Stalin's rule, frustration with Soviet domination was primarily expressed by the Poles. In June 1956, the demonstra-tion of steelworkers in Poznan was roughly put down by the government. However, in Octo-ber 1956, the reverberation of these events in Poznan inspired a period of change and mod-erate liberalisation, known as the "October thaw". The Polish experience encouraged many Hungarians to hope for similar concessions for Hungary.

The revolt began in Budapest as a peaceful demonstration of students. On the afternoon of 23 October 1956, a crowd of approximately 20,000 young people gathered by the statue of Józef Bem, a Hungarian-Polish hero of the 1848 Revolution. A list of sixteen demands which included a declaration of independence, the demand for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and that Hungary join the United Nations was prepared and read out. By the evening, the manifestation numbered more than 200,000 participants. Rejected by First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party Ernő Gerő, who expressly condemned the manifestation, the angered protesters decided to topple a 30-foot-high bronze statue of Stalin. The crowd surrounded the headquarters of the state radio station, hoping to broadcast their demands to the nation. At this time, the first shots were fired and the Hungarian revolution began.

At Ernő Gerő’s request, Soviet troops began arriving in Budapest and for the next few days fighting raged between the groups of poorly-armed young people and the forces of the Soviet army alongside the ÁVH, the State Security Police. On 24 October, Imre Nagy was selected as Prime Minister to satisfy the Hungarian protestors’ demands and to placate them with limited concessions. Nagy called for an end to the violence and promised reforms.

The spread of the uprising within Budapest and other areas of Hungary and the attacks at the Parliament caused the collapse of the government –Ernő Gerő fled to Moscow, Imre Nagy became Prime Minister and János Kádár First Secretary of the Communist Party. Fighting lasted for five days, culminating in the expulsion of the Soviet forces from Budapest on 28 October. On that day, Imre Nagy announced an unconditional general ceasefire and amnesty, as well as the end of the single-party system in Hungary. On 1 November, Nagy formally declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. The fighting slowly ceased, as the rebels waited for aid and support from the West, believing that Hungary was finally gaining independence. The happiness and hope didn’t last long – on the morning of 4 November, Soviet tanks entered the capital, beginning the ‘Operation Whirlwind’ intervention led by Marshal Ivan Konev. The insurgents put up disorganised yet formidable resistance that lasted until 11 November, when the forces of the Hungarian Army finally capitulated to the Soviets. Total casualties among the insurgents amounted to at least 2,500 killed and 20,000 wounded. In Budapest, 1,569 civilians were killed. The Soviets lost 699 soldiers and 1,450 men were wounded.

In the aftermath of the revolution, thousands of Hungarians were crushed by waves of severe repression. Many of them were arrested, brought before the courts, sentenced and executed. Approximately 200,000 fled Hungary as refugees. Imre Nagy, who had taken shelter in the Yugoslavian embassy in Budapest, was arrested, sent to Romania and executed in 1958. János Kádár was appointed the new Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Workers’-Peasants’ Government and General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party.

Despite the fact that the revolt was crushed, its consequences were long-lasting and significant for further decades – the Hungarian revolution proved that the Cold War was in deadlock and the Iron Curtain was about to fall. The Republic of Hungary was declared on the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution. 23 October is now celebrated as a national holiday in Hungary.

author: Katarzyna Ścierańska

Andrzej Włusek

Cuban Missile Crisis

21 August 2018
  • communism
  • 1962
  • Cuban Missile Crisis

ln the 1960s the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, ordered the installation of missiles with the potential of carrying nuclear warheads in Cuba. This changed the relations between the US and Cuba, which became part of the direct confrontation between the two superpowers – the USSR and the US.

Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, and from that moment he wanted to break away from economic dependence on the United States. In order to achieve this, he signed a trade treaty with the USSR, and began buying Russian oil and weapons. He also decided to nationalize the entire petroleum industry, which had previously been controlled by the Americans and the British.

The effects of this policy were seen quickly, with Washington immediately announcing a commercial boycott of the island and broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. The United States also began to seek ways to overthrow Fidel Castro. This was to be done by the use of batistianos, supporters of Fulgencio Batista, overthrown by Castro, trained from the spring of 1960 in camps organized by the CIA. The operation was already being prepared while Eisenhower was president, although it was the new president of the United States, Kennedy, who agreed to execute the mission.

“Operation Pluto” began on April 15 and ended in a fiasco. The Cuban authorities quickly and decidedly suppressed the operation and defeated all opposition on the island. At the end of 1961 Castro announced that he was a Marxist, which explicitly indicated his hostility towards the United States, giving the Soviet Union a foothold in Latin America and bases located only 160 km from the United States. Khrushchev chose to take advantage of the situation without delay, and began operation “Anadyr”, aimed at the deployment of missiles armed with nuclear warheads in Cuba. In addition, it was planned to station dozens of aircraft and 51,000 Soviet soldiers there.

The presence of Russian weapons in Cuba was discovered by the Americans in October 1962. Even if Castro intended to arm Cuba against potential military intervention of the US, Khrushchev had sent him weapons for a totally different purpose. As a result, the countries of the Organization of American States authorized the United States to deploy forces that might oppose the Soviet warships.

On October 22, President Kennedy publicly announced the plan to blockade Cuba. 180 warships patrolled the waters around the island, and invasion troops were prepared in Florida. Diplomatic overtures began, and on October 25 a Soviet agent used an unofficial channel to make a proposal indicating that the Soviet Union was interested in ending the conflict and withdrawing their missiles in exchange for a promise that Washington would not attack Cuba, either then or in the future. The White House found this difficult to believe because the behaviour of the Soviet embassy staff suggested an evacuation, as if an armed conflict was about to begin. On October 26, a letter was delivered from Khrushchev confirming the proposals, and on October 27 another message was sent in which he offered to withdraw the missiles from Cuba in exchange for withdrawal of American missiles from Turkey.

Finally, it was decided that, in exchange for the dismantling and removal of the Soviet missiles, the Americans would abandon the blockade and ensure that in the future the island would not become a target of invasion. Kennedy also agreed to the request of the Soviet Union regarding the withdrawal of American missiles from Turkey. By November 2 the Soviet missiles were removed from the island, and the blockade was lifted on November 20. By the end of April 1963, the United States withdrew its missiles from Turkey, and a crisis that could have led to a war between the two superpowers was resolved.

As a result both sides came to an agreement regarding rapid communication in similar situations in the future. On the other hand, this event provoked the initiation of an arms race. Without a foothold in Cuba, the Soviet Union had to start an intercontinental ballistic missile program, which prompted the United States to adopt the same concept. The end of the Cuban missile crisis reduced the risk of war while in the long term inspiring the continued development of the military potential.


Andrzej Włusek



Peter Calvocoressi: World Politics, 1945-2000. Warsaw 2002

Krzysztof Michałek: Amerykańskie stulecie. Historia Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki 1900-2001. Warsaw 2004


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl