Home read Branley Zeichner

At the turn of 1967-1968, I was a third year student of Mathematics at Bolesław Bierut University of Wrocław. I stress that I was a student, because I didn’t have too much time for learning. The third year was very difficult for those like me. The military on the third year was on Fridays, which for active mountain trekking lovers was a vice against nature and flagrant violation of human rights. But these were the days before the conference in Helsinki and we really didn’t know where to complain. Rather than to complain, we were simply leaving for the mountains on Thursday afternoons, affording a long weekend.

After a few non-military Fridays like that, it became clear that I wasn’t going to pass my exams and I began seriously planning a dean’s leave. I slowly stopped attending the classes, I had various gigs, such as window cleaning, working in warehouses, throwing coal into basements. I didn’t live at home any longer, I changed the rooms – I was a master to myself. Whatever I earned, I spent on movies, books and mountains. At the end of the semester, instead of getting ready for the session, I applied for a dean’s leave. They did not quite agree (because of the military), I applied again and was waiting for a meeting with the dean.

In the meantime, I think at the end of January 1968, come to me a petition on the closure of „Dziady” play in Warsaw. A colleague, a former scout from Moccasins, from Zielona Góra (it was such an elite tribe, a little reminiscent of „Walters”, only that they were not disbanded) received that petition from a friend studying in Warsaw. Since I had the time and many colleagues, I walked around the dormitories and gathered quite a lot of signatures. I handed these petitions back on and I forgot about it …

On Women’s Day (March 8, Friday, as far as I remember) I was already in the mountains. I returned to the civilization and heard that something had happened in Warsaw. I was busy with different things, I was in the management of Marzanna Rally (a student tourist event). It was about a month to the event and we had to hurry. I, as a free man, dealt with it. Meanwhile, a chaos began also in Wrocław, petitions supporting students in Warsaw, student committees. Interesting times …

I do not remember exactly when, but probably on March 12 in the evening, we went with a friend, also from the rally for a soup to the student canteen. There we found the manuscript with „Dziady” ballad, one of many sung later. We liked it. We were just before the meeting of the management of the rally, in the offices of the Association of Polish Students in the so-called tower. There was a typewriter and we decided to rewrite some copies (six, because we didn’t find more carbon paper) of the ballad, for colleagues.

Since we were very wise, and there was an atmosphere of student solidarity, without thinking I gave one of the prints to a colleague from the University Committee of the Union of the Socialist Youth. He took it to a meeting of the University Committee in the next room. We went to a mass meeting of mathematicians and there we distributed the remaining copies of the ballad, I left one for myself. After the meeting we returned with the rest of the tourist activists to the meeting related to the rally. There were four of us, tourists, and another colleague, a chemist, who was waiting for us, because we lived in the same area and he didn’t want to go home alone. We were just going to leave, when two members of the party came to the room. They began to inquire us, to look around, they were sorting through papers, wrote down our names and left. We did we.

Next day at noon at Wrocław universities began a sit-in strike. Although my parents claimed that there was nothing for me to look for there, I, as an adult and a free man, of course was there. I wasn’t active, because already it was clear that the Zionists were guilty, but I was there. Beautiful times of being together. The university building surrounded by police, the same at other universities. Despite cordons, people are walking around, bring the news. We are given food, money and words of support from Pafawag and Elwro shop floors. There were rumors about the support of the military cadets of both the Wrocław Officer’s Schools. We felt great.

Wrocław Rectors didn’t agree to invite the militia to the university, many academics were with us, especially from the departments of science.

On the second day of the strike, of course, we were looking for what the press was lying about the strike. There was no information. Instead, there was a large article about the detection ofspoilt troublemakers, Zionists etc. at the University. It was just our tourist gathering two days before. This publication only further enraged young people on the college campuses.

The strike ended the following day, as a result of an agreement between the rectors and the provincial committee of the party. The militia withdrew from the siege, they promised to appoint a committee to investigate the events and tasks of the students, and the strikers left the buildings. I went back to my parents’ house to calm them down. There I found a witness summons to the Provincial Headquarters of Civic Militia. They had already searched my house a few times …

I put on clean clothes, I didn’t take a toothbrush with me. I said „bye” to parents and went out. The Headquarters of Civic Militia was almost opposite our house. At the entrance there were two policemen, they had helmets. I showed the summons and my student ID. One of them showed me the direction, fatherly, with a truncheon. I had a thick leather jacket, so I wasn’t too much moved by it.

After a few minutes of waiting some man appeared, a civilian, and took me with him. We wandered through the long corridors, until we walked into a room. The guy went out and came back after half an hour. He introduced himself as Lieutenant K., told me that I was a witness and that I had to tell the truth. I didn’t care because I had nothing to hide. That was what I thought. He asked me about the meeting described in the paper. I explained that it was the organizing committee of a student rally, I explained what the rally was, what functions the participants of the meeting performed and I thought it was over. Then K. took out copies of the ballad. I studied Math, not law, I didn’t know what the difference between a witness and a suspect is. Besides, I didn’t think that I had something to hide. The ballad was one of the milder ones, I heard during the strike much harsher. I explained that I found it, rewrote with a friend (it was known to this Union of the Socialist Youth activist who got from me the copy) and that I couldn’t remember who I gave the rest of the copies to. After several hours of bantering the Lieutenant said that if I didn’t help him get to the truth, I would be remanded in custody until the case was solved. He walked me to the basement and there handed me over to the officer on duty. I emptied my pockets, I gave laces, a strip search, and into the cell. A small room with a small window near the ceiling. Two-thirds of the cell was a wooden platform. It was where I was supposed to sleep at night, it was warm there and one blanket was enough for me. As I had been sleeping in the mountains on the rocks, I didn’t need a mattress to fall asleep.

After a while, the door opened and a middle-aged guy entered. He only said „Good evening” and went to sleep. I realized that he had been in the cell before me.

Breakfast was brought at 8 o’clock in the morning. My new friend explained to me that such a late wake-up call was because it was Sunday, normally we get up at 6. I learned that they could detain me up to 48 hours, and then I would have to get an arrest warrant confirmed by the prosecutor. Well, in about 40 hours I will go home. I didn’t take into account one thing. My name, surname, mother working as a teacher at a Jewish school, father with the party pension, all this in 1968 fitted the stereotype of a troublemaker. That is why it happened as in this old Jewish joke:

Do you know Joska ?
What Joska?
The one who lives opposite the prison?
Ah, this Joska! And what about him?
Nothing. He now lives in front of his house …

The building of the Provincial Headquarters of Civic Militia and the detention center in the building of the Courts were located on the other side of the moat, opposite my parents’ apartment on Włodkowica Street …

At noon again an investigation. Again we’re looking for the missing copies. Lieutenant K. wonders how I managed to get A in Polish at the matriculation exam. After all, my Polish is lousy. He wouldn’t admit me for Math because of my Polish language in the application for studies (application, moreover, was dictated to all of us in high school). The time was passing nicely and quickly on such bantering. At two o’clock in the morning I came back to the cell. The morning wake-up call was indeed at 6:00. After breakfast we were allowed only to sit, the official on duty made sure that we didn’t sleep. At noon again an investigation. After a few hours I came back to the cell. Not much time left.

Five minutes after the expiry of the statutory 48 hours, I’m called out of the cell. In the office there is a nice guy waiting for me. He introduces himself as the duty prosecutor, explains that I cease to be a witness and become a suspect, a remand prisoner for 30 days. He explains to me my rights and obligations. A lawyer – forget it. Anyway, I didn’t think that he would be needed.

I sat in that cell another two days. During the meetings with the investigators I realized that also the rest of our gang of troublemakers were questioned. But there were no new questions. Only the threat of Lieutenant K. that he already knew everything, because others are smarter than me …

After two days I was called out of the cell. I was given everything from the deposit and handed over to Lieutenant K. and one more sad man. That man pulled a pistol from his pocket, cocked it and warned me that in case of attempts to escape he would shoot without warning. I do not know why but I didn’t care. Just in case, I didn’t run away. Just in case I was also without laces …

We left the building. Outside it was a nice spring day. We walked unhurriedly about 100 meters to the building of the Courts. There again a heavy door of the remand center shut behind me.

After the search I was escorted to a large, sunny cell. Three beds, a single one and a bunk bed, a toilet bowl, not a pot, sink, table and three chairs. Only the upper bed wasn’t taken and I took it with pleasure. My companions were older than me, somewhere above thirty. One of them, a recidivist, was a driver by profession and did his porridge for various thefts. The second was a buyer and because he had on the meter more than 100,000 zlotys, he had in front of him at least eight years. Both were calm, orderly, liked to speak, so time was passing. From time to time they called someone to the investigation, a half an hour walk, once a week a barber brought gossips. I especially took to the barber, because I had never liked shaving up. And here I didn’t have to do it myself. For a pack of Sport cigarettes he did it gently and even disinfected the razor (AIDS hadn’t yet been invented).

Going to one of the investigations I noticed that my friend was sitting on another floor, the one who we had found the leaflet with.

After a month my detention of course was extended. At that time the investigation became more interesting. Lieutenant K. learned somewhere about the „Dziady” petition. I, in the meantime, of course, forgot where I had if from and who I gave it to. After a few days I had a lot of fun. He brought me a photo album of the arrested in Warsaw. He necessarily wanted me to point my friends. And I couldn’t help him anyway. I knew there only one, but I was already an experienced prisoner and didn’t recognize a friend from a summer camp in Gdańsk-Przeróbka as well.

June 1, on Children’s Day, I learned from the newspaper that the investigation had been completed and an indictment against the two of us had been handed over to court. We were accused pursuant to § 22 of the Small Criminal Code, enacted in the Stalinist years to fight the reaction – „disseminating information which may disturb the public order.” The minimum penalty – three years.

After a few days came the prosecutor and gave me the indictment to read. The indictment was changed to an ordinary criminal code, the dissemination of false information, penalty up to two years. I was glad of this change. In my ballad there was no false information. Everything was confirmed in a speech of Gomułka, March 19. Now the court will have to acquit us …

The court didn’t acquit us. Due to harmful content, the judge refused to read the ballad and discuss information contained in it. Our lawyer, paid by our families, was also afraid to take such a line of defense. After a two-day hearing we got the sentence of ten months in prison. But at least in the courtroom we saw that we had many true friends.