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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.

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The main victims were our parents. They didn’t sleep at nights. The father of my "complice" was fired. My mother had a disciplinary, she got reprimanded for bad upbringing of her son and resigned from work. My father was deprived of a merit pay. Our parents were Real Heroes in the story.

The time was passing. The lawyer appealed against the judgment. We did not know when our case would be heard in the appeal trail. Holidays started. Although the case was completed, we still had the status of untried prisoners. We were not given prison clothes, we could get and send letters without limiting recipients, of course, after approval by the prison censors. But also the walks were only half an hour (sentenced prisoners were entitled to an hour walk), family visits only once a month (sentenced - every two weeks), limiting the newspapers and, of course, all the time in the cell.

On the night of August 20, 1968 we heard a continuous sound of a heavy aircraft flying over the city. In the morning we found out about the "fraternal assistance" given to Czechoslovakia. I couldn’t wait to newspapers. I detected an interesting thing. The events were most truthfully covered in "The Truth" ("Prawda"), the newspaper given to us without limitation, along with "Tribune of the People" ("Trybuna Ludu"). After some time in prison in Kleczkowskiej Street I met soldiers who had been convicted for refusing to fulfill orders in Czechoslovakia.

Sitting in the cell can be a nuisance. Especially in the summer, when you get holiday postcards. In prison very quickly you get a disease called fucking anger. Its external symptom is fast walking from wall to wall. Four steps in one direction, a sharp turn, four steps back. Alone, often in pairs. This step distinguishes former prisoners on the loose. Later I saw it also in Israel.
I asked for work. After several refusals I decided to fight for my rights of a sentenced prisoner. I announced a hunger strike and ... it worked. After two days, the chief called me and promised positive settlement of the case.

In the first half of September I was called to get out of the cell together with my stuff. I spent the night with the whole group. We all tried to guess where we would go. Looking at the composition of the group everything was possible. There were those with light sentences and also with life sentences, young and old ones. In the morning we were given back our stuff (I got my winter clothing from March), but without laces, belts, pocket knives. We underwent a thorough search, because every prisoner slowly lines his pockets with various illegal things, such as sharpened spoons, improvised heaters, lighters, etc.

And then to Black Maria - Nysa car specially adapted to transport prisoners. The screws who convoyed us didn’t want to say anything about the direction of the travel. There are no windows in our part of Nysa, of course, but slowly we guess we're going west, in the direction of Legnica. The regulars quickly guess the first station – Wilków, a labor camp near Złotoryja. Light regime, for those with short sentences or those who have already served most of the sentence.

The next station will be Wołów, the central prison. Where will I land?

I'm lucky. I get off in Wilków. After six months in the cell it’s like a sanatorium ... Or a summer camp ... A sunny day, lawn with flower beds, trees. Prisoners walk around all the area without an escort.
Again a search, shower and for the first time I get prison clothes and shoes. One of functional prisoners escorts us to a transitional hall. A hall in a barrack, no one locks the door, I can leave when I want to, there is a common room with a tennis table, television, library. There are also worse conditions. Room service is over. We need to go for meals to a canteen ...

The next day I talk with a pedagogue. It's a mixture of a political instructor and a social worker. He asks if I have already regretted my sins. I, as any experienced recidivist, answer so innocently that I do not know why they keep me here, I did not do anything wrong. The pedagogue promises that he will talk to me again and hopes that by the end of the judgment I will have it understood. It's a hint, because in a month I have the right to have the sentence reduced for good behavior. Because I have already learned something, I didn’t not even make a request. (My complice was to the end in a cell in Wrocław and made a request for the reduction. They released him on New Year's Eve, two weeks before the end, and he had the two weeks hanging over his head for a few years.)

After two days of acclimatization I got the assignment for work. "Konrad" copper mine, the second shift. I was terribly curious to see how it would be there. Once, in high school, I was on a trip in a coal mine, after all I am from Wałbrzych, but still there was waiting for me something new. I took my stuff and moved to the appropriate barrack. I immediately noticed that it was quite a good gig. Waking up every day at 8:00 in the morning, then breakfast, at 12:00 lunch, at 1 pm we were leaving for work. Comeback around midnight, dinner and sleep. Unlike other brigades, miners, as the lead of the working class, were getting every day meat for dinner (others only once a week) and 40% of the mine salary (others only 25%) to a private account.

But the most fun was to come terrifyingly close to freedom. After a search and counting we stepped out through the gate of the camp (the camp was surrounded by a double enclosure - a high wooden paling fence and a barbed wire fence, guard towers with MGs - normal standard). We got on a normal bus, with transparent windows and drove almost an hour through the free world. At the mine at the entrance to the locker room and we were leaving screws and to the exit, after finishing a shift, we were on an equal footing with normal civilians. In the locker room everyone had their hook to hang clothes and shoes. After changing into work clothes, rubber boots, a helmet with a lamp, I went down in a lift 500 meters under the ground. I noticed that there was constant temperature, over 20°C, which at the upcoming winter was very important.

The work was not too hard. I was a so-called convoy. I went by train around the mine and I was responsible for connecting and disconnecting the cars. A cheerful job, although sometimes dangerous, if you were not careful and didn’t take out your hand or head from between the trucks on time. It was how seven hours were passing. After going to the top hot showers and a glass of milk, as a sanatorium and by coach "home". I was a little pity to skip TV programs, but movies were rerun in the morning. Later in the morning we could watch the Olympic Games in Mexico. In short, a summer camp, only the fence was higher. After six months in the cell it was definitely a change for better.

Going to Wilków I had various concerns. As long as I was in the locked cells, I had to do with so-called economic prisoners or others, a little more civilized. In the cell there were only two or three of us. I did not know how it would be among recidivists. After all, I am a Jew and not a bodybuilder. I had also heard it before that sometimes they ratted on newcomers. Thus, the first time I was going to the general room with my heart in my mouth.

I was showed a bed which hadn’t been taken yet. I introduced myself to the neighbors, they introduced themselves. I put my stuff into the cabinet. The other "campers", curious about news from the world, began to inquire, where, how many, what for. But the main question was what they say in Wrocław (in the prison of course) about amnesty. 1969 was the year of the 25th anniversary of the Polish People's Republic and everybody had hope. I admit that at large the subject hadn’t even come to my mind, but behind the wall it was the main topic of discussions.

As a political prisoner (officially there wasn’t such a status in PPR) I didn’t have to follow all the nuances of the prison lingo (the language of thieves, invented by the way by Jews, with dintoyre, moira and others taken from Hebrew). After a few days, someone asked me if I am a Jew. He did it in the presence of others, with a smile, waiting for the denial. Of course, I disappointed him, as I knew that with my face it was impossible to pretend Aryan. And that was it. Only once, two months later, a newcomer prisoner tried to banish me from the ritual of drinking tea, saying: "What the Jew is looking for here?". I had no time to react when the other prisoner, the most influential one, drove him out of the circle, and others shouted him down, saying that I was a kind of Jew, but a better Pole than him because I fought against the Russian. Yes, there in the prison, we, the March ones, were seen as fighters for freedom, ours and yours.

Because there hasn’t been not yet born such a son of a b... who would be able to stop the time, ten months passed, too. Saying goodbye to me, the pedagogue gave me "friendly" advice: "You have such a beautiful country, citizen, why to sit here in Poland?" I replied that I liked the Giant Mountains, and went out through the gate. My mother was waiting for me there, and she took me, as a small child, home.

On the way she told me the news of the past ten months, those which she didn’t dare to speak about during visits or by mail. She summed up saying that I should have left as soon as possible. I didn’t like the idea too much. I thought she was overreacting. The fact that I couldn’t come back for studies didn’t bother me. I considered finding a job as a mountain guide or run some distant hostel ...

In the days that followed I began to meet friends, old and new ones. There were some who I knew only by sight, and who now ostentatiously sat down at my table in Kwant, a cafe in the market square visited by mathematicians, physicists, chemists. I planned to catch up with the cinema and find a job. I left prison with a certain sum of money, but as I was serving only ten months, not ten years, it wasn’t much.

Quickly I detected another problem. My parents changed themselves. They feared every time I went out. In the evenings I couldn’t be even a minute late. I was finding my mother pale as a a ghost ...
I also changed. A year earlier I didn’t worry about such trifles. I was an adult and no one would teach me. I had my own life. Now I realized that my parents paid a high price for the fact that I was such a dare-devil. I could not afford it. They were afraid even to let me go to the mountains.

After two or three weeks I was summoned to the police. My old friend, Lieutenant K. remembered me. We talked with each other about this and that, about my plans for the future, about my possibilities. Among others, the citizen lieutenant reminded me that after I had served my sentence as a Zionist, I can also leave as a Zionist. He reminded me that my sister was before her matriculation exams and she would probably have a veeery big problem to get into college. His arguments were the same as my mother’s. As if they had made a deal. But it was still hard for me to decide. Leaving I would betray my friends, colleagues, who welcomed me so well.

In the second half of February, a month after I was released, I decided to leave. Not to be a parasite, I enrolled in the employment office, but I knew that I would not work. I had various odd jobs, moonlighting thanks to the student cooperative, where the jobs were formally registered on colleagues. But you have to be a useful citizen. I started to walk from one plant to another. There were institutions that I did not like, in others there was no place for me.

However, I noticed an interesting thing. Everywhere where I was submitting applications I explained to HR employees that I had just got out of jail and was serving for the March stuff. And in many cases the attitude to me was changing. Suddenly, there was a place for me. And I just wanted to achieve the opposite effect.

At the beginning of April I got the answer. I had to leave until 15 May. I began collecting papers. The university, the tax authorities, the national council, the Dutch Embassy (that represented Israel in Poland), etc. I started to say goodbye to those who were staying. Some understood, others less. Those were the hardest days. My parents were to stay for the time being as well, waiting until my sister had passed the matriculation examination in June.

I left on Sunday, May 10, the day of elections to the Sejm. From the noon scouts started to appear to remind me that I hadn’t yet fulfilled my civic duty. Proudly I showed my travel document in which it was written that it was not my duty anymore ... In the evening at the station I said goodbye to friends. My "complice" escorted me as far as to Katowice, and my mother to the border. Crossing the border went without problems. After a few hours in Bratislava a Czech border guard watching my no-passport said that I was going to kill Arab children. I could not deny myself this pleasure and talked back that at least I wouldn’t come to him with brotherly help ...

Still in Poland, I decided that I would go to Israel. This is the stupid Polish upbringing that a man must have a homeland. If not Poland, Israel seemed to me the homeland the most.

May 15, 1969, I landed in Lod, Israel.