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Why Aleksander Kowalski died

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Torture at the hands of the secret police
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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One of my sister's friends was involved in the communist movement before the war, in the KZMP [Komunistyczny Związek Młodzieży Polskiej (Communist Union of Polish Youth)], but when the Communist Union of Polish Youth was disbanded, she, along with many other young communists, found herself in Spartacus, an organisation which was associated with the PPS [Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party)] although it was largely independent of the PPS and very communist. Among others, Hanka Szapirówna was a member of Spartacus along with many, quite a sizable group of later quite well known communist activists during the time of occupation, post-war. During the war, that friend of my wife's... sorry, my sister's, about whom... that friend about whom I'm talking was an officer in the People's Army, even played... her maiden name was Semilówna and her married name was Bartoszek, Hedda Bartoszek. She and my sister were quite close especially during the interwar period, meaning before the war. During the occupation, they'd run across each other except that by then their lives were following different paths but they did have some contact and were still friends. When Hedda was released from prison, when people were coming out of the prisons, her father when he met my father said: ‘You can't even imagine what people like Hedda had to put up with, people who found themselves in those prisons. When she’s fully-clothed, you can't see it, but I was helping her take a bath because she can't use her hands very well and I saw that she had been brutally tortured, it's horrendous to see how mutilated her body is.’

You have to admit that the secret police knew how to maim people although they didn't do that to everyone. I have to say that those communists who found themselves in prison at that time and about whom I know a bit more personally or whom I knew, were among those whose fate it was to be particularly badly beaten, maimed, tortured, probably because you always hate those in your own ranks more if, justifiably or not, you suddenly place them on the other side of the barricade. These people are set up because that's all it is, they're set up. Secondly, these were people who were going to be used in exceptionally significant political trials, if they were unwilling, if they put up any resistance, well, they needed to be broken. I don’t think any of the trials of the AK were as carefully planned in this respect nor did the authorities care about them as much as they cared about the trial of Gomułka and Spychalski, and people involved with this trial were treated with exceptional cruelty. I know of one man who was so badly beaten, a journalist from Warsaw, that he was left terribly injured and when, after leaving prison, he'd had a series of operations and was beginning to recover, well, he was just a wreck. So their fate was exceptionally bleak especially since I imagine that a AK fighter who found himself being tortured and tormented, even if he was about to break down having had enough of everything, at least he could say to himself, this is being done by the reds and I always knew they had it in them to do something like this. Whereas I can't begin to imagine what these people must have been thinking, because they were supporters, they weren't the enemy, they weren't agents, yet they were told that... the fate of these people was terrible.

Jedna z przyjaciółek mojej siostry była osobą, która zaangażowana w ruchu komunistycznym jeszcze przed wojną, jeszcze w KZMP, a potem kiedy Komunistyczny Związek Młodzieży Polskiej został rozwiązany, to znalazła się tak jak wielu tych młodych komunistów w „Spartakusie” – to była taka organizacja raczej związana z PPS-em, ale bardzo od PPS-u niezależna i bardzo komunizująca. Tam między innymi Hanka Szapirówna była członkiem „Spartakusa” i wielu... dosyć spora garść takich późniejszych działaczy komunistycznych, okresu okupacji, powojennego, tutaj dosyć znanych. No a w czasie wojny ta przyjaciółka mojej żony... mojej siostry, przepraszam, o której... ta przyjaciółka, o której mówię, była oficerem Armii Ludowej, odgrywała nawet... nazywała się z domu Semilówna, a z męża Bartoszek, Hedda Bartoszek. Między nią a moją siostrą była dosyć bliska przyjaźń, szczególnie w okresie międzywojennym, znaczy przed wojną, a w czasie już okupacji też się stykały, tylko już tam różnymi drogami tam ich życie biegło, ale też się stykały, no i jakieś te osobiste sentymenty pozostały. No to kiedy już Hedda została zwolniona z więzienia, kiedy ludzie wychodzili z więzień, to jej ojciec, gdy spotkał mojego ojca, to powiedział jej: „Ty nawet sobie nie wyobrażasz, jaki był los takich jak Hedda, którzy tam w tych więzieniach się znaleźli, jak ona normalnie jest ubrana to tego nie widać, ale ja jej musiałem pomagać kąpać się, bo ona ma różne niedowłady rąk i to ja widziałem jak ona jest zmasakrowana po prostu, jak ma zmasakrowane ciało i to jest przerażające”.

Trzeba przyznać, że bezpieka umiała ludzi masakrować, ale nie masakrowała jednak tak znowu wszystkich. Muszę powiedzieć, że ci komuniści, którzy się znaleźli wówczas w więzieniach, a o których ja coś wiem bardziej osobiście czy ich jakoś znałem, to mieli ten los, należeli do tych szczególnie bitych, masakrowanych, torturowanych; prawdopodobnie dlatego, że swoich się bardziej nienawidzi, jeżeli słusznie czy niesłusznie nagle stawia się ich po drugiej stronie jakiej... tej barykady. Ustawia się ich sobie, bo to tylko to znaczyło, że się ustawia. A po drugie byli to ludzie, którzy mieli być używani do szczególnie ważnych procesów politycznych; jeżeli byli niechętni, jeżeli się opierali, no to trzeba było ich złamać. Nie sądzę, żeby którykolwiek z procesów AK-owskich był pod tym względem tak przygotowywany i tak władzy na tym zależało, jak przygotowywany proces Gomułki i Spychalskiego, toteż ludzie z tym procesem związani byli traktowani, no, szczególnie nieludzko. No wiem o człowieku, który był tak zmasakrowany, dziennikarz warszawski, tak zmasakrowany, no że właściwie został i to straszliwie okaleczony już tak, kiedy wyszedł z więzienia, kiedy po jakiejś serii operacji jakoś już zaczął zdrowieć, no to właściwie była to ruina człowieka. Tak że ich los był szczególnie ponury, tym bardziej, że ja sobie wyobrażam, że AK-owiec, który się znalazł i został storturowany, zmaltretowany, to przynajmniej, nawet jeżeli się już załamywał, jeżeli już miał tego dosyć, to sobie przynajmniej powiadał, no, że to robią ci czerwoni, o których zawsze myślałem, że tak są w stanie zrobić. Natomiast ci ludzie – to w ogóle nie jestem sobie w stanie wyobrazić, co sobie myśleli, przecież oni byli „za”, przecież to nie byli żadni wrogowie, agenci ani nic, chociaż im to wmawiano, to los tych ludzi był potworny.

Jan Józef Lipski (1926-1991) was one of Poland's best known political activists. He was also a writer and a literary critic. As a soldier in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), he fought in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1976, following worker protests, he co-founded the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR). His active opposition to Poland's communist authorities led to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions. In 1987, he re-established and headed the Polish Socialist Party. Two years later, he was elected to the Polish Senate. He died in 1991 while still in office. For his significant work, Lipski was honoured with the Cross of the Valorous (Krzyż Walecznych), posthumously with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1991) and with the highest Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle (2006).

Listeners: Jacek Petrycki Marcel Łoziński

Cinematographer Jacek Petrycki was born in Poznań, Poland in 1948. He has worked extensively in Poland and throughout the world. His credits include, for Agniezka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979), Europe, Europe (1990), Shot in the Heart (2001) and Julie Walking Home (2002), for Krysztof Kieslowski numerous short films including Camera Buff (1980) and No End (1985). Other credits include Journey to the Sun (1998), directed by Jesim Ustaoglu, which won the Golden Camera 300 award at the International Film Camera Festival, Shooters (2000) and The Valley (1999), both directed by Dan Reed, Unforgiving (1993) and Betrayed (1995) by Clive Gordon both of which won the BAFTA for best factual photography. Jacek Petrycki is also a teacher and a filmmaker.

Film director Marcel Łoziński was born in Paris in 1940. He graduated from the Film Directing Department of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź in 1971. In 1994, he was nominated for an American Academy Award and a European Film Academy Award for the documentary, 89 mm from Europe. Since 1995, he has been a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science awarding Oscars. He lectured at the FEMIS film school and the School of Polish Culture of Warsaw University. He ran documentary film workshops in Marseilles. Marcel Łoziński currently lectures at Andrzej Wajda’s Master School for Film Directors. He also runs the Dragon Forum, a European documentary film workshop.

Tags: Spartacus, Hedda Bartoszek

Duration: 5 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 10 March 2011