Poznań 1956 protests: Wikis

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Poznański Czerwiec 56 (Poznań June '56)
Part of the Cold War
Zadamy chleba.jpg
"We demand bread!"
Date June 28 - June 30, 1956
Location Poznań, Poland
Result Communist military victory;
Beginning of the political thaw
Belligerents
Anti-communist labourers,
Other civilian protesters
Flag of Poland PRL.svg Communist LWP, KBW, and UB
Commanders
Unknown Stanisław Popławski
Strength
100,000 protesters,
200-300 armed fighters (est.)
10,300 men,
400 tanks,
30 AFVs
Casualties and losses
53[1]-78[2][3] killed,
600 wounded
8 killed,[1]
Several wounded

The Poznań 1956 protests (also known as Poznań 1956 uprising or Poznań June (Polish: Poznański Czerwiec)) were the first of several massive protests of the Polish people against the communist government of the People's Republic of Poland. Demonstrations by workers demanding better conditions began on June 28, 1956, at Poznań's Cegielski Factories and were met with violent repression. A crowd of approximately 100,000 gathered in the city center near the UB secret police building. 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers of Ludowe Wojsko Polskie and Korpus Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego under Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky were ordered to suppress the demonstration and during the pacification fired at the protesting civilians. The death toll was placed between 57[1] and 78 people,[2][3] including a 13-year-old boy, Romek Strzałkowski. Hundreds of people sustained injuries. Nonetheless the Poznań protests were an important milestone on the way to the installation of a less Soviet-controlled government in Poland in October.

Contents

Background

After Stalin's death, the process of destalinization prompted debates about fundamental issues throughout the entire Eastern Bloc. Nikita Khrushchev's speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences had wide implications outside the Soviet Union and in other communist countries. In Poland, in addition to the criticism of the cult of personality, popular topics of debate centered around the right to steer a more independent course of 'local, national socialism' instead of following the Soviet model down to every little detail; such views were seen in discussion and critique by many Polish United Workers' Party members of Stalin's execution of older Polish communists from Communist Party of Poland during the Great Purge.[4]

Anti-communist resistance in Poland was also bolstered, and in Poznań a group of opposition leaders and cultural figures founded the Klub Krzywego Koła (Club of the Skewed Wheel). It promoted discussions about Polish independence, questioned the efficiency of the state controlled economy, and government disdain and even persecution of the Polish Armed Forces in the West and Armia Krajowa actions during the Second World War. While intelligentsia expressed its dissatisfaction with discussions and publications (bibuła), workers took to the streets. The living conditions in Poland did not improve, contrary to government propaganda, and workers increasingly found that they had little power compared to bureaucracy of the Party (Nomenklatura).[4]

The city of Poznań was one of the largest urban and industrial centers of the People's Republic of Poland. Tensions were growing there, particularly since autumn of 1955. Workers in the largest factory in the city, Joseph Stalin's (or 'Cegielski's) Metal Industries, were complaining about higher taxes for most productive workers ('udarnik's), which affected several thousands of workers. Local directors were unable to make any significant decisions due to micromanagement by the higher officials; over several months, petitions, letters and delegations were sent to the Polish Ministry of Machine Industry and Central Committee of Polish United Workers' Party, to no avail. Finally, a delegation of about 27 workers was sent to Warsaw around June 23. On the night of Jun 26, the delegation returned to Poznań, confident that some of their demands had been considered in a favourable light. The next morning, the Minister of Machine Industry arrived at the factory and during a mass meeting withdrew some of the promises the worker delegations had received in Warsaw.[4]

Strikes

A spontaneous strike started at 6:00 am at the multifactory complex of Joseph Stalin's (or 'Cegielski's) Metal Industries. Around 80% of its workers, most of whom lost premium pay in June as the government suddenly raised the required work quota, took to the streets demanding pay compensation and some freedom concessions, marching towards the city centre. Workers at other plants, institutions and students joined the procession. Between 9:00 am and 11:00 am, about 100,000 people gathered on the Adam Mickiewicz Square in front of the Imperial Castle in Poznań, surrounded by buildings occupied by the city and party authorities and police headquarters. The demonstrators demanded lower food prices, wage increases and the revocation of some recent changes in the law that had eroded workers' conditions. They further requested the arrival of Polish Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz, as the local government declared that they had no authority to solve the problems. Some police officers also joined the crowd.[5]

After 10:00 am the situation rapidly deteriorated, when provocateurs came into action, claiming that members of the negotiating delegation had been arrested. However the local units of Milicja Obywatelska were unable to contain the crowd and the situation turned into a violent uprising as the crowds stormed the prison at Młyńska Street, where some protesters believed the members of the delegation may have been imprisoned; hundreds of prisoners were released around 10:50 am. At 11:30 am, the arms depot at the prison building was seized and the firearms were distributed among the demonstrators. The crowd ransacked the Communist Party Headquarters and then at around 11:00 am, attacked the Security Office of Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Polish Secret Police) on Kochanowskiego Street, but were repulsed when the first shots were fired from its windows into the crowd. From then until 6:00 pm, they seized or besieged many government buildings and institutions in and around Poznań, including the District Courthouse and the Prosecutor's Office, Social Insurance Institution at Dąbrowskiego Street, Civic Police stations in Junikowo, Wilda, Swarzędz, Puszczykowo and Mosina. The Prisoners' Camp in Mrowino and the Military School at the Poznań University of Technology were seized and weapons were taken. The police documents at local police station, procurature and court were destroyed.[5]

In the meantime, at about 11:00 am, 16 tanks, 2 armoured personnel carriers and 30 vehicles had been sent from the Officer School of Armoured and Mechanised Formations, a Poznań garrison, to protect the designated buildings, but no shots between them and the insurgents were exchanged. These soldiers engaged in friendly chatter with the protesters; some reports state that two tanks were seized and some troops disarmed. After that, the Soviet General Konstantin Rokossovsky, the Minister of National Defense, who was then in command of all armed forces in Poland, decided to take the control of the situation himself, and the situation changed dramatically. Rokossovsky sent his deputy, the Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky and a group of lower Soviet officers, with orders to put down the protest in a manner consistent with Russian standards, intending to end the demonstrations as soon as possible to prevent an occurrence similar to the Uprising of 1953 in East Germany, when a similar protest, not quelled down in time, spread to many other regions. The Russian officers arrived at 2:00 pm at Ławica Airport and took command. Poplavsky did not bother to use local regulars from Poznań garrisons, instead taking other troops from Silesian Military District and recalling special troops from the Biedrusko military base north of Poznań. The troops were told that the protesters were led and organized by "German provocateurs" who were attempting to darken Poland's image during the ongoing Poznań International Fair.[6][7][8][9]

Between 4:00 pm and 5:00 am the following day, the Polish 10th Armoured Division, Polish 19th Armoured Division, Polish 4th Infantry Division and Polish 5th Infantry Division, totaling about 10,300 troops and the Korpus Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego under the command of Poplavsky entered Poznań. A two hour long procession of tanks, armored cars, field guns, and lorries full of troops went through the city and surrounded it. At 9:00 pm a wave of detentions began. The detainees were taken to Ławica airport, where they were subjected to brutal interrogation; 746 persons were detained until August 8. The protests continued until June 30, when the troops finally pacified the city, after exchanging fire with some violent demonstrators. At 7:30 am on June 29 the Prime Minister arrived and infamously declared on the local radio station that "any provocateur or lunatic who raises his hand against the people's government may be sure that this hand will be chopped off."[5][10]

The number of casualties is currently a subject of academic dispute. The historian Łukasz Jastrząb[2] from the IPN Institute estimates it to be 57 dead and about 500 wounded, while another IPN scholar, Stanisław Jankowiak[11][12] places the figure at slightly over 100 with 600 wounded, arguing that court records of eyewitnesses' statements, which were deemed by Dr Jastrząb as unreliable, also should be included. The official, government-approved list of victims from 1981 places the list at 74.[13]

Aftermath

Crosses in Poznań commemorating the 1956 protests and subsequent Polish protests against the Communist political system. Photograph from 2006, after significant changes to the older monument

About 250 people were arrested in the first few days, including 196 workers;[1] several hundred others were arrested in the following weeks.[5] Stanisław Hejmowski, the lawyer who defended them was later repressed for his statement that the government's actions had led to the death of innocent civilians. The government failed in its attempts to coerce the detainees into stating that they were provoked by foreign (Western) secret services; nonetheless this became the official line of the government for years to come.[14]

Soon the ideologues realized that they had lost the support of the Soviet Union, and the regime turned to conciliation by announced wage rises and other reforms. Realizing the need for a change in leadership, the Polish communists chose a new leader, Władysław Gomułka, who was considered a moderate; this transition is known as Polish October (or Gomułka thaw). In spite of this, the communist authorities censored all information on the Poznań events for a quarter of a century. Historians were denied source materials for research, and the campaign was effective in eliminating any mention of the events of June 1956 from publicly available sources. The most active participants of these events have been persecuted for years. The memory of the events was however preserved by the participants and members of opposition. One of the first initiatives undertaken by the Independent Self-governing Trade Union "Solidarity" after the Gdańsk Agreement was to erect a monument commemorating Poznań June 1956.[15]

Many historians consider the Poznań 1956 protests to be an important milestone in modern history of Poland, and one of the events that precipitated the fall of communism in Poland. Nonetheless it should be noted that the protests of 1956 were not motivated by anti-communist ideology; the workers' demands were mostly of economic nature, centering around better work conditions rather than any political objectives. The workers sang The Internationale and their banners read "We demand bread." It was the government's consistent failure to fulfil the first demand which eventually led to the demands for political change, but even during the history of Solidarity few demanded wide political reforms.[16][17]

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Commemoration

On June 21, 2006, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the events, the Polish Sejm declared June 28 to be a national holiday in Poland; the Day of Remembrance of the Poznań June 1956.[18]

See also

References

This article incorporates information from the revision as of 3 April 2007 of the equivalent article on the Polish Wikipedia.
  1. ^ a b c d (Polish) Andrzej Paczkowski, Pół wieku dziejów Polski, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2005, ISBN 83-01-14487-4, p. 203
  2. ^ a b c (Polish) Łukasz Jastrząb, "Rozstrzelano moje serce w Poznaniu. Poznański Czerwiec 1956 r. – straty osobowe i ich analiza", Wydawnictwo Comandor, Warszawa 2006, ISBN 83-7473-015-3
  3. ^ a b (Polish) Norbert Wójtowicz, Ofiary „Poznańskiego Czerwca”, Rok 1956 na Węgrzech i w Polsce. Materiały z węgiersko–polskiego seminarium. Wrocław październik 1996, ed. Łukasz Andrzej Kamiński, Wrocław 1996, p. 32–41.
  4. ^ a b c Reasons for the outbreak from the official city of Poznań website dedicated to 1956 events. Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d Black Thursday - course of events from the official city of Poznań website dedicated to 1956 events. Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  6. ^ (Polish) Waldemar Lewandowski, Sowieccy generałowie w polskich mundurach Gazeta Wyborcza, 29 June 2006, Last accessed on 10 August 2007
  7. ^ (Polish) Waldemar Lewandowski, Jak wojsko pacyfikowało powstanie Gazeta Wyborcza, 28 June 2006, Last accessed on 10 August 2007
  8. ^ (Polish) Piotr Bojarski, Przebieg wydarzeń podczas czarnego czwartku Gazeta Wyborcza, 28 June 2006, Last accessed on 10 August 2007
  9. ^ (Polish) Waldemar Lewandowski, Poznańska bitwa pancerna Gazeta Wyborcza, 29 June 2006, Last accessed on 10 August 2007
  10. ^ Radio Free Europe Background Reports: 1976-12-2
  11. ^ (Polish) Stanisław Jankowiak, Paweł Machcewicz, Agnieszka Rogulska, "Zranione miasto : Poznań w czerwcu 1956 r.", Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 2003
  12. ^ (Polish) "Z perspektywy historyka i w świetle dokumentów…" - interview with dr Łukasz Jastrząb
  13. ^ Official list of victims from 1981 as seen on contemporary photo
  14. ^ Investigation from the official city of Poznań website dedicated to 1956 events. Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  15. ^ Forbidden remembrance and The monument from the official city of Poznań website dedicated to 1956 events. Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  16. ^ Interview with Karol Modzelewski, one of the leaders of the revolt Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  17. ^ Hot June '56 Warswaw Voice 31 May 2006 Last accessed on 3 April 2007.
  18. ^ (Polish) UCHWAŁA SEJMU RZECZYPOSPOLITEJ POLSKIEJ z dnia 21 czerwca 2006 r. w sprawie ustanowienia dnia 28 czerwca Narodowym Dniem Pamięci Poznańskiego Czerwca 1956. Last accessed on the 3 April 2007

External links

Coordinates: 52°24′N 16°55′E / 52.4°N 16.917°E / 52.4; 16.917


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