A retrospective: Wojciech Jaruzelski and Poland

Poland (Polska) officially the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska) is a country in central Europe, and its largest city, and capital is Warsaw. The Polans (Polanie) were a Slavic tribe that the name Poland originated from.


The twentieth century was a very difficult time for Poland, and World War II was especially a traumatic time, which saw most of their Jewish population annihilated by the Nazi Holocaust. In 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland which was the start of World War II, where over a million German troops crossed the border. Hitler initially claimed it was a defensive campaign, but it soon became clear that Hitler wanted the land as a living space (Lebensraum) for the German population. The German army advanced 140 miles in just one week into Warsaw and left a trail of destruction behind them. Russian forces entered the country from the east and the Polish government fled the country through fear of death. The Nazis and the Russians split Poland in half and occupied their territories. In 1941, despite Russia and Germany signing a treaty, Germany invaded Russia and claimed the whole of Poland for themselves. By the end of the war, the Russians managed to liberate Poland and created a Communist government there.

Throughout its history, Poland went through stages where its dominant neighbours took over control of the state and affairs. Despite the communist control, a vast number of Polish residents were practising Roman Catholics, and they answered to the Pope in Vatican City. For thirty seven years, the USSR maintained control over Poland with censorship, rules and restrictions.

Wojciech Jaruzelski

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski was born in south eastern Poland at Kurów in 1923 into the gentry family of Ślepowron, and his father was a well established Agronomist which is an agricultural science. He was raised on the family estate in Wysokie Mazowieckie, and in 1933 moved to Warsaw to attend a Catholic school with an intensely strict, religious education.

During the Soviet invasion, many Polish families were sent to Siberia to work on labour camps, and the Jaruzelskis were amongst them, and Wojciech suffered from Photokeratitis, snow blindness which forced him to wear the dark glasses for the rest of his life.

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski

In 1943, when the Soviets were fighting the Nazis, Wojciech he joined the newly created First Polish Army to fight against the Nazis that occupied Poland, and was part of the military take over of Warsaw. Once the war concludes he joined the Communist Party, Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza) which eventually governed Poland for 41 years from 1948 to 1989, and had duke over the Polish People’s Army (Ludowe Wojsko Polskie).

Wojciech fought in the anti-communism wars in the Świętokrzyskie Province. He rose through the military ranks and in 1968 became the Minister of National Defense (Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowej), and in this new post one of the first things he did was invade Czechoslovakia (Československo) as part of Operation Danube. Other countries who were part of the Warsaw Pact gathered 250,000 troops. The invasion occurred because of the The Prague Spring (Pražské jaro) when Alexander Dubček attempted to liberalise and reform the government, which the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact objected to. At the same time Dubček separated Czechoslovakia into the two states of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. After Dubček was removed from power. Gustáv Husák reversed all of his reforms except the two states, in a period known as the normalization. Alexander Dubček told his country not to resist the countries involved in the Warsaw Pact, as he didn’t want them involved in an unnecessary bloodbath. Dubček and his government were taken to Moscow for questioning, and upon their return he was reinstated into government fir a short period before he was forced to resign as first secretary. He briefly became an ambassador to Turkey before he was removed from the Communist party.

Alexander Dubček

The Polish 1970 Strikes (Grudzień 1970) were because of the high increase of food prices and general groceries, as demonstrations began the army were instructed to retaliate harshly and as workers got off trains, the army fired into the crowds killing and injuring many people. The demonstrations began in Gdynia, but after the army’s retaliation demonstrations also happened in Gdańsk, Elbląg and Szczecin. So as not to have a full scale revolt, price increase were reversed and wages were raised to resolve the demonstrations.

Prime Minister

In 1981 Jaruzelski became President of the Council of Ministers (Prezes Rady Ministrów) which was essentially Prime Minister of Poland. He heard about solidarity leaders planning a coup, and to suppress the movement he declared Martial Law (Stan wojenny w Polsce). Boris Yeltsin claimed that Jaruzelski asked the Soviet Union to aid them in Martial Law, but Moscow refused, despite Jaruzelski claiming he initiated Martial Law because of his fears of a Soviet invasion due to the instability in the country.

Life under Martial Law was harsh, and Soviet built tanks patrolled the towns and cities. Curfews were made, travel was limited, censorship was implemented, and people continually died in clashes with the armed forces, and thousands of political opponents, activists and protestors were imprisoned, and any acts involving pro-democracy and solidarity was banned. Borders were closed, airports shut down, and access in and out of cities was restricted. This was an impossibly difficult time for the Polish people and Martial Law lasted a year and a half, where human rights and civil liberties were disregarded, and even after it was lifted, certain restrictions remained.

‘There were three causes that accounted for the proclamation of martial law in Poland. First it was the progressing economic ruin of the country. Second, it was the decomposition of the functioning of the state. And third, a threat of a civil war.’ – Wojciech Jaruzelski


In 1985 Jaruzelski resigned as Prime Minister and became head of state. In 1989 a position of President was established, and Jaruzelski was elected by Parliament as the new President, but this was always going to happen as he was the only candidate. This was a classic tactic of a dictatorship by removing any opposition.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki

Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the countries first non-communist Prime Minister as Jaruzelski had no option but to allow a Solidarity member to stand as a candidate, and not long after Jaruzelski stepped down as President, and a year later retired from the Army. Jaruzelski died in Warsaw in 2014 to a stroke, he was 90 years old.

Wojciech Jaruzelski war crimes

When Jaruzelski was 82 he was officially accused of war crimes, especially crimes against humanity. Poland was then run by twin brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynsk, who were both imprisoned during Martial Law for being anti-communist.

Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynsk

He was indicted and charged with

organised criminal group of a military nature, which aimed to perpetrate crimes that consisted of the deprivation of freedom through internment

Surprisingly Jaruzelski showed remorse for his actions in the latter part of his life, and claimed that his actions were the lesser of two evils, the other evil being Poland under the tight grip of the Soviet Union. The court were Adamant that he should be charged with Communist crimes (zbrodnie komunistyczne) that accused him of creating a criminal military organisation to carry out criminal acts. Jaruzelski avoided all future court appearances due to ill health. At his funeral that many former prisoners attended, former Presidents Lech Wałęsa and Aleksander Kwaśniewski said that Judgement against Jaruzelski was now in God’s hands.

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