Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Poznan 1956 - for bread and freedom!


Most people outside Poland are unaware that the 1956 Hungarian uprising happened five months after similar protests in Poland. Polish commemorations of those demonstrations, and the many lives lost, 50 years ago have been taking place today (banner in photo says 'We demand bread')

On June 28, 1956, workers at the Cegielski factory in Poznan, put down their tools and went out onto the streets to protest against massive tax hikes, which cut real wages and poor working conditions. Soon the protests spread outside the factory and became demonstrations for 'bread and freedom'.

The communist authority’s brutal response ended with over 70, maybe more, protesters dead, killed by Polish guns.

No longer could Poles claim that Poles never kill Poles.

Today, ceremonies have taken place to commemorate the first Polish workers to die in the cause of freeing their country from Soviet communism.

It was these demonstrations that helped give confidence to people in Hungary. And follow them they did, with consequences only the most historically illiterate will be unaware of (which means most western school kids, these days!).

The actions in Poznan ultimately pushed the Stalinist authorities to change leadership and direction, seeking a Polish road to communism - a path that would ultimately turn into a cul-de-sac.

Since Stalin’s death in 1953, the Polish communist authorities iron grip had been weakening, anyway. The secret services became disorganized, censorship haphazard. Periodicals such as Po Prostu (Simply) began to be secretly distributed, encouraging debate and discussion as to the best way forward.

When the news of Nikita Khrushchev’s letter criticizing Stalin emerged in January 1956, confidence began to rise as to the possibility of challenging the communist state for better living standards and more freedoms of speech, assembly, worship.

And then the Cegielski factory went out on strike.

The Polish protests of 1956 were the precursor to the protests of 1970,1976 and the Solidarity strikes of 1980.

All those protests were sparked off by sudden price rises and rapid drops in living conditions. A regime that can't even provide the basics in life won't last very long. Strange the communist authorities never learnt from their mistakes. It was their stupidity that would eventually be the death of them.

See more photos from Poznan, 1956 here.
Also see www.1956.pl

10 comments:

Michael Farris said...

I live in Poznan and actually have some classes in the old Cegielski factory (the university bought one of their buildings in the 90's). You're never far from history in Poland.

Henry Grodsk said...

According to Łukasz Jastrząb's Rozstrzelano moje serce w Poznaniu (2006) 57 people were killed in Poznań. Jastrząb has of course suffered for revising the accepted figure down to a mere 57.

For a look at Khrushchev's "Secret Report" at the twentieth congress of the communist party in 1956 and its effects on Poland see Three Monkeys Online

Renegade Eye said...

The events showed the consequances, of maintaining an insular, priviledged position, as your main focus.

Renegade Eye said...

The events showed the consequances, of maintaining an insular, priviledged position, as your main focus.

beatroot said...

Henry - I bet he did get some for revising down...as if it makes it any better/worse whatever figure is was...and great article in the monkeys.

Can a Polish ghetto in Holland stop racist attacks?

From Poland A.M.


The Labour Agency which employs Polish workers in the Netherlands wants to build a housing district with Polish shops and a church especially for Poles in order to protect them from the increasing intolerance of Dutch society.


The idea originated from Pierre van Loenen, the director of job agency Axidus which employs Poles with German passports in the Netherlands. Poles have to apply for special permits the number of which is limited and concerns only selected sectors of the economy. Last year 26,000 Poles received such permits. Axidus offers jobs for unskilled workers who do not have to know Dutch, but there is already about a 1,000 of them and the number is to increase further. They are accommodated in 31 hotels but it is not enough. According to one Axidus employee, the Polish housing estate is to protect Poles from the Dutch racism. According to Dutch media , the district will probably be located near the highway to Rotterdam. (Gazeta Wyborcza, p. 8) E.B.


Mike: great place, the cegielski, for doing some role play and student centred learning!
Ren: that's much too obscure a comment for a simple root vegetable like me...

Who or what is maintaining a insular, priviledged postion...Poles?...Stalinists?...this blog? And what were they focusing on?

Poznaniak said...

This were not only passive "demonstrations", it was a small-scale uprising. Few hundreds of the protesters were armed with guns taken from militia and Molotov's coctails. There was firefight around Urzad Bezpieczenstwa (secret police) building and in many other places, in which at least 8 soldiers and militiamen were killed. First tanks to enter the city were captured by the protesters.
Anyway, thanks for writing about it.

beatroot said...

Hi Poznaniak. There was some violence on both sides, though I don't think there is any moral equivalent at all between what they did and they way the authorities came down on them.

Poznaniak said...

Well, it seems we have not understood each other. For me the fact that the people were not only protesting, but also actually fighting against communists using guns (which did not happen during any of the later demonstrations) makes the whole thing more heroic and I thought it would have been good if you had written about it.

beatroot said...

I think you are probably right.

A better post would have been to do that, as you say. I do these things very quickly and many times I miss details that could make the articles better.

It was just a lack of my imagination.

But I am learning from you guys.

That's the point of this blog!

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