The Stalinist era are the years following World War II until Stalin’s death where the countries of the Soviet block, and in this case Poland, were subjected to an unrelenting repression and imposition of the Soviet Communist ideals. The apogee of the Stalinist era in Poland occurred between 1950 and 1953. It was characterized by a rule of lawlessness, terror and the removal of basic freedoms. The country was ruled under a monopartisan dictatorship of the PZPR (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza or Polish United Workers’ Party) which was a fusion of the PPS and PPR (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna or Polish Socialist Party and Polska Partia Robotnicza or Polish Workers’ Party). In theory there were a number of other fellow ‘revolutionary’ parties such as the ZSL and SD (Zwiazek Stronnictwa Ludowego and Sojusz Demokratyczny) but these were no more than cronies and puppets of the PZPR.

The entirety of power rested in the hands of a small number of individuals high in the PZPR ranks notably Boleslaw Bierut, Jakub Berman and Hilary Minc. An explosive growth of the people’s militia (MO) and secret services (UB) took place in these years. It was indispensable in providing the communists with maintaining an iron grip on the populace. This was neccessary as there was very little popular support of the communists in Poland. A specific role was laid out for the Interior Security Department (Ministerstwo Bezpieczenstwa Panstwa) nominally governed by Stanislaw Radkiewicz. In reality the MBP was led by ‘advisors’ from the USSR. The MBP was a real state within a state. It had direct communications with the Kremlin and in doing so in fact easily rivalled the power of the PZPR leadership. The department was divided in a number of sections, each with their own specific task.

Most infamous of these was Section X led by Colonel Anatol Fejgin. Its task was to “keep the party ranks clean” and “protect the labour movement from foreign influence and agents”. The other infamous section was the investigation section led by Colonel Jozef Rozanski. Both of these are responsible for most of the heinous crimes committed under the Stalinist regime in Poland. The MBP functionaries represented a sadistic and amoral group of deviants using some of the most brutal tactics to control the populace and remove unwanted elements. Their tactics consisted of very elaborate physical and psychological torture often ending with the death of the victim.

The communists who were well aware of the lack of popular support for the system, quickly embarked on a ruthless path of destroying all opponents, both real ones as well as potential ones. The numbers of persecuted individuals ranged in the hundreds of thousands. Particular wrath was directed at the Catholic Church, which at the time was the highest moral authority for most Poles. The never ending quest of total control and the creation of the ‘new man’ also paid very close attention to culture. Extra emphasis was placed on using arts and culture to propagate the communist ideology. A similar trend was observed in sciences. A total ‘Sovietization’ of intellectual and private life was the result. School books were replaced by ones propagating the Soviet way of life. Marxism was the leading doctrine and outright lies were spread to children of a very young age. Examples include stories of Allied forces in World War II raping Polish women and pillaging the country in their 'imperialistic quest'. The cynicism of some of these 'history' books is striking. The reason for that, being that it was the Soviet forces that perpetrated the acts attributed to the Allies. This led to a thriving underground education scene where children were taught by volunteering parents, who recounted more accurate versions of history.

Socrealism was the dominating artistic trend. Only works furthering the ideological onslaught were tolerated. At the same time many works of Polish literature prior to World War II mysteriously changed their content. The adoption of Soviet role models took on surrealistic and absurd forms. The propaganda went so far as to decry and negate Polish history prior to the Soviet era. The intra war period 1918-1939 was described to be an imperialistic hell, whereas in reality these years brought the country phenomenal prosperity and growth. The country's supreme leader at the time Josef Pilsudski was described as a barbaric dictator. The AK (Armia Krajowa) a network of underground partisans active during World War II were described as US agents and spies as well as reactionary forces within socialist Poland. These partisans fought during the war both against the Germans as well as the Soviets. This was an obvious and undesirable trait within a totalitarian communist state. The propaganda even accused the AK of collaborating with the Gestapo.

Almost all contacts with the West were abandoned. No international trade and very cold diplomatic relations existed at the time. This was all coupled with an increased political, economic and military dependence on Soviet Russia. A poignant symbol of this was the presence of Soviet Marshall Rokossowski as head of the Defense Ministry.

The Polish nation was once again enslaved by an occupying force a few short years after the end of World War II. After Stalin’s death the situation relaxed somewhat. This happened not only in Poland but also in other Warsaw Pact countries and even in the USSR itself. Even though the country was still under a totalitarian regime, the repression has diminished to a lesser degree. Arts and sciences were allowed more freedom and some of the most heinous travesties of changing history were reversed. It took another 30 years though to completely banish the communist spectre from the country and the rest of Eastern Europe.

God's Playground, Volume 1 by Norman Davies
Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present by Norman Davies
Personal accounts