Communism from a personal experience

by Beata Bruggeman- Sękowska

Crossing the line scared me most

 

Lviv, Stanislavov, Kuty

I was sitting next to my grandmother Maria who was telling me about Lviv, Stanislavov, Kuty and the Soviets. ´´When they came they confiscated all you had. Houses, all your possessions, clothes and even looked what food you had in the pot´´. She continued, ‘’they moved into many houses and the original owners were forced to leave or move with the whole families to one room. I remember that the wives of the Soviets were going through our wardrobes, they were choosing elegant nightgowns and wore them to the theatres, because they had no idea these were pajamas’’.

The Soviets had no moral compass whatsoever, they were cold-blooded and interested in stealing and showing who is the boss now at all costs.

 

Born in the USSR

My family was living before World War II in the eastern part of Poland, my father was born in Stanislavov in 1943 and his first word as a baby was: bomb. After World War II this territory became part of the USSR as a result of Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 and Yalta conference of 1945. My family had to flee to Poland, Poland which was also no longer free. It was Poland which cried and was bleeding under the occupation of the communists.

When my family arrived in Poland, my father was so ill and skinny due to what they had gone through that the doctors expected he would not get older than 12. Luckily, they were wrong.

I remember my father being so ashamed of his birth certificate. It stated he was born in the USSR. He was Polish and did not want to have anything to do with the communists. But we had no choice, they were everywhere like a plague and they determined every single aspect of your life.

 

Fear: If you are not with us you are against us

Their power was based on fear, control and violence. You had to be either a member of the party or you were the enemy of the system.

”Every provocateur or madman who dares to lift his hand against the power of People’s Poland will have that hand chopped off”- Jozef Cyrankiewicz, Polish prime minister under communism once said. And it was so, people were bugged, followed, tortured, innocent people admitted doing things they had never done because they were so violently beaten and then finally murdered.

 

Control

You were not expected to be free at all. The party controlled where you worked, private initiatives were forbidden, everybody had a job, there was no unemployment. But the reason was not that the party really cared about you and wanted you to be financially independent. Just the opposite, people who were working for the government-owned companies and government organisations were easily controlled by the party which was occupying managing positions.

I remember building our house in Poland in the end of the 70s beginning of the 80s. It was so difficult to find the building materials, to plan the whole project but the worst of all were the inspections. On one day the whole bus arrived full of various inspectors who were controlling everything, counting every single brick, just to make your life more difficult because you dared to take action and build your own house. We were really afraid that they were planning to accommodate strangers in our house, to control us. No private property was safe under communism.

When we finally managed to build the house, other inspectors came and wrote down what cars we had and they decided they would be confiscated in the case of war.

 

You were not expected to think free.

The communists controlled what you read and what you watched and listened to. The censorship was omnipotent. The lies were spread through the media with the purpose to brainwash, control and influence your thoughts and spread fear. Through the media you learnt how chosen we were to live in a prosperous communist system and how careful we have to be because the evil imperialists want to start another war against our ‘’paradise on earth’’.

I remember how scared we were each time when we were listening to the Free Europe Radio in the smallest room of our house. Every and each time turning down the volume and listening if there are no people outside watching us or listening to us. Everybody could report you to the secret police. How could you trust anybody?

I remember reading in the evening a book about Polish-Bolshevik war which my father ordered from London. It was totally illegal. My father entered the room and said: ‘’Good that you read. Remember only to find a good place to hide it in your room when they come’’. I was so scared that the only thing I could think about was the choice of the safe place.

 

Brainwashing at schools

Brainwashing started early, at schools. From the beginning we had to learn the communist version of history, we learnt Russian language, we followed the lessons ”Knowledge about the Society’’ where we learned about our ‘’ideal’’ system, in the literature lessons we had to learn the ‘’proper’’ literature promoting the communist spirit and we followed special lessons called ‘’Defensive Adaptation’’. During the lessons we learnt that the ‘’bloody imperialists’’ can attack us every single minute and we have to be careful, we have to be loyal to the party which protects us against the enemy. We learned how to put the bandages on the wounds, how to tackle on war victims, how to put gas masks on when the imperialists press the nuclear button and finally we had to learn how to shoot. I was really terrified by the last one. I did not want to use the gun against anybody and was scared of the single idea of being forced to do it. Therefore we tricked the system again. My father was a doctor. Every and each time we had to practise shooting I got a doctor’s note that I was ill and not capable of attending the classes.

At school we had to learn the propaganda poems by heart glorifying our leaders, great friends from the Soviet Russia and proletariat. We were taught to glorify the system which we were told was the safest and most honest on earth. Many of the poems we learnt we were presenting on Monday mornings in a special performance for the whole school.

We, children of our generation, were raised in a schizophrenic way. We got propaganda lessons at schools and had to listen to the lies and at the same time we got the real history and politics lessons at home by our parents. I realize that now how risky it was for the families. We are talking about children. And children could easily say at school that they are learning different things at home…with the outcome: imprisonment. But still many people did it.

 

Empty shelves, empty promises

”Socialism, peace, work, prosperity” was a well-known propaganda slogan hanging at public spaces. ”Government takes care of people” hanging above the empty shelves in a shop and people queueing outside a shop hours before it was open hoping to buy groceries were everyday images of the communist Poland.

Under communism the equality and economic equality remained the theory. In practice the society consisted of the political top enjoying better life and the rest was working for the top. The political top lived in better houses, had better cars, could travel, did not have to queue.

The rest did not have enough food, was indoctrinated, scared and could not decide about their own lives.

Food was limited and we were using special food coupons. Coupons were specifying how much bread and other necessities we could buy. People were queueing outside shops for hours and very often ended up with nothing or not with what they hoped for. Yes, this is how people were taken care of by the communism.

My mother was born in Konstancin near Klarysew, do you know why Klarysew had one of the most modern road connections with Warsaw? Because the  first secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) camerade Edward Gierek lived there so he ordered to build the road for himself. While many other people lived in houses without sewage systems for example. It was equality for the chosen few.

 

Crossing the line

Can you imagine how happy I was as a little girl of 7 or 8 when on one day we were told at school that ‘’Our Caring Uncle’’ from Russia: Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev loves me, cares about me and my friends! That is why we got a present! I still see it in front of me. Big plastic white and blue clocks completely filled up with sweets. It was so shocking, so beautiful, so amazing. I had never ever before seen something like this. I took my clock and walked happily home impatient to open it and eat it all, of course.

It was me, my clock and my Russian uncle Brezhnev. I was so grateful to him. I rang the bell at the gate of our house and when my parents asked who it was: I shouted: ’’I have received a great present from my lovely Russian Uncle’’. My parents opened the gate and when I entered the house I was immediately informed that this Russian communist guy is not my caring uncle at all and will never be!

On this day I was saved by my parents from the brainwashing communist machine of propaganda, which targeted everyone at every age, including me. It was so easy to cross the line, and this scared me most!

 

Trust, new feeling

Before my father died in 1995, enjoying only a few years of freedom in his life, he was one day called by the advisor of President Walesa and asked if he would consider taking over the position of the Minister of Health in free Poland. He was then already too ill to accept it, but we were honoured. We were honoured with the trust in him. Trust, value which only exists in a free country. It felt very special. My parents were always dreaming of a free country for their children. Their dream came true. Poland was free, communist oppression ended in Central and Eastern Europe but all the suffering and tragedies cannot be forgotten!

 

EIOCO

The role of the European Institute on the Communist Oppression is to make sure that all the suffering will not be forgotten and that new generations will be given a chance to learn about the past and the true, murderous face of communism. Like my grandmother many years ago was giving me the history lessons at a living-room table the EIOCO hopes to share the knowledge about this terrible system with you.

 

I was sitting next to my grandmother Maria who was telling me about Lviv, Stanislavov, Kuty and the Soviets. ´´When they came they confiscated all you had. Houses, all your possessions, clothes and even looked what food you had in the pot´´. She continued, ‘’they moved into many houses and the original owners were forced to leave or move with the whole families to one room. I remember that the wives of the Soviets were going through our wardrobes, they were choosing elegant nightgowns and wore them to the theatres, because they had no idea these were pajamas’’.

The Soviets had no moral compass whatsoever, they were cold-blooded and interested in stealing and showing who is the boss now at all costs.

My family was living before World War II in the eastern part of Poland, my father was born in Stanislavov in 1943 and his first word as a baby was: bomb. After World War II this territory became part of the USSR as a result of Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 and Yalta conference of 1945. My family had to flee to Poland, Poland which was also no longer free. It was Poland which cried and was bleeding under the occupation of the communists.

When my family arrived in Poland, my father was so ill and skinny due to what they had gone through that the doctors expected he would not get older than 12. Luckily, they were wrong.

I remember my father being so ashamed of his birth certificate. It stated he was born in the USSR. He was Polish and did not want to have anything to do with the communists like the rest of my family. But we had no choice, they were everywhere like a plague and they determined every single aspect of your life.

Their power was based on fear, control and violence. You had to be either a member of the party or you were the enemy of the system.

”Every provocateur or madman who dares to lift his hand against the power of People’s Poland will have that hand chopped off”- Jozef Cyrankiewicz, Polish prime minister under communism once said. And it was so, people were bugged, followed, tortured, innocent people admitted doing things they had never done because they were so violently beaten and then finally murdered.

You were not expected to be free at all. The party controlled where you worked, private initiatives were forbidden, everybody had a job, there was no unemployment. But the reason was not that the party really cared about you and wanted you to be financially independent. Just the opposite, people who were working for the government-owned companies and government organisations were easily controlled by the party which was occupying managing positions.

I remember building our house in Poland in the end of the 70s beginning of the 80s. It was so difficult to find the building materials, to plan the whole project but the worst of all were the inspections. On one day the whole bus arrived full of various inspectors who were controlling everything, counting every single brick, just to make your life more difficult because you dared to take action and build your own house. We were really afraid that they were planning to accommodate strangers in our house, to control us. No private property was safe under communism.

When we finally managed to build the house, other inspectors came and wrote down what cars we had and they decided they would be confiscated in the case of war.

The communists controlled what you read and what you watched and listened to. The censorship was omnipotent. The lies were spread through the media with the purpose to brainwash, control and influence your thoughts and spread fear. Through the media you learnt how chosen we were to live in a prosperous communist system and how careful we have to be because the evil imperialists want to start another war against our ‘’paradise on earth’’.

I remember how scared we were each time when we were listening to the Free Europe Radio in the smallest room of our house. Every and each time turning down the volume and listening if there are no people outside watching us or listening to us. Everybody could report you to the secret police. How could you trust anybody?

I remember reading in the evening a book about Polish-Bolshevik war which my father ordered from London. It was totally illegal. My father entered the room and said: ‘’Good that you read. Remember only to find a good place to hide it in your room when they come’’. I was so scared that the only thing I could think about was the choice of the safe place.

Brainwashing started early, at schools. From the beginning we had to learn the communist version of history, we learnt Russian language, we followed the lessons ”Knowledge about the Society’’ where we learned about our ‘’ideal’’ system, in the literature lessons we had to learn the ‘’proper’’ literature promoting the communist spirit and we followed special lessons called ‘’Defensive Adaptation’’. During the lessons we learnt that the ‘’bloody imperialists’’ can attack us every single minute and we have to be careful, we have to be loyal to the party which protects us against the enemy. We learned how to put the bandages on the wounds, how to tackle on war victims, how to put gas masks on when the imperialists press the nuclear button and finally we had to learn how to shoot. I was really terrified by the last one. I did not want to use the gun against anybody and was scared of the single idea of being forced to do it. Therefore we tricked the system again. My father was a doctor. Every and each time we had to practise shooting I got a doctor’s note that I was ill and not capable of attending the classes.

At school we had to learn the propaganda poems by heart glorifying our leaders, great friends from the Soviet Russia and proletariat. We were taught to glorify the system which we were told was the safest and most honest on earth. Many of the poems we learnt we were presenting on Monday mornings in a special performance for the whole school.

We, children of our generation, were raised in a schizophrenic way. We got propaganda lessons at schools and had to listen to the lies and at the same time we got the real history and politics lessons at home by our parents. I realize that now how risky it was for the families. We are talking about children. And children could easily say at school that they are learning different things at home…with the outcome: imprisonment. But still many people did it.

”Socialism, peace, work, prosperity” was a well-known propaganda slogan hanging at public spaces. ”Government takes care of people” hanging above the empty shelves in a shop and people queueing outside a shop hours before it was open hoping to buy groceries were everyday images of the communist Poland.

Under communism the equality and economic equality remained the theory. In practice the society consisted of the political top enjoying better life and the rest was working for the top. The political top lived in better houses, had better cars, could travel, did not have to queue.

The rest did not have enough food, was indoctrinated, scared and could not decide about their own lives.

Food was limited and we were using special food coupons. Coupons were specifying how much bread and other necessities we could buy. People were queueing outside shops for hours and very often ended up with nothing or not with what they hoped for. Yes, this is how people were taken care of by the communism.

My mother was born in Konstancin near Klarysew, do you know why Klarysew had one of the most modern road connections with Warsaw? Because the first secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) camerade Edward Gierek lived there so he ordered to build the road for himself. While many other people lived in houses without sewage systems for example. It was equality for the chosen few.

Can you imagine how happy I was as a little girl of 7 or 8 when on one day we were told at school that ‘’Our Caring Uncle’’ from Russia: Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev loves me, cares about me and my friends! That is why we got a present! I still see it in front of me. Big plastic white and blue clocks completely filled up with sweets. It was so shocking, so beautiful, so amazing. I had never ever before seen something like this. I took my clock and walked happily home impatient to open it and eat it all, of course.

It was me, my clock and my Russian uncle Brezhnev. I was so grateful to him. I rang the bell at the gate of our house and when my parents asked who it was: I shouted: ’’I have received a great present from my lovely Russian Uncle’’. My parents opened the gate and when I entered the house I was immediately informed that this Russian communist guy is not my caring uncle at all and will never be!

On this day I was saved by my parents from the brainwashing communist machine of propaganda, which targeted everyone at every age, including me. It was so easy to cross the line, and this scared me most!

Before my father died in 1995, enjoying only a few years of freedom in his life, he was one day called by the advisor of President Walesa and asked if he would consider taking over the position of the Minister of Health in free Poland. He was then already too ill to accept it, but we were honoured. We were honoured with the trust in him. Trust, value which only exists in a free country. It felt very special. My parents were always dreaming of a free country for their children. Their dream came true. Poland was free, communist oppression ended in Central and Eastern Europe but all the suffering and tragedies cannot be forgotten!

EIOCO

The role of the European Institute on the Communist Oppression is to make sure that all the suffering will not be forgotten and that new generations will be given a chance to learn about the past and the true, murderous face of communism. Like my grandmother many years ago was giving me the history lessons at a living-room table the EIOCO hopes to share the knowledge about this terrible system with you.