Volume 1, Number 1

The March 1968 Protest Movement in Light of Ministry of Interior Reports to the Party Leadership

by Andrzej Friszke

March 1968 is one of the watershed dates in the history of the Polish People's Republic. That month saw the highest level of social unrest in the period between November 1956 and December 1970, along with the pacification of academia and of high culture, purges in the party and administrative bureaucracies, and an anti-Semitic campaign that could not have been predicted based on earlier events. March brought a kind of social revolution within the party apparatus, pushing into oblivion most of the communist old guard, and also represented a fundamental testing of those who aspired to political careers. Thus the history of March 1968 is one of several autonomous, though interrelated, trends. (1) In this article, I would like to examine one of them - the social protest movement. I particularly emphasize a problem that has not been studied up to now and that is absent from published studies of the events: widespread social unrest outside of the important academic centers. I mention facts relating to the important centers when the sources I have encountered significantly expand the current knowledge about the movement as a whole. The majority of the facts discussed below were recorded in an extremely laconic fashion. Further study, especially in provincial archives, is necessary to fill in the details of the picture.

The facts and attempts at interpretation below are based on the archives of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), found in the Archiwum Akt Nowych, as well as on documents made available to me by the Museum of the University of Warsaw. A source of great significance is the daily Appendix to the Internal Bulletin of the Ministry of the Interior (MSW), which was distributed by the Office of the Minister to the members of the Politburo and the Secretaries of the PZPR Central Committee, as well as to the First Secretaries of Provincial Party Committees.(2) A supplementary source are reports made daily by telephone (and written down) to the Central Committee by Provincial Party Committees in the cities engulfed by unrest.


The prelude to the events of March 1968 was a string of tensions and conflicts between, on one hand, the literary community and part of the academic community, and, on the other hand, the PZPR leadership. The cause of these tensions was the defense of creative freedom by intellectuals, as well as the defense of the right to criticize the regime and its policies. Within the ruling party, there was increasingly a tendency to subordinate the social sciences and, to a significant extent, literature, to the prevailing interpretation of the Party's ideology and to the Party's political goals. The social sciences and even, in principle, culture as a whole were thought of as part of the "ideological front." The tensions and conflicts resulting from these antagonistic trends began at least as early as 1963-1964 (the XIII Party Plenum of the PZPR Central Committee and the Letter of 34). The pulling of Mickiewicz's "Dziady" from the stage of the Teatr Narodowy was the opening of a new, very aggressive chapter in this conflict.

The tensions at Warsaw University surrounding the activities of the "commandos" beginning in 1964 should also be seen in this context. For the authorities, the existence of this group and the activities that it pursued were more of an embarassment than it may appear. As early as 1964, the decisions on the sentences to be given J. Kuron, K. Modzelewski, and their closest colleagues at the time were made by the PZPR Central Committee, in consultation with the directors of the Ministry of the Interior, the Prosecutor General, and the Central Committee's Department of Education. Disciplinary actions against Adam Michnik in 1965 and 1966-1967 were paid a great deal of attention by the same authorities, which wished to have Michnik expelled from the University. The decisions of the Disciplinary Commissions were considered to be inconclusive and ineffective against the "destructive" activity of Michnik and his friends on campus.

As early as the beginning of February, the party leadership anticipated the possibility that the "'Dziady' affair" and the signing of petitions of protest would spread to other academic centers. In a telegram sent on February 3, 1968, to the fourteen Provincial Committees, the PZPR Central Committee Department of Science and Education referred to a January 30 demonstration and warned: "There is a possibility that similar efforts will be made at other academic centers. We have received signals of this nature from Krakow and Wroclaw." Provincial authorities were instructed to fight such efforts.(3) The documents known to me do not confirm the sometimes advanced hypothesis that part of the ruling apparatus was attempting to provoke widespread protests.


The examined sources do not, unfortunately, reveal anything new about the events of March 8 and do not answer the question of who made the decision to intervene on the Warsaw University campus, or of why and when it was made. On March 9, the heads of the Science and Education Department and the Organizational Department sent a telegram to Provincial Committees containing the official version of the events of March 8, as well as the following statement: "The authorities are determined to prevent any further disorder on Warsaw campuses, as well as to punish the guilty parties. The students who organized the events or played a particularly active role in them will be expelled from their universities within the next few days." It was also stated that members of the university faculty and staff who had "been the patrons of destructive attitudes among youth groups" would also face consequences. The authors emphasized the possibility that "the organizers of the disturbances will try to rouse unrest at other universities in the country." Therefore "appropriate measures should be taken such that, if necessary, any attempts to organize opposition demonstrations or meetings can be energetically countered."(4)

It has not been possible to determine the origin of the signal to give the propaganda an "anti-Zionist" tone. All that can be pointed out is that the previously mentioned MSW Bulletin, in describing the events of March 9, already contains such characteristic accents as: drawing attention to the surnames (indicating Jewish descent) of the "agitators" and "ringleaders," to the "improper behavior" of members of the faculty. This Bulletin also helped initiated a wave of purges by listing journalists of the Foreign Desk of the Polish Press Agency (PAP) who spread "anti-Party views."(5) In the days to follow the list of people accused of "spreading anti-Party views" would grow much longer.

The first fliers outside of Warsaw already appeared on March 9 - in dormitories at the Jagiellonian University and universities in Lublin, at the pedagogical academy in Olsztyn, and at the Department of Economics and Sociology of the University of Lodz.(6) On Monday, March 11, the first demonstrations outside of Warsaw took place in Krakow, Lublin, and Gliwice. "Disturbances of the peace" (as the MSW put it) were seen in Katowice and Lodz.

In Lublin at approximately 2 p.m. a crowd numbering about 1,000 people (mostly students from the Catholic University of Lublin, or KUL) gathered on campus. Next the crowd began to march toward the KUL campus, chanting "Help Warsaw" and "Down with censorship." "A previously prepared group of worker-activists went out to meet the above group and tried to break up the march by force of persuasion.... A unit of the Citizens' Militia [police] was sent to support the workers. The use of force was not resorted to. 43 of the most active demonstrators were detained as the crowd was being dispersed, of which 20 are KUL students (including the chairman of the KUL council of the Union of Polish Students).(7) It is interesting to note that the Lublin authorities used the same pacification technique seen in Warsaw on March 8 - first worker-activists, then police.(8)

In Gliwice, graffiti on dormitory walls (appearing on March 9-10) called for a demonstration at 4 p.m. on March 11. At the appointed time, 150-200 students gathered by the campus of the Silesian Polytechnic, sang the national anthem and the "Internationale," and began to march toward the Mickiewicz monument on the Plac Krakowski. Shouts were raised calling for freedom, democracy, and freedom of speech and the press. The police did not intervene and the demonstrators dispersed at round 8 p.m.(9)

Beginning on March 12, the student protest movement swept up all of the large academic centers: Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Poznan, Lodz. Fliers were being distributed in many provinces. In Przemysl and Siedlce, as well as in Krakow, they contained calls for a demonstration of solidarity with the students of Warsaw on March 13. In several provinces, fliers limited themselves to describing what had happened in Warsaw: Kielce, Lublin, Opole, Olsztyn, Zielona Gora, Lodz, Bydgoszcz. On that day, too, the MSW commenced preparing directly to deal with street confrontations outside of Warsaw. 800 Citizens' Militia men were dispatched to Krakow, 130 to Gdansk, 80 to Poznan.(10)

The First Phase of Large-Scale Demonstrations

The first phase of large-scale demonstrations lasted from March 12-13 to March 19, when Wladyslaw Gomulka made his famous speech, eliminating any chance that the regime's leaders would enter into dialog with the strikers. After this date, therefore, the protesers' situation changed since they could no longer hope for a quick success. During this phase many demonstrations took place, as did the first strikes (Wroclaw on March 14-16, Krakow on March 14-20, the pedagogical institute in Opole on March 18). The strike in Wroclaw was an occupational one, while in Krakow the strategy was a boycott of classes. The frequent street demonstrations often ended with brutal police baton charges and arrests (Krakow, Poznan on March 13, Lodz on March 14, Gdansk, Katowice on March 15, Wroclaw on March 15 and 16).

Students from a few academic centers attempted to make contact with workers. The students of the Gdansk Polytechnic, at a March 12 demonstration, decided to send delegates to places of work with the goal of explaining their demands. On March 14 participants of a rally at the same institution voted to hold a common demonstration with workers on the following day. There were private attempts to reach workers, especially shipyard workers, which were countered by the Provincial Committee.(11) In Wroclaw fliers were distributed discussing the common interests of workers and students, one of which ended with the words: "Despite everything, it succeeded in Czechoslovakia."(12) The Krakow PZPR Provincial Committee reported on the evening of March 15 on the appearance of fliers appealing to workers for support, distributed among other places in Nowa Huta.(13)

This phase of events also saw the emergence of a number of organizational structures in the student movement. As early as March 11, a three-person student committee was formed at Warsaw University, and in the days to follow delegates of individual departments were selected. Also on March 11 a University of Lodz demonstration appointed a delegation to represent the protesters. On March 13, an inter-university committee was formed in Krakow. A similar committe of students was also formed in Wroclaw, probably on March 14.

Krakow made efforts at this time to mobilize activity in other centers such as Lublin, Katowice, and Wroclaw, according to MSW reports. The "Internal Bulletin" informed its readers on March 16 that a group of several dozen people had left Krakow for Warsaw, though 50 of them were detained on the way, in Radom.(14)

It is difficult to ascertain the names of the movement's leaders at individual universities. Jerzy Eisler also notes this difficulty in his own book. MSW reports list many names, including members of the committees formed, but it is hard to tell how important specific individuals were in specific cities. Having said this, it should be emphasized that unquestionably the leader of the movement in Lodz was Jerzy Szczesny, accompanied by Brunon Kapala and Jerzy Makatrewicz. The leader at the Gdansk Polytechnic was Andrzej Jan Biernas, whose activities included leading the demonstration of March 12. In Poznan, Lech Jaszczuk of the Higher School of Economics stood out. Some other names frequently encountered there were: Jerzy Kopania, Walenty Koszowy, Janusz Slucki, Jozef Jastrzebski. All were students at the Higher School of Economics. Antoni Zawada, Antoni Moryn, Zbigniew Milewicz, Jan Krach, and Ryszard Gorczynski stood out in Krakow, in part because they were suspended from the Jagiellonian University as soon as March 21. In Wroclaw, among the names listed as members of the committee, Konstancja Surmacz and Jerzy Pruchnicki were singled out; in Opole it was Jan Czech. Jan Stelinski stood at the forefront of the demonstrators in Torun. As for Warsaw, a few dozen particularly active persons were named. At the Polytechnic, Witold Zielinski and Janusz Korwin-Mikke drew special attention. No analagous distinctions were awarded to any individuals at Warsaw University.

The Second Phase of Large-Scale Demonstrations

As I mentioned, this phase commenced with Gomulka's speech, which, according to the MSW, had the effect of terminating the student protests: "the tense atmosphere has been relaxed and all was calm on the 20th." However, the speech also had the effect of accelerating the purges and settling accounts at the leadership level.(15) Yet the mass protest movement was not extinguished, and even spread to provincial cities and towns.

The movement to strike did not reemerge in Wroclaw, Krakow, Gdansk, and Poznan, though meetings and demonstrations continued. An occupational strike called at the University of Lodz on March 21-22 was partly successful; by working energetically, the university administration was able to break the resistance of some of the strikers. In Warsaw, occupational strikes were held at the Polytechnic (March 21 to the night of March 22/23), at the University (March 21-23), and, for a shorter time, at the Main Agricultural School.

Administrators at some universities managed to pacify the protest movement by resorting to mass expulsions of students. This method was used most aggressively at the Wroclaw Polytechnic, where the dean expelled 1,553 students from three departments on March 22 (according to the MSW, the number was 1,202(16)), and at Warsaw University, from which 1,616 people were expelled on March 30.

The MSW also subdued universities by arresting the more active student leaders. It seems that after the arrests of the "commandos" group (mostly on March 8 and 9), arrests were mainly made among the participants of street demonstrations, rather than directly among leaders of movements at universities. This policy changed after March 20: on March 21 in Warsaw, the organizers of the strike at the Polytechnic and the members of the Warsaw University Student Committee were arrested, on March 25 they were joined by fifteen members of the university-wide student committee, with seven more arrests coming on March 27-28.

It was only at this point, when the movement was breaking down, that direct efforts to coordinate it were undertaken. On March 25 in Wroclaw a meeting was held of representatives from the academic centers of Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, Krakow, Gliwice, Poznan, Torun, and Szczecin. The MSW reported that "The future of the 'student movement' and the need to coordinate activities were discussed.... The participants emphasized the lack of worker support for the student protests. The representatives from Wroclaw spoke of reported contacts made with workers of local enterprises such as 'Pafawag' and 'Dolmel'.... Two coordinating centers, Warsaw and Wroclaw, were designated. The former is to direct activities in Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Krakow, Lublin, Lodz, Olsztyn, Torun, and probably Gdansk, while the remaining academic centers were left to Wroclaw."(17) Unfortunately, this is the only information available about the meeting. Its participants were subsequently tracked by the secret police. By the end of March Konstancja Surmacz of the Wroclaw Polytechnic, reputed to be one of the organizers of the meeting, was under arrest. By the end of April the majority of the meeting's participants was under lock and key.

After the repression of late March, the more active groups in the student movement in April went underground or semi-underground. They distributed literature at academic centers and probably participated in distributing fliers in the provinces, but at the same time considered reawakening a wider movement. The students of Wroclaw organized a cafeteria boycott at the beginning of April, with good results. The Polytechnic served 30% of the usual number of meals - at other schools the figure was 15-20%.(18) At the same time in Warsaw, fliers were distributed calling for a boycott of the press on April 5-10.(19) In several academic centers, demonstrations and student strikes were called for April 22. In Warsaw in the days immediately preceding that date, several hundred fliers were distributed appealing to gather by the Polytechnic at 4 p.m. on April 22. The MSW took these attempts seriously and tried to detain persons suspected of being organizers of the event. April 21 saw the "preventative" arrests of 21 students of various Warsaw schools "suspected of attempting to organize an illegal student gathering." Next the MSW reported arresting several dozen members of illegal student committees, "who had been preparing to undertake hostile activity."(20) The detentions and arrests were particularly severe among the students of Warsaw, Krakow, and Wroclaw. As a result, the planned demonstration at the Warsaw Polytechnic on April 22, as well as other demonstrations, did not come off.

The movement's activists saw May 1, 1968, as the last opportunity to arouse mass social protest, but this turned out to be impossible in the face of continuing arrests, investigations, threats, and intense psychological pressure. After May 1, the MSW would report:

According to reports received from provincial police headquarters, May 1 celebrations throughout the country took place according to plan, in an atmosphere of calm and order.

An important factor in the above success were the security measures taken by law enforcement on the routes of marches, the sites of rallies, and around the performances and entertainment held in the afternoon....

The attitude of the students of the Gdansk Polytechnic and of Lublin, among others, deserves mention. They shouted good wishes to the provincial officials in the reviewing stand and, according to tradition, sang them "100 lat."

It was only in Wroclaw, in the delegation from the Wroclaw Polytechnic, that a group of students of that school (about 100 people) displayed a banner before the reviewing stand with the slogans: "The arrested are among us," "The truth is on our side," "We demand that the students be freed." The latter slogan was also chanted.

After passing the reviewing stand, the group separated from the other marchers and went in the direction of plac Grunwaldzki. During this part of their march the students, joined by about 200 passers-by, unfurled banners with the following words: "The press lies," "Read the 'Swierszczyk' - it does not lie," and "Free the students."

The students were persuaded by the Citizens' Militia to roll up their banners and disperse peacefully.

The banners and the people carrying them were filmed. The names of 38 active members of the group were established. Two of them have been detained."(21)

Unrest in the Provinces

As I mentioned, the first attempts in outlying centers to demonstrate solidarity with the students of Warsaw were made in the first phase of protests. The list of cities and towns in which the MSW reported the appearance of fliers grew day by day. For example, on March 13, sporadic distribution of literature was reported in Jelenia Gora, Rzeszow, Swidnica, Olsztyn, Bialystok, Zielona Gora, Nowa Sol, Kutno, Zgierz, Pabianice, Siedlce, Zyrardow, and Ostroleka.(22) On March 17 the MSW reported: "Recently it has been observed that the destructive atmosphere, escalated by trouble-making elements, has been spreading to smaller urban areas."(23) The next day it was reported that fliers were being distributed in about twenty smaller cities, most of which did not appear on the previous day's list.(24)

Street demonstrations took place in four provincial cities, including Radom and Legnica, both on March 17. In Radom, several hundred secondary school students gathered in the late afternoon. Slogans were shouted, some directed against the Citizens' Militia. A battle with the police resulted. 41 people were detained.(25) On March 15 at around 7 p.m., the police dispersed a group of about 1,000 young people in Legnica who had been voicing "hostile shouts" and slogans of solidarity with Warsaw. Twenty people were detained.(26) On March 21, 300 people gathered to demonstrate by the Mickiewicz monument in Tarnow. The police dispersed the assembly, arresting the 37 most active (as it was claimed) participants, seven of them being minors. On the same day over 300 people demonstrated by the Mickiewicz monument in Bielsko-Biala. After appeals by police to disperse, part of the crowd left the scene. The report does not mention whether force was resorted to, though it does say that eleven people were arrested.(27)

Street demonstrations were the exception among forms of protest in outlying areas. The most widespread form of supporting the student movement, one that was observed in approximately 100 cities in March and in over 40 in April, was the distribution of fliers. These were usually hand-written, more rarely typed, sometimes run off on toy printing presses. They were usually dropped in public places, where it was hoped that they would get a positive response from whomever happened to pick them up. Sometimes literature was left in mailboxes or mailed to random addresses. In at least one case, a "chain letter" method was attempted. These channels were of course of limited effectiveness, but they seemed to be safest. Despite this, the secret police arrested several dozen (this is the number of names of arrestees listed in the "Internal Bulletin") people in a similar number of cities on charges of creating and distributing fliers. Usually, the secret police would seize no more than a dozen copies in each city listed, which - bearing in mind the channels of distribution - indicates that fliers were distributed in small numbers. There were however examples of large-scale distribution. 300 fliers were distributed in Jelenia Gora on March 31. Kazimierz Patyjkiewicz, a student at the Technical High School for Mechanics, confessed to the above after his arrest. The secret police seized 153 fliers in Bytom on April 8-9, 50 copies of another in Gliwice on April 20, then 71 later in the month. The secret police in Mragowo seized 300 in late April/early May, while 525 were captured in Ketrzyn. In the town of Milsko, near Lwowek Slaski, 500 "anti-Party" fliers were tossed about on the night of April 30/May 1.(28)

Among the arrested authors and distributors was a large number of university students and secondary, vocational, and even elementary school students. Alongside them were also workers, technicians, engineers. The fliers' content consisted of declarations of solidarity with the students, reiterations of the students' slogans and resolutions, expressions of dissent with respect to the claims of Party propaganda, occasionally appeals to support the student movement or to boycott official activities (such as Party rallies), or to resign from the PZPR or its youth organization, the ZMS. The author of fliers circulated in Olsztyn province appended a demand for lower meat prices. The fliers were usually signed in conventional fashion ("Students," "Citizens"), but there were examples of more original signatures, such as "Voice of the Nation" (author of a significant number of fliers found in Silesia), "POW," "resistance organ," "Association of the Just," or "The Zambrowski Organization," which distributed its material at the beginning of April in Mirsk, near Lwowek Slaski.

Distribution of fliers in small towns developed in the last ten days of March and lasted, to a lesser extent, through all of April. Despite numerous arrests, it even continued into later months.

Other common forms of protest were writing graffiti and - less commonly - hanging banners. They usually expressed hostility with respect to the authorities, the police, and sometimes the Soviet Union; sometimes they contained expressions were of support for the students' struggle against the above. One banner striking in its originality was placed by a Rzeszow high school on April 27. It said: "We hail our Zionist comrades."(29) A less popular form of protest consisted of anonymous letters.


2,180 people throughout the country were arrested between March 8 and March 21 for their role in the protests. This number includes 525 students of higher institutions, 327 elementary and high school students, 769 blue-collar workers, 288 white-collar workers, and 130 unemployed persons. 831 arrestees were said to have been freed within 48 hours. Over the next few weeks, these figures increased. A subsequent MSW report put the number of related arrests between March 7 and April 6 at 2,725. The largest category here was blue-collar workers (937), next were students (641, including 248 from universities, 194 from polytechnics and engineering schools, and 199 from other institutions). The third largest group was primary and secondary school students (487). White-collar workers made up 272 arrests, the unemployed accounted for 215, and others for 173. (The latter two categories are ambiguous; the data from March 27 list 325 white-collar workers and 185 unemployed, but do not include an "other" category.) 1,842 persons, including 393 students, were freed within 48 hours. Penal or penal-administrative procedures were begun with respect to 1,224 arrestees (280 students). Temporary arrest was used with 319 persons, including 82 students. 183 cases (25 of students) went to the courts. 64 cases were tried by April 6, with 50 ending in prison sentences. Of 666 cases sent to Penal-Administrative Committees, 360 (95 of students) were heard by this date, of which 132 ended with prison sentences and 211 with fines. On April 6, 296 persons (including 73 students) were being held under temporary arrest and nine people were under detention.(30)

A separate form of repression was drafting into the army. By March 27 71 students and 600 others had been given their papers, and of these 42 students and 552 students were already put into uniform by that date.(31)

I do not have data of comparable precision for later weeks. It can only be said that up to April 21, 703 students of higher institutions were detained, the most in Warsaw (197), Krakow (137), Poznan (103), Katowice (69), Gdansk (48), Lublin (43), Wroclaw (41), and Lodz (19).(32) These numbers indicate - in my opinion - a certain degree of flexibility awarded to provincial authorities. This would explain the large number of detentions in Katowice and Lublin compared to Wroclaw or Lodz, where the student movement was much more dynamic.

Let us look more closely at this "geography of repression." Up to March 27, 1,008 persons (229 students) had had penal or penal-administrative procedures taken up against them. Gdansk stands out from this point of view, with 258 cases, including 36 students (numbers for students are henceforth given in parentheses), next Warsaw with 223 (79), Krakow - 128 (53), Wroclaw - 76 (7), Szczecin - 74 (0), Poznan - 51 (15), Lodz - 50 (0), Kielce - 49 (0), Katowice - 33 (11), Koszalin - 7 (0), Rzeszow - 6 (1), Zielona Gora - 6 (0), Opole - 5 (4), Warsaw province - 5 (0), Lodz province - 3 (0), Bydgoszcz - 3 (0), Bialystok - 2 (0). Most cases were sent to committees with the exception of Gdansk, where 132 cases went to the courts (the figure for the whole country at that time was 237, including 53 in Warsaw and 32 in Krakow).(33)

This penal policy evolved over time. For example, the organizers of the Lodz student movement were arrested and sentenced during the same period that the above-mentioned report on army conscription was being composed. The Prosecutor General's report of March 6, 1969, revealed that between March 1968 and February 28, 1969, prosecutors sent 98 cases to be tried by the courts, including the cases of 91 students and former students. Of the 96 defendants, 80 [sic - translator's note] were found guilty and sentenced: 33 to prison (nine of them for 2-3½ year terms), 45 to suspended prison terms. Two cases were thrown out, with the rationale that the crimes that the defendants were charged with were not serious enough to merit a trial. The Prosecutor General emphasized that of 33 persons sentenced to definite prison terms, 22 were released. Thus on February 28, 1969, nine people were in prison serving sentences, all members of the "commandos" group. Beyond this, investigations against 23 suspected flier distributors were begun by October 1968. Ten of the suspects were kept under arrest.(34)

The decision to mitigate penal policy was dictated by political concerns. At a meeting of First Secretaries of University Committees of the PZPR on September 24, 1968, the head of the Science and Education Department of the PZPR Central Committee, Andrzej Werblan, said that the majority of those arrested under charges of organizing demonstrations and distributing literature had been released. "After considering the attitude of the public, which in general has renounced the trouble-makers, after considering the behavior of some of the arrested while in detention, after considering changes that have taken place in the student milieu itself, the authorities have decided... to forgo sending a significant number of cases to criminal courts, as being arrested, questioned, and held in jail is punishment enough and... mostly over the summer vacation, many have been released from prophylactic detainment, their cases sent to penal-administrative committees or to so-called expedited courts, which can give sentences of up to six months in prison." On the other hand, the cases of fifteen "organizers of the events of March" (i.e., "commandos") were sent to criminal courts for prosecution.(35)

In the Prosecutor General's report mentioned above, the category "workers" was not isolated. As a result we do not know whether workers who had been sentenced were also freed, or were left to serve out their sentences. How many workers were sentenced to prison? The MSW Internal Bulletins of March and April 1968 mentioned three trials in Gdansk, as a result of which three men were given definite prison sentences. Gdansk Shipyard worker Stefan Fodorowski was given four years, driver Waldemar Dettlaff fifteen months, and Andrzej Stelter six months.(36) What were the fates of the arrested authors and distributors of fliers?


The facts presented above prove that the March 1968 protest movement reached dozens of towns and cities throughout the country. After initiating in Warsaw, it spread quickly to other academic centers, but also penetrated to the provinces, evoking spontaneous acts of protest and leading various people, mostly the young, to write and distribute literature, sometimes to write graffiti. The number of arrests - over 2,500 - is telling. Not since 1956 had so many people been detained as a consequence of political events. Later, comparable numbers of arrests would be made in December 1970, perhaps in June 1976, and of course in December 1981. It is remarkable that the largest category of the arrested and detained in March/April 1968 was workers. After all, the public rallies were composed of students and the intelligentsia, worker participation in them was practically invisible. Would it thus be appropriate to amend the conventional wisdom that workers "did nothing" in 1968? In March 1968 workers did not act as a social group, did not organize at their places of work, but took part as individuals or in small groups as fractions of large street demonstrations. They were, however, significant fractions. In discussions of this article, it was pointed out to me that the number of detained and sentenced workers could have been even larger than that listed in MSW reports. Some of the detained could have been classified as hooligans whose actions were unrelated to the political context.

The experience of being detained, arrested, questioned, and even beaten, was an important event in the lives of most of the 2,725 and others, not counted in this statistic. It also often involved complications later in life, dismissal from work, lack of promotion, often with secret police surveillance and harassment years later. It is interesting, though not surprising, that so few persons named in police reports of the period later decided to participate in the democratic opposition movement of the 1970s or in "Solidarity."

This article originally appeared in Polish in Wiez (March 1994). Translated from Polish by Dawid Walendowski.

1. The most complete history of these events published to date is Jerzy Eisler, Marzec 1968. Geneza, przebieg, konsekwencje (Warsaw: 1991).

2. Some issues of the "Appendix" contain a list of its addressees.

3. Archiwum Akt Nowych, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-586, p. 9.

4. AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-534, pp. 21-23.

5. "Ministerstwo Spraw Wewnetrznych. Gabinet Ministra. Zalacznik do Biuletynu Wewnetrznego" no. 59a/68. Photocopies in the Warsaw University Museum, t. 599f. (henceforth cited as BW MSW (UW) no. ...).

6. BW MSW (UW) no. 60/68.

7. AAN, Oddz. VI, KC PZPR 237/XVI-587, p. 1 (report from the PZPR Lublin Provincial Committee of March 11, 1968, 9 p.m.). The description in BW MSW 61/68 is similar, except that it admits that force was used.

8. 8.Worker-activists were also used to counter demonstrations in Lodz, although all we know about this are the following words from the report by the PZPR Provincial Committee to the Central Committee of March 20: "It was decided today to withdraw Lodz worker-activists from the action, and to use police intervention in the city when necessary." AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-587, p. 85.

9. 9.BW MSW (UW) no. 61/68, p. 27; AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-587, k. 9 (report of T. Pyka from Katowice of March 12).

10. 10.BW MSW (UW) no. 62/68, pp. 29-30, 33.

11. 11.BW MSW (UW) no. 62/68, p. 29; no. 64/68, p. 36. AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-587, p. 28 (information dating from March 14).

12. 12.BW MSW (UW) no. 62/68, p. 29. In Wroclaw there appeared numerous slogans, fliers, and banners with appeals to workers to oppose the resolutions being passed by places of work, and with the equation "workers + students = socialism." AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-587, p. 20.

13. 13.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-587, p. 41.

14. 14.BW MSW (UW) no. 65/68, p. 49.

15. 15.BW MSW (UW) no. 69/68, p. 78.

16. 16.AAN, Oddz. VI-591, p. 4 (BW MSW no. 71/68).

17. 17.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 45 (BW MSW no. 75/68).

18. 18.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 81 (BW MSW no. 83/68).

19. 19.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 80 (BW MSW no. 82/68).

20. 20.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, pp. 115, 120 (BW MSW nos. 96/68, 98/68).

21. 21.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, pp. 140-141 (BW MSW 104/68). Cf. J. Eisler, op. cit.; S. Stefanski (W. Suleja), "Solidarnosc na Dolnym Slasku," Wroclaw 1986 (underground publication), p. 15.

22. 22.BW MSW (UW) no. 64/68, pp. 36-37.

23. 23.BW MSW (UW) no. 65a/68, p. 71.

24. 24.BW MSW (UW) no. 66/68, p. 56. Among those named were: Wloclawek, Zagan, Plock, Slupsk, Nowy Sacz, Nowa Huta, Sedziszow, Jedrzejow.

25. 25.BW MSW (UW) no. 65a/68, p. 72; no. 66/68, p. 54.

26. 26.BW MSW (UW) no. 65/68, p. 49; no. 65a/68, p. 72; no. 66/68, p. 54. Cf. J. Eisler, op. cit., p. 287.

27. 27.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 10 (BW MSW no. 70/68). Cf. J. Eisler, op. cit.

28. 28.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591 (BW MSW nos. 80/68, 88/68, 95/68, 101/68, 102/68, 103/68, 106/68).

29. 29.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 131 (BW MSW no. 101/68).

30. 30.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, pp. 76-77. Cf. J. Eisler, op. cit., p. 330., who cites the numbers given by Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz in a speech to the Parliament on April 10, 1968. Ascertaining completely credible figures is difficult because of certain inconsistencies in specific reports. Therefore the above numbers should be treated as approximations that require confirmation through future research.

31. 31.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, pp. 47-51.

32. 32.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-590, p. 6. In this case we have a list of names of the arrested, those who had procedures begun against them without being arrested, and those whose cases were sent to the courts or to Penal-Administrative Committees. It is thus difficult to say why the Prosecutor General's report of March 6, 1969, gives a figure of 2,732 persons (359 students) detained (perhaps students who had been expelled were subtracted from the numbers earlier reported by MSW). AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 48 (BW MSW no. 75/68).

33. 33.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, p. 48 (BW MSW no. 75/68).

34. 34.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-599, p. 17-24.

35. 35.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-542, p. 45-46.

36. 36.AAN, Oddz. VI, 237/XVI-591, pp. 124, 130 (BW MSW nos. 99/68, 100/68).

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