December 13th, 1981

My mom woke me up. It was unusually quiet, even for a frosty winter morning Sunday. She looked very worried. I could tell she was not trying to panic and keep calm, but something was definitely wrong. She looked at me, as figuring out, how to break the news, and in a serious tone of voice announced: “I think, there is a war”.


photo from "The Solidarity phenomenon"

“War?!!! But… I am so young…there could not be a war, I have to live my life first…” these were my very first thoughts, and I don’t even remember if I said it out loud. Thousands of streaming thoughts were piercing my mind. “War? Like in 1939, when Nazis invaded? Did the Russians cross our borders? Would they be so arrogant and insolent? Are the other Warsaw Pact allies with them? Will they occupy, close the schools, churches? Are they arresting, killing, torturing people? Do I have anything in the house that I should worry about? Any underground bulletins, anti-communist brochures?” I prayed something like: “Oh God, help us”

After few moments we realized that we were cut off from the world. Although living in a popular communist version of apartment complex (bloki), there was silence, like never before. TV (those two channels that we had then) did not transmit anything. Only sadly torturing Chopin pieces in the radio.

I was walking from window to window. No people outside, neither on the balconies or by the windows. Fear invaded not only our country, but now my little apartment, my future, my imagination. “Revenge”, I thought. “We crossed the line, THEY had to do something about it. This is it “.


Then we’ve heard an announcement on TV. Our general, Jaruzelski, with a typical monotony proclaimed “State of War” (Stan wojenny). Military coup. No traveling. No school for some time. No social meetings. Evening curfew. Telephone conversations censored. Restrictions. Choking up the leftover dreams for something better than this undignified existence.

I went to church. On the streets some armored vehicles, some ZOMO guys warming their hands over the street fires.

During the Mass solemn prayers. Thousands came. It seemed that everybody wanted to check out, if we will give up, if THEY will win. Some were crying, some devastated, many confused, many in rage.

This was my birthday. Not a happy one. I did not have a party. My sweet 16…


famous iconic photo taken by Chris Niedenthal, Newsweek reporter: armored vehicle standing by the movie theatre “Moscow”, and the movie being advertised is “Apocalypse now” by Francis Copolla who was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of darkness”

3 thoughts on “December 13th, 1981

  1. I wonder what memories of this day do other Polish people reading this blog have. After all, we have “lived out” history, even though we didn’t know about it at th at time.

    I woke up very early that day to go with my to a little town outside Warsaw, to fetch my Grandma to be with us for the Christmas season. We didn’t know it was Martial Law, because we left home before the first announcement. The TV didn’t work and the phone didn’t work, but we thought these were standard technical problems. On the train we saw outside the window tanks streaming into Warsaw, which made us feel a little nervous, still we didn’t know anything. Nobody told us. On the way my Dad, unaware of the situation, was reading a “Solidarity” newspaper and wearing a “Solidarity” badge. When we arrived at Grandma’s she was crying and repeating only one word “War”.

    We brought her back with us and immediately started “cleaning” the house, which was full of underground literature. And good that we did that, because my Dad had “guests” in the evening. Fortunately he wasn’t important enough in the anti-communist structures to be taken away, but active enough to receive some serious threats “in case he had stupid ideas” and to be demoted at work in a humiliating way.

    It was a difficult time. But even though I thank God that that time is over, while it was lasting, quite honestly, I liked it in a way. I liked the sense of conspiracy about it. Kids like me (12-13 yrs old) weren’t really under serious scrutiny and we could do all kinds of “illegal” things at school. Kids, at least in Poland, like to do something “illegal”, and enjoy having some kind of adversary to conspire against. Now, unfortunately, the only adversaries they can think of are often adults in general, and the illegal thing they turn to are often drugs. Back then, we could turn to books about the true history of Poland, read in secret in the school bathrooms, painting the “Poland is fighting” symbol from the time of the Warsaw Uprising on school walls and desks, or singing angry songs by Jacek Kaczmarski…

  2. loved your blog i teach history and civics in a school in India and your blog gives me a lot of insights int what happened i know there are many articles but first hand accounts are really much more interesting

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