Wojciech Paduchowski – “Dwarves under the cross. Nowohucki April ’60” – review and rating
“Dwarves under the cross. Nowa Huta April ’60. “
Editor: National Remembrance Institute, IPN
The year of publication: 2021
Number of pages: 576
Communists Against Religion
The struggle for the cross in Nowa Huta is one of the main examples of Catholic resistance to the anti-ecclesiastical policy carried out in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Władysław Gomułka’s team. Despite the first confessional political concessions made in the aftermath of the “October thaw”, the Communist authorities quickly proved that they had no real intention of facilitating the activities of the clergy. The demographic boom and the constant migration of people from the countryside to the cities meant that it was necessary to build new temples. The situation was extremely difficult in the new urban centers created around large industrial complexes. The majority of the workers who lived there were from the countryside and, brought up in traditional ways, felt acutely the lack of churches. One such center was Nowa Huta, which was to become a city without God.
At the beginning of 1957, the Disputes Office approved the construction of a church in the Nowa Huta-Bieńczyce district. The cross erected there became a place for organizing religious ceremonies. Despite previous promises, the authorities have done everything to ensure that no religious building is erected in the designated place. The communist makers intended to build a school and simply remove the cross. The deceived locals strongly opposed it, which led to clashes with militias, mass arrests, crackdowns, etc. This, in brief, is the story of the struggle for the cross of Nowa Huta. Contrary to appearances, the context of the events is not as simple as can be read in the publication issued by the Institute of National Remembrance.
At the beginning, Dr. Wojciech Paduchowski describes the period of several years when Władysław Gomułka exercised power and presents his policy towards the Catholic Church. The author appreciates the intelligence of the first secretary of the Central Committee. Contrary to appearances, this is not a shocking opinion, because a large number of scientists specializing in the history of the People’s Republic of Poland confirm that Gomułka definitely intellectually dominated Wojciech Jaruzelski, Bolesław Bierut or Edward Gierek. Just look at Gomułka’s autobiographical memoirs, which are written in quite pleasant Polish. Of course, this does not put Comrade “Wiesław”‘s politics and his “rough” style in a better light. Paduchowski recalls that he was aware of the religiosity of the Poles, but that he still did not agree with the participation of the Church in social life. Even in private conversations, Gomułka admitted that cutting society off from tradition would be counterproductive – but he tried with all his might to secularize Poles.
As I mentioned, the main theme of “Karłów pod Krzyżem” is a detailed description of the events that took place at the cross in Nowa Huta, including attempts to build a church, reconstruction of street fights , the presentation of the trials and the repressions suffered by the inhabitants of Nowa Huta. However, the most important aspect of the book is the attempt to answer the question – Why did the people of Nowa Huta come out to demonstrate en masse in defense of the cross? In order to understand the validity of the fight for the cross of Nowa Huta, the historian introduces us to the social context of Nowa Huta. As you know, it was to symbolize the new Poland, to become a model socialist city, where people would be free from all “religious prejudices and burdens”. Young people from the countryside came to Nowa Huta in search of a better life to fulfill their dreams. They were given jobs, apartments with comforts that they did not know before. They started families, joined the party, became labor leaders – instant social promotion could be a reason to be proud. They were earning a lot of money and the newspapers were talking about them. Only that they were all from a specific tradition, they had instilled the faith from an early age, so, as the author points out, “these were a group that eludes easy description and simple categorization “.
Wojciech Paduchowski introduces us to sociological research on the worldview of Nowa Huta families. We learn that the role models they learned from their family home played a very important role in their lives. Believing families constituted ninety percent, and more than half of them described themselves as deeply religious and zealous practitioners – “Parents believed and I believe with the whole family, we try to keep the treasure of the faith which has been transmitted to us, we cannot imagine our life without it”; “In my religious opinions, I am the same as my father and my mother”; “We still go to church on Sundays and holidays, just like they used to go to our house.” These are just a few quotes that reflect the spirit of the Nowa Huta families.
Moreover, the author wonders if the families of Nowa Huta were still rural families or were they already typical of the bourgeoisie? There are certainly more such intriguing questions in the book. By the way, readers willing to read will get acquainted with the story of Józef Sawa, whose biography will explain the essence of the protests. It should be added that Sawa’s life is actually a story about Nowa Huta. He is part of the model of the progressive man of socialist work. He was praised and appreciated. He quickly became something of a poor boy’s worth. And the “turning point of his life” was the events of April 1960. Then he underwent a transformation, he began to be interested in others, especially the weakest – can we read in Karły pod Krzyżem.
Women as collective heroes of the Nowa Huta events
The author presents the intrigues that the authorities used to prevent the construction of the church in an interesting way. For example, all organizing activities related to the removal of the cross were undertaken informally and with the participation of members of the United Polish Workers’ Party. The only next step was to formalize the procedure so that it could, to some extent, meet the requirements of the law at the time. As for the law of the People’s Republic of Poland, the demonstrators themselves demanded respect for freedom of conscience, religion and assembly – guaranteed by the Stalinist constitution. In any case, the law stood behind the faithful, because the cross rising above the site intended for the construction of the church became the object of worship and its removal would violate the provisions of the law canonical, which should also be respected by the laity because of the agreement concluded between the State and the Church in 1950. In addition, the land has already been ceded by the Direction of the construction of the workers’ cities just for the construction from the church. And what is most interesting – worshipers pointed out that they had a government permit signed by Gomułka himself.
This argument was repeated many times in conversations between worshipers and local authorities and security forces – emphasizes Wojciech Paduchowski.
Women with children predominated among the protesters at the cross. Faced with the actions of those who attempted to remove the cross, the women did not act passively. They cried out to their adversaries: “Communists, heretics, impious!” and threw clods of earth at them. They were labeled as devout and the Security Service sought to stigmatize the protesters as mentally ill, giving the example of Izydor Szczupacki who, holding a cross, shouted: “If they shoot me here and die, I will go straight to heaven!”. On this occasion, the unusual title of the book should be clarified. In the spirit of the SB, the protesters under the cross were to be equated with “small, helpless, disabled people”, and synonymous with the codename “dwarfs” was illiterate, humble and short – Kazimierz Kozub, whose character prompted SB officers to give the aforementioned name in the case of the operational investigation and find the inspiration behind the events of April 1960. As if that were not enough, the aforementioned Kozub, despite his intellectual disability, was sentenced to two years in prison for punching an unnamed person in the face and threatening a militia officer with a brick. In addition, there were many dramas when a mother with several children found herself in destitution following the arrest of her husband. The authorities were not interested in helping and organized collections for the injured were immediately halted due to harassment from the security services.
‘Dwarfs Under the Cross’ is more than just a book about the events of sixty years ago. It is a work that shows us the essence of how the communist state actually treated ordinary people – viewing them as devotees, fools, idlers or dwarfs simply because they were believers. Only that the proverbial “dwarfs” won the cause for which they fought, standing on the shoulders of the “giants”, as Wojciech Paduchowski sums it up well.