July/August 2012 - Vol. 61..

The Bone Surgeon: A personal story of a life-changing revolution
 by Andrzej Solecki

illustrations by Grzegorz Grys

Chapter 2
Communism and the Trouble with Grazyna 

In order to describe the affair of MGR (My Great Revolution); I need to go back to my student years. Julitta and I had been happily married since my third year of university. My wife’s only flaw was that she would not drink with me as much as my buddies would, and even though I did succeed in teaching her to smoke, it never became a habit for her. My shortcomings on the other hand were revealed on the ski slope. When Julitta’s friends, the members of the Polish National Team in Alpine Skiing, saw my bizarre moves on the snow, they looked at her with compassion, pitying her for tying the knot with a “peasant” (which for the professional skiers meant as much as a “landlubber” for sailors). 

We got involved in the Independent Students’ Union for a short time and participated in students’ strikes. At one of the strikes I met some people who were part of a student ministry led by the Dominican priests and once I participated in a mass which they held in the assembly hall of the Physiology Department at Grzegórzecka Street. One of the students was playing the guitar. Whilst they were nice people, I didn’t really get along with them. I thought they were a bit strange. Little did I know that the major breakthrough in my life would have its source in this very group of people.

When martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981, our son was 7 months old. We lived near the Main Market Square in Kraków, where demonstrations accompanied by “truncheoning” of many participants took place each year for the Martial Law Anniversaries and the then illegally celebrated Independence Day. Our staircase as well as our flat at the corner of Szpitalna Street often served as a hiding place for demonstrators chased by the Militia with truncheons and water cannons. One time the elderly lady who was a caretaker in our tenement house was attacked by a ZOMO [Motorized Detachment of the Citizen’s Militia] officer. She managed to shut the heavy door in the nick of time, but another officer had already thrown in the tear gas which spread all over the house very rapidly. Everyone in our flat had tears flowing down their cheeks, except for our son, Wojtek, who was sound asleep, his eyes closed the whole time. 

Another time, which I think was sometime in 1982; I was visiting my aunt Jania at So?tyka Street and observed the following scene from the window of her flat. At dusk, three young demonstrators ran down Blich Street. At the junction of Soltyka and Dwernickiego Streets, they split up and two of them ran into a courtyard through an open gate. One of them was carrying a wet Polish flag on his back. In almost no time, a militia van, called  a “Nysa”, arrived at the gate. Some faces appeared in the open windows of the tenement house. Four civilians got out of the van. Two of them ran towards the open windows, ordered us to close them and threw tear gas into the courtyard. The other two rushed towards the gate. A moment later, one of them dragged the young demonstrator out of the courtyard into the street and the other one kicked and beat him with a truncheon. The boy was crying with pain. When he was kicked on the neck, the crying stopped. All four of them picked him up and threw him into the back of the van like a bag of potatoes. Then they left with the siren on. All of it took no more than a minute and a half. The area was peaceful and it had never been at the forefront of the fighting line with the Militia. There must have been an informer among the residents who had revealed the hideout.

After the “Solidarno??” organisation was suppressed in 1981, the Students’ Union disbanded and its president, Bogdan Klich arrested, I was like many others, dejected by the general despair and I lost all hope that Communism would ever fall. The only person who could keep a spark of hope alive for me was my aunt Jania – my grandfather Boles?aw’s sister, who was a painter. Born in 1894, into a partitioned country, she grieved for the oppressed Poland. As a teenage girl she had cried over Sienkiewicz’s  novels. 

‘Andrzejku’, she used to say, ‘the iron trident—Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire—which held the Poles in bondage, existed unswervingly for decades. It was a political system so firm that no one believed it could ever be crushed. And yet, World War I broke it; Pi?sudski’s Legions were formed and Poland rose to freedom.’

Although I did find some solace in what she said, it was still hard to imagine the world without the Soviet Union, or Poland without PZPR  and ZOMO. My wife and I then started to talk more and more about moving abroad. The job at the Intensive Care Unit was supposed to be transitory. I wanted to gain some hands-on experience before departing to the West.  

Around that time, my wife’s younger sister, Grazyna moved to Kraków to study English Philology. It didn’t take her long to fall into bad company… 

When she was still living in Bielsko, I helped her deal with her adolescent worries a few times. I told her what ‘the best remedy’ was for me and then poured ‘it’ into glasses. But after she had spent a few months in Kraków, we noticed a peculiar change in her behaviour. First, she was not being troubled by anything, second, she was not interested in alcohol, third, she pointed out to me that my life was meaningless. We were seriously worried. Grazyna introduced a completely new element to our conversations, namely the religious note. During one such conversation, she stated that my life had no meaning whatsoever. She told us that the lives of all of us have no meaning until we give them to Jesus. Grazyna herself, after joining a Christian community in Kraków, called Beczka, had established some kind of special relationship with Jesus, and that all our family should do the same. 
I tried everything to talk some sense into her, but nothing worked, not even my best ‘remedy’, which had never failed me before. I felt like I was losing my sister-in-law to some kind of religious fanaticism. I found her criticism of my lifestyle more and more irritating. I was a young, handsome doctor, the life and soul of the party, musically talented, basically a great guy, who had life by the ‘short and curlies’, and this bigheaded kid dared to say that the way I was leading my life was “wrong and stupid”!  And if that wasn’t enough, she lent me religious books (I angrily read the entire book titled, The Happiest People on Earth by John and Elizabeth Sherrill and underlined all the absurdities I could find written there) and invited her new friends to talk to me. A visit from her “sister”, Ewa was more than I could take.

‘The Holy Spirit works in our community in Kraków’, she explained with a kind smile. I passed over the remark with silence, hoping for a change of subject. But it didn’t work. Ewa was making her point very precisely.  

‘The Holy Spirit with whom I am anointed’, she went on, ‘allows us to sing beautifully in new tongues.’

‘Ok, that’s great, but if you excuse me, I must go now, as I have something very important to do, but I’m sure we will finish this some other time,’ I said.

‘Would you like me to sing in a new tongue for you?’

‘No, really, that’s all right, maybe some other time’, but this didn’t help either.

‘I’ll sing for you anyway!’ Ewa said and, looking deep into my eyes, she started to sing strange melodies with a strange voice. 

At that moment I knew that they were both lost…Why did this have to happen to our family?!

(c) 2011 Andrzej Solecki

  1. Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) was a Polish novelist. In his most famous novels he praised the virtues of Polish chivalry of the 17th century, in order to keep up the spirit in the oppressed nation. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905. 
 2.  Polish United Labour Party

Click on links below to read separate chapters.

Chapter 1 The Tools
Chapter 2 Communism and the Trouble with Grazyna
Chapter 3 Intuition and Resuscitation
Chapter 4 Post-Wedding Bash

copyright © 2012  Living Bulwark
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