Historical story

He wasn't throwing a slipper at the TV at all. How much truth is there in the myths about Gomułka?

Last updated:2022-07-25

He was a dumb miser. He hated Kalina Jędrusik. He was narrow-minded and vengeful. He was following Moscow's orders blindly. These are just some of the common myths about Władysław Gomułka. Time to correct the black legend of comrade "Wiesław".

1. He had narrow horizons and lacked education

Straightforwardness, limited thinking, considerable lack of education - this is how Władysław Gomułka is often described. It's true in part. The first secretary only graduated from the four-year folk school in Krosno, and then went to the Faculty School for Men for two years. This was all his formal education, not counting the party courses he took at the International Lenin School in Moscow in 1934.

However, his biographers (and modern biographers, not communist propagandists) emphasize that he was an outstanding self-taught person, he read a lot and remembered a lot. He compensated for the lack of formal education with reading and innate intelligence.

When in the second half of the 1920s he worked as a secretary in the Drohobych district of the workers' union in the chemical industry, he learned the basic Ukrainian language on his own in order to be able to communicate with his Ukrainian colleagues.

Gomułka was to have an allergic reaction to the Cabaret of the Elderly Gentlemen, and especially to the "promiscuous" Kalina Jędrusik. How was it really? The creators of the Cabaret, Jerzy Wasowski and Jeremi Przybora, immortalized with a sculpture of Marian Molenda on the Opole university hill (photo:Rodak, source:public domain).

On the other hand, when he was imprisoned for three years for "right-wing-nationalist deviation", he devoted the time between the interrogations to reading. A list of 141 books that he read behind the bars has been preserved. From the testimony of his son, Ryszard Strzelecki-Gomułka, it is known that after his release, he read a lot of domestic and émigré press, especially the Parisian Kultura, which his friends lent him. He also listened to foreign radio stations.

2. He was throwing slippers at the TV

One of the legends of the People's Republic of Poland is the story of Władysław Gomułka who reacts allergically to Kabaret Starszych Panów broadcast on television, especially to Kalina Jędrusik, who appears in it. Gomułka allegedly hated the intellectual cabaret, and the sensual actress was for him a symbol of debauchery. When he saw Kalina, he was supposed to take off his slipper and throw it furiously at the TV screen.

Meanwhile, Piotr Bojarski, author of the book 1956. Awakened ", quotes Ryszard Strzelecki-Gomułka's statement, which shows that this story has nothing to do with reality.

This is impossible, if only because my father only watched TV at dinner and then went to his room to work, to look at documents. Besides, he didn't wear slippers in the house , only in special shoes. He must have worn them after a policeman shot him in the left leg in the 1930s because his bone had grown badly .

3. He was absolutely obedient to the Soviets

As an ideological communist - a member of the Communist Party of Poland, and then of the Communist Party of Poland (b) - Gomułka obeyed Moscow and pursued its interests. However, the biography of "Wiesław" provides a lot of evidence that this obedience was not limitless, and the First Secretary took Poland's interests into account.

When, at the end of the 1940s, Gomułka fell into a conflict with Bolesław Bierut and his team, Józef Stalin himself persuaded him to end the dispute. It's time to end your stupid Polish disputes, you should enter the Politburo - said the dictator Gomułka. He replied that it was impossible, because he did not see the possibility of working with Bierut, Minec and Berman.

As historian prof. Jerzy Eisler in the book "Magnificent Seven. The group of the first secretaries of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, usually the subordinates of the Soviet leader, did not allow themselves to be so abrupt. He also cited the opinion of one of the witnesses to the events: Gomułka was the only communist leader in the countries of people's democracy bordering the USSR who opposed Stalin.

This is not the end. Eight years later, in 1956, Gomułka opposed Nikita Khrushchev, who came to Warsaw at the 8th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party to influence the election of the new First Secretary. When he took power, he led to the signing of an agreement with the USSR regulating the principles of stationing Soviet troops in Poland, forced Moscow to change the highly unfavorable rules for Polish coal supplies for Poland and negotiated the return of Poles from the USSR.

Gomułka did not have the slightest desire to cooperate with Bierut, who was passive towards Moscow. The photo shows Bolesław Bierut during his speech in 1949 (photo by Stanisław Dąbrowiecki from the book 'Six-year plan for the reconstruction of Warsaw', source:public domain).

He opposed the excessive interference of the USSR in Poland's internal affairs, including the NKVD kidnapping of 16 leaders of the Polish Underground State, pushing for collectivization of agriculture or the excessive presence of Soviet officers in the Polish Army. He also shouted at the next First Secretary of the CPSU, Leonid Brezhnev.

4. He was vindictive and vindictive

Władysław Gomułka's speech delivered at the party activist rally in the Congress Hall in Warsaw on March 19, 1968 became famous. In it, he attacked indiscriminate writers:Stefan Kisielewski, Janusz Szpotański and Paweł Jasienica. Szpotański, who in one of his works called Gomułka a "gnome", was particularly fond of "Wiesław". Now the First Secretary could take his revenge in front of the whole of Poland, because the rally was broadcast by television and radio.

However, the opinion about Gomułka's vindictiveness is contradicted by Piotr Bojarski in the already mentioned book. After his release from prison and return to power in 1956, "Wiesław" did not take revenge on his persecutors and those who disowned him when he was disgraced. Quoted by Bojarski, prof. Andrzej Werblan - a man who knows the First Secretary well - also believes that Gomułka was not vengeful:

He wondered what was in the public interest. He believed that with those who hold a reasonable position at a given moment, one should cooperate no matter what was eight years earlier. Besides, he never personally returned to these matters .

Supposedly he was not vindictive ... because is this the face of a vengeful man? The photo from the 7th SED Congress in 1967 shows Willie Stoph, Władysław Gomułek and Friedrich Ebert (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0419-0001-034 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich, license CC-BY-SA 3.0).

When in 1957 the trial of Stalinist officials of the Ministry of Public Security, Roman Romkowski, Józef Różański and Anatol Fejgin, began, Gomułka did not agree to include the case of his and his wife's imprisonment in the prosecution.

5. Society hated him

In October 1956, Gomułka was "the undisputed leader, not only of the party, but even the national". As Prof. Jerzy Eisler: Never before and never again in the history of Poland has any communist leader enjoyed such support , respect and trust, like Gomułka at that time .

Depressed and tired of Stalinism, the society perceived "Wiesław" - after all, a former Stalinist prisoner - as a leader who would change the country, abandon the hated system and give hope for a better future. Gomułka himself then said to the delegations of factories and universities coming to him from various parts of Poland: Without you, without the support of the whole society, I cannot and will not stay even twenty-four hours in the party leadership .

The article was based on the book by Piotr Bojarski entitled "1956. Awakened ”(Agora 2016).

His radio-broadcast speech at the 8th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party, in which he strongly criticized the system and defended Poznań workers, was, according to Piotr Bojarski, the most closely listened speech by the party leader in the history of the People's Republic of Poland .

Jacek Kuroń recalled: Those people who were singing Gomułka »one hundred years«. Oh, how much he was then loved. This »one hundred years, long live, live for us« for a short time became a national anthem and it was sung even in nightclubs . Prof. Paweł Wieczorkiewicz wrote: His popularity then reached a level that in the history of Poland no one had ever approached before or after.

6. With savings he broke cigarettes in half

"Wiesław" was famous for his modest, even ascetic lifestyle. He did not pay attention to his clothes. When one of the officials, at the request of his wife, Zofia, bought him a new tie, Gomułka asked if there was a cheaper one ... He wrote his notes with a copied pencil, and he broke his savings cigarettes in half.

Gomułka as the idol of crowds during his famous speech in 1956 (source:public domain).

These alleged behaviors are contradicted by those quoted in the book 1956. Awakened "relatives of comrade" Wiesław ". Ryszard Strzelecki-Gomułka's son says: That's nonsense! For example, the fact that he was saving on cigarettes by breaking them in two. My father did this to smoke less, not to save a few pennies .

In turn, the granddaughter of Władysław Hanna Strzelecka-Gomułka explains that his wife Zofia was involved in buying clothes for his grandfather, who bought him good quality clothes, and suits - quite expensive - were sewn for him by a tailor living nearby.