In Krakow in 1953, four priests and three laypeople were charged with being American spies and put on show trial. The event is known in Polish as the proces księży kurii krakowskiej. It was part of a battle waged by Poland’s post-war communist leaders against the Catholic Church. The aim was to repress, intimidate and discredit.
The trial took place from January 21 to January 26, 1953. The judge, Mieczysław Widaj (who, from 1946, had condemned 106 Polish underground fighters to death*), found all defendants guilty and handed down three death sentences and four prison terms ranging from six years to life. Those sentenced to death were: Father Józef Lelito, Father Michał Kowalik and a student, Edward Chachlica. The sentences were eventually not carried out, abridged, instead, into long-term imprisonment**.
During and after the trial, the state-controlled media conducted its own campaign against both the accused and the Church. Party organ newspaper Trybuna Ludu printed scathing editorials—in one, stating: “Kowalik, Lelito and their kind are like the dregs of society. Except these dregs held positions in the Church hierarchy, had their protectors and guardians within the Archbishop’s Curia, the Episcopate.”* There was also a propaganda documentary, Document of Betrayal, and the opinions of leading literary figures. For example, writer Sławomir Mrożek (1930-2013) wrote:
There is no crime that we could not expect of them. The ferocity of the survivors will therefore be the greater, the more they [the accused] resemble the S.S., the knights of the burning cross—the Ku Klux Klan, the brutal black shirts—appearing in the same garb as the S.S., cross-men, shirts and other falangist interests.
Before the trial, there was an investigation by the UB. The methods used were brutal: interrogations lasting hours at a time, beatings, blackmail, fear, the use of one suspect’s testimony against another. Edward Chachlica recalled weekly punches to the face and kidneys, kicks, hair-pulling. Interrogators spat in his face, insulted his family. Once, he was shown his wife in a prison cell and told it was up to him whether she would be set free*. Of the seven eventual defendants, only Chachlica and Stefania Rospond, the only woman of the group, refused to be broken*.
On February 8, fifty-three members of the Polish Writers’ Union (Związek Literatów Polskich) drafted and signed a document called the Rezolucja Związku Literatów Polskich w Krakowie w sprawie procesu krakowskiego or The Resolution of the Polish Writers’ Union in Krakow concerning the Krakow trial. The text was as follows:
Over the past days there was conducted in Krakow a trial of a group of American spies linked to the Krakow Metropolitan Curia. We, here gathered on February 8, 1953 members of the Krakow Branch of the Polish Writers’ Union, express our absolute condemnation of these traitors of the Fatherland, who, taking advantage of their spiritual position and influence on part of the youth centered in the Catholic Youth Association [Katolickie Stowarzyszenie Młodzieży], acted with hostility toward the nation and the people’s state, conducting—for American money—espionage and sabotage.
We condemn these dignitaries from the upper church hierarchy, who furthered anti-Polish plots and gave the traitors aid, as well as destroyed valuable cultural monuments.
In view of these facts, we undertake, in our creative works, to even more militantly and rigorously than thus far, take up the actual problems of the fight for socialism and to more sharply stamp out the enemies of the nation—for the good of a strong and just Poland.
(translation from the original)
The signatories included:
Karol Bunsch, Jan Błoński, Władysław Dobrowolski, Kornel Filipowicz, Andrzej Kijowski, Jalu Kurek, Władysław Machejek, W. Maciąg, Sławomir Mrożek, Tadeusz Nowak, Julian Przyboś, Tadeusz Śliwiak, Maciej Słomczyński (Joe Alex), Wisława Szymborska, Olgierd Terlecki, H. Vogler, Adam Włodek, K. Barnaś, Wł. Błachut, J. Bober, Wł. Bodnicki, A. Brosz, B. Brzeziński, B. M. Długoszewski, Ludwik Flaszen, J. A. Frasik, Z. Groń, Leszek Herdegen, B. Husarski, J. Janowski, J. Jaźwiec, R. Kłyś, W. Krzemiński, J. Kurczab, T. Kwiatkowski, Jerzy Lowell, J. Łabuz, Henryk Markiewicz, Bruno Miecugow, Hanna Mortkowicz-Olczakowa, Stefan Otwinowski, A. Polewka, Marian Promiński, E. Rączkowski, E. Sicińska, St. Skoneczny, Anna Świrszczyńska, Karol Szpalski, Jan Wiktor, Jerzy Zagórski, Marian Załucki, Witold Zechenter, A. Zuzmierowski, K. Żejmo.*
The dates mean that the signatories affirmed, rather than affected, the verdict and sentencing. However, they supported the judge’s decision—which at the time still meant putting three innocent people to death—thereby supporting the regime and its far from independent judiciary.
[Time passes. Regimes fall. Nobel Prizes are given.]
On October 21, 2013, UNESCO announced that Kraków would be its seventh “City of Literature”.
Kraków now has its own website, krakowcityofliterature.com, celebrating its literary history, festivals, scholarships and reading culture. On the site you can also browse a colourful page of Kraków authors. Some are new, some are old. But if you scan down the list, you’re bound to find some familiar names…