My Wigilia after Jaruzelski imposed Martial Law in Poland

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By Alicja Karlic

Many years have passed since the communists started war with their own citizens and imposed Martial Law a few days before the Christmas, on December 13, 1980. I remember this time very well, and often flashbacks from this difficult period of time come to my mind. When I think about this year’s Wigilia coming to us in a few days, my thoughts go back to Wroclaw, a home town of my husband and the place where we lived and worked for several years.
Strikes, demonstrations, tanks and soldiers on the streets. There were massive arresting motions and home revisions. Cheapest form possible of propaganda in television and radio all around the clock. No one single word of truth.
Many closest friends, neighbors, coworkers, buddies were disappearing and deported to unknown locations. Families were left without one single word of information, news. “Where were they taken?” “What will happen to my husband? Wife?” “Why did they take my friend?” “They came late at night and took Jasiek, what will they do to him?” “Will I see them again?”
Similar questions were asked by many Poles all around the country. No single word of information. Nothing.
My story starts at my in-law’s house, at Witelona Str. in Wroclaw, during Wigilia dinner, 11 days after the tragic moment in the history of Poland. It is a real story. Real people. A real street. Real neighbors. A real place.
It was a very cold day and evening. It was snowing and cold winter was blowing. Everybody was depressed or visibly thinking about bad times. However, nothing could stop my in-laws from having traditional Wigilia. We were finishing our Wigilia. Our Mother was serving “kutia”, traditional Wigilia desert that must be served by any family from Lwow area. There was only one subject of conversation. Who was taken, when and where he possibly is.
Suddenly, somebody is knocking at the door. Very loud. Strong. Aggressive. Total consternation among all of us. In the background you could hear just very quietly broadcast news from Free Europe.
Our Mother, ex officer of AK, went first to the doors, looked through the little window. In front of the doors was our street block deputy officer (dzielnicowy) together with two “young wolfs” from army school. What to do now? Our deputy was pretty well known around the area as the “good man” but what about these two others? They were shaking of cold. They were not able to say one word. They did not know what to do? Why did they come here today? What is going on?
At the table was an empty place left for “somebody who could come perhaps” as our tradition tells. We made two more for the “young wolfs”. They took off their coats. Still not too many words from both sides. Both sides are looking at each other. Only deputy and our Mother seem to be in a good mood.
They are starting to eat warm barszcz soup with mushroom ravioli (barszcz z uszkami). The young wolfs are starting to behave like people, they are nice, they are grateful. Next dishes, one of them starts to be apologetic for entire situation. Second one started to talk about normal subjects. Atmosphere was still very tense. “Why did they come?” My brother in law asked me. “I don’t know. Do you?” Normal conversation starts and warms up a little bit. What to talk with these guys about?
Our Mother took the initiative again. She proposed to prepare for all three visitors some more warm soup in glass jars, indirectly suggesting that time is over and she is sure that they will leave soon. They are accepting an offer being very thankful. During cleaning the table and helping with moving some stuff back to the kitchen the deputy manages to be alone for a short moment with our Mother. He tells to her ear: “I have information where they took Jasiek. Maybe somebody will go and tell his wife, she probably is close to get crazy. I’m afraid if I will do it myself it will scare her even more”.
Our neighbor John (Jasiek), an employee of Wroclaw Politechnika, was one of the most prominent, front line Solidarity activists and a delegate for the first Solidarity Unification Conference. He was arrested and placed in an unknown isolation facility. His wife was left alone with a little baby. She was worrying herself to death. Nobody was able to tell her where her husband is.
My husband left the house for a short moment and in a few minutes Jasiek’s wife heard good news.
Despite the fact that our feelings about all deputies and “young wolfs” were not warm at all, the Christmas Time atmosphere melted our hearts. Barszcz and Uszka, kutia and kompot made of dried fruits came back on the table one more time. There were no more politics or nuisance.
The symbolic free place at the table and the empty plate waiting for “somebody” were filled up by real substance. Jasiek’s wife could live through Wigilia and Christmas time with hope.

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