MEMORY ABOUT MARTYRS IN CASSOCK
JANUSZ PASIK: - Mr. Journalist, how did you become interested in unexplained deaths of priests in communist Poland?
PIOTR LITKA: - In the 70s and 80s of the last century I lived in a small Radziejów Kujawski, where at school I met excellent teachers and fervent priests who taught me history and religion. The example given by them, carried out talks, book which I used to read then, and finally life and death of Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko (who was abducted near Toruń – and his body was found on the tame in Włocławek – geographically close to my home areas); all this made me become interested in persecution of people of the Catholic Church by the communists.
Do you think that everything was done in order to explain death of beatified Fr. Jerzy?
Unfortunately, I don’t. The version accepted during the court process in Toruń has been binding till today. Today we know that the process was planned according to the scenario of gen. Kiszczak. It is certain that death of Fr. Popiełuszko was martyrdom for faith. The culprits of this murder (including inspirers) were not surely in the dock of defendants in Toruń. Nobody beside the four Security Officers sentenced in 1985 have born legal consequences till today. I think that the duty of a journalist should be aiming at the truth.
There were a lot of priests who were killed by Security Officers and Security Service but nothing was written about them in newspapers…
Martyrdom of priests in communist Poland began in December 1944. It was when a soldier of the National Army Fr. Michał Pilipiec was murdered. In May 1946 Fr. Michał Rapacz was battered and killed. The apogee of persecutions of the Church in Poland in the 50s were custodies of cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and his interning lasting for years. Priests persecuted by the communists in the 40s and 50s of the last century were mostly related to oppositional organizations. They also defended Christian values, demanding respect of workers’ dignity, they did not agree to any compromise concerning limiting the Church activity. It was when – May 1953 – in a memorial of the Episcopate sent to Bolesław Bierut famous words were written: ‘Non possumus!’ (We cannot!). It also included a strong sentence: ‘We cannot devote God’s things on the altar of a tsar’. Therefore the Church in Stalin’s times became the main enemy for the atheistic country. There had been over 100 those ‘mysterious deaths’ of priests before the year 1989, according to historians’ estimations.
What was the reason for their persecution and killing them?
They were inconvenient for the authority. They did not go on any compromise, so they were exposed to various kinds of provocations: fabricated car crashes, gossips, interventions from their superiors. Their academic careers and their trips abroad were blocked. For example, Fr. Jerzy was not allowed to go to Rome for canonization of Fr. Maksymilian Kolbe in October 1982, there were also attempts not to allow Fr. Jerzy to visit Pope during his pilgrimage to Homeland in June 1983. Communist often tried to move the ‘rebellious’ priest to another, often smaller parish. This fate was experienced, for example, by Fr. Stanisław Małkowski.
The death of Fr. Sylwester Zych has been unclear till today. Do you think that the death of Fr. Zych might have been a revenge of functionaries of the inner issues administration?
This is one of versions accepted in the investigation in this issue. At that time there were attempts to verify information and some evidence which would prove the fact that Fr. Zych had been killed as in 1982 he had kept weapon in presbytery, with which a militiaman – sergeant Zdzisław Karos had been shot. The importance of the falsified image for the communist propaganda is proven by the fact which is reflected in documents.
The sentenced had milder imprisonment, among the others, for the death of the sergeant Karos and for creating the conspiracy illegal organization, in return for double reduction of Security Officers’ verdicts, who had been sentenced in Toruń for abducting and killing Fr. Popiełuszko. The captain Piotrowski said cynically during one court trials in January 1985: ‘If I am to lose my life, may it be for the sake of not allowing for such Zych-like priests in Poland any more…’
A lot of Polish priests, who were killed in unclear circumstances, were left alone. Why wasn’t there any support for clergy?
Maybe deinforming actions of Security Officers made superiors of the ‘rebellious’ priests believe that they were guilty…. However, what is significant, is that even priests, not supported by their colleagues or bishops, and persecuted by the Security Office, had strength to fight. Whereas they were supported by their relatives and believers in parishes where they had ministry.
What are the chances for us to get to know the complete truth about the Church persecution?
As long as the last witness of priests persecutions in communist Poland is alive – I think – we can point to who were ‘unknown culprits’ of the murders. It does not concern any revenge, but only admitting the guilt. So, this is a duty to fulfill mainly by procurators from the investigation department of the National Memory Institute. However, journalists can support and help lawyers in this difficult process of uncovering the truth.
Crowds of people are participating in the meetings with you. Why do people get interested in these histories?
Poles are interested in history, also the tragic one, stigmatized by the righteous people. We live at the times when memory should be saved and the truth about the events from years ago should be passed over to younger generations. This attention gives us hope that they will get to know history and memory about martyrs thanks to whom the Church in Poland exists.
Translation: Aneta Amrozik
„Niedziela” 51/2018 (17 XII 2017)