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The Dialectics of Pain: The Interrogation Methods of the Communist Secret Police in Poland, 1944-1955

Related Content: Project in Posterum|

Throughout the ages, torture has been applied to extract information needed for a utilitarian purpose. With a few exceptions, the objective has been to find out the truth. According to a 3rd century legal authority, Ulpian, “By quaestio [torture] we are to understand the torment and suffering of the body in order to elicit the truth.” Writing in the 13th century the judicial expert Azo explained that “Torture is the inquiry after truth by means of torment.” Four hundred years later, the lawyer Bocer defined the phenomenon in the following way: “Torture is interrogation by torment of the body, concerning a crime known to have occurred, legitimately ordered by a judge for the purpose of eliciting the truth about the said crime.”

The practice reflected the theory into the modern times. For example, the Nazi Gestapo tortured captured members of the underground to force them to reveal the whereabouts of their confederates. Once the interrogation was over, if the victim survived, he or she was disposed of, that is, either sent to a concentration camp or shot. A few of them were even given a brief trial and sentenced based upon the evidence the Gestapo provided.

In essence, the Nazi secret police torturers were interested in learning the truth from their victims. Not so the functionaries of the Communist terror apparatus. The Communist interrogators also tortured members of the underground or, more broadly, their political opponents. However, the reason for inflicting pain was two-fold: to extract true information and to force the prisoner to confess to false charges which the interrogators themselves knew were untrue. The objective of the latter endeavor was to break the spirit of the individual under interrogation and then to destroy his image in the eyes of the public. Nonetheless, just like in the case of the Nazi police, the ruthless reputation of the Communist secret police, justly earned by its frequent application of torture, served to terrorize not only the immediate victims (and intended victims) but also the population at large.

This paper investigates the process within which torture was used and abused throughout various stages of the interrogation.

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