The Jaruzelski Case: The Ascent of Agent 'Wolski'
Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has a dirty little secret. He was a Soviet military intelligence agent beginning in 1946.
History buffs recall that Jaruzelski enjoyed a stellar career in Soviet-occupied Poland. He was once the youngest Communist general in Poland; the Minister of Defense; the Commander in Chief of Poland's Communist armed forces; the Prime Minister; and the General Secretary of the Communist Party. Jaruzelski occupied most of those posts simultaneously. One usually remembers him simply as the military strongman who, to crush "Solidarity," imposed martial law in December 1981 and, thus, ended Poland's bid for freedom. He was greatly vilified at that time at home and abroad.
However, since the "collapse" of Communism, the general has staged a shocking comeback. Following the so-called Round Table agreement, where the Communists and Solidarity's leftists made a backdoor deal to share power, which included the subsequent rigged elections of June 1989, Jaruzelski incredibly emerged as post-Communist Poland's first President. Equally incredibly, he is now more popular than ever. Numerous polls indicate that today over 50 percent of Poles back retroactively his decision to impose martial law. The General seems fully vindicated and the question, "patriot or traitor?" has been apparently answered in his favor.
Some of this can be explained away as the obvious result of the post-Communist and leftist dominance of Poland's media. The liberal spin machine has worked overtime to depict the vile Round Table deal as a "historical compromise." This includes a persistent effort to rehabilitate Jaruzelski. Further, as it often is the case, the pollsters perhaps ask the wrong question about the imposition of martial law. Basically, the public is prompted to opine not whether Jaruzelski was a traitor but whether the Poles are glad there was no Soviet invasion in 1981. And only an insane person would answer the latter in the negative. A positive answer, within the current post-Communist cultural and political context, automatically translates in favor of Jaruzelski. Somehow the erstwhile dictator gets credit for "saving Poland" by imposing martial law.
By applying this sort of convoluted logic, one could argue that Stalin's deportation of about 200,000 Polish Jews to the Gulag between 1939 and 1941 was intended to save them from the Holocaust. Never mind that the Communists considered them "enemies of the people" and that tens of thousands of Jews perished in the Soviet Union, including the chief rabbi of Warsaw and chief rabbi of the Polish Army. Obviously, as far as Polish Jews were concerned, Stalin carried out his own plan, which had nothing to do with their welfare. The "salvation" was purely coincidental. The same applies to Jaruzelski.
By imposing martial law in 1981 the general acted overwhelmingly in self-interest. He was saving his own skin by following and, sometimes even anticipating, Soviet orders. In fact, as historian Grzegorz Majchrzak has shown, the General even attempted to secure an alibi from Moscow for domestic and international public opinion before imposing martial law. To show all and sundry that he had "no choice," the General prompted his willing Soviet masters to issue a Warsaw Pact resolution which would threaten an all out invasion of Poland. Moscow's resolution read, partly, in its customarily convoluted Communist newspeak: "The Committee of the Ministers of Defense [of the Warsaw Pact] has expressed its concern about the developments in the Polish People's Republic, which have been caused by subversive activities of anti-socialist forces creating difficulties in fulfilling the alliance obligations of the allied United Armed Forces of the Allied States of the Warsaw Pact and which prompt the necessity to undertake steps aimed at guaranteeing security of the socialist community in Europe." ("Komitet Ministrów Obrony wyrazil swoje zatroskanie rozwojem wydarzen w PRL, które wywolane zostaly przez wywrotowe dzialania sil antysocjalistycznych, które powoduja trudnosci w wypelnianiu zobowiazan sojuszniczych Zjednoczonych Sil Zbrojnych Panstw Ukladu Warszawskiego i powoduja koniecznosc podjecia odpowiednich kroków w celu zapewnienia bezpieczenstwa wspólnoty w socjalistycznej Europie.") The resolution was scrapped because of vigorous opposition by Romania and Hungary. Their Communist dictators were highly concerned for their own skins, should the Soviets elect to "render fraternal assistance" not only in Warsaw but also in Budapest and Bucharest. The reaction of the Communist leaders was thus self-serving. Seemingly paradoxically, so was that of Jaruzelski, who reacted consistently both with the history of international Communism and his own personal past.
The Soviets Invade
The ruthlessness of the Kremlin's response to a failed Communist puppet heading a satellite nation was directly proportional to the degree of resistance offered by the captive population of that nation. The stiffer the resistance, the fiercer the punishment. Moscow cruelly castigated its inept local plenipotentiaries. They were invariably blamed for allowing the natives to rebel and for failing to contain the rebellion without overtly involving the Red Army. A direct Soviet intervention would trigger an international scandal: The Western public would be roused from its anti-anti-Communist slumber; Western anti-Communists would briefly appear vindicated; and, sometimes, the UN would issue toothless warnings. All that, in Moscow's eyes, called for exemplary punishment. In particular, the Soviets avenged themselves on their erstwhile foreign Communist junior comrades who cost the U.S.S.R. lives.
Thus, when the Czechs rebelled but offered only non-violent resistance to the invading Warsaw Pact forces in August 1968, the offending Communist leader Alexander Dubcek was gently reprimanded and exiled into obscurity as a director of a collective farm. The Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy, although a KGB man, fared much worse. In October and November 1956, the Hungarian insurgents put up spirited resistance, briefly expelling the Soviets. But within days the Red Army returned with a vengeance, crushed the insurgents, and hanged the offending Communist Nagy and some of his close party collaborators. When the Afghans resisted heroically, their Communist masters under Nur Muhammad Taraki failed to extinguish the rebellion. Consequently, the Kremlin resolved to intervene in December 1979. The Red Army invaded. The first to die was Taraki, his family, and his court. They were slaughtered mercilessly man, woman, and child by the Spetsnats, the Soviet special forces.
The lessons were not lost on Jaruzelski. He knew the Soviets would never forgive him if the Poles of "Solidarity" revolted openly, prevailed over the Communist regime, and, thus, precipitated a direct invasion by the Red Army. To save his skin, Jaruzelski imposed martial law and crushed Solidarity himself. The welfare of Poland's people was of secondary consideration to the calculus of his life and power. He made a choice to save himself.
His personal story is a history of just such choices. At least since September 1939 the general has consistently made increasingly dubious choices that assured his survival, prosperity, and a phenomenal career in Soviet-occupied Poland. Without his criminal choices the ex-dictator would be either long dead or, at best, vegetating in obscurity and poverty.
Wojciech Jaruzelski was born into Poland's landed nobility in Kurów near Lublin in 1923. His family was historically patriotic, conservative, and Christian. His father Wladyslaw Mieczyslaw Jaruzelski was a veteran of the Polish-Bolshevik War (1919-1921). In the interwar period, the father managed landed estates, including Wysokie in the Bialystok area. According to his biographer Peter Raina, young Wojciech served as an altar boy at his church. He also contributed anti-Communist articles to his Catholic high school's paper on the outskirts of Warsaw. Thus, in Communist nomenclature, the youngster was a typical class enemy defined genetically and ideologically.
In September 1939 the Nazis and Soviets invaded Poland, thus triggering the Second World War. The Jaruzelski family fled to neutral Lithuania. They found shelter at their friend Henryk Hawrykiewicz's landed estate of Winkszupai in the community of Bartininkai, the County of Wikawi, near Kaunas. Wojciech helped out as a farm hand. The refugees were lucky, initially at least. Although the Lithuanian government was unfriendly to Poland, its anti-Polish repressions were rather mild by the contemporary totalitarian standards. However, after the Soviet takeover of Lithuania, Communist terror targeted not only the Lithuanians but also the Polish minority, including, naturally, the war refugees.
Journalist Jerzy Surwilo writes in his "Unsettled Accounts: The Vilenian Traces on the Road of Suffering" (Rachunki nie zamkniete: Wilenskie slady na drogach cierpien, 1992) that to prevent arrest and deportation to the Gulag, Jaruzelski senior pragmatically applied for Soviet-Lithuanian citizenship. He was flatly turned down. On June 14, 1941, the Communists deported the Jaruzelskis to the Altaiski Krai, in the U.S.S.R.'s Far East, near the Mongolian border. The entire family worked as Gulag slaves. Fortunately for them, the Jaruzelskis were not incarcerated in a concentration camp but, rather, held in a so-called "open" settlement. Nonetheless, according to Krzysztof Jasiewicz's "Compilation of Polish Landed Noble Victims" of Nazism and Communism, Jaruzelski senior died of exhaustion, maltreatment, and disease in 1942. The family continued to endure hunger, misery, and terror.
Meanwhile, in August 1941, Stalin granted the Polish deportees an amnesty for the crimes they did not commit. In congruence with a Polish-Soviet Pact, the Soviet dictator allowed for the establishing of a Polish armed force under General Wladyslaw Anders, recently released from the Gulag. By 1943, Anders led his soldiers, and many civilians, ex-slaves all, out of the U.S.S.R. to link up with the Western Allies. There were many Poles left behind in the U.S.S.R., however, including Wojciech Jaruzelski.
It is unclear why the future Communist dictator failed to volunteer for Anders' Polish Army. Perhaps the remoteness of his place of exile and the unofficial hostility of the local Soviet authorities prevented that. Perhaps he did not want to leave his family behind. There is also an utterly unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, most recently touted by novelist Henryk Skwarczynski, that the real Wojciech Jaruzelski simply died in the Gulag or, more precisely, was killed by Stalin's dreaded secret police, and replaced by an agent with a false identity, the so-called matrioshka, a Russian doll-inside-a-doll. Thus, allegedly, the Soviets set up their future puppet dictator. This canard still enjoys some currency among a few traditionalist Polish émigrés who cannot suffer the thought that one of their own background could become a traitor.
In any event, Wojciech Jaruzelski was drafted into Stalin's "Polish" military in July 1943. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was assigned to reconnaissance, the razvedka. This was most likely his first encounter with the Soviet military special services (GRU), which directly controlled its "Polish" clone, the Polish Military Intelligence (Informacja Wojska Polskiego, PMI). In fact, until 1947, there was not a single Pole in the leadership of the PMI. All the supervisors were uniformly Soviet officers, according to historian Wladyslaw Tkaczew's "Founding and Activities of the Organs of the Information of the Polish Army: The Military Counterintelligence" (Powstanie i dzialalnosc organów Informacji Wojska Polskiego, 1943-1948: Kontrwywiad wojskowy, 1994).
Very little is known about Jaruzelski's exploits at the front. When the Red Army pushed the Nazis out of Poland, Stalin established his proxy puppet regime there. Having reached Berlin, Jaruzelski continued with the razvedka. After May 1945, along with the NKVD, he was brought back and re-deployed against pro-Western Polish underground forces and Ukrainian nationalist guerrillas in the Lublin and Kielce regions. The anti-Communist insurgency peaked in 1947 but it simmered into the 1950s.
Meanwhile, Jaruzelski made a momentous decision. In March 1946, he became a full-fledged agent of the military intelligence. His codename was "Wolski." The fact of his registration is inconvertible but, as historian Piotr Gontarczyk notes, his case file was destroyed. We can assume Jaruzelski denounced his fellow officers and other assorted "reactionaries". As the future dictator wrote himself to his Soviet superior, Gen. Stanislav Poplavskii: "despite vigilance . . . a few military cadets have displayed a hostile attitude toward the current reality of [Communist] Poland and the Soviet Union. Hostile utterances have been noted among some cadets with mostly intelligentsia and petty bourgeoisie origin."
All in all, Jaruzelski must have acquitted himself rather well in this unsavory task. He was consistently promoted, joined the Communist party, and, soon, reassigned away from the field to a desk job as the head of a department on the General Staff. He also taught at an infantry officers' school.
In May 1949, Poland's GRU chief inquired about Jaruzelski's usefulness as an agent. The idea was to recruit him directly as cadre for the 2nd Bureau (Intelligence) of the General Staff. According to a report discovered at the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in Warsaw:
"Lt. Col. Jeruzelski [sic] Wojciech, son of Wladyslaw, born in 1923 in Kurów, the County of Pulawy, a son of an estate manager. . . . He is our secret informer [t/inf] with a pseudonym "Wolski" recruited because of his patriotic convictions, while he served with the 5th Infantry Division on March 23, 1946. He is characterized as a valuable individual and a member of the [Communist] party. A good secret collaborator, he is fit to become a rezydent [a plenipotentiary agent]. We do not have k/m [komprmaterialy] [i.e., no data compromising Jaruzelski]."
Another document unearthed by the IPN shows that already in the 1970s the Communists attempted to erase any traces of the general's activities. His name was repeatedly crossed over with a thick marker in the agent registration log. But, over time, the marker faded, revealing the name. A notation on the margin informs us that Jaruzelski's file was "passed to the leadership" [u kierownictwa]. Whether military or civilian, Polish or Soviet, it is not known. The original most likely is in Moscow.
A Stellar Career
According to Marxist theory, there was no place for the likes of Jaruzelski in Communist Poland. He came from a "reactionary class." His relatives were staunchly anti-Communist, and so was his wife's family, the Stawrowskis, in particular her cousin, Captain Leon Stawrowski, who was a top officer of the far-right, anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet, underground National Armed Forces (Narodowe Sily Zbrojne, NSZ). Wealthy, educated, noble, and patriotic, Jaruzelski should have been exterminated. Instead, he was consistently promoted under each general secretary of the Polish (Communist) United Workers Party.
Jaruzelski did very well during the Stalinist era, when Boleslaw Bierut called the shots. He was very successful during Wladyslaw Gomulka's national-bolshevik rule. First, he was appointed the commander-in-chief of Poland's army. Next, he was co-opted to the Central Committee. Jaruzelski then became chummy with the infamous secret police boss Nikolai Dyomko-Demko aka Mieczyslaw Moczar. He even served as Moczar's best men at the policeman's wedding. In March 1968, Jaruzelski obligingly carried out a thorough anti-Jewish purge in the Polish armed forces during the anti-Semitic campaign in the Communist government, police, and military leadership. He was duly promoted to the Minister of Defense, just in time to command the Polish Communist contingent during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
The General's career continued uninterrupted under Edward Gierek's regime of the 1970s. Jaruzelski's wealth grew as well. He built himself a dacha in Natac in the Mazurian Lakes district. He also appropriated an elegant pre-war villa in Warsaw's posh Mokotów neigbourhood for the equivalent of a few hundred dollars. The villa belonged to the Przedpelskis who were expropriated by the Communists. As Corky Siemaszko of the New York Daily News has reported, the Przedpelskis, now American citizens residing in Brooklyn, are suing the general for property restitution. Alas, given that most Polish judges are post-Communists, the case has been hopelessly stuck in the courts since 1992. But Jaruzelski is outraged at the legal hassle. The 81-year old Jan Przedpelski put it very aptly: "I am a Polish patriot and I haven't been allowed inside since 1939. . . . And that SOB sits inside and expresses wonderment that I want my house back." His son Richard Przedpelski added: "The Communist laws are still in place. . . . What we need is a restitution law like they have in other European countries."
During the Second World War, Jan Przedpelski fought against the Nazis as a fighter pilot with the Polish Wing, Royal Air Forces. Meanwhile, his family fought in the pro-Western underground and rescued Jews in their home. Ultimately, the Przedpelskis fled into exile in the United States. There was no room for people like them in Soviet Poland. Jaruzelski, on the other hand, remained behind and prospered. Undoubtedly, his past choices as a GRU agent and a military-political apparatchik assisted him greatly. They are the key to understanding him and his decisions.
In 1983, U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger famously referred to Jaruzelski as "a Russian general in Polish uniform." The American civil servant would be pleased to know that he was more right than he suspected. Or perhaps he knew more than he let on. At the time, General Jaruzelski angrily promised to sue Secretary Weinberger. But he never did. Perhaps the general did not wish to test his luck. Now we know why.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is academic dean and professor of history at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He was formerly assistant professor of history of the Kosciuszko Chair in Polish Studies at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. He has authored numerous works in both Polish and English.