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    53 Years Ago: Gunfire Opened on Gdańsk Shipyard Workers, 16 Unarmed Individuals Killed

    On December 17, 1970, around 6 a.m. near the Gdynia Shipyard railway station, the military and the police opened fire on shipyard workers heading to their workplace, who had heeded the appeal of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Polish People’s Republic, Stanisław Kociołek, to return to work. Sixteen unarmed individuals were shot dead.

    “Once again, I appeal to you, shipyard workers: resume normal work. All conditions are in place for that,” said Kociołek on local television and radio, less than 10 hours earlier, on the evening of December 16.

    “These people, workers, shipyard workers, they did not participate in any demonstration, they did not come here to oppose anything. They were simply going to do their daily task, earn bread for their loved ones. And they died,” said President Andrzej Duda in Gdynia during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the massacre of Coast workers. “It is one of the most symbolic events of the entire period of communist rule in Poland after 1945,” he added.

    Stanisław Kociołek, who urged the striking workers to return to work in a televised address, knew that the shipyard was to be blockaded by the military the next morning. Despite losing his place in the Political Bureau of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) for his role, he was not held criminally responsible for his actions. He was punished only morally and served as a long-time ambassador of the Polish People’s Republic in Moscow, Tunisia, and Luxembourg. From 1980 to 1982, he served as the First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the PZPR in Warsaw.

    Symbol of December ’70

    The tragic symbol of December ’70 became the photograph of a procession carrying the body of a shot young man on doors and a bloodied white-and-red flag. The murdered individual was eighteen-year-old Zbigniew Godlewski, an employee of the Gdynia Shipyard named after the Paris Commune.

    Godlewski is considered the prototype of the hero of the song “Janek Wiśniewski fell,” although similar tragedies occurred at that time. Like other victims of the Gdynia massacre, Zbigniew Godlewski was secretly buried at the cemetery in Gdańsk-Oliwa. A year later, his family managed to arrange for the exhumation and transfer of his remains to his hometown of Elbląg. Currently, one of the streets in the city is named after the slain young shipyard worker. Godlewski Street is also found in Zielona Góra, where he was born. Meanwhile, Gdynia honored not the man but the legend. The street where shipyard workers heading to work were murdered on December 17, 1970, was named after Janek Wiśniewski.

    Eighteen-Year-Old War Invalid

    Seventeen-year-old vocational school student Wiesław Kasprzycki was brutally beaten by unidentified police officers, suffering spinal, kidney, and head injuries with a concussion that led to a severe, incurable disease.

    On December 17, Kasprzycki walked along the Tankists’ Alley to his mother, who worked as a nurse at the hospital. He was stopped by a police patrol. “I found myself on the floor. Three guys caught me, started kicking. I didn’t lose consciousness then; it was just a kind of welcome,” he recalled. “They started cutting our hair with hunting knives. I didn’t have long hair, so I suffered more. At the same time, they brought a wooden chair,” Kasprzycki recounted years later. “They chose some people, told them to lie over the chair, and beat them blindly, randomly, wherever it hit. We retreated under one wall, under another. The skin began to crack, bleed, and a mixture of blood and hair formed on the floor,” he described.

    Kasprzycki’s account, reminiscent of the cruelty of Gestapo, NKVD, or Stalinist security crimes, was recorded by Prof. Jerzy Eisler in the publication “December 1970.” “Kasprzycki was also beaten with sticks of various lengths by officers lined up in a row,” wrote Prof. Eisler. “Eventually, he ended up among the corpses in the building of the Presidium. There, naked among the dead, he was found by Commander Dr. Kunert, who noticed that he was still warm, called an ambulance, and in a clinical death state, Kasprzycki was taken to the City Hospital,” he added.

    After prolonged treatment, Kasprzycki, who developed post-traumatic epilepsy, became a young pensioner, “an eighteen-year-old war invalid in peacetime,” summarized Prof. Jerzy Eisler. Wiesław Kasprzycki died on April 23, 2019, at the age of 65. His story was recalled by Antoni Krauze in the feature film “Black Thursday,” produced in 2010.

    Doors carrying the body of Zbigniew Godlewski, found in 1981 in the men’s restroom of the Gdańsk Directorate of Polish State Railways by the then reporter of “Solidarity Weekly,” Małgorzata Niezabitowska. “I was sure they had disappeared,” she recounted in 2010 on TVN 24. “They were exactly like in the times of the Polish People’s Republic: unpainted, dirty, with peeling paint,” Niezabitowska described. Participants in the memorable procession told her how it happened. “How they carried them, how these doors ended up under the presidium, where one of the employees lived. He saw these doors the next day because they were abandoned at some point during the clashes with the police. They brought them the next day and said: we had to bring them because at that time, the restroom couldn’t be used,” Niezabitowska said, recalling the circumstances in which she gathered information for the report on the doors – one of the symbols of the Coast massacre.

    Currently, the historical doors are in the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Gdynia, in the chapel of Shipyard Workers, Port Workers, and People of the Sea, created by Fr. Hilary Jastak. A blood-stained Polish flag carried in the procession is also kept there.

    The Gdynia Massacre Was Retaliation

    “On December 17, in the ‘Black Thursday,’ the monsignor priest celebrated the first Holy Mass in Poland for those murdered on the streets of Gdynia. Immediately, he organized comprehensive assistance to the injured and those in need, especially the families of the victims. After the December tragedy, Father Hilary Jastak gathered information about the killed and repressed, wanting to create a true picture of the events, preparing memorials,” was reminded on the “Gdynia Pantheon” website. “On January 17, 1971, Father Hilary Jastak sent a letter to Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, in which he described the course of events,” it was added.

    “Why on Thursday, December 17, 1970, was a trap set up in the Gdynia Shipyard, to which people were herded and machine-gun fire was opened on them? The answer is inhumanly simple: it was set up precisely to shoot at them. Three days earlier, people humiliated for years rebelled when a drastic increase in food prices was introduced just before Christmas. They took to the streets first in Gdańsk, the next day in Gdynia. The Gdynia massacre was retaliation: it was supposed to teach workers a lesson, show that ‘who raises a hand against the people’s authority, that hand will be cut off,’ as Józef Cyrankiewicz formulated it in 1956,” wrote Paweł Kukla on the website on December 15, 2020.”

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