Bolesław Bierut ([bɔˈlɛswaf ˈbjɛrut] (listen); 18 April 1892 – 12 March 1956) was an activist in the Communist Party of Poland and later a Polish communist leader of Stalinist orientation. He was President of the State National Council (KRN) in 1944–1947, President of Poland in 1947–1952, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) in 1948–1956, Prime Minister of Poland in 1952–1954. Bierut, a self-taught man who "implemented the Stalinist system in Poland with full knowledge and iron resolve", received different evaluations from historians, but was loyally defended by his former subordinates. Unlike any of his successors, top leaders of the PZPR, Bierut ruled Poland until his death.
- 1 Career
- 2 Remembrance in communist and post-communist Poland
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Youth and early career
Bierut was born in Rury, Congress Poland (part of the Russian Empire), now a part of Lublin, to Wojciech and Marianna Bierut, peasants from the Tarnobrzeg area, the youngest of their six children. In 1900, he attended an elementary school in Lublin. In 1905, he was removed from the school for instigating anti-Russian protests. From the age of fourteen he was employed in various trades, but obtained further education through self-studies. Influenced by the leftist intellectual Jan Hempel, who in 1910 arrived in Lublin, before World War I Bierut joined the Polish Socialist Party-Left (PPS-Lewica).
From 1915, Bierut was active in the cooperative movement. In 1916, he became trade manager of the Lublin Food Cooperative, and from 1918 was its top leader, declaring the cooperative's "class-socialist" character. During World War I, he stayed at times at Hempel's apartment in Warsaw and took trade and cooperative courses at the Warsaw School of Economics. In Warsaw, he established contacts with Maria Koszutska and in December 1918 some form of association with the newly-created Communist Workers' Party of Poland (KPRP), from which, according to his later testimony, he withdrew in fall 1919. Bierut kept assuming ever higher offices in the cooperative movement. In 1919 he and Hempel went to Prague, where they represented the Polish cooperatives at the congress of their Czechoslovak counterparts. Bierut's increasingly radical views, however, eventually hindered his cooperative career and caused his departure from the leadership of the movement, beginning in 1921. From 1921, he officially functioned as a member of the KPRP.
In July 1921 Bierut married Janina Górzyńska, a preschool teacher who had helped him a great deal when his illegal activities forced him to hide from the police. They were married by a priest at the Lublin Cathedral, even though the priest, according to Janina, excused them from the confession requirement. In February 1923 their daughter Krystyna was born, followed by son Jan in January 1925.
Communist party activism until 1939
In 1922–25, Bierut was a member of the Cooperative Department of the KPRP Central Committee. He worked as a bookkeeper and was active in Warsaw at the Polish Association of Freethinkers. In August 1923, he was sent for party work in the Dąbrowa Basin, to manage the Workers' Food Cooperative. He lived in Sosnowiec, where he brought his wife and daughter and where he experienced the first of his many arrests. Detained repeatedly in various parts of the country, in October 1924 he moved to Warsaw. He had become a full-time conspiratorial party activist and in 1925 was a member of the Temporary Secretariat of the Central Committee and then the head of the Cooperative Department there.
Already trusted by the Soviets and knowing the Russian language well, from October 1925 to June 1926 Bierut was in the Moscow area, sent there for training at the secret school of the Communist International.
Arrested in Warsaw in January 1927, he was released on 30 April, based on personal assurances issued on his behalf by Stanisław Szwalbe and Zygmunt Zaremba. During the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP, the new name of the KPRP), which took place from 22 May to 9 August 1927, Bierut became a member of the Temporary Secretariat of the Central Committee again. In November, the party sent him to the International Lenin School in Moscow. He received positive evaluations there, except for not being entirely free of ideological right-wing errors, characteristic, in the school's opinion, of the Polish communist party.
In 1930–31, Bierut was sent by the Comintern to Austria, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Many details of his activities are not reliably known, but from 1 October 1930 he was an instructor at the Executive Committee of the Comintern. He later claimed having lived in Moscow in 1927–32, except for a nine-month period in 1931, and having been enrolled at the Lenin School until 1930. Jerzy Eisler wrote: "... in light of the Soviet archival materials, in 1927–32 Bierut was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), with his party seniority counted from 1921, the moment he formally joined the Polish communist party." In Moscow he met Małgorzata Fornalska, a KPP activist. They became romantically involved and had a daughter, named Aleksandra, born in June 1932. Soon afterwards Bierut left for Poland, leaving in Moscow for the time being also his legal family, whom he had brought there.
For several months Bierut was district secretary of the KPP organization in Łódź. After the regional organization was demolished by arrests, in 1933 he became secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish section of the International Red Aid. On 18 December 1933, Bierut was arrested and in 1935 sentenced to seven years in prison. In 1936, while imprisoned, he was excluded in absentia from the KPP for an "unworthy of a communist behavior during the investigation and the court trial". The decision was invalidated and reversed by the Comintern on 7 September 1940 (even though the KPP by that time no longer existed). Bierut was found to have been a member of the moderate "majority" faction of the KPP, and the factional infighting in which he participated was determined not to amount to acting against the party.
He was released from prison on 20 December 1938, based on an earlier amnesty. He lived with his wife and children and worked in Warsaw cooperatives until the outbreak of war. The "Sanation" prison may have saved his life: while he was incarcerated, the KPP was disbanded by the Comintern and most of its leaders murdered in Stalin's purges.
In the Soviet Union
On 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked Poland. Following the 6 September radio appeal by the Polish military command for all the able-bodied men to head east, Bierut left Warsaw for Lublin, from where he proceeded to Kovel. Eastern Poland was soon occupied by the Red Army and Bierut was about to spend a part of World War II in the Soviet Union. Form early October, he was employed by the Soviets in political capacities, including vice-chairmanship of a regional election commission before the Elections to the People's Assemblies of Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia. The two assemblies, once established, voted for the incorporation of the previously Polish territories into the respective Soviet republics.
Bierut spent the rest of 1939, 1940 and the first part of 1941 in the Soviet Union, in Kiev and Moscow, working, making efforts to clear his communist record and searching for Fornalska, whom he met in Moscow in July 1940 and again in May 1941 in Białystok, where she had moved with Aleksandra. The mother and daughter were evacuated into the Soviet Union after the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, but Bierut ended up in Minsk. From November 1941, he was employed there by the German occupation authorities as a manager in trade and food distribution department of the city government. In the summer of 1943, Bierut arrived in occupied Poland, likely dispatched there as a trusted Soviet operative. He came to join the leadership of the Polish Workers' Party (PPR), a new communist party in existence for a year and a half. He may have been recommended for the job by Fornalska; parachuted into the General Government in the spring of 1942, she was in charge of the PPR's radio communications with Moscow.
While there are many accounts and stories relating to Bierut during the 1939–43 period, not much is known with certainty about his activities and the accounts are often speculative or amount to hearsay.
In occupied Poland from 1943
Upon his arrival in Warsaw, Bierut became a member of the Central Committee of the PPR, which comprised several individuals. The Secretariat had three members: General Secretary Paweł Finder, Franciszek Jóźwiak and Władysław Gomułka, whom Bierut did not know, but who quickly became his principal rival. Bierut lost his first confrontation over the management of Trybuna Wolności ('The Tribune of Freedom'), the party's press organ.
In a major blow to the re-emergent Polish communist party, Finder and Fornalska were arrested by the Gestapo on 14 November 1943. They were executed in July 1944. They were the only people with the knowledge of radio codes needed to communicate with Moscow and such communications were indeed interrupted for several months. On 23 November 1943, the PPR chose Gomułka as its general secretary.
However, on 31 December 1943, Bierut also assumed an important (as it turned out) office: chairmanship of the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN), a communist-led body established by Gomułka and the PPR. The KRN was declared to be a wartime parliament of Poland and some splinter socialist and agrarian activists were co-opted. Starting with the KRN post, with Gomułka and others, Bierut would play a leading role in the establishment of communist Poland.
In May 1944, the KRN delegation flew into Moscow. They were officially received at the Kremlin by Joseph Stalin; supremacy of the KRN was recognized by the Union of Polish Patriots, which operated in the Soviet Union under communist leadership.
In June 1944 Bierut wrote a letter, meant for the Soviet leadership and addressed to Georgi Dimitrov in Moscow. He accused his Polish communist rival Gomułka of dictatorial tendencies and numerous offenses contrary to communist orthodoxy; if taken seriously, the accusations could have cost Gomułka his life. But they were not and Gomułka did not find out about the letter until 1948, when it was used against him in Poland.
In July 1944, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) was established in liberated Lublin province. Just before the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, on 31 July 1944, Bierut came to Świder. The next day he crossed the front line and arrived in Lublin, the seat of the PKWN.
In Soviet-liberated Poland
From 1947 to 1952, Bierut served as president of Poland and then (after the abolition of the presidency with the creation of the Polish People's Republic) prime minister.
Top leader of Stalinist Poland
During the lifetime of Stalin, Bierut was strictly subservient to the Soviet leader, routinely received from him instructions over the phone or was summoned to Moscow for consultations. Bierut still had incomparably more power in Poland than any of his successors, first secretaries of the PZPR. He ruled jointly with his two closest associates, Jakub Berman and Hilary Minc.
After the death of Stalin
Stalin died on 6 March 1953.
Bierut's death and funeral
Bierut died under mysterious circumstances in Moscow on 12 March 1956, shortly after attending the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, during which Nikita Khrushchev delivered his "Secret Speech", in which he criticized Stalin's cult of personality. Bierut's death gave rise to speculation about poisoning or suicide.
Remembrance in communist and post-communist Poland
Soon after Bierut's death, on 18 April 1956, a newly-built in Gdańsk Shipyard merchant ship was named Bolesław Bierut.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 32–35. Wydawnictwo Czerwone i Czarne, Warszawa 2014, ISBN 978-83-7700-042-7.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 38–41.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 41–48.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 48–56.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 56–59.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 17, 48–82.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], pp. 24–25.
- Jerzy Eisler, Siedmiu wspaniałych. Poczet pierwszych sekretarzy KC PZPR [The Magnificent Seven: first secretaries of the PZPR], p. 36.
(President of the Polish Republic in Exile)
| Chairman of the State National Council
31 December 1944–4 February 1947
Himself as President
Himself as Chairman
| President of Poland
5 February 1947–21 November 1952
(Chairman of the Council of State)
| Prime Minister of Poland
20 November 1952–18 March 1954
|Party political offices|
(as general secretary of the Polish Workers' Party)
| General Secretary of the Polish United Workers' Party
22 December 1948–12 March 1956