Sixty Years Ago–Poznaǹ June 1956 and its Significance in Polish and World History

excerpted from a longer study by David Gwidon Chełmiǹski, Ph. D.

Not even a year after the formation of the “Warsaw Pact” mutual defense alliance in 1955, Poland suddenly made it into the world news headlines with the first significant uprising of the workers voicing dissatisfaction with the centrally-controlled Marxist economic system which had been imposed upon them in the decade since the Second World War, and remarkably, Poznaǹ, was at the center of what was happening.

After the Minister of Machine Industry withdrew several promises given at the Polish capital of Warszawa to a delegation of workers from a metal Industries factory at Poznaǹ, a strike started spontaneously at the multi-factory complex at six in the morning of Thursday June 28th, 1956.  Around eighty percent of the workers were protesting the increased workload and loss of bonus pay and demanding compensation after the government had suddenly raised their required work quota.  Students and workers from other plants joined their procession.  Between 9 and 11 a.m., 100,000 people had gathered at the Adam Mickiewicz Square in front of the old German Kaiser’s Imperial Palace, demanding lower food prices, wage increases, revocation of some recent changes in the law which had eroded work conditions and a visit by Poland’s Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz.

The crowds stormed a prison at ulica Młyǹska, releasing hundreds of prisoners, distributed firearms from the prison’s arms depot among themselves, and attacked the Communist Party’s local headquarters and the office of the Ministry of Public Security.  By six p.m., the protesters had seized many government buildings, including a radio-jamming station and police stations in outlying districts, and the military school at the Poznaǹ University of Technology and the prison camp in Mrowino, destroying police records at the district courthouse and procurature as well as at a police station.

The city was pacified by Saturday June 30th, 1956.  An estimated fifty-seven to over one hundred civilians had been killed, and about six hundred people were wounded.   By nine p.m. a wave of detentions had begun—the detainees were taken to the airport and subjected to brutal interrogations.  Seven hundred forty-six individuals were detained for over five weeks, until Wednesday August 8th, 1956, while prosecutions carried on for many years.

Clearly encouraged by the Polish example of voicing their dissatisfaction with the Communist regime and getting some significant changes, Hungary began its own uprising on Tuesday October 23rd, 1956.