It was a cold, winter day. Early darkness descended on snowy streets. Just few hours earlier I landed back from a youth camp in Switzerland. I was 15, happy to be given this opportunity to see more of the world than just my East European town I grew in.
Looking back on that I have no idea how my mother succeded to convince my school that it was ok for me to miss a month of classes in the middle of school year. But this was a special time: 1981, the year in which everyrthing seemed possible. Solidarity movement, fresh wind of change blowing through my country….everybody knew it! Besides, I was a good student so this must have tipped the balance in my favor.
I enjoyed this trip immensely, made new friends and soaked the West up like a sponge. Switzerland! Brought up in grey socialist reality was a shock for me to see that another world existed. Of course I knew before this was the case, and we had television of course yet seeing it all with my own two eyes made a huge difference. I stared at these dazzling goods generously displayed for us: clothes, shoes, toys. It exceeded all my dreams. All colors of the rainbow came down into the shop displays in Lausanne. Green coats, red shoes, pink dresses. Impressionable as a 15 year old can be I loved it all.
Needless to mention that I had very little money with me. I could see it all but actually buying something was out of the question.
We did receive presents from the organization that brought us to Switzerland in the first place. We were so hungry for materal comfort that everything seemed fabulous.
After a month of living in a different reality time of going home approached. Once again I walked through the shining halls of the airport to board the plane. I was looking forward to see my mum and classmates but I knew I would miss this strange world of abundance.
After long journey I finally kissed my mother’s cheek in the Katowice railway station. It was 12 of December and dark outside; everything looked familiar and so desperately grey. We walked to another platform to catch the train to my home town. What caught my attention were big numbers of soldiers standing everywhere. What was going on? My mother did not dare to ask; in those years you did not ask too much especially not those in power as it could be used against you.
Little did we know.
After the long journey I finally went to bed. It must have been past midnight. I slept soundly. When I woke up on Sunday morning my mother told me there were tanks on the streets…Tanks? Is it war? No, martial state.
What it exactly meant became clear later. Soldiers surveying the snow covered streets, general Jaruzelski on TV all day. No school for 3 weeks. Phones disconnected. Traveling impossible.
All I remember is bewilderment and disbelief. How could it all happen?
I realized that if I missed that plane home from Lausanne I would have had to stay in Switzerland for at least a year if not longer….
I did not. Because I came back just on time I nearly missed to opportunity to experience this unbelievable experience of having your freedom breached in this way . As a 15 year old I understood what happened but missed all the implications. In my family there were no arrestations or victims. As a young girl I could brush it all off me.
When I look at this incident from a distance of more than 25 years I am struck by how close the call was for me.
Years after this event I left Poland to move to the Netherlands. My adventure in Western Europe begun. It could have begun much, much earlier but I nearly missed it.