Bolesław Bierut ([bɔˈlɛswaf ˈbjɛrut] (listen); 18 April 1892 – 12 March 1956) was 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.
Youth and early careerEdit
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 inhibited 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 in interwar PolandEdit
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 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.
In 1930–31, Bierut was sent by the Comintern to Austria, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. In 1933, he became an agent of Soviet military intelligence, the GRU, and was subsequently sentenced in Poland to 10 years in prison for "anti-state activities" (incarcerated between 1933–1938). Bierut was a member of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP), dissolved by Joseph Stalin in 1938. He avoided being caught in the Great Purge, which led to the execution of many leaders of the KPP. After an amnesty from the Polish government in 1938, he settled in Warsaw and worked as a bookkeeper in a cooperative.
In the Soviet UnionEdit
In Poland from 1943Edit
In the summer of 1943 Bierut was sent from Minsk to occupied Poland, to join the leadership of the new Polish Workers' Party (PPR). From 1944 to 1947, he headed the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa, KRN), a communist quasi-parliament established by Władysław Gomułka and the PPR in Warsaw. With Gomułka and others, Bierut played a leading role in the establishment of communist 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. He was also the first general secretary of the ruling Polish United Workers' Party from 1948 to 1956.
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.
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.
Speculations about identityEdit
Polish historian Paweł Wieczorkiewicz posited that Bierut might have had a Soviet double (an NKVD agent) posing as Bierut from 1943 onwards with his full knowledge. Wieczorkiewicz referred to an account by Piotr Jaroszewicz made shortly before his death, and published by Bohdan Roliński. The Polish president's double was supposedly shot dead by an unidentified assassin – likely another agent wearing an NKVD uniform and killed at the scene – at the Hotel Francuski in Kraków, Poland in 1947. The real Bierut showed up half an hour later and calmed the security according to a statement made by one of them. The assassination attempt was kept secret by the authorities. Wieczorkiewicz himself referred to this theory as an urban legend.
- 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. 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.
- Newspaper clippings about Bolesław Bierut in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
(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