The Permanent Exhibition

MAY—SEPTEMBER
from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. | Monday—Sunday
OCTOBER—APRIL
from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. | Monday—Sunday

→ Plan your visit
→ Permanent exhibition guide as well as catalogue available at Museum Store | ECS, ground floor

The bullet-ridden leather jacket which belonged to Ludwik Piernicki, a 20-year-old shipyard worker and victim of the December 1970 massacre; the wooden boards with the 21 demands which hung on the gate to the Lenin Shipyard during the strike of August 1980, and which today are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List; the gantry crane, where legendary trade union activist Anna Walentynowicz worked; the desk which once belonged to Jacek Kuroń, one of the leaders of the opposition against Poland’s communist regime, a gift from his wife—these are but a few of the almost 1,800 items you can see at the permanent exhibition in the new ECS building.
The exhibition is narrative based: the visitors will delve into history told by archival objects, documents, manuscripts, photographs, video footage and interactive installations— When visiting the exhibition, you will have an opportunity to find your own point of reference to history and the present day.

 

LEVEL I

ROOM A

THE BIRTH OF SOLIDARNOŚĆ

‘We’re on strike!’, decided the workers of Gdańsk’s Lenin Shipyard on 14 August 1980. In doing so they paved the way for historic developments which were to change the face of Europe. The protest was led by a 36-year-old electrician, Lech Wałęsa. The crowds gathering in front of Gate No 2, plus the hundreds of workplaces around the country which joined the shipyard’s strike, constituted proof that through joint efforts one can change reality. The ensuing negotiations with the government, though difficult, were crowned with success – the communist authorities agreed to the establishing of independent trade unions. On 31 August the Gdańsk Agreement was signed. Solidarność’s time had come.

ROOM B

THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS

Following World War II Poland found itself in the camp of the victors, yet it did not regain its freedom. The communist system – imposed and supervised by the Soviet Union – relied upon violence and total control. Society’s opposition became evident in the protests of 1956, 1968, 1970 and 1976. The Communist Party would make leadership changes, but promises of democratisation and modernisation came to nothing. Barely a handful of democratic opposition groupings stood up to the dictatorship. The election of the Cardinal Archbishop of Cracow Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II, and his subsequent visit to his homeland in June 1979, brought about a resurgence of hope.

ROOM C

SOLIDARNOŚĆ AND HOPE

In 1980, on the basis of the August Agreements there came into being the communist world’s only independent mass social organisation – the Solidarność Independent Trade Union. Almost 10 million people joined the movement, making it truly representative of the nation. During the 16 months in which Solidarność openly fought for freedom, the process of building a civil society had begun.

ROOM G
John Paul II room

A CULTURE OF PEACEFUL CHANGE

An attitude joint responsibility, coupled with a preparedness to make sacrifices for the common good – these make up the very essence of solidarity. Championing this notion of the peaceful struggle for human rights in the name of freedom have been people of every nationality, skin colour and religion, the whole world over and throughout history. They have had one thing in common – good will: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa and Aung San Suu Kyi… 

 

LEVEL II

ROOM D

AT WAR WITH SOCIETY

On 13 December 1981 General Wojciech Jaruzelski – the prime minister and leader of the Communist Party – introduced martial law. Mass arrests were made, strikes and demonstrations were violently broken up and Solidarność was outlawed. The hopes raised by the events of August 1980 had led to nothing. Yet, the communists proved unable to break the spirit of freedom and resistance; Solidarity endured as an underground movement. Meanwhile, the authorities found themselves condemned to social and international isolation.

ROOM E

THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY

Poland was immersed in a growing crisis. The underground opposition was, despite persecution, gaining in strength. Society continued to insist on its rights and on the reinstatement of Solidarność. The 1988 economic collapse and strikes forced the authorities into the Round Table Talks with the opposition. Solidarność was once again legalised. 4 June 1989 saw the holding of post-war Poland’s first ever partially free parliamentary elections. They were won by the opposition; Tadeusz Mazowiecki – a Solidarność nominee – became prime minister. Poland’s new government set about dismantling the communist system.

ROOM F

THE TRIUMPH OF FREEDOM

Poland’s bloodless revolution paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall, and also of the dictatorships in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The communists were losing power. The disintegration of the Soviet Union became one of the most significant events of the late 20th century. The building of a new political and economic order in Europe had begun..