When the Communists Murdered a Priest | Paul Kengor | CWR blog
[Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.]
It was October 19, 1984—30 years ago this week. A gentle, courageous, and genuinely holy priest, Jerzy Popieluszko, age 37, found himself in a ghastly spot that, though it must have horrified him, surely did not surprise him. An unholy trinity of three thugs from communist Poland’s secret police had seized and pummeled him. He was bound and gagged and stuffed into the trunk of their cream-colored Fiat 125 automobile as they roamed the countryside trying to decide where to dispatch him. This kindly priest was no less than the chaplain to the Solidarity movement, the freedom fighters who would ultimately prove fatal to Soviet communism—and not without Popieluszko’s stoic inspiration.
The ringleader this October day was Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski, an agent of Poland’s SB. Unlike Jerzy, who grew up devoutly religious, Piotrowski was raised in an atheist household, which, like the communist despots who governed Poland, was an aberration in this pious Roman Catholic country. The disregard for God and morality made Piotrowski an ideal man for the grisly task ahead, which he assumed with a special, channeled viciousness.
Piotrowski’s first beating of the priest that evening was so severe that it should have killed him. Jerzy was a small man afflicted with Addison’s disease. He previously had been hospitalized for other infirmities, including (understandably) stress and anxiety. But somehow, the priest was managing to survive as he fought for his life in the cold, dark trunk of the Fiat. In fact, somehow he unloosened the ropes that knotted him and extricated himself from the car. He began to run, shouting to anyone who could hear, “Help! Save my life!”
He was run down by Piotrowski, a dedicated disciple of what a Polish admirer of Jerzy, Pope John Paul II, would dub the Culture of Death. “I caught up with him and hit him on the head several times with the stick,” Piotrowski later confessed. “I hit him near or on the head. He fell limp again. I think he must have been unconscious. And then I became—never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
It did matter. It certainly mattered to the helpless priest. What Piotrowski became was something altogether worse. He seemed overtaken by another force. As recorded by authors Roger Boyes and John Moody in their superb book, Messenger of the Truth, which is now a gripping documentary, Piotrowski’s accomplices thought their comrade had gone mad, “so wild were the blows.” It was like a public flogging. Jerzy’s pounding was so relentless that it wouldn’t be misplaced to think of Christ’s scourging at the pillar. This young man in persona Christi, not much older than Jesus Christ at his death agony, was being brutally tortured. It was a kind of crucifixion; the kind at which communists uniquely excelled.
One is tempted to say that Piotrowski beat the hell out of Father Jerzy, but such would be inappropriate and inaccurate for such a man of faith. Really, the hell was coming out of the beater, in all its demonic force and fury.
After another round of thrashing, Piotrowski and his two fellow tormentors ramped up the treatment. They grabbed a roll of thick adhesive tape and ran it around the priest’s mouth, nose, and head, tossing him once again in the vehicle, like a hunk of garbage on its way to the heap.