There is lots to see in Gdańsk, Poland.
This trip looms large in our minds since it is the last international trip we took before the era of Corona lockdowns last year, and so we often found ourselves returning to idyllic life when international travel was the norm.
Although the city offers numerous attractions to tourists, one not to be missed is the incredible Solidarność Museum that opened in 2014.
I must admit my enthusiasm wavered somewhat when I listened to the ridiculous EU-speak recording in the lobby of the museum, but once you get past that, this museum is well organized and wonderfully informative. We spent a lot of time here, but I would still like to get back on my next visit to explore even more.
Solidarność (Solidarity) was the name of the famous labor union led by shipyard worker Lech Wałęsa – shipyard worker, union leader, Nobel Laureate and former President of Poland (the first to be elected by a popular vote, following the fall of the Berlin Wall).
The museum itself was constructed at the site of the old Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard where Wałęsa and fellow union workers struggled against the authorities during the Cold War. In the 1980s, Wałęsa led massive strikes here that challenged the regime.
The museum displays bring to life the background of the movement, the actions it took and reprisals from the communist regime.
There were also numerous displays and films illustrating the role Pope John Paul II – the first Polish pope – played in strengthening Solidarność in his native country. The Pope demanded to meet with Wałęsa and antagonized the government by often referring to solidarność – “solidarity” at his large rallies within Poland.
For those of us who lived and studied the Cold War, the museum supplements knowledge of the time. For younger visitors, it is crucial to understand how the regime operated, and the courage it took for Wałęsa and his fellow union workers to stand up to absolute power in their country.
There was a chilling segment with the carefully documented photographs of 42 young protesters killed in the 1970 protests in Gdańsk and other northern coastal towns .
The victims look shockingly young, and it’s horrific to know the regime documented their slaughter of these young people and kept their individual cadaver photos in their records until the regime fell and access became public.
I was next door to Poland, in Czechoslovakia, as post-Cold War transition was taking place, but the final section of the museum shows this process in all of eastern Europe – and certainly merits more time than I had to explore this section.
The center also contains extensive archives for historians and researchers.
When you’re in Gdańsk, be sure to set aside sufficient time to visit this impressive museum. I’ll definitely be back.