Portrait of Stalin

       On the wall in our classroom hung up so many portraits. The first hung up a portrait of a white eagle, under which hung a portrait of Stalin. Next to Stalin hung a portrait of Lenin then under the portraits of Stalin and Lenin, hung portraits of President Boleslaw Bierut, Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz, and Marshal Rokossovsky. Rokossovsky was Russian, but was nominated as a Minister of National Defense in Poland, after the Russians entered Poland in 1944. Once a student Drozdowski asked me, “What would you guess: is this eagle male or female?” I did not know what to say. Drozdowski continued, “You are the best student in the class and you do not know the answer to such a simple question?”
       “And do you know?” I barked back.
       “Of course I know, it is a male, because beneath him hangs his penis, Stalin!” he answered with smile. I laughed out loud. It was a funny joke.
       “But do not tell anybody that I told you this joke, we could both end up in jail. It is political joke!” he said with a confidential, quiet voice.
       I knew nothing about politics, but in my classroom were older boys, over 16 years old, who knew more about politics and about political jokes than I did. However, they did not speak about politics to us, the younger students, for fear of reprisals. In the days following our discussion about the eagle, the portrait of Stalin was completely destroyed, and nobody knew who did it. The glass was broken; the picture of Stalin had been splashed with paint allowing one word to be visible …PENIS. In addition a Nazi swastika was painted on Stalin’s forehead. On that day just happened that we had a lesson with the superintendent Mr. Brostek, who was not well educated but was a member of the Communist party. Mr. Brostek entered the classroom, opened up the class log, and started writing something before he had noticed what had been done to the portrait of Stalin. When he saw it, he was speechless and turned as pale as a ghost.
       “Who did it?” he uttered.
       Of course, no one confessed. Mr. Brostek waited for a moment, but when there was no response from us, he said, “Do not leave the classroom!”
       Angry and with a red face he ran out of the classroom. We sat in the chairs for a while bored so we started to play cards.
       “Why is the superintendent so upset? After all, this portrait of Stalin is not so expensive. The school can buy a second portrait, and it will be OK,” I thought. Such pranks were not unusual at our school. It was not uncommon to have windows broken. The replacement of the larger windows would cost a lot more than the replacement of the glass in the small portrait. Sometimes benches were broken, sometimes even doors were broken! Mr. Brostek would have to call parents to the school, and they would have to pay for the destruction caused by their children. After some time, a teacher by the name Krystyna Sikorska entered the classroom. She glanced at the damaged portrait of Stalin.
       “Kids, what has gotten into your heads? Mr. Brostek has called the police, and a police officer has called the Security Office, you will be in serious trouble!”
       “What’s the problem? We destroyed so many windows, benches and doors!” I said quietly to my colleague. And besides, I did not know what was Security Office. After a while, the commander of the local police, Boruta, arrived with two men dressed in leather coats, suits and neck-ties. They looked very serious, and their unfriendly faces aroused fear. They came in a car known as a Pobieda that was produced in Russia. This alerted the students at the school. No one in our village had a car! Then the hearings began. They called us one by one to Brostek’s office. Fortunately, the class was small, only fifteen students. The hearings went quickly. During my hearing, I shook with fear, but I was “heroic”. I told them, that it was not me, and that I did not know who did it.
       “What do you think? Who could have done this?”
       “I have no idea.”
       “Who was left in the classroom on break?”
       “I do not know, because I ran out right away.”
       “Did you notice anyone who was not with you on break?”
       “No, I did not pay attention.”
       “Who was with you on break?”
       “Nobody, I was in the toilet room.”
After I had answered their questions, they conversed in a whisper with Mr. Brostek; then finally they let me go. Apparently, Mr. Brostek thought well of me. I was proud of myself. I did not give them any useful information. Of course, I was not in the toilet room, but why should I tell them the truth. I hoped that they would not find out who damaged the portrait and would have to drive back to their office with no answers. But they did not leave. They chose five students for further investigation. It was not known what the other students had said, but it was likely that they also did not give away any useful information. Most likely, Mr. Brostek had chosen these five students. To save his own skin and career, he actively assisted the Security police. In theory, he could have failed to report this incident to the police. However, in practice, he was afraid that one of the teachers or one of the students, would inform the police about the incident, and then he would be dismissed from his position. Of the five students I did not know why a boy named Edek, who was very quiet and timid and would never damage anything, was amongst them.        After the second round of hearings, it turned out that it was he who had confessed!        “How was it possible? He never talked about politics. Why would he ever confess to this?” I thought to myself. He looked broken. It was evident that he had wept for quite some time, as he was erasing the tears from his face. He looked shrunk and bent. We all sympathized with him.
       “What will they do to him? Will he be jailed? Pity him,” I was in shock.
       Suddenly Drozdowski appeared among us and claimed, “Edek is innocent, I did it.”
The policeman, officers of secret police and Mr. Brostek looked at him surprised.        
“But he admitted.”
       “He confessed out of fear, because he has a weak character,” said Drozdowski.
       Drozdowski was the strongest and the oldest boy in the entire school. He was already 17 years old. He had broken most of the windows, chairs and benches. The interrogation was restarted with Drozdowski and Edek in the room. It turned out that indeed, Edek had confessed out of fear, not so much about fear for himself, but rather for his parents and his sister. They told him that his parents would be fired from their jobs and jailed, and his sister would go to a special jail for girls. Strangely enough nobody knew any details, and nobody wanted to talk about it. Mr. Brostek refused to give us any details.
       “I myself do not know, and I do not want to know. Students, this is politics, and politics is not a joke,” Mr. Brostek answered our questions.
       That was all we could squeeze out of him. After a while, we forget about this incident. Life at the school was back to normal.