Her biography is something more than an interesting life trajectory. It reflects many important matters, including Polish and Polish-Jewish experiences connected by one life story. Each thread of Lidia Ciołkosz’s life reflects one of significant experiences of the XXth century, both Polish and universal.
Jew, socialist, Pole, patriot
There is the Jewish town and consequences of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution; there is decline of the era of positivism and return of the romantic conception of national independence; the Polish Legions and the First World War; the newly industrialized Łódź from the famous film The Promised Land and the red flags of desperate workers; the “glass houses” of renowned novelist Stefan Żeromski; the light and dark sides of the interwar period; half a century of struggling for independence; the saga of the London emigration; the failure in the continuation of Poland's Second Republic; and references to the traditions of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS).
From "The Promised Land"
Lidia Kahan was born in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, one of the significant industrial centers of Congress Poland. However, she spent most of her childhood in Łódź – then the second important center in the Russian partition, after Warsaw. The city, populated by workers and craftsmen of three nationalities, Poles, Germans and Jews, was both a place of fabulous successes and of unsurpassed misery and exploitation.
"Human misery was so visible that even children understood it"
Łódź – the Polish Manchester – the city of great careers and great tragedies. Lidia Ciołkosz recalls: "I lived in Łódź, where human misery was so visible that even children understood it"
A drop of milk
"My mother, for social reasons, has been fighting against poverty, and hired me to do that since I was 6. I have been washing bottles in a society called "Drop of Milk", where women with children could get milk for free."
Lidia Ciołkosz in a folk dressPolish History Museum
Lidia Ciołkosz came from a Jewish family and received a traditional religious upbringing. Her parents perished in German hands during the Second World War. At the same time, she has been raised within Polish culture and patriotic tradition.
"I was born in an assimilated family..."
"I was born in an assimilated family of
Jewish origins. My parents and grandparents
spoke Polish, of course. There were six of us, but my youngest
brother died at the age of 2 in 1920. I was the oldest, and there
were two of my sisters and two brothers still alive."
"I used to live for scouting first of all"
Unfortunately, the Polish Scouting Union [ZHP] accepted only Christian youth. So The Tadeusz Kościuszko Scouting Troops were created, involving girls and boys of the Jewish religion from different Polish schools. All my siblings went into these Troops. The scouting regulations were the same, the uniforms similar, only the epaulets were made of white-amaranthine lacing and instead of a cross they had a rhomb-shaped badge with the sign “Czuwaj” [Stay vigilant].
Young Lidia was a typical idealist from the turn of the centuries
She has been inspired by the socialists fighting for national independence. Three portraits hung over her bed: first of the martyr of independence Emilia Plater, then of national leader Józef Piłsudski and novelist Stefan Żeromski. Lidia Ciołkosz recalled that her driving force has always been the social sensibility she inherited from her mother and learned from Polish literature.
"When the war broke out, Piłsudski and his Legions were something sacred"
When the war broke out, Piłsudski and his the Legions were something sacred. For me the Legions and Piłsudski were strongly tied with the PPS [Polish Socialist Party]. – Lidia Ciołkosz, in the documentary movie Jestem ostatnia [I Am the Last One]
In 1918, Poland regains its independence. Older and younger generations take up the effort of rebuilding independent Poland. Lidia Kahan belongs to the youngest active generation. She leaves her home, Łódź, and moves to Cracow, the city she'd dreamed of. There, she officially leaves the Jewish religious community and enrolls the PPS party. Cracow is one of the political centers of restored Poland. Many politicians were active there, their experience dating back to the times of the liberal Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Polish Legions are also linked with Cracow.
The Jagiellonian University
In 1920, Lidia Ciołkosz enrolls the Jagiellonian University in order to study Polish philology and history. The Jagiellonian University, at that time, abounds not only in the distinguished scholars. Its lecturers include Stanisław Kot, a future minister in the government-in-exile, and Ignacy Chrzanowski, known as an activist in the nationalist movement.
Conflicts at the university
Lidia Ciołkosz: "One day, at the seminar about the aesthetics of Słowacki [the 19th century poet], a student, Agatstein, made a speech. Everyone could notice his slight Jewish accent. His debate opponent, Tadeusz Bielecki, one of the leaders of the nationalist movement, begun with a malicious remark about this. Chrzanowski interrupted him, saying that this is not a student rally and such behavior is forbidden.”
Polish Socialist Party
Even in the era of pogroms provoked by czarist authorities at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it was possible to construct a real Polish-Jewish identity. The party widely open for Polish Jews, pushing patriotic agenda instead of nationalistic one, was The Polish Socialist Party.
The Polish Socialist Party [PPS] would become the entire life of Lidia Ciołkosz. Her efforts in its Student Section quickly made her one of the leading activists. Lidia Ciołkosz is active in the party and in organizations linked with it, especially in Society of Workers University and Workers’ Society of Children Friends.
At the first meeting of the Student Section, Lidia Kahan met Adam Ciołkosz, a veteran of the battles for Warsaw, Vilnius and Lviv, originally coming from Tarnów.The fascination with socialistic ideas has been soon supplemented by a fascination with Adam Ciołkosz. They marry in 1925. After that, they act together in politics as well as on the social ground.
Lidia Ciołkosz: "I took up a work in a club room for children..."
"I took up a work in a club room for children in the Workers’ House in Podgórze, run by the Friends of Children Association [TPD], later changed in 1926 into the Workers’ Society of Children Friends [RTPD]. The club rooms were dedicated to children who were unable to do their homework at home. They worked in the club room, supervised by an educator, then they were given a meal and later they played. The association also ran holiday camps in pretty Kamesznica by the Soła River, where I worked for several seasons. I recall that 'my children' in Podgórze built a lovely doll house all by themselves, Later, a special delegation transported it for Christmas to Kamesznica for kindergarteners at a winter camp."
"Social Ideas in the
Work of Stefan Żeromski”
In 1925, Lidia Ciołkosz defends her PhD thesis, "Social Ideas in the Work of Stefan Żeromski”, created under supervision of Ignacy Chrzanowski. She refutes simplifications presented by nationalists and communists. Żeromski becomes a new master for the young PPS activist – his sharp critique of the new reality, coupled with respect for independent Poland, reflects her own attitude towards state.
The May Coup d'État (1926)
Fearing a right-wing coup d’état and still remembering the events of 1923, when on orders of the ministers from Wincenty Witos’ government, Kraków workers were fired upon – the Polish Socialist Party supports the coup d’état led by Józef Piłsudski, its former member. Shortly afterwards, Ciołkosz removed the portrait of Marshal Piłsudski and hung a picture of the prophetic novelist Stefan Żeromski.
"I’m afraid we will regret it for a long time"
Lidia Ciołkosz: "In Kraków, the working masses of PPS demonstrated in support of Piłsudski. The party was behind him. However – if I recall well – a PPS parliamentarian from Kraków, Zygmunt Żuławski, said to our surprise in the editorial office of Naprzód [Forward]: 'I’m afraid we will regret it for a long time.'”
The left divided
The May Coup in 1926 led by Józef Piłsudski – a former PPS member – divided the left-wing movement. Opinions on the Marshal's policies destroyed many old friendships. Not only supporters of Piłsudski, such as former prime minister, Jędrzej Moraczewski, abandoned the Polish Socialist Party. The leftists did the same. Wanda Wasilewska, daughter of a known PPS activist, Leon Wasilewski, amongst them. The 1930s saw the rise of the “unanimous” tendencies in the party: many activists wanted an alliance with the communists. The lack of popular consent and the dissolution of the Polish Communist Party stopped this idea in the starting blocks.PPS tried another strategy - participation in a wide alliance of the parties opposing Marshal Piłsudski under the name of Centrolew - but it dissipated after the 1930 election.
Socialists and patriots
The Polish Socialist Party remained a patriotic party for the entire interwar period. At its fore stood the co-founders of Polish independence – politicians such as Ignacy Daszyński, Bolesław Limanowski, Kazimierz Pużak and Mieczysław Niedziałkowski. During the Second Republic, the PPS has always been a legal political force, repeatedly winning elections to local councils, posessing its own faction in the parliament. Socialist MPs refrained from taking seats in parliament, only because of boycotting the elections after the April Constitution has been accepted in 1935 [it introduced the authoritarian presidential system].
Along with social and political work, the Ciołkosz family is raising their son, Andrzej. He shares good and bad moments in the life of the two oppositionists.
Andrzej was a sensitive and intelligent child. He spent much time in the house of Kacper Ciołkosz, Adam's father, in Tarnów.
Road to Brest
The alliance between the Polish Socialist Party and its former member and leader, Marshal Józef Piłsudski, didn’t last long. The conflict deepened soon after parliament elections in 1928, when Ignacy Daszyński, legendary PPS leader, became marshal of parliament.At this time, Adam Ciołkosz was not only a MP, but also a de-facto leader of socialists in Kraków. In 1930, this city saw the founding congress of Centrolew – a coalition of socialists, peasant activists and chadeks, in Alliance against the ruling Sanacja regime. Adam Ciołkosz played a crucial role along with Ignacy Daszyński, Wincenty Witos, Herman Liberman and Karol Popiel. In summer 1930, as a result of Marshal Piłsudski's decision, President Ignacy Mościcki dissolves both Parliament and Senate.
Hardships of politics
Adam Ciołkosz was a parliament member in the lower house, the Sejm, both before and after the Polish coup d’état in May 1926, as well as one of the PPS leaders in the Małopolska region. On the photo: Adam Ciołkosz injured by unknown perpetrators on 18.06.1930, shortly before being arrested for anti-government activity and transported to infamous military prison in Brest.
In the beginning of 1930, important leaders of the opposition, no longer protected by parliamentary immunity, wind up in military prison for anti-government activities. The place of detention is Brest on the Bug River, where they are subjected to different forms of persecution. After Adam has been sentenced to imprisonment and later arrested (from November 1933 to September 1934), she runs the PPS organization in the Małopolska region.
A leaflet announcing the sentence of Brest trial
The growing threat from Nazi Germany – where the National Socialists took power in 1933 – the activation of the communist movement, and the death of Marshal Piłsudski (12 May 1935) contributed to the destabilization of the political situation.
Ciołkosz and other PPS leaders march at the front of the major strike in Kraków in 1936. The pacification results in deaths of some participants. There are also other victims, killed in Lviv and during the peasants' strike. Lidia Ciołkosz recalls: "After the funeral of the people killed [in the massacre of the workers in the "Semperit" factory] District Worker's Committee of PPS created a Committee of Care and Help to "Semperit" victims. I have been choosen the president of this committee."
"We considered communism to be contradictory to socialist ideals..."
"...for it destroys freedom, democracy, free speech and opposition; it spreads terrorism, leads to mass enslavement, to misery, and later to creation of a huge system of slave labor, [...] We were pro-independence; we fought for change, reform, socialism, but within the framework of a sovereign Polish nation. Meanwhile, the communists wanted a Polish Soviet Republic within the framework of the Soviet Union."
Socialists and communists
In 1938, during a manifestation along the escarpment at Warsaw Citadel, Adam Ciołkosz and PPS members from Tarnów ejected participants who sung communist songs. – Many of Polish socialists, including Kazimierz Pużak, will later become victims of the communists. Others, such as Józef Cyrankiewicz, will join their side. A number of the socialists will remain in exile.
The Second Polish Republic was rife with social inequalities. Along with successes such as construction of a Baltic port in Gdynia, building new districts of Warsaw, Lviv and Katowice, the Central Industrial Region and broadcast tower in Raszyn, funding new universities and the developing intelligentsia class, there were many unsolved problems: agrarian reform, hardships in worker districts, illiteracy and poor sanitary conditions. To a great extent, the activists of the patriotic left are responsible for sowing the first seeds of the Polish system of social care, health care and housing cooperatives such as the Warsaw Housing Cooperative.
Helping the children
"Priority was given to children of trade-union members, children of the unemployed and the homeless. We also took children of prison inmates, including communists". - Apart from politics, the Polish Socialist Party was involved chiefly in pro-social activities. It organized social clubs, club rooms, libraries of the Youth Organization of the Workers' University Association, summer camps and day camps of the Workers’ Society of Children Friends. Those initiatives were available for worker families regardless of party affiliation of the parents.
Lidia Ciołkosz was a director of summer camps and day camps, that provided enjoyable holidays for children from the Upper Silesia and Małopolska regions, typically in better conditions than at home. Other sites of educational activity were libraries and worker houses. The system created by Lidia Ciołkosz resembled modern culture centers and public libraries.
No place in the army
At the outbreak of war in 1939, Lidia Ciołkosz belongs to the PPS leadership. In summer, she runs a camp of the Workers Association of Children Friends. When mobilization was proclaimed, her husband, Adam Ciołkosz – a Polish Army reservist – was not accepted due to his court sentences for political crimes. The outbreak of war imposed on Lidia Ciołkosz and her husband a choice: to stay in the country or to leave?
The majority of PPS leaders – Kazimierz Pużak, Tomasz Arciszewski and Mieczysław Niedziałkowski – remained with the nation. Pużak would remain the head of the underground parliament. After the war he would be sentenced by the Soviet Authorities in the Trial of the Sixteen, amongst other leaders of the Polish Underground State, then would come back to Poland, only to perish in the Rawicz prison. Arciszewski, at the end of the war, would go to Great Britain and become prime minister of the government-in-exile. Niedziałkowski would be shot by the Germans. Also Norbert Barlicki and Stanisław Dubois, had perished. At the beginning of the war, many PPS activists went east. Among them were the Ciołoszs, who, however, quickly fled from Soviet Lviv.
Lidia and her son flee the USSR by the Baltic countries. They go from Sweden to France, where they meet with Adam. After the capitulation of the French, they flee together to Great Britain. In London, Adam Ciołkosz enters the National Council – the parliament of the Polish government in exile.The Ciołkoszs brought to London not only a message from the Polish socialists, but also from representatives of Ukrainian and Belarusian factions.
Message from the minorities
"While still in Poland, my husband communicated with the president of the Ukrainian contingent in the Polish parliament, Wasyl Mudry, and Belarusian leader Fabian Jeremicz, who agreed to join the parliamentary representation, which was expected to form in Paris. Just after his arrival in France, Adam brought up the issue of bringing them from Poland. He explained to Sikorski [head of the government-in-exile] that we'd probably never be back in the eastern lands but we need to defend them to the end. Best would be to defend them together with the Ukrainians and Belarusians than by ourselves alone Nevertheless, Sikorski didn't think much of this issue and didn't decide to bring them."
Polish emigrants including Lidia Ciołkosz faced a handful of difficult dilemmas in 1945. Return or remain? Rebuild Poland ruined by occupiers? Fall into clutches of henchman of the new system? Find a new place within it and feel like a co-founder of the new communist Poland? In 1945 nothing seemed clear and certain. For a Polish socialist, the situation was even more complicated. The existence of an exiled socialist without Polish workers seemed an untenable idea in view of the party’s heritage. Nevertheless, many decided to remain in exile.
PPS during World War II
The essential form of PPS activity during the Second World War was the underground resistance in Poland. An illegal newspaper Robotnik [Worker] was printed there. The Polish Socialist Party adopted the cryptonym “Wolność-Równość-Niepodległość” [Freedom-Equality-Independence]. Kazimierz Pużak was at its head. The London PPS branch was only a representative of the organization existing in in Poland – this is at least how Adam Ciołkosz, a plenipotentiary of PPS underground authorities in London, saw it.
One of the leading activists of PPS in exile was Herman Lieberman, former president of the Regional Workers’ Committee in Przemyśl and a prisoner at Brest. Despite his conflicts with the Ciołkoszs, they saw him as a figure similar to Ignacy Daszyński and Bolesław Limanowski. Lieberman was the first PPS activist decorated with the Order of the White Eagle.
The last meeting
Lidia Ciołkosz recalls: "The Socialist International recognized the “licensed” PPS from the People’s Republic of Poland, and put us aside. At that time, in 1946, Cyrankiewicz, Hochfeld and probably Grosfeld came here. Cyrankiewicz visited us with his brother, who was a non-com in the Carpathian Brigade and remained in exile. When I opened the door, he cried, me too. My husband had a long conversation with him. Cyrankiewicz tried to persuade him that ”licensed” PPS should run in elections together with PSL [Polish People’s Party] and not with the PPR [Polish Workers’ Party]. He didn’t convince him. It was our last meeting. Later, when Cyrankiewicz became prime minister, it was impossible to maintain any relationship."
"Adam and I didn’t think about returning"
"Adam and I didn’t think about returning [to Poland]. We were also against the return of Stanisław Mikołajczyk [prime minister of the government in exile]. We had a beef with those who were returning to take governmental or administrative posts or to act in factions created under communist control. Their return justified the betrayal of the Allies. Instead, we were aware of the fact that factions in Poland were in completely different situation. We knew that society would have to adapt to Yalta decisions and at least try to act according to the new laws".
Not everyone chose the same path as Józef Cyrankiewicz. Kazimierz Pużak, the prewar PPS leader and the president of the Council of National Identity, perished in a communist prison in Rawicz. Lidia Ciołkosz recalls: "The arrest and trial of Pużak was an intense experience for us. We felt as if the closest person had perished."
Lidia Ciołkosz - historian and editor
Despite being overloaded by earning money (mostly as a book editor) and by political activity, Lidia Ciołkosz found time for her own journalistic and academic writing.The opus magnum of the Ciołkosz couple – Outline of the History of Polish Socialism – remained unfinished. The major work completed by Lidia Ciołkosz was Polish Journalism in Exile, 1940–1960.Ciołkosz was also an editor for Aleksander Wat, Stanisław Kościałkowski and other authors. She lectured in many exile centers; however, she wasn’t recognized as an academic by many. The Ciołkoszs should be credited with consolidating in our memory the Polish independent and socialist.
The son of Lidia and Adam Ciołkosz, Andrzej, after graduating from Oxford University, began working as translator and essayist. He translated A World Apart by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, a friend of the family since the war years. Andrzej Ciołkosz committed suicide in 1952.
Slurring the emigration
The Polish exile community in Great Britain was the largest diaspora of a politic nature in the Polish nation's history. According to propaganda from the People's Republic (PRL), the life of Poles in exile meant moral degradation and unprecedented luxury. The reality was very different.
Joking about poverty
Lidia Ciołkosz shared the difficult fate of Poles in exile from the very beginning. Along with her husband, she made a living doing many odd jobs. Many Poles worked in factories on night shifts. There was a joke that they call each other by "Colonel, sir", "Major, sir." High-ranking officers worked in hotels either polishing silver, or as elevator boys.
Political activity in exile
Lidia Ciołkosz is active in the Polish Socialist Party in exile, working in collaboration with such institutions as Radio Free Europe, the Literary Institute in Paris, the Polish Institute and the Sikorski Museum. The Polish Socialist Party in exile was one among many political parties. Poles from different countries, workers and intelligentsia belonged to it. It had a widespread support among Polish political émigrés and in the diaspora in the U.S. and France.
Conflict with president August Zaleski
After August Zaleski took presidential office in 1947, political turmoil started. It was said that Zaleski broke "the Paris agreement" from 1939, that promised the cooperation between the president and the prime minister going beyond the requirements of the April constitution. PPS did not oppose the increase of presidential power, which resulted in the resignation of Arciszewski's government. Lidia Ciołkosz's stance, however, differed from her party's line. Until the 70's she participated in forming political structures independent from president Zaleski.
Removed from PPS
In 1960, as a result of a political conflict within the PPS, Ciołkosz and her husband were removed from the party. The schism between the Ciołkoszs and the PPS would last for 20 years. Only at the funeral of Adam would the party flag reappear.
The reason of conflict
The reason has been a difference in attitudes towards changes in the PRL in 1956, after Władysław Gomułka was selected as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the PZPR [Polish United Worker’s Party]. In contrast to many party comrades, the Ciołkoszs weren’t inclined to trust him.
In service for Poland
Lidia Ciołkosz recalls: "We went [to the U.S.] invited by the Association of Polish Socialists, with whom Adam had collaborated closely since the war. We received an invitation from the Association of Polish Socialists and the Congress of Canadian Polonia. But it was primarily a political trip, because Adam couldn’t do things another way. He had many meetings, conversations, speeches, press conferences, university lectures, press and radio interviews, and even a TV interview by the newly founded TV station."
One of the important tasks of Adam and Lidia Ciołkosz was to convince the Western public opinion to continue their support for the Polish pursuit of independence. As they had tried to bring attention to Poland from the British Labor Party during the war, they tried the same in the Socialist International.
Worker's Defense Committee (KOR)
In contrast to the opinion of Stefan Kisielewski, who considered the working class to be dependent on the regime, Lidia Ciołkosz believed that the impulse to abolish the dictatorship would come precisely from this class.The Ciołkoszs tried to aid workers of the People’s Republic of Poland from the very beginning. After June 1976, it was finally possible to constitute the Worker’s Defense Committee [KOR]. The committee included also the socialists.
Members of Worker's Defence Committee speak about its inception
"The creation of Worker’s Defense Committee [KOR] was an intense experience for us. There were several personal friends among the first 14 signatories of the founding declaration of KOR on 23 September 1976. The people from PPS quickly established contact with Adam."
Lidia Ciołkosz was in contact also with the oppositionists from "Solidarity". Many of them visited her in London: "Anna Walentynowicz came to me, introduced by Janusz Onyszkiewicz, and talking to her impressed me very much, perhaps because she resembled pre-war PPS activists from the factories. Joanna and Andrzej Gwiazda came to me, as well as Leszek Moczulski with his wife, Zofia and Zbigniew Romaszewski, Czesław Bielecki, Kornel Morawiecki, Władysław Frasyniuk, Waldemar Kuczyński, prof. Jan Kielanowski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Antoni Macierewicz, Piotr Naimski, Witold Lis Olszewski. [...] They were, therefore, people with different political and ideologic views, often contradictory to mine. [...] But owing th them, thanks to them, Poland has been nearer to me."
Jan Józef Lipski
Activist in the anticommunist opposition, co-founder of KOR. In the 1980s, Lipski was a founder of the underground PPS, which later united with the exiled PPS. Friend of Lidia Ciołkosz. In the Solidarity era, Ciołkosz was also involved in aiding both Poland and the wave of émigrés coming to London.
"For all those years, we dreamt about returning to Poland"
"For all those years, we dreamt about returning to Poland. But it came so late, that only very few of us, elderly people, can return for good. So many people didn’t make it, and they missed Poland so terribly. I am lucky that Poland has regained freedom, that I may go there from time to time. If I only had the necessary strength!"
Lidia Ciołkosz visited Poland in October 1990. She met then not only with her friends and with the leader of the PPS, Senator Jan Józef Lipski, but also with the prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki. At the PPS rally, she was chosen a lifelong honorary president of the PPS.
The 25th Congress of the Polish Socialist Party. Lidia Ciołkosz and Jan Józef Lipski by Adam UrbanekOriginal Source: PAP
"I couldn't stay away from my past"
"I need to say that I saw very little. I was there
only for a few days. I came with a political purpose and was busy
mainly with conferences, I talked with many people, gave several
longer and a few shorter interviews for press and radio, I visited a
couple of my lifelong friends. I took part, emotionally, in the
congress of the PPS. Despite my deep contentment about the
unification of the PPS and political achievements, I couldn’t stay
away from the past, from my memories about my close friends from
previous congresses. I felt the absence of Adam painfully, even
though old PPS friends surrounded me with great cordiality and
feeling, and we recalled old friends together.
Honorary president of PPS
"New ones, usually younger, looked at me with respect and with close
camaraderie, and bestowed on me far too many honors. By a special
resolution, I was chosen a lifelong honorary president of the party,
with the right to participate in sessions of the General Council with a
casting vote. The atmosphere of the congress, mainly because of the
presidency of Jan Józef Lipski, was such that I left Warsaw with
A witness to history
Ciołkosz strongly criticized later events in Poland, including the coalition of PPS with the Democratic Left Alliance [SLD]. As a witness to history, Ciołkoszowa appeared in documentary movies. She never returned to Poland. She died in London in June 2002, two weeks before her 100th birthday.
Author: Łukasz Jasina
Edition: Paweł Kozioł, Dorota Szkodzińska
Translation: Alan Lockwood, Klementyna Suchanow
We would like express our gratitude to professor Andrzej Friszke for reviewing this exhibition.
We would like to thank Jan Chodakowski, professor Andrzej Friszke and Wanda Kościa for making available the photos from their collections.
We would like to thank Andrea Benedetto Herling for kindly allowing us to use his photographs.
Quotations’ source: „Spojrzenie wstecz”, interview with Lidia Ciołkosz by Andrzej Friszke, Editions du Dialogue, Paris, 1995.