Above: Michael Sadykiewicz speaking at a Communist Party meeting in Warsaw in mid-1956. Colonel Wojciech Jaruzelski sits on the right-hand side of Sadykiewicz.
The papers of one of the most distinguished experts on Warsaw Pact affairs of the 1970s and 1980s have been added to the Hoover Archives. The donor, Colonel Michael Sadykiewicz, author of several books, dozens of research papers, and reports, died in Warsaw late last year at the age of ninety-two. His life and work were shaped by the turbulent history of East Central Europe during the past century.
Michał, or Michael, was born in 1924 into a Polish-Jewish family in the large industrial city of Łódź. He received his primary and most of his secondary education in his home town. When Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia attacked Poland in September 1939, the Sadykiewicz family took refuge in Eastern Poland, which was soon occupied by the Soviets. They then moved further east to the Russian city of Tambov, southeast of Moscow. Here Michael completed his secondary education in 1941, about the time that Germany attacked its erstwhile Soviet ally. The seventeen-year-old Michael volunteered for the Red Army. When two years later Polish units were organized under Soviet command, he was transferred to one of them and during the next two years fought along the battle route from Moscow to Berlin. Immediately after the war, Sadykiewicz was involved in campaigns against the Polish and Ukrainian anticommunist underground. He then joined the Communist Party, was awarded several medals, and was sent to an officer training school. By 1950, at the age of twenty-six, he was a colonel in command of an infantry division. In 1954, Colonel Sadykiewicz completed a course of studies at the General Staff Academy in Warsaw, Communist Poland’s highest military school, and put in charge of the General Staff’s continuing education programs for officers. There seemed to be no impediments on a path to a brilliant military career.
Problems began in 1957 in Moscow, when Sadykiewicz was attending the Marshal Voroshilov General Staff Academy, Soviet Union’s top military college. At one of the lectures by a marshal of the Soviet Union, who was considered the highest authority on Western military forces, Sadykiewicz asked what exactly were the differences between Soviet and Western armies. The lecturer’s response was confused and incompetent, causing him some embarrassment; Michael was immediately suspected of being disrespectful and insubordinate. Another strike against him was the fact, well known to both Polish and Soviet counterintelligence, that Michael’s sister and her family had applied for immigration to Israel. The final straw was more prosaic. While Michael was in Moscow, his wife had a baby in Warsaw and he wanted to send her a present. With much effort and expense, he was able to buy some oranges in Moscow. He went to the train station, entered the next train leaving for Berlin, and asked one of the travelers if he could give the oranges to someone who would meet him when the train stopped in Warsaw. The person who agreed to do this turned out to be the military attaché of the Swiss embassy. Since the diplomat was trailed by KGB agents, Michael was immediately identified as a suspect, declared persona non grata, and ordered to leave the USSR within twenty-four hours.
Back in Warsaw, Sadykiewicz was allowed to resume his work in the General Staff but at a position of less responsibility and lower salary. In 1963, his mother-in-law was arrested while leaving on legal private trip to Belgium. Her apartment and that of Sadykiewicz as well as those of more distant relatives were searched repeatedly. Nothing suspicious was ever found. Finally, after the June 1967 Six-Day War, Sadykiewicz was accused of pro-Israeli sympathies, removed from the Communist Party, and dismissed from the army. Michael’s wife, Łucja, a legal scholar in the International Affairs Institute, also lost her job and was unable to find other employment. For the next four years the family subsisted on income from occasional translations into Polish from French and English. After their many applications to leave Poland were turned down, in 1971 permission finally came for immigration to Israel on the condition that they renounce their Polish citizenship. The final indignity came a few months later, when the Ministry of Defense, headed by Sadykiewicz’s old friend, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, downgraded the colonel to the rank of private.
Émigré life was initially difficult for the Sadykiewicz family. Alhough Israel granted them citizenship, finding work even vaguely commensurate with Michael’s qualifications was difficult. The two job opportunities the authorities offered were as inspector of telephones for the post office or as a prison guard. The family again had to depend for support on translating work. More opportunities opened in the late 1970s, as the economic and political situation in Eastern Europe began to change and attract more international attention. Michael’s Polish and Soviet Bloc military expertise was suddenly in demand. He received an invitation by the Rand Corporation to spend a year in Santa Monica, and the relationship continued throughout the 1980s. Later CBS European Bureau and Radio Free Europe requested commentaries. Finally, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst’s Soviet Studies Centre offered Michael a position as a research fellow. The Sadykiewicz family settled in London and eventually received British citizenship.
Nonetheless, Poland was the home country for both Michael and Łucja. They wanted to return to Warsaw. In 1990, Michael contacted General Wojciech Jaruzelski, at that time the transitional president of Poland, after the Communists lost to Solidarity-led opposition in the partially free elections of 1989. Jaruzelski was probably more eager to repair his image than to right the wrongs in which he had actively participated. Michael’s Polish citizenship and military rank were restored. Communist Party membership was no longer an issue, since the party collapsed and dissolved itself a few months earlier (Sadykiewicz would not have been interested in any case). The family was assigned an apartment in a military housing development, and Michael was given a pension. Michael accepted these gestures graciously, and the two remained on good terms until General Jaruzelski’s death in 2014.
The present Polish government is entertaining the notion of passing a condemnation of General Jaruzelski and his legacy by posthumously depriving him of his military rank and downgrading him to a private. Michael Sadykiewicz would have probably enjoyed the irony of the situation but would not have supported the initiative.
Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford.edu