AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Father Franciszek Blachnicki, a Polish priest who helped lead the resistance movement against Soviet oppression, was poisoned by the communist secret police in 1987, according to the results of an investigation from Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance released late last month. Until now, details surrounding Blachnicki’s mysterious death were uncertain, but the new revelations leave little doubt about the Soviet regime’s direct involvement in his death.
Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said that the investigation established that Fr. Blachnicki was yet another victim of the communist police state. “He was considered a threat to the communist system because his activity influenced thousands of young people,” Ziobro said.
Deputy Prosecutor General Andrzej Pozorski added that the investigation has “established beyond any doubt that Father Blachnicki died on 27 February 1987 as a result of homicide by administering a deadly toxic substance.”
Fr. Blachnicki, whom Pope John Paul II called “a prophet of our times,” played a pivotal role in leading the Polish people’s spiritual and cultural rejection of communist ideology. He was also influential in the Solidarity movement, a grassroots organization of workers who opposed Soviet oppression.
Blachnicki was so effective, in fact, that the security agencies of the Warsaw Pact launched a secret operation against him to discredit and slander him – and ultimately had him killed.
The life of this humble priest epitomizes both Christian virtue and the unbreakable spirit of resistance that characterized the Polish people throughout a troubled 20th century.
As a teenager in 1939, Blachnicki participated in a movement to resist the invading Nazi German forces at the start of World War II. For his involvement in this campaign, the Gestapo imprisoned him in Auschwitz. While there, he occupied the same prison bloc that would later be occupied by Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the famous Catholic priest who sacrificed his life to save another prisoner.
As punishment for resisting the Nazis, Blachnicki was sentenced to be guillotined in March 1942. A few months later, in June, he converted to Catholicism from his cell, full expecting to be murdered.
But in August 1942, his death penalty was commuted to 10 years of heavy imprisonment, to start upon the end of the war. That would never happen, as U.S. forces liberated his prison camp in 1945.
Following the war, Blachnicki joined the priesthood and soon became involved in the resistance against the communist regime in Poland. He established two major pastoral initiatives, the Light-Life movement and the Crusade of Temperance.
Light-Life, sometimes called the Oasis Movement or the Crusade for the Liberation of Man, was a Catholic renewal movement that helped inspire many Polish people to resist the communist regime. It began in the early 1950s as a series of retreats for Christians to re-affirm their traditional beliefs and understandings, with an emphasis on participation in the Mass, prayer, and reading the Bible.
This movement stood in direct defiance of the Soviet vision of creating a “new socialist man” who despised religion and was committed to communist atheist virtues.
Pope John Paul II himself was heavily involved with the Light-Life movement while he was a Church leader in Poland, writing in his book Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, “I defended it before the communist authorities, I supported it financially, and obviously, I took part in its activities.”
The Light-Life movement helped give rise to the Crusade of Temperance, an anti-alcohol and anti-smoking campaign. Blachnicki taught that abstinence could be offered to God as expiation for those addicted to alcohol.
Both of these movements put Blachnicki in direct conflict with the Soviet authorities. The police repeatedly raided his home and offices, and at one point jailed him in the same cell where he was first set to be executed. A communist court sentenced him to 13 months of suspended imprisonment, even though the judge admitted in his deliberation that Blachnicki’s actions were “generous and beneficial for society.”
The regime also engaged in a relentless campaign to discredit Blachnicki publicly – so much so that the Institute of National Remembrance deemed him “the most persecuted priest by the Warsaw Pact.”
State propaganda routinely smeared him, and disinformation campaigns were launched to try and turn fellow Church leaders against him. The Soviets called him a “saboteur in a cassock” and a “theologian of national treason.”
In one instance, the secret police created a fake magazine called “The Self-Defense of Faith” that they sent to prominent bishops and priests. The publication regularly portrayed Blachnicki as a heretic and spread lies about his teachings.
In another case, during a particularly harsh winter, the Communist Party banned coal sales to a mountainous village where Blachnicki was hosting a Light-Life retreat. In response, Blachnicki pleaded with his supporters to mail coal in packages. The discouraged regime acknowledged its defeat when coal parcels destined for the center jammed Poland’s postal services.
Eventually, Blachnicki was forced out of Poland following the imposition of martial law. He settled in Carlsberg, West Germany, but continued to be a strong voice of opposition to the communist regime in Poland.
In 1982, Blachnicki published “A Manifesto For Liberation of the Nations in Central and Eastern Europe,” wherein he argued that the captive nations could dismantle the Soviet bloc by concerted focus on achieving the common goal of liberty. The priest predicted that a national and religious-moral awakening would prepare a new generation of politicians of uprightness and decency, triggering significant worldwide political changes.
Then, in 1987, Blachnicki died suddenly. His death was originally ruled an embolism, and it was not until the early 2000s that Polish authorities ordered his body exhumed for further investigation. The findings announced last month confirmed what had been suspected for years, that the communist secret police murdered him for his defiance of their authority.
Yet despite having him killed, the communist regime failed to defeat this remarkable priest. In many ways, killing him was their ultimate admission of defeat – no matter their scare tactics and threats, they could not silence this champion of piety and freedom.
Today, Fr. Blachnicki’s story is a reminder of the ability of faith and conviction to move a nation and indeed the world toward a better future – no matter what the cost. While the trend in the West recently has been to secularize the history of the Cold War and the defeat of the Soviet Union, the spiritual life of leaders like Fr. Blachnicki will always be remembered as the decisive factor in the triumph over Soviet communism.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.