I: Dr. C.

Police Central, Warsaw, Mostowski Castle 


The Prisoner's Diary. March - August 1968

I requested my files from the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, Poland for a very special reason. I started flying gliders again here in US, my teenage dream which I pursued for the first time at the age of 16 – 18, and actually made quite good hours of total time spend in air as seen through my Pilot book. My Pilot book was confiscated when I was leaving Poland in December 1968 on the grounds of security (!). Starting flying recently reminded me about my flying time in Poland, and being convinced the book must exist, I asked the Polish institution to find it in its collection. They did find it after prolonged search but to get it I had to request my whole file, originally made by communist secret service. It contained, to my surprise, all basic documents defining me as an individual: co-ed scout ID I received in 1959, my Pilot book from 1964, full collection of interrogation prison reports, and, surprisingly the Prison Diary I wrote in prison but whose existence completely slipped my mind for 45 years. The Fig.1 presents the photo of the full collection of documents I received.

The Prisoner Diary starts with the Greek philosophy, of course. Even in ex-Stalinist prison, history of philosophy by Fuller was the easiest book to get from prison's library. I look now at the names of ancient philosophers in the opening pages of the diary and I see Zeno, of course, and his mentor Parmenides. That's Vrunda and me. The only paradox of Zeno noted there was stadium,, in my post prison life already here, in the Bronx, I became intimately connected to the other one, Achilles and Tortoise. I even had one of the few Aha!moments, which turned out to be incorrect. I thought I solved the paradox but checking it several years later, I found an error in my arguments. Clarification of that paradox took me back to Zeno's teacher, Parmenides, for whom the only reality was the whole, the indivisible, or the infinitesimal with a finite length. I worked a lot with this indivisible. It provided twice the initial tools to calculate the area under the curves in the history of mathematics, and twice it was abandoned because of conceptual difficulties with the idea. However, the two people who twice introduced it were great, Archimedes and Cavalieri, separated from each other by 18 hundred years. The beauty of Archimedes proof that 4/3 is the area under a piece of parabola is exquisite! Sometimes, when one works with a mathematical concept created by an old master, one gets so deeply and intimately into the concept, that one becomes a friend of its creator, one starts to understand nuances and subtleties present in the thinking, one starts understanding the mind of the creator who lived 22 hundred years ago. We are one then, we are partners in thinking, intimate partners in thinking. Thinking together is like playing duets together, and when it goes well, when each sound produced by one player corresponds precisely to the sounds of the second player, when the duet really goes, that's how one can experience thinking together and the mutual process of understanding, the concept becomes the lift that carries both interlocutors up till they soar together in the relevant conceptual space. I had two such partners of thinking together in that future: Aage, my PhD adviser and Vrunda who asked me to be her guru.

I can almost recall the moment I am sitting by the table under the cell's window reading the paradoxes in the book, not understanding anything about them, yet absolutely decided "to cover" them during my prison re-education.
Democritus, his atom, the indivisible, the One of Parmenides...I have the following fragment:
Soul is composed out of atoms. The particles of soul are similar to the particles of fire, maybe even they are identical. When they bond themselves into networks with many other atoms they become alive and acquire consciousness. Consciousness is vibrations and dancing of atoms-souls
Interesting, I have been an atheist all my life yet at the same time my interest in the nature of the soul has been quite persistent. My own first definition of the soul was as the underlying structure of individual's life. Now I know there is something more than that. But for the incarcerated 22 years old that was just an interesting paragraph worth being put into the diary. There was one other moment when I applied the physical notions such as atom to human story, human events. There was a custom perpetuated in the prison that after some time of being in one cell where the small community was meanwhile created, they would suddenly break it, that is they would break that community of the cell and shuffle each of us (or some of us) to a different one. I was shifted two times this way and each time it was somewhat perturbing experience; as if the external field was applied to the cell's "chamber" as a result of which, each of us, "the particle" has been going through a perturbed and violent motion ending in a different cell, that is in a different human environment to which one needed to adapt oneself anew.

Now of course, with the construction of the first "atom of spirit of Polish society" in the book Entering the Second Stage of the World Revolution, the Democritus' ideas from 2500 years ago acquire new, modern meaning. Isn't it interesting how a simple idea, ultimately a natural response to, and a consequence of the clear cut question: does the subdividing of matter into smaller parts ever ends or does it continue indefinitely, reappears and develops throughout centuries as well as throughout the decades of my own life.
When they bond themselves into networks with many other atoms they become alive and acquire consciousness. How similar it is to the description of neurons' behavior in the brain, when awareness develops!

Then suddenly Pascal appears in my prison notes. Why Pascal? After the Democritus? And soon after comes Socrates with his "know thyself" – a totally different approach, the approach that comes from inner experience rather than from the experience of sense as Pascal would have said it. So why Pascal finds itself in the middle of classical Greek philosophy?
I know how it happened. To get the books, we had to give back those we had and order the new ones. One could order the same book, but the probability of getting it next in a sequence was rather low. So, I didn't get the Fuller's history of philosophy that time, instead I got Pascal.
Being an atheist, I never read the New Testament; I must say I have felt a bit "politically incorrect" looking at the standard biblical texts. And then I saw Pascal's take on the Christ's story in the book list of prison's library. So his New Testament seemed a bit less religious than the standard texts and therefore I could look at it. And then a very strange, unexpected event took place. I was the only one in the cell – my cell mates went to their respective interrogations and I took Pascal's new testament to read. I got lost in it and arrived at the final scene almost in a trance. And the last words of Christ on the cross "Why did you forget me, father?" sent me spinning because they connected my feelings about my own father who died unexpectedly 4 years before, just as I was entering University. I never cried after my father till that moment when suddenly my eyes became two fontanels of tears. Thank God, as my mother would have said it, I was alone in the cell; I could let myself to express the same pain, I thought, that Christ must have felt, of losing the father. So it was Pascal who introduced me to Christ. And the common ground between Christ and myself was losing the father at the critical moment of life.

"To be really able to discern that what is really good, from false goodness, one needs to be wise." Aby jednak odroznic to co prawdziwie dobre, od dobra falszywego, trzeba byc madrym.
Indeed. And each such discernment makes us wiser. Accordingly to Arthur Koestler abstraction and discernment are one of the three ways of thinking which lead to progress in understanding. I always wanted to be wise, first unconsciously, later, after a girlfriend told me her image of myself in the future – that was good 35 years ago – as a wise dude, I stayed with that image...and prediction. Of course wise men, never feels wise enough, so one pursues wisdom till the end of one's days, I guess...However, while I like feeling wise (as opposed to feeling a wise ass) I don't like running after wisdom per se. Wisdom for wisdom sake is not my cup of tea. Rather, I like wisdom as a byproduct of life, of work, of love. I don't know yet exactly why, but this "productive" attitude to wisdom associates in my mind with my father executive decision at home in Poland concerning acquisition of books. As a down to ground communist, shoemaker by profession he made a ruling that the only books acquired could be dictionaries, encyclopedia guides; in general those books that could be useful for work, that have productive value. Fiction, as pure entertainment was not to be bought but simply borrowed from the library. So I don't buy fiction till now, except Sherlock Holmes of Conan Doyle, Doctor Doolittle and Vinnetou of Karl May.
That's why the only serious fiction I read actually in prison but about that later.

After Pascal in my Prison Diary comes Socrates together with Plato, 12 pages of both of them together. What's interesting, however, is that Socrates is separated from Plato by one interesting line:
Pravda vitezi – J.Hus
I do not remember where it came from; this was the time of Praque Spring and the meaning of Pravda Vitezi – Truth will win, definitely corresponded to our convictions at the time. However, recently the person of Jan Hus acquired new significance for me. It turned out that Zawisza Czarny, Polish knight of 15 century, whose name is known to every harcerz through the 2nd scout commandment: You can rely on the word of Polish scout the way you could rely on the word of Zawisza Czarny, actually travelled to Constance to defend Jan Hus from the Church. Very impressive. For us, Slavs, to be able to rely on one's word is in high regard.
Plato and Socrates... for long time I could not in reality distinguish between the two. It didn't matter though. It must have been the Spring of 1967 when as the 3rd year physics students we had philosophy seminar and for some reasons we were going through Kant's ideas. Ultimately the reason for this, somewhat torturous endeavor of getting into thoroughly anti-intuitive Kant's "thing in itself" was his research question: how come science is possible? It was a totally alien question to me at the time. As always in such situation I protested after spending a weekend trying to penetrate into that thing in itself and suggested to the group a small break from Kant's seriousness, and to apply our penetration efforts to get into love of Plato's Symposium. I preferred love to the "thing in itself"; it seemed more immediate and at the age of 21 most definitely out there in the open, without hiding. So, I conducted this seminar what forced me for the first time in my life to finish a philosophical text till the very end. It was a good text to finish. I found there the principle, which stayed with me till now: love as the tool of cognition, the instrument with the help of which I can open the doors of his, Plato's cave. Not a rational or critical thinking, not generalization nor abstraction but spontaneous love, learning by love, thinking about love, searching for love, enjoying love, becoming wise through love. I used Symposium several with my girlfriends as a "medium" of communication. The first time, still in Poland before the first love making with a girlfriend, I pulled the quest for immortality from Plato as the philosophical background for physical desire that both of us felt. It worked. An adequate quote from my diary is at this moment (p.19):

w objeciach tego absolutnego piekna zaspokajamy jednoczesnie nasza tesknote za niesmiertelnoscia
We satisfy our yearning after immortality in the embrace of this absolute beauty.

The second time, it was in New York City, in my Elizabeth Street apartment together with my beautiful Italian girlfriend. Trying to find the common language between us I read to her that little piece from Symposium when Deotyma, the mentor of Socrates in matters of love makes the first generalization from the real beauty recognized mutually by lovers, man and a woman, towards Plato's idea of beauty already outside of the cave. She stopped me saying: don't go there yet, it's not so important. What is important is to inquire and to investigate that moment of recognition itself, that relationship between man and a woman, that real beauty. That's what for me is the most interesting, said my beautiful Italian girlfriend, most probably proclaiming the fundamental difference between us males, and them females, the difference between ours quasi linear process of generalization and theirs multidimensionality of love relationships between lovers. Both thinking processes are needed, and is through their "lovely" synthesis that we become creators, both materially and spiritually.
Love is the tool of cognition. I remember my trip to Syracuse in Sicily, also a trip of love, when I went to the Archimedes' tomb. At the time I wasn't into Archimedes, so this tomb was for me just the entry into Greek past, where of course Plato held the sway. It was there where, while being completely stoned, I grasped finally the meaning of love as the instrument of cognition. Of course it isn't the rational tool but the irrational one. So how does one learn from irrational experience? Through the common patterns that unconsciously underline irrational experiences one can arrive, via creative Aha! moments, at the new, meaningful vision of love and truth. Ultimately, it's exactly what's written and underlined in my diary, p.21: Cognition, like love emerges from the state of unimaginable ecstasy. Kundelini, the snake. Kundelinin, the snake had shown its head also in that cell, and that's in the next chapter

The third girlfriend within my Platonic experiences was accompanying me during our daily morning car rides from Peekskill, where we lived, to New York City, where we studied. As I drove, she was reading Plato's dialogues aloud as a way to spend mornings together and not to fall asleep while driving. Then I understood finally Plato's method and, of course started having problems with it. His analogies, the main tool of his method seemed often unjustified. Analogic and metaphorical thinking was foreign to me at the time. Those were early seventies, and surprisingly enough I was again enrolled into Kant's seminar at the Graduate Center of CUNY. Unfortunately there was no other philosophy seminar that semester. And again Plato was my respite from "things in themselves"; together with fairy tales, Andrew Lang multicolored collection of fairy tales from around the world. The time of the seminar was "special in itself". I lost my scholarship at the university after (1) I flanked the classifying exam, the necessary condition –it seemed to stay at the university, (2) I found a strange rule in the university that in lieu of the qualifying exam, one can submit a research paper and (3) I chose the second option instead of changing the school as my colleagues did it; I stopped believing then that passing or not passing such an exam adequately represents my capacity as a researcher. However, that decision of mine could not have been supported by university money. Hence, to support myself I became a New York City taxi driver, starting a separate and exciting component of my life. I must say in appreciation of the university that they kept their side of the bargain and after I wrote that paper, I received full scholarship back.
But the essential doubt, do we discover ideas or do we construct them, that is to say, the duality between Platonist and constructive thinking stayed with me till present. First time, in the recent past, that is good 10,15 years ago, a colleague/mentor from who created the theory of Piaget based conceptual development in mathematics APOS (Action, Process, Object, Schema) wrote a paper in which he wanted to give justice to both points of view, uggesting that this duality reflects two different states of the working scientist. When the scientist does it, s/he is in the process of knowing, s/he is convinced s/he is discovering a new truth so that s/he is the Platonist. However when s/he is reflecting and consciously working on the concept, then s/he is a constructivist, s/he constructs the concept. Isn't it the whole duality then just a reflection of Koestler's two ways of thinking, the progress of understanding through empirical induction, abstraction and discernment and bisociation, and the exercise of understanding, that is application of understanding to new phenomena.. I like this image and idea of unity of Platonistic and constructive thinking within the Aha moment. Both ways of thinking are simply parts of the whole event, the whole thing. What event? Being. In words of Nisargadatta, I am that by which I know that I am. Being and knowing is one.

Spring 1968, March 8, 1968, the generation of the sixties.

The beginning of student uprising in Poland took place on March 8, 1968 in the form of the student meeting/demonstration against communist censorship, which enforced cancellation of the play Elders written by Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz of 19 century. The play Elders focuses on the issues of national liberation of Poland at the time divided and occupied by three Polish neighbors, Austria, Prussia and Russia. The play has been a nationally mandated component of the Polish literature courses in high schools and therefore close to the heart of university students. The peaceful demonstration took place inside the campus of Warsaw University; it was surrounded and attacked by the police forces reinforced by groups of workers from different factories in Warsaw. The presence of workers amongst the police forces was very significant and it left equally significant impact on future developments. Aftermath that confrontation, ad hoc student strike committees were organized, which directed student revolt during the next 3 weeks. At the same time police arrested organizers of the demonstration and the media began the anti-Semitic campaign by focusing on Jewish ethnic identity of radical students.
My own participation in the event was intense yet for many days below the radar of the police. My self-defined task was to establish contact with workers in Warsaw factories and to explain the reasons for our uprising as well as the organization of the student "occupy University" two-day strike. However, after the second wave of arrests which wiped out most of the members of the student Ad Hock committee, including the rep from Mathematics-Physics department I was impelled to assume more central role at the next composition of that committee. It's interesting to note that the Mat-Fiz department was, together with economy and sociology students, the most radical in its decisions to continue the struggle. The "red line" was announced by the decision of the University authorities in the last week of March forbidding explicitly further students meetings and demonstrations. The Ad Hoc committee decided to disregard the red line and continue with the next scheduled meeting/demonstration at the university main hall on March 27. 1968. At that moment my name appeared in the reports of 5 undercover agents and their superiors I found in the received files of the secret police. The undercover agent "Babel" reports that the meeting was led by "a student named B., average height, dressed in lila shirt, crew cut, in rectangular glasses. He read the call to all academic centers in Poland to defend expelled professors and arrested students." The inspector of the III police department known for its political focus reported that during the illegal student meeting the declaration of principles of the student movement was read by a well built, with dark hair student of Mat-Fiz department dressed in dark sweater. His name was BC.
The difference in the descriptions of the two indicates the confusion of the authorities as to who was who at the meeting. That confusion was cleared by a different inspector's report of his conversation with the head of the Party Committee at the university. The information of the undercover agent "Wojtek" already is more precise in describing precisely who did what at the meeting. After the meeting I detected somewhat concerned attitude of my colleagues who immediately suggested to get out from the city. Two days later I found out that 14 students connected with that demonstration were expelled from the university, myself among them. Two days later at 5:00 am I heard the knock to the doors of my apartment. The doors were protected by the chain lock, which allowed only for a slight opening. I asked who is that? The wife of my superintendent responded, and at that moment one of the agents accompanying the super wife put his foot in the opening and forced himself and two others into the apartment, announcing the warrant for the apartment search. There were two of us in the apartment, my mother and myself. My father passed away four years earlier. I was very impressed by the behavior of my mother who, although earlier was very worried and concerned, yet during the search of the apartment she was very courageous and dignified. In fact, at some point, I was able to snatch an address notebook with the names of my friends and asked my mother to dispose of it secretly. She went to the toilet, tore apart the address book and flushed the toilet with it. After 5 hours search they took me to the central police station in Warsaw. Thus started the critical adventure of my life. I often thought during the later years about these moments trying to place it in the perspective of my life's pathways; a book by Robert Bly "Iron John" published in the eighties analyzing life pathways of men with the help of classical fairy tales was useful for me in this respect. Bly described such critical moments, during which life of men take dramatic turn as the "golden ball" moments announcing the beginning of the life's adventure for the particular individual. Following my "golden ball" indeed has taken me through the portal of Warsaw prison into far reaches of life on earth.
I remember being escorted to my first cell in the central Warsaw prison by a prison guard. Heavy metal doors with the little window called Judas window in the prison folklore opened for me and I walked in with all my belongings tumbled into a sack made out of a rough blanket into a small 4 people cell welcomed by three future cellmates, two of which connected with student rising. One of them, a colleague immediately recognized me and called my name out, in contradiction with the main prison principle of keeping all individual relationships secret. That's where writing the Prison Diary started for me.
I got an upper bed on the right hand side looking from the door. With me as the fourth cellmate the cell was full. The cell was simple; two bunk beds on both sides of the room, small window between them with metal, rusted bars, a small table below, so that one could fit sitting on both lower bunk beds. Behind the beds, towards the doors, there was an open toilet and on the opposite side, a sink with running water.
The size of the cell was slightly larger than a train couchette compartment and a bit longer to accommodate both toilet and sink. This was a relatively new prison pavilion built in the fifties during the Stalinist era; much, much better than others built still during the tsar's time, which I had the opportunity to experience later as a solitary cell punishment.
There were four of us, my colleague, a poet and son of a poet, let's call him X; a second guy a bit older than myself, late thirties probably, son of one of the leading communists at the time, let's call him Y. Most probably the arrest of the son was aimed at the father, one of the few remaining Jews at the communist leadership. Myself, C, was a son of a Jewish shoemaker who passed away 4 years ago. The fourth one was from outside of the student movement, a member of, as it has been called, a corruption case in agriculture. As I received my prison file, I found that he was a cell spy with alias "Roman".
They introduced me fast to the prison routine, its do's and don'ts. Standing by the window as well as obstructing the view from the Judas window of the door was punishable, so were the attempts to contact cellmates through the window. During the day each of us separately was called upstairs for interrogations, after the middle day meal, quite horrible, we had a half an hour of the walk in a small wooden enclosure 6m x 6m outside the pavilion. It had a circular path of cement blocks with the radius 5 m and we walked for half an hour, one after another without of course turning and talking while observed from the prison tower, one cell at a time.
Actually, the large report of the cell spy "Roman" with the date 4/5/68 hence just 4 days after I arrived to the cell describing my conversations in the cell, informs about my successful attempt to communicate with a friend through the window, what earned me the cancellation of daily 30 min walk for 3 days as a first stage punishment. My first official interrogation in the prison took place the next day 4/6/68, after the information from the secret report of spy "Roman" has provided, I guess, a necessary background to start drilling into my memory and integrity.
I was very surprised to find the reports of two cell spies among the documents in my file, although of course their presence was predictable. Yet at the same time, I am quite content that I didn't predict it then. To live with someone in close quarters whom you don't trust is close to impossible to me. I found myself in exactly that situation in the 3rd cell I occupied already after they had finished interrogating me a a suspect. There were no students, just two guys who all the time whispered to themselves and looked at me with suspicion. I felt very creepy there, and fortunately soon after I was released.
So, myself and two of my companions were talking very freely and, of course the content of our conversations, properly adjusted or rather "twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools" as Rudyard Kipling succinctly describes in his poem, A Man, found itself in the my files. Thus, naturally, the report of the spy Roman starts with information about my trip to Israel two years earlier in agreement with the general thrust of communist politics at the time to focus on Zionist connections and relationships. Consequently the report was the mixture of some of the true facts he heard in the cell with the spy's imagination. A comical, in its fabricated image, sample of his imagination ends the report with the following words: "The best example of the anti-state frame of mind of these people is the fact that when we got a newspaper on the 4/4/68 with the list of communists expelled from the party as well as from their jobs then X,Y and C were so furious, they stood together by the window and, in the form of the prayer asked God to make sure that the two main communist leaders collapse in any way possible". It's very probable in my opinion that the image came from the spy's own hatred of the government neatly packaged as the action of the rebellious students and faculty. Very smart. The reports of the spy lasted only till April 20, first 3 weeks of my incarceration.
The discovery of the cell spies and their reports about the conversations in the cell brought back in sharp relief one of the main issue each of us had to deal with namely how should we relate to the very process of interrogation. Should we talk with them at all, should we say the truth or not; if we don't state the truth, how do we conduct ourselves during their systematic interrogation. My personal problem was exacerbated by the fact I could not lie. I tried several times but my interrogator, captain K. laughed at me saying: Mr. Bronislaw, don't even try. I see in your face whenever you are lying". And he did, I knew it. Most probably that was an impact of my 11 years as Warsaw scout leader, harcerz, whose second commandment was "You can rely on the word of the harcerz like on the word of Zawisza Czarny". Unfortunately, both myself and my colleague Z., also incarcerated in one of the cells of that very prison, were the only two scout instructors incarcerated for their involvement in the rising of 1968. As a result, the whole fury of the communist driven Warsaw central scout organization turned toward our large scout troop. The troop was dissolved, still during my prison time, its main leaders fired. And what's striking, the person who led the charge was the very same person who had created and led the troop in its initial 5 years of existence. This is one of the purest and clear cut example of self-destructiveness of the communist dream and vision. At the time, already much higher in the communist dominated scout organization hierarchy, she was able to destroy our troop organization, but not its spirit. The meeting of the troop organized in the Summer of 2014, 46 years after its dissolution has brought 50+ members of the troop to a two-day meeting near Warsaw. We re-entered that spirit surprisingly easily during the two bon fires which gave occasion to unstoppable conversations, grilling Polish sausages in fire and baking potatoes in its ashes.
Well, let's go back to the prison cell and the important decision formed in the first several weeks of imprisonment how to interact with interrogators whom we were meeting systematically upstairs. So I could not lie. Therefore the option was not to talk to them at all that is to refuse answer to all questions as several of my colleagues did. My choice was not to tell them anything new, anything they didn't know about, refuse answers to very concrete questions which might help to identify someone. It wasn't the best strategy but it served me well. During the early days of interrogation my charge was changed to more serious and in fact for a while they planned rather a large case and trial involving 4 or 5 students, myself as a leader of the a group. I expected then good two year long sentence, however they changed their mind and ultimately let most of us free. I was though scheduled to be the witness of the prosecution in a trial of a close friend, and, I must say, it gave me a great satisfaction to learn that my, properly adjusted presentation of the events at the trial was one of the main reasons the friend was declared innocent. Physics helped again, this time in the courtroom. I remember while standing on the witness stand the frustrated face of the judge who picked up a copy of my interrogations in the prison and asked how come there is this huge difference between what you said then and what you are saying now. I looked at him and said, you know judge it's like successive approximations to the truth. Just like the principle of solving differential equations we covered last semester.

We did talk quite a lot in the cell about our respective interrogations so the spy Roman had a lot of reporting to do. It is most fascinating to read his reports at present and marvel at the smooth process of integrating the true facts he heard with the elaborated lies whose purpose was to make the connection between the facts and the general interests of the interrogators. My innocent trip to the family in Israel gave the spy Roman a lot of opportunities to make such connections. Scouting troop as well – it became, accordingly to the spy "Roman" the training organization for future Zionist rebels. The trip turned out to be filled with Zionist meetings, while the scouting troop became the Zionist platform for Warsaw teenagers. What's worse, the police made, as it turned out, a second search in my apartment and found my letter from Israel to my mother, unfortunately, full of descriptions of Israel's beauty. This letter took them three drilling interrogation sessions to create all the Zionist connections they wished to have. What was really funny was that this first trip of mine to the West was almost completely focused on tracing the paths of Christ in the Holy land; it was fascinating for me to encounter there the real Christ travelling alongside of Genezearet lake, staying overnight in Nazareth and Cana, it was intriguing to make some acceptable reality for myself of his, decisively bigger than life figure present in Poland of my childhood. However, that interest of mine in the life of Christ made the task of finding Zionist connections by the captain interrogator quite complicated. Our discussions with the interrogator concerning the reality of Christ were omitted, of course, from the interrogation reports.

...."I hear music from somewhere, possibly from another prison pavilion. It sounds like one of Beethoven piano sonatas. I am standing in front of the window but not too close to it to avoid the possible suspicion of the guard, who might see me at any moment through the judas window. I am looking straight at the balconies of the apartment building visible maybe 3, 4 hundred meters in front. It must the a building along the Casimir street, behind the prison walls. We often look at that, five story building at this late afternoon/ early evening time when the first lights appear in these apartments from the freedom side. We start watching them from the top floor, the one directly in front of us. It is still covered by a yellow curtain so that one can't see inside. Interesting, the balcony window of this apartment is covered by the curtain most of the day, probably to shade it from the sun during the day while in the evening, possibly, to shield it from an uninvited glances, just like ours. Couple of minutes ago, I saw her, the woman who lives in that apartment closing the curtains."
-hey guys, she came out again to pull the curtain – I say to the cellmates.
X gets up from the bed, throws a glance at the window and says to me:
-sit down, man; it's late already. Before you put on your glasses she will sleep with a guy in no time.

We "talk" with her via our silent glances several times a day. Well built, toned body, she likes smoking cigarettes. I saw once a burning match in her hand. She had then a blue sweater, a skirt and hair pulled into a bundle at the top of her head. X said then, I know what will make her happy. When I am let go, I'll go there the first day, introduce myself and we'll see what's next.

You are not first, say the cell spy, already Kowalski who was here before decided to visit her. Interesting, isn't it, how many of us will try "to visit" her?

Each of us has a girlfriend, a woman. Each of us says to her, my dear, my sweet woman, my darling, each of us shares his thoughts with her, whenever we can. Each of us looks at that balcony deeply in thought, we see her, talk to her, and she is ours while not knowing it. For each of us, she, the woman on the opposite balcony brings a moment of freedom from those fifteen iron bars of the little prison window, a moment of forgetting.

It's turning dark now fast. She must have turned on light in her room, looks like a little bed lamp.
There is also light now on the third floor. There are two little girls living in that apartment on the third floor; one of them was dressed in the Girl Scout uniform with black socks. They are making beds there, probably they will go to bed pretty soon.
A little ray of light is coming out through the opening in the curtain on the fifth floor. She comes out to the balcony for a moment. She has a nightgown, her hair flowing free.
-No she did not sleep yet. – I mentioned to the guys.

From the letter to girlfriend, 4/22/1968:
It's evening now, good evening my darling, how are you my dear?
It's peaceful evening. Bars in the window; behind them, it seems, your face appears there. Would love to write a poem...
Smile, darling, please, say something good and nice. You know, I like to sit just like now and write to you. It seems to me I am talking directly with you then. Many different themes, pieces of ideas are trashing in my head, physics models, unity of mathematics and physics, physics and philosophy. I want to learn so much!

Four men, closed together in the cell, apart from interrogations and headaches related with them, politics and related with it philosophy and the ritual of the 30 minutes daily walk, had only one common topic, the women. And here, of course, the spy "Roman" was a master with his stories from the time of WWII, when as a soldier of the Polish communist army he was traversing different German villages, staying in peasant houses and fooling around with German peasant women. One early morning there, while resting happily in the embrace of two German women, he hears a knock, and his mother enters having found him after four years of war absence. Naturally, a big scandal ensues, spy Roman cursing his adiutante for letting her in, while the mother needs help and swoons down onto the chair. However, the glory of his war stories didn't last for too long. Already at the next sitting by the window, when all of us came back in the afternoon from the respective interrogations, someone, I think it might have been X, the poet, asked the fundamental quantitative question, how many women did each of us sleep with. I knew there would be an embarrassment for me: the spy claimed 12, Y, the son of the fired Jewish communist leader claimed 7. Already humbled by the comparison, I said in a low voice: 3. But my embarrassment till now had paled in comparison to the effect that X, the poet made in the cell with his claim: 33.
Everyone was quiet for a while; the conversation slowly turned into the qualitative mode when actual circumstances of a particular relationship were examined and inquired into. And of course, the stories of the first night were the juiciest one's, loosing virginity, either by a woman or by a man. I think, at that moment the spy "Roman" said to me after I finished my story:
-but if your ex-girlfriend was not married and she lost her virginity, she herself will have troubles getting married.
-really, how come? It's very important for the well-being of the married relationship that both men and women have some sexual experience. Isn't it what we are talking about, the significance of the experience for us and our women? With good experience and the wisdom coming out of it why would she have difficulty marrying? – I pushed it not really being clear what's the issue about.
-Well, says the spy "Roman" - in our religion, only the woman-virgin comes to the altar, in white!
-really, what about a man, a groom? – I inquired. Being a co-ed Boys/Girls scout leader, this absence of equality between women and men proposed by our cellmate was bothering me.
-oh, no, the men doesn't have to.
-well, in that case your religion is hypocritical. – I said and within the fraction of the second I was by the door covering judas window with my head to avoid the possibility of prison guard glances, while the spy "Roman" was charging at me at full speed holding the wooden chair in his hands high above his head ready to smash my own head, screaming:
-Don't you call my religion hypocritical!!!Don't you dare to offend it!
Fortunately my two colleagues, X and Y, jumped and pulling his hands down were able to pacify him.
But before they did it, I glanced straight into his green eyes. I saw a cold fury in them dimmed a bit by lowered eye lashes.
Kundelini, the snake!
Us: men and women, women and men. Interesting. Especially in the light of recent gender uproar in Poland, which by the way, is thoroughly delayed there. Here, in New York City, we went through it in the seventies and the eighties. However, thanks to this delay one can draw the lessons from the process at the time to apply them in Poland in order to avoid, to a significant degree, the repetition of errors that may tear the society apart.

The gender
I came to NYC in March 1969, the tail end of the sixties. By mid-seventies I was versed quite well in the basics of the "gender", made initial coordination between "gender" and my own life and it must be around 1973 I sent a letter to my mother in Warsaw imploring, asking to, telling, please mother, they opened public university in Warsaw, become a listener, would you please?!
It was that scream for equality from the feminists at the time that made incredible impression on me. My mother finished 7 grades of the grammar school and then she became a hat maker. I think she was still better educated than my father, who ended with 5 grades before becoming a shoemaker, a skilled one, from boots. Consequently, there was an essential inequality between me and my mother, she had 7 grades, I was in the graduate school going for PhD. The demand for equality between sexes demanded action. Mother, please go to the public university. She responded, don't make me nervous! And that I definitely didn't want to do. I knew the pathway from making her nervous to a heart attack via increased blood pressure, by heart.
My search for equality with a woman, asserted in the critical moments with the spy "Roman" must have started more or less at that time. And, of course, the meaning of equality became very fast a thorny issue. What does equality with a man mean for a woman? What does equality with a woman mean for a man?
Are they the same equalities? And if not, is there a germ of common understanding of equality?
The seventies was the period when gender and feminist liberation had asserted itself. The time was spent in consciousness rising groups for woman, while men didn't know exactly how to respond. Those of us who felt strongly the social and cultural injustice expressed through customs and policies that explicitly were downgrading woman value joined the movement to identify and eliminate those aspects of female oppression from professional and personal life. That wasn't and still is not an easy process. For example, there was a nice little but well known bar McGoose downtown in the East Village, which was primarily for men. This, obviously discriminatory custom was nonetheless strongly defended not only by men who were coming there to relax in "male" atmosphere but also by women, who felt more secure letting their men to go there since there were no temptations from other women. I must say that the longer I live the more I start recognizing germs of positive aspects of "male" atmosphere, which is, of course, beyond football or crime images. On the other hand, I remember my girlfriend at the time coming home upset because she just lost one of the private mathematics tutoring session we needed to survive in "austerity" – like scholarships we were living on. She lost it because the college student she was tutoring in calculus could not accept that a woman, more or less of his age, was smarter (in calculus) than himself. It was ridiculous, emotionally heavy and we lost /weekly what at the time could be the worth of the weekly grocery bill. It was heavy for several reasons. It indicated the difficulty of men in meeting the emerging feminist movement on equal footing, to see its strength and weakness and act to reinforce the positive aspects and facilitate the elimination of the negative aspects, which already started appearing. However, even stronger impact was made by this mixing of gender with mathematics or physics, which for me coming from Warsaw's Mat/Fiz department seemed meaningless. We, as students of the sixties did have intrinsic mutual acceptance as intellectual partners and colleagues. The situation here, however, in US was very different. The myth has been created that women are not good or not smart enough to deal with mathematics or sciences, which caused a fundamental division in American society which persists till now. It undermined mathematics education in the country and feminism was not seriously able to bridge that division despite vigorous affirmative action. Again there are two reasons for that: on one hand the insecurities of men like the student of my girlfriend projected upon the policies, structure and curricula of educational institutions create invisible walls of division, and on the other, the deep internalization of that myth by women themselves.
The insecurities of men vis-à-vis developing feminism movement undercut American male thoroughly in the eighties and nineties so much so that women visiting NYC from Europe or South America would ask me, Broni, what happened with American male?! My standard response was then: forget American male. It's lost. But us Polacks are here! Ready for all the women of the world!
Leaving jokes aside, the real and profound problem appeared when "gender" interacted with parenthood. In fact, last week, good 45+ years after confronting spy Roman on the equality of men and women vis-s-vis catholic principles, I had to confront a female candidate for the president of my college on the importance of both fathers and mothers vis-a-vis upbringing of a child. The story is worth telling. My community college located in the Bronx has been going recently through the search of a new president. Three candidates were chosen by the search committee and Town Hall meetings were organized in the school for the college community to interview the candidates. The community college has 80% of Latino student population; approximately 65% are female students. One of the candidates, a non-Latino woman had a very strong and convincing presentation. However, trying to be closer to the experiences of the community, she informed that she has a daughter, and unfortunately, behind a daughter there is always a man, the father of the daughter. I understood then, she said, that the only person more dummy than myself, is the father of the daughter, the dumbest person in the world. The audience, women in majority responded with a smile. However, that comment bothered me, as a father of the daughter who encountered the new social process of father "degradation" during the time of her upbringing. Hence when I came to the mike to ask my question about mathematics, I ask permission for the additional Preamble to the question and said: You mentioned before the father of your daughter to be the dumbest person in the world. I take that comment personal as a father of a daughter, I don't think I am the dumbest person in the world, just like the father of your daughter. I did my PhD, wrote books, published articles, decisively not a dumbest person in the world. So, why don't we just leave all of that behind. And I turned to my main question, which I decided to ask every candidate: Please, give us a short, two minutes statement titled "Me and Mathematics" if you could also include there your highest mathematics course you took in your professional development, that would be perfect.
To my surprise, the female candidate immediately capitulated and told me that had she taken our mathematics placement test she would end in the remedial class. I found it amazing; I saw the candidate to look for some connection with mathematics and finally she did find it in the interpretation of the data of student achievements and retention. I thanked her very much, saying, everything clear.
If she wins the presidency, I am in trouble.
Equally revealing were the comments of several colleagues who came up to me. To begin with, a female colleague of mine, one of the intellectual leaders of the college, an English professor with whom also I have been in conflict concerning the role of mathematics in college, suddenly turned to me at the end of the candidate presentation and said, B., I graduated from Bronx School of Science, I know something about mathematics. The level of the presidential candidate must have been upsetting to her as well. At the next and the last presidential candidate meeting, the chief of college security, an old friend of mine in college, came up un-conspicuously and lowering his voice, said, hey, C, I am also a father of the daughter. I support what you said to her last week about fathers. We understood each other and I gave him a pat on his shoulder. Note the phrase "lowering his voice" – the result of the "political correctness" which to large extent has been established by the feminist movement as the mental hegemony in certain subcultures in US such as academia, social media and high tech enterprises.
The issue is deep. On one hand I, as a father of a daughter do not want her in any way to be limited in her pursue of life and wisdom, especially by males' condescending or sexual attitudes nor by the institutional sexism, and on the other, I certainly do not want, as the father of that daughter to be in any way dismissed as the dumbest person in the world - the manifestation of the advanced sexism of radical feminism. My personal contradiction is the reflection of the global gender issue: on one hand reports from many areas of the world inform about continuing high degree of female oppression through domestic violence, institutional and religious segregation despite the significant successes of feminism in mainstream media and intellectual elites of the West. On the other hand, in the same areas of feminist success we see increasing devaluation of males, and especially of fathers, and that of course sparks the next cycle of violence. In 2011 came the story of the self-immolation of the father who was denied the visitation rights with his daughters in New Hampshire. The philosophical contradiction reflecting this conflict is equally difficult. On one hand, this second wave of the feminist movement finds its support, correctly, in the philosophy of equal human rights, that is the rights of the individual. However, the parenthood, involving intrinsically and irreducibly two individuals, mother and father (or father and mother) can't be fully addressed nor grasped through the individual human rights. Parenthood is a separate principle always involving two parents, present or not. Therefore, the solution to the problem of gender must be constructed out of two separate yet closely related principles, that of individual rights and that of parenthood. I need to add that I understand parenthood as distinctly different from the principle of a family. Hegemony of one upon the other, that is of individual rights over parenthood (practiced now generally in US through the custody rights) or of parenthood via the family over the individual suggested by catholic religion of the spy Roman, which propelled his attack on me 45 years ago in Warsaw prison cell, can't solve the problem. New creative solutions are needed in Poland and in the world at large, the solutions which are based on the principle of the well-being of the child as the compromise between human rights and parenthood. It's an interesting question, how the human world would be organized had it main organizing principle been the well-being of the human child?!

Interesting excerpt from the letter do the girlfriend at the time. It's interesting for me because I find myself somewhat in the same place, thinking and feeling similar thoughts.
You know, I have been thinking about my involvement as a scout, harcerz. Despite everything I am very happy I was involved. Without doubt I lost a lot in terms of knowledge, art, wisdom, because of my involvement but you see that was most probably the purest period in my life. Our work was unambiguous. No one could possibly question its meaning. I am very happy I work so intensely with full involvement; it seems to be, generally, the purest memory I have....My concern was with real, alive, concrete people, I was their concern.
I remember my victories and my disappointments with kids, I know that details were often heavy, but, but paraphrasing someone, that was the work closest to the agreement with my conscience.

Thursday, May 2, '68
"That's the task – how to transform that inhuman world governed by the objects into the human world, world of free human (people) who consciously shape their fate, humans (people) for whom the highest ethical criterion is the wellbeing of the human being. Humanism so understood is a particular theory of happiness...That's what everything is about – the happiness of people, the capacity for happiness."

I like that surprising statement of Marx since that seem to be exactly my own views. Do you remember how me, naively, was justifying communism – exactly this way? I was asserting that communism is a system which strives for the happiness for the maximum number of people, it is after the creation of the world of happiness. For the majority of people. Exactly the same way – where the highest value are the people themselves.

Wow!! It's so strange to read that statement written in the communist prison. It does remind a bit the statements of Russian leaders during the purges of the thirties; singing the greatness of socialist revolution, while at the same revolution was sending them in front of the firing squad. Where was the problem? Where is the problem now, in US, whose constitution directly guarantees the right of the individual to pursue its happiness? I haven't seen many happy people here despite that constitutional guarantee. Why is happiness so difficult to come by? I remember a fairy tale in which a very depressed King was advised to get a shirt of a happy person in his kingdom; when his servants had finally located a happy peasant, he didn't have a shirt to give to the King! So what is happiness? - I ask myself at present. Yes, I do remember a couple of moments of happiness. Probably the first was exactly two, three months later when, with my things bundled in a sack, I looked back at the gate of the prison on Rakowiecka and marched off free, finally. Yes, it was at that moment when happiness appeared, but before any contact with the outside world. The second, extended moments of my happiness were several weeks after my daughter was born. Wow! That was incredible; her birth sent me high, very high. I remember walking with her in the Spring of '77 in the Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan just at the moment where all apple and cherry trees were blossoming. I took out that 3 months old kid from the carriage and put her face directly into the purple flowers of the cherry tree, saying, remember it, remember that smell always, the happy aroma of cherry tree.
I do remember two other moments of happiness still deeper rooted in my being, the happiness of being at one with the woman I loved. Both of these moments came in similar circumstances, during or after working together. Once, it was finishing the design of a large grant planning the transformation of mathematics education in the Bronx. Working together, thinking and writing together so that there is precise understanding of every idea, every thought, every feeling by the other who at the same time respond with her own thought and feeling which fits and advances my own understanding, my own wisdom...very similar to playing flute duets together, when every note fits. The second time I felt happy it was in India, in Tamil Nadu where both of were us conducting mathematics workshops for teachers of community night school in a Dalit village. Dalit, meaning downtrodden, is a contemporary name for India Untouchables. We were asked by a colleague to come to Tamilian villages, India and do a teaching-research work there. It was tough not knowing language and having to rely on a translator who rarely was translating precisely our mathematical comments, but the work was moving slowly yet surely and after a couple of days we started seeing the results, which required still more determined effort on our part. We were coming back to our village hotel at night feeling, maybe first time in life, as real laborers with this incredible satisfaction joining us together through the feeling of well-grounded happiness due to a well done job. Since those times, my "prescription" for my daughter and anyone else who wants to listen, for a "successful" love between woman and a man has been: make sure that together with love there is a common passion. Only then love has a chance to survive in the "inhuman world". Now, however, reflecting on those stories working passionately together within a common passion, I see that it's mine "prescription" for happiness itself. Yes, we were free at those moments, we were shaping the world, locally.
So, how to transform the world so that happiness reins on everyday basis and one doesn't have to run to another corner of the world to catch a glimpse of it?

Police Plaza 1, New York City, March 24, 2016. Civil Disobedience with the Union


Whom am I?

A friend:


Professor in a college


A father

A glider pilot

A grandfather


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