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 Whistleblowers Need Protection




The declaration of martial law in Poland in mid-December 1981 by General Jaruzelski surprised and shocked the entire nation. Paszkowski, having then worked in the SB for five long years, watched in horror the terror inflicted on the civilian population as punishment for wanting to be free. Shooting unarmed bystanders, arrests and tortures - none of these sat well with his notion of being alert against enemies of the state. He also wanted out of a vocation that had scarred badly what remained of his conscience. He started to plan his escape to the West. Cases of desertion were heard by court martial and the penalties upon conviction included capital punishment. He couldn't just resign; facing a court martial wasn't his idea of a way out. He was determined to leave the country illegally.

When the Communist regime declared war on it's own people in the name of whom it was supposed to govern, my trust in the system collapsed. I felt cheated and denied. My loyalty ended. The whole system of values I had learned to cherish and the truths I was raised on seemed to crumble on the night a general in dark glasses with an expressionless face put a gun to the heads of my people and ordered, `Quit thinking freedom or I shoot.' I knew I could neither work nor live under such a system of lies, double standards and hypocrisy. The act of terror against innocent civilians especially revolted me. I had to restrain myself from saying openly what I thought about the oppression and acts of brutality by special police forces I witnessed. That would get me into trouble with my superiors and earn a lengthy jail sentence. I decided I wouldn't rot in Communist jail nor participate in the further violation of my country. I decided to escape to the West. Planning how to do it became an obsession.

Polish borders were sealed. Later when travel restrictions were somewhat more relaxed, an intelligence agent could still not count on being let out. Organized vacations to other Communist countries' resorts for the service were suspended indefinitely. I wasn't Colonel Kuklinski (who escaped to the U.S.) or another top gun in the service who could escape using a military plane. I could only rely on myself to design a get-away plan.

Paszkowski shared his decision to leave the country with his childhood friend, Staszek. Together they came up with a plan to escape to the West through a socialist satellite country. Paszkowski, as an SB agent, could not apply officially for a passport or closely monitored group vacation abroad. He prepared a false passport and Polish citizen identification and through a bribed employee in a state-owned travel agency was put on a list of those bound for an organized tour to sunny Bulgaria. The phoney passport would only allow him to travel within the Communist bloc. The plan was to escape to Turkey, Greece or Yugoslavia once in Bulgaria. The day before the group's departure, Paszkowski did not report back to the military camp. From that point on he was a deserter - a solitary figure on the run - a status that was going to stay with him for many years to come.

He boarded the train for Varna in Warsaw equipped with innocent looking tourist luggage, false documents and the American money he had bought on the black market, having sold everything he owned in Poland. Instinctively, he looked over his shoulder as if to make sure he wasn't in immediate danger of arrest. Ryszard knew his desertion was obvious now and that he was already being hunted across Poland. There was no way back for him. Paszkowski and Staszek shared the assigned train compartment together with two kind ladies. As soon as the train left the station, a generous supply of vodka packed for the trip came in handy. Staszek took out his guitar and started singing while Paszkowski and the ladies joined in the chorus. Time flew by and before they knew it the train had reached the Soviet Union border. On the 30th of May, 1982, Paszkowski left his country.

Over the short distance the train had to travel within the Soviet Union on its way to Bulgaria via Romania, it was escorted by the Soviet Army. Soldiers entered each car with dogs. The passengers were told to close the windows, not to look out or throw anything out of them. Obviously, Moscow was afraid Poles would drop leaflets urging Ukrainians to rebel. The passengers felt imprisoned under the close watch of the Soviet guards. Some onlookers in the passing villages managed to flash victory signs with their fingers to the passengers on the train, risking imprisonment for their gestures. Once the train reached Romania, the Soviet guards left and the passengers relaxed.

Staszek was now happily and loudly singing songs from his anti-Communist repertoire. He wasn't afraid as the Romanians couldn't understand the Polish language, and the Polish passengers visibly enjoyed such rare moments of making fun of discredited political figures in their country.

One passenger, however, did not appreciate the singing of Staszek. He was a retired SB agent assigned to the vacationing group to watch over them once abroad. He complained to the tour guide, who in turn asked Staszek to tone down his singing because the agent threatened to report Staszek to the authorities on their return to Poland. This infuriated Staszek, who began to sing even louder so that the agent could hear better. "The guardian angel", as they called the agent from then on, was the brunt of much mischief during their stay in Bulgaria.

The sandy Bulgarian beaches and warm waves of the Black Sea were much appreciated by the Poles. Paszkowski and Staszek joined the others on the beaches. The hot weather and the vacation lifestyle were not conducive to planning a dangerous escape, but Paszkowski knew he had to move ahead with his plan. While the other tourists traded goods brought from Poland which were in short supply in Bulgaria, Paszkowski and Staszek pumped a befriended Bulgarian for information about security on the borders. The border with Turkey was virtually impossible to penetrate, so they looked at Bulgaria's frontiers with Greece and Yugoslavia. They hitchhiked to a small village near the Greek border and that night headed toward the boundary on foot. The walk was treacherous and lined with poisonous snakes which, when stepped on, emitted eerie hissings. They had to rest often as Staszek, no fitness buff, needed frequent rests. During the day, they hid, making sure nobody noticed them because the region was full of people loyal to the Communist regime, who would gladly report two strangers.

On the second night, Staszek stepped on a border trap which released a rocket. Helicopters were soon flying overhead. Dogs were barking and Bulgarian soldiers quickly formed a circle around the two men. Staszek kept his cool, however, and when the first soldier appeared with a cocked rifle, Staszek threw himself at him, embracing him warmly and thanking him for saving their lives. He made up a story that the pair had got lost after sightseeing at a historic site near the border and had been lost in the woods for two days, unable to find the way out.

They were interrogated by an officer, who later tried to steal Paszkowski's binoculars while treating them to Bulgarian vodka. When he discovered Paszkowski's nail clippers, he insisted they had tried to use it to cut through the fence wire - a flimsy argument at best. They held to their story and in the morning they were driven out of the border area with a stern warning not to approach the border again.

Quite discouraged, the two returned to the sea resort of Varna, rejoining their tour group, and anxiously plotting their next move because the group was scheduled to return to Poland shortly. They resolved to travel with the others, leave the train in Bucharest, and attempt to cross the Yugoslav border from there. While in Bulgaria, they bought wheat coffee which they would later sell as real coffee in Romania where food shortages were already acute. On reaching Bucharest, they left the group, telling the official `guardian angel' assigned to them to give Poland's General Jaruzelski and all other Communists a good-bye message: "Kiss our butts."

On the steps of the then Ceaucescu palace in Bucharest, they sold their fake coffee to supplement their dwindling funds by charging ten times more than they had paid for it in Bulgaria. They were later arrested on a train bound for the border town of Timosara after being reported as `suspicious' to police, but soon bribed their way to freedom with the remainder of their fake coffee. By then, they had plenty of Romanian money, but couldn't stay at a hotel because under the Ceaucescu regime tourists needed to show a document proving their money had been exchanged legally. Residents in the street refused to put them up as they could face five years in jail for providing illegal accommodation to foreigners. Eventually, they slept on a park bench. Paszkowski grumpily commented to Staszek, "You can cover yourself with the Romanian paper money when you get cold."

The next day we planned to get to the border zone 30 kilometres outside of Timosara. We knew only people with special permits from the Romanian regime could enter the border zone. That is why we could only move at night, even more so because there were no forests or even bushes in the area, only corn fields.

We left our luggage at a locker in the train station in Timosara and that evening followed the Bega Canal heading towards Yugoslavia. On the opposite side were corn fields. Late that night, we reached the border. I could almost smell freedom blowing in the breeze from Yugoslavia.

At the border crossing stood a small guard house for the Romanian border protection unit. We could hear loud laughter and music - obviously a party was in full flight. We decided to hide in a corn field until morning to assess the situation, and try to cross the following night. The corn was almost two metres high and provided a perfect hiding place. We lay down on the ground trying to sleep, but mosquitoes bit mercilessly even through the thick sweater I wore.

As the sky brightened toward dawn, the view became quite encouraging. The field in which we hid was between two canals. The second canal was not marked on our map. Beyond it was an empty field of freshly ploughed soil and fences of barbed wire watched over by soldiers from a tower. The ten we counted appeared to lack any routine and were doing pretty much what they felt like. They seemed to like to drink and party in the evening.

The border guardhouse was surrounded by a wire fence more than six feet high. I didn't think Staszek was fit enough to crawl the long distance to the barbed wire fortifications and then tackle them. It was out of the question. Considering the apparent lack of work routine and messy habits at the guardhouse, I felt we could enter Yugoslavia through the guardhouse itself. We would only have to wait until night fell and the soldiers were drinking and the music was loudest, then climb the fence on one side, run through the guardhouse area and climb over the other fence to Yugoslavia. We could see through the wire the border pole of Yugoslavia and we were mesmerized by it, or more likely by what reaching it would mean to us.

It was scorchingly hot. We had nothing to drink nor eat. The entire day without a drop of water in the oppressive heat was probably worse than being eaten alive by killer mosquitoes at night. Staszek seemed to be at the end of his physical endurance and I tried to keep up his spirits as well as I could as the day dragged on mercilessly.

Night finally fell and the guards started their nightly party. The laughter and singing coming from the guardhouse grew louder. Occasionally we would hear a barking dog kept somewhere near the guardhouse. `Let's go', I said to Staszek. I felt a shot of adrenalin as we gingerly approached the guardhouse and I brushed aside the stray thought, `It's worth it!'

Paszkowski climbed the first fence and Staszek managed to follow with difficulty. They crawled past the lit windows with music blaring above them, finally gaining the second fence. Paszkowski cleared it, but his friend's clothes caught and he was left hanging on the wire. Paszkowski, now in Yugoslavia, climbed back into Romania to help. Suddenly, a dog appeared and viciously attacked Paszkowski. Guards quickly surrounded them, kicking Staszek who was lying on the ground with their heavy army boots and beating them both with rifle butts. Finally, the ordeal ended and they were taken inside the building.

The prisoners gave their prepared story: A man in a white Mercedes had picked them up on the road. When he later turned out to be gay and made advances to them, they got out of his car and were lost trying to walk back to Timosara. When they saw the fence blocking their way they tried to get through it. They had no idea it was a border crossing.

Somehow, their witless captors appeared to believe their tale, as the physical abuse did not resume and they were offered some water. The next two days and nights were spent in a primitive militia cell without food or water. On the third day, a civilian gave them their passports and released them, saying, "Go home."

They later picked up their things at the baggage deposit in Timosara and left by train for Budapest. They hoped it would be easier to cross the border from Hungary to Yugoslavia because Hungary was considered the most liberal member of the Communist bloc.

In Budapest they exchanged their Romanian money on the black market and with Hungarian forints bought camping equipment, a tent and mattresses and left for Balaton Lake, the country's most popular resort. They spent several weeks camping, enjoying the company of the young women they encountered.

Their plan was now to go to the city of Nagykanisza - twenty kilometres from the border of Yugoslavia and attempt to cross the border there at night. They checked their tourist map and discovered there was a camp site located within the city. The excuse for going there thus seemed plausible.

The train to Nagykanisza left the crowded station while Paszkowski and Staszek dozed off in their compartment. The train had stopped at a few smaller stations when a man in civilian clothes entered their compartment, woke them up, showed them some identification, and seemed to demand something of them. As he spoke only Hungarian, the pair had no idea what he wanted. They showed him their train tickets but he pushed them aside. "Passports, passports", he demanded angrily. They thought it strange that he wanted to see their passports. After all, they weren't near the border crossing, which was some 50 kilometres away; the train didn't go farther than Nagykanisza.

They handed him their passports. He flipped through them slowly, returned them, and left. On arrival at the Nagykanisza train station, there was a small army of men in civilian clothes waiting for them, including the official who had checked their passports.

The group of Hungarian agents lead Paszkowski and Staszek into a waiting military bus and without a word of explanation took them to a military jail and placed them in separate cells. All their belongings, including cigarettes, were taken away. Paszkowski and Staszek had a story prepared earlier in case of interrogation; it was short and simple: they wanted to do some sightseeing in Nagykanisza, spend some time camping there and then return to Poland. The Hungarian jail in comparison with the Romanian one was luxurious: clean, quite comfortable beds with clean sheets and very good food.

When the door to Paszkowski's cell finally opened, a grim-faced guard stood outside. Paszkowski tried to talk to him without success. Apparently the guards had orders not to talk to prisoners. The interrogations began the following day, each of them done separately so they could not have any contact with each other.

Paszkowski was shown into a room in which there were a number of people, including two men in army uniforms, a female stenographer and a Polish interpreter. A young officer with a dark complexion and black eyes put the questions. "A cigarette?", he asked politely, then proceeded with standard ones: "Name?", "Address?", "Date of birth?"

The officer's piercing eyes seemed to see through Paszkowski when he stuck to his version of the story of why they were so close to the Yugoslav border. "We know everything," the other finally said.

"We've been in touch with the Polish Embassy in Budapest and they told us to have the military prosecutor charge you with attempted escape to Yugoslavia. You'd better tell us everything or you'll face a long and difficult future in prison."

They were bluffing. Paszkowski knew they knew nothing. Their threats were convincing, yet Paszkowski realized that they had not a shred of evidence. Having been taken off the train far from the border the officers could only suspect the pair was planning to escape. They had no proof and were simply trying to scare him into confessing. Paszkowski learned that Nagykanisza was indeed in the border zone, and the camp site on their map must have been a mistake.

With a calmness that seemed to infuriate the officer, Paszkowski played the role of naive tourist and kept repeating his story of two tourists wanting to spend some time in this beautiful city. He sounded genuinely hurt that a friendly Communist government would treat tourists this way.

The questioning lasted for hours. The officer in charge was eager to uncover a plot that could earn him a promotion, so he relentlessly attempted to extract a confession. Alternatively, he used politeness and then threatened to beat him up. Paszkowski tensed up, prepared to hit back if his captor used force, knowing that would complicate things even more, but unwilling to sit still for any physical abuse. After several hours, Paszkowski was returned to his cell. He could hear Staszek being taken for his turn. Staszek would say nothing, Paszkowski was confident. Their scare tactics wouldn't work with his friend.

Staszek's interrogation lasted only ten minutes before he was returned to his cell. Paszkowski couldn't talk to him or shout down the corridor as they were forbidden to do so by the guards. Since their cells were near each other and the doors were open, Staszek used Morse code with his finger against the table to get a message to Paszkowski. "Stupid s.o.b.s." Paszkowski smiled, knowing they had failed to get anything out of him.

Later in the day, the officer in charge attempted to break their friendship by forbidding the guards from giving Staszek cigarettes, while loudly ordering them to furnish Paszkowski with cigarettes whenever he wanted. The idea was to make it look as if Ryszard was being rewarded for talking. The two friends laughed at this primitive manoeuvre.

Paszkowski later attempted to bribe a guard into giving Staszek some cigarettes with $100, the equivalent of two months pay for the guard, but he refused the money, fearing other guards would report him. The next day, Paszkowski was brought before the military prosecutor, an angry-looking, old colonel. "Did you want to escape to Yugoslavia?", he asked.

"No, I didn't," replied Paszkowski.

"We are turning you over to the Polish authorities. They are here, waiting for you," he said with a threat in his voice watching Paszkowski for signs of fear. Paszkowski knew the prosecutor was bluffing. "Very well," he said. "At least I'll be able to talk to someone who doesn't talk nonsense."

Staszek was also taken to meet the prosecutor and returned to his cell after a short absence. An hour later, they were both given their belongings, put in a military vehicle and driven by the officer and a translator to the train station. They were put on a train to Budapest.

"You've got 48 hours to get out of Hungary," said their interrogating officer, angry and disappointed with his failed arrest.

"The guards on the border with Czechoslovakia know about you, and if you don't leave our country, we'll find you and put you away for a good, long time."

Not knowing whether or not to believe him, they stayed on the train to Czechoslovakia and once at the border discovered no one knew about them. They spent two weeks in Czechoslovakia and garnered what information they could about the border crossing from people they met in bars. Paszkowski knew from his SB briefings that the West German-Czechoslovakian border was one of the two best guarded borders within the Soviet bloc. Only the frontier between East and West Germany was better guarded. Attempts to cross at night often ended tragically as guards were ordered to shoot-to-kill. Also, Staszek wasn't strong enough to try such a strenuous and dangerous undertaking.

Despite the warning from the Hungarian officer, they returned to Hungary. They felt safer there, a bit farther away from Poland, but they were rapidly running out of money and borders.

At one point, after going without food for two days, Paszkowski decided to use skills he had acquired at the KGB training camp. The best place to get food was in a restaurant. They chose a place which closed at 10:00 p.m. Paszkowski told Staszek to wait outside and a quarter hour before closing time entered the restaurant and went to the men's room. Above the washroom door was a huge gap between the ventilation pipe and ceiling. Paszkowski climbed up and hid himself on the pipe waiting for closing time. He waited an extra half-hour after everyone went home and the cleaning lady had done her job. After checking to ensure that everyone had gone, he opened a window to let Staszek in.

They first forced open the cash register and took all the money that was there, then settled down to feast on food found in the kitchen. They then took a few cartons of cigarettes and left.

With full stomachs and some money in their pockets, they returned to Balaton Lake and the same campground they had left a few weeks earlier. Lying on the beach enjoying the warm weather, they wondered, "What next?". Their options were evaporating. Exhausted by their attempts to escape, almost out of money, and unwilling to return to Poland where one would face a long jail term and, in Paszkowski's case, the death penalty, they agreed that their only hope was to hijack an airplane in order to get to the West. With passports that were only valid for travel within Communist countries, getting on a flight for anywhere outside the bloc was out of the question. They would simply be turned away at the counter when trying to purchase the tickets.

Paszkowski had learned to make bombs for terrorism purposes during his KGB training, but he was now reluctant to use violence. They just needed something realistic-looking enough to scare the crew of the plane into cooperating. He bought the necessary components: four candles, electric wire, insulating tape, a battery and a switch.

How to smuggle the bomb aboard the aircraft? Paszkowski devised a plan. They bought a fruit and candy basket. The store clerk was pleased to put their package at the bottom of the basket, covering it with fresh fruit and candy and professionally wrapping it. She presumably thought her customers wanted to smuggle something innocent into Poland and was eager to help.

Their final night in Hungary was spent sleeping on a park bench, taking turns so no one would steal their treasure - the basket and `the bomb'. They chose to fly to Munich as it was the nearest large city in West Germany. They wanted to spare passengers any unnecessary moments of fear. They knew Germany wouldn't extradite them to Poland, although they expected to end up in jail for some time.

At the Budapest airport, Paszkowski carried the basket. With no difficulty at all, both men proceeded through what then passed for airport security in Budapest and boarded a Polish LOT flight bound for Warsaw. It was August 25, 1982. Paszkowski knew very well that if this final attempt failed, he would be flown directly into the arms of his former colleagues at the Polish Security Service.

"This is a hijacking. We demand you fly to Munich", Paszkowski whispered to the flight attendant bent over politely to listen to him. Her friendly smile froze as she gazed at his intense brown eyes. "If you refuse, we'll blow up the whole plane", he added pointing at the bulky package in his lap. The woman said she must talk to the pilot and left immediately.

Paszkowski followed her with his eyes and then looked up and down the aisle. Everything seemed normal. The older lady sitting next to him was dozing off. An officer appeared within the next two minutes and introduced himself as the navigator. Paszkowski repeated his oft-rehearsed lines about the hijacking.

The navigator attempted to negotiate, claiming there was not enough fuel to fly to Munich even though it was a comparable distance to Warsaw. Then he tried to persuade him to go to West Berlin, but Paszkowski was afraid he would cheat and land in East Berlin instead. "You have exactly three minutes to turn the plane around and fly to Munich. Otherwise I activate this bomb", he said placing his thumb on the switch.

The other left. Passengers were busy talking, preoccupied with their own affairs. The flight attendants were serving meals and drinks; children were running up and down the aisles. No-one was aware that anything out of the ordinary was taking place except for the crew and two tense young passengers peering out the aircraft windows. Each soon realized by the location of the sun that the plane was changing course from north to west. Their bluff had worked. They sighed with relief, listening to what was being said around them. One passenger commented to a companion about the plane going west instead of north, but was rebuffed by the comment that the pilot must know what he was doing.

Suddenly, a child sitting on the left side of the plane cried out, "Look mom, there's another plane next to ours." Paszkowski looked through the window to see a Mig-type Czechoslovak military plane very close to their aircraft, flying at the same speed and altitude. When he looked out the window on the other side, there was another so close one could see the pilot. It was clear to Paszkowski that because their flight was not following the routine passenger plane route, the fighter planes were simply escorting them during their passage over Czechoslovakian soil. The children seemed to be having a great time, waving busily at the pilots. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, the two Czech aircraft spun off in a deep curve, disappearing from sight. It was obvious they were now just about over the West German border. Soon they would land in Munich.

The worst was over, and both could relax a little. Paszkowski closed his eyes and numerous events of the previous two weeks flashed through his mind. He was leaving behind life as a Polish Security Service officer and the nightmarish realities of martial law in Poland and beginning to think about the future. The hardships of the last few weeks suddenly seemed distant. He could afford the luxury of dreaming about how fifteen minutes from now he would start a new chapter in his short but bizarre life.

Paszkowski's thoughts were abruptly cut off by the captain's voice: "Ladies and gentlemen, due to reasons beyond our control, we are forced to land in Munich. Please remain calm, there is no need for anxiety. We will soon resume our flight to Warsaw."

The plane buzzed with talk. Passengers speculated that it must have been a hijacking, and looked around for the suspects. Paszkowski and Staszek sat in their places quietly. The elderly woman next to Paszkowski continued to doze peacefully as the plane touched down in Munich.

On August 26, 1982, the Warsaw daily newspaper, Zycie Warszawy, ran the following piece on the lower right-hand corner of page six:

"Hijacking of Polish Airplane to Munich:

The management of Polish Airlines LOT informs that on the 25th of this month, LOT flight no. 116 enroute from Budapest to Warsaw was hijacked after take off from Budapest and landed in the evening in Munich. Passengers and the crew were not hurt. The return of the airplane with the passengers to Warsaw is expected on Thursday morning. For more information about the times of arrival, call 469-645 or 469-670. According to the Western media, the hijackers were two young Poles. During the flight they threatened to blow-up the airplane if the crew did not redirect the plane to Munich airport. The hijackers were arrested when the plane landed, and the explosive materials were confiscated. There were 73 passengers aboard."


Chapter 5

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