Wojciech Jaruzelski Biography

Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last leader of the Communist state known as the Polish People’s Republic, was a Polish military officer and a Communist “de facto” dictator of Poland from 1981 to 1989. Born into an upper-middle-class Polish family in Kurow, he received a strict Christian education. During the Second World War, he suffered heavy losses and was captured by the Germans, later sent to work in Russia. After the war, he joined the Polish Communist Party and eventually became the first secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1981. As the Polish minister of defense, he declared martial law in 1981 to suppress his political opponents and restore the economy. After Poland became a free democracy in 1989, he was elected as the president but retired from active politics in 1990.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski
  • Died At Age: 90
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Barbara Jaruzelska (m. 1960)
    • Father: Władysław Jaruzelski
    • Mother: Wanda Jaruzelska
    • Siblings: Teresa Jaruzelska
    • Children: Monika Jaruzelska
  • Born Country: Poland
  • Dictators
  • Presidents
  • Died on: May 25, 2014
  • Place of death: Warsaw, Poland
  • Cause of Death: Stroke
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Military Council of National Salvation
  • Awards:
    • Virtuti Militari Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta 1948
    • Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta

Childhood & Early Life

Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski was born on July 6, 1923, in Kurow, Poland, to Wanda and Wladyslaw Jaruzelski. His family lived in a small village in the South Eastern Poland. Wojciech grew up with his sister, Teresa, in their family estate in Wysokie. Wojciech belonged to an upper-middle-class family. His father was an agronomist and was hugely respected in the locality because of his voluntary admission in the Polish army that fought in the war against Soviet Russia in 1920.

Wojciech attended a Catholic school located in Warsaw. The rules in the school were strict and were based on hardcore Christian beliefs.

War and Deportation

Germany invaded Poland in 1939, initiating the Second World War. Sixteen days later, the Russian army retaliated on the Germans in Poland. With this, Poland became the battleground for both the countries. This led Poland to suffer a massive loss of life and resources, as it surrendered to the Germans.

Wojciech and his family fled to Lithuania to stay with some friends. However, bad luck followed them there, too, as Russia took over Lithuania and incorporated it into the Soviet Union. Wojciech and his family were captured by the ‘Russian Red Army’ to be deported to Siberia.

In 1941, during the peak of the war, the family lost all their valuable possessions back in Poland. Wojciech was separated from his family at a railway station. His father was captured and sent to a labor camp, while Wojciech walked 180 kilometers to reach Turochak, where he began working as a forest cleaner. Due to the intense labor there, he suffered from many physical ailments, such as snow blindness and back damage. His eyes, too, were damaged, for which he started wearing sunglasses and wore it for the rest of his life, eventually turning it into his signature style.


The Soviet authorities selected him as one of the candidates to be trained as a military officer. He joined the ‘Soviet Officer Training School’ in 1942. He wanted to join the Polish exile army after the completion of his training but was instead sent to join the Polish army under Soviet command. At that time, the Soviets were fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front in Europe. He thus joined the ‘First Polish Army,’ which fought under the Soviet command.

In 1945, he participated in the Battle of Berlin and the Soviet takeover of Warsaw. The Second World War ended that year, with the Soviets and the ‘Allied Armies’ emerging victorious. By then, Wojciech had been promoted to the position of lieutenant.

After the war ended, Wojciech joined the ‘Polish Higher Infantry School,’ from where he graduated later. He later also graduated from the ‘General Staff Academy.’ In 1948, he joined the ‘Polish United Workers’ Party,’ which was Poland’s ‘Communist Party.’ Wojciech worked diligently and received quick promotions in the party. He rose through the ranks and became the Polish minister of defense in 1968. Earlier, in 1964, he had already been elected as a member of the party’s ‘Central Committee.’

Rise to Power

In 1970, massive food riots took place in the Baltic ports of Poland. The politburo (the policy-making committee of the ‘Communist Party’) ordered a shootout to curb the riots. However, Wojciech exercised his powers as the minister of defense and held back the armed forces from firing on the Polish people. Nevertheless, the politburo’s decision to open fire was executed and more than 40 Polish people ended up being shot dead by the army. More than 1,000 people were injured in the shootout. Outraged at this incident (and to gain more political power), Wojciech fiercely demanded the resignation of the ‘Communist Party’ president, Wladyslaw Gomulka.

Wojciech promised his countrymen that he would not let anything like this happen again. However, he broke his promise a few years later, when he became the leader of Poland. The ‘Solidarity Trade Union’ was formed by the workers and laborers of Poland in 1980, and it emerged as a powerful force to reckon with. They pressurized the top-level ministers of the ‘Communist Party’ to make Wojciech the leader of the party.

Dictatorship and Reforms

On October 18, 1981, Wojciech became the first secretary of the party. He retained his position as the minister of defense. He was known as the “de facto” dictator who ruled the country and took all the major decisions. In December 1981, he enforced martial law in the country. This was done to crush the ‘Solidarity Union.’ Many opposition leaders, including many ‘Solidarity’ leaders, were arrested as a result. The martial law was lifted in 1983, but Wojciech retained his power as the “de facto” leader. He gave up his position as a premier in 1985. At the same time, he took over as the president of the ‘Council of State.’

Despite his best efforts, he was unable to revive Poland’s dying economy. In a desperate attempt, he lifted the ban on the ‘Solidarity’ movement and approved negotiations between them and the government. The meetings ended with the agreement that Poland’s political system would be reformed and free elections would be held to make Poland a well-functioning democracy.

In July 1989, Wojciech was elected as the president by the parliament. He thus resigned from all the positions he held in the ‘Communist Party.’ In December 1990, he lost the presidential seat to Lech Walesa. He retired from active politics the same year. Following this, stripped of all political powers, he was tried for the imposition of the martial law back in 1981. The trial, however, began years later, in 2008, and was suspended in 2011, after Wojciech was diagnosed with cancer.

Personal Life and Death

Wojciech Jaruzelski married Barbara Jaruzelska in 1961. They had a daughter named Monika Jaruzelska. He passed away on May 25, 2014, a month after he suffered a stroke. In 2014, his wife had caught him in a compromising position with one of the nurses in the hospital and had threatened to file for a divorce.

Leave a Comment