Non possumus

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Literally, it means 'we cannot', but the literalness is not the point, because these words are a slogan, an incantation, a declaration of fidelity to the truth and to one's principles.

The history of these words comes from the apostles Peter and John, who disobeyed orders from the Sanhedrin - the supreme Jewish religious and judicial institution - forbidding the preaching of Christ's teachings, justifying their actions with the words: for we cannot say what we have seen and heard (non enim possumus quae vidimus et audivimus non loqui). We cannot. Non possumus. We cannot fail to proclaim the truth. We cannot betray our principles. We cannot embezzle.

In 1953, when Poland, albeit formally independent, was in fact under Soviet occupation, or, as others say, under the rule of the Bolshevik Commune, when the slightest resistance to authority was punishable by death, torture and long imprisonment, the Polish bishops - in response to the Commune's demand that the Catholic Church submit to secular authority - sent a memorial to the authorities refusing to comply with that demand. These were the very words used in that memorial. Non possumus - we cannot.

In response, the Communist authorities arrested the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. We do not know how this would have turned out, had Stalin still been alive, but Stalin died that year, his Polish agent Bierut was still alive, but the Bolshevik struggle for Stalin's inheritance was still on-going, and the matter of refusing the Polish bishops was pushed into the background. Khrushchev, who took over after Stalin, proved to be more lenient in passing sentence, and Cardinal Wyszyński was released in 1956.

The communist persecution of Polish Catholics had been going on for some time; a few months earlier, the communists had faked the trial of the Polish bishops under the guise of spying for the Americans, and had initiated the writing of the trial by people regarded as having social trust, consisting of representatives of the arts and literature circles. The bishops were tried for espionage and even given death sentences. Although after Stalin's death the death sentences were not carried out, and after Bierut's death the imprisoned priests were amnestied, and the Military Regional Court in Warsaw later declared the communist rulings in this trial null and void, in February 1953, during Stalin's lifetime, 53 servants of art, literature and the struggle for socialism signed the notorious letter: Resolutions of Polish Writers on the Cracow Trial, in which they condemn the bishops, namely:

"In recent days, a group of American spies connected with the Krakow Metropolitan Curia have been on trial in Krakow. We, the members of the Krakow branch of the Polish Writers' Union, gathered on February 8, 1953, express our unconditional condemnation of the traitors of the Homeland, who, using their spiritual positions and influence over part of the youth gathered in the KSM, acted hostile towards the nation and the people's state, practising - for American money - espionage and diversion. We condemn those dignitaries of the Church hierarchy who supported anti-Polish plots, helped traitors and destroyed valuable cultural monuments. In the face of these facts, we undertake in our work to take up the current problems of the struggle for socialism even more militantly and thoroughly than before, and to condemn more sharply the enemies of the nation - for the sake of a strong and just Poland".

The resolution was signed by 53 people:

  1. Kazimierz Barnaś
  2. Władysław Błachut
  3. Jan Błoński
  4. Jerzy Bober
  5. Władysław Bodnicki
  6. Antoni Brosz
  7. Bogdan Brzeziński
  8. Karol Bunsch
  9. Bronisław Mróz-Długoszewski
  10. Władysław Dobrowolski
  11. Kornel Filipowicz
  12. Ludwik Flaszen
  13. Józef Andrzej Frasik
  14. Zygmunt Greń
  15. Leszek Herdegen
  16. Roman Husarski
  17. Jerzy Janowski
  18. Jan Jaźwiec
  19. Andrzej Kijowski
  20. Ryszard Kłyś
  21. Władysław Krzemiński
  22. Jan Kurczab
  23. Jalu Kurek
  24. Tadeusz Kwiatkowski
  25. Jerzy Lovell
  26. Józef Łabuz
  27. Władysław Machejek
  28. Włodzimierz Maciąg
  29. Henryk Markiewicz
  30. Bruno Miecugow
  31. Hanna Mortkowicz-Olczakowa
  32. Sławomir Mrożek
  33. Tadeusz Nowak
  34. Stefan Otwinowski
  35. Adam Polewka
  36. Marian Promiński
  37. Julian Przyboś
  38. Edward Rączkowski
  39. Edyta Sicińska
  40. Stanisław Skoneczny
  41. Maciej Słomczyński
  42. Karol Szpalski
  43. Wisława Szymborska
  44. Tadeusz Śliwiak
  45. Anna Świrszczyńska
  46. Olgierd Terlecki
  47. Henryk Vogler
  48. Jan Wiktor
  49. Adam Włodek
  50. Jerzy Zagórski
  51. Marian Załucki
  52. Witold Zechenter
  53. Adam Znamierowski

Translated with

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