If the Walls Could Speak: Inside a Women's Prison in Communist Poland

ISBN : 9780190499860

Anna Muller
312 ページ
156 x 235 mm

Drawing on autobiographical writings, oral histories, interrogation protocols, and cell spy reports, If the Walls Could Speak focuses on the lives of women in prison in postwar communist Poland. Some were jailed for their alleged collaboration with the Nazis during the war, some for postwar activities in various civil as well as quasi-military groups, still others for allegedly dubious activities on the basis of their relationships with those already imprisoned. In some cases, there was some evidence of their anti-state activities; in many others, the accusations were absurd and based on cumbersome definitions of "anti-state." Anna Muller shows how these women struggled to resist identifying themselves as "prisoners" and regain their voices through a dialogue between the "self," a hostile prison world, and the world outside, which, as time passed, became increasingly menacing. The prison system in postwar Poland functioned as a tool to subjugate society and silence or destroy enemies-anti-communists, but also committed communists. Arrests, trials, and prison sentences directly and indirectly affected tens of thousands of people. Imprisonment stigmatized both prisoners and their families, inspiring fear and insecurity. Out of fear, worry for their loved ones, or a need to act, women prisoners took on different roles and personalities to protect themselves and create a semblance of normality, despite abuses and prison confinement. They used words to (re)create themselves during an interrogation; they used their senses to orient themselves in the spatial organization of the prison and to create a feeling of security; they used their physicality as a confirmation of their gender identity and a means of exerting pressure on the authorities; and they attempted to build a communal cultural, social, religious, and educational life by drawing on patterns they had acquired in their lives outside of prison. Following the trajectory of women's life stories-from the moment of interrogation, through the attempt to create themselves in a cell, to the post-prison reordering of their old lives-this book reveals how the prison cell in postwar Poland became a laboratory of human heterogeneity, of reconstruction, and reinvention of the self, and how life in a Stalinist prison adds to our understanding of coercion and resistance under totalitarian regimes.


Acknowledgments; List of Women Prisoners; Introduction; Chapter 1: War and the Penitentiary System; Chapter 2: On the Threshold: Arrest and Interrogation; Chapter 3: Learning One's Cell, Learning Oneself; Chapter 4: Prison Relationships: On Love, Trust, and Hostilities in a Prison Cell; Chapter 5: Boredom and Emptiness, or the Flow of Life in Confinement; Conclusion; Epilogue; Notes; Bibliography; Index


Anna Muller is assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.