... I should like, thus publicly, to call upon all ex-Communists who have not yet declared themselves, and all men within the Communist Party whose better instincts have not yet been corrupted and crushed by it, to aid in this struggle while there is still time to do so.
- Whittaker Chambers, Testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities
(August 3, 1948)
We owe Chambers a lot, a man with the courage to expose his past to all who would listen. But there are those heroes who have chosen to keep their dark past private - not that it lessens their heroism, but the history is what it is.
The first is Imre Nagy, martyred hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
In 1989, thanks in large part to our second hero, Imre Nagy was reburied with honors on June 16. That same day, the KGB chief presented a report to the CC CPSU containing clues Nagy's past:
In the course of the KGB’s work on archival materials dealing with the repression in the USSR in the second half of the thirties to the beginning of the 1950s, documents were uncovered that shed a light on the earlier, not well known activities of Nagy in our country. From the indicated documents it follows that, having emigrated to the USSR in 1929, Nagy from the very beginning, of his own initiative, sought out contact with the security organs and in 1933 volunteered to become an agent (a secret informer) of the Main Administration of the security organs of the NKVD. He worked under the pseudnym “Volodya.” He actively used Hungarian and other political emigres—as well as Soviet citizens—for the purpose of collecting data about the people who, for one reason or another, came to the attention of the NKVD. We have the document that proves that in 1939 Nagy offered to the NKVD for “cultivation” 38 Hungarian political emigres, including Ferenc Munnich. In another list he named 150 Hungarians, Bulgarians, Russians, Germans, and Italians that he knew personally, and with whom in case of necessity, he could “work.” On the basis of the reports by Nagy—“Volodya”—several groups of political émigrés, consisting of members of Hungarian, German, and other Communist parties, were sentenced. They were all accused of “anti communist,” “terrorist,” and “counterrevolutionary” activities (the cases of the “Agrarians,” “Incorrigibles,” “The Agony of the Doomed,” and so on). In one of the documents (June 1940) it is indicated that Nagy “gave material” on 15 arrested “enemies of the people,” who had worked in the International Agrarian Institute, the Comintern, and the All Union Radio Committee. The activities of “Volodya” led to the arrest of the well known scholar E. Varga, and of a whole series of Hungarian Communist Party leaders (B. Varga Vago, G. Farkas, E. Neiman, F. Gabor, and others). A part of these were shot, a part were sentenced to various terms in prison and exile. Many in 1954 1963 were rehabilitated.
From the archival materials it does not follow that Nagy was an employee of the NKVD by force. Moreover, in the documents it is directly indicated that “Volodya” displayed considerable “interest and initiative in his work and was a qualified agent.”
The second hero is a living legend, thus making his story much more influential. I'll let him do his own recap of his contribution to freedom:
[Lech Walesa, the man who led Solidarnosc]: The first wall to fall was pushed over in 1980 in the Polish shipyards. Later, other symbolic walls came down, and the Germans, of course, tore down the literal wall in Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall makes for nice pictures. But it all started in the shipyards.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There were, of course, a number of other attempts to revolt against Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. The Hungarians in 1956. The Czechs in 1968. Why did your Solidarnosc labor union succeed where others failed?
Walesa: The communists always beat back such attempts with their superior power. And they also staged demonstrations aimed at showing their support among the population as a way of establishing legitimacy. In 1980 in the shipyards, we tried to use the communists' strategy against them. We organized the people -- including workers outside of the shipyards -- and we received support from people from other countries. The Pope, who played the most important role, arranged a collective prayer, not just in Poland but also elsewhere. We found that there were millions of us. For the first time, the communists were not able to stage a demonstration that was larger than ours. As a result, they felt weak, and this was an important element in their ultimate defeat.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, even until late in the 1980s, it wasn't clear that communism was headed for collapse. Did you really believe that the Soviets would sit back and allow communist governments in Eastern Europe to be overthrown?
Walesa: The greatest fears I had came out of concern for what might be happening behind the scenes. We defeated communism, and the people in East Germany began to flee via the embassies of other countries. The Berlin Wall fell because of these deserters. I was worried that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would decide to block the mass escape and thus destroy our victory. The game was a dangerous one. It is good that Gorbachev was a weak politician and that everything went well. But that's now history so we can accept the pictures from Berlin as they are. They are indeed beautiful.
And his life was in deed in danger, his nation nearly suffering the fate that befell Hungary. But there is controversy around Walesa's past, and it is both considerable and convincing.
SPIEGEL: This Monday [note: this is from 2008] your book "The Security Service and Lech Walesa" comes out. It has already sparked an intense debate. In it, you and your co-author Piotr Gontarczyk claim that the hero of the Polish reform movement collaborated with the secret police in the 1970s. Do you have proof?
Cenckiewicz: We provide clear evidence in our book including registration cards, notations, notes from the secret police and reports from the so-called informant "Bolek." There's positive proof that Lech Walesa was registered with the secret police under that code name between 1970 and 1976.
SPIEGEL: Walesa has emphatically denied that, and says the Bolek file is a forgery. How can you be sure the secret police didn't fabricate the documents to paint the union leader in a bad light?
Cenckiewicz: We know the secret police's methods, and the way the archive and registry were run -- that's how we know. We've also found evidence from the Bolek file cited in other files.
SPIEGEL: Those could also have been forged.
Cenckiewicz: These files still had their original seals and it could be proven that they hadn't been opened since the 1970s. Manipulation is out of the question.
SPIEGEL: Assuming for a moment that Walesa was in fact Bolek as you allege, how much damage did he do?
Cenckiewicz: We describe the fate of people who Bolek informed on. We've come across seven such stories. The rest were destroyed or stolen from the files. But it's clear that Bolek informed on more than 20 people who were later harrassed or oppressed.
Once again, this does not take away from their struggles against evil - and there ability to defeat their inner demonds is remarkable in itself.
and never forget what they accomplished: