Thursday, June 21, 2012
In honour of Ryszard Siwiec
Ryszard Siwiec (7 March 1909 — 12 September 1968) was a Polish accountant, teacher and former Home Army soldier who was the first person to commit suicide by self-immolation in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of
Siwiec set himself ablaze in
Warsaw during a national harvest festival on
8 September 1968 at the Dziesięciolecia Stadium, and died in hospital four days
later. His act was witnessed by nearly 100,000 spectators, including the
national leadership and foreign diplomats who had been invited to the festival
intended as a vast propaganda spectacle. He retained consciousness after the
flames had been extinguished and film footage of the incident shows him making
statements before he is taken away.
A father of five, Siwiec planned his self-immolation in advance, leaving written and tape-recorded statements explaining his revulsion at both the Warsaw Pact invasion and communist
participation in it. His death foreshadowed the famous self-immolation of Jan
Palach in Prague
four months later. It has not been revealed whether Palach knew about Siwiec's
act of protest, as the Polish communist authorities vigorously suppressed any
information about it, stating only that Siwiec was "suffering from mental
Although his act was captured by a motion picture camera, newsreels of the festival omitted any mention of the incident.
Although a number of Czechoslovaks attended the festival, Siwiec's death became widely known in
only after the news of it was broadcast on Radio Free Europe two months after
After the fall of communism, Siwiec became the subject of the 1991 documentary film Hear My Cry (Usłyszcie mój krzyk), by Polish director Maciej Drygas. The film won the European Film Awards prize for "Best Documentary" that year.