Lech Wałęsa, the former president of the Republic of Poland and leader of the Solidarity movement who has visited metro Detroit multiple times to promote cross-border economic ties, is the subject of a new book, “Solidarity and Lech Wałęsa 1980-1990.”
The “album” book contains rare photos from the early days of Solidarity in 1980, the subsequent peaceful protests “of the great anti-communist social movement,” the period of martial law that lasted from Dec. 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983, and the Polish Round Table Talks in 1989 that led to the transition to a Solidarity-led government.
Wałęsa, who was elected president of Poland in 1990 and served for five years, last visited metro Detroit in November 2019 as part of the Varner Vitality Lecture Series at Oakland University in Rochester Hills.
Poland’s spiritual leader had accepted the university’s invitation to reflect on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “At the time of the occupation, there was 200,000 Soviet troops in Poland and 1 million more soldiers in Eastern Europe. And there were hundreds of hidden nuclear missile sites,” he said during his address.
Throughout his campus visit, Wałęsa wore a beige shirt underneath a suit jacket that spelled out in bold, red letters the word “CONSTITUTION.” He explained the reference served to highlight that voter-approved principles of how free states and nations are governed should never be cast aside.
“We in Poland gave up our hope in the 1930s, and you see what happened,” he remarked. “We can never give up the freedoms we fought for. What is the reason of having a constitution if it isn’t to be followed? The constitution must be followed to the letter. What we look to the United States for today is ideas and guidance that can be whispered in our ears. We need guidance from America, the most powerful and free society in the history of mankind.”
Published by Kosycarz Foto Press in Poland, the book offers dozens of prominent and rare photos such as Walesa’s address to the U.S. Congress in 1989 as well as intimate family photos of the future president shopping, milking a cow, repairing machinery, and visiting with American actor Robert De Niro.
The book, which offers detailed captions with each of the 80 photos, including several personal comments from the Solidarity leader, was the idea of Adam Domiński, Wałęsa son-in-law and president of the Lech Wałęsa Institute, and the late Maciej Kosycarz, a prominent photographer from Gdańsk in northern Poland where Wałęsa worked in the shipyards prior to and during the Solidarity movement.
Polish native Andrew Niemczyk, who came to America in 1984, says he was heartened by Wałęsa and the Solidarity movement. “I was fighting the Communist system, and Wałęsa was an inspiration to so many people in changing things for the better, says Niemczyk, chairman and chief technology officer at Exlterra, a sustainable environmental solutions firm in Hazel Park. “I am very appreciative of how Solidarity changed the mindset toward freedom at that time.”
Today, there are around 9.2 million self-identified Polish Americans living in the United States — Michigan has a population of more than 850,000 Polish people (8.6 percent), third behind New York and Illinois, respectively. In metro Detroit, concentrations of Polish people can be found in Hamtramck, Detroit, Dearborn, Troy, and Wyandotte.
In addition, the region is home to The Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools, founded in 1885 and today located on the shores of Orchard Lake (3535 Commerce Road). The school is home to the Marian Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
To preview or buy the book, which is listed at 150 zloty ($39.90 U.S.), visit here.