Walenty Badylak

In Brief: A humble water pump in the market square, bearing a plaque that commemorates an act of self-sacrifice and protest.

What’s it for? On March 21 1980, Walenty Badylak chained himself to the pump in protest at the Communist authority’s denial of the massacre of Polish military officers at Katyń. He caught their attention by dousing himself in petrol and setting fire to himself.

Did it work? Not really. The authorities refused to acknowledge that 22,000 Poles were killed in the Katyń forest in 1940, murdered by the Soviet Secret service, the NKVD. Such acknowledgement didn’t come until 2010, when the Russian government approved a statement blaming Stalin personally for the massacre.

So what did Badylak achieve? His death prompted a streak of civil disobedience among Cracovians, who laid flowers at the pump each night. Officials removed them each time, and each time, more were laid there. The Communist friendly press had reported his death in a low-key manner – saying a senile pensioner had died in the square. Locals, however, were having none of it.

Who was he? In short, a patriot. Badylak had served in the Polish Home Army, and lived out the rest of his professional life as a baker of some repute in Kraków. He had retired when he staged his protest.
How did the memorial come about? It took ten years in coming, and a plaque was not officially unveiled until 1990. His grandson, Wojciech Badylak, presided at the ceremony. The pump itself was restored in 2004. A short film, Święty ogień, has also been made about the incident.
What the papers said: In the morning of March 21, a suicide took place in the Market Square. An elderly man took his own life… on the way to the hospital he died. The suicide was 76-year-old Walenty Badylak. It was revealed that the deceased had been treated for chronic mental illness for many years.” (Dziennik Polski).

Bookend biography: Born 1904 date unknown, Podgórze, Kraków. Died March 21 1980, Rynek Główny.

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