Christmas against Communism, Poland 1981

December 29, 2021 3:13 PM ET


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Thomas Swick’s “Christmas in Communist Poland” (December 24 editorial) reminds me of my first trip to Warsaw, Christmas week 1981. I was new to my job as First Chicago’s Eastern European bureau chief. . My boss accompanied me to introduce me to our three Polish clients, the only three banks in the country.

My boss brought an extra-large suitcase. He had a soft spot for Poles and always visited Warsaw Christmas week to bring presents to our friends there. The suitcase was filled with luxuries unimaginable for ordinary Poles: fine German coffee, Swiss chocolates, Hermès scarves and French perfumes. Everything was individually wrapped so that the recipient could open it in privacy, thus avoiding any embarrassment. Of course, they also had gifts for us: things like art books and locally made china and crystal.

During our visit to the Narodni (national) bank, we walked into the executive office anteroom and found a mountain of toilet paper stacked in the middle of the floor. Toilet paper was so scarce that it couldn’t be left in the toilet because it would be stolen instantly. The solution was to periodically issue a roll to each employee for personal use. Welcome to the wonders of communism.

Stephen RS Martin

Cave Creek, Arizona.

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Appeared in the December 30, 2021 print edition as “Christmas Against Communism; or, Poland in 1981.’

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