While European governments were slow to pronounce judgment on the martial law clampdown in Poland, their church members promptly showed where their sympathies lay with an outpouring of donated relief supplies for the Polish people.
Many of these were grassroots, ad hoc efforts. Probably the largest was a collection in Dutch Protestant and Catholic churches, in a drive sparked by two Hollanders of Polish background. Contributions were prepared as Christmas parcels, and a 140-truck convoy was set to move into Poland on the day—as it turned out—that martial law was imposed.
The drive engendered strong enthusiasm in the Netherlands. One church alone contributed enough to fill 10 trucks. Royal Dutch Shell donated the 80,000 liters of diesel oil needed for the convoy. Transport companies loaned the trucks, and the drivers were volunteers.
The organizers held hasty consultation when word of the Polish crackdown was received, and decided to proceed. The convoy made the 800-kilometer trip to the Polish border and was admitted into the country, but diverted to an old airstrip at Poznan.
The plan had been for the convoy to proceed on a prearranged schedule to points around the country to unload consignments for distribution through the Catholic church.
When Polish soldiers began to insist that the convoy unload its goods on the airstrip, the captain of the convoy refused. He was placed under arrest, but told his drivers to douse their cargoes with diesel oil and set them aflame (rather than have them fall into possession of the authorities). As they began to do this, the soldiers relented, and the convoy proceeded to its scheduled distribution points.
On their return, the drivers reported witnessing secret police beating Polish citizens. They said that Polish soldiers, however, had deliberately driven tanks off the roads and overturned them.
Scandinavians and Americans have been moving aid into Poland largely by ship through the port of Gdansk, and then overland to Warsaw. They are sending many small loads to avoid overloading distribution centers and providing authorities with an excuse to intervene.
The Polish government issued a statement in mid-December assuring all foreign contributors that “aid sent by them will come to the address given by the senders.” But a directive issued later by the Polish Ministry of the Interior instructed that all aid from abroad to people in detention should be confiscated by the state. This apparently included aid to their families.
Since December 16, only shipments made by major recognized relief agencies have been permitted across the borders. Individual or small, private shipments have been banned. Knud Wumpelman, secretary-treasurer of the European Baptist Federation, reported on January 12 that he had just accompanied a shipment of food aid to Warsaw. The convoy, he said, was interrupted on only four occasions, and the materials delivered intact to the Polish Ecumenical Council. Within four hours of arrival, the supplies were fully distributed.
The greatest barrier to adequate distribution of aid is the shortage of gasoline. “The Polish officials allow relief convoys only enough gasoline to carry goods to one destination, such as Warsaw, and to return to the border,” said World Vision relief official Tony Atkins. “Delivery to outlying areas is becoming more and more of a problem. It is a situation totally out of our control.”
Zdzislaw Pawlik, secretary general of the Polish Ecumenical Council, an interchurch agency that includes all the non-Roman Catholic churches of Poland, was allowed to travel by train to West Germany on December 17, four days after martial law was imposed in Poland. He visited the relief arm of the Lutheran church in Stuttgart and the German Baptist Union in Bad Homburg, and contacted representatives of other agencies in the West working with the council to continue shipments of aid into Poland.
Pawlik told World Vision worker Ralph Hamburger that if food aid was stopped, there would be many deaths. “We have terrible problems, especially with undernourished children. It is impossible to estimate what the damages will be; the winter is already severe,” Pawlik said. He noted that shortages would be more severe since “various governments are withholding humanitarian aid.”
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