Attempt to take over activists.
Attempt to take over activists.

Zbigniew Wilk, Footballer Who Died in Conflict

Rozwój Club, Wujek mine, Solidarity pacification, Wojciech Jaruzelski

Zbigniew Wilk, whose life was intertwined with two disparate worlds – the football field and the unrelenting reality of the strike beneath the mine.

Zbigniew Wilk’s first football footprints and work at the mine

Zbigniew Wilk, born in 1951, came to Silesia as a 14-year-old boy intending to get a mining education. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who had already started working as a miner a few years earlier. Silesia was a place where, in those days, masses of people moved with the hope of making a better life through working in the mines. Zbigniew was actively involved in sports for most of his life, and after the move, he joined a local sports club affiliated with the Wujek mine – “Rozwój”. This club was founded in 1925 and originated from the “Sokół” Gymnastic Society of Katowice – Brynów, founded in 1919. Most of the players were employees of the coal mine, for whom it was advantageous to participate in such a team due to a certain sense of privilege. Consequently, they were granted early release from their strenuous work at the mine to attend training sessions. Upon joining the club, Zbigniew commenced his football career as a defensive player. His teammates remembered him as possessing strong character, remarkable toughness, and tenacity, while also being friendly and collegial. Moreover, he was known for his honesty, diligence, and supportiveness towards others. His sisters recalled him as a deeply caring and affectionate individual who seldom showed distress and always prioritized the well-being of his family and friends, helping in times of trouble. A fellow club member described him as unflappable, a trait particularly evident during practice matches within the club.

The 1980s, Martial Law, and the Wujek Coal Mine strike

On December 13, 1981, the chairman of the Company Committee of the Solidarity Trade Union, Jan Ludwiczak, was arrested at night and was deemed by the communist authorities as one of the extreme leaders and activists of the union, along with other enemies of the prevailing system in Poland. This led to a decision the next day to halt work at the mine until Jan Ludwiczak’s release. Negotiations led by the plant director proved futile. The miners’ morale was further dampened by the decision to militarise the mine. Consequently, the miners began gathering various metal objects upon learning of the military’s intention to quell the unrest. A decision was made to forcibly enter the mine, resulting in shots being fired at the miners. During the operation, 156 bullets were discharged, resulting in the loss of nine miners’ lives. The first casualty was Zbigniew Wilk, who was among those transported to the dressing station. The aftermath of the pacification, including the casualties, prompted the decision to end the strike.

Life after the tragic accident

Due to the situation in the country, the family remained uninformed about the events and relied solely on information from newspapers, and they learned about Zbigniew’s death only upon returning from a delegation to Stalowa Wola. This revelation occurred a day before Zbigniew’s sister’s planned wedding. To this day, the anniversary of the pacification near the mine is commemorated annually. Zbigniew’s uncle and sister have erected a memorial in the village where he lived, which is visited and remembered by children from a nearby soccer school.

Thinking points

History can be intertwined with the events of martial law in 1981. Thanks to it, students could work with questions, such as: 

  • How could we get better insights into the lives of people during that period and the potential tragedies that ensued?
  • How could difficult situations have been averted? 
  • What influenced the subsequent history of martial law and solidarity?

Find out more

Paragraph: Tell the reader where they can read or watch more about this topic. Add links. For example:Find out more about Zbigniew by reading a biography here. To find out more about the pacification of the Wujek Mine and other things related to Silesian freedom here.

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