- May — September
- Monday – Friday | 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
- Saturday – Sunday | 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
- October — April
- Monday, Wednesday – Friday | 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Saturday – Sunday | 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Tuesday | closed
The permanent exhibition, devoted to the history of Solidarność and to changes that it triggered in Central and Eastern Europe, occupies the main part of the ECS building. It takes up nearly 3,000 square meters of space in the 1st and the 2nd floor. It is divided into seven rooms. Visitors spend approximately 2 hours there. The state-of-the-art exhibition is narrative in character – it immerses the visitor in history told by archival exhibits, documents, manuscripts, photographs, video presentations, and interactive installations. Every visitor is encouraged to make their own references both to history and to our contemporary times. The multitude of narrations allows multiple subsequent visits – each being a uniquely new experience.
Boards with 21 demands that the strikers hung on the gates of the Shipyard in 1980 – which today are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – the overhead crane operated by the legendary trade union activist Anna Walentynowicz, the bullet-pierced jacket of the 20-year-old shipyard worker Ludwik Piernicki, shot in December 1970, the original desk of Jacek Kuroń, one of the opposition leaders – these are just a few of nearly 1800 exhibits available in the permanent exhibition.
All surfaces that touch our guests – including benches, handrails, handles, armchair upholstery, permanent exhibition monitors, etc. – are covered with a photocatalytic coating that kills coronavirus and other viruses, bacteria and fungi. The preparation is completely safe for health, but at the same time invisible to the naked eye and not noticeable to the touch.
Our most treasured exhibit, the BOARDS WITH THE 21 DEMANDS, is included in UNESCO’s international Memory of the World Register, which contains the most valuable documents of global significance. On 17 August 1980, the workers who occupied the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard wrote down their key demands to the government authorities and displayed them on the Shipyard’s Gate No. 2. The Solidarność Trade Union emerged as a result of this strike. We also present an original map of the Shipyard as an active illustration of how the workers’ protest developed. There is an electric trolley which served as a transport vehicle, a rostrum, and a confessional during the strike. And there is the overhead crane: the workplace of Anna Walentynowicz, whose dismissal was one of the reasons for the outbreak of the strike.
Many paid with their lives for their desire for freedom. In December 1970, 45 people were shot dead by the police on the Polish Coast. The events went down in history in The Ballad of Janek Wiśniewski and the image of workers carrying their murdered colleague on a door, as if it were a catafalque, along the streets of Gdynia. The exhibition features a bullet-ridden jacket that belonged to Ludwik Piernicki, a 20-year-old plumber at Gdynia Shipyard and a victim of the December 1970 Massacre. The jacket has become a symbol, a veritable relic of our permanent exhibition. The exhibition in this room is also dedicated to the Polish opposition intelligentsia. We feature the original desk which once belonged to Jacek Kuroń, one of the leaders of the opposition against Poland’s communist regime. Recently, we have added a new prominent exhibit, a gift from the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Sciences in Bologna: the Fiat Campagnola off-road vehicle. Popularly known as the Popemobile, the car enriched the story of how the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II contributed to freedom endeavours.
Ten million Poles joined the Solidarność Independent Self-Governing Trade Union when, under the August 1980 Agreements, this only free mass social organisation in the Communist Block was established. When the poet Czesław Miłosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature and film director Andrzej Wajda won Poland’s first Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his Man of Iron (1981), a film that illustrated the August 1980 strike at Gdańsk Shipyard, people in Poland took this as a sign that the world recognised Poland’s desire for independence. This room features both Czesław Miłosz’s Nobel Prize medal and Andrzej Wajda’s Palme d’Or. Turn your head up and you will see, as if in a mirror, the idea of Solidarność — the community.
The ideas of Solidarność and the non-violent struggle for human rights in the name of freedom have been spread all over the world in all epochs by people of various nationality, race, or creed, with one thing in common – the good will: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Andriej Sacharow, Nelson Mandela, Václav Havel, John Paul II, Lech Wałęsa… The room is named after Pope John Paul II (1920–2005).
Mass arrests, brutally crushed strikes and demonstrations, and the delegalisation of the Solidarność Trade Union: martial law was introduced in Poland on 13 December 1981. The authorities trampled the post-August hopes but the spirit of hope survived in the nation, only that the desire to live a life in freedom had to go underground. This room features a STAR Police truck which was used to transport the arrested oppositionists, an artist’s rendition of Gdańsk Shipyard’s Gate No. 2 crushed by army tanks, and a genuine opposition printing press built by Bronisław Sarzyński from parts including those from a washing machine. The introduction of martial law in Poland caused a massive response worldwide. Many countries hastily began to organise aid and money collections; transports with medicines, clothes, food and medical equipment were dispatched. On the wave of support for the freedom aspirations of the Polish people, associations of Solidarność with Solidarność were established in many countries. We commemorate all these initiatives in an installation dedicated to the world’s response to martial law.
Not only trade unions, political organisations, and dissident groups fought against the communist regime. It is estimated that at least 400 organisations, groups, movements, and communities created by young people and for young people operated in Poland independent of the authorities in the 1980s. Eventually, forced to accept a compromise, the government sat down at the Round Table to talk with the opposition (look under your feet: the carpet from the negotiation room lies on the floor; the original one has survived only in fragments, with this visualisation being a painstaking reconstruction by graphic artists). Poland’s first partially free elections were announced. The exhibits include election posters, with the most famous one, “High Noon. 4 June 1989” by Tomasz Sarnecki. The opposition put forward a very strong line-up, Lech Wałęsa’s Team, to score a great victory. A Solidarność man, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, became the head of the government as Prime Minister. The process of disassembling the communist system began.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union was one of the most important events of the late 20th century. The bloodless revolution in Poland led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and to the collapse of dictatorships in one Central and Eastern European country after another. The process of building Europe’s new political and economic order began. Messages from the exhibition’s visitors make up a giant SOLIDARNOŚĆ logo. People come here to read each other’s messages, many are moved to tears. Here you can find expressions of gratitude for freedom, the pain of Ukraine’s bloody revolution, wishes for peace for war-torn Africa, dreams of justice, hope for migrants, joy of freedom. We want your message to be seen too!