Ryszard Siwiec

On September 8th, 1968, a Polish teacher Ryszard Siwiec attended a traditional Harvest Festival celebration at Warsaw’s Stadion Dziesięciolecia. Dousing himself in petrol, Siwiec set fire to himself in front of the film cameras to protest against communist rule in Central Europe. The stadium was packed with 100,000 spectators, including Polish government officials and representatives from other Warsaw Pact nations.

Siwiec died in a hospital a few days later. The Polish government obfuscated the reasons for his self-immolation, and declared Siwiec was suffering from mental illness. Siwiec was the first of a series of Communist Block citizens to perform self-immolation. His death foreshadowed the more famous self-immolation of Jan Palach in Prague’s Wenceslas Square four months later. Since news about Siwiec’s sacrifice were suppressed, it is doubtful that Palach knew about it and Siwiec’s death became widely known in Czechoslovakia only when Radio Free Europe reported it two months after Palach’s death.

See an incredible footage of this event here. I don’t know how these pictures and footage survived the Communism.

5 thoughts on “Ryszard Siwiec

  1. In that video he seems ridiculously calm for a guy who’s on fire. Even after his clothes are burned off and his skin’s all blistered and mottled, he’s just standing there chatting with the cops. I’ve never been on fire that way myself, but I expected a more dramatic reaction.

  2. Amazing photo and footage – thanks for the link. You are right, it is incredible that this made it out from under the ‘iron curtain’.

    Love the blog, keep up the great work!

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