Lenin in Zakopane (Poronin)

In 1912 when Lenin moved here from Switzerland Poland was still partitioned and occupied by Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. Kraków lay in Austria, just six miles form the Russian border. This closeness, and the fact that a neutral “free zone” existed along the frontier, meant papers and money could be readily smuggled across the border and illegal crossings by people were easy. Austrian authorities were lax in these matters, and  


 did not bother the Russians. News from Russia reached Lenin faster in Kraków, the communists in Russia received a boost from the nearness of their main leader, and he was inspired by being closer to the struggle.

The Lenins took a room in the Zwierzyniec suburb, then moved to Lubomirski Street in town to be closer to the post office. Lenin’s mother-in-law moved in with them. Lenin liked the city. He said it reminded him of Russia, though he called it “provincial and barbarous.” He liked its żurek soup and strong liquor and was a regular at a café in the main square. His wife said Kraków mellowed him. He enjoyed walks in the city and countryside and ice skating in winter. Lenin could speak only a little Polish, his wife knew the language better. He found a population, about four thousand of them Russians, with a hatred of the ruling class and the Russian czar. Lenin’s two years in Poland were a preparatory time, where he struggled with solutions to economic and cultural problems. From Kraków, he guided Communist Party activities in Russia, ran the party organ Pravda, wrote essays and plotted strategy. He held party meetings with members who had come illegally from Russia, including Stalin, and traveled to Paris and Brussels for conferences.
When Lenin’s wife took ill with goiter in 1913, a doctor recommended a move to the mountain air of the Tatras just to the south. In May, they rented a large villa for the summer with two other socialist couples in Poronin, five miles from Zakopane. They loved the awesome Alpine views, and Lenin enjoyed long hikes in the mountains. He swam in the Dunajec River and bathed in streams. He often biked to Zakopane to the post office, sitting outside to read his mail or play chess. Yet all the while Lenin kept up his work shepherding the communist struggle in Russia. The Lenins returned to the villa the next summer. Lenin’s fondness for the place was evidenced by the fact that years later he had a large photo of the house on the wall of his study in the Kremlin.The hypocrisy of Lenin’s communism was evident long before he controlled Russia. He was not a member of the working class, but a lawyer, scholar and writer. He received a small party salary bankrolled by rich anti-czarist supporters and robberies committed by communist thugs. Income form his writing and his mother’s czarist-government pension also helped. Though funds were often short and income uneven, the Lenins had no problem hiring a Polish woman to clean house for them in Poronin, nor to spend summers in the beautiful vacation home. Hardly in the spirit of the working man or peasant.
On August 1, 1914 World War I broke out. Lenin was arrested in Poronin as a possible Russian spy and spent twelve days in prison in Nowy Targ. The Lenins knew they had to leave Austria-Hungary, now at war with Russia. As Russians, they were now under constant watch. They packed, took a hotel room in Kraków, and in short order received permission to leave for Switzerland.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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About Basia Zarzycka