The specter of a prison punishment for even slight political offenses became an element of daily life in post-war Poland. In interwar Poland, imprisonment, especially for communists, had served as a rite of passage, endurance training, and a university teaching life skills. The post-war order brought a dramatic shift, as communists all over the region, often veterans of interwar prisons or war-time concentration camps, used incarceration sites as a way to mold the future. The prison system functioned as a tool to subjugate society and silence or destroy enemies- anti-communists as well as committed communists. Arrests, trials, and prison sentences directly and indirectly affected tens of thousands of people and instilled fear and insecurity in many more.
Many of those imprisoned as enemies of the new post-war Communist authorities were women. Some were jailed for their alleged collaboration with the Nazi resistance during the war, some for post-war activities in various civil and quasi-military groups, still others on the basis of their relationships with those already imprisoned. For some, there was evidence of their anti-state activities, while for many others the accusations were contrived.
In this work, Anna Müller unearths the prison lives of these women through their autobiographical writings, interrogation protocols, cell spy reports, and original interviews with former political prisoners. Her interviewees narrated their own versions of what happened during their arrests, interrogations, and confinement. They also explored their emotions: surprise, confusion, fear, and anger. Although their imprisonments interrupted their lives, separated them from families, and caused much suffering, the women reflected on how they refashioned themselves during their interrogations; applied their senses to orient themselves in the prison space; and used their bodies to gain control over themselves and as a means to exercise pressure on the authorities. The creativity that they displayed individually and collectively in their cells helped them rebuild a semblance of normal life inside prison walls despite the abuses inflicted by interrogation officers and guards.
By examining women's lives in the cells of Communist-era prisons, If the Walls Could Speak contributes to our understanding of coercion and resistance under totalitarian regimes.