Wanda Traczyk-Stawska is an outspoken 94-year-old Polish freedom fighter. She is a veteran of the Warsaw uprising, joining the resistance when she was 17 years old. Her youth and small stature earned her the nickname “Doughnut” within the resistance. She was a hardcore anti-fascist. She still is a hardcore anti-fascist. That fight extends today to the rights of women, migrants, and refugees.
Earlier in November, Wanda was given the title of Warsaw Citizen of the Year, voted on by citizens of Warsaw. According to the mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, Traczyk-Stawska received the most votes of any awardee ever. During her acceptance speech, Traczyk-Stawska called on women to reclaim the rights that have been whittled away by conservatives over the past decades:
“I accept this honor to tell you that we women by the 31st Order were granted the same rights as men. We had military ranks and decorations. We were treated the same as men. And now, in free Poland, this right has been taken away from us, so that we would have a decision that belongs to us, whether we want to be mothers or not.”
And she isn’t done.
In October, as Poland struggles like the rest of Europe (and the world) with rising neo-fascism in its forever cloak of “nationalism,” Traczyk-Stawska appeared during a rally in support of Poland’s continuing membership in the European Union (EU). Speaking in front of tens of thousands of people to strengthen the fight against the nationalist ruling party’s attempts to pull Poland back into 1939’s blatant bigotry and evil, Traczyk-Stawska is a reminder of the human spirit’s resilience.
During her speech, wearing a military beret and a Polish resistance armband, she slammed a right-wing heckler, saying, “Be quiet, stupid boy! You lousy bastard.” She told news outlets that she was frustrated that Poland’s Independence Day would be marred by right-wing groups supported by the nationalists allowed to march through Warsaw. This year’s right-wing rallying point has been a standoff at the Belarus-Poland border.
This year’s march comes as thousands of migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere have gathered just over the border with Belarus, trying to make their way into Poland, an E.U. nation where anti-immigrant sentiment runs high.
The right-wing government has banned journalists and human rights workers from entering the border zone, even as children suffer. “I am invested in the case of the children at the border. If we don’t change our attitude towards these children, they will die. You can’t abandon a child in danger. It’s shameful to treat the border children that way,” Traczyk-Stawska told AFP, reminding them that when she was 12 years old she watched Nazis “entertaining themselves by firing at babies.”
When right-wing people media and folks attack “antifa,” I think of people like Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, and I am thankful. The stakes are high and we have already seen this sick perversion of bigotry and power before.