Stefan Szczuka (SHCHEW-kah), the son of a tailor, trained as an engineer. He becomes a member of the Communist Party in the period before the war and spends several years in prison for subversive activities. During the occupation, he is arrested again, this time by the Germans, and is sent to the concentration camp at Gross-Rosen. With the liberation of Poland by the Red Army, he becomes the head of the Communist Party Area Committee in the Southeast. Now in his mid-forties, he is ready to help build Communism in Poland. This, he believes, must be done according to the Soviet example, although through reconciliation, not revenge and repression. His credo is that a man lives in order to shape both his own country and history. His wife, Maria, was killed at Ravensbruck, and he is driven to find out details of her death. When he meets someone who will give him such information, however, he realizes that this knowledge is less important than knowing that she comforted her fellow prisoners, helping to protect them from doubts and despair. He is thus able to lay the past to rest, but this happens ironically just prior to his own death by an assassin’s bullet.
Antoni Kossecki, a “stubborn, honest, and ambitious” magistrate in Ostrowiec, a moderately sized town one hundred miles south of Warsaw. He is not a man of exceptional talents but has managed to rise through hard work and perseverance. He is arrested by the Germans early in the war and sent to the concentration camp at Gross-Rosen, where, under the name of Rybicki, he becomes a camp orderly, participating in the control and beating of other prisoners. He judges this collaboration necessary for survival. The price is a guilty conscience and fear of discovery. He reconciles himself to this evil chapter in his life by consciously cutting it out from the years of peace. Now, in his fifties, he believes that he may be able still to achieve peace of mind by making a positive...
(The entire section is 832 words.)