The police who came in the early morning hours Sunday to seize the leaders of the Solidarity trade union arrived with their own keys to the rooms in which the union officials were staying -- a minor detail, but one underlining that Poland's Communist-run security apparatus had stayed intact and in the shadows during the country's brief glow of greater freedom.
I watched from a chair in the lobby of Gdansk's Monopol Hotel, where many of Solidarity's National Commission members were staying, when the union leaders were taken by Polish security forces.
It was 2 a.m. Sunday. I got inside by passing through the line of police in full riot gear who had encircled the hotel shortly before. Reaching the hotel entrance without being stopped, I asked the guards there for permission to go in.
"You want to come inside?" said a plainclothed agent, apparently the one in charge. "Okay we'll take you in," which he did and then advised me that I was being temporarily detained. He plunked me in a corner of the lobby with the order not to speak or write, and he recorded my passport number.
Police and other security agents filled the small lobby and lined the stairway and landing. One by one, the union leaders were led out of the hotel into police wagons. Each union official was escorted by two uniformed police officers and an agent in civilian clothes.
All but one had their hands behind their backs, not tied but palms held up in plain view.
Their faces seemed to betray little sign of worry or fear about what was happening to them; it was just the opposite. They looked composed and rather confident, perhaps believing that they had a force of 10 million workers behind them that would soon show what a terrible miscalculation the authorities had made by ordering the move against the union.
In fact, those 10 million have not been a match for the tremendous military force massed against them and the skillful psychic intimidation, which Polish authorities are practicing. It is apparent that the union, for all its remarkable strength earlier in forcing concessions from the Polish Communist Party, lacked a contingency plan to deal with a total crackdown.
In place of the confident challenge to authority that was the hallmark of Solidarity's existence, Poles now are learning how to live in fear again and to act guardedly.
"Poland will not be a Stalinist country. But it will be a grim, gray, boring Communist country now," said a senior Polish journalist interviewed in Warsaw on Thursday. "After the initial purge, the reign of terror will end. But that initial phase of terror may last from six months to three years."
As a sign of how the curtain of intimidation and caution has dropped on the country, the journalist asked whether I noticed anyone following me on the way to visit him at his house. I had not, I reassured him.
Another visit, to the line outside the Bielany Sam grocery store in the northern part of Warsaw, provided an example of how Poland's general emotional climate has changed dramatically in the past week. People in the grocery line, interviewed recently, were buoyant and especially talkative about the political situation. This week they wore expressions of depression and glumness and no one would talk about politics for more than a sentence or two.
In view of its now apparent vulnerability, the bold demands by Solidarity for democratic elections, mass rallies, public referendums and general strikes in the face of the Warsaw government's own toughened stance last week look suicidal to those Poles who, for all their resentment against the government, say the union has to share some responsibility with the Communists for what happened.
"Solidarity went crazy," said the Polish journalist. "We had a once in a lifetime chance for a more liberal socialist country, and now it's gone."
It is, of course, doubtful that Solidarity, determined in the end to press for its demands, could have come up with any contingency plan that would have survived the party's use of brute military power. But it seems that the union's leadership did not take seriously enough the possibility that the government would finally summon troops against workers, since it was often assumed that the government would not risk the inevitable blood bath that would come with a crackdown.
It is clear from remarks by union leaders and advisers at the commission meeting last weekend in Gdansk that Solidarity expected the confrontation with the government to remain basically a cold war, marked perhaps by hot skirmishes like the police raids against the Warsaw firefighters' academy in early December.
"We are in a classic political deadlock" said Jan Olszewski, a top Solidarity adviser, during the Gdansk meeting. His statement goes a long way toward reflecting the view of the situation that led the union to make one of the most serious miscalculations in recent European history.
"The authorities can't destroy Solidarity because they aren't strong enough and also, without the union to negotiate with, there would be an uprising and a blood bath," he said. "On the other hand, Solidarity can't destroy the authorities because the union has nothing to replace them with. Also, the union is helpless in the face of military power."
Another senior union strategist, historian Bronislaw Geremek, indicated that Solidarity still assumed it could negotiate with the authorities on the union's demands, even though those demands clearly threatened the last hold on power of the Communist Party of Poland -- particularly Solidarity's call for democratic elections.
"It's not true that the party's only position is to preserve its political monopoly," Geremek said in an interview on his last day of freedom. "Some in the party see that is impossible now. I think some parts of the party are willing to participate in the new situation, to play a political game with the country's other forces -- the union and the church. It would mean a kind of agreement on a new formal distribution of power between these forces."
Some union militants did worry about the need for preparations in the event things turned ugly with the authorities. Seweryn Jaworski, the deputy chairman of Solidarity's Warsaw branch, publicly advocated several times earlier this month the training of a "workers' militia" that would be armed with batons and steel helmets -- hardly enough to force the government's armored units into retreat but the beginnings at least of a counterforce contingency plan by Solidarity.
In any case, Solidarity officials clearly miscalculated the party's will to compromise and its will to use force to preserve itself. The party leadership, apparently concluding that a physical confrontation with the union was inevitable, decided to act first.
The initial comments that a reporter could gather from Poles in the chaotic first days after the declaration of martial law and the mass arrests of Solidarity members and sympathizers suggest that many Poles see the takeover as a desperate action by the country's own Communist Party to hold power. Attention has not yet focused, at least in a publicly articulated way, on the Soviet role in these events.
The result seems to be a public response that combines a mood of depression and bitterness rather than the kind of violent rage that would have been likely if Soviet forces were directly involved.
The government's first efforts suggest a surgical strike that would be the equivalent of a national pre-frontal lobotomy. The curfew drives Poles off the streets by 10 p.m. There are no motion picture houses, restaurants or civic clubs open in any event. There is one channel of television. It is filled with motion pictures from World War II showing the Poles fighting the Germans, as the government seeks to tap the sense of patriotism and pride and to underline the Russian assertion to have freed Poland from the Nazis.
But the demonstrators who have moved into the streets are using that same history in a different way. The demonstrators in Gdansk this week were shouting "Gestapo, Gestapo" at their own Polish security forces.