Solidarity's Secret

The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland
Shana Penn
The first book to document women's crucial role in the fall of Poland's communist regime


Solidarity's Secret is the first book to record the crucial yet little-known role women played in the rise of an independent press in Poland and in the fall of that country's communist government.

Shana Penn pieces together a decade of interviews with the women behind the Polish pro-democracy movement—women whose massive contributions were obscured by the more public successes of their male counterparts.

Penn reveals the story of how these brave women ran Solidarity and the main opposition newspaper, Tygodnik Mazowsze, while prominent men like Lech Walesa were underground or in jail during the 1980s martial law years. The same women then went on to play influential roles in post-communist Poland.

Solidarity's Secret gives us a richly detailed story-within-a-story—unheard of not only in the West, but until recently even within Poland itself—from one of the most important eras in modern history.

Shana Penn is a visiting scholar at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. She directs the Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland, a philanthropic program of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture, based in San Francisco.

Praise / Awards

  • "Shana Penn is a very perspicacious writer. Coming from abroad, she felt free to address a problem that was invisible to her Polish host blinded as they were by the persistence of the Polish romantic tradition which valorized the activities of men much more than of women. She met with the incredulous resistance of the women who considered their activities as something completely normal and rejected any notion of heroism. They were afraid of being labeled "feminists", tired of any ideological affiliation. With tact, persistence and intelligence, Shana Penn penetrated that resistance and offers to the reader the most complete and interesting history of a social movement that shook the world. In Solidarity's Secret we see for the first time the complete cast of the movement that did not show much solidarity towards its women."
    —Irena Grudzinska Gross, Boston University

  • "Solidarity's Secret is an extraordinary book. Shana Penn's rich account explains how the national histories and personal stories of a small group of Polish women became intertwined to make possible the events of 1989. She powerfully exposes the tensions between perceptions and realities, and gives a voice to the women involved; a voice that was muted for far too long."
    —Joanna Regulska, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

  • "This important book explores one of the most pivotal periods in Polish history and deals with a topic nearly everyone else overlooked. Shana Penn's study begins with a simple question I wish I had thought more about myself: once the leadership of Solidarity had been arrested during the 1981 military coup, who kept the movement alive over the following months and years? The answer will surprise you, as Penn delves into the lives of seven Polish women activists who rose to the call, set about saving an entire political movement, and in time turned themselves into some of the most powerful women in Poland today."
    —Lech Walesa, former President of Poland and winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize

  • "Communism couldn't have fallen in Poland if not for brave female activists whose clandestine efforts, largely through the underground press, went virtually unnoticed on the world stage. . . . Shana Penn breaks the silence in Solidarity's Secret."

  • "A scholarly account of the work of hitherto-unacknowledged women in the labor and civil rights movement that eventually unseated communism in Poland. . . .Welcome homage to the founding mothers of the new Poland."
    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Little is known, in the world as well as in Poland, of the women who shored up the men, took a back seat to recognition and acknowledgements, and suffered as much as the incarcerated men during martial law. . . . [Shana Penn draws on] critical interviews from dozens of brave women in documenting and creating this exceptional book. it is a vital part of the history of Poland's break from Communism and the development of a democratic country."
    Polish American Journal

  • "If it weren't for Penn . . . the subject of women who contributed to Solidarity's victory would have been passed over in silence by Polish and American historians alike."
    —Izabela Filipiak, San Francisco Chronicle

  • Winner: 2005 Heldt Book Prize for Best Book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Women's Studies given by the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS)

  • Assocation for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS) Award

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, Shana Penn. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 5.75 x 8.8.75.
  • 400pp.
  • 23 B& W photographs.
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Sales Restrictions

Our edition is available in Canada, United States


  • Paper
  • 2006
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03196-2

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  • $28.95 U.S.