They were once bitter foes: Lech Walesa, the pro-democracy activist, and Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the communist leader who imprisoned Walesa for 11 months during a harsh martial law crackdown in 1981.
In a sign of their reconciliation, Walesa visited the ailing 88-year-old Jaruzelski over the weekend, shaking hands with his former jailer who lay weakened in a Warsaw hospital with cancer and pneumonia.
"Get well, General," Walesa said above a photograph of the meeting posted on his website. The daily tabloid Fakt carried the picture on its front page on Monday and declared it "historic."
Walesa aide Piotr Gulczynski said that Walesa visited Jaruzelski on Saturday during a visit to his son, Jaroslaw, who is recovering from a motorcycle accident in the same Warsaw military hospital.
In the 1980s Walesa and Jaruzelski were leaders of rival forces in Poland. Walesa led the Solidarity freedom movement against the communist regime. Jaruzelski, as head of government, imposed martial law in 1981 intending to crush Solidarity, imprisoning Walesa and thousands of other Solidarity activists.
Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, but his wife Danuta and son Bogdan traveled to Oslo to receive it because Walesa feared that Jaruzelski's government would not let him back into the country if he left.
In 1989, negotiations allowed for the peaceful transfer of power from Jaruzelski's team to Solidarity. Jaruzelski stayed on briefly as the first president under democracy, but was replaced by Walesa in a 1990 general election.
Since then their ties have been civil, a reflection of the peaceful transition Poland made from communism to democracy.
Photos of the hospital meeting show Jaruzelski lying under an image of St. Mary, an irony striking to Poles. Jaruzelski was so committed to communism, which was anti-religion, that when his mother died he refused to enter the church for her funeral service.
Jaruzelski has recently undergone chemotherapy for cancer and has pneumonia as a side effect. He was hospitalized on Sept. 15.
Hospital spokesman Piotr Dabrowiecki said Monday that Jaruzelski's condition was improving and he was not running a fever anymore.
Due to his ill health, Jaruzelski was recently exempted from standing trials on charges he violated the constitution when he declared martial law and for his role in the killing of protesting workers in 1970.
Lech Walesa's website: http://lechwalesa.blip.pl/