A Great Love Story
He Almost Killed Her. She’s Almost Dead.
Marcin’s mother screamed to me in the courtroom: “Please, save my son!” But what could I do? I couldn’t just say that Maja slaughtered herself on her own.
A cold december night. Maja Buczek is getting back home from a St. Andrew's party. She lives in the suburbs of Wrocław. She had a little to drink. She is hungry. Her mother is sleeping upstairs. A pot of soup was left in the kitchen just in case. Maja heats it up, getting plates ready. She hears a knock on the door.
- Marcin, what are you doing here?
- Let me in.
Marcin, Maja's ex-boyfriend, followed her from downtown by taxi. She puts another plate on the table. Allegedly they talked. Allegedly Maja didn't change her mind. “I won't be with you”, she repeated. “I will not”. They have known each other for eleven years. They had been together for the last eight.
Marcin grabbed the longest knife from the stand on the table. “Those fucking knives,” her mother would say later. “It was all because of those fucking knives.”
He stabbed her in the chest, stomach, neck, and legs. She didn’t scream – her mother didn't wake up. She only covered herself with her hands. Her mother was awoken by plaintive wheezing: “Mooom, mom…”
Mother: - I went down, and she could barely stand, she was holding onto the door frame. Everything was covered in blood. I ripped off her sweater and I could see three deep holes.
Oh my god, I thought, it’s so close to her heart.
She won’t make it.
December 1st 2004. Maja lost over a gallon of blood. Police, ambulance, hospital. Surgery. After several tense hours the doctor approached the distraught mother. “I don’t think she will make it”, she said.
No. This can’t be happening. Not to Maja. Maja’s mother Ludwika Buczek pays no actual attention to the “she won’t make it” stuff. She refuses to accept it. Three weeks in the intensive care unit. She holds her daughter’s hand. She watches doctors give Maja “shot after a shot”.
Maja opens her eyes at last, but she would wake up a completely different person.
“She couldn’t move her hands, her legs,” Ludwika says. “She just kept repeating ‘I’m alive’. Unfortunately, she couldn’t even recognize me. ‘So you are my mom?’ - she asked over and over again. “‘Yes, I’m your mom, Maja’, ‘And who’s that lady who was here before?’ ‘It was me, it was me the whole time.’
Shuttling from hospital to hospital. Thoracic surgery ward (to stabilize Maja’s chest). Neurology, to examine her brain. The CT shows cortical atrophy degeneration, which means Maja’s brain works like in an Alzheimer's patient. Doctors give her psychotropic drugs. Some would make Maja very active, some just knock her out. After a few weeks the treatment is no longer working, so the mother takes her daughter home.
Maja doesn’t know who she is. She can’t describe the world around her anymore. What’s a TV, a sofa, a table, bread? What is love? How to put a puzzle together? How to play with building blocks? Somebody has to dress her and wash her. After several months she begins walking, she can smell flowers on ceramic tiles. She recognizes her mom after six months. Fed only by tea spoon, she sits motionless in one spot day by day. Just like a statue.
“At the age of twenty-five, she went back to being a newborn,” Ludwika says.
Again: I’m sorry.
Ludwika receives the first letter from jail two months after the stabbing. It’s January 2005.
“I would like to express my deepest regret about how eleven years with Maja ended” - Marcin wrote. “It IS very hard for me to describe what I’m feeling now. Writing this letter, my eyes are brimming with tears. I can’t fully explain my mental state that night. Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time; I have to live with all of it. Again: I’m sorry.
P.S.: I would like to assure you, that you can always count on my parents' financial support, if needed or if of any assistance. Please don’t resent them, they are really great people and they are doing their best to deal with this tragedy just like you”.
Marcin’s parents send Maja’s mother pln 500 (CA. usd 150) each month. This lasts for a year. Then they stop suddenly.
Not my son!
December 30th 2006, the Wrocław Criminal Court. Judge Lidia Hojeńska reads the charges:
“I hereby accuse Marcin B. of acting with intent to kill Maja Buczek. He stabbed her with a knife multiple times, causing three wounds to the chest, one to the neck, and one to the right arm and left hand each.”
Marcin B. was found guilty and sentenced to a prison term of eleven years.
The judge lists all of Maja’s injuries: damage to the thoracic artery, pericardium, right atrium, the intermediate lobe of the lung; pleural hemorrhage with cardiac arrest. She also asks Maja’s mom: “Did you ever think that anything like that might happen?”
Of course not! Ludwika adored Marcin. He would always say “Hello, what’s new”. Very pleasant and polite. He was from a good home, a normal family. His mother was a maths teacher. His father, also a teacher, was director of the local Board of Education. When she called him that horrible night he yelled on the phone: “It’s impossible! Not my son!”
“They met in high school, in Wrocław. They both participated in an ambitious program with all classes in German to practice the language,” says Ludwika. Maja was very talented from the start. She played the piano and the guitar, took dancing classes, and had amazing language skills. She effortlessly won all Polish and German language competitions. She loved sailing. Maja began dating Marcin in her senior year. She came third in the national education contest, so she had her pick of any university she wanted. She chose the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, one of the oldest and best in Europe. She studied Polish literature, later adding German as her second major. She wanted to write two masters theses at the same time. Marcin decided to stay in Wrocław, and began studying economics at the local University. They kept in touch. He travelled to Cracow. Maja’s mom did a lot for him. She prepared food for both of them, driving him to the train station, and treating him like a son. Maja visited him in her hometown. And they stayed together for the next few years.
Ludwika says in court that there were no signs of the imminent tragedy. Just a year before the terrible night, Marcin held Maja tenderly at her father’s funeral. Photographs show both of them crying.
They also used to travel a lot. Crimea, France, England. They sailed together to the Caribbean.
“Maja told me that she let him borrow over six thousand dollars for this trip. She suspected that he was cheating on her though,” her mother says. “When they got back, I knew they weren’t together anymore.” But her daughter always said: “Mom, just because we’re not together doesn’t mean that we can’t talk.”
A year later he attacked her.
Not a Single Red Cent.
August 2014. Ludwika Buczek is sixty three years old. She talks loudly, getting words out violently, as if fighting.
“Maja is gone. Only her body is left. He murdered my child. He stabbed her in the heart. His mother screamed in court to me ‘Please, save my son’. What could I do? I couldn’t just say that Maja slaughtered herself on her own. I won’t protect him!”
Four months before the hearing, Marcin sends another letter.
I would like to kindly ask you to stop asking my mother for financial support. I would like to remind you that my mother is not a part of this case and all your requests are supposed to address me. My family will always support me anyway, so if you decided to hire a lawyer and fight for the highest sentence for me, you cannot count on any financial support from my family!
You must be a very sordid person to ask my parents for money (supposedly for Maja) and pay your lawyer with it. The lawyer who wants a tough sentence for me! If you try to ruin somebody’s life (all in the name of justice of course) you should expect no help from this person’s family! That’s kinda simple and logical, isn’t it? While I remain behind bars, you won’t get a single red cent from my family, only from me, as much as I can earn here. I’m very sorry about your situation and I feel sorry for Maja, but I believe that everything will work out for the both of you.
It wasn’t supposed to look this way. A little good will would suffice.”
When the judge asked Ludwika Buczek what kind of punishment she would see for the murderer of her daughter, the prosecutor requesting no less than fifteen years, Marcin’s mother screaming, “save my son!”, all she said was: “Whatever the judge will decide.”
“My lawyer was angry with me. But I thought, let it go. He will get out, he will help us.”
Marcin works in the prison library. He complains to Ludwika.
“I’m not getting any messages from the outside. I’m not allowed to see my family. Only my lawyer sees me, so please imagine how hard the whole situation is for me. I’m alone and I can still see this tragedy when I close my eyes. That’s the only thing I think about.”
He earns PLN 250 (ca. USD 80), and sends Maja’s mom PLN 100 (USD 35). Per month.
“I was happy even with this hundred,” says Ludwika. “He sent money for two years only. Then he stopped.”
At the same time, she waged a war on Maja’s brain to get her daughter back. First she decided to do away with all the psychotropic drugs that Maja was continuously fed by doctors. Then she began a journey back to her daughter’s childhood. She paid for piano lessons with Maja’s old teacher, for guitar lessons with the same guy who taught her for six years. German classes, English classes, dance workshops.
She takes her daughter back to Cracow, six months after her “death”. They visit her old friends and professors at the university (including the famous Ryszard Nycz, Maja’s favorite). And that is another journey – back to her youth, to the time of freedom and crazy ideas.
“Mom,” says Maja when they enter the yard of her college in Krakow, teeming with pigeons as ever. “There was a bench here. There is no bench now.”
“I stayed with her friends and colleagues, wandering from one dorm to another, hoping that something would click,” says Ludwika. “But everybody kept saying: ‘Ma’am, this is not Maja. Maja is gone.’”
The mother tried to stay in touch with her daughter’s friends. They visited her, sometimes for a day or two, then went back to their own world. Visits became less and less frequent.
“I remember taking an eight-hour train ride to Rzeszow, to attend a favorite friend’s wedding. I invited them to her birthday parties. Sometimes her high school friends stopped by. Time passed; most of them started their own families. Maja was alone.”
Maja incessantly looks at photos to recall the world she was once a part of. But her memories are her mother’s. “Maja, you were very pretty and very talented. You wanted to get a Phd at the university. You wanted to become a sworn translator of the German language, remember?”
Ludwika doesn’t give up. She takes Maja to the philharmonic, the botanical garden, the zoo, to a coffee shop in a museum. Theaters aren’t on the to-do list, because Maja cannot really keep up with the plots. They took a trip for New Year’s Eve, travelled around Lower Silesia. Everything costs money though. Ludwika is trying to work, because the government pays a meager PLN 153 (around USD 50) of social security per month for Maja. She manages a scrapyard business (started by her husband before his death) and pays students to take care of Maja while she’s not home. Her savings run out very quickly so she has to leave Maja at home alone. She leaves her sandwiches and a thermos with hot tea. Her daughter sits motionless on the terrace, staring blankly into space. Ludwika gives the family cat away to neighbors because it keeps eating food left for Maja. The gas valve is moved outside, just in case Maja started to play with it.
People around her tell her to send her daughter to a nursing home. Give her away.
“How could I do that? It’s my child,” Ludwika asks and drops by every two hours to check if Maja is still sitting in the same position.
Ludwika sends a letter to Marcin’s mother. They promised to help and now they left her alone with everything. She’s not even getting their contribution of PLN 500 a month anymore. Ludwika is left with no strength. She cries every night. Marcin sends her a letter from prison saying that because of “her show in court” he has to spend eleven years behind bars. With this letter he crosses the line. “You know that your son killed Maja and me. Down on your knees, you criminal!” she wrote to his mother. “And be thankful that the prosecutor didn’t ask for a life sentence, or even the twenty or fifteen years he wanted!” But Marcin’s mother would not say a single word to her after the hearing ending with her son being sentenced to eleven years. She doesn’t want to talk at all.
Her almost son-in-law writes another letter, explaining that the death of his father “significantly affected their household budget.”
Marcin’s father couldn’t take it. He died of a heart attack.
“By the way, does anybody in your family know what honor is?” Marcin writes again. “I’m an adult, a responsible person, and I won’t let anybody pay off my debts.”
Maja is taken to a psychiatric hospital a few times. She has manic episodes, becomes aggressive, beats her mother, and screams. They have to strap her down to the bed. When Maja speaks she repeats the same thing over and over again. She falls into a vicious circle she cannot escape. It slowly sinks in that she used to be a different person, and she cannot accept who she has become. This person whom Marcin “created”.
Ludwika must have her daughter pronounced legally incapacitated to apply for any compensation and pension. She vows that she would maintain her daughter’s standard of living and care for as long as she would live.
Experts visit Maja a few times. She tells them about the walks she’s taking, about music she listens to. “I play the piano and the guitar”. When she hears someone ask what she had for breakfast she has to ask her mother. “Mom, what did I eat?” And then she slowly repeats: “Milk. Soup. Cookies.”
Experts note: “Verbal contact considerably difficult, speech frequently digressive. Patient prefers ranting for long periods of time, losing the subject, repeating herself. Lack of distinction apparent to experts. She converges with difficulty and is hardly communicative. Memory impaired, short-term memory impaired considerably, intellect capacity reduced.”
The conclusion: “Maja is not able to reconstruct facts; she answers questions only to respond to the asker, not because she actually knows the answer.”
Experts sign the application to declare Maja legally incapacitated.
Now Maja is becoming Ludwika.
The mother feeds her a lot of organic eggs. “They help with memory and are very healthy.” One egg costs PLN 1 (USD 0.30): Ludwika buys thirty hens and lets them run around in the backyard. That’s the cheaper solution. She takes her daughter to hypnosis sessions and an acupuncture specialist, in an attempt to recover anything from her memory.
“You have no idea what I tried!” she says. “Pouring wax above her head for example. That’s an old method. You have to heat the wax in a pot and pour it into a second pot over the head of the patient. Bullshit, you say? I believe in magic treatment. This is how shamans heal people. It supposedly compensates brain activity, calming the spirit and the body. Maja is trapped in her own body. And may snap out of it any moment. I am waiting for it, every minute, every day.”
In 2008, Marcin sends a letter requesting presidential clemency (Lech Kaczyński was president of Poland at the time). The request requires former approval by a judge. Marcin shows letters supporting his cause from Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, Janusz Łaznowski (head of the local Solidarity movement), and Krzysztof Grzelczyk, former governor of the province.
“I didn’t even know that he was asking for pardon,” says Ludwika. “A lady called me by accident and that’s how I learned about it. I was completely stunned. I went to the hearing, and didn’t even care who was around – the judge, the officials. I screamed at all of them. No one said a word to me. Marcin was not pardoned. But he was released after six and half years anyway, he didn’t serve the full eleven. And he wrote to me that I didn’t know what honor was. Me or my family. He killed my child and I’m the one without honor? He’s insane.”
When Maja is sent back to the psychiatric hospital, one of the nurses tells the agonized mother that she can leave her daughter at a local center for people with special needs in Ratyń. They would take care of Maja at least a few hours per day.
“She helped me do all the paper work, and that’s how Maja could leave the house.”
Maja meets Beata at the local center. Beata graduated from the same department Maja attended, was teaching school, but now works with disabled people. She takes notes about Maja:
“When I saw her for the very first time, I was struck by her beauty and intelligence in her gaze. They say ‘sometimes a person’s fate ends way before their death.’ The girl lives on memories, given to her by her mother about working in England, the trip to the Caribbean islands, and the beautiful city of Cracow. I’m not sure if this was great love. He attacked her in the heat of passion. He wanted to reach her heart. One week in a coma, cerebral hypoxia. Her life could have ended right then actually, but she’s still alive. You have to fight, girl!”
Thanks to Beata, Maja can attend the University as an extramural student. This girl, who was about to start her Ph.D. studies. She also got a chance to help at the University Library. She takes care of the book register, arranging books in alphabetical order. She tries to work.
“She rides the city bus by herself!” Her mom is happy with the tiny success. “Who would expect such a thing?”
Maja goes downtown to tame her loneliness. Sometimes she’s able to talk to somebody in German in one of the coffee shops. She really strives for contact with other people. Yet everybody sees that there’s something wrong with her. That she repeats herself, forgets things.
Sometimes she comes back home without her cell phone. Obviously some people take advantage of her disability.
I Meet Marcin.
Maja shyly enters the room. She’s tall and slim. Gorgeous, full lips. Very beautiful.
“What would I say to Marcin? That’s a very good question. What would I say to him? My first words to Marcin? What would I say to him? I can’t attack him… like ‘why did you do it to me?’ Maybe something about his father passing away? What would I say to him? I have no idea. He’s a murderer after all. A killer.”
Maja knows that the court decided that Marcin was supposed to pay her three hundred thousand zlotys in compensation (around usd 100,000); he also has to pay a monthly pension of pln 1,700 (around usd 600). She also knows that Marcin hasn’t been paying for years. She can only count on her mother and sister, divorced with two kids, her ex-husband refusing to pay alimony.
“I find contact with Maja terrifying,” says Ewa, Maja’s sister. “I don’t feel that she is my sister anymore. You can’t talk to her like a normal person. She’s emotionally blocked. She somehow knows, maybe deep inside, that she should open up and live like a normal person but she can’t and doesn’t know how.”
Ludwika bumps into Marcin in a shopping mall, by accident. She’s in shock. She doesn’t know how to react. But Marcin doesn’t avoid talking to her, even if they both don’t really know what to say. He gives her his phone number.
“No one told me that he got released” - Ludwika can’t really describe what she feels at the moment. Fear? Anger? Hate? “He didn’t change at all. Maybe he’s a little bit paler. He told me he would help Maja. He called. We met again. He wanted me to estimate the whole debt, or exactly how much he would have to pay Maja her entire life. Two million dollars? Three? I asked him if he would pay anything. He agreed. So I took Maja for hypnosis sessions. I called him afterwards. We saw each other one more time. I told him it cost usd 300, and he told me he would not give me anything until I give him the amount. I left crying.”
It Can’t Be Undone.
February 2015. Marcin finally picks up the phone. We tried to talk to him for the past several months. He’s very nice, does not try avoiding difficult questions. No, he didn’t start a family. He lives with his mother.
He says that estimating the debt would help him a lot. He wants to know how much he has to pay. If they gave him three-four years, he would get that kind of money.
“Maja’s pension, this usd 600, I would pay gladly. But at the moment I already owe her over a million dollars, the amount still growing. I can’t even afford to pay interest on this debt. I applied for an adjustment of the amount to my match my financial capacity. And they have been working on the decision for more than a year now. The most important thing for the prosecutor was to punish me. And it worked. It worked very well.”
“But you hurt this woman, ruined her for life and left the prison after six and a half years. You’re not even paying her the pension. How do you feel about it?”
“I feel bad about it and I’m trying to find a solution. i saw Mrs. Buczek three times. I asked her to call off the enforcement proceedings. I wanted to start my own business, a company. If I had the money, I would be able to help and pay off my debts and liabilities. Every time I tried to work a bailiff showed up and took 60% of my salary. I only had pln 200 (usd 70) for my personal expenses. Every employer, seeing my record, fired me on the spot. I know I did a terrible thing but I really don’t know how can I help right now. Polish law doesn’t give me a chance at all. I understand Maja’s mother, her emotions, and how hurt she is, but I don’t have this money. If my family didn’t help me, I don’t know where I would be living. Probably on the street.”
“The law protects Maja,” he continues. “And I’m not trying to shirk responsibility. But it would be nice if they could trust me a little bit. Just a little bit.”
Marcin doesn’t want to reflect on events from ten years before.
“I had three options - run away, commit suicide or surrender to the police. I chose the last one and accepted the verdict with humility. Whatever was done cannot be undone, even if I really want it to. I have to focus on what’s going on now and how I can help. A lot of employers wanted to hire me part time or as a contractor. Not everybody knows that in such case the bailiff would take 100% of my income. How am I supposed to live? That’s why I am fighting to have the decision changed, to make my circumstances more realistic. It’s not even about the pension, it’s about compensation: it’s over USD 100,000 now – when I was in jail, interest kept growing. I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to pay off this debt. I was begging them – please, freeze the liability debt. I will get out, I will start working. They said no. I asked if I can make partial payments. The judge responded that it doesn’t matter because I don’t have any money anyway. A million dollars of debt in Poland where the minimum salary is USD 500 per month and it’s not easy to get a job, especially for somebody with a criminal past –
that’s science fiction. It’s a vicious circle.”
Sometimes Marcin sees his ex-girlfriend downtown. He never tried to communicate because he’s not sure what kind of consequences that would result it. “And her mom doesn’t allow it.” He doesn’t want to answer if that was great love – it still hurts his family and Maja’s.
Maja’s biggest dream is to function among normal people:
“But it’s very hard to find a normal person, really. Those normal ones say that I live in a limbo. I’m not sick, I’m not healthy. I’m in between worlds.”
Compensation for victims? The government won’t help Maja.
Since 2005, Poland has had a law providing compensation for victims of violent crimes who cannot get financial compensation from the offender or from any other source.
However, victims can apply for such assistance only up to two years from the date of the offence. For Maja this road is closed. When the tragedy happened, the act had been enacted yet.
Not only that. The act is a dead law, because Poland did not ratify the European Convention for the Protection of Victims of November 24, 1983, which includes minimum standards of governmental compensation for such damages (it has been implemented by the majority of EU members).
Poland adheres to the directive of the Council of Europe, obliging countries to set up a compensation system. As a result, Poland set up a dedicated budgetary fund of approximately 70 million dollars per year, a mere 0.2 percent of which is actually paid to victims.
The project was designed to assist about 12,800 people per year. In practice, the average number of people using the fund totals 43 per annum. Firstly, because hardly anyone is aware of the law’s existence. Secondly, prosecutor Lidia Mazowiecka from the General Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw suggested that there are a lot of obstacles in the procedure required to receive compensation. For example, the court can compel the victim to obtain personal information, address data, and financial status of perpetrators. Or – contrary to the letter of law – the court refuses to assign an attorney to victims, while offenders are assisted by a lawyer.
Circumstances of the court dismissing claims for compensation filed by mothers of underage victims are frequent, once they are found non-eligible to apply. Sometimes judges also refuse to waive the costs of proceedings, declaring that income of USD 100 per month should suffice to… save regularly to cover any costs.
On February 22nd 2012, at the “State Compensation for Victims of Crime in Poland – Present and Future" conference, Deputy Attorney General Marzena Kowalska said that the rule of a prosecutor (as defined by the Act) is to protect the state interest budget above any other. But as party to the proceedings they can also move for compensation for the victim. “It's really hard to understand the role of the prosecutor in compensation proceedings,” the prosecutor concluded.
The Human Rights Defender requested the Minister of Justice to secure funds, previously unused to compensate victims. He also repeatedly pointed to the need for an urgent amendment to the Act, because it doesn’t provide real or effective assistance to victims, and leads to their repeated victimization. The Senate decided to work on the amendment, but nothing has happened until this day.
Translation: Jazzy Trafficano, Ralph Strzalkowski, Joylani Scavo
Proofreader, editor: Aleksandra Sobczak
All the last names of the offender and his family are shorten to the first letter of their surname in this article. It’s illegal in Poland to publish any material with the full name of the criminal, if the judge didn’t order otherwise. On contrary, all victims usually have to use their full names. Unfortunately it’s another victimization and humiliation for them.
Even if there’s Public Health Care in Poland, access to specialists is very limited. Not to mention that neurologists, specialized with PTSD are very rare and usually practice in private clinics or, usually, abroad. The government doesn’t assist in any way to get access to the professional, top level of that kind of care.