Tag Archives: Poland

Israel Joshua Singer, Podgórze Ghetto, Płaszów Camp

Israel Joshua Singer is Isaac Baschevis’s older brother. His book The Brothers Ashkenazi (1936) blew me away. Written in Yiddish about the Jews of Łódź, Poland, it reads to me like a working out of demons — a deep and knowledgeable, very Marxist examination of capitalism and justice, yet the most chilling of conclusions about the power of hate.

All of these things find an equally chilling physical manifestion in the ghetto of Podgórze and the remains of Płaszów Camp.

The Brothers Ashkenazi begins, of course, in the Łódź ghetto, and contains the first of many things that struck me like blows, the similarities of segregation in Poland and that of African-Americans in the US:

At first, the Jews confined themselves to their own quarter. Seemingly overnight the houses already standing sprouted additional stories, annexes, wings, extensions, ells, attics, and garrets to accommodate the flow of newcomers converging upon Lodz from the surrounding areas…

Gradually the Jews began to spill out of their congested area in Wilki, which was officially closed to them. The first to stick a toe inside the restricted area were the more affluent, audacious Jews; presently the more timorous followed.

Then, like a torrent overflowing its banks, the Jews smashed down all barriers set up to include them.

Here too is an examination of real estate, and strategies for overcoming racial and religious restrictions as seen through the wheelings and dealings over building a new residential suburb. A savvy character named Preiss sees the potential, and buys land from a heavily indebted noble family, pretending it is for a factory.

Forgetting the fact that a Polish nobleman was obliged to address a Jew by his first name only, the Kanarskis abjured protocol and were almost civil to their visitor.

They are furious when they find out it is to become a residential area for Jews rather than an industrial one, but too late — the new municipality of Baluty is built, swallowing up peasant huts and transforming the lives of the gentiles within them in a new cultural melding.

This is also a story of the lived experience of Hasidic Judaism, of the unique battles between tradition and modernity faced by those raised in such traditional households. It explores the many contradictions of religion and capitalism, as well as the complicated relationships between family through the complex relationship between the twin brothers Ashkenazi, Simha Meir (Max) and Jacob. Both become successful, though in very different ways, both leave Hasidic Judaism for the most part behind them. Both love the same woman. There are a host of characters that seem drawn directly from life in all of their quirks and hypocrisies. My favourite is perhaps Feival, who works to recruit young men away from the Hasidim and into the intellectual heresy of their choice.

In his large house, strewn with daughters, papers, promissory notes, and bedding, stood bookcases filled with books for which he had paid fortunes.

His wife and daughters hate him…I was impressed by how Singer exposes quite relentlessly the oppression of women, their limited possibilities, the ways that it twists and distorts their lives and dreams. Not so impressed at the consistently shallow figures of haridans running around the novel (with one exception), but no one in this is whole.

What most fascinated me, however, is how with all of this emotional complexity of life and religion as they are lived, this also manages to be a story of the industrial revolution. A story of the rise of capitalism. It describes the practice of Jews buying factories through gentile front men, and hiring only gentiles so their factories can run through the Sabbath ‘with impunity and a clean conscience.’ Simha Meir becomes Max in his quest to become the ‘King of Łódź’.

More than ever he spent sleepless nights, scheming how to squeeze even more profits out of the factory.

He cuts out middle men, reduces quality of the materials used, reduces the amount of material, improves technology from hand looms to steam, reduces wages, increases hours. It explains the whole process of piecework and subcontracting. It describes in detail manufacturing at the beginning of the 1900s, here is just  a sample:

A giant cloud of steam, moisture, and stench hovered over the dyeing rooms. the directors grimaced at the half-naked workers clattering in wooden clogs over the slippery stone floors. they laundered the goods, rinsed and dried them before huge ovens, steamed them, threw them into bins, and passed them through the press.

By now the visitors had had enough, but Ashkenazi wouldn’t let them go.

There are ongoing strikes and the organizers are complex and sympathetic characters appearing throughout the book. The strikes are mostly broken — it is Simha Meir who reports its organizers to the police. Thus the workers come to study Marx:

Ironically, there was no place in tsarist Russia that offered such splendid opportunity to study Marxism as prisons.

As the strike falls apart, religious violence is unleashed as Catholics rampage through Jewish streets. The fragile solidarity built between workers is nowhere near enough to contain the fury and violence.

As the Jewish community mourns its dead and rebuilds what has been destroyed, industry and business push forward into a new time of prosperity for the few and increased misery for the workers.

The contradictions of capitalism emerge, as the huge bubble of credit spurring prosperity eventually bursts. Fires break out across the city as factories, warehouses, spinneries burn for the insurance. Simha Meir stays ahead. Rebuilds.

More violence is unleashed as the Austrian army occupying Poland unravels, and war breaks out. Singer writes:

The only ones with no homeland to return to were the Jews. Hooligans of all persuasions daubed their homes and shops with obscene and threatening slogans. the sounds of nationalistic and religious songs were accompanied by the tinkle of shattered Jewish windowpanes.

This is eerie. Just as is the descriptions of the 1918 massacre/pogrom of Lviv (Ukrainian)–Lwów (Polish)–Lemberg (Austrian).

When the Crocuses arrived and drove off the Ukrainians, the Jewish quarter was offered to them as a prize. A mob of priests, clerks, streetwalkers, nuns, housewives, criminals, teachers, monks, nurses, and assorted civilians gathered to egg on the conquerors. “Get the sheenies!” they howled. “Hang them by their beards! Smoke them out like rats!”

The mob is everyone, it unites the city across all other barriers because who does not appear in this list? Legionnaires disarm the Jews, hang the leaders. The next morning they set up machine guns at all the strategic corners and open fire. Then they go from house to house stripping them of valuables, raping women and killing at whim babies and grandmothers and anyone who resists.

“Let no Jewish seed remain in Christian Poland!” the officers cried.

On the second night they do their best to burn the quarter down to the ground.

Singer’s despair weighs on you like a stone. This insanely violent and destructive anti-Jewish sentiment makes a mockery of Marx — not in terms of the functioning of capitalism and industry and the resulting desperation and misery of the workers, but in the hopes for the unity of the working class to overturn it. You arrive at this conclusion with Singer, and it fucking hurts.  Because he understands the plight of the workers all too well, and his sympathies are always with the agitators fighting for change:

Like flies caught in spider webs, the men, women, and children of Balut sat glued to their looms, working until they dropped. But all the millions they earned weren’t enough to prepare for the Sabbath.

Yet in a world where capitalism has intertwined with gentile power and hate, capitalism is impossible to overturn and attempts to do so will only bring another wave of Christian violence crashing down on the Jewish community. Another strategy is required.

Had Jews adopted the gentile’s ways, they would have already long since vanished from the face of the earth. But the Jews perceived that theirs had to be a different course, and it was this perception that had lent them the moral strength to endure and accumulate the only kind of force the gentiles respected — intellectual and economic power.

You can read this book perhaps as a commentary of the emptiness, the unhappiness of In Max Ashkenzai’s life, where he only finds a measure of fulfillment in reconciling with his family through mutual tragedy. Yet I don’t think Singer lets us off that easily. In the face of hatred he shows how Max’s life — despite its ruthless exploitation of his fellow Jews along with gentiles, its emptiness  and unhappiness — is perhaps the best Jews can achieve. It is a victory and a revenge against Polish society that needs celebration. Thus, at his funeral, Max is acknowledged the King of Lodz, and beloved of his people:

Piotrkow Street was black with people, droshkies, carriages, and cars. Wild-bearded Hasisdim walked next to top-hatted bankers, grimy vendors, clerks, brokers, herder students, beggars, thieves, workers. In Max Ashkenazi’s passing they say the demise of Lodz itself. His funeral was its funeral.

It was hard reading this to remember that it was published during the Nazi’s rise to power, that these conclusions were reached with such desperate sadness before anyone knew the unthinkable thing the Nazis planned. These conclusions seem even more apt in grappling with the meaning of the holocaust, and I have found a little more insight I think, into today’s politics and all the ugliness of Israel’s actions. I still hate them, and watch, with heart breaking, oppression beget oppression.

“Let no Palestinian seed remain in Jewish Israel!” the officers cried.

While Krakow’s museums and plaques and self-descriptions rightly celebrate the stories of those who stood against the Nazis — among them Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the Catholic owner of the Eagle Pharmacy in Podgórze who continued operation and helped the resistance, or Schindler (with all his complications) whose factory also sits in Podgórze — they fail signally to engage with this longer history.

We did not visit Auschwitz-Birkenau — the thought of visiting a place of such horror as an attraction, with a guided tour for tourists as you must, filled us with dread. Instead we spent a day exploring the remnants of the ghetto on our own.

Between 1941 and 1943, Nazis carried out mass murders of Jews here in Plac Bohaterów Getta/ Plac Zgody — the staging point for their deportation to other camps from the ghetto. The Nazis ordered all Jews to leave Krakow in 1940; 17,000 remained and all were forced into the ghetto. In 1942, the Nazis carried out a mass deportation of people to Bełżec death camp. Those remaining they divided into sections “A” and “B”, employed and unemployed, useful and not useful. I think it is this kind of organizational detail that I find most terrifying. Those in group “A” were later marched to Płaszów Camp just down the road, while the people of “B” were murdered on the spot or sent to Auschwitz.

This is also the square on which the Eagle Pharmacy sits.

Podgórze

A later picture I found: the plac in 1958, with an advertisement in the background for Nova Huta…the past invisible here, and only a looking forward to the future.

808302

We hunted down the remnants of Podgórze’s walls, built to contain and cage:

Ghet Krakow 2

Today, here is a view of the old ghetto framed by the remaining section of wall on the left:

Podgórze

Podgórze

A terrifying picture of the clearing out of the ghetto, pieces of the wall in the background, ‘normal’ life beyond them:

Ghetto

From Podgórze, we crossed the highway to climb a prehistoric  mound, mythologised as the resting place of King Krakus, Kraków’s founder. It is the oldest human-made structure in Krakow, and normally I would have been much more excited about that. Alongside it, as you can see, sits a huge quarry. Used by Spielberg in filming Schindler’s list, it was also a site of work for groups from Płaszów Camp:

Podgórze

bigplaszow2

 

We continued on along a fairly overgrown and narrow track alongside the quarry and with a Catholic cemetery on the other side. Finally we reached Płaszów Camp:

Podgórze

It was dusk, and I know some of the ruins still exist at the other end, where the main entrance sat. We did not go and find them. But we looked out over the site from above, eerie and empty. You want to be alone with your thoughts in such places, don’t you.

Podgórze

This is what sat here once:

PlaszowCampWe wandered back through Podgórze, and into Kazimierz, the older Jewish neighbourhood sitting just south of Wawel castle.

This history of violence and contradiction lingered. It is not something that should be, or even could be, reconciled, contained, fully understood, capped off, or put behind us. This issue of how not just to bridge what divides us — and there is the whole grab-bag to choose from such as race, religion, gender, sexuality and any other difference we choose to invest with such meanings — but to find strength and beauty in our diversity, remains the key challenge for liberatory praxis I think.

Kazimierz & Podgórze

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For love of brutalist concrete conservatories

Concrete conservatories are amazing. I have long had an architectural love affair with conservatories of metal and glass, and these elements are not missing from Krakow’s Botanical Garden of the Jagiellonian University. Founded in 1783, it still serves as a teaching garden, and has a most wonderful collection of orchids and other tropical plants, many from the collection of botanist Joseph Warszewicz (1812–1866). The first greenhouse was built here in 1787, but they have been extended, reconstructed, and added to over the years and are entirely wonderful.

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

Krakow Botanical Garden

The plants were beautiful too, and here you can find many of the medicinal plants collected in jars upon jars at the Museum of Pharmacy, botany just another form of the dual aspiration to explore the wonders of the world and to better understand the various healing powers of plants. Until, of course, you bring Empire and the desire for profit extraction into it, I am curious how countries like Poland were part of that dynamic. But mostly I just love plants and conservatories.

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Katowice: City of the Unseen

I loved Katowice. You will not be surprised after I confess my love of street art, of contrast, of things that are not pinned down in their disinfected cleanliness and their frozen historicities and false fronts but that are in various stages of subsiding or becoming. I find these places full of possibility. Palimpsests of all that has been, visible in crumblings and peeling paint, all that could be in the fanciful newness and bright colour, growth made possible through the crumbling itself. Above all an opportunity for imagination.

Katowice

The strange feeling that something, something had happened here behind this door.

Katowice

The how-on-earth of a caravan behind another door of faded magnificence:

Katowice

The courtyards that lie behind each arch — spaces full of corners, the unseen. Spaces allowed to retain a fullness of mystery and hints of green spaces.

Katowice

It is mystery, perhaps, that I loved most. Not knowing what lies around those corners. Modern constructions leave no spaces unseen like this, never frame space so beautifully, never encourage. exploration in this way, and definitely do not age with such fascination.

Katowice

Unless, of course, modern constructions are built in contrast to the older forms. Then they startle, provide difference. I confess I quite love these towers, their geometries, their thoughtfulness in granting all tenants views and light. I only wish they were a little closer, instead of isolating residents away from the movement and life of the city.

Katowice

Here too, just as in its deeply contrasted satellites Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec, the central mines hovers above and between buildings, filling the view with the memory of the coal that helped bring it to life.

Katowice

Katowice

There is also the great wide center, full of people, buildings representing a different kind of glass-and-steel modernity contrasting with these older streets, and a working public transportation system. I actually like this center as it sits in contrast to other things. I imagine, however, it might be a bit arctic in winter.

Katowice

Beauty and humour abounds here, and it is vibrant with life.

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

A little more of the art & design that I loved:

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

This place illustrates many of the principles of creating fascinating human city-scapes explored by people like Cullen and Alexander, I only wish we had had a little more time to explore this city.

Katowice

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Giszowiec — Housing Polish Miners pt 2

Giszowiec is utterly, completely different from Nikiszowiec, though designed by the same architects and both built in Katowice. I am still quite bewildered that George and Emil Zillmann should build Nikiszowiec in dense quadrangled apartments and Giszowiec after the model of Howard’s garden city. In almost the exact same year — 1907 to 1908.

From the slightly institutional-feeling density of Nikiszowiec (below part of the central square), Macin drove us to the place of his upbringing, Giszowiec (below part of the central park):

Nikiszowiec

Giszowiec

It is almost impossible to photograph Giszowiec, with its curving roads and single and duplexed housing.

Giszowiec

This view from above does it better, I am just sad it is not mine…

CC BY-SA 2.5
CC BY-SA 2.5

Perhaps its lack of photogeneity is why there is not the same impetus to put it on the tourist maps. We are lucky, perhaps, that it survives at all, as more housing was needed and much was torn down to built the high-rise housing that in places looms over the small family homes. They have much charm, these homes, even when run down or under reconstruction:

Giszowiec

Flowers everywhere

Giszowiec

And above them the mine:

Giszowiec

Giszowiec

A German company ran the mine, German engineers held the priviliged positions and also the nicest corner houses sprinkled throughout Giszowiec to maintain some level of integration and control within the community.

A little off the main roads, and sometimes just along one side, you can still see neglect and age:

Giszowiec

But yay Sputnik street

Giszowiec

Cosmic street

Giszowiec

The weird home-made

Giszowiec

We sat outside the restaurant there, part of a large complex of community halls and services along the park that I signally failed to photograph — as I did the bakery and shops, the first place of care specialising in supporting kids with Down Syndrome, the schools, the chess tables and many other things that were built here (just as in Nikiszowiec, yet so very differently) to improve the lives of workers.

I still find it so extraordinary. To improve the lives of workers. I am wondering where the impetus came from to build this housing so well, so permanently, with such support. I am trying to fit these examples into my understandings of the world, and it is hard, but it’s just because I don’t know enough.

Of course, Macin remembers when the pollution was terrible here, when the streets were rougher, grayer, when kids reluctantly did their public service in the park. He tried to explain it wasn’t quite paradise, and we believed him. yet for myself it was a belief of rational mind only. It feels quite different, staring at the lush green park full of services, the neat little houses and allotments and gardens. For workers.

The miners continue to have more power here than ever they did in the US (or the UK) I think, I still haven’t quite got my head around how different it is in the two places. It is as striking as the differences between the strength and politics of dockworkers in the UK and the US. The new government has committed completely to coal, the mines are safer and cleaner than they have ever been, miner’s salaries are twice the median wage. Their influence isn’t entirely (possibly not much at all) for the good. There is a whole complex history here that I know I have only scratched the surface of — the resistance against the communist government seen in Nova Huta (a third strikingly different type of worker housing along utopian lines), rumblings that would help to bring it down. The strikes, and the violent suppressions. On the way back to our hotel, we passed by Wujec Coal mine, where in 1981 the government sent tanks in to suppress the uprising of the union Solidarity.

The crosses commemorate the nine miners killed.

Wujek Coal Mine

A powerful day, to see all of this. So much to think about, come back to. I hope to do more work around mining, and these contrasts feel important.

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Defending Krakow against attack

Bunkers. Missile silos. Forts. Three different underground (and aboveground) manifestations of the fear and violence pervading Western countries.

Krakow provided two examples…the underground bunker forming a large part of one of the two museums of Nova Huta, and the display of forts ringing Krakow built by the Austrians during their occupation.

Bunkers are always eerie places I think, bare white walls, industrial fittings. God, the thought of sitting in them, crouched and shaking. The thought of sirens and tremors in the earth and the trickling fall of gravel and the floating of cloudy dust from somewhere. The flicker of lights. I know this fear comes from films, but also I think from the fear we perhaps still carry around with us at all times however deeply buried that nuclear threats are still real, even though we have the luxury of living in places at war with countries far away. They are the ones suffering the bombings, not us and we wouldn’t know what to do if bombs found us here. Though sometimes they find their way.

All of these things come to mind, these are eerie places.

Nova Huta

Part of Nova Huta’s model design incorporated bunkers, it should have been bunkers everywhere for everyone. Simultaneously reassuring that thought and care has gone into providing for the safety of workers (where else are workers cared for?), and terrifying that this should be considered necessary. This is the map of shelters provided here:

Nova Huta

Yet as the display states, these were underfunded and not well maintained. They could not have withstood nuclear attack, many could not have withstood a direct hit, and they only had enough supplies to keep people underground for three days. They became outdated before they were even built.

More plans, I love plans, even for this:

Nova Huta

There were plans for training, for emergency response.

Gas masks though — the eeriest of all somehow. Poison gas being one of the more horrible things human beings have invented, a way to pollute the air, a way to pollute what gives us life so directly:

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

This all jumbled up in strangely fascinating rooms with old technology.

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

They did have a robot on the way out though…

Nova Huta

This connects in my mind to the Titan Missile Museum, the WWII Western Approaches command centre in Liverpool.

It also connects to another tourist attraction — a much more popular one — the Kościuszko Mound. A monument to Polish hero of the American and Polish independence movements (and he lived in Bristol as well, I have seen the plaque). The mound contains dirt from Poland and America and is built within the confines of one of the ring of forts built by the Austro-Hungarian empire around the city while they occupied it.

Kościuszko Mound

The view back towards Krakow:

Kościuszko Mound

A map, if you will, of the mad flurry of military building:

Kościuszko Mound

A description of the ways the landscape was altered to confuse and kill the enemy. Primarily, ironically somehow, through the planting of trees:

Kościuszko Mound

The precise, almost beautiful geometries of fort design:

Kościuszko Mound

I did take us a while to find our way out of this fort. It did seem terrible human beings should spend so much time, intellect and energy on more ways to fight and to kill.

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Nova Huta: Krakow’s Stalinist ‘Workers’ Paradise’

Nowa-Huta1949Nova Huta was built in a Poland dominated by Stalin to be an exemplar of urban planning, a workers’ paradise.

Some say also to be one-in-the-eye for a literary, intellectual Krakow.

It’s also all about steel. Poland ‘refused’ aid from the U.S. through the Marshall Plan, turning instead to a 1948 economic agreement with the USSR to provide it 1.5-2 million tons of steel per year. In 1949 the site of Nova Huta was decided on, to be built on 11 thousand hectares of rich soil and three villages. I am writing in more passive voice throughout this post, because agency is complex though ultimately I suppose it was mostly about Stalin.  This land was taken, as the book (finally a book in English with more context, even if only a write-up of an exhibition held here in the lovely little museum that used to belong to the scouts, with chapters written by the curators Paweł Jagło and Maria Lempert) states:

sometimes without financial compensation. The investment was realized against the will of inhabitants of the villages near Krakow, who felt deeply harmed by this decision. (17)

This immense steelworks, named after Lenin, started operation on 22 July 1954 using Soviet technology. After 1956, more modern technology in the form of machines designed by Tedeusz Senzimir (American of Polish descent) was brought in. Senzimir — who workers wanted to name the factory after in 1989, and did briefly. Now of course, through the glories of global capital, it is Arcellor-Mittal Poland.

Architecture (Paweł Jagło)

It is curious to me, coming from a country where social housing was always a victory for our people, to read the inner conflict and diffidence in descriptions of this place imposed and in many ways representative of outside oppression despite its positive role in the lives of so many. Interesting how this then folds into architectural and social critiques of such density of worker housing, and the underlying ideals of this kind of utopian planning. Paweł Jagło writes:

‘The winning design, which was a creative comment on the Renaissance idea of the ideal city, was submitted by Tadeusz Ptasycki (1908-1980)… Housing estates designed for 4-5 thousand people were built around public utilities and services like kindergartens, schools, playgrounds and parks. Services (shops etc.) were located on ground floors of residential building by main streets.

Each housing estate became a well-defined self-contained ‘mini-city’ within the bigger urban establishment of Nowa Huta.’ (23)

Look at this model, amazing:

Miasto
General Plan of Nowa Huta, a model, 1957.

The dominant style of that time, force-fed to the people by the Communist regime, was that of Socialist Realism….a historicising mannerism based on the Renaissance and Baroque periods. (23)

nowa-huta-plac-centralny-1950s-01

A view from the central plaza now, though not from the optimum height:

Nova Huta

I am puzzled by some sentences, that again imply that the imposition of style and form was not as simple as it might look, but perhaps is just to ensure that the architects are not let completely off the hook.

Nowa huta’s socialist realist architecture was criticised for ideological reasons. Experts were of the justifiable opinion that architects gave in to the authorities too easily. (28)

Honestly though, it’s quite all right this place, even on a muggy afternoon in the rain. And it is not, after all, all of a sameness. The first estates, built between 1949 and 1951, ‘were designed in the fashion of pre-war working class estates in Warsaw to save time and money.’ Not too long after, the style ‘allowed’ for architecture was expanded:

Another feature of the new style were greater spaces between buildings…as a result, the estates were partly mini-cities and partly gardens.

This place is indeed full of trees, plants, green. Almost more pleasant than the sound of the modernist buildings (like the Swedish building, which we didn’t go see because of the rain) ‘in the Szklane Domy Estate, following the style of Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation of Marseilles.'(25)

I really hate Le Corbusier. He would have been confused about where the servants were supposed to live.

Walking around we found the theatre:

Nova Huta

The cinema (now a Tesco, yay capitalism. Though I won’t deny queues suck and shelves with food you can buy are good things):

Nova Huta

The stylish cafe for workers, where we had a nice meal:

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

We passed men playing chess on the tables provided in the park along the main boulevard, despite the rain:

Nova Huta

The housing — and people who obviously love and care for it as evidenced by their balconies:

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Supposed to hold 100,000 people, the 100,000th person moved in to Nova Huta at the end of 1959.  Yet the steel plant continued to expand and so the housing for the workers expanded also (that at least is refreshing). Four more estates were built in 1968, three others along an old airstrip in the 1970s, and another in the 1980s.

Curiously enough there is mention of gentrification, put forward by a sociologist named Jacek Gądecki, which I am most curious about. But that is to return to later.

Also curious — or not — is the way that Nova Huta became a base for the toppling of Poland’s communist regime. Initially it crystallized around religion.

Defence of the Cross – Paweł Jagło

Jagło writes of the famous incident — called the Defence of the Cross — that began a long history of simmering revolt and rebellion in Nova Huta:

Defence of the Cross in Teatralne housing estate was the first major rebellion of the people of Nowa Huta against communist authorities. (30)

It took place in 1960, after agitation to get their own church (hardly surprising the original development was designed without one, though several were located nearby). Finally promised a church, the bureaucracy back-pedaled and delayed. A cross was placed on the location, but new plans were put forward to build a school instead. As construction crews came to remove the cross, women defended it and thus began days of mass confrontation. The new, amazingly modernist church called the Lord’s Ark was built as a result further down the road, but eventually a church was built here too, and a cross remains as a reminder.

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

Another focus of anger was Lenin’s Statue, put up in Plaz Centralny.

Lenin’s Statue – Paweł Jagło

Marian Konieczny created this quite amazing hulking beetle-browed statue of Lenin (reminding me immensely of Israel Singer’s description of him in The Brothers Ashkenazi), and it was erected on the 100th anniversary of his birth on 20th April, 1970.

ybGyoZx

Lenin lived in Krakow for a few years of his exile, and we had spent some time in his footsteps during our time there. It is full of both irony and tragedy to me that his statue should become a symbol of a regime of very real oppression, a lightening rod for anger and resentment. Nova Huta’s residents both mocked and attempted to destroy it in many creative ways — trying to shoot the head off with a light canon, spraying it with Valerian drops to encourage cats to defecate on statue, placing old rubber boots and a bike in front with a sign reading ‘Here’s some old shoes and a bike, now out of Nowa Huta, take a hike!’ Someone tried to blow it up, succeeding only in damaging one of the legs while blowing out windows all around it and injuring a number of people. Bricks and stones and paint were thrown.

Authorities removed Lenin’s statue on 10th December 1989.

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Eventually it was bought by a Swedish millionaire named Big Bengt Erlandsson, who took it to the High Chaparral Theme park in southern Sweden.

A pause here. Because we need one.

Anti-communist opposition – Paweł Jagło

In 1979 a group started the ‘Christian Community of Working People’, who began publishing a samizdat magazine Nova Huta Cross. This was a beginning of the intertwined resistance movements, bringing together Catholicism and trade unionism. There is a look at Solidarity here, which I find fascinating, but necessarily very simplified and brief.

After the beginning strikes at Gdansk shipyard, a strike was called at Nowa Huta and a branch of Solidarity formed. In 1980 they formed the Steelworkers’ Working Committee. I’m sure it did more than bring crosses (all consecrated in the Lord’s Ark Church) and banners into all departments of the Steelworks, but this is what is highlighted here. On 13th December 1981 martial law was introduced, Nowa Huta declared a strike. Three days later the plant was ‘pacified’. (41) Continuing demonstrations through 1982 and 1983 were followed by raids and repressing. Another strike in April 1988 was suppressed, but all of this was part of the build up towards 1989 and regime change. Jagło writes:

‘And so, Nova Huta slowly began to rid herself of the ‘socialist city’ tag. The change of image continues to this day.’ (42)

I am not sure what I make of that.

Myths – Maria Lempert

This is the final section, very brief but quite illuminating I think, in showing the swirls of contention around such a project. :

Myth 1 –Nova Huta built in place of poverty-stricken villages to improve the lives of residents. (They were quite all right thank you)

Myth 2 – it was a ‘socialist godless city’. (They were quite religious and god-fearing thank you)

Myth 3 – the steelworks polluted Krakow and caused depreciation of historic monuments. (There are lots of other factories polluting Krakow, given weather patterns, Nova Huta’s steelworks are mostly polluting Nova Huta)

Myth 4 -the most common and enduring myth of all, wherever you may go:

and the most deeply rooted in the minds of Cracovians is the opinion that Nova Huta was and still is the most dangerous of all of Krakow’s districts, full of social pathology typical of areas populated by the working class. (50)

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There is much more to be explored, I hope I have the chance to do so one day. Particularly as this connects to worker housing elsewhere like the homes built for Katowice’s miners at Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec.

That Poland has gone for Ronald Reagan as a new hero after whom the central should be named perhaps embodies much of what is going wrong now…

Nova Huta

Nova Huta

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Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine might have been one of the most amazing things we saw, yet given the volume of visitors we were rushed through the caverns like small puffs of wind. Hard on the heels of one group and with another close behind, we raced through long tunnels, and clustered around sculptures trying to get our photographs in before the guide finished speaking and rushed us to the next place. They even rushed us through the gift shop — located in the second most spectacular cavern, in which we had 5 minutes exactly to stare in wonder and to make purchases.

From the UNESCO World Heritage Site:

The deposit of rock salt in Wieliczka and Bochnia has been mined since the 13th century. This major industrial undertaking has royal status and is the oldest of its type in Europe. The site is a serial property consisting of Wieliczka and Bochnia salt mines and Wieliczka Saltworks Castle. The Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines illustrate the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries: both mines have hundreds of kilometers of galleries with works of art, underground chapels and statues sculpted in the salt, making a fascinating pilgrimage into the past. The mines were administratively and technically run by Wieliczka Saltworks Castle, which dates from the medieval period and has been rebuilt several times in the course of its history.

Yet no nutshell can contain, nor rushed over-large group tour quite ruin, the miles of corridors:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The strange doors and carvings (reminding me of how I always imagined Moria):

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The strange figures, some of nationalist bent,

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

others depictions of miners, this of the brave mad men who set alight the clouds of methane that would form in pockets here:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

My favourite jaunty labourer:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Copernicus:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

many religious scenes:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Everywhere testaments to the faith of the miners — and the dangerous nature of their work

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

And the strange formations of the salt itself, in little icicles, what they called here spaghetti:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Seamed and shiny smooth along the walls, marked with the tools of those who worked here:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Puffed and popcorned in places

Wieliczka Salt Mine

And then the grandeur of the large chamber

Wieliczka Salt Mine

it’s salt chandeliers

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Also the underground ‘lake’

Wieliczka Salt Mine

and the final chamber (shorn of stalls and cash registers and milling faintly desperate crowds:

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Worth, so worth a visit, but what I wouldn’t have given to traverse it a little more slowly, with a few less people.

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Exploring the role of the apothecary within paintings

You had your Greeks and Romans writing about health and concocting new medicines, but I confess until Krakow’s Museum of Pharmacy I had not heard of Christ, the Heavenly Apothecary.  It was quite a thing:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Yet also a rather rare and not-much-discussed thing, as I discovered to my cost trying to puzzle out the not-very-crisp photographs of these paintings which I blithely assumed I could easily find on the internet. Here it states this idea of Christ as Apothecary was first introduced into Western Art in 1610 by, I believe, Michael Herr of Wurttemberg, and 140(ish) examples are known to exist in the form of stained glass, frescoes, paintings in shrines and monasteries and more. I also found a rather lovely early article on the subject by E. Kremers from 1910, called appropriately ‘Christ the Apothecary’, at that time there were only about ten known about.

Not until reviewing my pictures did I realise quite how awesome the paintings were in the museum, and how rich in meaning and how hard it would be to find more information on the web. I was a bit overwhelmed, I think, by stoppered bottles and beautiful wood and stuffed bats and dried mummies. So I have a few shots, too few, and the descriptions are sadly hit and miss. What I wouldn’t have given for a book in English! These were two of my favourites:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

These are Saints Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who trained as physicians in Arabia, worked in Turkey and were martyred in Syria. Here (unlike elsewhere) they are portrayed as Black.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

I failed signally to document the artist or title of the picture above. Below, however, are two graphite retorts for dry distillation (high temperature, no air). This were contemporary with Michał Sędziwój (Michael Sendivogius), famed Polish alchemist who published treatises on alchemy distributed across Europe. Such experiments provided the basis for many new medicines. This is a painting by Jan Matejko showing Sędziwój  carrying out experiments for King Segismund III — pulling out a nugget of gold from the fire no less — he had his own room in Wawel Castle, which momentarily made me more inclined to go see it (later, the line for tickets disinclined me).

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Below is a picture from a memoir (Memoir! Amazing! but I can find nothing about this) of apothecary Eglinger (1608-1675) of Basel, using a heavy mortar and pestle, it’s use made easier through the rigging up of a bow string. That woman is possibly the goddess of fortune pouring things through the horn of plenty into his concoctions. It could maybe also be his wife I’m thinking, but I’ve no basis for that.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

This next one is awesome, from a series of illustrations by Jan Van der Straet called Nova Reperta, or New Inventions, which I believe I will come back to one day because it is quite extraordinary. He published this in about 1580, and it shows in action many of the things visible throughout the museum — alembics, the pestle and mortar, presses and forges and all sorts.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

This is one of my other favourites as its title is ‘The Death of Credit’. The character on the far right is an apothecary, sadly I would only be inventing things if I told you quite what this picture meant or who painted it or when.

Museum of Pharmacy

Again, for the picture below I have neither title nor artist, but this is a good painting of the days when apothecaries pulled out teeth. I would not wish those days back again.

Museum of Pharmacy

Yet another picture in which I have failed to capture the title or artist, but look, it is a very old apothecary with people in hats I associate with the Renaissance behind the counter and shelves full of bottles…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Apothecaries are also found sitting sedately on embossed metal:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Their craft immortalised in stained glass:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

And in statues

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

I have signally failed to educate myself or you about the precise nature of these paintings or what precisely can be learned from them, however.

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Mummies, lizards, stones: the wondrous ingredients of old medicines

Again, the line between alchemist and apothecary was once very fine, and the things once used to create medicine were wondrous indeed. Many also suspicious, invented, disgusting. And far too many argued as aphrodisiacs.

Of course there were herbs, wondrous herbs. The smell in the attic of Krakow’s wondrous Pharmacy Museum was amazingly pungent and sweet.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Dragon’s Blood, sadly only a combination of powdered plants with astringent qualities:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Mandrake, not a screaming homunculus pulled from the earth, but a funny shaped root:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Herbs, roots, flowers, leaves, seeds were not the only things used in medicines, however. Clay and other minerals dug from the earth such as lazurite, orpiment, sulphus, chalcanthite, and talc were also used. Here is cinnabar for treating wounds and ‘women’s problems’, and today used for acne — I love these intensely coloured powders.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Hematite powered and used to cleanse wounds and to treat blood diseases. Copper sulfate good for scars, and for its antibacterial properties.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Skinks! Dried and ground they became a ‘panacea’ for many things, and the old aphrodisiac standby…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Powders of scorpions, snakes and lizards — powdered cockroaches, crab’s stones, powdered oysters, sea sponges, musk, earthworm oil and leeches were also of course in use:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Castor, or the powdered glands of beavers — look at that picture! A stimulant, antispasmodic, good for hysteria from sexual causes…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Spermacetti, or sperm whale oil…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

‘Unicorn horn’, powdered, good as a universal antidote and of course, an aphrodisiac. Really, narwhal of course, or anything approaching powdered horn…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Powdered horn, and ivory looks just like it, tusks of walrus and hippopotamus…once believed a universal cure and aphrodisiac:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Bezoars! found in the stomachs of ruminants, they look very cool but are really just hollow spheres made up of fur and undigested plant remains. But I still love imagining them as universal cures…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Spanish flies, whose smell alerts you to their presence, who blood causes painless blisters. Crushed they were used as a diuretic, but more famously as an aphrodisiac and older form of viagra — but you had to be very very careful you didn’t get it wrong…

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Human scalp made into a panacea — also collected and used were human fat, ox bile, bull’s blood, and calf’s stomach.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Powdered mummy:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Dried lizards, coral and pearls:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Pharmacists were also apparently the principal makers and purveyors of candles and sealing wax until the 18th century, as wax was another key ingredient in ointments and plasters. I loved this way of making them:

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

And of everything, perhaps this was the most incredible…Multiple use laxative pills of antimony. Crikey. You had to swallow — retrieve — clean — repeat.

Museum of Pharmacy, Krakow

Suddenly I realised it is not just the rows of bottles and jars, the mysterious names in Latin, but also the colours, smells, madness of what they held within them. The dreams they represent of cures for everything, of magic in the form of a powder or oil or pill. The intellectual endeavour they also represent, to explore the world and uncover what within it can ease our way through life and improve the days and years we are given. I owe so much to medicine as we know it, and its origins are here in these bottles and in this lore drawing on centuries of experimentation and learning.

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