Poland’s scars of war

History is close to the surface in Poland. The wounds and scars are easy to see. Fifty years of material neglect under communist rule left them largely untouched while the wounds and scars of London, Paris, and Berlin were filled in, painted over or hidden behind shiny new facades. When I first went to Warsaw almost ten years ago the thing that shocked and astonished me most of all was the number of buildings still riddled with the marks of bullets, shells and shrapnel. Walking down some streets a little out of the center was like stumbling onto a set for Saving Private Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, these buildings are patched up and perfectly serviceable for living in, but superficial damage was never repaired. It’s deeply shocking and sobering to happen across a respectable suburban apartment building that’s quite clearly been raked by heavy machine gun fire.

There’s far less of this in Krakow, there was no major fighting in the city during the last war, but there is some and it still makes me stop short and wonder when I see things like this:

Who was living in that apartment when a few dozen 7.92 mm rounds walked across the outside wall and exploded through their window? Were they in? Had Pani Kowalska from downstairs popped in for a cup of tea? Were there desperate partisans crouching on the floor with arms covering their heads? Was somebody’s life switched off in a sudden shocking moment? Maybe whoever was there then is still there now. Maybe they’ve never been quite the same since. Maybe I should knock on the door and ask?

I like looking a buildings really closely on Wyspianski Unwinding

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19 thoughts on “Poland’s scars of war

  1. […] April 27, 2008 in Curiosities by island1 Tags: Krakow, war damage, WWII This is a follow-on from my previous post about Poland’s scars of war. […]

  2. guest says:

    Warsaw

    War scars

    Warsaw rising

    there are much more…

  3. island1 says:

    Guest: We love you!

    …but we’re a little bit spooked by your apparent omnipotence :)

  4. guest says:

    I know. I am SO annoying….

    I am really sorry. Maybe I should throw my notebook out the window :(

  5. scatts says:

    I always wonder just what these scars really are. I’m sure some of them are from the war but, in Warsaw in particular, it’s hard to believe that so many buildings survived WWII in such good condition to be standing there displaying their bullet holes.

    Perhaps from some time after the end of the war? Perhaps not bullet holes at all? From someone who knows about ballistics, is this the kind of hole and pattern you would expect to see?

    I’d like to know the truth because I’m not sure if this is just some kind of romantic notion of what we would expect to see and not actually what happened.

  6. Jolanta says:

    I am not an expert on ballistics but I have been led to believe by somebody far more educated than I am that these are real bullet holes.
    You can find far more of them in Wroclaw whose fate, as the Festung Breslau, was very different from that of Krakow (Wroclaw surrendered later than Berlin!). Unfortunately (?) the damaged facades in Wroclaw are being patched up at a fast rate so, in a few years time, the holes will have been gone for ever.

    I have read about some authority’s idea to leave some of such buildings in the original condition but I do not think that in today’s era of speedy “prettyfisation” many would support it.

    J.

    PS. Another pastime of mine is looking for Hebrew letters or Jiddish words on the facades. Maybe you should do it too?

  7. island1 says:

    guest: I’m serious! We always appreciate your contributions. It’s not annoying at all!

  8. island1 says:

    Scatts: I’m quite sure the majority of them are war damage. In Warsaw I recall that you see most of them outside of the city center where the destruction was almost total.

  9. island1 says:

    Jolanta: I’ve often wondered if the fact that superficial damage of this kind wasn’t repaired was more to do with a desire to retain the evidence than a lack of resources or will. In London bomb damage on the facades of some buildings has been deliberately preserved, I’m thinking in particular of Tate Britain, the V & A and the Natural History museum. My favorite example is Cleopatra’s Needle close to Charing Cross station – a 2,500-year-old Egyptian obelisk peppered with holes from one of the few German raid on London in the first war.

    Yiddish words on facades? I’ve seen some in obvious places in Kazimierz. Give me a clue…

  10. guest says:

    OK ,island ,one last ! link :D

    http://www.thejc.com/Home.aspx?ParentId=m11&AId=59349&ATypeId=1&secid=11&prev=true

    Charles and Camilla to open Krakow centre
    11/04/2008
    By Leon Symons
    Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall are to open a new Jewish community centre in the Polish town of Krakow that has been funded and built by World Jewish Relief.

    The April 29 ceremony will be the culmination of a £700,000 project that started when the Prince visited the town in 2002 and came back determined to help the remnants of its ageing Jewish population.

    :D

  11. island1 says:

    guest: Cool. Thanks for the tip :)

    Last link!! Don’t say that :(

  12. Jolanta says:

    Island, I have seen some in Stradom and Starowislna (you need to take a closer look, especially above the entrances or shop windows); yesterday I spotted one above a Chinese (?) bar in Kalwaryjska.
    I mean pre-war shop signs and the likes which, contrary to those in Kazimierz, have never been restored.

    J.

  13. guest says:

    island, no prince charles photos ? !

    OK ,go there

    http://zdjecia.pap.pl/

    and type “krakow” in the search engine…

    ;)

  14. I’ve noticed exactly the same in Szczecin, (buildings raked with bullet holes).

    Most of the centre of Szczecin survived the war intact.

    Good to bring this to everyone’s attention.

    For me, however, I’ve seen it for so long and in so many places, that I hardly notice it any more.

  15. Pan Kotus says:

    My first time in Poland (2003) I stayed in the Hotel Europejski hotel. Right across the street was a building which was covered with pock marks. I asked my girlfriend what the marks were but she didn’t know, so we asked on the street. The word was that those pock marks were bullet holes, left unhatched on purpose. I took several pictures of this building from our room at the Europejski but the holes don’t show as well in the pictures.

  16. island1 says:

    Warren: Yes, it’s one those things that strikes you when you first see it and then fades into the background. It only stuck me again because it’s rare in Krakow.

  17. island1 says:

    Pan Kotus: I must take a look next time I’m over that way. It would be truly fascinating to find out the individual stories behind these skirmishes, especially in Krakow where they must have been rare.

  18. […] of Poland, Reduta Bank Polski, War damage in Warsaw A couple of months ago, Island commented on “Poland’s scars of war”. This was forefront in my mind as I wandered past this Warsaw location the other day. Perhaps the […]

  19. miskatja says:

    That reminds me of some bullets that had the honour of getting acquainted with the walls of my apartment in Gdańsk somewhere in the 60’s. A man was wandering through the yard, playing with his gun. The gun shot, which was probably an accident. One bullet hit the wall from outside, but the other one flew into the room through an open window (into the room where I’m sitting at the moment, btw), missed my grandmother’s head by few centimeters and stuck in the opposite wall… Can’t imagine what she must’ve felt. Anyway, I remember the bullet mark inside this wall from my own childhood in the late 80’s always bringing dreadful impressions.
    Stories standing behind those holes don’t need to be connected with the war. Sometimes it’s “just” the matter of one drunk idiot with an access to weapon. ;/

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