Oddest photo in Polish history?

Another gem turned up in my search through the excellent Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archive). This photo was taken in Krakow in 1941, according to the notes that accompany it. The wartime date and the city are confirmed by the destination plate on the back of the tram: Adolf Hitler Platz was the new name given to the Rynek Głowny by the occupying Germans. That’s all clear enough. What I don’t understand is what the hell is going on here. The more I look at it, the weirder it gets.

Click for a larger version

A number of questions spring to mind:

1. Why is nobody helping these people?

Possibly the guy who has come off his bicycle is dead, but the guy in front of the car isn’t. Why isn’t somebody at least helping him up? At first I though perhaps the accident had just happened when the photo was taken but:

a) there is no driver in the car;

b) a crowd of onlookers has gathered; and

c) a police officer is already on the scene (under the tree with his back to the camera).

2. What happened?

I’m fairly sure that’s the back of the tram, not the front: I see no driving position and there is a hitching coupling visible. If so, the tram must have been heading to the right, out of the frame of the picture. How did that car get there in that orientation? It looks like it’s come directly off the pavement.

3. How likely is it that there was a photographer right there?

Cameras were expensive and rare things in the 1940s, especially in occupied Europe. It’s an amazing coincidence that there should have been a photographer on the scene, with a loaded camera, within a short time of this incident. The photo looks much more like the kind of thing you would see taken today with a phone camera than the kind of thing you might expect from 1940s photography. Could the whole scene be staged? Is it part of a film set?

These questions and many more will undoubtedly be answered by our indefatigable readers. Or not.

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13 thoughts on “Oddest photo in Polish history?

  1. Grze$ko says:

    Interesting indeed.
    My investigation so far:
    No one seems to be actually watching the scene at all. There are no onlookers per se, only the people in the tram seem to be staring.
    The guy in front of the car doesn’t look hurt at all. His position is that of a healthy person. He’s supporting his spine straight on his hands, his hat is on! Ever tried to be hit by a car and not lose your bowler?
    The bike’s wheels are straight and the person in front of the tram seems curled up, again a very strange position for a hurt person.
    Back then trams had driver’s stands and couplings on both ends of the car. The driver would move to the other end of the tram at end stops. There used to be tram like that on line 18 up to the early 80’s. As students we liked to use the brake to slow the tram down…hmmm…
    The policeman is there and so are the Wermaht soldiers in the background.
    Judging by the pantograph’s cord being lose, the tram may actually be not under power.
    My guess – a staged photo, a shot from a film set maybe.
    I have seen WWII printed materials on hygiene, child safety and good housekeeping. This could be something on road safety.

  2. Ash says:

    There are a couple of others photos of accidents involving bikers, pedestrians and “Adolf Hitler Platz” trams in NAC. Just search for “wypadek tramwajowy”. The accidents might be staged as a part of some emergency drills.

  3. Steve says:

    Its a woman on the bicycle.

  4. scatts says:

    Staged propaganda, message and reason for doing so unclear.

    Possibly used to have a caption – “Before we Germans arrived, your country was being destroyed by awful driving. Now you’re not allowed to drive and therefore we have made Poland a better place to live! Heil Hitler!”

    Hitler’s gone but the bad driving has made a healthy recovery.

  5. bob says:

    It is easy!

    The bike rider in Polish fashion had 3 ‘promil’ of alcohol in her system and tumbled over, as they tend to.

    The guy on the ground is a foot fetish pedophile and is scoping out the young man’s legs

  6. Bob beat me to it. The demon drink, even in occupied Poland.

  7. Sylwia says:

    Scatts wrote:

    “Possibly used to have a caption – “Before we Germans arrived, your country was being destroyed by awful driving. Now you’re not allowed to drive and therefore we have made Poland a better place to live! Heil Hitler!”

    Or something like: “We save you from the Brits and their left side driving mess.”

  8. Steve says:

    I first thought it was a road safety picture, but the passers-by didn’t seem to give that any sense. However, as a modern comment on Polish road safety, the message might be “kill as many people as you like by driving badly and no-one will give a damn”. When driving between Warsaw and Kielce, I used to drive through Konskie as I had seen too many bodies and black sacks on the Radom by-pass. (The road system is better now.)

    For this who like to believe that the commie lackey film and TV directors (Wajda, etc) had subtle anti-communist messages in their work, you might like to consider the photo a metaphor for the Russia (the tram) and Germany (the car) on either side of dead Poland (the cyclist), while the rest of the world (the other people) carry on unconcerned.

  9. Decoy says:

    My initial reaction was that it was just an after photo of an accident. However, seeing the uniformed character in the background gave it a more sinister feel, especially with all the onlookers passing by.

    However, it’s the two kids walking by with only a quick glance that make it most interesting for me. Kids would always want to stop and see what’s going on, and chat and so on. However, it feels like they are passing and have been ordered not to stop and ‘lollygag’.

    It’s a strange photo, but still feels like one that would be less interesting if we found out the actual story behind it.

  10. island1 says:

    Very interesting. I think I’ll add one of these to the post.

  11. Jeannie says:

    I think the man and girl on bicycle collided when he was running across the street–she went “down for the count” and hasn’t been able to get up, maybe a broken leg or worse while he is managing to just prop himself back up. Meanwhile, an officer, who was already a “beat cop” just happened to already be on the scene due to the ill-parked car that someone had unscrupulously left there. The tram is waiting for help for the girl before it can move, and the officer is trying to keep the crowd from gathering.

  12. Nika says:

    maybe the man on the ground is a detective and is looking for some clues…

  13. Raskolikov says:

    I think you are right: this is from a film set. The car and driver are probably German, since it says Ost-(Pressen?) on the number plate. Though it might say someting like Ost-Gebiet also.

    I wasn’t not aware that the Germans changed the name of Rynek Główny, and don’t see any reason for it. It was a Polish-language community, with the exception of some of the Jews who spoke Yiddish, and Rynek Główny means Main Market or Grand Market, nothing politically significant.

    But, they did rename it, which seems crazy! Wikipedia says so, the Adam Mickiewicz Monument was destroyed too. Sad business, the whole war.

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