Yours truly, John Galt himself has been away for the last week enjoying the warm sunshine of Kraków, Poland and, as well as taking in the cultural sights, also took in the collectivist ones.
Despite my being something of a world traveller, this was my first visit to Kraków (or indeed Poland) and I heartily commend it as a cultural destination, having a mix of Eastern European character, fine architecture dating from the founding of the city around the 7th century, with the vast majority from the late medieval period.
Unlike Warsaw, little of Kraków was bombed during WWII or even substantially damaged by the repeated hoards of collectivist vandals from 1921 through 1989 (Lenin’s hoards, Hitler’s hoard’s and finally Stalin’s hoards). Indeed, to say that the poor Poles feel somewhat “trodden underfoot” would be an understatement.
Though Poland has a long and proud history, it has repeatedly been carved up between its larger neighbours and indeed between 1795 and 1918, virtually ceased to exist except in the hearts and minds of the Polish people.
However, all of this is beside the point, CCiZ not being a tourist blog but about more fundamental issues. No, the thing that most drove it home for me was that Kraków became a model city for both the Nazis and the Communists and they have left their mark on the city, region and populace in ways that are both subtle and telling.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, they had already decided that Kraków would be the cultural centre of the region known as the General Government and that this would be a German city in every possible measure and all of the non-Germans could just bugger off and die, often with a little help from the SS. The Poles became second class citizens in their own city and the Jewish population (about ¼ of the cities residents) were herded into ghettos and largely exterminated.
The pictures of wartime Kraków under the Nazi’s is largely wiped clean, indeed I was amused to find that the detailed history of Wavel castle’s renovation from 1880′s onwards ended in 1939 (just before it was taken over by the Nazi’s). I suspect this is a deliberate lapse, probably given the amount of funding received from the EU, as Harold Wilson once said “You don’t kick your creditors in the balls”.
The museum on the site of Oscar Schindler’s D.E.F. factory at 4, Lipowa Street has no such qualms and the breadth and depth of historical artifacts (especially film and photographs) from 1918 – 1945 are a testament to the irrepressible courage of the Poles and the unbelievable arrogance of the German occupiers (not just the Nazis).
It was clear from the wealth of documentary evidence that the Poles were virtual slaves of the German occupiers and any who opposed them were executed in the same off-hand manner as the Jews. Indeed had the Germans won the war, it was quite clear that the Poles would have been given the same “special treatment” as the Jews – as far as the German occupiers were concerned they were equally expendable, just not the priority.
The surviving Polish residents of Kraków might have breathed a sigh of relief when the Soviet troops “liberated” the city in 1945, but the Soviet Occupation and subsequent Polish puppet government were little improvement.
Once again, the region around Kraków became another model city, this time in the form of Nowa Huta (English: “The New Steel Works”), which was built on reclaimed land about 10 km outside Kraków in the SocReal (“Socialist Realism”) style, both the new city and the steel works were the “gift” of Comrade Stalin (to be paid for in full by the output of the steel works naturally), so once again the Poles became little more than slaves in their own country, this time to a Communist rather than a German overlord.
Our tour guide, a rather enthusiastic young Pole called Koba (pronounced Koobah rather worryingly) who is studying to be an electrical engineer, took us through the heart of the architectural gem that is Nova Huta in a rather glorious pink Trabant, but also gave us an insight into the working conditions and lack of freedom of Poles during this time. “We pretended to work and they pretended to pay us” being a fair assessment of the attitudes of both sides.
One amusing point that Koba made was that the statutes of Lenin and Stalin have been torn down, largely to be replaced by statues of Karol Józef Wojtyła, whom Koba described as “The New Lenin” – at the present time it is unclear how many divisions this new tyrant he has got.
One encouraging point was that Koba was equally unenthusiastic about the EU, being pretty well informed about how much EU bureaucracy and the CAP were really costing Poland. He was equally grateful that they hadn’t exchanged their Polish Złoty for the Euro. All-in-all I found myself smiling at this, for if the youth of Poland can be pretty well informed and not misled by EU propaganda then there might be hope for us after all.
I’m just preying that Kraków doesn’t go for the hat-trick and become the new model city of the EU, hopefully by the time Koba gets to my age the EU will be a dim and distant memory like the Nazis, USSR and the League of Nations.
We can always hope.