|I would like to write a few words about Wroclaw, a city with which I still retain emotional bonds,
though I have lived in the United States for many years. If you found it boring please go to view a few interesting links about Wroclaw.
In Wroclaw I spent my youth and a portion of my adult life; when I left in 1981 I had little hope that it would ever be reborn and become a true European city. This has indeed once to pass; moreover, Poland has become a full member of NATO, guaranteeing political stability between East and West. To those who never lived through Communism's history, I can say that if it weren't for NATO, Communism and the Soviets would have spread throughout the entire continent. For
those interested, CNN is running a documentary entitled, Cold War.
Wroclaw is an exceptional city because of its exceptional citizens. It is and was a city of pioneers. At the Yalta conference the borders of Poland were moved, and millions of Poles in Eastern Poland had to emigrate west. These immigrants formed the majority of the population of Wroclaw. They were joined by others looking for a new life in the new land, as well as those looking for adventure and fortune. Together they formed a remarkable populace. But
Communism, rather than taking advantage of their youth, enthusiasm and strength, spared no effort to make them into a subdued, helpless populace dependent on the powers which had no names, no faces, no feelings.
Even 44 years of Communism was unable to completely destroy and demoralize them, and today Wroclaw has new hope. I visit Wroclaw nearly every year and see great changes in the look of the city, wealth and its people.
My father got a job in Wroclaw and we moved there in 1947. I remember the early 50's, when huge tracts of the city were still leveled. The Germans, in retreating from the Soviets systematically destroyed entire neighborhoods of this city of 830,000. The first priority of the new inhabitants was to clear the rubble and reclaim whatever building materials they could. These
were shipped to help rebuild the capitol Warsaw. There was little faith that the new borders would
permanent, and Wroclaw could be lost at any time.
Clearing the rubble was a dangerous task. Unexploded bombs, mines and ammunition were everywhere, and the miners had their hands full. To this day construction workers unearth old bombs.
Playing with explosives was a common pastime TNT and gunpowder were everywhere. We
were all explosive experts: we knew how to throw a grenade into a fire and then how quickly and how far to run away. Fortunately, it never crossed my mind to try to defuse grenades and mines, but a few of my friends lost their lives.
My first class in first grade started with a prayer. This didn't last long. Religion was taken out of schools and didn't return until the thaw in 1956. That was when I first saw the Soviet Young Pioneers (Scouts). I waited for them with great expectations, but when they finally arrived they
didn't want to talk to us. What I didn't know then was that it was forbidden for them to speak to the
citizens of the defeated country. They had to preserve the purity of their ideals. They were partially right, because each one of us received a very special form of education: brainwashing twice a day. The first time was in school, officially and about communism, and again at home from our parents, who did not grow up under communism and who understood its absurdity.
Depending on who was more persuasive the youth polarized into the left and right. The instinct of
self-preservation dictated that you have two faces in order to survive. The effects of this remain to this day. A society thus brought up is able to survive anything, but is unable to build. The process of creation is dependent on ideals founded in faith. Without this nothing can arise.
One day in school there showed up an entirely new group of teachers. What happened to the old ones I don't know. These new teachers were activists from the "Organization of Polish Youth ", a
Communist organization. They took them and in a few weeks made them into teachers, on the premise that if someone wants to be something bad enough, they can. Today I think these actions were dictated by Moscow, since they knew that an uneducated populace is easy to
govern. This ideology was perfected by Pol Pot in Cambodia.
These activists introduced military order to the school. What they taught, though, I don't remember. After 1956 they disappeared as quickly as they came. I got through this period relatively smoothly, in contrast to my older sister, who was forced to study The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, riddled with such absurdities that it would be difficult
anything more idiotic.
I was to write about Wroclaw, but I have written about myself. To tell the truth, I remember little of this time. Often people would disappear suddenly, and the others lived in terror. I think that our parents did their best to isolate us from this unfortunate reality.
I remember the constant export of building materials to Warsaw and the terror involved with the state acquiring all private firms. Activists would show up one day at a firm, arrest the owner and seize all the assets. Wroclaw was in need of workers, but there were problems with the housing because nothing was being built.
Someone came up with the brilliant idea of "densification", that is, forcing two or more families to live in one home. This was supported by the scientific calculation that a person needs 5 square meters (50 square feet) of living space. To relieve the housing shortage, in the 60's Poland imported from the Soviet Union the new technology of building homes from prefabricated concrete elements, called "home factories". This did not solve the housing problems. The wait for a new home was 15 years and more. Exceptions were granted to high ranking officials, the police and military.
Money was to a certain extent no longer a means of payment. What mattered was whom you knew, and corruption began to spread. Despite the guise of lofty ideals it became necessary to fight for survival. Few could afford a comfortable lifestyle. I learned later that a newly hired police officer could get a new apartment within a year and obtain the right to purchase a car before the rest of the public. A mere mortal had to prepay and wait a few years to buy a car. It was not surprising then that a car fresh out of the showroom would gain in value a considerable amount.
Belonging to the elite had its significant financial rewards.
My High School was typical and rather good, with many dedicated teachers. My history teacher tried to convey the concept of the free world, and evidently her words took fruit. Not many teachers openly discussed their political views, for reasons of self-preservation. Equally remarkable is that I recall only one teacher who openly supported the system.
One day a new music teacher arrived. He was a new immigrant from the Soviet Union. He stood out from everyone in this looks and mannerisms. I remember him to this day, and I imagine we must have similarly stood out when we came to the United States.
Finally the reconstruction of Wroclaw began. The government of Poland in time became convinced that the western border of Poland was stable and it was time to do something with
the city. There were many available building sites. The construction started with homes first, since this was the most urgent, but stores and other public necessities were forgotten. Construction invariably proceeded in an entirely unorganized manner. First the buildings were built on unprepared plots. Once the buildings stood the gas, water, and electric lines were installed, and only later came roads. No one thought of shops; today it is hard to imagine developments for
20,000 people without one grocery shop or telephone service.
Yes, with no telephone. These were luxuries available only for the elite. I think that the problem lay in part with the central planning -- better called central disorganization -- and in part with the
xenophobic mindset of the government which tried to dictate to the minutest detail the lives of the citizens. I also think that the number of available wiretapping devices limited the number of public telephones. In all the entire mess stemmed from the ignorance, arrogance and stupidity of the ruling class.
Until the seventies not one theater or cinema was built in Wroclaw. The one exception was an old
surviving building that was converted into the Wroclaw Philharmonic. One outdoor ice skating rink was built. In all this by some miracle the money was found for the preservation of historic buildings and churches.
The nervous system of the city was public transit. Each streetcar and bus had a driver and a conductor, who would sell and check the tickets. Later, for reasons of budget and progress this conductor position was ended. These conductors were colorful characters. Their responsibilities included forcing recalcitrant passengers into paying, as would sometimes happen. Many of them would amuse the passengers with loud remarks or stories. They would relieve the stress caused by crowds and the difficulties of everyday life. These workers were the strong holds of Solidarity. In 1980 they were the first to stand behind the striking shipyard workers paralyzing public transit and forcing the communist government into negotiations.