Poland (Wroclaw), The Anonymous Pedestrians

Wroclaw Poland Postcard

“When Pope John Paul II kissed the ground at the Warsaw airport he began the process by which Communism in Poland – and ultimately elsewhere in Europe – would come to an end.”  – John Lewis Gaddis, U.S. Cold War Historian

It was going to be a long day today as our return flight to the UK wasn’t until ten o’clock in the evening and we had to check out of the hotel at midday so we had a leisurely breakfast and stayed in our room as long as we could before checking out and returning to the streets.

In the Market Place the musical event had already started and there were some choirs and bands lining up and preparing to take their turn on the stage.  It turned out that this was a charity event and there were dozens of tin rattlers shaking collection boxes under the noses of the people in the square.  Luckily a contribution was exchanged for a red heart sticker which successfully prevented any subsequent pestering. Unfortunately they weren’t especially sticky so it was important to be careful they didn’t fall off and the pestering would start all over again.*

I asked a bar owner who was busy arranging pavement tables what it was all about and was told that it was a national fund raising day for sick people without state health care provision and all around there were people representing their particular disablement or ailment and some of them looked rather uncomfortable which made me wonder why they didn’t have this event in the spring or the summer when sick people wouldn’t catch their death of cold. Fortunately the sun was shining!

So now we went looking for more dwarfs and walked to the river and then walked east but there was a chill wind blowing down the river valley so we abandoned the route almost as soon as we had started and headed back to the centre and along the way came across ‘Jatki’ which is the only preserved medieval street in Wroclaw.  ‘Jatki’ was the street of the butchers and this is where we found my favourite of all the dwarfs that we managed to track down, the butcher hanging his meat.

There were also some bronze sculptures of animals, a pig, piglet, goose, duck, rooster and a rabbit at the entrance to the street.  These sculptures figure prominently in the guidebooks of the city and on numerous postcards but the statues that I wanted to see seemed difficult to find, didn’t get a section in the guidebook or appear on any postcard that I could find so eventually I had to admit defeat and go to the Tourist Information Office to ask for directions.

Anonymous Pedestrians Wroclaw Poland

I was looking for a sculpture called ‘The Anonymous Pedestrians’ and I knew about it thanks to fellow bloggers Terri and James who wrote about them in a post called ‘Wroclaw’s Anonymous Pedestrians: Memories of Martial Law’. Without this post I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t have come across this collection of statues because they are a little way out of the city centre.

At a busy road junction there are fourteen statues of ordinary people going about their daily business but on one side of the road they are sinking into grey obscurity into the pavement and on the other they are rising back out into the sunshine in a form of social resurrection.  It is a wonderful piece of street art and I am prepared to say that for me it was one of the highlights of Wroclaw.

The statues are a memorial to the introduction of martial law in Poland on December 13th 1981 and the thousands of people who disappeared (‘went underground’) in the middle of the night courtesy of the militia. In a symbolic statement the fourteen statues were erected in the middle of the night in 2005 on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the introduction of martial law.

Wroclaw Anonymous Pedestrians Poland

In 1981 the Polish Communist Government was having a hard time, there was a troublesome Polish Pope who had visited the country two years earlier and given people hope of liberation, there was a severe economic crisis, workers were striking and there was the growing influence of the workers movement Solidarity, and under pressure from the USSR, General Jaruzelski decided on a brutal and violent solution.

Early in the morning Martial Law was declared, several thousand opposition campaigners were interned, it is estimated that approximately one hundred people were murdered and strikes were crushed with the help of the army and special riot police units. Many members of the opposition and underground trade-unionists were sentenced to prison terms, others were forced to emigrate.  Normal life was severely restricted with curfews and rationing, the independent trade union Solidarity was banned and its leader Lech Walesa was imprisoned.

Although martial law was lifted in 1983, many of the political prisoners were not released until the general amnesty in 1986.

Jaruzelski and the other instigators of the martial law argued that the army crackdown rescued Poland from a possibly disastrous military intervention of the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other Warsaw Pact countries similar to the earlier ‘fraternal aid’ interventions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 but history generally disagrees with this defensive interpretation and even today some of the leaders of the action await formal trial and punishment.

This is probably the most striking and powerful memorial depicting ordinary people that I have ever seen that perfectly captures the moment and visually records the suffering and the inhumanity, the desperation and the the hope of the time and the military regime.

We crossed the road back and forth several times and I could have stayed longer if only to watch the reaction of other people who were seeing it for the first time but eventually it was time to move on because we had plans to visit the city museum.

Wroclaw Poland Anonymous Pedestrians

* Begging and tin rattling is something that really irritates me especially as these days it is impossible to go to the supermarket without being accosted by somebody collecting for something that I really have no interest in contributing to!

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37 responses to “Poland (Wroclaw), The Anonymous Pedestrians

  1. Amazing depiction, Andrew. We were in Poland last summer. What a history of suffering!

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  2. Andrew when I saw these photos on James and Terri’s blog they captivated me. So pleased to revisit them with you.

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  3. Appearing overnight? That is amazing. The detail in these sculptures and the time that was taken into creating them means that someone out there really should get the credit for them. Now if I ever visit I know one place I am going to have to see!

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  4. Come on- tell, Andrew! Which street are they on? I remember the sculpture from Terri and James blog, but I certainly never came across them on my wanderings. Are they near Jatki? 🙂

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    • no where near Jatki Jo. South from the main square along Ulica Swidnika, past the statue of the original Orange Movement dwarf and through an underpass and then walk about 700 metres to the intersection with Ulica Marsz Jozefa Pitsudskiego. It is a very busy cross roads and quite difficult to get a perfect picture because there is a lot of building clutter and always lots of cars and people.

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  5. Quite amazing stuff. So glad you posted these. Now I’m off to check out the James and Terri’s post.

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  6. They’re probably outside of the city centre so people don’t trip over them!

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  7. These are amazing, Andrew! In reality life is rather irritating, I agree. A year or so ago I was in Croatia, Austria and Switzerland and was amazing that there were no street beggars in Zurich, I asked about that and was told that the government agencies take care of beggars, helps them elsewhere etc but in Zagreb, Croatia I felt quite uneasy and irritated when sitting in a cafe or restaurant begars for something or other, each with their own sad stories, actually walked up to our table, begging for money – just awful and irritating, on the street corners etc in almost every city of the world beggars stand, sit etc and often I will help but for my private space at a restaurant to be so invaded is more than I can cope with

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    • I don’t know why you think dogs cost a fortune to feed. I think you wrote an estimated cost of feeding a dog for a year some time ago on one of your anti-dog posts, and you were way out.

      I of course, only give to people with dogs 🙂 Is Spain really worse than any other place? I think the worst ones in Spain are the Gitanos, who as you say, inevitably do have babies, and the adults stand there with a whiney voice saying ‘Por los niños, por favor’ and I ignore them, having as much interest in niños as you have in dogs. Some of our local beggars/tramps are genuine, but that’s because we see them over a long period of time.

      Not sure if I have given you this link before to my post about beggars:
      http://cloudsmovingin.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/lifes-rubbish/

      Incidentally when I am travelling I don’t give to anyone.

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      • This was not an anti-dog comment rather an anti-beggars who keep dogs comment! I think dogs are expensive to keep, especially big dogs, so fail to see how a beggar can afford to keep one!

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      • Thanks for the link. A sad story I agree but not all beggars end up in bins.

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      • No they don’t. But even one, is one too many I think. In my old age I have become increasingly tolerant and less judgemental 😉 Who knows how someone ended up on the street or where their life went wrong?

        By default not giving to beggars with dogs, but giving to those without dogs strikes me as pretty anti-dog. Let’s be honest, you haven’t exactly had a lot of your dogs in your life have you? And certainly not big ones, so you don’t actually know how much it costs to keep one. I, on the other hand, do.

        A sack of good quality dog biscuits (complete food) in Spain costs around six euros. That would feed Pippa around three weeks. His appetite goes up and down depending on time of year (less in summer, more in winter, but that’s a reasonable average). Pippa is a large dog, 30kgs plus, cross husky/German shepherd. As far as I can see that works out at two euros a week to feed a large dog. Do you still think that is expensive? Some Spaniards, who aren’t beggars, just feed their dogs (and other animals) on stale bread.

        If you can prove me wrong, that’s fine. But you can’t. You don’t have a dog, let alone a large one.

        The point is, that you are making a totally flawed assumption based on no knowledge of the subject. If you choose to buy Lassie, Pedigree Chum, Royal Canine etc then I am sure you could rocket up a huge food bill. Or if you feed them on minced raw fillet steak. But none of that is necessary.

        So, given that most beggars/homeless people/tramps that I see in Spain usually have at least a couple of euros in their hat/box/whatever every day, one day’s takings would feed a dog for a week. And as you’ve read the other post, you know that personal security is also a reason why some of them have dogs – and probably company as well.

        I do hope that has answered your misunderstanding of the cost of feeding large (or any) dogs 🙂

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  8. I haven’t heard anything about these sculptures. Absolutely riveting and craftsmanship show a passionate involvement.

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  9. Wow. That’s really interesting and moving. Thanks so much for telling us about these sculptures.

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  10. Andrew, we’re so glad that you got to see the Anonymous Pedestrians. They were tricky to find, and we’re surprised that their location isn’t better publicized. The expressions on their faces seems to say it all. Many thanks for the link to our post. All the best, Terri & James

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  11. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge : Cover Art | Have Bag, Will Travel

  12. This summer when we were visiting Krakow, I was deeply humbled by the Polish people and their sad history. They have been let down by the world repeatedly.
    I love this story and the street art. It sounds like such an appropriate symbol.

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  13. Touching post on a very dark subject. Thanks for your sensitivity in sharing the story behind this tragic time in Polish history. Also, thanks again for letting me share some of this on my blog.

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  14. Sad that someone who has so much money to travel has such a hard heart and thinks it´s amusing to state that he is annoyed by beggars trying to make a living. First world problems in deed.

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