History of Nowa Huta

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Nowa Huta is now only 60 years old. Yet so many legends have originated around it that would be more than fitting for a couple of medieval castles. ”Nie jedź, chłopcze, do Nowej Huty, bo po drodze zostaniesz otruty...” (Do not go to Nowa Huta, boy, or you will be poisoned on your way...”) – was Adam Ważyk’s warning in “Poemat dla dorosłych” (Poem for Grown-ups) (1955). Elsewhere he added that: ”w węglowym czadzie, powolnej męczarni, z niej się wytapia robotnicza klasa. Dużo odpadków. A na razie kasza” (in the carbon monoxide, slow torture, the working class is melted down. Much refuse. Groats so far).

That is the way that many still perceive Nowa Huta even today. The truth is different, though. Firstly, the chimneys have stopped smoking; now the steelworks produces only 1/7th of what it used to produce in the times of the Polish People’s Republic. Secondly, the working class is already “melted down”; it turned into a close community that contributed greatly to the overthrowing of communism in Poland. Thirdly, the chance that we be poisoned, as A. Ważyk says, with vodka put under our noses by class enemies is mostly improbable. With the fall of communism its enemies also disappeared.

So what is the contemporary state of knowledge about Nowa Huta?
It is widely believed that the region is the youngest district of Krakow. However, archaeological studies have shown that the areas used to be inhabited much earlier than today’s city centre in archaic times. When building Wawel castle had only just started, there was already a settlement covering 300 huts in Mogiła! Nowa Huta is not that young then.

Another myth busted by the latest research was the belief that the steelworks and city were built as an act of revenge for the lost communist referendum of 1947. Today we know that economic aspects and a profitable location were decisive in that respect. Krakow was chosen from among other locations, as it had a good base of facilities, railway junction and educational back-up facilities (and among the many universities, AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, which educated the personnel for the future plant).

Yet another myth sustained by communist propaganda was the conclusion that Huta was localized on barren ground. This is false. The plant was erected on one of the most fertile farming soils – black earth. That made building more difficult; after the rain the ditches changed into oily, slippery mud where men and equipment sunk. In the summer, however, there was dust blown everywhere.

Not everything went as smoothly as the media said in those times. There was inexpressible mess and prodigality. Often due to some mistake you had to take down buildings and raise them again or start to build a railway embankment all over again, as it turned out it had taken the wrong direction. The living conditions of workers made them call their barracks “Mexico.”
Yet, with time everything changed. In the period of the Polish People’s Republic supplies were better here than in the city centre. Nowa Huta was the subject of pride and attention of the then authorities. Reports and poems were written about it, films were made, delegations visited. Therefore Vladimir Lenin’s monument was raised in Aleja Róż with foreign guests in mind (communist ritual required delegations putting flowers under the monument to the Revolution’s Leader, who was the steelworks’ patron).

At the beginning, housing estates were erected without urban planning. This was only developed a few years after building started. Its author was the team of Tadeusz Ptaszycki, who later won many prestigious international contests such as “Miastoprojekt” (Citydesign) (e.g. for the development of Baghdad).

Simultaneously with housing, green areas were designed, equipment for shops and offices and even furniture complementing the architecture. Even people who don’t like Nowa Huta have to admit that when it comes to the urban aspect, it is unquestionably well planned, it has many green parts, kindergartens, schools, and it is relatively easy to get to offices and shops.
With time the architecture was also appreciated. Socialist realism, according to its guidelines, was to be a style “socialist in content and national in form”. The “national form” in Poland was Renaissance; therefore, in Nowa Huta’s architecture there are Attic and Palladian themes, cupolas, rosettes and balustrades. The plan itself was also associated with the Roman Piazza del Popolo or the classical strongholds of the Renaissance, e.g. Palmanova.

However, the biggest asset of Nowa Huta is its inhabitants and their amazing stories. People came here from all around Poland. Some wilfully, searching for jobs; others were made to come by their employees or as work-brigade volunteers in the “Service to Poland”, the so-called “junaks”. Some also wanted to hide in the crowd for various reasons: soldiers of the anti-communist underworld, repatriates from the East, prisoners released from Soviet labour camps. The Romani people were also displaced to Nowa Huta. At that time they were banned from wandering with their caravans around the country. Also Ukrainians were taken away from the Bieszczady Mountains under “the Vistula” action, and repatriates came back from Germany, France or Belgium. Even 150 Greeks came here, fleeing from their homeland due to civil war. The community, mostly hired in the plant, soon started to bond together in resistance against the communist regime.

One can say that in Nowa Huta, like no other place in Poland, all threads of post-war national history meet. To name them, there was a ruthless fight with the peasantry, obligatory displacement, confiscation of property from the nobility, great migration, a propagandist offensive, creation of a society, the fight with church institutions, the growth of Solidarity (Solidarność) and its revolution, breakdown of industry in the time of transformations, and the mass redundancies of the 1990s.
Today Nowa Huta is waiting to be revitalized. But not like the Old Town, Kazimierz or Podgórze. There are no ruined houses or squares that are not green any more. There are many unemployed and retired people, who used to be heroes, beating records at work and praised in songs, but now left on their own. Nowa Huta is waiting for an idea to stir it up with optimism and make it ready for action.