This is a very special walk down the street s of Katowice . We will revisit the tragic and proud moments of the town's history: the Silesian uprisings, the defence of Katowice in September of 1939, and the tragic events at the "Wujek" coal mine in the days of the martial law. These facts are commemorated by the places and landmarks along the "Memorial Trail".
The route is less than 4 km long, and it runs as follows: Rondo – al. W. Korfantego – Central Place - 3 Maja Street (abbreviated form of ulica, Polish for "street") – Liberty Place (pl. Wolnosci) – J. Matejki Street – Andrzeja Street - Kilinskiego – Barbary Street – Park Kosciuszki - Piekna Street – W. Pola Street .
We start from the Silesian Uprisings Memorial, erected in 1967, symbolising the three consecutive heroic uprisings. As a result of the uprisings, in 1922 Poland obtained large portions of Upper Silesia , which was established as an autonomous region for the fest of the inter-war period.
In November 1918 the military operations of the Great War came to an end, and Poland regained its independence. Soon after, a victorious uprising in Greater Poland (Wielkopolska) led to the incorporation of the province into the new Polish state. Great hopes bad also awakened in Upper Silesia , hopes to reunite with Mother Poland after seven centuries of severance. However, the winning powers decreed in the Treaty of Versailles that the future of Upper Silesia (as well as of the provinces of Warmia, Mazury and Cieszyn) was to be decided in a plebiscite. Before the plebiscite was organised there were two uprisings in Upper Silesia which, despite a negligible military significance, provided the Polish party with a strong argument: Silesians opt for Poland ! The plebiscite took place on 20 March 1921, and regardless of the results, which clearly implied Poland ' s right to 49% of the territory, the division proposed by the Allied Commission was unfavourable to Poland . It was only the third, and by far the strongest, Silesian uprising, led by Wojciech Korfanty (former Polish Plebiscite Commissioner), that led to a more favourable division of the plebiscite area. On 20 June 1920 the Polish army arrived at Katowice , and a new chapter in the history of Katowice and of entire Upper Silesia was thus opened.
The Silesian Uprisings Memorial was designed by Gustaw Zemla, and the surroundings were designed by Wojciech Zablocki. The three wings allude to Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The highest wing is 14 m tall. The Monument was assembled from 350 parts weighing 61 tons in total.
We leave the monument, go down the underpass, cross to the right side of al. W. Korfantego and go on towards the Central Place (Rynek). We pass by the eclectic building of the Silesian Museum (former Hotel Grand built in 1900) on the other side of the street, and soon we reach the Defenders' Square (pl. Obronców Katowic). At the perimeter of the square, not far from the sidewalk, is a plate commemorating the Silesian insurgents and young scouts who were executed on 4 September 1939 in an inner yard of Zamkowa Street (today al. Korfantego). During reconstruction of the street in 1964 the plate was moved to its present location. In front of the "Silesia" hotel is the bronze monument of the Silesian Scouts, erected in 1983 .This is a tribute to all the scouts who fought and died during World War II, and especially in defence of Katowice .
In the small hours of 1 September 1939 a heavy shelling of the strategic objects on the Polish side began, while Nazi troops attacked Silesia from Germany and Moravia . The main German thrust came from the North (Lubliniec-Krzepice) and South (Wilcza-Przyszowice), approaching the industrial area in a pincer movement. There was fierce combat around Mikolów and Pszczyna; however, to avoid encirclement, the commander of the "Kraków" army, General Szylling, ordered retreat to the East on the night of 2 September. As the police, the army and administration evacuated Katowice and the surroundings, the impossible burden of defence was assumed by volunteers: the old, moustached Silesian insurgents and the boy and girl scouts. The scouts had already done military service in patrol, liaison and medical functions; now they joined active combat, thus becoming the symbol of September 1939 in Katowice .
The civil defence and the older scouts were deployed to the critical posts in town: the Insurgents' House in Matejki Street, the 14-storey tall building in Zwirki i Wigury Street which at that time was called the "skyscraper", the building of the Savings Bank on the corner of the Central Place (Rynek) and Pocztowa Street (non-existent today), the roof of the Silesian Theatre, the towers of the Evangelical Church, the building of the grammar school in 3 Maja Street (today the Sklodowska-Curie school) and the parachute training tower in the Kosciuszko Park. The entire defence operation was commanded by Rudolf Niemczyk.
On 3 September the front guard of General Neuling's division approached Katowice from the South and met with fierce resistance before it even reached the Kosciuszko Park . As the troops could not overcome the scout's fire, they stayed for the night in the Brynów manor. On the next day steady fight continued around Liberty Place (pl. Wolnosci); the approaching German troops were held back with rifle fire in Mikolowska Street and Gliwicka Street . Later the battle moved to the Central Place (Rynek) area. Fire was also exchanged all day long with the defenders of the parachute training tower, and the post was finally eliminated when the Germans used an antitank gun. By 10 and 11o'clock on September 4 most of the Polish resistance had already been subdued and the defenders had been executed.
The Monument of the Silesian Scouts was designed by Zygmunt Brachmanski, the surroundings were arranged by Michal Kuczminski. It represents four scouts coming out of a broken wall, which bears the words of the scouts' anthem: "Ali that is ours to Poland shall we give...". It is rectangular, sized 4.5 x 4.1 m , and has been assembled from 80 piece s weighing 7.2 ton s in total.
We leave the monument and walk towards the Central Place (Rynek), where the Polish Army took first guard in Upper Silesia on 20 June 1922. Next, we walk down 3 Maja Street to Liberty Place (pl. Wolnosci), the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Insurgent in the thirties, (today replaced by the Monument, to the Brotherhood of Arms), and turn into J. Matejki Street . The towering building is the Insurgents' House built in 1937, one of the defence posts in September 1939, as can be read from the commemorative plaque on the wall.
We walk down J. Matejki Street , pass under the railway tracks and turn left in Andrzeja Street . On our right is a complex of court and prison buildings from 1889-91 and the Regional Court edifice built in 1914. The Prison in Katowice saw the martyrdom of many a Polish patriot; among others, the commander of the underground scout organisation, Józef Pukowiec, was beheaded here in 1942.
Across the green at the back of the court building we walk over to J. Kilinskiego Street . At the intersection with Zwirki i Wigury Street is the "skyscraper", the 14-storey tall building from 1932 ( Poland 's tallest building at that time), which was also used by the defenders of Katowice . We continue up J. Kilinskiego Street , then Barbary Street and across the footbridge over Górnoslaska Street we approach the parachute training tower in Kosciuszki Park .
The tower was built in 1937/38 by the Antiaircraft and Defence League for the purpose of practising parachute jumps. The heroic defence of the tower became a literary subject (in "Wieza spadochronowa" [ Parachute Tower ] by Kazimierza Golba and "Ptaki ptakom" [Birds to Birds] by Wilhelm Szewczyk), and is part of Poles' collective consciousness.
The 48-metre tall structure is a post-war reconstruction of the original tower, which was destroyed by the Nazis. Underneath stands a granite obelisk sculpted by Jurand Jarecki, commemorating those tragic events.
We now walk down the park alley in parallel to Górnoslaska Street , to reach the intersection of Mikolowska Street and W. Pola Street . Outside the main entrance to the "Wujek" coal mine we will find the latest symbol of the struggle for truth and freedom - the Memorial Cross of the "Wujek" Miners, erected in tribute to the 9 miners who were killed during pacification of the mine in 1981.
As news broke out on 13 December 1981 that martial law had been imposed and that "Solidarity" leaders had been brutally arrested, the miners of "Wujek" went on occupation strike. Army, police and anti-riot troops were deployed, and they managed to pacify the mine on 16 December, killing 9 persons. Although more than 20 years have passed since, the facts and circumstances of those events have not yet been clarified; no one was found guilty of the killing, either.
The Memorial Cross of the "Wujek" Miners, built in 1991, is a monumental structure designed by Alina Borowczak-Grzybowska and Andrzej Grzybowski. Its most prominent part is a 32-metre tall steel cross, harbouring the wooden cross which has actually stood there since that tragic day. The composition also includes nine cross-shaped torches woven together to make a grating, and a symbolic gateway. The monument was erected at the same spot where the tanks rammed in through the fencing.
As we come to the end of our walk to the town's historical places let us remember that the monuments will be no more than lumps of stone or metal unless we give same thought to the persons behind them.
We can return from the monument to Mikolowska Street , where the city buses stop.
Text: Edward Wieczorek