Recovered Territories 

Copied from “Wroclaw in your pocket May-August 2010.”

In 1948, Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall (Hala Stulecia) played host to the largest, most organized propaganda event in Poland’s history: The Recovered Territories Exhibition. An official term coined by Poland’s post-war communist authorities, the ‘recovered territories’ denoted those lands reappropriated to Poland as compensation for territorial losses in the east, which had been absorbed by the Soviet Union. The Party’s underlying aim was to construe the country’s new western territorial acquisitions – of which Wroclaw (formerly ‘Breslau’) was the largest city – as belonging to a Polish Piast tradition that dated to medieval times; centuries of German presence in Silesia was explained as evidence of unbending German aggression, und Poland’s repossession of the resource-rich region, which had repeatedly fed the German war machine, would ensure world peace in the future. Poland’s post-war generation was actually educated to believe that the Potsdam Agreement had returned the country to its rightful boundaries and 1948’s Recovered Territories Exhibition aimed to propagate the same message to everyone in attendance. Originally intended to be held in Poznan, one look at Wroclaw’s Centennial Hall must have made Poland’s Communist leaders change their minds; a more glorious piece of gray concrete could not have been dreamed up by even the Soviet Union’s best-rinsed brains. Immediately renamed the People’s Hall (Hala Ludowa), even today it’s difficult to conceive that the monumental structure wasn’t built under Stalin’s stewardship – making it an all the more attractive place for party propaganda. The preparation of the exhibition centre included the construction of the 106m high Iglica Spire (see sightseeing) and 48 pavilions portraying the glory of life in Silesia (Slask in Polish) since it had been polonized: among them were an idyllic bam full of cows where guests were invited to drink milk and a long conveyor belt around which miners from Walbrzych (formerly ‘Waldenburg’) pretended to produce coal. Hala Ludowa’s main exhibition space was reserved for the real heroes of the People’s Republic: the workers. Here 200 photos and biographies presented the region’s super socialist achievers, among them Wincenty Hajduk – a miner extraordinaire whose efficiency was 571% above his peers, and Legnica’s (formerly ‘Liegnitz’) Maria Lewin who apparently could knit at +401%. All told, the exhibition cost a whopping 700 million zloty and was visited by 1.5 million people during its run from July 21st to the end of October 1948; workers across the country were even given days off specifically for organized trips to visit the exhibition. In concert with the Recovered Territories Exhibition, the ‘International Congress of Intellectuals in Defense of Peace’ was organized in August 1948 with much the same propagandist aims – interactional luminaries were invited based on their perceived susceptibility to the Soviet message. In all, high-profile representatives of 46 countries attended the Congress including Graham Greene, Bertolt Brecht and Pablo Picasso, who was flown in on a special plane provided by the People’s Republic and was apparently so charmed by the display of Polish folk costumes that he bought the Zakopane set. However, not everyone in attendance was endeared; in fact some guests were downright outraged and the Congress became a well-publicized scandal. Constantly searched and hounded by Secret Service agents, many of the ‘intellectuals’ found a blatantly doctored message from Albert Einstein and several speeches condemning western culture all too transparent; some left the conference while others took their objections to the press. Despite being a mockery, however, in the end the resolution drafted by the Congress which condemned the ‘war preparations of a handful of greedy war profiteers in Europe and America who have adopted the ideas of racial superiority from fascism…’ went unsigned by only twenty of the 357 gathered participants and the Party was well-pleased with itself.

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