7/16/16 – Today was a day of visiting the old German section of Poland. After WW II the Soviets gobbled up big chunks of eastern Poland and the border of Poland shifted west. This part of Poland was part of Germany until 1945 when most of the German population was forced to move to Germany. Polish people living in Ukraine were relocated here. The Wałbrzych public library looked really sad on Google Street View. In reality it had been restored into a beautiful building with statues of buffed Greek gods wearing Polish scarves. The library in Kaminna-Gora was housed in a city center building that had a faded, grand facade which was covered in grime. Surprisingly, our route through beautiful Polish country that eventually took us into the Czech Republic. The area reminded us of the movie Grand Budapest Hotel which wasn’t surprising since it was filmed nearby. The only library I photographed in the Czech Republic was in the little village of Broumov. This country has some of the highest percentage of libraries per capita in the world because of a law requiring every town and village, no matter the size, to have a library. Of course, it didn’t include funding and many of the Czech libraries have recently have consolidated or closed. Back in Poland I finished photographing libraries in the small towns of Otmuchów and Nysa. We ended the day in what we thought was going to be in an post-industrial hell hole. Instead, Katowice was a delight.
7/17/16 – Katowice has a regional population of over 2,700,000 (one of the largest in the EU) and is the biggest European city you have never heard of. It was an interesting combination of post-industrial grittiness in an up and coming city. I photographed three branch libraries that reflect that change. Clouds and rain have been our constant companion on the trip. We drive through the part of Poland that still has a large German population. One area was still bi-lingual with the road and town signs in Polish and German. In the small village of Wadowice we visit the home town of Pope John Paul II. Across the street from his childhood home was the public library. I photograph it under an umbrella in the pouring rain.
We next visit the prosperous town of Gliwice which was located in the same building as the Chicas Chicas strip club. Both were closed but I wondered about this weird juxtaposition. Probably the most difficult place for us to visit on this whole trip was the town of Oświęcim which in German was called Auschwitz. I was interested in seeing what a library would look like in a place that was the center of one of the largest crimes against humanity in the history of the world. Because it was Sunday it was closed. The library was very modern and the front was shaped like an open book facing the community. Across the street were multi-colored apartment blocks that were either from the Soviet era or were built after the end of communism. Next to the library was an extensive photo exhibition on panels documenting a recent March of the Living of young people and concentration camp survivors commemorating the liberation of the death camps such as Auschwitz. The best photo I made was when I was able to combine all three subjects showing the unspeakable Holocaust, the Soviet or post-Soviet reconstruction and the library. It shows the layers of recent history in this complex place.
7/18/16 – All three of us had a difficult time sleeping in our hotel located right across the street from the death camp. Walker and I kept hearing screams in our troubled sleep. It is not surprising since over 1.2 million people were murdered next door over 70 years ago. The ghosts of the Holocaust seemed very close. We went back to the Oświęcim public library in the morning to photograph the interior. The information told us that it was built like a shopping mall because that was what was most desired by the general public. The building was very open and did indeed feel like a shopping mall. It occurred to me that Oświęcim was struggling mightily to move from its past and this public library was one expression of that effort. The exhibit of the remembrance outside was put there by an outside group. Without it there was no hint of memory of the Holocaust in this library. I was surprised by this bit of historical amnesia for a local library. In my 18 year study of public libraries in the US I saw how libraries often were the repository of local civic memory. This library was an example of trying to forget the past even if it is staring you in the face. We were happy to leave Oświęcim and head to the beautiful city of Kraków. This city was a gem that had not been destroyed during the war. Although overrun with tourists it possessed a great dignity and charm. We had tea in an amazing Jewish, hipster tea shop in the old Jewish Quarter. I finished the day photographing the Kraków library and Mediateka. The Mediateka was an old brick building with a separate glass facade and roof with beautiful flowing grass at the entrance. Looking through the glass walls we saw beautiful old Polish buildings. It served as a beautiful juxtaposition of the old and new Poland.