How the first monument in occupied Kraków fell down
The plan of the occupant was simple: Kraków was to become a German city. As the capital of the General Government, it could not “offend“ the Germans with such clear symbols of Polish culture: monuments commemorating great historical events and the heroes related with them. All the busts of Polish bards, commemorative plaques and monuments had to disappear. The first monument to be destroyed was the Grunwald Monument, the victorious symbolism of which must have been particularly annoying for the new authorities of Kraków from the very beginning. The action of destruction was transformed into a spectacle aimed to humiliate the Kraków citizens: pupils and officials were forced to participate in this humbling event. Several days before the first Christmas Eve under Nazi occupation, the crowd forcefully gathered on the spot and observed how the legs of King Ladislaus Jagiełło’s horse were sawn so as to throw down the monument, which was entangled with ropes. The devastated fragment of the Matejko Square, in the centre of which the monument had stood, was subsequently surrounded with a wooden fence. Inside the fence the work of destruction was continued until February 1940.
“18 December 1939: Two days ago I went to see the Jagiełło Monument. All that remained were the foundations, surrounded by a high, thick board fence. From inside the fence, I could hear frequent hits of crushing metal from the Grunwald Monument“.
(O. Bujwid, Osamotnienie. Pamiętniki z lat 1932−1942 [Isolation. Diaries from 1932 to 1942], Kraków 1990).
After the removal of the fence, the Kraków residents saw a huge, empty gap in the square. A similar fate was soon met by other monuments and busts of symbolic value for the people of Kraków: the statues of Adam Mickiewicz, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Aleksander Fredro. Plaques commemorating the likes of Stanisław Wyspiański and Adam Asnyk were not omitted, either. The places left bare after the destruction soon became the spots where members of underground organisations put flowers or hung national flags on chosen days, usually those of historical importance to Poland. In this way, they reminded the Kraków residents, especially those not involved in opposition activities, about the symbolism of the “wounded“ parts of the city.
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