Born in Zagórze, an outlying district of Sosnowiec, Edward Gierek (1913 – 2001) is best remembered as the man who took Poland to the brink of bankruptcy with his half-mad economic policies. His father died in a mining accident when Gierek was aged four, and soon after his mother hitched up with a new fella and made the decision to up sticks and move the brood to France. By the age of 17 he was a card carrying member of the French commie party, and it wasn’t long before his subversive activities had come to the attention of the authorities; regarded as a political pest he was deported back to Poland.
Following stints in the Polish national service, the mines of Belgium By 1937, and cloudy wartime action with a unit of Polish guerillas, Gierek’s story picks up in 1948 when he and his wife moved back to Katowice after the war, no doubt pleased as punch that the country was now communist controlled. It didn’t take long for Gierek to rise through the ranks, and in 1957 he was appointed as the regional head of the Communist party. He set about his task with ideological zeal, approving grandiose projects like the Spodek and Park of Culture and Recreation (see Chorzów).