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Recovered Territories

Recovered Territories
In 1948, Wrocław’s Centennial Hall played host to the largest, most organised 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 re-appropriated 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 Wrocław (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 unyielding German aggression, and 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 Poznań, one look at Wrocław’s Centennial Hall must have made Poland’s communist leaders change their minds; a more glorious piece of grey concrete could not have been dreamed up by even the Soviet Union’s best-rinsed brains and the monumental structure was immediately renamed 'People’s Hall' (Hala Ludowa). The preparation of the exhibition centre included the calamitous construction of the Iglica Spire, as well as 48 pavilions portraying the glory of life in Silesia since it had been ‘polonised’: among them were a barn full of cows where guests were invited to drink fresh milk, and a long conveyor belt around which miners from Wałbrzych 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 Maria Lewin who apparently could knit at +401%. All told, the exhibition cost a whopping 700 million PLN 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 organised trips to visit the exhibition.

In concert with the Recovered Territories Exhibition, the ‘International Congress of Intellectuals in Defence of Peace’ was organised in August 1948 with much the same propagandist aims - international 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 one to take home. However, not everyone in attendance was endeared; in fact some guests were downright outraged and the Congress became a well-publicised 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 nonsensically 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 20 of the 357 gathered participants, and the Party was well-pleased with itself.

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