A Walking Tour of Katowice’s
Monuments and Memorials
With its lack of a royal route, picturesque market square, castle or other UNESCO showpieces, Katowice can be a bit of a tough nut to crack when it comes to feeling like you’re seeing the best of the city. Any effort on our part to put together an itinerary of the city’s top attractions might leave the reader feeling a bit like they’d been taken for an expensive cab ride around Jersey City and told it was Manhattan. Well, this isn’t Manhattan, folks. This is Katowice, and a walk around town isn’t exactly a stroll through the lilacs. However, the city does have its share of stories to tell and, if you’re listening, you’ll easily hear the voice of many of them in the city’s public spaces and parks. Rather than be so brazen as to attempt to endear you to this black- and blue-collar city, we’ve put together the following walking tour as a way to engage casual visitors in Katowice’s 20th history, with the city’s various monuments and memorials as the requisite talking points. [Prepare yourself for a droll stroll, about 4km in length.]
We begin to the north with the Big Daddy of them all, the Silesian Uprisings Memorial (B-3). Though an imposing edifice considered to be one of Katowice’s prime landmarks, the Uprisings Memorial is sadly dwarfed by the magnitude of its rather over-developed surroundings in the middle of the Rondo Gen. Ziętka, including the shadow of the Easily-Identified Sedentary Object, Spodek. Nonetheless, it stands as the largest and heaviest monument in all of Poland and you can see it by taking the tram to Rondo Gen. Ziętka and having a poke around.
A little perspective: After having its lands partitioned and passed under the table between the various empires of the day in the late 18th century, the reconstitution of Poland was agreed upon by the Allies in the aftermath of World War I. Upper Silesia quickly became a bone of contention however, with Germany claiming it couldn’t pay off its war reparations without the resource-rich region creating revenue for the Rhineland. Thanks to the bungled Treaty Of Versailles, the issue would be settled with a mandated plebiscite in two years time which would determine if Upper Silesia would go to Germany or Poland. What the Allies anticipated happening during those two years if not a lot of bickering and bloodshed is unclear, but Silesian insurrections numbers one and two took place before the plebiscite could occur, provoked primarily by the German massacre of Silesian civilians and German celebrations over false reports that Warsaw had fallen to the Soviets. Both insurrections were quickly and brutally put down by Weimar Germany, but kindled pro-Polish sentiment and made it clear that the predominantly Polish region wanted to join the re-established Polish Republic.
The largest and longest of the Silesian Uprisings took place in the aftermath of the rather dubious and inconclusive results of the plebiscite finally held on March 20th, 1921. Unlike the first two reactionary insurrections, the third was carefully planned under the organised leadership of local hero Wojciech Korfanty. With the destruction of German rail bridges thwarting attempts to quickly put down the uprising, the insurgents were able to claim control over most of Upper Silesia. Twelve days after its outbreak, Korfanty offered to withdraw his troops behind a demarcation line if promised that the territory would be reoccupied with Allied troops and not Germans. The agreement was upheld and an Allied commission awarded the majority of the Upper Silesian industrial district to Poland, and it became an autonomous region for the rest of the all-too-brief interwar period.
The Silesian Uprisings hold a significant place in Polish national identity, celebrated as centrepieces of national pride to this day. The Uprisings Monument, erected in 1967, symbolises the heroism and sacrifice of the insurgents with an enormous bronze wing (alluding to Nike the Greek goddess of victory) for each uprising; the names of battlefields are vertically etched down the side. Designed by Gustaw Zemła, the monument was assembled from 350 parts and weighs a hulking 61 tonnes. The highest wing reaches 14 metres tall, making it ‘the tallest monument in PL’ if you disqualify the 32-metre high memorial cross discussed at the end of this article and probably a dozen other monuments in the country. But give it a push, it’s heavy.