New Start. Warsaw 1945-1955

Warszawa, 1946-07-01. Najm³odsi mieszkañcy stolicy spêdzaj¹ wiêkszoœæ czasu wœród ruin zniszczonych domów i podwórek. Nz. dwaj ch³opcy pozuj¹ do zdjêcia, uœmiechniêci mimo trudów powojennego ¿ycia.
PAP/Jerzy Baranowski

Warsaw, July 1, 1946. Warsaw's youngest spend most of their time among ruined buildings and backyards. Pictured: two boys smile despite the hardships of post-war life.
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At the exhibition we present photographs of Warsaw of the first post-war decade courtesy of the archives of the Polish Press Agency (PAP). The authors are the most prominent Polish photojournalists. We present pictures never before available to the public as well as those that have already become the Warsaw icons. The exhibition is the third in the series of expositions organized in cooperation with the Polish Agency Press; in 2007 and 2008 we organized the following events: Other Poland. Polish Press Agency Photographs of 1945-47 and 60 years ago in Warsaw. Polish Press Agency Photographs of 1947-48, which began a new trend of Varsovian expositions in the History Meeting House. The curators of the exhibition are Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner, deputy director of the History Meeting House, and Anna Brzezińska-Skarżyńska, editor-in-chief of the Polish Press Agency Photo.

The new exposition is jubilee in its character – it brings us back to the often discussed topic: the theme of Warsaw rising from its ruins. However, this event is not dedicated to the rebuilding of the capital city, the post-war trauma or the beginnings of communism in Poland, although all of these events have been immortalized in the pictures. Rather than that, this is a story about people, the residents of Warsaw – those who came back to their demolished houses and those who settled there after the war. Both groups try to piece their lives back together and return to normality, arduously, but with astounding determinism and vitality.

They live in the ruins, in slum conditions, but still they live, removing debris, rebuilding, playing, dancing among the rubble, drinking coffee in a street café; women are dressing up and men are attending football and boxing matches… – says Anna Brzezińska-Skarżyńska.

The photographs of children are especially moving. Children of the war, children of the street, playing in the cinders, living in poverty, in dreadful conditions, often orphaned and forced to fight for survival on their own. And simultaneously enjoying their lives, their time, full of wild energy, curiosity, courage – adds Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner.

This is the story not so much about rebuilding the city as about rebuilding life – and the narrator of the story is the Warsaw street. The curators of the exposition consciously do not attempt to hypothesize or generalize; rather, they allow the authors of the photographs as well as Warsaw residents caught on camera to take the floor. The ruins and cinders are neighbors with new buildings, elegant men wearing trench coats and hats – with people in donkey jackets, crowds taking part in Corpus Christi processions – with the participants of May Day marches, and the sense of sorrow, life in ruins and grievous poverty – with dances and canoe trips down the Vistula river. Of special interest are pictures depicting the onset of the new system. Socialist slogans, banners and political celebrations in many cases often give the impression of merging into a mundane stage design.

The presented photographs also constitute a fascinating historical source. Each of them may be analyzed in detail and, based on various minutiae, may help to reconstruct the past everyday life – says Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner.

Within the framework of the exhibition, the works of art of the following best Polish photojournalists will be available to the public: Jerzy Baranowski, Stanisław Dąbrowiecki, Władysław Forbert, Wojciech Kondracki, Tadeusz Kubiak, Bogusław Lambach, Lech Pieńkowski, Władysław Sławny, Karol Szczeciński, Mariusz Szyperko, Jan Tymiński, Stanisław Urbanowicz and Zdzisław Wdowiński. Some of so far unknown and for the first time publicly exhibited photographs are the effect of a joint project of the Polish Press Agency and History Meeting House – the digitalization of several thousand pictures of 1945-48 from the archives of PAP; the rest of the photographs come from the collections recently acquired by the Agency. What is more, we show the city as seen through the eyes of some famous foreign photojournalists: Julien Bryan, Henry N. Cobb and John Vachon.

We also give voice to the city residents themselves: the recordings of witnesses’ relations from the Spoken History Archives of the History Meeting House and the KARTA Center harmonically accompany the photographic story.

“New Start. Warsaw 1945–1955”
Organizers: History Meeting House, Polish Press Agency
Curators: Anna Brzezińska-Skarżyńska (Polish Press Agency), Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner (History Meeting House)
February 20 – June 13, 2016, History Meeting House, 20 Karowa Street in Warsaw.
The exhibition will be open within the opening hours of the History Meeting House from 12.00 to 20.00 from Tuesday to Sunday (on Mondays the History Meeting House is closed). Admission free of charge.

In the picture above – the youngest Varsovians. Warsaw, July 1, 1946. Photo credit: Polish Press Agency/Jerzy Baranowski