An evocative study of a town in Poland’s outback, one scarcely known even in its day.
Miedzianka in Polish, Kupferberg in German, is a place off anyone’s map: “history never well and truly arrived here,” writes freelance journalist Springer, “but instead roamed around in the vicinity.” And did it ever: the town was already old when, as the author puts it, “armed hordes begin to make their way across Europe,” some of them the soldiers of the Thirty Years’ War, others members of the SS, rooting out Jews and other undesirables in a region known as Silesia. Thanks in part to German excesses, the town became part of Poland after the war, but it had already begun to disappear, parts of it caving in thanks to the collapse of abandoned mine shafts, its streets deserted after the mining companies went under, so that even in 1840, only nine villagers identified themselves as miners. Springer points out the various enemies, structural and human, that have come calling on Miedzianka only as “the beast,” and the beast has many forms, such as the rockets of Joseph Stalin’s invading Red Army—ahead of whose arrival some villagers headed west, while the Nazi stalwarts of the town tried to escape but found no place to run. Now, writes Springer, “Miedzianka is simply gone,” marked by a rather nondescript memorial to those who lived and worked there over the centuries, a small obelisk to record the fact that here there once stood a town and a miniature civilization. Yet, amazingly, this book, published in Poland in 2011, sparked a modest revival of the town: a theater company has staged a performance of a play based on the book, while private investors have banded together to open a brewery in a place once renowned for its beer. The result, writes the author, is that “what once seemed an absolute end was only a pause.”
Lucid and literate: a brilliant model of historical writing about place and a beguiling treat for armchair travelers as well.