You live in post war Warsaw.

World War 2 is over. The Germans have gone. You’ve survived, although many of your friends and neighbours haven’t. They’ve either been executed in reprisals, or killed in the underground or the Uprising. Your city lies around you in ruins, all the familiar places reduced to rubble. What do you do?

If you’re a kid, you make the most of the ruins for your games, that’s if you’re not crippled and destitute. You might look cheerful for the photographer: two of you have been captured wearing caps and broad grins. You might spin hoops along with your friends; fish in the river; wrestle with your mates amidst uprooted cobblestones and the wreckage of buildings; sit on the footpath playing knife-throwing games; read your first grade primer; pour over a book with friends; look after goats; or even go to school. Sometimes you see a candy floss seller in the streets, and maybe even a camel being used to advertise something or other. If you’re lucky you might find a gun and a helmet in the debris, so you can dress up for your games, maybe feeling really sad as you remember the horrible times you’ve just lived through. If you’re a bit older, don’t grow your hair long: you might be identified as a teddy boy and blamed for robberies.

If you’re a young person you might move from your home elsewhere in Poland to join the reconstruction as a volunteer or as a member of the young communists. You might even come from Denmark, Norway, Finland or Hungary to join the brigades of the Service to Poland National Organisation, and the general construction workers, as they lug and lay bricks and dredge the river. You might return to university; run alongside an effigy of Eisenhower riding an atomic bomb in a Mayday procession; or collect autographs and addresses from Sikhs in Warsaw for the Fifth International Youth and Students Festival.

For many of you bits of life go on almost normally as the rebuilding happens around you. You lug a piglet home on your shoulders, set up your street stall, peg out your washing, take your baby to the park, buy flowers, set up an easel to paint your destroyed city: and at the weekends you might kayak or swim or lounge on the beach at Saska Kępa. If you’re any good at motor biking or skating you might enter competitions, even win.

As you walk around your city you might see a statue of the Warsaw Mermaid being cleaned; the figure of Zygmunt lying fallen from his column; or Kazimiera Majchrzak, the pigeon lady of ul Piwna, still feeding the pigeons in the desolation. If you catch a tram, it often has a wagon attached, overflowing with people, although more still manage to squeeze on.

In the early days after the war, no matter who you are, you might have joined the crowds cleaning up the mess, passing bricks from hand to hand in a great long chain.


This is my second visit to this exhibition of photos taken in Warsaw between 1945-1955, showing at the History Meeting House. (See here for the first half of the exhibition.) The photos of children are especially moving, as I think about my life in post-war Australia at about the same age,  wearing exactly the same big bows in my hair. The energy of the rebuilding is palpable as is the astonishing resilience of the survivors, although no doubt many of them were quite traumatised with years of loss and terror.

I haven’t included photos to match all the descriptions, because some photos were unphotographable, angled and lit as they were.

Footnote: Kazimiera Majchrzak’s house in ul Piwna has been restored and her pigeons have taken up permanent residence on the lintel.




About morselsandscraps

A retired Australian who spends a lot of time in Warsaw, and blogs as a way of life.
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18 Responses to You live in post war Warsaw.

  1. weebluemixer says:

    What brilliant photos. You always see the photos of during the war and the celebrations afterwards but rarely do you see the aftermath, the people trying to re-build their lives and get on with living a normal life. I wonder what story each of the people in the photo would tell.


    • The History Meeting House has had many interesting photographic exhibitions in my times in Warsaw. It also has outdoor panel exhibitions in the park just over the road, which was what alerted me to its existence in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • weebluemixer says:

        I just love history. My 1st degree was in History, and I love reading and learning about history.I drag my hubbie to museums, castles, etc all the time. I particularly love social history during WW1 and WW2 rather than the military or political aspect of it


  2. findingnyc says:

    Beautifully written post, Meg, and I find the photos fascinating. It’s sobering to think the effect that war had on people’s lives, but also heartening that they were so resilient in rebuilding.


    • When you read the history of the Nazi occupation and see all the indicators around the city of murder and brutality and wanton destruction, you can only wonder that anyone survived with the will to go on. Hitler planned the destruction of Poland even before the war began, I believe, encouraged by the lack of response to Italy’s depredations in Abyssinia.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue says:

    As ever, a well written post, Meg…looks a most interesting exhibition, and makes me grateful, yet again, for being fortunate not to have lived through war. The Warsaw people were certainly resilient


    • I think you’d have appreciated the exhibition. We were blessed indeed, especially in Australia: although there was plenty of fallout from participation in the mother country’s wars, there has been little fighting on the continent – Darwin bombed and a Japanese midget submarine in Sydney Harbour was about it. I was somehow very aware of war as a child, and I remember the shudders when I saw a procession of army trucks heading up the hill towards our house when the kids were little.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Heyjude says:

    I enjoyed this post. The world when it was in black and white – many of the photos are similar to those I have of life in England post WWII (without all the bombed out buildings). Life does go on and I’m sure it must have been a desperate time for many people all around the world. I am not a fan of pigeons, but I do like the ones above the lintel. They are rather adorable. Silent and no mess 🙂


    • I’d seen the pigeons before in my lintel phase. I was delighted to get the back-story, and to know that there was an identity for a feeder of pigeons in the sophistication that was prewar Warsaw. I don’t quite do the photos justice, unfortunately. There’s quite a screed about the photographers and their determination to document the city in recovery that I’ll probably footnote sometime.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was a bit excited by the form it took.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. restlessjo says:

    There are some extraordinary photos, Meg! The little boy in the helmet, the lady laying bricks, and the bathing beauty… but as you say, so many of them look just like we did as youngsters. Kids being kids.


    • I suspect I wasn’t supposed to photograph, but no one complained, and there was hardly anyone seeing them in the exhibition itself. Is “I expanded your audience” justification? I also feel a bit guilty about not naming the photographer, although many of them only had agency attribution. They really gave a feel for Warsaw life in those years, and destroyed a few of my preconceptions as well.


      • restlessjo says:

        I think expanding their audience is perfect justification, hon. If ever I were back in Warsaw I’d go and see this for myself.
        A bewitching day here yesterday! 20’s and a warm wind 🙂 Not a care in the world as I strolled back through our marina. Normal service resumed today 😦 😦 Hugs, sweetheart! I love your posts. I can find all of humanity and the plant world too 🙂


  6. Lucid Gypsy says:

    The determination and stoicism of the Polish people shines out from these photos, what at remarkable collection, thanks Meg.


  7. viveka says:

    Meg, what a fantastic post … your so good with wording and images … fantastic work. No wonder the Polish people is so proud … and determent. They have been in this situation so many times .. where they have to rebuild their country through it’s history. Magnificent post, Meg!


  8. Excellent post, Meg. If I was in Warsaw, I’d want to attend this exhibition more than once too. I love the images. It makes me wonder what the photographer’s story was and whether they were re-building their own lives whilst documenting others doing the same. If only humanity would learn from its mistakes – the violence we see reported on the news everyday is heartbreaking.


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