Shadows. What do we have in common?

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The new district of Thureck under construcion, WWII. Photo: Courtesy J. Mehoffer Museum of Turek, Turek, Wielkopolska, PL (EU), Kreisbildstelle Thureck Wartheland Collection. 

German Administration in occupied western parts of Poland worked constantly until The End in January 1945. Landratsamt in Thureck, before 1939 Turek in Greater Poland, was not an exception: its officials remained in town almost to the Red Army winter offensive in 1945. After its incorporation to the Third Reich in 1940 (when the so called “Warthegau” Province was established), the city was transformed into a German settlement area. Like many other small cities in Poland, Turek was to be rebuild into a “German” town, not only with new inhabitants, but with architectural landscape to be dramatically changed. Prewar investments, mostly new public architecture, was adapted to serve new Institutions of 1939-1945 period: departments and offices, Nazi Party services, military and war-purposed offices. The core of the town – a medieval marketplace, surrounded with 19th. century tenements – was one of the places to be remodelled after the Third Reich expected military global success. Like in the nearby Kalisz, German architects and officials designed and prepared new plans for the city, trying to put evident “national” imprint on its architecture. Thureck in Wartheland replaced Turek in Poland and this change was expected to be permanent.

During the war Nazi administration started construction works in the new, western part of the city, designed to be the main German colony in Thureck. Its modern urban scheme with free-standing blocks of flats, green passages of trees and carefully arranged communication system was the biggest project at the time, started around 1941 and never finished before the Third Reich’s fall 1944-5. According to the new urban scheme of the city, old town districts were prepared to be entirely demolished, like the former Trzeciego Maja Street block, replaced in 1943 by the new sports arena. Some, like old weavers houses settlements in Polko and Nowy Swiat streets, were designed to be partially demolished and replaced by new housing estates with “Heimatstil” architecture of gable roofs with red tiles, flowers and small gardens of the “Übermensch” daily life of the future. Modernization as a project of change revealed dramatically here its nature of loss and displacement, with communities to be “cleaned” and “remodelled”. It meant The Ghetto between Waska and Szeroka streets, where the whole Jewish community was crowded before its deportation to the Ghetto in Czachulec and then, to the Nazi death camp in the former van Bystrom Family palace in Chełmno (Kulmhof). It also meant the future of Polish inhabitants of the city, and ot those of German community to be unfaithful to the new government: forced resettlement, social “recycling” in concentration camps, or destrucion.

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Urban scheme for the new district of Thureck. Gauforum can be seen on the bottom left. Prep. by Author.

Architecture of fancy blocks of flats with red gable roofs, with trees and gardens around them, was a fake promise of mighty conquerors. Its foundations were based on racism, exclusion and brutal force, united not only by science (compare Eugenics and the Modern Movement obsession of “cleanness”) but, as Zygmunt Baumann brilliantly proposed in Modernity and The Holocaust,but also by modern state bureocracy. After Thureck city was established for its new life, unfinished office block of prewar Polish county administration was transformed to the Landratsamt building, with a huge public square in front, lined with new blocks.In the opposite of its main facade planners sketched a local Nazi Pary HQ, The Parteihaus or The Gauhaus. So, the whole square could be described as a centre of regime’s power, the Gauforum. Administration worked on the whole project to the Fall of 1944, when only 7 blocks of flats were finished. As Ian Kershaw puts it in his recent book (“The End”, 2011) German administration, military authorities, but also ordinary life – was on track even in the last days of war, or almost to the finally collapse of the Third Reich. Officials in Thureck also remained in their offices almost to the end, day by day working on the future to come. This regularity and order of the Nazi administration make me stunned, just like the huge collection of war-time photographies from the local section of visual documentation and propaganda (Kreisbildstelle), stored inthe J. Mehoffer  Museum of Turek, and recently published in historical albums of the city.

After the war urban pattern of the new, western district of Turek was changed and expanded by the new housing estates of the postwar era. But their schemes are based on the war times, just like the present office block of local authorities in Kaliska street – the former Landratsamt designed in the “Heimatsil”.

Traces, remains, shadows in the urban space: they all refer to this experience of “forced Modernity”, that displaced communities, and led Europe to the mass Genocide. Its remains, and some of the intellectual foundations,  are still among us, shaping our cities and life; not only unpresence of those murdered, but also presence – of those who replaced victims. This ambiguity is a challenge for architecture history, and for all of us.

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Turek City Hall. This building, unfinished when the war started in 1939, was remodelled by the new Nazi authorities and finished before the 1945. Since the war it has been housing local city and powiat authorities offices. Photography by Author.

This entry is a blog-version of the essay, published by Author under the title “Przestrzeń postkolonialna? Gmach Starostwa Powiatowego w Turku i nieurzeczywistnione projekty przebudowy miasta z okresu okupacji hitlerowskiej na tle XX-wiecznej idei dzielnicy zachodniej” in 2013′ issue of “Koninskie Zeszyty Muzealne”.

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