Powerful new photo album reveals Warsaw after the war
The National Digital Archive has published an album of photographs by Uprising photographer Stefan Rassalski depicting Warsaw destroyed after the Uprising as well as its reconstruction.
The album of around 200 photographs called The Capital of Rassalski has been released in print in Polish and English and will soon be available online.
The photographs document the condition of Warsaw after the war: the destruction, the buildings that survived, everyday life, as well as the work to rebuild the city and the celebrations that took place in the capital. The photos also include 200 negatives from the Warsaw Uprising.
During the occupation, Rassalski co-organised the clandestine photographic laboratory which was set up in 1940 in the basement of the physics department at Warsaw Polytechnic.
Together with other members of the laboratory, he worked on producing false identity documents and, using telephoto lenses, documented street execution carried out by the Germans and made portraits of Gestapo men for the underground.
It was at the Polytechnic that he took his first insurgent photo at W hour, showing the gathering of a group of fighters from several incomplete units. In the following days, he documented scenes of insurgent life, the ongoing battles and the destruction of buildings.
During the Uprising, he served as a platoon commander in the area around the Polytechnic, where he documented scenes of insurgent life. After the war, he photographed the destroyed capital and its reconstruction.
The photos include shots of the burning Polytechnic and the city enveloped in smoke, taken from the roof of the building on Noakowskiego street looking out towards Nowogrodzka, as well as reportage-like scenes showing a liaison officer running under a barricade, insurgents destroying Nazi symbols, digging a well and an insurgent funeral.
The NAC said: “There is no shortage of posed photographs or carefully composed juxtapositions, in which small human silhouettes clash with the monumental mass of rubble.
“In Rassalski's legacy we can also find street compositions, in which destroyed buildings tower over a barricade made of evenly placed rubbish bins.”
Alongside the photos, the album contains two texts in Polish and English: an article by Grzegorz Mika, an architect and Warsaw expert, who discusses the destruction and reconstruction of the capital, and a transcript of a conversation with Łukasz Karolewski, curator at the National Digital Archive.
Before the premiere of the album on February 1, Karolewski said: “Rassalski's photographs paint a collective portrait of Warsaw’s inhabitants and of Warsaw destroyed but which nevertheless did not let itself be crushed.
“The photographs show people setting up cafes, shops and workshops in a surviving room or basement of a destroyed house. Despite the destruction, Varsovians also tried to take care of their appearance – ladies had very nice haircuts, and gentlemen very often wore suits and coats. You don’t see people in rags on the streets despite the poverty of the first post-war years."
In addition to photography, Stefan Rassalski was a painter, graphic artist, wood-cutter, book illustrator, art historian and journalist. He was born in Symowo in Volhynia in 1910.
He moved to Warsaw in 1936 and started to publish his work in the leading newspapers.
After the fall of the uprising, he left Warsaw with the civilian population. He returned in March 1945 and was employed in the Office for the Reconstruction of the Capital, where he was in charge of the documentation and photography workshop.
It was during this time that his photographic output reached a peak. Rassalski devoted himself to documenting both the destruction and the reconstruction of the city, as well as life among the ruins.
After 1950, Rassalski stopped his photography and focused on painting. He died in 1972 at the age of 62.