Sensitive and ‘dialogue-provoking’ design for Cursed Soldiers’ monument unveiled
A new monument honouring the memory of Poland’s so-called Cursed Soldiers is one step closer to being realized after a winning design was approved by a jury composed of architects, artists and Wrocław city councillors.
Located a stone’s throw from the Wroclavia shopping centre just south of the city’s principal train station, the idea for such a memorial was first raised in 2014 by politician Piotr Maryński.
Originally rejected, the proposal gradually gained traction and two years later the city adopted a resolution paving the way for the creation of such a landmark.
The project, though, stalled after an initial competition to find a design was declared void after all thirty-three entries were deemed sub-standard.
Now, however, a second round has proved more fruitful and a winner selected from a total of thirty-five candidates.
The work of Tomasz and Konrad Urbanowicz, their entry was roundly praised for both its sensitivity and symbolism.
“The authors of the winning design have used glass blocks inside which you can see the frozen-style silhouettes of soldiers,” said Jerzy Pietraszek, the director of the Cultural Department of Wrocław City Hall.
“It’s a distinct monument, and according to the jury, it provokes dialogue while also encouraging learning and deeper reflection. It also feels as if it interacts with the public.
“It received the main prize for the way it presents such a dramatic story in an unambiguous way, and also for the fact that it will see the creation of a new, high-quality public space.”
Representing Archiglass, a local family-run firm specializing in bespoke, large-scale artistic installations made using glass, for the Urbanowiczs designing the memorial meant answering the question of how best to commemorate an underground movement that was often “anonymous, lonely, trapped, stabbed in the back, imprisoned and erased,” while simultaneously creating a monument that would enrich the public space and work equally effectively when viewed from a passing car.
Seeking to arouse feelings of respect while giving a clear message to future generations, the team chose to meet this challenge by designing “monumental glass casts” in which “silhouettes of soldiers on a 1:1 scale would be placed in cuboids”.
Playing with concepts of light and shadow, and including discreet optical effects resulting from the “different textures, transparency and thickness of the kiln-formed glass”, the visibility of the soldiers will vary depending on the angle at which they are viewed, thereby symbolizing not just their covert military activities, but also Communist attempts to erase their memory from history.
Composed of nine blocks, each approximately three metres in height, the team was further keen not to place the featured soldiers on a pedestal.
“The Cursed Soldiers are like honest, upright people among us,” explain the firm, “however, the solids surrounding the figures are higher, emphasizing their nobility of spirit.”
Furthermore, such is the design that it will be impossible to accurately distinguish any specific facial features or ranks, a point that will enable the public to “feel the fear of the soldiers,” as well as the tragic hopelessness of their situation.
Often overlooked and largely unknown outside of Poland, the Cursed Soldiers is a catch-all title used to refer to the underground partisan units that resisted the Communist regime both during and after WWII.
Thought to number anything up to 200,000 at their peak, they were treated as outlaws by the Communist authorities and relentlessly persecuted by the Soviet NKVD and Polish secret police, the UB.
Between 1944 and 1956 it is thought that as many as 50,000 members of the anti-communist underground were murdered, the majority of which were buried in unmarked graves that have yet to be discovered.