The forgotten history of Lublin brought to life in captivating new book
For those who love to get inside the soul of a city, a new book published in Polish and English offers just that by exploring the forgotten history of Lublin.
With over 160 photographs, “A Lublin that no longer exists” invites readers to wander the city’s winding streets and look at familiar spots in a new light.
Located in eastern Poland, Lublin has a rich, multicultural past. The city’s location between Vilnius and Kraków made it a thriving centre of trade during the Middle Ages. Later, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was established with the Union of Lublin, signed in 1569.
Before the Second World War, the city was a major centre of Jewish life in Central Europe, with a community that had lived there for centuries. A rabbinical school established in the 16th Century, the Talmudic Academy, earned it the name the “Jewish Oxford”.
This rich cultural and architectural heritage is the focus of the book, written by art historian Joanna Zętar. Based in Lublin, Zętar has being working at the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” cultural centre, which promotes the study of the city’s Jewish past, among other activities, for over a decade.
"Wandering around Lublin, with every step we come across places with an extraordinary history. This city of centuries-old tradition delights with the richness and diversity of its architecture, but equally fascinating are the non-existing points, from which only paths to the past lead,” she writes in the book’s introduction.
One place that has changed completely is the former Jewish quarter of Podzamcze, she notes. Its main street, Ulica Szeroka (Broad Street), was destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War and no longer exists.
"Streets, temples, monuments, cinemas, and industrial plants have been destroyed or significantly transformed. Even the last hundred years, documented by Lublin photographers, is a very interesting portrait of the city, also of a Lublin that no longer exists and whose appearance we know only thanks to the photographic frames captured on film,” she adds.
The book combines old black and white photographs with explanations in both Polish and English to guide the reader. Some pages include maps to show the exact spot the photos refer to.
Places featured range from the city’s Kraków Gate, one of the fortified brick gates leading into the city’s medieval core, to the horse racetrack, where the first races were held in 1927. As the book notes, a fast route is now being built over the site of the former track, where the last race was held in the 1940s.
Although the photographs of long-gone places may evoke nostalgia among some readers, Zętar notes that change is normal and not necessarily to be avoided.
“Of course, there are [places] that we may regret have lost their former appearance, but change in the structure of the city is natural. The city must change. Some areas gain a new function, others need to be rebuilt. It’s a natural process,” she told regional daily “Dziennik Wschodni”.
Published by Dom Wydawniczy Księży Młyn publishing house, the book is part of a series on cities “that no longer exist”, which also includes the Kielce and the highly industrialised Zagłębie region in southern Poland.