Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday, 2 January 2010

One of my reasons for going to Krakow was that my father was, as a prisoner of war, working in a coal mine in the area in 1943/44. I'd been able to find in the National Archives a report from the Red Cross inspectors of the time that identified the place (Bory, near Jaworzno) from the camp number, and with a bit of digging on the internet I'd been able to link the German names of that time to the Polish ones.

A bit more digging with Google maps and satellite views, and the local bus company's own online information made it possible to work out how to get there and back by train and bus, reasonably simply.

Jaworzno made a change from tourist Krakow, at the very least. An agglomeration of small villages into modern town planning and development, mixing little streets of one-storey cottages reminiscent of parts of Scotland (a few of the cottages appearing, where the dilapidated render is crumbling, to be built like crude drystone walls) with Soviet-era housing estates and half-hearted shopping centres along modern by-pass roads, and an attempt at a modern town centre. It's actually quite reminiscent of similar attempts in British industrial centres.

Eventually, the bus route ends outside the most likely candidate for Dad's mine. What can I say? I don't quite know what I hoped to find, or what he would have made of it. Had he wanted and been able to visit for himself, he would probably have said - more or less politely - that he recognised bits of it, whether he did or not. It's a mine like many another; the winding gear is spruced up and brightly painted, and most of the buildings are anonymous and undateable. Some of the outbuildings look old and crumbling, but the remains of slagheaps look more like ski-slopes in the morning's fresh fall of snow. The cold at least gives a sense of the desolation I'd have expected to feel in Dad's situation.


There doesn't appear to be anywhere to eat nearby, and if I don't get the bus that's coming, I'll have to wait an hour, since it's Saturday. The only thing to do is to run for the bus, head back to the train for Krakow - and be grateful I've got the option.

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