Filip Springer, who appeared at the Book Festival this week, has chronicled an extraordinary story, that of a Silesian town that has completely disappeared after seven centuries of history.
This is an area I know something about, having relatives who still live in a small Silesian village not so many miles away. In itself it is a fascinating part of the world, lying at the heart of Europe. Until 1945 this area was German, and the town of Kupferberg had existed as a fairly prosperous mining area since the 16th century.
Springer has thoroughly done his research. The early years are interestingly chronicled, through the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and World War 1, with anecdotes and incidents, family stories and local colour. We get to know well this prosperous little town, and many of its residents.
But a mining area is riddled with tunnels, and unstable land. There are land collapses from time to time, as seams are depleted and exhausted. The land collapse is as nothing, however, compared to the upheaval that World War 2 brought to this border area. The Russians took control, the area was incorporated into Poland, its name Â changed to Miedzianka. Most significantly the Russians began mining for uranium, and while the remains of the erstwhile German population had fled or moved west, Polish workers resettled in great numbers, attracted by the high wages paid for this arduous and dangerous work. The uranium mining was brutal and short lived, however, as more and more of the land collapsed in on itself, and the uranium seam proved difficult and unprofitable to mine. The town became smaller and smaller until only 200 inhabitants remained. The decision was taken to rehouse these people in three tower blocks in the nearby town of Jelenia Gora.
In 1972 a decree was signed to liquidate the town of Miedzianka and a schedule of demolition was drawn up. By 1973 most people had left, and the dozen or so who remain are there stubbornly, with no local means of survival.
It’s a fascinating piece of recent history, and a wonderful testimonial to a place that is now only grass and meadow. Springer has done meticulous research in accessing documents, talking to former residents, and piecing together this vanished ghost of Central Europe.
Translated by Sean Gasper Bye.
Published by Restless Books Â£12.99