Władysław Hasior’s Organ, avant-garde monument originally titled ‘In Memory of the Fallen in the Struggle to Consolidate the People’s Power’, stands on a hill in Snozka, not far from Czorsztyn.
Can a monument be stripped of its ideological message just by removing the inscription and officially changing its name? During the thaw, one of the statues decorating the Palace of Culture and Science, holding a book with the names of the great thinkers of communism, had the inscription ‘Stalin’ removed, leaving only ‘the great trinity’: Marx, Engels and Lenin. However, no one forgot who ‘gave’ Warsaw this outstanding work of socialist realist architecture and after whom it was originally named. Still, this has not prevented the tallest building in Poland from becoming a permanent part of the capital’s urban environment. Today, the Palace of Culture and Science is considered a testimony of Polish history.
After 1989 the problem arose as to what to do with ideologically ‘wrong’ monuments. Some, like the Dzierżyński monument in Warsaw, were decapitated, others were left in place, although many are still irritated by their presence. Warsaw’s monuments – the Red Army’s monument in Skaryszewski Park or General Berling’s bust – frequently face acts of vandalism with the use of meaningful red paint and even more meaningful inscriptions.
The discussion about the monuments began anew a few years ago on the wave of lustration legislation when the idea of enforcing local authorities to destroy the symbols of communism emerged. One of the flagship works of this type is In Memory of the Fallen in the Struggle to Consolidate the People’s Power, located on the hill of Snozka, near Czorsztyn. It is impossible to miss it driving from Nowy Sącz to Nowy Targ. No wonder it piqued the attention of lustration’s enforcers right away.
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The creator of the monument which was unveiled on 9th October 1966 was the sculptor Władysław Hasior, then at the height of his fame – an esteemed creator of surrealistic assemblages made of cheap materials, but also monumental works in Zakopane and Nowy Sącz. A few years before his death, when asked directly by Elżbieta Dzikowska ‘Is the monument the most wonderful form of expression in art for you?’, he replied:
This is how it should be for a sculptor. For me – since I’m a sculptor – this is also how it should be. Unconsciously, all the other, smaller exhibits only maintain my creative condition. Because if fate calls for me to erect a monument somewhere, I’m always ready to do it. One that is different from the numerous monuments already placed in the landscape.
So it would seem that Hasior valued originality in monuments. He certainly managed to achieve it in Organ. Janusz Bogucki, an eminent art historian and exhibition organiser, wrote that Organ, which ‘before being created, was repressed with perseverance by academic commission experts in monumental art, has perfectly grown into a gloomy and empty landscape with its toothed silhouette. It became a valued and well-recognised object. The critic Maciej Gutowski appreciated Hasior’s work already at the time of its creation:
We’re dealing with one of the best monuments created in our country over the past few decades.
Hasior’s monument consists of two parts: vertical and horizontal. The horizontal element is a slab of concrete that protrudes beyond the top of the hill. At its end, the artist placed an outline of six soldiers’ bodies, as if covered with a fabric on which six rifles were placed. The shoes and helmets are sticking out from under the shroud. Rifles, boots, helmets set the rhythm, as if the soldiers were ready to fight at any time. In an interview in 1975, the artist said:
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The murdered man lying on the ground has nothing of pompous pathos in him. Instead, there is a tragic seriousness of death, and I wanted to capture this moment in the relief. I hired six highlanders, explained what was going on, they laid down, I covered them with some fabric, just like you cover a corpse with a shroud. Then I made a plaster cast. Fully accurate. I wanted to reflect that very moment when we face the tragedy of death – without words, we take our hats off and this is the fairest gesture we can afford at the moment. […] I placed the slab, which is simply a huge tombstone, between heaven and earth: it was meant to be a form of adoration, to emphasise that above the heads of those lying there is the panorama of the Tatra Mountains, that is the land they fought for.
The horizontal part was also supplemented by an elongated gutter, a kind of a grave candle that was lit during the ceremony. Fire was an element often used by Hasior in his monumental projects. Here, he also made the monument a sacrificial altar.
However, it was the vertical part of the monument, its main accent, incorporated into the panorama of the Tatra Mountains, that was remembered the best and reproduced numerous times. It is the famous iron ‘Organ’ – a disciplined and architecturally clean construction. It consists of two vertical columns supporting a protruding horizontal beam and a slightly smaller ‘canopy’, all lined with long, geometric, triangular ‘spikes’. These ‘spikes’ were supposed to imitate the pipes of a musical instrument. It was planned to install real pipes into them, on which the wind would play, but this idea was not realised. A journalist writing for Tygodnik Powszechny in 1966 apparently let his imagination run loose by writing:
The wind blows into the organ flutes. It brings out sounds specially tuned into three minor-sounding chords. Hasior’s monument – an avant-garde work of art – plays for those fighting for a new reality.
Is modern and original form enough? ‘In Memory of the Faithful Sons of the Motherland Who Have Fallen in Podhale in the Struggle to Consolidate the People’s Power – People of Kraków on the 1000th anniversary of the Polish State 1966’ – such an inscription has been visible on the Czorsztyn monument for over 40 years. Who were the ‘faithful strugglers’? They are the ones who fought against the anti-communist partisans after the end of World War II. When in 2008 the discussion on the future of the monument started, Wojciech Czuchnowski wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza:
Let’s be clear: the monument was created to commemorate the officers of the Security Office, the Civic Militia and the Internal Security Corps, who perpetuated the people’s power by murdering and imprisoning those who were not in its favour. Since it was the aforementioned officers who – at the time of the monument’s creation – emerged victorious, the work by the great sculptor Władysław Hasior honoured their memory and not the memory of their victims.
That is why, after 1989, Hasior’s Organ succumbed to rust and graffiti, such as ‘a monument to the Jewish traitors of Poland’ or ‘a monument to the enslavement of the Polish nation’. When the local authorities decided to renovate the monument as a local tourist attraction, there were voices that it should rather be destroyed, or preferably replaced by another ‘papal cross’. But that did not happen. The monument was defended not only by artists but also by residents of nearby Kluszkowce. ‘At a village meeting, we decided that the monument stays, and, if necessary, we will defend it ourselves’, the village mayor supposedly told journalists. Eventually, the municipal council decided to take the middle road: the monument was renovated, the controversial inscription was removed and the name was officially changed to the neutral ‘Organ’, as it was commonly called. Shepherd’s bells were also hung on it so that they could ‘play’ when a stronger breeze came (which happens quite often).
Was the Organ really ideologically neutralised by an administrative resolution? The already quoted Tygodnik Powszechny from 1966 reads:
The proof of how successful this work is, is its acceptance not only by connoisseurs, but by the whole society, and above all by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages – where the memory of the fallen is still alive.
Today, Czuchnowski writes about the other fallen ones in Wyborcza:
There are still people in Podhale who have experienced the ‘consolidation of the people’s power’ on their own skin.
Hasior himself asked the authorities of Czorsztyn municipality to change the inscription on the monument already in 1993. Against the winds of history, the Organ is still standing and even playing.
Originally written in Polish by Karol Sienkiewicz, January 2012, translated into English by P. Grabowski, August 2020
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