National Geographic : 1958 Sep
parently it was like asking a Frenchman "What is Cannes?" or a German "What is Garmisch?" For Zakopane is the resort that many Poles regard as the closest thing to heaven on earth. To reach it, you must travel to the extreme south of the country, to the Tatry Mountains along the Polish-Czech border. Around the town, a few of the peaks soar above 8,000 feet. They are snow capped most of the year, and some of their high slopes are good for skiing until mid-May. Polish love of the Tatrys is understandable, but pride in Zakopane itself is puzzling. To Western eyes, the town cries out for paint and plaster and for the flower boxes and other cheerful touches that make Swiss and Aus trian mountain resorts so attractive. But if Zakopane lacks color and charm, the mountain folk of the Tatrys have both in ample measure. The g6rale, or highlanders, are not only shepherds and farmers, but also poets, singers, wood carvers, and weavers of uncommon skill. Any day you will see the men wearing their distinctive g6rale dress: tight trousers of heavy white homespun wool, richly embroidered from waist to knee; loose jackets, also embroidered, slung across their shoulders; and black felt hats with smooth crowns and narrow brims (pages 391-98). A Poet Tends Hillside Sheep On a hill above Zakopane we met the g6ral family of Stanislaw Byrcyn. Stanislaw, a smiling, weather-beaten man of 46, owns about five acres of steep hillside and 25 sheep. But from these you cannot guess his main occupation. "I am a poet," he told us. The three younger children-out of seven -tend the sheep while father tends his art. His wife, Agnieszka, and their 18-year-old daughter of the same name are the family business managers. They spin and weave the wool into the brightly patterned rugs that are a well-known product of the Tatrys. Would we come into their 125-year-old house and see them at work? Mother set up the spinning wheel, daughter pulled out the loom. Father had a caller, a fellow poet named Adam Pach. They sat down together. The father called his nine-year-old son. "Wojciech, bring the dudy!" This is the highlander's bagpipe, with a sheepskin bag. Father puffed out his cheeks and blew a lilt ing tune. Then the two poets sang an old shepherd's song together. Bagpipe, song, loom, and spinning wheel are just as they have been for generations. 386 As we rode a crowded bus down from the mountains to the plains, we felt that the Tatrys were one of the last refuges of the old, traditional Poland. Little more than 100 miles to the north west, we were to find an area where the people and their lives had changed suddenly, pro foundly, almost beyond recognition. This was in what the Poles call their "Western Territories." The maps of Poland on the opposite page illustrate how the country has literally moved westward. At the war's end, Poland lost a Missouri-sized piece of territory to Russia in the east; subject to eventual ratification by a treaty, it gained a smaller piece, the size of Kentucky, from Germany in the north and west. This shift in geography is one of the most drastic of all the changes that have come to Poland in the past dozen years. An Exodus Transforms a Nation With the shift of territory came a shift of people the like of which modern Europe has never seen. No fewer than 8,000,000 Ger mans fled or were expelled from what became western Poland. And more than 5,000,000 Poles, most of them from territory seized by Russia, moved in to take their places. To find out what had happened in the area formerly German but now Polish, we hired a car at Katowice and set out on a 300-mile exploration. We chose the most valuable of Poland's newly acquired lands: Upper Silesia, with its rich coal deposits and its powerhouse of steel and chemical industries, and Lower Silesia, with its fertile land and the great in dustrial city of Breslau, renamed Wroclaw. The only car to be hired in Poland today is the Warszawa. It is Polish-made but has an oddly American look. The reason is that it is a virtual copy of a 1946 American car, made with jigs and dies supplied to Poland by Russia. The model does not change from year to year. It is a tough little car, and it stood us in good stead as we rolled through the factory towns of Upper Silesia. The smoking chimneys and the slag heaps of Upper Silesia could be duplicated in any coal-mining area of Europe. But once out side the cities, we knew we were in former German territory. The high-roofed village houses were as German as sauerkraut. The countryside had the neat, well-tended look of German farmland. The empty road was one of Hitler's Autobahnen, an express high way that connected the factories of Upper Silesia with the interior of Germany.