Nuclear threat. Shelters in Nowa Huta.
There have been many myths surrounding the shelters of Nowa Huta. One of them says that below the entire district is another, underground city, where it is possible to move around without going out to the surface. One may still meet people claiming to have entered the underground in one neighbourhood and leave it in a completely different one. Also, rumour has it that under the former Światowid cinema (currently the seat of the Museum of Poland under the Communist Regime) there was Nowa Huta’s largest shelter for several hundred people. And, obviously, all shelters in Nowa Huta were, allegedly, to protect against nuclear explosion.
We decided to come to grips with those myths, to tell about the circumstances of constructing the majority of shelters below Nowa Huta – the political climate of the 50s in Poland and abroad, the Cold War, arms race, as well as a real threat of the outbreak of World War 3 and how the authorities used it for propaganda. Although it was beyond doubt that an open conflict between the East and the West was at some points of the 20th c. pretty much real, the authorities deliberately demonised the threat. In the face of a common enemy it was much easier to consolidate the nation and the vision of war allowed to justify the often criminal actions of the Secret Service, aimed at any and all signs of resistance activity, by protection of the country.
Today, for most visitors of the Museum of Poland under the Communist Regime, they are only a historical curiosity. The story of over 250 protective structures located under blocks of flats, schools, kindergartens, health centres or cultural institutions in the heart of Nowa Huta appeals to people’s imagination. Yet, while talking about them, it is difficult to forget about the very current context. The Russian invasion on Ukraine and the helplessness of international institutions (organisations) caused that while we were still working on the exhibition a “new Cold War” was openly mentioned.
Our story becomes, thus, also a warning against paranoia that paralysed international relations worldwide for decades and brought much misfortune. We do hope that it will never come back again.