Filip Springer (born 1982) is a self-taught journalist who has been working as a reporter and photographer since 2006. Miedzianka. The Story of a Disappearance. was his first book of reportage, followed by Ill-Born, on some gems of communist-era architecture, and Mortar. The Life and Work of Zofia and Oskar Hansen, the fascinating biography of two visionary Polish architects.
Featured reading group title:
Miedzianka (The Story of a Disappearance)
In this collection of reportage, Filip Springer, a journalist and photographer, calls up the ghosts from the past of a small town that completely disappeared, as though all traces of it had had to be wiped off the face of the earth. The little town of Miedzianka, which means “Copperhead” in Polish, or Kupferberg according to its previous, German name, appears to be a place of exceptionally bad luck, a town visited by misfortune after misfortune. Writing the history of the town and its inhabitants, Springer writes about the “beast” that awakens every so often (wars, fires), using the idea of an eternal, irremovable evil, and introducing, too, the foundation myth of fratricide. But—fortunately—he doesn’t stop at these facile explanations, which would allow the human aspect to be overlooked.
Miedzianka is located in Silesia, and throughout this region’s history, no generalizations have held true. Springer has managed to show the complexity of the history of the twentieth century. This is a book about land that through its own richness brought misfortune upon itself. Several centuries of exploiting mineral deposits were bound to end badly, in the era of the most rapid technological development, which was also the era of totalitarian regimes and predatory exploitation. So it was stupidity, greed, and cruelty that led to the annihilation of a place that could have lasted—if managed more wisely—a long time. Springer does not write about the great wars from the perspective of an old-fashioned archivist attempting to be objective, and he isn’t interested in major processes or great names. He concentrates on individual events, houses that have been annihilated and the people who were wronged. He has managed to call up portraits of people who were “from Miedzianka,” until stronger people arrived who assigned them a nationality and forced them to leave. For the expulsion of the Germans there is no terminology yet in Polish literature, so Springer has told the story of the expulsion of people. He has made people remember Miedzianka; he has shown how violence was perpetrated on this land and its inhabitants.
Springer introduces unease with his book, unsettles, and insists upon reclaiming talking about this part of the world that is stamped with shame. Miedzianka is a world where too many atrocities were allowed to happen for anyone to want to remember it. Miedzianka restores the memory of that world—and that may well be the best a reporter can do.