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Katowice city history
The history of Katowice is a mirror reflexion of the history of the Upper Silesia. In the past these lands belonged to Poland, the Czech state (Czechia), Austria, Prussia and Germany. After Poland had regained its independence in 1918, the region's future

History – part one

The history of Katowice is a mirror reflexion of the history of the Upper Silesia. In the past these lands belonged to Poland, the Czech state (Czechia), Austria, Prussia and Germany. After Poland had regained its independence in 1918, the region's future was influenced by three Silesian Uprisings and the plebiscite (1919-1921). The city's great development in the twenties and the thirties of 20th century was discontinued by the outbreak of the World War II. After the war, the whole region of the Upper Silesia became a part of Poland. Modern history of Katowice has been marked, among others, with the tragedy in the "Wujek" Coal Mine (1981), the pilgrimage of the Pope John Paul II (1983) and prizes granted by the Council of Europe between 1998 and 2008.

Villages and hamlets

Some of the cities and towns of the Upper Silesia have a very short history (19th and 20th century). Their creation was connected to the development of mining, metallurgy and heavy industry. It was then that the nearby villages and production hamlets were joined into homogenous urban organism. This is the beginning of cities like: Zabrze, Ruda Śląska and Katowice. Before 1859, the former Katowice village had had 3 thousand inhabitants and its last village leader was Kazimierz Skiba.

Kat or Kąty

The origins of the name of the city still remain an uncertain matter. Some historians claim that it originated from the word "kat" (torturer) which was a nickname of the first local settler. Then, others connect the name with the word "kąty". In the past, settlers' huts were called like this. The settlers dealt with clearing the forests and delivering wood to Kuźnica Bogucka.

Villa nova Katowicze

Villa nova Katowicze was first mentioned in 1598. The village was established by the Bogucki family, the owners of the oldest forges of the region. However, nowadays there are some districts of the city with even longer history than this one, including, e.g. Dąb (1299), Bogucice (1360), Roździeń (1360), and Załęże (1360). Some of them were famous for precious metals output and their processing in the iron forges situated by the Rawa River. Other villages were agricultural.                  

Founding fathers of Katowice

When the city was ruled by Prussia (from 1742) the Upper Silesia and Katowice underwent an intense period of economic development. The idea to establish the city belonged to Franz Winckler, a mining entrepreneur, who in 1839 was the owner of the Katowice area. This task was performed by the administrator of the land, Friedrich Wilhelm Grundmann. Then, the spatial development plan of the area was created by an engineer, Heinrich Nottenbohm.

From city to district

The dynamic development of the city gave way to creation of many offices and institutions. Along with them also banks, schools and stores were opened. During the years of 1856-1859 at present Warszawska Street the Evangelical Church of Lord's Resurrection was built. The first efforts to get municipal rights were made in 1855, but the charter was finally granted in 1865. Eight years later Katowice became the capital of the district.

Golden years

At the end of the eighties in the 19th century there was a powerful mining and metallurgy concern "Kattowitzer Aktien-Gesellshaft" in Katowice. Also, Miners' Guild and Upper Silesian Coal Convention could be found here. In 1832 John Baildon, the pioneer of metallurgy in the Upper Silesia, built his steelworks in Załęże. The big public institutions included: District Court, The Management of the Prussian-Royal Railway and the National Post Management. At the beginning of the 20th century the city was enriched with the City Theatre, a new railway station, Neo-Gothic Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and many tenement houses in the city centre. During the years of 1914-1918 Katowice did not feel the disastrous influence of the I World War. War actions fortunately bypassed the city and the needs concerning armaments influenced the dynamic development of mining and metallurgy.

Return to Poland

One of the symbols of Katowice is the Monument of Silesian Insurgents situated at the General Jerzy Ziętek Roundabout. Its monumental wings symbolize the three uprisings (1919, 1920, 1921). During the last one more than 60 thousand of insurgents took part in the fight against Germans. Finally, as a result of international decisions, Poland annexed 29% of the plebiscite area, including Katowice. Polish troops entered the city on 20 June 1922.               

Capital of the voivodeship

During the interwar period Katowice was one of the richest Polish cities. The city was the capital of the autonomous Silesian Voivodeship and the seat of the Silesian Parliament. Consulates of 12 countries were situated here, as well as many steelworks, mines, factories and banks.

The investment boom included the housing industry, public buildings and churches. It was then that, among others, the Silesian Parliament and the Voivodeship Office buildings were constructed. In 1927 the city commenced building of the Christ the King's Cathedral and the Bishop Palace.

In 1932 at Żwirki i Wigury Street a fourteen-storey skyscraper was erected.

In Katowice the 73rd Infantry Regiment, being a part of the 23rd Upper Silesian Infantry Division, was stationed. In 1939 the city had 135 thousand inhabitants.

September legend

After the outbreak of II World War German troops attacking the Upper Silesia were confronted with fierce resistance of the soldiers from "Śląsk" Operation Group - "Kraków" Army. However, on the night from 2 to 3 September 1939 they were ordered to retreat behind the line of the Przemsza River. At that time Katowice was defended also by few groups of former Silesian Insurgents and scouts. Their fight at the parachute tower (Kościuszko's Park) and around the House of an Insurgent (Matejki Street) became legendary. While defending the city and during later executions a few hundred of Poles were killed. The 73rd Infantry Regiment will be remembered in the history of the September Campaign because of its soldiers taking part in the fights against the Germans on 21 September 1939 (e.g. Alwernia, Bełżec and Tomaszów Lubelski).           

Period of occupation

During the years of German occupation the city was the seat of the Katowice Regierungsbezirk (beginning with 1940). Despite extremely difficult conditions, Katowice inspectorate of the Silesian District of the Home Army was operating here. One of its commanders was Colonel Zygmunt Walter-Janke. On 27 January 1945 troops of the Red Army entered the city. Soon, part of its citizens fell victim to repressions and transportation to camps into the depths of Russia.

Heroic Sławik

For a dozen post-war years the figure of the heroic Silesian – Henryk Sławik, was covered in a conspiracy of silence. This participant of Silesian Uprisings, a representative of the Silesian Seym and councillor of Katowice, in 1939 got to Hungary. From Hungary, as a delegate of the emigrational government of the Republic of Poland, he was organising transportation of Polish soldiers to the armed forces in the West. Moreover, thanks to forged documents he saved life of about 5 to 14 thousand Polish Jews who then escaped to Hungary. His activity was ended by being arrested by the Germans, and he died in the Mauthausen concentration camp (August 1944). At present, one of Katowice schools as well as the roundabout in Tysiąclecia Housing Estate are named after Henryk Sławik. On 25 February 2010 the President of the Republic of Poland –  Lech Kaczyński, honoured him with the Order of White Eagle.

Stalinogród

In 1953, after the death of Józef Stalin, Katowice was named Stalinogród, and the name of the Katowice voivodeship was changed into the Stalinogród voivodeship. Former names were re-established in December 1956.

The nine from "Wujek"

The latest history of Katowice is connected with bloody events that took place after the Martial Law was introduced (13.12.1981). On 16 December 1981 just outside the walls of the "Wujek" Coal-Mine 9 miners from this mine were killed by the bullets shot by the police. Ten years after that the monument in their honour was unveiled in front of the mine (Wincentego Pola Street). The story of this tragedy is told in the movie entitled "Death Like a Slice of Bread" directed by Kazimierz Kutz (1994).

The Pope at Muchowiec

On 20 June 1983 John Paul II visited Katowice during his pilgrimage. The place he chose for the Marian prayer was the Muchowiec Airport. The Pope's altar was decorated with the painting of the Mother of God from Piekary Śląskie (a famous Silesian sanctuary). In his speech delivered to the 1,5 million congregation the Pope spoke about labour rights. This speech went down to history by the name of the Labour Gospel. Next, he visited the Katowice Christ the King's Cathedral.  The guests gathered there listened to the first-night performance of "Victoria" by Wojciech Kilar, a work composed especially for the Pope. Nine years later Katowice became one of 14 capitals of the Catholic Church Archdioceses in Poland.

European Katowice

For the last several years Katowice has been one of the leader cities of the European integration. To acknowledge this credit the Council of Europe awarded the city with the Honour Flag of the Council of Europe (1998), the Council of Europe Plaque (2000) and the Europe Award (2008). Katowice has applied also for the title of the European Youth Capital 2015 and the UNESCO Creative City of Culture in 2015+.