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Second World War

Polish museums to sell military equipment preserved in bogs

They have already dug out several dozen armoured cars, field-guns, transporters and other vehicles

Kraków

Necessity being the mother of invention, the Polish museum world is branching out into some quite unusual ways of raising much-needed funds. A promoter of bright ideas, Professor Andrzej Rottermund of the Royal Castle at Warsaw, is now Deputy Minister for Culture and the Arts, and he is keen that museums should look for ways of raising money for themselves. The Royal Castle itself is doing all the standard things of developing shops and publishing, but other museums have come up with some quainter ideas. The well-stocked but rudimentary transport museum is about to benefit from the proposed rationalisation of the railway network, which includes axing 5,000 kilometres of track. This will make several hundred locomotives redundant. This potential scrap mountain, which includes narrow as well as standard gauge stock, is to be sold off to foreign museums and enthusiasts. More bizarre is the deus ex machina, or rather machina ex palude, that will rescue the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw. This at present occupies half the area of the National Museum, which sorely needs the space for its own collections, a large percentage of which have never been shown. The plan is to house the armour and older militaria by rebuilding the Saxony Palace on one of Warsaw’s main squares. The palace was dynamited by the Nazis for fun in 1944, leaving only four pillars, beneath which lies the tomb of the unknown soldier. As for the large number of tanks, planes, and howitzers that clutter the approaches to the National Museum, these would be given a home in the Citadel, built just outside the old city by Tsar Nicholas I in 1855 as a warning to the Poles to keep quiet. This magnificent piece of nineteenth-century military architecture is to be transformed into a huge military museum and theme park.

A considerable part of the funds necessary for this are to be literally dug out of the ground. Large numbers of German tanks, field-guns and other vehicles operating in Poland between 1939 and 1943 strayed off roads or causeways and quickly subsided into bogs, lakes or rivers. There they lie to this day, perfectly preserved, in some cases with their crews inside. They represent a valuable asset, since nobody collected Nazi hardware after the war, and they are to be sold off abroad. The Polish Army have become expert at locating and digging them out, I am told by Colonel Jerzy Murgrabia of the Army Museum. “Every operation is different”, he tells me. “Sometimes we dig, sometimes we drag, sometimes we hoist.” They have already dug out several dozen armoured cars, field-guns, transporters and other vehicles, and at the present moment they are concentrating on two tanks, one in quicksands in Pomerania, the other in a river in central Poland. “There are plenty more, all over the country”, he assures me.

There has been a great deal of interest shown by military museums and private collectors all over the world, and the Poles expect this to be a money-spinner.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Buy a Nazi tank and help a Polish museum'