History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town
By Filip Springer
Translated by Sean Bye
Published by Restless Books
Winner of Asymptote Journal's 2016 Close Approximations Translation Contest and Shortlisted for the Ryszard Kapuscinski Prize, History of a Disappearance is the fascinating true story of a small mining town in the southwest of Poland that, after seven centuries of history, disappeared.
Lying at the crucible of Central Europe, the Silesian village of Kupferberg suffered the violence of the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and World War I. After Stalin's post-World War II redrawing of Poland's borders, Kupferberg became Miedzianka, a town settled by displaced people from all over Poland and a new center of the Eastern Bloc's uranium-mining industry. Decades of neglect and environmental degradation led to the town being declared uninhabitable, and the population was evacuated. Today, it exists only in ruins, with barely a hundred people living on the unstable ground above its collapsing mines.
In this work of unsparing and insightful reportage, renowned journalist, photographer, and architecture critic Filip Springer rediscovers this small town's fascinating history. Digging beyond the village's mythic foundations and the great wars and world leaders that shaped it, Springer catalogs the lost human elements: the long-departed tailor and deceased shopkeeper; the parties, now silenced, that used to fill the streets with shouts and laughter; and the once-beautiful cemetery, with gravestones upended by tractors and human bones scattered by dogs. In Miedzianka, Springer sees a microcosm of European history, and a powerful narrative of how the ghosts of the past continue to haunt us in the present.
'I loved the story and realize that while this is the story of one town, it could also be the story of other towns.'
– Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos Lassen
'The desire to uncover the truth about why Miedzianka, a provincial mountain-top town in Lower Silesia with a history stretching back 700 years, literally vanished from the face of the earth between the 1960s and 1980s, turns a journalistic search for documentary evidence into an existential quest of epic proportions. Was the town simply swallowed by the mountain beneath it, the victim of extra-ordinary geology, or was it deliberately demolished by politicians with dark secrets to hide? Written in the popular Polish reportage genre, rather than as literary fiction, the book nevertheless possesses many features of a thriller: mystery, tension, suspense, horror - all of which are admirably conveyed by the English translation. History of a Disappearance is a tale of traumatic loss for the people who once lived in Miedzianka.... The book's most significant achievement is therefore its restoration of individuals--not normally the focus of writers of history or ideologues of change. A town forgotten by the end of the 20th century has been resurrected.'
– Ursula Phillips, The Riveter
Filip Springer (born 1982) is a self-taught journalist who has been working as a reporter and photographer since 2006. His journalistic debut – History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town – was shortlisted for the Ryszard Kapuscinski Literary Reportage Prize in 2011 and was nominated for the Gdynia Literary Prize in 2012. He was also shortlisted for the Nike Literary Prize in 2012 and winner of the third annual Ryszard Kapuscinski fellows contest for young journalists.
Sean Gasper Bye is a translator of Polish, French, and Russian literature. He has translated work by some of Poland's leading nonfiction writers, including Malgorzata Szejnert, Pawel Smolenski, and Lidia Ostalowska. An excerpt from his translation of History of a Disappearance won the Asymptote Close Approximations Prize in 2016. History of a Disappearance has been his first published translation after he graduated from the Emerging Translators Mentorship with Antonia Lloyd-Jones ran by British Centre for Literary Translation (now Writers Centre Norwich runs it) and supported by the Polish Cultural Institute in London. He lives in New York.