Mirosław Ganobis belongs to the generation of Poles who know the times of World War II only from hearing stories and reading books. The history of Oświęcim before 1939 goes even farther. Despite the pre-war climate of the city, its spirit is sometime much closer to this young person’s heart than the present time. Fascination with pre-war Oświęcim became stronger when the first bottles from the former Haberfeld’s liquors and spirits factory were found. These bottles started the collecting passion of Mirosław Ganobis – the passion that has characterized him for many years. In his collection are post-cards, photographs, bottles and bottle labels, documents, bills of exchange and trinkets. For more than 50 years those things lay abandoned in dusted lofts, in basements, drawers, in cupboards between porcelain figures, and in places where people did not pay much attention to them. Probably most of this “old stuff” would have been completely destroyed, but Mirosław Ganobis put in a lot of effort to save them. He walked, asked, talked and then got them or bought them. When, in the area of Oświęcim, there were no more old souvenirs, he started searching for relicts of the past at old post-card auctions. Mirosław Ganobis even went to Czech Republic and Slovakia in search of them. His collection was growing and then a thought about publishing an album came up.
There are two perspectives from which we can see materials collected by Ganobis. They can be seen only as historical sources and be judged only by their historical value. You can also see them from the perspective of a man fascinated by fragments of what had been left from history, a man for whom contact with history is very personal and inspired by emotions, longing for something that had hidden meaning beyond simple research. In that case, we deal with a phenomenon, a combination of a subject and a man. On the one hand, history created an identity of a man. On the other hand, a growing historical identity pushes to further the search of all details showing history of the city and roots of the researcher. That is why, for Ganobis, collecting shreds of history has become not only a regular interest in history but an important part of his life. Ganobis hasn’t selected things he found based on its historical or material value; instead, thanks to his emotional commitment and sensitivity to history, Ganobis has saved many unique pieces that for others had no meaning.
If we look at the historical value of Ganobis’ collection we will see that all of the materials are a valuable supplement to existing archival sources. The photos and postcards show us a view of the city at the end of XIXth and the first half of XXth century, and they tell a lot about the atmosphere of everyday life. Thanks to these postcards, we may imagine the atmosphere during the market day, on an average day, and how the space of the main market looked with the monument of St. Nepomuk on it. One of the most valuable postcard is the one with the view from the church tower. Thanks to it and some others, we can today virtually recreate the building of the synagogue at Żydowska (Jewish) street (today Berka Joselewicza). We also know what the Mykwa looked like. One of the postcards shows the view of the Zasole neighborhood which was completely destroyed by the German occupation. We can also see tenements which were destroyed during the same period. We can also see some streets that look totally different now, such as former Kęcka street (today Jagiełły). Thanks to one of correspondence cards that was found during a demolition of a house, we know that there was a Jewish Religious Workers Society “Machsike Limud”.
Ganobis managed to buy postcards showing the city and its atmosphere during the first period of German occupation. A large series of these was in one of houses in Biesko-Biała. Unfortunately, the majority of them were destroyed. Despite that, they show some parts of the city and some building interiors, such as the hospital created by the Germans in Selesian convent.
It is the same with the photographs. Among pre war photos, we can find many famous Oswiecim families, such as the Sagans, Kuglers, Lachendros, Kosycarzs or Plaszeks, who owned the pharmacy. Many events that are seen in the photographs had social meaning. We can see consecrations of the new bridge at Soła river, a scouts parade, and new buildings of Selesian Workshops. The picture showing the pre-war city from the plane is really a rarity.
The photographs taken during the German occupation also have significant historical value. We can see displaced Poles and deportation of Jews from the city. There are also some very interesting photos taken by on of the SS-men showing the life of an SS unit in Auschwitz. The negative were found almost 60 years after the pictures were taken. Despite many damages, the pictures have good quality.
In Ganobis’ collection, there are also many documents, prints and other souvenirs. They give us important information thanks to which we can recreate social life in the city. The oldest of documents comes from the times when the city was governed by the Austrian Empire: there are court documents and bills of exchanges. One of very rare documents is the instructions of use of the car Oświęcim Praga.
On of the most precious part of Mirosław Ganobis’ collection are bottles with pre-war labels of spirits and liquor manufactures. The majority of them are bottles from Jakub Haberfeld’s factory. The Haberfeld family integrated with Oświęcim in XIX th century and their factory and a large building next to the castle, church and synagogue was one of the most characteristic elements of the city view. The collection of Haberfeld’s bottles delights us today with richness of label design. These labels also are a historical source for research dealing with XIXth and XXth century society and those dealing with marketing. The collection of bottles is accompanied with other souvenirs from the Haberfeld family – the company paper, personal cards, and posters showing a well organized company. Thanks to bottles collected at many places, we know that there were many more alcohol producers in Oświęcih, including Henoch Heneberg, Wiktor Leibler, S. Kurtz.
Michał Kazimierz Nowak – historian
Translated by: Paweł Sawicki