Esoteric London

No. 515: Exhibition Road, SW7

Posted in Political London, Wartime London by esotericlondon on February 17, 2012

Ognisko Polskie, Exhibition Rd, London, SW7. Photo © Roger Dean 2012

Anya Lipska writes:

‘The winter is yours, the summer will be ours’ – Solidarnosc graffiti under Communist rule in Eighties Poland

Opened in 1940, Ognisko Polskie – the Polish Hearth Club, was the meeting place of the Polish government in exile: the president, his ministers and generals, who had escaped to London when Poland fell to invading Nazi and Soviet forces. Exiled Poles went on to fight with conspicuous bravery alongside the Allies throughout the war, expecting that victory would see them returning home to live under a reinstated Polish government. Instead, in 1945, the Allies withdrew recognition of Poland’s London-based government and allowed Stalin to install a puppet Communist regime in Warsaw. Many of the Poles who did return home were imprisoned in Soviet camps or shot.

The Hearth Club continued to be the HQ of exiled Poles for fifty years: General Anders, who had led Polish forces to a famous Allied victory at Montecassino, had his own table in the restaurant, and as late as the 1980s, the President and a cabinet of eight still met here every two weeks, under walls hung with the faded colours of lost Polish regiments. It wasn’t until 1990 that Ryszard Kaczorowski, the last president of the government in exile, was finally able to hand over the Constitution and the seals and symbols of the Polish Republic to Lech Walesa, leader of Solidarity and Poland’s first democratically elected president since the war.

Today there are an estimated one million new Polish exiles living and working in the UK, most of them in London. A.L.

[Anya Lipska’s debut novel, ‘Where the Devil Can’t Go’ – a crime thriller based among London’s Polish community – is out in the UK as an ebook on Amazon Kindlestore. The German language version will be published by Random House Germany in 2012. You can visit her website by clicking here.

To make a reservation to dine at Ognisko you can telephone 020 7589 4635 or visit the website by clicking here. R.D.]

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