Amadeusz Świerk

Photographer's portfolio

  • Youngsters hanging in front of a local soccer club spot. Zakaczawie is the origin of many Miedź Legnica ultras. The mural says "Adventure Seekers".

  • On Corpus Christi day, a catholic procession led by altar boys is hiding from the rain in one of the tenement house gates. Faith is an important aspect of life for Zakaczawie citizens. On Christmas Day in 2013, a local parish allegedly experienced a miracle – during a mass, a holy host turned red.

  • Grzegorz, a Zakaczawie native, plays in the garden with his son, Kuba. In the old days he was a professional thief. Later in life, he settled down and focused on the family, trying to gain more custody time with his sons from a past relationship.

  • Teenagers after school are impatiently waiting for food in a local bar.

  • Town council’s disinterest with investment in Zakaczawie can be very visible. Tenement houses are getting old and decrepit with no refreshment projects. Small initiatives, like this kids’ playground, are often quickly devastated by locals.

  • Malwina with her son Jamal – district's well known residents. They settled in an abandoned apartment, but got evicted some months later. They are still looking for a suitable place to live. Mixed families are a rare curiosity in Polish towns.

  • Brothers Dawid and Adrian playing together with their friend, Kaspian. Most children spend their free time playing outside in the old fashioned way. Their families usually cannot afford expensive entertainment such as vacations or video games.

  • Young girls spending lazy time in the backyard of one of many dilapidated tenement houses of Zakaczawie.

  • Staszek, a talented guitar player and an old thief who spent many years in various "nursing homes", as he calls prisons. Nowadays, he is doing small handyman jobs for a living.

  • Dawid and Marcel are playing cops and robbers in the abandoned building, which was the secret police station in the Communist era. Most of these kids’ colleagues will eventually leave the country looking for a better life abroad. Others will either choose a criminal path, or do the opposite – pursue careers in uniformed services.

  • In the 80’s, Krzysztof served in the Polish contingent during the Afghan-Soviet war. One day, the deadly bullet hit and killed his friend, who was just half a meter away. The memories from Afghanistan still haunt him.

  • Kajtek is well known in Zakaczawie (and the rest of Legnica for that matter), mostly for his entertaining nature and helping poor children of the district, despite him having a lead role in Legnica’s criminal underground of the 80’s and 90’s. He also spent many years in prison. Due to the cancer he has, the last 14 years he had to spend mostly at home.

  • Mike and his step brother Kuba playing video games in their family’s apartment in Zakaczawie.

  • Some Zakaczawie citizens decorate their apartments with old trinkets to keep the memories alive.

  • Kajtek is visiting his colleagues during his first outing to the town in many years. He is hugging his blind friend Sławek, who he hasn't seen for a long time. The guys meet in a basement workshop, where they often have some drinks and play music.

  • Dawid, Jamal and Kewin playing on the backyard’s carpet hanger. Jamal is probably the only black child in the whole district, however his friends do not pay attention… yet.

  • Old friends Basia, Krysia and Waldek lively gossiping in front of their tenement house.

  • The improvised puppy transport on Kartuska street.

  • Both born and raised in Zakaczawie, Gosia and Grzegorz were involved with the district's criminal underworld. When they recall their past, there’s more sentiment than shame. It was, after all, the time of their lives.

  • Gosia, Grzegorz and their friend, celebrating Gosia’s birthday party in the backyard.

  • Gosia is famous for crashing Grzegorz’s wedding with another woman. She unexpectedly appeared at the ceremony and shouted he shouldn't get wed. They live together now, raising children from their old relationships.

  • Small river Kaczawa marks the boundary between Zakaczawie and the rest of the world. Most citizens of Legnica categorize the district as dangerous and poor. Over twenty years ago, when the district's atmosphere was even more tense, the city theater staged a play about it.

  • Some private mementos in Kajtek’s apartment recall the old glory of the district and his colorful life.

  • Without much money and help from family members, being chronically ill can be a real burden.

  • Ms Władysława lives alone. Her relationship with her son is bad and no other family lives close. Instead, the neighbors help her with jobs around the house.

  • Paweł with his beloved amstaff. Most of the little money he earns fixing neighbors’ computers, he gives to his mother. He has a tough life, but enjoys walking Morda and taking photos.

  • Ela and Wojtek with their youngest son, Noe. They are pentecostals living with six children; they moved to Zakaczawie about ten years ago, and try to keep the kids a bit away from the troublesome youth of the district.

  • Kids playing in the little snow Legnica got in winter of 2021. Zakaczawie bathes in the sun on the other bank of Kaczawa river.

  • Sisters Wiktoria and Lena stay close together at the Christmas event organized for poor kids of Zakaczawie. In some cases, their families couldn’t afford a proper Christmas celebration. The neighborly ties and grassroot initiatives can make up for it just a bit. This one event was created by soccer ultras.


The Miracle District (ongoing)

Zakaczawie (eng. za-catch-a-vie; the name comes from the little river Kaczawa) is a district of Legnica, a hundred-thousand people city in southwestern Poland, some 100 kilometers from the German border.

After the Second World War, right until the 1990s, most of the city became a home and headquarters to a large Soviet military garrison. During this challenging period, Zakaczawie became an unofficial refuge of Polish social and cultural life. In the late Communist era, most of Zakaczawie inhabitants were families of railwaymen working on large railway hub located nearby. There was also a strong Romani society forcefully migrated there as a part of so-called integration action, as well as a colorful mix of small businesses, cafes, pubs and cultural venues.

Such a thriving societal melting pot was called by its citizens “the Miracle District”. Its colorful life became the inspiration for a pretty well known theatrical play called “Ballad of Zakaczawie”, which brought it some countrywide recognition.

Unfortunately after the fall of the Iron Curtain Zakaczawie shared the fate of many other districts and towns, becoming left out by dynamics of early age Polish capitalism, omitted by the large commercial investments, then falling into disrepair. The social and cultural venues became unprofitable then largely forgotten. Today the Miracle District nickname gained a bitter ironic edge.

Societal structure changed as well, but the citizens of Zakaczawie still retain a strong sense of community. Many people actively decide to stay there despite the challenging conditions. However, in contrast to the largely isolationist postmodern districts, Zakaczawie’s charm lies in relationships between generations of neighbors. People tend to help each other a little more than outside.

This body of work is aimed to show the district’s contemporary portrait, with both its colorful appeal and post-communist decay, and reflect if the legend of the Miracle District stays alive.

© 2022 Amadeusz Świerk