The forgotten Polish link in the global history of the “quantitative revolution”

In textbook chronicles, the “quantitative revolution” marked a historical moment when geography became a true Cold War science. As a result of the Second World War, a new generation of geographers left their parochial disciplinary chambers and idiographic methods to turn towards an interdisciplinary approach by adopting the universal “scientific method”, and pursue rigorous, testable mathematical methods in spatial analysis and a positivistic urge to apply deductive theories in spatial planning, modernization and development. An inevitable element of this change was the (re)discovery of German location theories (von Thünen 1826, Weber 1909), including the central place theory of Walter Christaller (1933) and August Lösch (1940), which revolutionized the field of urban geography and regional planning.

The hexagonic model of central places (settlements) by Walter Christaller, 1933

However, anti-positivist critique in the West since the late 1960s has greatly simplified these historical contexts, and the knowledge geographies, wider geographical conditions and knowledge networks of the “quantitative revolution” have remained unexplored. The “revolution” was actually an emerging hegemonic narrative of academics in the global center of North America and Britain, who appropriated interwar era German location theories for their own local pursuits with the help of their postwar academic alliance with Swedish geographers.

Polish regional plans of central places by the National Office of Spatial Planning (Główny Urząd Planowania Przestrzennego) in Warsaw, 1948

But missing from this transnational history is the early postwar school of Polish geography and spatial planning, which became an important precursor in the wider history of the centralized state being involved in the regional planning of settlements. This article shows how the various contexts of European state-led applications of central place theory – disregarded by liberal capitalists in the West – connected across statist regimes, by focusing on how Walter Christaller’s central place theory was applied in the German colonization of Poland by the Nazis during the Generalplan Ost (1940–43) and then in postwar Polish spatial planning under the nation-wide reconstruction orchestrated by the National Office of Spatial Planning (1946–48), which relied on this same German planning knowledge. The remarkable continuity between the Nazi German and postwar Polish contexts gave Polish geographers an advantage to be later included in the American-led Western knowledge networks of the “quantitative revolution” from the late 1950s on, despite the Iron Curtain.

The Nazi settlement system plan of the Eastern annexed territories, including Poland, for the Generalplan Ost by Walter Christaller, 1941

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Citation:

Ginelli Z. (2020): The forgotten Polish link in the global history of the “quantitative revolution”. Critical Geographies Blog, 2020.01.01. Link: https://kritikaifoldrajz.hu/2020/01/01/the-forgotten-polish-link-in-the-global-history-of-the-quantitative-revolution/

How the Polish gold train got stuck in French Africa during WWII

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I just read about the Polish banker and economist Leon Barański (1895-1982), who worked as an expert and permanent representative of the World Bank in Ghana during 1962-1964. Then through his biography, I bumped into this epic story of how the Polish Bank tried to save its gold during World War Two, a process which Barański organized as the bank director. This was a truly geographical history: the plan was to evacuate the gold from France to the United States of America. In August 1939, the Polish Central Bank had gold resources with a value of 463.6 million zlotys, ca. 87 million USD, weighing 79.5 tonnes. Most of the bank’s treasury got transported to Romania, then from Constanza to Turkey to Syria to Lebanon (then French colony) to France. But the Romanians left 4 tonnes in the National Bank of Romania, where it survived the war. The Communists who ruled Poland had no knowledge of the gold in Romania, which was hid in the Tismana Monastery on Starmina Mountain, and this news only reached Warsaw in October 1945. A complicated lawsuit and negotiation commenced until the gold finally arrived in Warsaw on 18 September 1947.

But in France, as the Germans occupied the country during 1940, the Polish gold was only sent out from the country on 17 June, and not to the USA or the French Antilles, but to Dakar in West Africa, and further to Fort Kayes (Mali) deep in the French Sahara. After the French surrendered on 22 June, the emigré Polish Bank’s demands to retrieve the gold from the French proved effortless, and de Gaulle’s Vichy Government, which promised to return the gold, failed to take possession of Dakar. Since the French later denied that the gold was still in West Africa, the Polish made the US government sue the Banque de France and seize its assets in New York. In the fall of 1942, after the invasion of North-West Africa by the Allied Forces under operation “Torch”, one of the directors of the Polish Bank, Major Stefan Michalski, was sent on a mission to Algiers on 13 February 1943 to find out if the Polish gold was still in West Africa. Eventually the French admitted it was in Kayes, and after Polish inspection the gold was transported back to Dakar in 1944, so it may head off to the USA. However, the French Committee of National Liberation debated the release of the gold by arguing that if the Polish government-in-exile were not able to return to Poland and a Russian-backed government were established there, then this government would undoubtedly ask for the return of the Polish Bank’s gold. Eventually the gold was taken over by a special committee of the Polish Bank led by director Michalski in February and March 1944.

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The Sahara in Algeria. Photo: National Digital Archive

You can read more about this history here:

https://www.nbp.pl/…/Bankoteka_4_September_2014_internet.pdf
Rojek, W. (2000): Odyseja skarbu Rzeczypospolitej. Wyd. Literackie, Kraków.
https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Bara%C5%84ski_(bankier)