Our next Wartime Bridge story takes us to northeastern Poland and to the town of Jastrowie. With a population of 8900 inhabitants, the community is located on the edge of the Gwda River valley. Germans have translated the river’s name into Küddow. During World Was II, Jastrowie was a stronghold for Nazi soldiers especially as a railroad line had existed and it was needed to ship war supplies and other materials to the areas needed, especially as soldiers on the eastern front tried to invade the Soviet Union and were only 60 kilometers away from Moscow by the end of 1941.
By the beginning of 1945, with the Nazis fighting a losing battle with the Allies encroaching Germany and its capital Berlin from all sides, Soviet troops were making strides as the soliders, tired and worn out from the fighting, were fleeing towards Germany, marching through Poland along the way. Despite Adolf Hitler’s orders to fight to the very end, there were only three options for the Nazi soldiers:
1. Fight until death,
2. Slow the advancement of Soviets to buy time to retreat and eventually regroup or
3. Desert the army and if caught, accept the terms of surrender with the hope of returning home to their families.
In the case of this bridge at Jastrowie, it was the attempt of carrying out option 2 that went as awry as it could be. The railroad bridge was built in 1914 and spans the River Gwda east of Jastrowie. It can be seen from the State 189 Bridge as it is approximately 300 meters away to the south. While it is unknown who built the bridge, the inscriptions on the truss beams indicated that a Union Steel Company may have fabricated the steel parts to put together the polygonal Warren deck truss design. Because Poland was part of the German Empire until the end of World War I, it is most likely that the company came from the German side.
Attempts to blow up the bridge to slow the advancement of Soviet troops happened on 2 February, 1945 as Nazi soldiers tried to bring the bridge to the ground using explosives. Unfortunately, due to a lack of explosives and other materials needed to destroy the bridge, combined with the quick advancement of the encroaching soldiers and opposition from locals in the area, only one side of the bridge came down, the other was still attached leaving the truss span hanging on one side. It has been in this partially collapsed position ever since. A video shows the partially collapsed span in full detail:
While the Soviets captured the city on the same day, they would remain in the region for another 44 years. Although Poland was reestablished as a country, it became part of Soviet control through the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, when Germany, and eventually the rest of Europe was divided into East and West. While under Soviet control, residents of Jastrowie were forced to resettle further westward as much of the population were of German descent. It was part of the practice by the Soviet Union and the eastern European countries that had been under control of Nazi Germany but were later reestablished as individual states. People of German descent were rounded up and deported to what later became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), their assets seized and redistributed among the native populations, including the Polish in Poland and the Slavics in what later becamse Czechoslovakia.
Because the town was emptied, the bridge and the rail line were both abandoned and have remained ever since, thus making it an important and popular tourist stop for bridge enthusiasts and photographers. Even some Polish bloggers have written about the bridge, one of which can be found here and is loaded with detailed photos of the bridge. More information about the bridge is found there but in Polish.
The Jastrowie Bridge is one of many historic structures that survived the Nazi attempts of being blown up for the sake of stopping the advancement of troops and delaying the inevitable. It is however one of the community’s prized historical treasures that serves as a reminder of how the residents survived two different occupations- one of which included the forced deportation to East Germany following the end of the war. It is also fortunate that the bridge has remained in tact for the purpose of future research on its history. While the chances of it being restored and reused as a bike trail crossing along the River Gwda is slim, historians can take the opportunity to learn about the structure’s history, not only tracing the history of Union Steel but also find out who was behind the construction of its unique design. A relict as a memorial makes a community stand out as one that has gone through a lot over the years. And that in itself makes it an attraction for historians, bridge fans, photographers and tourists alike.
Poland was occupied three times since its establishment in 1595: The Polish Partition happened from 1795 to 1918 in which the country was divided into three parts: the eastern part belonged to the Russian Empire, the southern part to the Habsburg Empire (Austro-Hungarian) and the western part to Prussia, which later became the German Empire through its creation in 1871. After being reestablished via Versailles Treaty in 1918, Poland was an autonomy until September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded and eventually captured the country. It remained under control until the Soviets drove them away in warfare successfully in 1945. After being part of the administration, Poland became a puppet of Communism until free elections of 1989, which led to it becoming an independent country. For more information on Polish history, click here.