Poland's Black Gold


Some young men started to dig a coal mine. At a depth of about 4-6 meters they will hit a layer of anthracite coal. Usually they work with five men at a "hole" like this. The work is extremely exhausting and dangerous. In recent years several people died in these improvised mines.


A young man lifts a bucket with anthracite coal from a self dug mine.


Smoke from coal heating is seen rising over the urban quarter of Waldrzych.


Using a chainsaw, two men are cutting wood into small pieces. The wood is used for heating as a alternative to coal.


Kids are playing in front of the old "Sudety Hotel", which was once the most modern and fancy hotel in the area. Originally it was built for the men working in the industrial coal mines. After the breakup of the Soviet Union the mining industrie in Walbrzych collapsed, and the unemployment rate increased to around 30%.


Often the men start working at night, this way there is a smaller chance of being arrested by the police. In recent years the number of illegal diggers has dropped. This due to stricter controls by the authorities and high fines.


On a patrol with authorities of the public affairs office. They check the mines around the urban quarters almost every day.


Two officers of the public affairs office are discussing how to approach the illegal mine-sites.


Officers of the public affairs office in Walbrzych found an active illegal mine. Usually there is not a lot they can do. The diggers know their cars and they run away or hide in the mines as soon as they spot them.


Newspaper articles and photographic evidence is seen spread out on a table at the main police station in Walbrzych.


A grave at the local graveyard in Walbrzych. Since the illegal coal mining started, many workers died in collapsed holes.


The dressing room of one of the biggest coal mines in Walbrzych. In the mid 90’s all the mines were shut down. Now this complex serves as a museum.


Old mineworker-equipment is seen in the dressing-room of Walbrzychs former biggest commercial coal mine.


A pile of coal next to a house entrance. Walbrzych in lower Silesia is an extremely poor area. Heating with the cheap coal is the only option for many people.


A worker at the local coke-oven-plant. The plant is one of the biggest employers in the area. A big amount of the coal they are transferring into coke and exporting to Australia and other parts of the world.


Steam is rising up during the cooling process at the local coke-oven-plant in Walbrzych.


A man is carrying a sack of coal away from a self-dug mine. People that work in the mines, usually do this out of necessity. The unemployment benefit is around €100 per month. which is not even enough to pay rent.


Portrait of a young man after his shift at the mine. The tools and techniques used are very outdated.


A young man is climbing out of a coal mine with the help of his co-workers. The best time for digging is in the winter, when the ground is frozen. When it's wet, the work becomes extremly dangerous, because the mines can collapse easily.


The boots of a mine-worker.


Portrait of a worker sitting at the bottom of a mine, waiting for empty buckets.


Two young men are filling a sack with coal. They usually sell the coal to people in the city, that cannot afford the expensive central heating.


A street scene in the city-center of Walbrzych. The streets and buildings of the town, are in extremely bad shape.


Ongoing project about mining the earth for its natural resources

Julius Schrank