Hotel Polen fire

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Template:Use dmy dates Template:Good article Template:Coord Template:Infobox hotel The Hotel Polen fire occurred on 9 May 1977 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The conflagration destroyed the Hotel Polen (Hotel Poland), a five story hotel in the centre of the city which had been built in 1891, as well as the furniture store on the ground level and a nearby bookstore. Many of the tourists who stayed at the hotel (of which the majority were Swedes) jumped to their deaths trying to escape the flames. Upon their arrival, the fire department used a life net to help people escape, but not everyone could be saved. The incident resulted in 33 deaths and 21 severe injuries. The cause of the fire is unknown.

The hotel was located between the Kalverstraat (no. 15-17) and the Rokin (no. 14), near the present day Madame Tussauds. Its place is now occupied by the Rokin Plaza, a large office building. The Polish-born artist Ania Bien created a photographic installation based on the fire in 1986, which compared it to the Holocaust.


In the beginning of the 16th century, there was an inn on the site where the Hotel Polen was later located.<ref name="brandweerp5"/> At the end of the 18th century, the "Poolsche Koffiehuis" (Polish Coffee House) was established, which began offering guest accommodation in 1857.<ref name="nai">Template:Nl Hotel Polen on the website of the Netherlands Architecture InstituteTemplate:Dead link (archive)</ref> In 1891, the Hotel Polen was established by the "Maatschappij tot Exploitatie van het Poolsche Koffiehuis" (Polish Coffee House Society),<ref name="nai"/> after the adjacent space on the Rokin was bought, and a building was constructed there which was possibly designed by the architect Pierre Cuypers,<ref name="tudelft">Template:Cite web</ref> who also designed the Amsterdam Central Station and the Rijksmuseum. Another source lists Eduard Cuypers as the architect.<ref name="nai"/> The hotel was five stories high and on the ground level of the building a café-restaurant was opened.<ref name="brandweerp5"/>

The Hotel Polen was once known as a fashionable place to stay.<ref name="latimes">Template:Cite news (behind paywall)</ref> The café-restaurant was closed at the end of 1974 and its location was subsequently rented to the furniture store Inden.<ref name="brandweerp5"/> The hotel remained open as a part of the Krasnapolsky Concern.<ref name="ineuropa">Template:Nl Template:Cite web</ref>

The building, including the load-bearing elements, was constructed of wood.<ref name="brandweerp6">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 6</ref> There were 10 fire extinguishers and 11 fire hoses in the hotel. Only a few escape routes had proper emergency lighting and directions to the emergency exits,<ref name="brandweerp9">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 9</ref> and the hotel was also not on a hotline with the emergency centre of the fire department.<ref name="brandweerp10">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 10</ref> The building had been inspected by the fire department, first in February 1976, and later in the beginning of 1977, after which the hotel's management was notified in writing that there were severe fire safety defects. They issued a list of proposed improvements to be implemented by the hotel, such as complying with the building regulations and the regulations for residence facilities.<ref name="brandweerp11">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 11</ref><ref name="dewaarheidonvoldoendeveilig">Template:Nl Template:Cite news</ref>

The fire

File:Hotel Polen fire fighting.jpg
Fire fighting on the Rokin side

On the night of Sunday 8 May to Monday 9 May 1977, about 100 people were staying in the Hotel Polen,<ref name="dewaarheidoorzaak"/><ref name="telegraph">Template:Cite news</ref> including a large group of Swedish tourists.<ref name="windsorstar">Template:Cite news</ref> About 6:20 am, the hotel staff were preparing for breakfast service, when one of them noticed smoke that seemed to be coming from the freight elevator (which had not been used since the café-restaurant on the ground floor had closed the previous evening). The night porter was alerted. Contrary to instructions, he did not call the fire department immediately; instead, he poured some buckets of water into the shaft, in an attempt to subdue the fire. By the time he decided to call the fire department, the hotel was filling with smoke. The night porter was unable to reach the phone at the front desk because the fire had already reached it. The porter then ran outside, where he stopped the driver of a laundry truck serving the hotel, and instructed him to drive to the Hotel Krasnapolsky to warn them<ref name="brandweerp13">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 13</ref> and to call the fire department.<ref name="ineuropa"/>

By 6:30 am the fire was spreading very quickly through the building,<ref name="telegraphherald">Template:Cite news</ref> although from the outside nothing was visible. Because of the wooden construction, the building was soon engulfed in flames. The guests on the top level could not escape and stood panicked in the windows. When the fire reached the rooms of some guests, they leaped out of the windows to escape. At 6:42 the first large fire engine arrived. On the street there lay several dead and injured people, who had jumped from their hotel room windows. On the lower floor, the furniture store Inden was also on fire. The fire fighters tried to fold out a life net in the Papenbroekssteeg (which runs between the Rokin and the Kalverstraat)<ref name="brandweerp50">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 50</ref> but the alley was too narrow for it.<ref name="brandweerp21">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 21</ref>

On the front side, on the Rokin, the rescue operations of the fire department were also hampered. There were so many people standing on the window ledges screaming that the fire fighters did not know who to save first. Time was also lost because some people threw their luggage in the life net and then jumped into it themselves, causing injuries.<ref name="brandweerp21"/> Some people fell to the side of the net and were severely injured.<ref name="utrechtsnieuwsblad">Template:Nl Template:Cite news</ref> Just before 7:00 am the part of the hotel which faced the Kalverstraat collapsed.<ref name="brandweerp16">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 16</ref> The burning debris landed on the fire engine in the Kalverstraat, and the fire fighters barely escaped to safety. The nearby book store was also burned out<ref name="theage">Template:Cite news</ref> and fires broke out in several buildings on the other side of the Kalverstraat, which were quickly brought under control.<ref name="brandweerp16"/>

At about 8:30 am the wooden construction of the main part of the building also burned through and collapsed.<ref name="brandweerp16"/> Despite the fact that there were still people in the building and more people were lying around the building severely injured, the fire fighters decided to withdraw.<ref name="brandweerp21"/> The fire department proceeded to extinguish the smoking debris, and at 9:30 am the fire was declared under control.<ref name="brandweerp17">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 17</ref> The building's collapse left a gaping hole; of the hotel, the furniture store and the book store, almost nothing remained.

The disaster caused the deaths of 33 people:<ref name="dewaarheidonderzoek">Template:Nl Template:Cite news</ref> 32 tourists (17 of them were Swedes)<ref name="aftonbladet">Template:Sv Template:Cite news</ref> and the occupant of the apartment above the book store. Eighteen charred bodies were recovered from the debris. Thirteen people, who had jumped from windows, either died or were severely injured. Of the 57 people who were injured, 21 had severe injuries. Two American guests escaped without injury.<ref name="presscourier">Template:Cite news</ref>

Possible cause

The Rokin Plaza<ref name="emmesgroup">Template:Cite web</ref> which now stands at the former location of Hotel Polen

The cause of the fire could not be determined with certainty.<ref name="dewaarheidoorzaak">Template:Nl Template:Cite news</ref> One possibility is that a fire smouldered in the furniture store Inden under the hotel, and the opening of the elevator shaft in the morning provided an inflow of oxygen, causing the fire to spread.<ref name="brandweerp44">Template:Nl Rapport Brand Hotel Polen Amsterdam. p. 44</ref> There is also a theory that the fire was set by burglars who tried to cover their tracks;<ref name="calgaryherald">Template:Cite news</ref> however, there was no evidence of a burglary.<ref name="brandweerp44"/>

The high number of casualties was a consequence of the wooden construction of the building,<ref name="brandweerp6"/> the poorly marked escape routes<ref name="brandweerp9"/> and the shortage of safety equipment.<ref name="dewaarheidonvoldoendeveilig"/>

Cultural impact

Polish-born artist Ania Bien produced a photographic art installation in 1986 called "Hotel Polen". She fabricated 18 replicas of the hotel's menu stands, and used them to display photographs alluding to the Holocaust. David Levi-Strauss wrote that Bien's art piece is a "polysemous work of absence, in which what happens between images is the most important."<ref name="brooklynrail">Template:Cite news</ref> The work was displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1987 and at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum in 1988.

Further reading

  • Template:Nl Broekman, Jan. (1985) Grote branden in de Lage Landen. Lelystad : Koninklijke Vermande. ISBN 90-6040-767-9.
  • Template:Nl Duin, Menno Joost van. (1992) Van rampen leren : een vergelijkend onderzoek naar de lessen uit spoorwegongevallen, hotelbranden en industriële ongelukken. The Hague: Haagse Drukkerij en Uitgeversmij. ISBN 90-71504-15-8.
  • Template:Nl PS-Produkties (Leeuwarden) (2006) 30 jaar Brand en Ontij. Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers. ISBN 90-12-11772-0.



External links


Template:Hotel fires