Weighing the anchor: Lotmanian perspectives on the Fighting Poland symbol


  • Randall Lewis Johnson Faculty of History, Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4751-7782




archaic symbols, cultural semiotics, early Christian symbology, Hebrews, Home Army, Juri Lotman, Polish resistance, Roman catacombs


Simple symbols occupy a unique position within the semiosphere, constituting the symbolic core of culture with their ability to condense cultural memory into nimble, economic forms. This simplicity facilitates persistence, allowing these elementary symbols to recur diachronically, penetrating multiple layers of cultural strata to emerge and flourish in new contexts and variations. A novel example of a symbol which illustrates these attributes is Znak Polski Walczącej – the Fighting Poland symbol. Created in 1942 by the Polish Underground State as a propaganda tool, this straightforward monogram, consisting of interconnected letters P and W, became the official hallmark of Polish resistance and is now a controversial de facto national symbol. This article employs the symbol as a case study to explore two Lotmanian symbolic concepts: the vast semantic capacity of simple symbols, and their dual nature as invariable/variable entities. Born out of a utilitarian need for simplicity in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, the efficient form of the Fighting Poland symbol was a pragmatic matter of life or death. However, further examination of its simple design also reveals an underlying archaic depth. This article argues that the Fighting Poland symbol, metonymically known as the kotwica (‘anchor’) owing to its distinct shape, can also be viewed as an “emissary” from earlier cultural epochs, namely ante-Nicene Christianity, which made use of anchor symbology during an era of persecution and upheaval. Ultimately, this article provides a new semiotic perspective on a historically active yet understudied symbol with past and present relevance.


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How to Cite

Johnson, R. L. (2023). Weighing the anchor: Lotmanian perspectives on the Fighting Poland symbol. Sign Systems Studies, 51(3-4), 638–667. https://doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2023.51.3-4.06