During the 20th century millions of people were, more than once, forced to leave their homes, due to consequences of war and resulting changes of country borders. Individual destinies rarely played a role in big politics and were in fact simply overlooked when making important international decisions. This was the case after World War II when the Allies decided to shift the Polish borders and consequently displaced more than one million Poles from eastern parts of the country - the so called Polish “Kresy”. Among the affected cities, which fell to the Soviet Union after the war, was the metropolitan city of Lwow – one of the most important cultural centres of Poland. Due to the Second World War this openminded city, which throughout centuries had been a melting pot of multinational inhabitants, suffered irreparable decay. Forced by the political agreement on territorial changes, most of the Polish Lwowians had to leave their home town and resettle in the unknown western part of the country. Many of them found their new home in the former German city of Breslau, which by then belonged to Poland and was called Wroclaw.
The Soviet Union no longer acknowledged the Polish government in exile in London after breaking off all diplomatic relations in April 1943. Although the Polish governement in exile was still recognised by the remaining Allies at that time, Polish Communists founded on Stalin’s initiative the Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, PKWN) in Moscow on April 20th 1944. Just one week later the representatives of the PKWN and the Soviet Union signed the treaty regulating the new Polish-Soviet border. Since the Polish Communists supported the idea of Poland as an ethnic, homogeneous nation state, both sides quickly decided on a solution of the Polish, Lithuanian, Belorussian and Ukrainian populations, who were living on either side of the newly drawn border: migration. The treaties signed with all three Soviet Republics bordering Poland agreed on a “voluntary” population exchange. To use force, directly or indirectly, was prohibited.Written and spoken memories of the expellees show that most of the Poles living in the east were shocked by the news of the planned displacement. The Polish population of the eastern regions, especially Lwow, were characterised by their distinct patriotism and for many of them “Kresy” was not just any region, it was an almost mythologised gate to Europe and Christianity. For the inhabitants it was beyond imagination that those regions would suddenly be handed over to the Soviet Republic, which after the horrors of occupation, embodied eastern barbarism. Although the war was over and the future of the Polish border had already been decided on, many people, especially in Lwow, kept hope that their neighborhood would nevertheless remain Polish. Some even hoped for a Third World War or for the final Peace Conference, which would have the power to change the unfair border resolution. As a result of that hope, the leave was repeatedly postponed. The force of the expulsion on the Polish community, especially in the Ukrainian Republic and in cities which where first to be depolonised, turned out to be all but a voluntary “evacuation”, as the action was officially called. The Soviets wanted to see the action finished as soon as possible, even before the official end of the war. Therefore measures were taken, in order to “convince” the Polish population to leave. Schools for example, were no longer allowed to teach in Polish, whereas Polish schools in Lwow were simply closed down all together. Homes were confiscated and the Russians began moving in before the Polish families had even moved out. Furthermore, the population was to be mobilised for labour in the Eastern Ukraine and other Soviet Republics. In addition, by April 1945, up to 3, 461 Poles faced imprisonment – two thirds of them from the region of Lwow. The repressions were successful. Having the option between abduction to Sibiria and resettlement in the west, for the majority of Poles the latter seemed to be the lesser evil and thus the first transports leaving Lwów in January were more than overcrowded. Though longer than expected – the last transport left Lwow in July 1946 – the action saw some 124, 743 Poles expelled from Lwow during the “Repatriation”. In spite of the repressions about 10% of Lwów’s Polish population stayed.Those who “voluntarily” decided to leave were also confronted with problems. The whole transfer was characterised by transport problems. Firstly, according to the treaty every family was allowed two tonnes of luggage. It often occured however, that up to ten families, as well as their luggage, were put into one waggon. Naturally there was a significant lack of space and most took only what was absolutely necessary: clothes, linen, and some personal belongings. Furniture was prohibited. In most cases the rest was sold for a knocked-down price. Bootlegging was very common; almost everything was available for money and alcohol. Secondly, it was a postwar economy. Large areas of the country had been devastated and in the western parts, the Polish authorities remained to be established. Lastly, the situatuion was poorly organised. The first problems already occurred on the platform. The waiting times were enormous – some people waited for days and weeks not knowing when the next train will be provided, while their homes had already been occupied by the Soviets. In November Lwow’s rail stations held enough people for 15 transports. The Polish Repatriation Department (PUR), who bore responsibility for the action, had only 33 waggons daily at their disposal, although at least 200 were required. Furthermore, the transports rarely ran directly to their destinations, but rather wandered slowly through the entire country, often for several weeks and with repeated interruption. As a result, the expellees were under constant threat of attack and plunder, whether on Soviet or Polish territory. Arriving at their destination the expellees were to be brought to a reception camp, from where another transport would take them to the places of their supposed settlement. In fact, however, many of them were set down in the middle of nowhere, sometimes simply beside the railroad tracks or at small train stations in devastated regions. Camps arose, where people often lingered for weeks with all their belongings. Even if some trains reached reception camps, they were often already overcrowded and not able to take more people. The reception camp in Brochów in 1945 was called “second Auschwitz”. Illnesses were a result of minimal food rations and terrible hygenic conditions. In spring 1945 the outbreak of an epidemic was near.As soon as most of the eastern regions of Oder and Neisse had been occupied by the Red Army in 1945, the central administration of the PUR ordered all evacuation transports into the western territories of Poland, the so called “Recovered Ancient Lands”. The Polish Communist government aimed at the settlement of as many Poles as possible in the western regions before the Potsdam Conference, in order to push through the Oder-Neisse-Border with their politics of a fait accompli. One of the most important cities in the area was Wroc_aw. Within the first two postwar years the ethnic mixture of this city changed drastically. Estimates from Norman Davies and Rodger Moorhouse show that towards the end of 1945 around 33.297 Poles were living in Wroclaw with about five times as many Germans. After one year the numbers had nearly reversed. The settlement of Poles and displacement of Germans lead to Lower Silesia’s capital now being inhabited by 152.898 Poles and 28.274 Germans. Among the new settlers in Wroclaw were many Lwowians. According to the treaties, former inhabitants of bigger cities should be resettled in urban areas, which is why many transports from Lwow came directly to Wroclaw. Many exiles preferred to go to Wroclaw – after the loss of Lwow as their home town, which has been an important cultural metropolis, many of it’s former inhabitants wanted to live in a similarly important city. Breslau was probably the most popular city, which fell to Poland after World War II. Though only 6-10% of Wroclaw’s postwar inhabitants actually were former Lwowians, the legend arose that Wroclaw was a second Lwow. One of the main reasons for this belief was that the former Lwowians occupied an important part of the new intellectual elite and therefore had a large impact on cultural life and education in the city. Many of the professors and scientists of the reopened University of Wroclaw in 1945, were former Lwowian professors of the Jan-Kazimierz-University. The well-known Lwowian Ossolineum Library was also taken to Wroc_aw – parts of it’s collection had been transferred by special trains. Furthermore, there were many physicians, lawers and engineers among the former Lwowians. Entire occupational groups arrived from Lwow, including tram drivers and employees of electric power stations. The Lwowians were also a social group. Since their expulsion they stuck together, some until today, which once again proves their strong and distinct local patriotism.The move to the Polish western territories and so to Wroclaw was propagated by the Communists as a unique chance to improve their standard of living. In reality, however, things were much different; the city was destroyed and full of plunderers. The first impression of Wroclaw was similar for many interviewees – the view from the platform showed a desert of ruins. The devastation was accompanied by the feeling of strangeness. Not only was the place new and the architecture foreign, but also the people were strangers. Officially the city was Polish, but the street names were still German. There was German furniture, clothes and other still remaining in the flats, which were completely unfamiliar. The ruined city with it’s innumerable hideouts was ideal for all kinds of criminals. Plunderers, so called “szabrownicy”, were everywhere and expected good business by selling the leftover German belongings. Soviet soldiers were also involved showing a great interest in bicycles and watches. For some time Wroclaw was called the “Forbidden City” or even “Capital of the Wild West”. This is why the new settlers kept together and lived in the centre, as the outskirts were even more dangerous. The majority of the Lwowians kept up their hope to return home until long after their displacement. Wroclaw had an atmosphere of unsteadiness. From todays point of view it might be irrational that many of them had hoped for the outbreak of a Third World War to make their return possible. It took years until they got used to their new home.In Socialist Poland the expulsion was turned into a taboo. If talking at all about it, it was named “Repatriation” – the return to the “Recovered Territories”. The true history of the expellees was never officially discussed. The only way to talk about their experiences was in privacy. Since the collapse of the Communist system this has changed; now the expellees can tell their stories freely. Already in 1988 they succeeded in founding an association: “Friends of Lwów and the South-Eastern Borderland” (Towarzystwo Miosnikow Lwowa i Kresow Poludniowo-Wschodnich, TMLiKPW). Since then numerous books have been published about the Eastern Polish marginal areas. For the media the subject-matter of the expulsion is very popular. Today’s Europe is not characterised by the idea of a homogeneous nation state, but by multicultural society and “multinational heritage”, which is also reflected in the stress on Wroclaw’s multinational history.
Ciesielski, Stanislaw, ed. „Przesiedlenie ludnosci polskiej z kresow wschodnich do Polski 1944-1947“ , Warszawa 1999.
Davies, Norman/Roger Moorhouse, „Die Blume Europas“, München 2002.
Duraczynski, Eugeniusz, „Granice Polski w polityce koalicji antyhitlerowskiej i w polityce polskiej“ in Borodziej, Wlodzimierz/Hajnicz, Artur, eds. Kompleks wypedzenia, Krakow 1998, pp. 299-327.
Kulczycki, John J., „,Repatriation´: Bringing Poles from the Soviet Union home after Word war II” in Sprawy Narodowe 23/2003, pp. 7-41.
Mach, Zdzislaw, „Niechciane miasta. Migracje i tozsamosc spoleczna”, Krakow 1998.
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Tomasz Krölik, European Viadrina University, Frankfurt/Oder