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Mandy Townsley

“Neither for King nor Empire”: Irish Remembrance of the Great War in the 1920s

21 August 2018
  • Great War
  • First World War
  • World War I
  • Ireland


This article addresses the difficulties of Irish remembrance of the Great War from 1923 to 1930. This period of the Irish Free State, newly independent of the British Empire, demonstrates the difficulties for a new state in crafting their national identity in the wake of empire and the problem of remembering events that do not easily fit into a new national narrative. The different spheres of remembrance that interacted and influenced the way the Irish came to understand their Great War experience are examined.

Wars are rarely integrated into a national narrative with ease, particularly for a new nation. While the Great War was interwoven into the tapestry of British history, it remained a difficult subject for the Irish. Although the Irish voluntarily sent 210,000 Irishmen to war, roughly forty percent of their service age population, between 1914 and 1918 the postwar period was rife with questions about loyalty, empire, and remembrance. For men like James Clifford, who served at the Battle of Gallipoli and lost his arm at Loos, the 1920s in Ireland represented a repression of the war experience. His brother’s wife, an ardent nationalist, forbid discussion of Clifford’s service and threw away his medals and mementos of the war out of disdain for these symbols of an oppressive imperial conflict. 1

The familial censorship by Clifford’s sister-in-law was not unlike what would happen in the public realm during the 1920s. It was during the early 1920s that the Irish experienced significant violence in their bid for independence, and in the wake of this violence, the Irish had to decide what an independent Ireland would represent. The rise of the republicans and their contextualization of the Great War as an imperial one meant that official and popular remembrance of the war was fraught with tension. Yet despite this current of chaos, on a personal level many Irish people found ways of remembrance and commemoration that were solidified during this period. During the 1920s the Irish Free State was in the most nebulous period of its relationship with the experience of the Great War. It was during this era that the Irish people negotiated what role the Great War would have in their society. Because the government took an ambivalent stance on remembering the Great War, the fate of war remembrance was fought out in public sphere. Ultimately dissension over this issue, as played out in the public, relegated memory of the war to the personal level. Men like James Clifford had to find their own ways of commemorating a war that irrevocably altered so many lives.

While scholarship on Great War commemoration in Ireland has increased in the past fifteen years, these discussions often focus on one aspect of commemoration, most commonly monuments, parades, or memorials. Too few have examined the interplay between official, popular and personal forms of remembrance in the Irish Free State. These spheres of remembrance influenced and communicated with each other. Therefore we must consider each of them to fully understand remembrance of the Great War in the Free State. This is important, not only to gaining a more complete understanding of this moment in Irish history, but more importantly, this illuminates a little studied aspect of remembrance. Perhaps the Irish case can provide insight into other nations with difficult pasts to better understand how official, popular and personal remembrance interact, contest, and compete with each other.

Collective war memory, sometimes regarded as monolithic, is comprised of a complex interaction of official, popular, and personal remembrance. These spaces of memory communicate with and influence each other. Official spaces of memory often convey a specific meaning behind a war experience as endorsed by a government. This realm of memory can be contested, supported, or even ignored by popular or personal remembrance. Popular remembrance, sometimes called public memory, is represented by the differing layers of the populace which can find expression in newspapers, public speeches, song, etc. Personal war memory is expressed through private acts of remembrance like the creation of rituals within a family, by an individual, or through personal documents meant to encapsulate the memory of an event.

In their seminal works, George Mosse2 and Jay Winter3 attempted to flesh out the complexities of grief and the impulse to memorialize the Great War in Britain and Germany. What emerges from these works on Great War memory is that there were attempts across Europe to cope with the bloodshed of the war through commemoration and remembrance. While these attempts occurred at various levels, it is important to note that remembrance of the war was a phenomenon across Europe. Public and private attempts at commemoration were fueled by individuals because “states do not remember; individuals do, in association with other people.” 4 Therefore, as Winter argues, understanding the process by which individuals remember the past is important because it informs the public manifestations of remembrance. 5 So then individuals are the core of memory, and in the case of Winter’s study, Great War remembrance. He also asserts that groups of like-minded individuals form collectives that interact with other collective remembrances of the war.6 With this precedent set, this article pushes Winter’s premise further to reorient discussion of the memorialization of the Great War around the interaction of these layers or collectives of remembrance to better understand how war memories are created and sustained. This article argues for the importance of the interaction of these layers: governmental apathy and dissension within the popular sphere forced remembrance to the personal level.

In Ireland, instead of official methods creating a commemorative atmosphere with a semblance of popular support, there was a struggle to create either form of memory due to deep political divisions within Irish society. Yet people “needed to find a kind of solace, a way to live with their memories.” 7 49,500 Irish soldiers died in the conflict and thousands returned, many with debilitating chronic emotional, physical, and psychological problems stemming from their war experience. Forty percent of the Irish service age population volunteered and a quarter of them never returned. This meant that significant portions of the Irish were impacted by the war directly through war service or indirectly through family or friends. Personal remembrance occurs in every war-torn society, and the Irish certainly were not alone in their difficulty of post independence commemorations of wars fought under an empire. For the Irish it was at this personal and private level that remembrance of the Great War became isolated yet preserved as the only effective level of remembrance due to questions of imperialism and national identity. This article contends that in the early Free State we can see the contestation between these different layers of memory: ambivalence on the part of the government forcing the role of the war to be violently decided within the populace, the outcome of which was that the republican sentiment prevailed and individuals and families had to commemorate on a personal and private level in order to avoid slanderous claims of imperialism and anti-Ireland sentiment.

Official Remembrance

The end of the Great War was not the end of violence for the Irish. They were almost immediately plunged into a War for Independence against Britain which culminated in Irish independence in 1921. Under the treaty provisions with Great Britain, Ireland was partitioned, which meant that the northern six counties remained part of the United Kingdom, while the southern counties became the Irish Free State. Many republicans who had fought against the British during the War of Independence felt that partition was a sham committed by the British government, while others felt it was the best possible compromise. This disagreement over whether or not to accept the treaty led to the Irish Civil War, which ended in 1923, and the permanence of partition. As the newly independent Free State moved on from the horrors of almost a decade of war, this meant deciding which events and symbols would make their way into the new national narrative. While the 1916 Easter Rising, War of Independence, and Civil War entered the arena of potential inclusions alongside the Great War, each would find difficulty finding a seat in the emerging pantheon of Irish history.

The 1916 Easter Rising is often touted as the birth of independent Ireland. If any event of the early twentieth century offers the most clear-cut potential for inclusion as a site of memory for the Irish Free State, it is this. Yet even this event did not easily fit into the new Irish state. While the Rising with its heroes and idealistic hopes for Ireland seems the inception point for a birth of the state myth, in actuality remembrance of the rebellion was not an all-encompassing, uniting force. Both pro- and anti-Treatyites claimed the martyrs of the rebellion, which was untenable in the post Civil War period. The fact that both sides claimed these men and the event itself begged the question: How could the Rising be the creation of a state that had gone to war with itself? Politicians of all stripes attempted to claim the rebels of 1916 at one time or another to legitimize their party. 8 The Rising was often dragged into political debates in service to contemporary desires, and thus it was a fluid event that never became a coherent rallying point for the state. The specters of the dead “constantly disrupted all attempts at origin, continuity and history itself.” 9 Additionally, because “emphasizing one interpretation of the past necessarily meant marginalizing another,” the Rising might be usable to reconcile the pro – and anti-Treatyites but it would still marginalize Unionist and nationalist interests in the Great War. 10

The Rising was sometimes pitted against the 1916 Battle of the Somme. The Somme became a badge of honor for the Unionists, who viewed their bloodletting on this battlefield as evidence of their loyalty to Britain and a reinforcement of their contract with the Empire. 11 This was contrasted with the Rising, which reinforced the nationalist Catholic agenda for independence, and was soaked in the religious connotations of martyrdom, redemption, and sacrifice. 12 These events became counter-narratives to each other and to the larger debates that had long faced Protestants and Catholics in the country. The Somme was held up to “contrast the centrality of the Rising” and the Rising allowed republicans to emphasize their opposition to the Unionist/Protestant agenda. 13 These diametrically opposed positions on two of the most important events of the early twentieth century in Ireland dramatically affected how the Great War was understood in the Free State. While the Rising was not easily commemorated, the Great War became associated with the Unionist/Protestant agenda such that “discursive imaginings of the First World War are thus inextricably connected to the dynamics of political conflict and divided loyalties in Ireland, and are themselves contested.” 14

If the Easter Rising did not clearly fit into a new Irish narrative, how could the Great War, the War for Independence, or the Civil War, all of which were arguably even more complex in their meaning for the Free State? They were uncomfortable reminders of the tensions between the government and ardent republicans. 15 The War for Independence, seemingly destined for commemoration, was marred by intense Treaty debates and the Civil War which followed. The ghost of the Civil War hung over the memory of the War for Independence, making it difficult to use it as a unifying event, since it led to more war. The Civil War presented a challenge since, as all such conflicts do, it had divided the nation, and celebrating the pro-Treaty victory was seen as only furthering those divisions. As Anne Dolan argues, the Civil War was difficult to integrate into the Free State narrative, partially because both the pro- and anti-Treatyites wore their service proudly, which begs the question, “After civil war can the winners honour their victory; can they commemorate it [...] with the blood of their comrades still fresh on their boots?” 16 Though President Cosgrave attempted to use the Civil War to boost his Cumann na nGaedheal party, which took power when the Civil War ended, ultimately the conflict did not retain a prominent position as a commemorative event in the Free State. The complexities of remembering an event that tore the nation asunder and continued to breed bad blood proved too difficult. This war had been a dirty one, won through “atrocity and execution, lacking the requisite laurels and blazes of glory,” so it became necessary to repress some memories in order to get on with governing the Free State after 1923. 17 The Civil War became the dividing line for politicians in the Free State and “rehashing the old row seemed somehow more alluring than the reality that politics had retreated to the unheroic inanities of living the independence they had coveted for so long.” 18 For much of the Free State, the Civil War was not past, but present. The fact that it was constantly affixed to political parties and arguments meant that commemorating it, at least publicly, was a difficult endeavor. Much like remembrance of the Great War, this remembrance was also relegated on a private level, as noted in Anne Dolan’s work. While the two events bear some similarity in this fact, they are vastly different, in that the Civil War difficulties in remembrance were due to destruction of Irishman against Irishman in a fight for the direction of the independent state, whereas remembrance of the Great War came to represent a battle of national identity and the rejection of empire.

The constant struggle against the British government led many republican leaders to shun any residual connections with the Empire after independence. Other European nations sought to commemorate and make sense of the Great War tragedy in the 1920s. After 1923 Ireland sought to establish itself as a new nation. Though Ireland, like Finland and Czechoslovakia, was newly independent after the war, Ireland’s independence came at the cost of both a war for independence and civil war that further embedded fierce dissension over their former imperial rulers. Unionists, predominantly Protestants, rejected this new independence from Britain. Because Unionists treasured their imperial connection, commemorating the war was far easier than for Irish republicans, who were predominantly Catholic. During the 1920s those few Unionists within the Free State became inextricably linked by the government and in the public eye with Great War commemoration. In its attempt to eschew British ties, the Free State government also eschewed ties with the Great War. Because the Irish fought in the Great War under the British flag it was seen as a British war for imperial gain and had no place in the new national narrative of an independent Ireland. This attempt to eradicate British ties would have significant consequences for ex-serviceman, their families, and the families of those who did not return.

The 1920s was a decade of tremendous contestation about the perceived imperial legacy of the Great War in the Free State. The government had to walk a fine line of allowing Armistice Day ceremonies, while also appearing as a strong nation independent of Britain. It was so near to the end of the war it would have been politically inadvisable to disallow such commemorative activities. President W. T. Cosgrave’s administration did not desire to stop them altogether, yet Armistice Day celebrations were not government funded, nor were they attended by major leaders. The administrations of the 1920s essentially walked a tightrope between republican sentiment, which desired a total excision of everything British (and therefore imperial), and the rest of the Irish population. They were trying not to look too British, while acknowledging that there was a demand for these services. Ultimately the administration of the 1920s allowed parades and services but did not endorse them. The Great War and its combatants were not part of the new Irish nation and therefore would not garner its support. This would cause debates over the role of the First World War and its potential as an imperial symbol to be negotiated in the public sphere.

Armistice Day parades, which commemorated the end of the Great War, took place in many European nations and often served as a national moment of mourning and commemoration. Though the government allowed Armistice Day parades in the Free State, many members of the government and their affiliated agencies felt such commemorative acts were imperialist in nature and would only cause violence. Military marches involving British Army uniforms, standards, the Union Jack flag, or anything deemed militaristic in the parades were regarded as especially dangerous, prompting this response from Chief Superintendent of the Ennis Garda Edward O’Dufy in 1928,

“The Armistice parade [...] was a definite Imperialistic display, and not a commemoration to the war dead, as it ought to have been. The continuance of exhibitions of this kind which are hateful in the eyes of nine-tenths of the people will undoubtedly court trouble. It is not suggested that any action should be taken against the men concerned on this occasion, but I respectfully beg to renew my recommendation to have permission for such displays refused in future years.”19

O’Dufy viewed the parade as a demonstration of the British Empire which would only cause problems among those who viewed the Empire as a former oppressor. In his request to have such parades banned O’Dufy was not alone. A letter stamped “secret” to the secretary of the Department of Justice argued that these marches were “intended much more as a military display than a bona fide commemoration service for the dead, to which latter there can be no objection, though there appears no necessity to perpetuate this form of ceremony.” 20 It is clear some government officials felt that commemorations were not necessary to the Free State, although they were willing to allow them as long as such events were devoid of military displays which promoted the British Empire. In both cases, the authors note that if such an event was devoid of imperial symbols and tone and was purely an act of remembrance, parades would be acceptable. Herein lies the larger difficulty for the Irish of the Free State: how intertwined was the Empire and postwar commemoration? As to whether or not remembering the war could be extricated from the Empire, that would ultimately be decided in the public sphere.

This perceived intertwining of empire, the war, and Armistice Day caused the Free State government concern that Great War remembrance activities were causing more harm than good. The early morning violence of November 11, 1928 seemed to bear this out. At various locations around the island, bombs exploded near monuments to British kings and poppy21 depots were ransacked. A movie theater was raided and the film Verdun, set to show the next day, was stolen. 22 Such violence against symbols of the war was problematic for the Free State government and though they did not endorse such violence, they did not endorse the commemorative symbols either. The new government was stuck.

The Irish Free State government attempted to appease the organizers of the Armistice Day celebrations while simultaneously withholding direct support to mollify republican sentiment. Although they took an official stance of ambivalence towards the symbols and ceremonies of the war, this period of post-civil-war tension was one of negotiating the new state’s symbols. Symbols are integral to the visualization of a new state “and they play an important role in creating emotionally charged bonds of social solidarity.” 23

Just as symbols can breed solidarity and national identity, they can breed dissension. As the Irish of the Free State attempted to craft an independent national identity they had to decide which symbols would represent them. Officially the state chose the green, white, and orange tricolor flag, a symbol born out of the republican movement, as the official state flag. This decision was highly contentious since those who had won the civil war and were in government chose it, while the losing side also felt the tricolor was their symbol. Enter into this debate the Union Jack and “God Save the King,” traditional symbols of the British Empire and its army. Republicans saw these symbols as evidence of an imperial minority representative of the centuries Ireland had endured under the boot of the British Empire. 24 As such, the Union Jack and British anthem become inextricably linked with empire and the Great War in this heady era of negotiating national identity. What is unfortunate about this simplistic view is that it does not allow for more complicated understandings of these symbols. While there were undoubtedly many who sympathized with the British, there was also a strong contingency of those who saw these symbols as commemorative of the Great War rather than imperial fervor. It is this debate over symbols and the identity of the Irish nation that would come to a head in the public sphere over popular remembrance.

Questions over a permanent representation of war through a memorial also fueled debates over the role of the war in Ireland’s identity. While England, Germany, and France were busily erecting war monuments in the 1920s, the proposed monument in the Free State caused outcry and debate. War memorials and monuments present an opportunity for people of a nation to reflect and grieve. 25 The arguments and delays that would plague the Irish attempt to create a national memorial for the Great War demonstrate a loss of this opportunity to reflect and grieve publicly.

From the initial proposition in 1919, the national war memorial took twenty years and multiple redesigns before it came to fruition. These delays and arguments demonstrate how divided the government and Irish public was over commemorating the war. The first proposal for a memorial veteran’s home, submitted by the Comrades of the Great War organization, was rejected by the government on the practical grounds that, although they had raised £50,000, the group had no long-term plans for funding. Changing tack, in 1924 a second proposal was submitted to the government for a war memorial in Merrion Square in Dublin. This proposal met with stiff resistance in the Dáil (parliament). Some argued that a memorial was a poor way to assist ex-servicemen, many of whom were disabled and would benefit from social services, as evident in one Irishman’s comment, “If the Irish Imperialists wish to show an appreciation of the heroism that gave Britain and her Allies the victory of 1918, let them attend to the survivors of the War who are in need of such help. Dead men cost nothing to maintain.” 26 This was a prevalent opinion among many Irish people who believed that a memorial did little to ease the suffering of ex-servicemen. The author’s equation of the Comrades Association with imperialists shows how supporting remembrance of the war publicly became interlinked with support of the British Empire.

Dissenting voices from the government often argued that such a physical representation of the war would ultimately be a memorial to the British Empire and send the wrong message to the world about the new Irish state. Placement of the memorial in Merrion Square, disturbingly close to the seat of government, was also a point of contention. While some government leaders argued that a memorial was acceptable, they disputed the Merrion Square location, contending that it should be farther from government buildings, so as not to give the impression that the Great War was in any way connected with the Free State government. 27 Here, as with debates over the usefulness of Armistice parades, “private grief and public acknowledgment constantly conflicted with each other.” 28 The government sought to allow the expression of remembrance, as long as said remembrance did not taint the identity of the new state with its perceived imperial symbolism.

By 1927 there was no consensus on the memorial and the proposal was withdrawn from the Dáil. Undaunted by the amount of controversy the memorial created, the planners restructured their next proposal for a memorial archway to Phoenix Park, the largest park in Dublin and central to the city. This proposal was rejected in 1928. Within a decade of the first proposal the Dáil had rejected three memorials, at which the organizers inquired if any area of the park would be amenable. They were offered Islandbridge, an area far from the seat of the government, and in 1931 a model for a memorial on the site was approved. Construction began in early 1932 and President Cosgrave requested that Irish ex-servicemen comprise fifty percent of the work force. After a decade of political wrangling, the Great War national monument was finally approved, although it was not government funded. The Free State government’s approach to this problem of remembering a war with perceived imperial tones demonstrates the larger concerns over Ireland’s new identity. While the monument was completed in 1939 on the outskirts of Dublin, it never had an official opening ceremony and almost immediately fell into disrepair. The monument could hardly have been less integral to the new state’s national identity, thus demonstrating that the Free State government saw no place for the Great War in Ireland. While the government did not ban Armistice parades or the monument, they established a stance of ambivalence and apathy which forced discussion of the war’s role to take place in the popular sphere.

Popular Remembrance

Questions over national identity and the place of the Great War found expression and debate in public remembrance. While official remembrance was marred by internal ambivalence bordering on the hope that such commemorative activities would soon dissipate, popular memory was far more openly opinionated. The debates over the National Memorial engendered commentary from the public; some believed that a stone monument was not the best way to assist the ex-servicemen. In the poem “Broken Soldier” S. J. Fitzgerald wrote “Stone crosses help not those who languish/In fetid slum – in want and cold” noting later in the poem “They need no monument, psalm or psalter, /But a chance t[o] live; they are destitute.” 29 Many Irish recognized the plight of returned soldiers yet felt the best way to help them was not through parades or monuments but through social programs.

Others voiced their dissent of an imperial display more starkly, “We are pleased to know that the renewal effort to make Merrion Square a permanent monument to British jingoism, while men who took part in the different bloody battles are in want and dire hardship, is not likely to be successful.” 30 The connection of the Great War to the British was made all the more evocative by a contributor to Honesty31 in November 1926, who argued that memorials to the Irishmen of the Great War were tantamount to memorializing the Black and Tans. The Black and Tan police force, utilized by the British during the War of Independence from 1919–1921, had a sinister reputation in Ireland for their wanton use of violence. In response to the Merrion Square proposal the author argued, “Have we not... quite sufficient memorials already up and down through the country to the memory of the infamous ‘Black and Tans’ in the shape of the many crosses... that mark the scenes of their brutal murders?... No further memorial of a kind such as is contemplated in Merrion Square is needed.” 32 The comparison of Irish soldiers of the Great War to the Black and Tans, a group perceived by many Irish as brutes of the Empire, was, perhaps, the most incendiary connection possible. By arguing that “For an Irishman, therefore, Poppy Day is simply a memorial to the ‘Black and Tans’,” the author implied that Irish soldiers were no better than the men that had terrorized the Irish during the War of Independence. 33 The author’s assessment of the Irish exservicemen shows that for some republicans, an Irishman in British uniform was no Irishman at all. The fact that the Black and Tans had terrorized the Irish people and the Irish soldiers had fought in France, Gallipoli, etc. made no difference. Irish soldiers were guilty of being imperialists because of the uniform they once wore. Because of their service to Britain they were guilty by association.

The emotional fervor attached to the question of imperialism fueled violence, particularly against ex-servicemen or those participating in commemorative events. One aspect of Armistice Day commemorations that resulted in violence was the wearing of the Flanders poppy. The poppy was a symbol of the Great War across Europe and was sold to raise money for the British Legion, an organization which provided services for ex-servicemen. Antipathy for this symbol of the imperial war was widespread among Irish republicans. On November 7, 1925 John Brennan wrote in the newspaper Honesty, that the poppy was “the emblem of sleep for the dead and ‘dope’ for the living.” 34 Brennan observed the dire situation of ex-servicemen in the Free State and noted that no one was helping them find employment. They were offered “instead, a poppy flower once a year – a little insidious flower, from which is gathered the opium to drug and enslave the masses of India and China, and the workers of England and Ireland.” 35 Furthermore, in Brennan’s estimation, the republicans did not deny the bereaved their grief or need to remember, rather they were concerned that the popularity of the poppy was “an attempt to fasten the minds of the workers on the glory of sacrifice for imperial purposes, so that when again the recruiting sergeant makes his appearance in our streets – and our pulpits – he can call upon the ‘poppy seeds’ to go across the seas and renew the blood-red crop.” 36 So within the popular sphere of remembrance was a concern that the bereaved were duped by imperialists into wearing a symbol of empire to commemorate their dead and wounded: “you whose dead lie in foreign fields or in Irish prison graves, remember your dead in your prayers, but do not play England’s game by swallowing the poppy drug and wearing England’s emblem this November eleventh.” 37 Like the arguments of government officials, this author contends that if remembrance could be stripped of imperial symbols, in this case the poppy, then it could accurately commemorate the dead. What begins to emerge here is the republican wish for the symbolism to disappear, yet it is often within the symbols that people found solace and solidarity.

Others were angrier than Brennan in their assessment of the use of the poppy on Armistice Day. In an open letter to Honesty an anonymous writer rages against the poppy sellers, “Your motives are hatred of Ireland, rather than love of the dead... You know that as well as I do, but your mission is Imperialism, your tools the ex-soldiers...” 38The author goes on to suggest that the Irish are willing to pray for ex-soldiers and the dead of the Great War, but that if these imperial symbols are not disused, violence will ensue. 39 Such virulent reactions to the poppy demonstrate the enormity of the debate over identity, symbolism and memory in the Free State. To some the poppy was a physical representation of the soldier’s experience, particularly on the Western Front, of the horror and bloodbath of war. To others it was a symbol of Irishmen sent to fight, yet again, for the British, in an imperial war that only caused the Irish harm.

Far from being just words, this tension over the remembrance of the Great War took to the streets. On Armistice Day 1925 Dublin experienced violence between the commemorative crowd and republicans. Smoke bombs were thrown at the Celtic Cross at Trinity College while members of the crowd attempted to continue singing “God Save the King.” The Irish tricolor flag was flown alongside the Union Jack, causing no end of frustration to those who saw these symbols as antithetical to each other. The smoke bombs caused chaos resulting in poppy wearers chasing non poppy wearers, with the Irish Civil Guard in hot pursuit. The day was also marked by the burning of a Union Jack by college students in front of Trinity College. 40 The city of Cork also experienced violence during the 1925 Armistice Day events. A Celtic Cross memorial was the focus of an explosion. Originally built to honor the dead of the South African War, after the Great War it became the focus of Armistice activities. This was the second attack on this particular memorial and the Cork Examiner notes that, prior to the attempted destruction, an Armistice wreath was burned. 41 According to the Cork Examiner, 5,000 ex-servicemen participated in the Armistice parade that year; the newspaper noted that both Catholic and Protestant church services were held for the purpose of commemoration. 42

Acts of violence toward commemorative acts and sites were frequent in the Irish Free State in the 1920s, yet not all resulted in such direct violence. During a 1926 Dublin memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Anglican Church of Ireland) a crowd of ardent republicans consisting of thirty Fianna Fáil scouts demonstrated outside. One young man argued, “We won’t recognize Imperial demonstrations. We respect these people’s church: but we won’t have Union Jacks flying.” 3 These comments indicate that the young man saw a separation between protesting the Protestant church itself and protesting the memorial service. He took offense specifically at the memorial service and the imperial symbolism of the Union Jack. The crowd marched outside blasting bugles and shouting “Up with the IRA!”. 44 This public attempt by republicans to disrupt the memorial service was a less violent, yet revealing incident. Though the demonstrators may have seen themselves as protesting commemoration of the Great War that happened to take place in a Protestant church, ultimately they were protesting at an Anglican church holding a memorial service for the dead. This shows just how inextricably the war was bound up with the British Empire. The public sphere of remembrance was increasingly overshadowed by the violent rejection of perceived British imperialism.

The frequency of these types of protests at Protestant churches furthered the republican concept that the war and those who commemorated it were imperialists and/or Unionists. Clearly not all protesters drew a direct connection between their demonstration against imperial symbols and the Protestant church, as evident from the young man’s statement above. Even so, these confrontations were often violent or, at the very least, drew attention and made newspaper headlines. This brought attention to the protests and, for those republicans who did equate Protestantism with the empire and the war, furthered their own belief and helped

Even as acts of violence were occurring, in Cork in 1925 there were also attempts to remember the war in a more honorary manner. On the local level, sometimes small memorials or commemorative plaques were created for the fallen of that town. On Armistice Day 1925 the Cork Young Men’s Association unveiled a Memorial Room and tablet in Gregg Hall of the Incorporated Church of Ireland in honor of their members who fell in the Great War. In attendance were families of the deceased, members of the British Legion and the Independent Ex-Service Club. Fifty-nine men from the Young Men’s Association died in the war and it was noted that, “their names, which were engraved on the tablet would never be forgotten; they would be remembered with pride and gratitude (applause). They did not fail in their great fight for justice and right.” 45 Even as contingents attempted to tear apart Armistice Day events, local groups sought to remember and commemorate. That this, like so many across the Free State, was a Protestant church event attended by the British Legion, an organization seen as the pinnacle of imperial vestiges by many, further intertwined war remembrance with supporters of the Empire.

Some businesses, predominantly Protestant owned, also attempted to memorialize the war. Guinness published a commemorative book, the Roll of Employees Who Served in His Majesty’s Naval, Military and Air Forces, 1914–1918 in 1920. This book listed each name of the 800 Guinness employees who served in the war, including the 100 who died. 46 This book was published not for public consumption, but for the men who served and the families of the fallen. The intent of the volume was to provide some recognition for the men’s service: “To those who fell we render reverent homage; to those who survive we offer this small, but none the less sincere, expression of heartfelt gratitude.” 47 The short introduction alludes to the perspective of the company on these men’s service, “who gave their services – and in many instances, their lives – for the defense of the Empire at the most perilous and critical period of its history.” 48 It is important to note that this book was published during the War for Independence between Ireland and Britain, yet the Guinness Company was able to differentiate between the service of the soldiers and the contemporary conflict. Even so, the connection of the war as one for the protection of the British Empire was ingrained during the 1920s Irish Free State. The Congested Districts Board and the Bank of Ireland also produced commemorative books for the families of their employees. These publications were easier to justify for Protestant-owned businesses due to long-held connections between Protestants and the British. These commemorative books were small succor for the loss of a father, son, or brother but they were a gesture of support for those affeccted by the war.

Despite acts of violence and harassment towards those who strove to publicly cope with their grief, there were those who supported open remembrance that sought to distance remembrance from the imperial stigma. In response to the success of Cork’s Poppy Day, held on November 14, 1925, the Cork Examiner offered this assessment, “to the generous spirit of Cork’s citizens, who, recognizing the debt of gratitude which is owed to the erstwhile defenders of ours whom the times have treated harshly, gave freely and ungrudgingly, and in token wore the Flanders Poppy ‘In Remembrance’.” 49 This article distanced the poppy and those who wore it from the imperial stigma, asserting that many people were buying them out of gratitude for the soldiers’ sacrifice rather than in support of Britain. A year later the newspaper furthered their argument concerning the true nature of the poppy as a symbol: “[...] the Flanders Poppy, chosen because [...] for us in these islands the Western Front was the centre of our interest, and much of that eight hundred mile battleline ran through Flanders fields, where in its season the poppy showed its brilliant red on every side – its emblem of the red carnage of war.” 50 Others sought to reclassify the Great War in Ireland as one that deflected the darkness of German imperialism, arguing that “theirs was the task, and what greater or nobler under the heavens, to aid those who were answering the Prussian demand to rule the world with a spirit-stirring ‘No!’ that was thundered high above the dreadful diapason of Germany’s greatest guns.” 51 The rhetoric of anti-imperialism raises its head again, yet the author of the newspaper article attempts to shift the tone of his criticism towards German imperialism rather than British. This was an attempt, however unsuccessful in the long run, that at least tried to reorient discussion of the empire and the Great War toward the continent, rather than Ireland’s long, checkered past with Britain.

Violence against supporters of commemorations juxtaposed with this minority of supportive voices meant that republican sentiment prevailed in the fight over the role of the Great War. Even those who supported public remembrance did so for different reasons, some out of imperial allegiance, others out of satisfaction that German imperialism was defeated, and still others out of gratitude for the willing service of the soldiers. While no war engenders one unified popular memory, what is significant in the case of Ireland is just how violently the popular memory of the war was torn apart and how, within only a short time, the war was inextricably linked to the British Empire in a way that would preclude public commemorations devoid of the imperial stain. Ultimately, the decreasing interest in Armistice celebrations stemming from this violent disagreement over the role of the Great War worked in the government’s favor. In the opinion of many government leaders, the war was a British one, and they only bowed to public pressure in allowing commemorations. The public debate over the role of Great War remembrance was ultimately won by republican sentiment.

Personal Remembrance

Despite the problems in creating official or popular remembrance, those affected by the war found other ways to remember and commemorate because “families and communities must repair the rent in the domestic and social fabric.” 52 Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering on the American Civil War gets at the core of the difficulties in commemorating the dead of a war when those dead seemingly have no positive place in the national narrative. She argues that regardless of which side the dead fought for, their relatives felt compelled to restore meaning to their deaths. This is similar to the Irish affected by the Great War. Personal grief and strife rarely follow political boundaries; many families affected by the war simply wanted to remember, and entered into the identity debate when accused of being imperialists. “Death without dignity, without decency, without identity imperiled the meaning of the life that preceded it,” and many affected by the war felt compelled to bestow some meaning upon that loss. 53 When told that a relative’s sacrifice in the war was unworthy of commemoration because it was conducted in service to the British Army, it is reasonable to suggest that many Irish resented that the meaning they bestowed on death and service was stripped away. Approximately 50,000 Irish families were bereft of a member and 150,000 coped with an ex-serviceman’s survival. Personal remembrance endured despite the violence and ambivalence of the 1920s and found a way to express itself in a less public, more private manner that enabled distance from ardent republican accusation.

For some Irish, this personal remembrance began during the war, as Irishmen were felled across the Western Front. Diaries of the women left at home provide significant insight into how remembrance of the war was created on a personal level almost immediately. The diary scrapbook of Mrs. Emilie Harmsworth provides just such an insight. In lieu of a funeral and burial for the fallen, this scrapbook takes the place of a physical manifestation of mourning. This commemorative scrapbook contains only information relating to the death of her brother. It is a relatively thin book of about forty pages of letters and other documents. There is no inscription on the front cover and the documents immediately jump into information concerning Emilie’s brother. Clearly from the organization of the book it was intended for herself and her family, who would already be familiar with the background of the situation.

On October 24, 1914 Emilie received the devastating telegram that her brother Henry was killed in action at the Battle of Ypres. In the British Army since 1894, Henry was a captain in the Leinster regiment. Emilie and Henry were the youngest of thirteen children born to a barrister in Finglas, Co., Dublin, and were only a year apart in age. By the time of the Great War both had entered their early forties, yet Henry never married. It is significant to note that the War Office telegram, in addition to all major communication concerning Henry’s death, was sent to Emilie rather than their older siblings. That she was designated as his next of kin speaks to the closeness of their relationship. Although the death letter informed Emilie of the end of Henry’s life, it was the start of a much longer process for her, because, as Faust notes, for survivors “...death was literally endless.” 54

This process began with three years of letter-writing for Emilie, starting almost immediately, when she wrote to members of Henry’s regiment for his affects and confirmation that he was, in fact, dead. For a month after the telegram, Emilie feverishly communicated with soldiers in the Leinster regiment, hopeful that her brother was instead a prisoner of war. After several letters confirming her brother’s death and burial, by early 1915 Emilie shifted her letter-writing to having Henry’s last possessions returned to her. 55 From her actions it is clear that Emilie was emotionally traumatized by her brother’s violent end. It is not unusual that she was this fixated on the events surrounding his death. It is almost as though she believed that more information might equal understanding of what seemed to be a senseless death.

Each letter written to her concerning locating and mailing her brother’s possessions was carefully incorporated into the scrapbook. Each bit of evidence of Henry’s death, letters of condolence from his regiment, the death telegram, Emilie’s last postcard returned, and Henry’s last postcard were carefully included. Even the War Office listing that accompanied her brother’s possessions is included in this memento of her brother’s death. As Emilie’s letter-writing campaign shifted from determining if Henry was a POW, to gaining her brother’s possessions, to ascertaining the details of his last moments, she carefully kept the reply letters that indicate her ongoing desire to accumulate everything concerning Henry’s death. 56 While Emilie created the scrapbook to preserve the memory of her brother’s death, it was also a physical means of passing on his memory to her children. They were old enough to have known their uncle but, given the closeness between Emilie and Henry, it is reasonable to suggest that she most likely worried that his absence from the rest of their lives would cause him to fade in their memories.

Like so many heartbroken women before her, by tracking down the physical remnants of Henry’s life, Emilie attempted to make his death real because lacking a body made acceptance difficult and denial easy. 57 Funerals allow the bereaved a public and formal method of expressing their grief. 58 In lieu of this act of mourning women like Emilie had to create their own methods of mourning, and in her case, the scrapbook about Henry’s death was that method. Like the survivors of the American Civil War, Emilie and thousands of Irish families had to integrate the experience of war death into their lives often without the benefit of traditional death ceremonies. 59 The scrapbook of Henry’s death was his funeral, his tombstone to be revisited through the years in remembrance.

Like Emilie Harmsworth, ex-servicemen also struggled to remember a war they had survived while so many died. With the atmosphere of commemoration making public remembrance uncomfortable at best, and violent at worst, during the 1920s ex-servicemen increasingly found their own quieter moments of remembrance. These were devoid of disparaging comments accusing them of being imperialists. For some, like Bartholomew Hand, a veteran of Gallipoli, taking his son Paddy, to the War Memorial at Islandbridge every time they rode their bicycles in Dublin was a way to remember his service and his comrades, and to pass along that experience without the tumult of the organized events. On these bicycle rides Hand showed Paddy churchyards where his fellow Gallipoli veterans were buried. Paddy recalled that it was not until later in life that he realized this had been a pilgrimage for his father. 60

Other ex-servicemen also had difficulty remembering the war and their fallen comrades in the politically tense atmosphere of the 1920s where attending commemorative events branded them as imperialists. Many of these men saw themselves as Irishmen and republicans and found this branding contemptible. Still, they desired a way to commemorate their experience. Like Bartholomew Hand, Bernard Flood found attending Armistice Day activities difficult, viewing them as bombastic events in honor of a horrible experience. However, Flood found his own way to remember his fallen friends. Every year Flood laid a wreath at the war memorial in Drogheda. 61 Though Flood refused to discuss his war service, he commemorated it with his own pilgrimage, devoid of the political tensions over imperial symbolism.

Some men braved Armistice Day events in spite of the imperialist slander they were often branded with. After the war Kieran White had to contend with this imperial slander from the Irish Republican Army (IRA) men. White confronted one these men and a fight ensued, in which White was the resounding victor. White later explained that he did it “so [he] could always hold [his] head high.” 62 He further challenged the expectations around him by making appearances at local Armistice Day events regardless of gossip. In an era where the IRA represented some of the staunchest republicans, White’s willingness to defend his British army service demonstrates that ex-servicemen were subjected to harassment based on the sole fact that they were former British soldiers rather than members of the IRA. Some ex-servicemen chose not to engage with this harassment or commemorations for fear of persecution. White chose to defend himself and to attend Armistice Day activities, knowing full well the tensions inherent in doing so.

Memoirs also represent personal forms of memory. In the 1920s Frank Laird wrote of the harrowing experience on Gallipoli in 1915. He wrote only for himself and had no intention of publishing his account. He wrote “the memory of D Company remains supreme as a possession forever and to meet an old D company man afterwards was always to find a friend.” 63 It was after his death in 1925, as a result of wounds to his lungs sustained on Gallipoli, that his wife and sister organized his writings for publication. So while Laird’s writings were very personal and intended to memorialize his experience and fellow soldiers, the publication by his family was yet another expression of personal remembrance. These women clearly regarded the publication as a way to remember Laird.

Mementos of the war often provided ex-servicemen or their families a venue for remembrance. Sometimes a war medal, a last letter or postcard, the death telegram, or, in the case of Jeremiah Fitzgerald, a photograph, became a constant venue of commemoration. At sixteen Fitzgerald enlisted in the British Army and fought at the Battle of Mons and Ypres. During the war he came into contact with Father Francis Gleeson from the Dublin archdiocese. Father Gleeson was a cherished addition to the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Fitzgerald’s regiment, credited with organizing the men for a counterattack against the German forces after the officer corps had taken heavy losses. This act, unusual for a member of the religious corps, was regarded as one of the utmost bravery. Father Gleeson’s courage, held in high esteem by Fitzgerald, led him to keep a picture of the Father with him for the rest of his life. 64 This was a positive and touching homage to a man he well regarded. A photograph, maintained for life, in this case is a clear memento of remembrance.

Others were tortured by their war experience and that of their families. William Grey of the Irish Guards enlisted following the death of his brother Edward at the Battle of Mons. Lacking specific details about Edward’s death, William enlisted to find out what happened. While in France William lost a length of bone on the Somme in 1917 and was discharged in 1918. Yet despite his emotional and physical losses, William did not uncover more about his brother’s fate. In the postwar period William agonized over Edward’s death and his failure to find out the facts. William was so tortured by Edward’s death that he frequently wept, saying, “Where is Eddie? What happened to him? Is he still alive?” 65 Such concerns occupied his thoughts for the rest of his life, and William died not knowing his brother’s fate. This obsession is an example of the personal grief that could find no respite and was indifferent to the politically tense realm of governmental ambivalence and popular anger.

So while the government saw no use for the Great War in the Free State and the discordant voices in the public argued over the potential imperial nature of commemoration, families and ex-servicemen were left to cope and remember largely on their own. Though Armistice parades carried on through the 1930s, the 1920s marks a period of negotiation over the symbols of memory and ultimately the new state’s identity. Questions over identity and the Great War’s role were fought out in the public realm with the government taking a backseat. As acts like wearing a poppy or attending a parade increasingly became contentious, families and ex-servicemen turned inward; this is a trend that would continue in the 1930s. Arguments over the new Irish identity would ultimately rule in favor of republican sentiment and the sphere of popular remembrance of the war would almost completely dissipate by the 1940s. Then it was only at the level of personal remembrance that the war was commemorated, even in the smallest ways. Ultimately the disputes over commemorating the Great War were a matter of whether or not a war fought under Britain could be included in an independent Ireland. It could not be integrated, as evident from the violent opposition and the resulting focus on more private commemorations. While official frameworks faltered and popular memory tore itself apart over the question of imperialism and identity, personal memorialization distanced itself from overtly public displays of remembrance in order to avoid the taint of imperialism with which republicans had branded the war.


Mandy Townsley. Doctoral candidate at Washington State University in the United States. Currently she is preparing a dissertation focusing on the concurrent remembering and forgetting of the Great War in Ireland during the Free State period.


1 Neil Richardson, A Coward If I Return, A Hero If I Fall: Stories of Irishmen in World War I (Dublin: O’Brien Press Ltd, 2010), p. 44.

2 George Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

3 Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the 20th Century (London: Yale University Press, 2006).

4 Jay Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the 20th Century (London: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 4.

5 Winter, Remembering War, p. 4.

6 Winter, Remembering War, p. 4.

7 Winter, Remembering War, p. 7.

8 Rebecca Graff-McRae, Remembering and Forgetting 1916: Commemoration and Conflict in Post-Peace Process Ireland, (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010), p. 77.

9 Graff-McRae, p. 76.

10 Graff-McRae, p. 93.

11 Graff-McRae, p. 85.

12 Graff-McRae, p. 85.

13 Graff-McRae, p. 86.

14 Graff-McRae, p. 90.

15 Graff-McRae, p. 44.

16 Anne Dolan, Commemorating the Irish Civil War: History and Memory, 1923–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 4.

17 Dolan, Commemorating the Irish Civil War, p. 200–201.

18 Dolan, Commemorating the Irish Civil War, p. 201

19 NAI, JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Chief Superintendent Edward O’Dufy of Ennis Garda Nov. 12, 1928.

20 NAI JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Letter from Coimisineir to the secretary of the Dept of Justice, Nov. 8, 1928.

21 The Flanders poppy was the designated symbol of Armistice Day across Europe, having grown on the Western Front.

22 NAI, JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Letter from the Chief Superintendent of the Garda to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, November 21, 1928.

23 Ewan Morris, Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in 20th Century Ireland

24 Morris, p. 136.

25 Catherin Reinhardt, Claims to Memory: Beyond Slavery and Emancipation in the French Caribbean, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006), p. 2.

26 Honesty, “Bread or Stones for Heroes. The Merrion Square Memorial-A Precedent from the Past,” January 16, 1926, 10–11.

27 Fergus D’Arcy, Remembering the War Dead: British Commonwealth and International War Graves in Ireland since 1914 (Dublin: Government Stationary Office, OPW, 2007), p. 176.

28 Nuala Christina Johnson, Ireland, the Great War and the Geography of Remembrance, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 91.

29 S. J. Fitzgerald, “Broken Soldier,” Honesty, January 30, 1926.

30 Honesty, “Hands off Merrion Square,” July 21, 1926, p. 12.

31 Honesty was noted by Joan Fitzpatrick Dean in Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth Century Ireland as a fairly progressive publication that addressed the taboo subjects of divorce, children borne out of wedlock and other issues of public morality (see page 116). It was a weekly journal published from 1925–1931 at which time it merged with the National Democrat to form Nationality.

32 Honesty, “Poppy Imperialism,” November 13, 1926, p. 9.

33 Honesty, “Poppy Imperialism,” November 13, 1926, p. 9.

34 John Brennan, “Poppy Dope for the Irish Workers,” Honesty, November 7, 1925, p. 5.

35 John Brennan, “Poppy Dope for the Irish Workers,” Honesty, November 7, 1925, p. 5.

36 John Brennan, “Poppy Dope for the Irish Workers,” Honesty, November 7, 1925, p. 5.

37 John Brennan, “Poppy Dope for the Irish Workers,” Honesty, November 7, 1925, p. 5.

38 Honesty, “An Open Letter to the Promoters of Poppy Day,” November 14, 1925, p. 6.

39 Honesty, “An Open Letter to the Promoters of Poppy Day,” November 14, 1925, p. 6.

40 Cork Examiner, “Smoke bombs thrown, Exciting Incidents in Dublin,” November 12, 1925, p. 7.

41 Cork Examiner, “Cork Explosion, Attempt to Blow Up a Monument,” November 16, 1925, p. 5.

42 Cork Examiner, “Cork Ex-Servicemen, Armistice Celebrations,” November 16, 1925, p. 8.

43 Cork Examiner, “Fianna Scouts, Demonstration Outside Dublin Cathedral,” November 9, 1926

44 Cork Examiner, “Fianna Scouts, Demonstration Outside Dublin Cathedral,” November 9, 1926.

45 Cork Examiner, “Cork Ceremony Unveiling a Memorial,” November 12, 1925, p. 7.

46 Guinness, Son & Co. Ltd, Roll of Employees Who Served in Hist Majesty’s Naval, Military and Air Forces, 1914–1918, (Dublin: Anthony Rowe Limited, 1920), p. 5.

47 Guinness, Son & Co Ltd, p. 5.

48 Guinness, Son & Co Ltd, p. 3.

49 Cork Examiner, “Cork’s Poppy Day,” November 17, 1925, p. 9.

50 Cork Examiner, “Cork’s Poppy Day,” November 12, 1926, p. 8.

51 Cork Examiner, “The Heroic Dead,” November 12,1924, p. 5.

52 Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, (New York: Albert Knopf, 2008), XIV.

53 Faust, p. 268.

54 Faust, p. 144.

55 NLI, MS 46, 536 Papers in relation to Henry Telford Maffett, 2nd Batt Leinster Regiment.

56 NLI, MS 46, 536 Papers in relation to Henry Telford Maffett, 2nd Batt Leinster Regiment.

57 Faust, p. 146.

58 Faust, p. 153.

59 Faust, p. 267.

60 Philip Orr, Field of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2006), p. 220.

61 Richardson, p. 212.

62 Richardson, p. 215.

63 Frank Laird, Personal Experiences of the Great War (An Unfinished Manuscript), (Dublin: Eason and Son, Ltd, 1925), p. 48.

64 Richardson, p. 146–7.

65 Richardson, p. 169.

List of References

Primary Sources:

Guinness, Son & Co. Ltd. (1920) Roll of Employees Who Served in His Majesty’s Naval, Military and Air Forces, 1914–1918 (Dublin: Anthony Rowe Ltd).

Laird, Frank (1925) Personal Experiences of the Great War (An Unfinished Manuscript), (Dublin: Eason and Son Ltd).

National Archives Ireland:
NAI JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Letter from Coimisineir to the secretary of the Dept of Justice, Nov. 8, 1928.
NAI, JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Chief Superintendent Edward O’Dufy, of Ennis Garda Nov. 12, 1928.
NAI, JUS/8/684 Armistice celebrations and “Poppy Day” Department of Justice and Equality 1928–1936, Letter from the Chief Superintendent of the Garda to The Secretary of Dept of Justice, Nov. 21, 1928.

National Library Ireland:
NLI Papers in relation to Henry Telford Maffett, 2nd Batt Leinster Regiment: MS 46, 536.
NLI, Cork Examiner November 17, 1925, “Cork’s Poppy Day,” p. 9.
NLI, Cork Examiner November 12, 1925, “Cork Ceremony Unveiling a Memorial,” p. 7.
NLI Cork Examiner, November 12, 1925, “Smoke Bomb’s Thrown, Exciting Incidents in Dublin,” p. 7.
NLI, Cork Examiner, November 9, 1926, “Fianna Scouts, Demonstration Outside a Dublin Cathedral.”
NLI, Cork Examiner, November 12, 1926, “Cork’s Poppy Day,” p. 8.
NLI Cork Examiner, November 16, 1925, “Cork Explosion, Attempt to Blow Up Monument,” p. 5.
NLI Honesty, November 7, 1925, “Poppy Dope for Irish Workers,” p. 5.
NLI Honesty, November 14, 1925, “An Open Letter to the Promoters of Poppy Day,” p. 6.
NLI Honesty 16 January 1926, “Bread or Stone for Heroes. The Merrion Square Memorial – A Precedent from the Past,” p. 10–11.
NLI Honesty 30 January 1926, “The Broken Soldier.”
NLI Honesty 21 July 1926, “Hands off Merrion Square,” p. 12.
NLI Honesty, November 13, 1926, “Poppy Imperialism,” p. 9.

Secondary Sources:

D’Arcy, Fergus (2007) Remembering the War Dead: British Commonwealth and International War Graves in Ireland since 1914, (Dublin: The Government Stationary Office, OPW).

Dean, Joan Fitzpatrick (2004) Riot and Great Anger: Stage Censorship in Twentieth Century Ireland, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press).

Faust, Drew Gilpin (2008) This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Albert Knopf).

Howe, Stephen (2000) Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Jeffery, Keith (2000) Ireland and the Great War (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).

Johnson, Nuala Christina (2003) Ireland, the Great War, and the Geography of Remembrance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Johnstone, Tom (1992) Orange, Green and Khaki: The Story of the Irish Regiments in the Great War, 1914–18 (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan).

Lee, J.J (1985) Ireland: 1912–1985 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).

Morris, Ewan (2005) Our Own Devices: National Symbols and Political Conflict in 20th Century Ireland (Dublin: Irish Academic Press).

Mosse, George L. (1990) Fallen Soldiers, Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (New York: Oxford University Press).

Nora, Pierre (1992) Realms of Memory: Rethinking the French Past (New York: Columbia University Press).

Orr, Philip (2006) Fields of Bones: An Irish Division at Gallipoli (Dublin: Lilliput Press).

Reinhardt, Catherine (2006) Claims to Memory: Beyond Slavery and Emancipation in the French Caribbean (New York: Berghahn Books).

Richardson, Neil (2010) A Coward If I Return, A Hero If I Fall: Stories of Irishmen in World War I (Dublin: O’Brien Press Ltd).

Winter, Jay (1995) Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Winter, Jay (2006) Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the 20th Century (London: Yale University Press).

Winter, Jay (2008) “Sites of Memory and the Shadow of War,” in Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook, eds. Astrid Errl and Ansgar Nünning (New York: Walter de Gruyter).


This article has been published in the second issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the European memory of the First World War.

>> Click here to see the R&S Studies site

Stephan Stach

‘The spirit of the time left its stamp on these works ’: Writing the History of the Shoah [...]

21 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • Jews
  • Jewish Historical Institute
  • JHI
  • stalinism

‘The spirit of the time left its stamp on these works ’: Writing the History of the Shoah at the Jewish Historical Institute in Stalinist Poland



The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw was probably the only research institution in the Soviet Bloc and one of very few that undertook research on the Shoah during the 1950s. This article analyses the institute’s research and working conditions against the background of the general political regime under Stalinism in Poland. It argues that despite sometimes heavy-handed political biases in its publications, the institute made an important contribution to research on the Shoah. Its work also came to the attention of Jewish centres outside the Soviet Bloc, though it was seen through the prism of the Cold War.



Das Amt und die Vergangenheit [The Ministry and the past] (2010) summarizes the work of an international research group, which studied the involvement of the German Foreign Ministry in the mass murder of European Jews over several years. The findings, which attracted wide public attention, erased the myth that the Auswärtiges Amt [German: Federal Foreign Office] had been a clandestine refuge for Nazi opponents. Instead, it exposed the active participation of the Foreign Ministry in preparations for and its conduct during the Holocaust (Conze et al. 2010). In 1953 Artur Eisenbach had revealed the involvement of the Foreign Ministry in the Holocaust in the Nazi policy of extermination of the Jews though this work was not as comprehensive (Eisenbach 1953). His study is also one of the first monographs ever published on the Shoah. 1 Although forming the larger part of the research on the Shoah conducted at the Jewish Historical Institute (JHI: Yidisher historisher institute/Żydowski Instytut Historyczny) during the first half of the 1950s, 2 Eisenbach’s book received little attention. The reasons for this are many. The institute published in Polish and Yiddish, and both these languages were little known in the West outside East European Jewish émigré circles. Also, interest in the Holocaust had been fading after an initial phase of intense interest in the late 1940s. The most important reasons are, however, the political distortions of Stalinism and the thoroughly Marxist methodology, especially in Eisenbach’s case. 3 During the Cold War such politically biased texts were read with hostility by readers in the West. The Yiddish press in the United States and Israel thus called the Warsaw Jewish historians derogatively ‘Yevsec historians’ or ‘Stalinist slaves’ whose work consisted more of a falsification of history than of history writing. Such assessments, which neither considered the political context of the JHI’s publications in the first half of the 1950s nor assessed their scholarly value, using the political jargon of the time, found their way into the Western historiography of the Shoah4 and can still be found in recent publications. A telling example is Sven-Erik Rose’s 2011 article on the perception of Yehoshue Perle’s ‘Khurbn Varshe’ [The destruction of Warsaw] in the early 1950s. In his illuminating contribution on Perle’s radical witness account of the mass deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto in summer 1942, Rose refers to the JHI historians as ‘Jewish Stalinists’, 5 and so overlooks the vast literature on the situation of Jews in Stalinist Eastern Europe (Grüner 2008; Rubentstein and Naumov 2001).6

In this article I provide such a contextualization and discuss the potential and boundaries of research on the Shoah in Stalinist Poland. I begin with a short introduction on the JHI and its formation in the early post-war years. Then I shed light on the Stalinization of the institute in 1949–50 and analyse the impact Stalinism had on the activities and the publications of the JHI, against the background of general developments in Poland and how this was perceived in the West, especially in the Yiddish context. Finally, I examine the repercussions of anti-Semitism in the late Stalinist period for the JHI researchers and publications.


The emergence of the JHI

The JHI came into being in October 1947, when the Central Jewish Historical Commission [Centralna Żydowska Komisja Historyczna] was transformed into a permanent research institution. The commission had been founded in late 1944 in Lublin by the Jewish historian and Holocaust survivor Philip Friedman (Grüss 1946, 6).7 In 1945 it was relocated to Łódź and then to Warsaw in spring 1947. Its purpose was to document and research the mass murder of Polish and European Jewry. To that end, the commission began to gather and assemble ‘all printed, handwritten or other materials, photographs, illustrations, documents and exhibits’ before the end of the war.8 The commission also drew up sources that documented the Jewish perspective on the German Occupation of Poland: interviews with thousands of survivors, both adults and children, were recorded. Today, more than 7,000 testimonies are stored in the JHI archive.

The best-known and most valuable collection is the secret archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, produced by the Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and his underground Oyneg Shabes group. It is in two parts; the first was unearthed from the ruins of the Ghetto in September 1946.9 This served as an important impetus not only for the Commission’s work but also for the transformation of the Central Jewish Historical Commission into a permanent research institute.10 A year after the first part of the Ringelblum Archive was found, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland [Centralny Komitet Żydów w Polsce],11 a self-governing body of the then quasi-autonomous Jewish community in Poland, made the decision to turn the commission into the JHI.12 This took place in a period of relative political liberalism in Poland – at least as far as the Jewish community was concerned. Many Polish Jews that had survived the Shoah in German-occupied Poland or the Soviet Union still believed it was possible to restore Jewish life in Poland. Many Jewish institutions, such as Yiddish theatres and schools, newspapers and a printing house, were established at that time.13 In this context, the JHI could have filled the role of a scholarly institution of and for the Polish Jewish community. As such it would research the whole history of Polish Jews from the early Middle Ages onwards. However, the central topic of the work would remain the documentation of the Shoah.

The first public opportunity for the JHI to present itself was the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in April 1948. The anniversary was an international event, attended by many Polish, Polish-Jewish and international officials as well as by delegations from Jewish institutions. The festivities, which were prepared with the support of the JHI staff, began with the opening of the institute’s Museum of Jewish Martyrdom and Fight [Muzeum Martyrologii i Walki Żydowskiej] on the eve of the anniversary, and closed with the unveiling of Natan Rapaport’s monument dedicated to the Heroes and Martyrs of the Warsaw Ghetto the next day (Kobylarz 2009, 39 f.).14 Also in 1948 the JHI began to publish its Yiddish journal, Bleter far geshikhte [Folios for history],15 which addressed an international, Yiddish-speaking readership. However, in the second half of 1948, the political situation became tense. Within a year, the façade of Jewish quasi-autonomy of Jewish in post-war Poland was dismantled. Jewish activists from the Polish Workers’ Party (known from late 1948 as the Polish United Workers’ Party, PZPR) took over the Central Committee of Jews in Poland and all larger Jewish institutions. Other active Jewish parties were marginalized and subsequently dissolved (Grabski 2015, 199–202, 226–48). In summer 1949 the director of the JHI was sacked and the pre-war communist journalist and PZPR member Ber Mark was appointed to replace him.16 As a result, many former staff members, among them Nachman Blumental, the first director of the institute, and Rachela Auerbach, one of the few survivors of Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabbes group, decided to emigrate.17


The transformation of the JHI into a Marxist‑Leninist research institute

As the Stalinist grip on Poland tightened including within the Jewish sphere, Mark speeded up the ideological redirection of the institute. The aim was to catch up with the process of ideological transformation, which had begun in Polish universities and research institutions two years earlier (Górny 2011, 43 f.). Mark quickly steered the institute on to a course that clearly followed the party line. This was characterized by an open adherence to Marxist-Leninist theory in historical research as well as the use of history as propaganda – especially of the Second World War and the Shoah – to legitimize communist rule in Poland and the position of the Soviet Bloc in the confrontation with the West. To underscore his commitment to communist ideology, Mark published a programmatic statement in the newly established Yiddish information bulletin of the JHI. In ‘Our Aims’, published in November 1949, he emphasized his ambition to transform the JHI into a Marxist-Leninist research institution: ‘The Jewish Historical Institute in Poland has the ambition not only to be the scientific centre of research on the most recent period of our history, the period of unprecedented annihilation, heroic resistance and rebirth, but also to become a centre of Marxism-Leninism applied in research on Jewish history.’18 This also meant, as the text continues, that the situation in the ghettos had to be analysed from the perspective of class struggle, and the character of the mass murder of Jews by the Germans in turn had to be explained as a consequence of the capitalist order in its imperialist guise.19

Mark’s articles suggested that his appointment as director was a radical break in the JHI’s work. However, although it was certainly a break, it was not especially radical. Mark, who was alleged to have a ‘too friendly attitude to people’ to become an influential communist functionary in post-war Poland,20 did not purge the ranks of the JHI. All staff members, including those who chose to emigrate, were allowed to keep their positions until they left and they remained on good terms with Mark after their departure. In September 1950 Mark exchanged letters with his predecessor, Nachman Blumental, and the former vice director, Józef Kermisz, who had settled in the Kibbutz Lohamei haGettaot. When they informed him of their plans to continue their research work in Israel, Mark congratulated them and assured them of his willingness to cooperate.21

Most of the historians who remained were members of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). Besides the directors – Ber Mark and Adam Rutkowski – there were Artur Eisenbach, Fraim Kupfer and Tatjana Berenstein. The only nonpartisan senior researcher who remained at the JHI was Szymon Datner, but Danuta Dąbrowska and Albert Nirensztein (Aaron Nirenshtayn in Yiddish), who joined the institute in 1951, were nonpartisan too.

It is also worth noting that although Mark had been a member of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP; Komunistyczna Partia Polski) since 1930, he had never been considered among the ideologically unimpeachable Jewish Party activists. Especially in the Soviet Union, where he spent the war years, he had been treated with suspicion by the authorities and also by some of his Jewish comrades. Shortly after he secured a position as a staff writer at Eynikayt [Unity], the official organ of the Jewish Antifascist Committee, Mark was accused of ‘Jewish nationalism’ and fired, something that made his situation precarious.22 After he returned to Poland in 1946, holding important functions within Jewish social life, Mark faced similar accusations. The most serious was at a meeting of the Jewish Fraction of the Polish Workers’ Party in October 1948, when Szymon Zacharisz – the leading figure among the Jewish Communists and architect of the Stalinization of Jewish life in Poland – accused him of being tainted by ‘national-Jewish ideology’.23 That Mark became director of the JHI at all underscores the lack of trained personnel among the Jewish Communists. For Mark, however, it was a chance for probation; he certainly did not want to fail.


JHI Publications during Stalinism

The politicization of the institute’s publications was in line with general developments in Polish historiography at this time. Shmuel Krakowski, head of the institute’s archive from 1966 to 1968, described the situation in the 1950s:

[U]ntil 1956 there was a quite stringent interference by the Party and others, and the course this took is called Stalinist. So it is natural that tight limits were imposed on Jewish – and not only Jewish – historians. But not only were certain limits imposed, which one was not allowed to exceed, there was also a certain language and methodology [...] I would even say a certain party dialect – with very harmful ramifications for scholarly work. Another method was to simply force historians to falsify history and accept certain non-existent facts in order to exaggerate the importance of the Communists. 24

The elements mentioned by Krakowski were typical of Polish – and not only Polish –historiography during the Stalinist period. This meant quoting frequently from Stalin’s and Lenin’s works, the use of Marxist- Leninist terminology, which often appeared artificial, and drawing a clear line between ‘progressive’ and ‘reactionary’ elements in history (Stobiecki 2007, 58 f.). Notably in works on the Second World War, the Soviet Union and especially the Red Army had to be praised as liberators and the Communists as the main pillars of resistance. Typical of the intensifying confrontation between the two power blocs were also commentaries on current political developments, such as the Korean War and the colonial conflicts.25

In its scholarly publications the JHI under Mark was under pressure to meet the political requirements. This was demonstrated in several ways. For example, in the Yiddish Bleter far geshikte translations of methodological articles by Soviet historians,26 such as Arkady Sidorov and Piotr Tretiakov, appeared, which emphasized the importance of Stalin’s works for historiography. Both had been members of a delegation to the Congress of Polish Historians in 1948.27 Szymon Zachariasz also submitted ideological articles to Bleter far geshikhte, among them a tribute to the life and struggle of Feliks Dzieryżyński, a non-Jewish Pole, who founded the Soviet secret police, the Cheka. Another emphasized the role of the KPP in the defence of Polish independence (Zakhariash 1951 and 1952). Neither article was related to Jewish history. However, the translations from Soviet scholars constituted a basic feature of East-Central European academia under Stalinism. They had also been published in Polish and many other languages spoken in the Soviet Bloc.28 Zacharisz’s contribution in turn served to emphasize the ideological reliability of the JHI and the fact that the institute was not drifting into ‘Jewish nationalism’. Equally, it was surely a concession by Mark to his critic Zacharisz.

The principles of Stalinist-style history writing were also applied to the institute’s own research publications. The communists in the ghettos were portrayed as the driving force of Jewish resistance. Uprisings in ghettos and camps were described as the Jewish contribution to the ‘great liberation war against German fascism’. The situation in the ghettos was described as a specific form of class struggle where the collaborators of the Judenrat suppressed the working masses and the resistance movement. On the Bialystok Ghetto Mark wrote: ‘There was a clear division [...] in the ghetto: Judenrat and resistance. There was [...] no compromise and no “third way” between these two forces, which were mutually exclusive’ (Mark 1952b, 4). The insurgents were, needless to say, ‘brought up in the best traditions of the workers’ movement, in the struggles of the KPP, in the revolutionary ideas of Marxism-Leninism’.29

The exaggeration of the communists’ role in the resistance is especially blatant if one compares Albert Nirensztein’s article on the resistance movement in the Kraków Ghetto, which appeared in the third issue of the Biuletyn, in 1952, and a publication of the Central Jewish Historical Commission, which had appeared six years earlier. In his article, Nirensztein claims: ‘There were two principal groups in the Kraków underground: the communist (then PPR) and the members of the Akiba; the latter recognized the indisputable political supremacy of the communists’ (Nirensztein 1952c, 184 f.). Referring to members of the underground movement, Betti Ajzenstajn described the situation somewhat differently. In The Resistance Movement in Ghettos and Camps, she writes:

The mentioned organizations [Akiba and the PPR] cooperated in a number of anti-German actions, despite the fact that there was huge ideological gap between them (which more than once produced frictions and disharmony) (Ajzenstajn 1946, 82).

The corrections, which aimed to harmonize history with the ideological foundations of the PZPR, also affected source editions, which made up a large part of Bleter far geshikhte, the Biuletyn and other JHI publications. The best known example is Emanuel Ringelblum’s notes from the Warsaw Ghetto. They appeared in a Yiddish edition in 1952 and as a Polish translation in the Biuletyn (Ringelblum 1952a).30 In both, passages critical of the Soviet Union or of Polish–Jewish relations were deleted, as well as references to religious aspects, Zionism and non-communist resistance. While data that emphasized the conflict between the Judenrat and the ‘Jewish masses’ did appear, other parts which did not fit the class-struggle paradigm were omitted, for instance, corruption in the house committees of the Ghetto. What was omitted, however, differed in the Polish and the Yiddish versions. This was especially true of what Ringelblum wrote about Poles attacking Jews, which was included in the Yiddish paper but not the Polish. But similar differences can also be found in cases that might have been disadvantageous from a Jewish perspective. While in the Yiddish version the collaboration of certain Jews with the Gestapo was noted, it was left out in the Polish version.31 In the introduction to the Polish version the editors – most probably Mark and Eisenbach – stated that ‘notes and expressions that were unclear or not significant for the topic of the research’ were omitted, 32 but to anyone willing to read between the lines, this was an indication that the significance for research might have been dependent on the political situation.

Another publication from the second part of the Ringelblum Archive, unearthed in December 1950, sparked a fierce debate within the Yiddish community and across the Iron Curtain (see below). This was Yehoshue Perle’s report ‘Khurbn Varshe’ [The destruction of Warsaw]. Perle described the situation in the Warsaw Ghetto during the mass deportations in summer 1942 and harshly criticized the Judenrat and the Jewish police for assisting the Germans. He also criticized the victims themselves for their lack of resistance (‘Khurbn Varshe’ 1951, 101–40). Whether the text, which had been published anonymously as the author had not yet been established by the JHI’s researchers, had undergone a similar editing process remains unclear.33 It appeared roughly a year after it was found in late 1951 or early 1952, as the editorial introduction mentions the ‘American aggressors, who for seventeen months have been murdering the Korean people’.34

Such comments can be found in many JHI publications, as well as in other scholarly journals in Poland between 1950 and 1954. The introduction to ‘Khurbn Varshe’ [The destruction of Warsaw] is an especially rich example, as it refers not only to the Korean War but also to the negotiations between German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Nahum Goldman, president of the World Jewish Congress, which began in December 1951 and would result in the Luxemburg Agreement in 1952 on reparations from Germany to Israel. In an allusion to this, the editorial mentions the ‘non-Jewish and Jewish agents of imperialism, who make pacts with yesterday’s Nazis [...] those who are repeating the traitorous politics of the Jewish councils’35 Elsewhere one can find critical comments on colonialism and discrimination against blacks in the United States (Mark 1951a, 25; Nirensztein 1952a, 184–89). In a similar vein, the exhibits in the JHI’s museum link the history of the Shoah and the Warsaw Uprising with a call for the struggle against imperialism (Rutkowski 1951, 127–29).

As we have seen, in the early 1950s JHI publications were punctuated with references to Marxist, and often more bluntly Stalinist, methodology and political biases. They had – especially in the case of sources – undergone a process of censorship in order to make them fit current political needs. While praise of Stalin’s genius and attacks on supposedly Western warmongers make these publications read like a caricature from today’s perspective, such a readiness to adjust the history of the Shoah to the party line was the only way possible for the JHI to publish its research at all36 and to make documents like those of the Ringelblum Archive accessible outside the institute.37


The JHI’s reception in the Yiddish world

Despite the ‘party dialect’ which dominated the publications of the JHI after late 1949, they continued to be read in the West, especially those in Yiddish. Mark’s earliest statements in the Yedies in November 1949 were closely monitored. The Wiener Library Bulletin (WLB) wrote in early 1950:

The recent far-reaching changes in the structure of Polish Jewish organizations, now taken over by nominees of the Government, are reflected in the journal of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw [...] A programmatic statement makes it clear that from now on research will be proceeding exclusively along Marxist lines [... T]he tragic story of Polish Jewry, under German occupation in particular, is now going to be presented from the point of view of ‘class warfare in the Ghetto’.38

This was nevertheless a neutral description of the institute’s work in a non- Marxist Western journal. The WLB had committed itself never to comment on political matters. Even when Albert Nirensztein attacked the WLB and accused it of ‘only pretending to be progressive, while in fact they do not unmask the true sources and forces of the neo-Nazism in Western Germany, but abide by the principle of old, bankrupt bourgeois ideology’,39 the WLB did not respond. However, it vigorously refuted Nirensztein’s assertion that the journal would ignore research literature from outside the Western hemisphere. The dispute resulted not only in an exchange of letters,40 but finally in a comprehensive report on the JHI’s activity in the next WLB issue.41 This example shows that the JHI, despite its political comments or even attacks on Western institutions, was keen to stay in contact with such institutions, as it clearly sent all its available publications and detailed information to the WLB. It stands to reason that the main intention in criticizing the WLB in Bleter far geshikhte was to justify to the Polish authorities its subscription to the Western press.42

However, in the Yiddish press in the United States or Israel, the JHI could not count on the same sensibility the WLB showed. Distrust of Jewish scholars in communist Poland was deeply rooted on the other side of the Atlantic. This is not hard to understand considering anti-communist sentiment there at the time and the pro-American orientation of the vast majority of American Jews on the one hand and the anti-American propaganda, which infiltrated the institute’s publications, on the other. When in December 1950 the second part of the Ringelblum Archive was unearthed from the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, the news soon spread around the Jewish world. But while the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported the fact in almost neutral terms,43 in New York’s Morgen zhurnal Aaron Tseytlin’s commentary was far more critical. In his view, it would have been better if the material had never been found than falling into the ‘unkosher hands’ of Warsaw’s ‘Yevsec historians’, as it would only give them fresh material for their ‘absurd horror story that a class struggle took place behind the Warsaw Ghetto Wall’ (Tseytlin 1951). Similar comments could be found in Tel-Aviv’s Di naye velt, Arbeter-vort [The new world, worker’s word] from Paris, Ha-Dor, the mouthpiece of the Israeli Mapai Party or the Bulletin of the New York Jewish Labour Committee, as ‘Arkhivarius’44 lamented in Warsaw’s Yidishe shriften [Jewish scriptures]. It made him especially embittered that, as he wrote, the critics do not even wait for the publication of material in the Bleter far geshikhte before they start to criticize the supposed falsifications of the institute (Arkivarius 1951).45

However, even when Western reviewers read the JHI’s publications and attested to their scholarly value, it did not mean that they spared criticism of the institute. This can be seen in a review of Ringelblum’s Notitsn fun varshever geto [Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto], which appeared in the Bundist Lebns-fragn [Vital Issues], Tel-Aviv. For almost half the text the author, Eliahu Shulman, dwells on the fact that ‘the [Jewish] Historical Institute has been bolshevized – and the whole history of the Jews during Nazi occupation is falsified’ (Shulman 1953, 17). He even attacked the JHI’s researchers without exception. ‘After all, Berl Mark, Efraim Kupfer, [Artur/Aaron] Eisenbach and the other staff members of the institute are Stalinist slaves – and if their communist lord commands them to falsify – they will falsify’ (Shulman 1953, 18). However, his review of the book with Ringelblum’s notes was very constructive. Shulman called it authentic and a ‘principal historical and human document of the Ghetto period in Poland’ (Shulman 1953, 18).

The review gives a good insight into the misconceptions on the part of readers, or rather reviewers, outside the Soviet Bloc, who received publications on the Shoah produced at the JHI. In the political climate of the Cold War all publications from the other side of the Iron Curtain came under a general suspicion that they were falsified. Such falsification was perceived as a complete and willful distortion of the ‘historical truth’ in order to meet the political requirements of the Polish government and Soviet camp. This, however, was based not so much on a highly critical study of the JHI’s publications but on political – mainly anti-communist – convictions. However, the falsification of sources and the misrepresentation in historical interpretation functioned differently. The publications appeared within a framework of Stalinist academic methods, censorship, self-censorship and political control. Even so, there were no fixed boundaries on what could be written and published. The publication of a source that touched politically controversial or sensitive issues – as Ringelblum’s diary did – was unfeasible without deleting or editing those parts that obviously contradicted the political ‘truths’ of the day. The aim of such manipulations was not to send a politically correct message, but to get the writing published at all. Thus, they usually did not change the author’s overall intention and remained subtle enough that any such change was not immediately apparent.46 That is why, despite many changes, the text remained ‘authentic’ for Shulman and many others. His strident condemnation of JHI staff as ‘Stalinist slaves’ who falsified whenever they had to, however, shows his inability to acknowledge that an institution he regarded as politically hostile could nevertheless make a valuable scholarly contribution.

As mentioned above, another source from the Ringelblum Archive – ‘Khurbn Varshe’ [The destruction of Warsaw] – sparked a debate in the Yiddish press in 1952. After the text, published in Bleter far geshikhte accompanied by a strongly politically biased editorial, reached the West, the Yiddish poet and journalist H. Leyvik bluntly accused the JHI of having fabricated the document. In his article in Der tog, he denounced ‘Khurbn Varshe’ as ‘blasphemous nonsense’ (Leyvik 1952).47 What angered Leyvik were the many accounts of the part the Jewish Ghetto police and the Judenrat played in the deportations. In his opinion, all Jews murdered in the Shoah were martyrs, while, as he passionately wrote, the author of ‘Khurbn Varshe’ depicted that ‘what took place in Warsaw was a thoroughly self-inflicted Jewish extermination’. 48 In his view, such a text, published in the Soviet Bloc and written by an anonymous author, must have been a forgery.49

Leyvik’s attack not only sparked a debate in the American Yiddish press,50 but also prompted a reaction from Mark himself. In a lengthy reply titled ‘Judenrat love of Israel’, Mark proved the authenticity of ‘Khurbn Varshe’ [The destruction of Warsaw], referred to a similar account of the Jewish councils by Ringelblum and others in his group and identified its author as Yehoshue Perle, a well-known pre-war Jewish writer. In Mark’s view, Leyvik’s understanding of universal Jewish victimhood had the intention of whitewashing the Jewish councils and Ghetto police, thereby concealing ‘the internal treason in the ghettos’ (Mark 1952b, 114).51 In an allusion to the Luxemburg Agreement, Mark called Leyvick one of ‘all those in the United States, who require the rehabilitation of the Judenräte [...] for their current politics’ (Mark 1952b, 114).52 Mark’s article was not only a reply to Leyvik, it also addressed the Jews in Poland and served as another proof of its political correctness. Therefore, it was published not only in Bleter far geshikhte but also as a four-part series in the Polish Yiddish newspaper Folks-sztyme [People’s voice],53 which had a much greater readership among the Jews in Poland. Only a couple of months later, the Folks-sztyme text would play a role in the denunciation of Mark and the JHI.


The JHI – a threshold of Jewish nationalism in People’s Poland?

In autumn 1952 it seemed that late Stalinist anti-Semitism, with the Soviet campaign against rootless cosmopolitism and the imminent Slánský trial in Prague, was about to reach Poland. The fear that Warsaw too could become the venue of a show trial against a supposed Zionist conspiracy was escalating among the Polish Jews, and it was not unfounded. After Slánský had been arrested in late 1951, accused of leading a ‘Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist’ conspiracy, the pressure on the Polish government to ‘uncover’ a Zionist conspiracy in its ranks increased. Although the Polish President, Bolesław Bierut, continued to resist such pressure,54 in November 1952 investigations within the power apparatus began. During these investigations, the Polish security service visited the JHI and took articles from the Western Yiddish press, written by high-ranking members of the state administration (Rayski 1987, 173–80). On 26 November, as the Slánský trial was coming to its conclusion, an employee of the Israeli Embassy was arrested, accused of espionage (Szaynok 2012, 219). All these events were not directly connected to the JHI. Nevertheless, Mark, who must have known that many of his former colleagues from the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee had disappeared in the late 1940s, was well aware that the Institute and especially he himself could soon become a target in the search for Zionist conspirators. His worries proved well founded.

On 24 November, A. Sztark Wrocław, a correspondent of Folks-sztyme in Lower Silesia, obviously encouraged by the newspaper coverage of the Slánský trial, sent a hand-written letter and a densely typed eight-page report on the ideological foundation of the JHI to President Bierut. Sztark wrote that after lengthy consideration, he had decided it was his duty as a party member to inform him about the ideological transgressions of the JHI.55 In the report, however, it became clear that Sztark’s motivation was personal not political: Mark had reviewed and rejected a manuscript written by Sztark for the publishing house Yidish bukh [Jewish book]. The principal point of Mark’s critique was that the Jewish Council and its chairman were referred to in Yiddish terminology as Yidn rat and Yid elterer, which he considered was wrong, as Sztark quoted the opinion that ‘this institution was not Jewish but an enemy agency’.56 Sztark presented this to Bierut as proof of Mark’s ideological deviation: in his view, the Jewish councils had been as Jewish as the Pétain government in France was biased, both representing a certain sector of their respective societies.57

Referring to Mark’s answer to Leyvik in Folks-sztyme, he wrote:

The dispute between comrade Mark and the American Jewish reactionary H. Leyvik is limited to the following: while the reactionary Leyvik embraces all Jews murdered by the Nazi occupants with a holy Tallit [prayer shawl ...] Mark shows in his four articles mentioned above that the members of the Yidnrat and Jewish policemen in the ghettos were heinous traitors of the Jewish people, and this is why we have to denounce them and throw them out from among the holy Jewish Tallit. 58

Sztark thus accused Mark of adopting only a slightly modified model for interpreting the Shoah than Leyvik. In his view, a proper analysis of the class struggle in the ghettos would include the role of other bourgeois Jewish parties and non-communist actors. According to Sztark, Mark also ‘tries to featherbed the fight of Zionists against the communist resistance and reduces its importance’. 59 In his view, the most important task in the history of Polish Jews and Jewish ghettos in Poland during the Nazi occupation is to bring to light the full activity of Jewish bourgeois parties of all hues, with their clerical, Zionist and Bundist ideologies and their mercantilist, brutally egoist world views. They prepared the ground among the Polish Jews before the occupation and during the occupation they made millions of Polish Jews walk to the slaughter with their wives and children under the guidance of the Yidn-rat and without offering resistance, despite the heroic fight of the communists and the groups they mobilized. 60

Sztark accused Mark of being unable to correctly analyse the situation in the ghettos from a Marxist point of view and even more dangerous for the latter, of Jewish nationalist views and pro-Zionist sympathies. There is no doubt that he was aware of the serious implications this could have for Mark during a show trial against alleged Zionist conspirators in Prague.

Sztark’s attempt nevertheless failed to initiate a purge in the JHI. The office of President Bierut forwarded his letter to Szymon Zachariaz, who worked in the organizational department of the Central Committee of the PZPR and was responsible for Jewish affairs. Though Zachariasz had also been critical of Mark’s proximity to Zionist views in the past, he had decided to protect him. He replied to Sztark in a long letter, dismissing his critique in detail. Zachariasz however did add: ‘We don’t want to say that there had not been any mistakes in the works of the authors grouped around the JHI, including those of comrade B. Mark’, 61 but,

the publications [...] which have appeared in recent years are constantly aligning the old, false [political – St. St.] line [...] An important step forward in correcting the falsifying mistakes [falszywych bledow] will be the new work on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which will appear on its tenth anniversary. 62

When Zachariasz wrote to Sztark – on 22 December 1952 – he was taking care that Mark’s new book on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising would fulfil this promise. It is unclear how much Zachariasz told Mark about what was going on. The publications of Mark and the JIH, which appeared in spring 1953, however, are proof that he at least passed on the reality of a serious threat. Abruptly, in no time, the JHI had been added to the anti-Zionist propaganda of the Soviet Bloc, at least in its Polish publications. In the second issue of the institute’s Bulletin of 1952, which appeared in early 1953, the density of anti-imperialist key words, references to Stalin and Lenin and attacks on the ‘American supporters of the Jewish councils’63 and ‘the Zionist government of Israel [...] supporting the genocidal plans of the Anglo-American Aggression Bloc’ are apparent (Eisenbach 1952, 304). One article in the journal, F. Kupfer’s ‘On the Genesis of Zionism. A Contribution to the Problem: Zionism in the Service of Imperialism’, 64 was a condemnation of Zionism. From the correspondence between Mark and Szymon Datner, it becomes clear that Mark put pressure on his employees to introduce such phrases into their articles, 65 just as he was under pressure from Zachariasz and recent developments. On 13 January 1953 the Soviet News Agency TASS had announced the arrest of ‘murderer-physicians’ which, on behalf of the ‘foul Zionist espionage organization’66 Joint, had attempted to assassinate members of the Soviet government, 67 it alleged; the Warsaw Folks-sztyme reported the news on 14 January. 68 So Mark added Joint to the list of those to be attacked and included such an assault on Szymon Datner’s article, without the author’s knowledge or consent. 69 When Datner protested and demanded a correction in April 1953, he was immediately fired from the JHI with a note stating that, regarding his ‘ideological strangeness’, he was incapable of intellectual work. 70

Mark’s book on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had been copy-edited by Szymon Zachariasz and went to print on 15 January 1953, 71 two days after the doctors’ conspiracy had been made public. Its lengthy introduction not only contained portrait photographs of Stalin and Bierut, 72 it is also full of praise of Stalin, who, as the text suggests, almost single-handedly defeated Nazi Germany. At the same time it vehemently condemned Israel and Western Jewish organizations, especially the Luxembourg Agreement:

One of the most disgusting scenes [...] is the rehabilitation of the neo-Nazi regime of Konrad Adenauer by the World Zionist Organization, by the Jewish-nationalist organization Joint and by the reactionary government of the State of Israel. The leaders of global Zionism and the reactionary government of Israel desecrate the memory of six million victims, murdered by the genocidal Nazi murderers and disgrace the holy memory of the Ghetto insurgents, acting as lackeys of the American imperialists (Mark 1953, 12 f.).

Throughout the text all references to Zionist activists in the underground movement were deleted, even though they were known to Mark. In the Yiddish edition of the book, which appeared in 1955 and which has an identical structure, their names do appear, while the strident attacks on the Israeli government and the Joint, as well as the many references to Stalin and his character, disappeared from the Yiddish edition. It contains only one insignificant quotation from Stalin in the introduction (Mark 1955). 73

It seems that Mark intentionally withheld the Yiddish edition of his book until it became possible to publish it without anti-Zionist remarks, not least because the JHI’s contribution to the anti-Zionist propaganda of 1952–53 is restricted to its Polish publications. The last issue of Bleter far geshichte of 1952 does not contain any such statements. In order to express the JHI’s loyalty, it contains a Yiddish translation of Stalin’s article on economic questions (Stalin 1952). The article was obviously added to the issue only after typesetting had begun, since it uses Roman numerals in its pagination. The first issue of 1953 in turn is dedicated to a Yiddish translation of the minutes from the Warsaw trial of Jürgen Stroop, who had commanded the German forces during the Uprising. 74 It seems that Mark was attempting to withhold the anti-Zionist slogans of Western Jews, who did not understand the political situation in Poland at the time.

This is mirrored in the reaction of a foreign visitor to the JHI’s exhibition of the Uprising, which had also been reorganized in early 1953. The last part of the exhibition was meant to present the ‘ideological legacy of the insurgents’, which Adam Rutkowski, co-curator of the exhibition, characterized as ‘the hate of genocidal imperialism, the struggle for a free, powerful and independent People’s Poland [Polska Ludowa], the fight against warmongers for permanent peace’ (Rutkowski 1953b, 224). When in 1954 Ian Mikardo, a British Labour MP, visited Warsaw, he also went to the JHI. He described his tour of the museum for the Jewish Chronicle:

At the moment the two top floors at the Jewish Historical Institute are occupied by a magnificent exhibition recounting the story of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Uprising. When you get to the end of it there is a series of panels (which the director did not appear anxious for me to see) based on the theme that the post-war warmongers are behaving in exactly the same way as the pre-war warmongers. In juxtaposition with pictures of the Nazi leaders, Franklin Roosevelt, and Neville Chamberlain there are pictures of Eisenhower, Churchill, Ben- Gurion, and Sharett. The centrepiece is a mural representing ‘warmonger’ Harry Truman receiving the gift of a Sefer Torah from warmonger Chaim Weizmann. 75

Soon after Mikardo’s visit, and possibly even before his report in the Jewish Chronicle appeared, this part of the exhibition had been removed after a formal complaint by the Israeli embassy, because it had become ‘politically obsolete’ (Szaynok 2012, 266 f.). Taking Mikardo’s report into account, Mark was not unhappy about this. Indeed, when in the second half of 1954 the political situation in Poland was relaxed – the anti-Zionist campaign had stopped soon after Stalin’s death – politicized comments disappeared from the institute’s publications altogether. In the revised Polish edition of his book, which appeared in 1958, Mark even made a vague allusion to its political bias in the introduction: ‘However, the spirit of the time left its stamp on these works. Some insufficiencies and ground topics gave the works of 1953 and 1954 a certain one-sidedness’ (Mark 1958, 9).



There is surely no period in the history of Socialist Poland when history – and scholarly research in general – were more politicized and politically exploited than during Stalinism. Many of the writings that appeared in this period contained severe political distortions, which from the outside can even seem absurd. In Poland during the early 1950s, however, everyone, even those who had not been committed communists, knew how to read the texts, written in the ‘party dialect’ and sometimes containing ‘non-existent facts’, as Shmuel Krakowski put it. Even after Stalinism ended, Polish researchers knew how to handle texts written in this period. In 1957 the historian K. M. Pospiechalski from Poznań’s West Institute (Instytut Zachodni) wrote to Artur Eisenbach that for one of the publications, he wanted to refer to a passage from Eisenbach’s Hitlerowska Polityka Eksterminacja Żydow. However, since he suspected that Eisenbach would have written this passage differently now, after the end of Stalinism, he decided to ask him to, removing the strong political bias. 76 Readers outside Poland often did not know about the situation of Polish academia and lacked an understanding of the political demands placed on historical research. For that reason, the reputation of the JHI had been severely undermined by its publications of this period, which has been reproduced in historiography and even today compromises researchers like Ber Mark.

When evaluating the historiographic value of the JHI’s publications, the political circumstances should be taken into account. Despite many shortcomings and biases, these works are an important contribution to early Holocaust historiography. Without using classic Stalinist propaganda their works could not have been published. This is also true for important sources on the Shoah, originating in the Ringelblum Archive and other sources. Furthermore, if Mark and his colleagues had not adapted to the political situation, it would probably have placed the existence of the institute at risk. Without the JHI, however, its archives would have been uncertain and it is doubtful that they would have been made accessible to the public.



The research for this article was supported by grant no. 16–01775Y, ‘Inclusion of the Jewish Population into Postwar Czechoslovak and Polish Societies’, funded by the Czech Science Foundation.



Stephan Stach

Stephan Stach is a postdoctoral researcher and member of a research group at the Institute for Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague which is examining the reintegration of Jews into Czechoslovak and Polish society after the Second World War. He is currently preparing a monograph on the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and knowledge about the Shoah between 1947 and 1989. In 2015 he presented his PhD thesis on interwar Polish nationality policy at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg. He co-edited Gegengeschichte. Zweiter Weltkrieg und Holocaust im ostmitteluropäischen Dissens [Counter-history. Debates on the Second World War and the Holocaust in the dissent of East Central Europe] (with Peter Hallama, Leipzig, 2015) on the recollections of East and Central European dissidents.




1 The first was Leon Poliakov, Le Bréviaire de la haine. Le IIIe Reich et les Juifs [The harvest of hate. The 3rd Reich and the Jews] (Paris, 1951).

2 Inter alia on the role of the Wehrmacht, the exploitation of Jewish workers in the ghettos or on the Holocaust in the Reichsgau Wartheland, see Datner 1952, 86–155; Brustin-Berenstein 1953, 3–52; Dąbrowska 1955, 122–84; Pohl 2010, 165 f.

3 Eisenbach’s Hitlerowska polityka eksterminacji Żydów was based on his dissertation, supervised by Stanisław Arnold, chairman of the Marxist Historians’ Union.

4 See Dawidowicz 1981, 100 f.

5 Rose 2011, 184 f. Similarly, David Roskies ignores the political situation in Poland, calling Ber Mark a ‘loyal servant’ of the Polish communist regime, see Roskies 2012, 89.

6 On Poland, see Grözinger and Ruta 2008.

7 On the commission, see Jockusch 2012, 84–120; Aleksiun 2007, 74–97.

8 Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego [Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute, hereafter AŻIH], signature 303/XX, folder 1, n.p.

9 On Ringelblum and Oyneg Shabbes, see Kassow 2007.

10 Such plans had already been launched by Philip Friedman in the early days of the commission, see AŻIH, 303/XX, folder 3, Statut Centralnej Żydowskiej Komisji Historycznej w Polsce przy Centralnym Komitecie Żydów Polskich [Statute of the Central Jewish Historical Commission at the Central Committee of Jews in Poland], § 6.

11 On the committee, see Grabski 2015.

12 AŻIH 303/I, folder 8, minutes of the board meeting of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, 27 September 1947.

13 On the Jewish cultural life in post-war Poland, see Grözinger and Ruta 2008.

14 AŻIH, signature 310, folder 8, n.p., minutes of the JHI board meeting, 9 January 1948. The archive collection of the JHI is currently being reorganized. The files referred to in this text with the signature AŻIH 310 might now be found in another folder.

15 The title Bleter far geshikhte [Folios for history] is a reference to a journal edited by Emanuel Ringelblum before the war, which bore that title.

16 AŻIH, signature 303/1, folder 17, minutes of the board meeting of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, 29 July 1949.

17 For more details on this period, see Stach 2008, 402–14.

18 ‘Undzere tsil’ [Our aims], Yedies: Byulletin fun yidisher historisher institut in poyln [News: Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland], November 1949, 1. The statement is not signed, however, there is little doubt that it was by Mark.

19 Ibid.

20 Sommer Schneider 2014, 244.

21 Kibbutz Lohamei haGettaot Archive, holdings registry 14859,6, Mark’s letter to Blumental and Kermisz, 30 September 1950.

22 Nalewajko-Kulikov 2010, 205–26, on the Soviet Union, 211–15.

23 Ibid., 218.

24 Interview with Stefan [Shmuel] Krakowski, Oral History Archives of the Oral History Department of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University Jerusalem (0050)0031, 7.

25 Such elements were also present in the exhibition at Auschwitz-Birkenau, see Hansen 2015, 208–22.

26 These were Sidorov 1950, 3–28; Pankratova 1950, 135–61; Tretiakov 1950a, 162–86 and Tretiakov 1950b, 187–97.

27 Górny 2011, 82.

28 Kwartalnik Historyczny [Historical Quarterly] published extensive digests of Tretiakov’s articles, regretting that these texts had already been published elsewhere in Polish; see Kwartalnik Historyczny 1950–51b, 3–12; Kwartalnik Historyczny 1950–51b, 13–38.

29 Ibid., 267.

30 In Polish ‘Notatki z warszawskiego getta’ [Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto], BŻIH, vol. 2 (1951), 81–208 and BŻIH, vol. 3 (1952), 46–83.

31 On the differences between the Polish and the Yiddish versions see Person 2012, 59–76, especially 70–4; Nalewajko-Kulikov 2013, 385–403.

32 Translation: Person 2012, 69.

33 The editorial introduction noted that the document could often not be deciphered; see ‘Khurbn Varshe’ 1951, 101.

34 As the Korean War was declared in late June 1950, the editorial must have been written in December 1951; ‘Khurbn Varshe’ 1951, 101, English translation, Rose 2011, 186.

35 Ibid. Contrary to Sven-Erik Rose’s assertion that the Jewish parties involved in the Luxemburg Agreement reiterated the policy of the Jewish councils, this was not unique to communist propaganda, but was widely used in Israeli politics, including by the political right parties; see Michman 2010, 316.

36 As Katarzyna Person points out, some of these publications are still the only accessible ones on these matters available in Polish; see Person 2012, 68.

37 The available English and French translations of Ringelblum’s diary are both based on the Institute’s Yiddish edition of 1952 and not on the more comprehensive and less censored edition of 1961–63. Furthermore, Jacob Sloan’s English translation (on which the French is based) contains many unnecessary errors.

38 ‘Jewish Historical Research in Communist Poland’, Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. IV, no. 1 (January 1950), 4.

39 Nirensztein 1952b, 169–75. Quote from the English abstract at XIV.

40 See criticism from the East, Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. VII, nos. 3–4 (May–August 1953), 16; ‘The Wiener Library Bulletin under Fire. Strictures in a Warsaw Learned Journal’, Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. VII, nos. 3–4 (May–August 1953), 127.

41 ‘The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw’, Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. VII, nos. 5–6 (September–December 1953), 39.

42 A similar article appeared in the Polish Biuletyn, Rutkowski 1953a, 53–72.

43 It only briefly acknowledged that the material might have been distorted for political reasons; ‘The Warsaw Ghetto Archives. List of Traitors Found’, Jewish Chronicle (6 January 1951).

44 The pen name Arkhivarius was apparently used by one of the institute’s employees. It might have been Artur Eisenbach, then director of the institute’s archive.

45 Thanks to Agnieszka Żołkiewska for drawing my attention to this text.

46 Kermish (1953) and Blumental (1953) recognized the changes only due to their broader knowledge of the original. Both had taken part in the preparation of Ringelblum’s diary before their emigration from Poland in 1950.

47 English translation of the quote is from Rose 2011, 187.

48 Ibid., 209.

49 On the controversy, see ibid.; for a shorter but more balanced portrayal of Mark’s role in the dispute, see Schwarz 2015, 118–20.

50 For a discussion, see Rose 2011.

51 Translation: Rose 2011, 188.

52 Ibid., 188.

53 Mark, ‘Yudenratishe “ahaves yisroyl” (an entfer oyfn bilbl fun H. Leyvik)’ [Judenrat ‘Love of Israel’ (A reply to H. Leyvik’s Defamation)], Folks-sztyme, vol. 125 (6 August 1952), 127, (9 August 1952), 128, (12 August 1952), 129, (13 August 1952). The text appeared in both the journal Bleter far geshikhte and the newspaper Folks-sztyme under the same title. In Folks-sztyme it appeared in four parts.

54 Shore 2004, 42 f.

55 Archiwum Akt Nowych [Archive of New Documents – AAN], Komitet Centralny PZPR, Kancelaria Sekretariatu, 237/V-98, 73.

56 Ibid., 74.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., 77.

60 Ibid., 78 f.

61 Ibid., 87.

62 Ibid.

63 Datner 1952, 153.

64 Kupfer 1952.

65 AŻIH, Szymon Datner, personal file, 76.

66 This description was used by Izvestiya in her article of 13 January 1953; Rapoport 1991, 79.

67 An English translation of the TASS statement can be found in ibid., 74 f.

68 Folks-sztyme, 14 January 1953.

69 AŻIH, Szymon Datner, personal file, 74.

70 Ibid., 79 and information supplied by Datner’s daughter, Helena Datner.

71 This date is mentioned in the imprint, see Mark 1953, 4.

72 Stalin is situated between pp. 8 and 9, Bierut between pp. 12 and 13.

73 The only Stalin quote is on p. 10.

74 The trial was held in Warsaw in July 1952 and ended with a death sentence, which was carried out on 6 March 1953.

75 Jewish Chronicle, 22 October 1954.

76 AŻIH 310/184AR, 201–300 K. M. Pospiechalski, letter to Eisenbach, 16 February 1957, n.p.

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Szaynok, Bożena (2012) Poland–Israel 1944–1968. In the Shadow of the Past, and of the Soviet Union. Warsaw: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej.

Tseytlin, Aaron (1951) ‘Di naye material fun varshever geto’ [The new materials from the Warsaw Ghetto], Morgen zhurnal [Morning Journal] (2 January).

‘The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw’ (1953) Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. 7, nos. 5–6, (September–December), 39. The Jewish Chronicle (1951) ‘The Warsaw Ghetto Archives. List of Traitors Found’, 26 January.

‘The Wiener Library Bulletin under Fire. Strictures in a Warsaw Learned Journal’ (1953), Wiener Library Bulletin, vol. 7, nos. 3–4 (May–August), 27.

Tretiakov, Piotr (1950a) ‘Etlekhe fragn vegn der opshtamung fun felker in likht fun di shafungen fun Y.V Stalin vegn shprakh un shprakhkentenish’ [Some questions on the origin of peoples in the light of the Y. V. Stalin’s works on language and linguistics], Bleter far geshikhte, vol. 3, nos. 3–4, 162–86.

— (1950b) ‘Y. V. Stalins arbetn vegn marksizm un shprakhkentenish un di oyfgabn fun di historiker fun altertum’ [Y. V. Stalin’s works on Marxism and linguistics and the tasks of historians of antiquity], Bleter far geshikhte, vol. 3, nos. 3–4, 187–97.

‘Undzere tsil’ (1949) ‘Undzere tsil’ [Our aims], Yedies: Byulletin fun yidisher historisher institut in poyln [Yedies: Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland] (November), 1.

Zakhariash, Shimon (1951) ‘Feliks Dzherzhinski – zeyn lebn un kamf (tsu zeyn 25-ter yortseyt)’ [Feliks Dzierzyński – his life and struggle (on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of death), Bleter far geshikhte, vol. 4, no. 2, 3–30.

— (1952) ‘Di KPP in shpits fun der farteydikung fun poylns umophengikeyt’, Bleter far geshikhte [The Communist Party of Poland in the vanguard defending Poland’s independence], vol. 5, no. 3, 3–31.


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Joachim Tauber

‘Purchasing and bringing food into the ghetto is forbidden’: Ways of Survival [...]

21 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • world war ii
  • Jews
  • Second World War
  • Lithuania
  • ghetto

‘Purchasing and bringing food into the ghetto is forbidden’: Ways of Survival as Revealed in the Files of the Ghetto Courts and Police in Lithuania , 1941–44


The article focuses on the importance of work in the supply of food into the ghettos of Lithuania. Files of the ghetto courts and police reports used in this paper shed light on the reality of ghetto life and illustrate how individuals dealt with the situation and tried to get additional food. It is obvious that micro-networks (family, neighbourhoods and co-workers) were an important means of support for the individual within the context of ghetto societies. Normality and everyday life therefore reflect the reality of a forced society whose social differentiation was primarily based on a single criterion: access to food.

The idea of a ghetto still connotes the idea of a zone hermetically sealed off from the outside world, where people are fully separated from their previous environment. It has been repeatedly pointed out in recent decades that a special form of everyday life and normality existed in this extreme situation (Dieckmann and Quinkert 2009, 9–29). Research has increasingly followed this approach in recent years, as several publications have been added to existing memoirs of everyday experience, which are devoted in the form of anthologies to daily life in the German Reich (Löw 2014) and Eastern Europe (Hansen 2013). Monographs have also been added: Andrea Löw describes the situation in the ghetto of Litzmannstadt (Löw 2006), while this author has dealt with everyday work in the ghettos of Lithuania (Tauber 2015). The following may prove the potential of addressing such everyday issues and once again show that the history of the ghettos in Eastern Europe still has certain gaps that need filling. The genesis of this particular form of normality is closely tied to work of the Jewish population provided for its German masters. In most ghettos such work was performed outside the ‘Jewish district’, so it was possible for many Jews to establish contact with non-Jewish people in the immediate vicinity. At the same time, Jewish councils, appointed by the Germans or selected by the Jews on Germans’ orders, formed an infrastructure to regulate and control labour and its internal management within ghettos.

This development also took place in the three major ghettos in Lithuania. Since extensive resource materials exist in Yiddish, Lithuanian and German, traditions can be described relatively well (except for the ghetto in Šiauliai). Deep insights into ghetto life can also be found in the diaries of Herman Kruk in relation to Vilnius (Kruk 2002) and Avraham Tory with regard to Kaunas (Tory 1990). In addition, early reports and accounts (Fun letztn Churbn 7 and 8; Gar 1948; Balberyszki 1967; Dworzecki 1948; Shalit 1949) have particular significance and contributions in a two-volume memoir (Sudarsky 1951) are also important. There are complete histories of the three ghettos in the encyclopedias of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem. They contain research on the ghettos in Lithuanian, Israeli and German (e.g. Bubnys 2014a and b; Kaunas 2014; Vilnius 2013; Porat 2009; Levin 2014; Dieckmann 2011; Tauber 2015). The histories of the Jewish councils by Isaiah Trunk (Trunk 1972) and the emergence of the ghettos by Dan Michman (Michman 2011) remain the seminal works on this subject.

After the mass murders of late 1941, survivors were put to work in the ghettos in Kaunas, Vilnius and Šiauliai where the interests of the German administration and armed forces, as well as those of the Jewish councils, were mutually dependant: the former were interested in labour of all kinds by those willing and capable, whereas the latter, in turn, saw work as a means of survival, guaranteeing the ghettos’ continuing existence. Moreover, Jewish labourers in Lithuania had to be paid by their ‘employers’, enabling Jewish councils to provide at least some form of rudimentary aid through taxes or direct salary deductions to those who were either too old or too ill to work.

Work also offered a way for those in forced labour to improve their own wretched living conditions. Naturally everyone was interested in obtaining more food or goods for their families or themselves through official allocations in order to relieve their misery. Inevitably activities clashed with the regulations of the occupying forces; sometimes they involved fraudulent behaviour or sparked conflicts with Lithuanians or other ghetto residents. Such incidents are evident in the criminal investigations of the ghetto police or in the files of internal ghetto courts that meticulously documented their inquiries and judgements in German, Lithuanian and Yiddish. These materials, which are now housed in the Lithuanian Central State Archive, shed light on the reality of ghetto life and illustrate how individuals sought to cope with the situation. Here I present some of these files, supplemented with memoirs and documents, and place them in a broader context.

All ghetto inhabitants were, as I stated, keen to work because the evidence of activity increased an individual’s food-ration entitlement, e.g. in Kaunas the ration was doubled (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 35, p. 236). Especially desirable were positions in work brigades that allowed you to leave the ghetto because you could then transact with locals. However, it did not always go as planned. In the spring of 1943, the head of the investigation section of the ghetto police, Giršas Volpertas, wrote a report on a related incident involving fraud. Baruchas Kovenskis, a member of a work brigade in Kaunas, reserved 5 kilograms of butter with a Lithuanian woman and wanted to pay and take it the next day. When he appeared on 1 May she stated that his colleague, who she believed had come on his behalf, had already picked up the butter. Since the woman did not want to issue the goods, Kovenskis’s supposed colleague finally left her RM 325 and disappeared with the butter (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 145, p. 35). The Lithuanian woman believed the claim of the man because he personally knew Kovenskis and his statement that Kovenskis could not come because he had to work that day at Aleksotas airport was a commonplace occurrence in the assignment of brigades. Often, people from city brigades were indeed divided up at short notice for hard work at Aleksotas outside the city (Tauber 2015, 190–95). On the basis of a testimony by Ilija Kaganas, a member of Kovenskis’s work brigade, it turned out that the fraudulent buyer was Arkadijus Buršteinas, who Volpertas summoned for interrogation (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 145, p. 35).

Buršteinas, who was questioned on 4 May, did not deny the incident, but believed to be in the right as he had already negotiated with the Lithuanian woman in front of Kovenskis, but failed to agree on a price: he offered RM 62 per kilogram, whereas she demanded RM 65. Having failed to force down the price, he left. Kovenskis witnessed this and ultimately paid the woman her desired price, but only because he wanted to snub Buršteinas. Enraged, Buršteinas had then taken a portion of the butter, but stated that he could not recall whether he had claimed to have come on Kovenskis’s behalf. However, he was only able to sell 2 kilograms in the ghetto and make a profit of RM 40, which he donated to a good cause.

The investigator recorded his findings and conclusions. Kovenskis had bought a total of 15 kilograms of butter in Kaunas, but only took 10 kilograms and wanted to pick-up the remaining 5 kilograms the following day (despite bribable German, Lithuanian and Jewish ghetto guards, the smuggling of food into the ghetto was officially forbidden and entailed considerable risks, as discussed below). Even if Buršteinas had to pay the purchase price owed to the suspicious Lithuanian, it was nevertheless assumed that he had wanted to acquire the goods fraudulently. This assumption is also supported by the fact that it was very difficult to find food in the city in the week of the incident between Easter and 1 May. The fraudster also made a profit. The investigators reached the conclusion that what mattered to Buršteinas was his own enrichment rather than settling a personal score with Kovenskis (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 145, p. 35 f.).

These events provide initial insights into ghetto reality. The quantities reveal that the above incident not only concerned the purchase of food for the buyer’s own use, but that the butter was bought with the intention to resell it in the ghetto (Gar 1948, 119 f.). The fact that the Lithuanian seller was not prepared to budge from her price showed there was a demand. Finally, it seems that Kovenskis was able to smuggle 10 kilograms into the ghetto in a single day, even though returning work gangs were searched at the ghetto gate. The way Buršteinas’s fraud was recorded shows that such events were by no means an exception, but reflected an everyday aspect of food procurement and survival strategy. The fact that trade between Jewish workers and the Aryan populace was a mass phenomenon is evidenced by urgent instructions of the German civil administration passed through the Kaunas ghetto police to work gang leaders in July 1943, that is for ‘workers not to leave their work places and engage in trade und hoarding’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 19, p. 126). The regularity of purchasing additional food is also clear in memoirs written after 1944:

Early in the morning, after the night shift, they ordered us to walk back to the ghetto [...] farmer wives sold their own grown vegetables there [at the former Jewish fish market outside the ghetto]. Whenever the opportunity arose, we stole away from the column, disappearing quickly between the stalls and grabbing a cabbage or other vegetables in exchange for some money before rushing back into the procession’ (Faitelson and Widerstand, 53).

M. Chevasztein in Vilnius had similar experiences:

I used the lunch break or other free moments to make purchases. For this purpose, we ran into the next Polish huts. We bought bread, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. at a fairly high price [...] After work, we returned home with these purchases. We gradually got to know the guards and they allowed us to buy something (EK 3 Legal Proceedings, vol. 4, p. 1571, German translation of the book Geopfertes Volk – der Untergang des polnischen Judentums [Sacrificed people – the demise of Polish jewry] by M. Chevasztein).

Jozif Gar, who already reported on the events in Kaunas in the 1940s, emphasized that work outside the ghetto was the best and safest of all possible ways of procuring cheap ‘food’ (Gar 1948, 103, 118). In the summer, there was another option, as work in the countryside gave opportunities to forage for food and procure fresh vegetables and fruit (Gar 1948, 118). In this respect, the call for reflection at harvest time published in late September 1942 in an editorial of the Vilnius ghetto newspaper In diesem Moment has a special double meaning: ‘We should not stop lifting our eyes to the sky’ (Feldshtein 1997, 137).

While such procurement practices were commonplace, they could quickly lead to trouble. Even when Salomon Baron had permission to make purchases from the Local Commissioner of Kaunas, something soon went wrong:

On my arrest on 12 December the [...] Kaunas police took my money – approximately Rbl. 1,200 – as well as a brown leather wallet, pocket knife and a pocket watch. On my release from prison on 20 December, these things should have been returned to me, but the officer was not there at the time and I could not have them.

Baron was not the only one affected, which he made clear in his request to the chief of the ghetto police: ‘the money is from aircraft wage [meaning: work at the airfield in Aleksotas] for my family. I kindly ask you to fulfil my request because we have been left without money’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 1, b. 9, p. 24, front and back page). Such family networks were an important structural feature of the ghettos, as only cooperation and loyalty within a narrow (family) circle gave people the strength to cope with life in the ghetto. Tight communities were also formed through forced cohabitation with others in crowded houses or working closely in a brigade.

At times, people received small rewards or gifts from supervisory personnel within the ghetto, as did Ida Kaganaitė, who nevertheless had the misfortune of being found with two loaves of bread and a lemon during a check at the ghetto gate by her German masters. Meticulous findings of the ghetto police eventually led to the following conclusion:

I established that she is engaged in clean-up work at the airfield. Above all, this is laundry work for workers or general construction foremen [...] it has repeatedly come to the fore that also soldiers [...] brought her laundry for washing [sic.] and that she received bread or small packets of baking soda – lemons – as a reward’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2. b. 19, p. 124).

Thus, the Jewess was spared the punishment imposed on other apprehended smugglers, which was usually work on Sunday (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 19, p. 129). Also, the 47-year-old Pesė Perkienė fell into the hands of the ghetto police under German security police’s orders because she had brought food several times at a shop in Kaunas and was denounced. Not only were Jews forbidden to visit a ‘normal’ food store, but it seems that Perkienė was not wearing the Star of David. In another case, a Jewess was punished by being held under arrest for four days or fined RM 20 for merely ‘walking without a Star of David’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 3, b. 52, p. 340). When questioned on 12 May 1942, Perkienė claimed not to have taken off the Jewish star or to have paid anything for the food. Rather, she repeatedly referred to her former Lithuanian neighbour, Dainauskienė: ‘She sold me no [food], but out of pity gave my children some potatoes, cereals, bread and cabbage. I have no money to buy food and was therefore forced to beg from my previous neighbours’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, fol. 90). A Jewish woman under arrest summed up the reality of food procurement in a single sentence: ‘I only know that my children are starving and that I had to get some food for them’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, p. 90, back page). The woman questioned by the ghetto police had four children, the youngest an eight-year-old boy, a fourteen year old, and two over the age of sixteen who were obliged to work.

The treatment of people from the ghettos varied, as the examples of Ida Kaganaitė and Pesė Perkienė show, depending on their place of work and how they were supervised. Access to food and trade with the local populace were directly linked. Bolt, an engineer at the construction company Grün und Bilfinger in Kaunas, made a name for himself as a Jew hater: ‘There was very heavy work and people could exchange things only under extremely difficult conditions, as Bolt always watched and then took food away from the people or notified the Sicherheitsdienst (SD; Security Service) or City Commissioner’ (EK 3 Legal proceedings, vol. 3, 817). In turn, Oskar Schönbrunner, a paymaster at Field Headquarters 814 in Vilnius, was honoured as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1977, as two survivors testified after the war: ‘Schönbrunner helped the Jews working for him by providing benefits that were punishable by the SD; these included support through food, wood and other items of daily use. Schönbrunner also improved the living conditions of the Jews by building additional factory kitchens’ (EK 3 Legal proceedings, vol. 4, p. 1455). Another way of food procurement associated with work in cities was particularly dangerous. As the people’s misery was immense, there were those such as Jona-Dovydas Rubinas, who was caught stealing at the army-catering store on 30 December 1942. The upper paymaster of the army-catering store in Kaunas reported the theft to the SD (Security Service) and the ghetto police and requested that the thief be punished (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 19, p. 243). In his interrogation, Rubinas outlined the reasons for what he did:

I have worked at the army-catering store for about two weeks. I previously worked at the airfield. During my entire time at work I have never done anything wrong. I have performed heavy work the whole time and had to support myself with my primary and supplementary rations. Today, I worked at my job as usual [...] loading food. Given the poor nutrition of my family, I succumbed to the temptation to take two tin cans from the load. I did not know what was in them. I just knew that there was food’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 19, fol. 244).

Nothing more is known about the punishment of Rubinas, but in similar cases beatings, additional work and the temporary withdrawal of reference cards were imposed (Tauber 2015, 294–313).

Finally, the attempt to provide food could also prove fatal as in the case of Nachmanas Srokas (aged twenty-six) and Joselis Fridas (aged forty-five), who were shot at Aleksotas airport by German guards on 23 May 1942. They ostensibly sought to leave the area in order to buy food (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 33, p. 15, back page). It was also life threatening to smuggle food through the ghetto fence, and not through the ghetto guard post. On 28 February 1942, the Jewish ghetto police reported in its daily report to the chairman of the Jewish Council: ‘I report to you that yesterday, on 27 February at 20:00, citizen Balkindas Jankelis was shot at the intersection of Stulginskis and Linkuva Streets outside the ghetto limits, as facts show, while pulling a small sledge with food.’ The Lithuanian guard justified his action by stating that the deceased fled after his call and also that he did not respond to several warning shots (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 33, fol. 300, p. 305).

However, a contact zone at the ghetto fence was soon created. The situation in Vilnius was especially pragmatic because here the ghetto was in the middle of the city:

an agreement was reached with non-Jewish neighbours whose windows faced the ghetto and trade began. Initially, this trade was very simple: a noose was lowered from a window and ghetto inhabitants tied money, valuables or clothes to it. The neighbours took it on themselves and lowered goods [meaning: food] on the same rope into the ghetto [...] Later the trade was done on a larger scale. Dozens of loads were smuggled night after night with all kinds of goods through the attics of 21 Dajtsche Street [...] through the Maline [underground hideout] on 3 Straschun Road (Sutzkever 2009, 97).

Also, in Kaunas, a kind of professional trusteeship evolved: anyone who wanted could give goods to middlemen, who then sought to sell them to the Lithuanian population at the fence. Berelis Migancas was one of the negotiators. He was sentenced in the autumn of 1941. The 21-year-old was withdrawn from work at Aleksotas airport as well as in a city brigade because he drifted elsewhere: ‘when questioned in court he admitted that he used free time when he was neither at the airfield nor in the city to trade items for food for other people at the fence and for profit’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 51, p. 65). This example shows that individual trade was punished within the ghetto when it conflicted with the ghetto community’s group obligation to work. The German masters punished such offences less than the ghetto authorities. In the case of Migancas, the ghetto court gave a harsher punishment, since the young man lived alone and did not have to provide for a family.

Such trade was also brisk in Vilnius, hence, the officer for Jewish affairs of the Lithuanian city administration proposed resuming strip corridor patrols along the ghetto to the German occupiers at the regional station in December 1941: ‘it has also been noticed that the Jews even use twilight [sic.] for the receipt and delivery of different goods from unauthorized persons through the insulation [meaning: the fenced-off ghetto border]’ (LCVA R-643, ap. 3, b. 194, p. 167). Shalom Eilati, born in 1933, watched in Kaunas as his mother traded with a Lithuanian woman:

across from us [...] stood a Lithuanian woman, seemingly without purpose. My mother would wave her hand or flap a woollen skirt or a colourful towel up and down to arouse her interest [...] The gentile woman would [...] begin waving her own items of trade – eggs, butter and meat. Then the vocal transaction would begin. They haggled over the terms of exchange. When they agreed, both would look hastily left and right, spring simultaneously to the fence, trade the goods in their hands in an instant and retreat to their starting corners. Sometimes the lengthy bargaining would end without a result (Eilati, River 32 f.).

Such form of ‘intermediary trade’ between the ghetto and the ‘Aryan’ environment was no exception. During the first months of the ghetto, a certain kind of ‘working from home’ also developed in Kaunas. Its success depended on goods being transported backwards and forwards between their ‘manufacturer’ and non-Jewish customers. It was based on demand for most basic commodities, such as headscarves, aprons and hats that the Lithuanian population lacked. Bed sheets or white linen, which had often been dyed to make them more attractive, were sought after. Repairs and alterations were also common (Tauber 2015, 251 f.; Gar 1948, p. 121). Another possibility was the skilled craft works of German and Lithuanian masters, which led to a warning sign being posted in the ghetto on 13 May 1943:

Lately, Jewish workers have taken various items from their work posts such as shoes, watches and other items for repair in the ghetto [...] Jewish workers are forbidden to take any items from their work posts into the ghetto for repair. If such repairs are proposed, Jewish workers are to be politely told that the acceptance of such work is strictly prohibited (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 1, fol. 22).

The early involvement of young people in the work process had special strategic importance. The Jewish Council in Kaunas reported in its ‘overview of the activities of the council of elders’ in June 1942: ‘a new development in work is the presence of more than 200 young workers gardening outside the ghetto [...] This young group has proven itself and does a good job’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 40, p. 73). It was crucial that also one half of these children received additional food as workers. Since work offered the possibility to trade and to better food, there were also volunteers such as the fourteen-year-old son of the aforementioned Pesė Perkienė, who was hired at the dreaded Aleksotas airfield.

No one was immune to terrible consequences, even those who supposedly had easier access to food. This was the case of the Jewish cart-driver Jankelevitz, who on 1 May 1942 was reported missing by his wife after being arrested fourteen days earlier in the courtyard of the Lithuanian meat cooperative Maistas. The 36-year-old, as told by a ghetto resident who accompanied her husband, reported that the stolen meat was discovered during a cart search and that her husband was then arrested. In reality, the other riders wanted to exchange the meat for a dress and that her husband had nothing to do with the entire affair. However, interrogations of the Jews involved in the ride to Maistas painted a rather different picture. The meat was bought from an unknown Lithuanian, who was also at the court with his team. Three kilograms were traded, as there was not enough money for more. The deal went smoothly until Jankelevitz was denounced and accused of theft by a Lithuanian employee at Maistas (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, fol. 39 f.).

Jankelevitz and his colleagues were in a privileged position because they were officially allowed to leave the ghetto regularly and move about to provide social welfare for the ghetto, with the permission of the German ghetto guards. It was certainly part of their regular activity to procure additional food by visiting Maistas, especially to meet Lithuanian farmers, who were not averse to trade, in the courtyard. Also interesting in this context was the task of the Jewish drivers. They brought feathers to Maistas (there was a feather-sorting section at the ghetto) and exchanged them for bones, which were then brought into the ghetto to make soup for the needy (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, fol. 41). All ghettos in Lithuania had soup kitchens and other social institutions – albeit makeshift – to provide warm soup or essential material resources (e.g. firewood in winter; Tauber 2015, 285–6).

Cooperative relationships existed beyond the already-noted micro-networks found within a family environment, as with the soup kitchens, but they were mostly limited to those belonging to the same status group or class. The work brigades entrusted one person to execute large orders on behalf of them all. The advantage of this large-scale food procurement was usually a lower unit price, less risk of discovery and being able to rely on the middleman’s good contacts. But disagreements could also arise, as recorded in documents of the ghetto police. The 37-year-old worker Dovydas Tamše, who offered to buy sugar for members of his brigade, was considered suspect in the autumn of 1942. An investigation revealed that Tamše was likely to have embezzled money because Tamše’s claim that his Lithuanian partners hit him on the ear was hardly credible. The initiation of proceedings by ghetto authorities took place under the force of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Lithuania with the telling note that such offences must be especially prosecuted under ‘current ghetto conditions’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 145, p. 92 f.).

The benefits of work for individuals outside the ghetto meant that it was hard to be a permanent member in a city brigade. It was the brigadier who decided on who worked in the group, and thereby had access to obtaining food; he was the ‘spokesman’ and foreman of the group, who was the primary contact for Germans and Lithuanians at a workplace as well as for the internal ghetto organization. Isak Rozalsky, a merchant in Kaunas before the war, noted that the brigadier of a well-established brigade for constructing garages in Kaunas often selected even more workers for his group at the ghetto gate (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, fols 77 ff.):

In September 1941, I noticed Tomašauskas at the ghetto gate [...] who came from town. At my request, he temporarily hired me as a worker at the garage building in Kauen [...] Since I always wanted to work in this brigade, I offered Tomašauskas my brand new suit that I estimated to be worth RBL 1,500 for a price of RBL 600. Tomašauskas agreed, took my suit and gave me two RBL 200 notes. He has not paid me the rest to the present day.

Testimony gathered by investigating bodies in the ghetto repeatedly showed that Tomašauskas did not only cheat Rozalsky, he initiated a change of workers in order to receive payment to work in the brigade (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 69, fols 80 ff.). Such behaviour was far from the rule. On the contrary, many brigadiers were willing to accommodate their workers and also to cover for them. The incensed Kaunas ghetto police summed it up: ‘Inspections revealed that persons listed as not working on given days showed a note from the column head or a work card as evidence that they did indeed work on such days. Such evidence cannot reflect reality’ (LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 52, p. 141). Evidence of work was vital for every ghetto resident: better accommodation and remuneration depended on entries in work documents and the employer payroll (Tauber 2015, 226–48).

The above networks for transporting food to the ghetto were of great importance. Passing the ghetto gate was always a gamble: smuggled goods could be confiscated here. The situation was particularly problematic if Germans inspected the Jewish ghetto guards. This always had direct impact on the precarious economics of the ghetto. In good times, the price difference between ghetto and city goods was relatively small so that many people gave up smuggling and bought directly in the ghetto (Gar 1948, 118 f.). However, goods from outside the ghetto usually came via the ghetto gate. Officially, representatives of the Jewish labour office aided by the ghetto police were responsible for the collection and control of departing work columns. Jews, as already mentioned, were not allowed to return to the ghetto with any food or other items (Gar 1948, 340). As a result Jewish gate guards played an essential role and could keep some of the goods back for themselves. This limited smuggling opportunities for individuals: they could only hide food on their body and in their clothing (body-binding, so-called compresses, or hiding items in their shoes were popular in their attempt to bypass a superficial search). Dishes that were allowed to into the ghetto for on-site feeding could have a double bottom in which a piece of bacon, butter or margarine could be concealed (Gar 1948, 103). The great number of returnees each day (several thousand in Vilnius and Kaunas) made it impossible to search every individual (Gar 1948, 103, 340 f.). The Jewish councils were well aware of the occasional questionable behaviour of Jewish gate guards. In April 1942, Fried, the chairman of the Jewish council in Vilnius, filed a fiery complaint against the ghetto police chief, Gens: ‘Incidents occur during ghetto entry involving gate guards and those entering. Frequently, they are not caused by formal matters, but by careless dealings and improper edginess of gate guards’ (Balberyszki 1967, 430). However, smuggling opportunities made city work particularly appealing. Such work, as Jozif Gar states, ‘made the ghetto Jews privileged and secure [...] allowed them to eat better and to always have a few spare Marks [in the sense of freely available]’ (Gar 1948, 104).

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that professional smugglers soon organized themselves in the ghetto, offering their services for a commission. A black market thus developed, which now operated on a grand scale in which all ghetto institutions, including the Jewish council (for the soup kitchens), as well as German and Lithuanian guards participated (Tauber 2015, 257 f.). Hermann Kruk, the chronicler of the ghetto in Vilnius, summarized it succinctly: ‘So, the smuggler has the possibility of smuggling and the ghetto has the possibility of getting bread’ (Kruk 2002, 287).

A certain grey area appeared in the context of ghetto societies, which was a constant cause of great distress and danger to individuals. The acquisition of food outside the ghetto was so important as a strategy of survival that it always entailed many uncertainties: this could be a denunciation or the intervention of a zealous Lithuanian police officer, German engineer or employee of a meat cooperative. Or, it could be a close inspection at the ghetto gate, in particular, by German ‘authorities’ or it could involve fraud or theft inside or outside the ghetto. Normality and everyday life, therefore reflected the reality of a forced society whose social differentiation was primarily based on a single criterion: access to food.

Translated from German into English by Edward Assarabowski



Joachim Tauber

Joachim Tauber obtained his PhD from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in 1989. He has served as the director of the Nordost-Institute Lüneburg (IKGN) at the University of Hamburg since 2010. He read modern history at the University of Hamburg, where he was appointed as a private lecturer upon completion of his postdoctoral qualification with a monograph about the Jewish working force in Lithuania 1941–44. His research interests include the history of German–Lithuanian relations, the German occupation of Eastern Europe in the First and Second World Wars and the Holocaust in the Baltic States. He has published many articles, and his most recent book is: Arbeit als Hoffnung. Jüdische Ghettos in Litauen 1941–1944 [Work as hope. Jewish ghettos in Lithuania 1941–1944] (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2015).



List of References


Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden. Dept. 461.32438, EK 3 (Legal proceedings).

LCVA R-626, ap. 1, b. 4, p.12 (Quote in the title of this article)

LCVA R-643, ap. 3, b. 194 (City administration of Vilnius, correspondence with Jewish councillors).

LCVA R-973, ap. 1, b. 9 (Correspondence of the Kaunas ghetto police).

LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 35 (Weekly reports of the Jewish ghetto police in Kaunas).

LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 19 (Enforcement orders of the Jewish ghetto police – Central Office, Kaunas).

LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 33 (Weekly reports of the Kaunas ghetto police).

LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 52 (Correspondence of Kaunas ghetto work brigades).

LCVA R-973, ap. 3, b. 52 (Work area of the Kaunas ghetto).

LCVA R-973, ap. 2, b. 145 (Interrogation logs of the head of the investigative section, ghetto police of Kaunas, May 1942–July 1943).


Balberyszki, Mendel (1967) Shtarker fun eisn [Stronger than iron]. Tel Aviv: Hamenora (Yiddish).

Bubnys, Arūnas (2014a) The Kaunas Ghetto. Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2014.

Bubnys, Arūnas (2014b) The Šiauliai Ghetto. Vilnius: Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania, 2014.

Dieckmann, Christoph and Babette Quinkert, eds (2009) Im Ghetto 1939–1945. Neue Forschungen zu Alltag und Umfeld [In the Ghetto 1939–1945. New research on everyday life and the environment]. Göttingen: Wallstein.

Dworzecki, Mark Meir (1948) Yerusholayim D’Lita in Kamf und Umkum [Jerusalem of Lithuania in fight and extinction], Paris: Union Populaire.

Eilati, Shalom (2008) Crossing the River. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.

Faitelson, Alex (1998) Im jüdischen Widerstand [In the Jewish resistance]. Baden-Baden: Elster.

Imke Hansen, Katrin Steffen and Joachim Tauber (2013) Lebenswelt Ghetto. Alltag und soziales Umfeld während der nationalsozialistischen Verfolgung [The Ghetto world, daily life and the social environment during Nazi persecution]. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.

Levin, Dov and Zive A Brown (2014) The Story of an Underground. Jerusalem and New York, NY: Gefen Publishing House. Low, Andrea, Doris L. Bergen and Anna Hajkova (2014) Alltag im Holocaust. Leben im Großdeutschen Reich 1941–1944 [Daily life during the Holocaust. Life in the German Reich 1941–1945]. Munich: De Gruyter/Oldenbourg. Low, Andrea (2006) Juden im Ghetto Litzmannstadt. Lebensbedingungen, Selbstwahrnehmung, Verhalten [Jews in the Łódź ghetto. Living conditions, introspection and behaviour]. Göttingen: Wallstein. Feldshtein, Tzemach (1997) ‘At this Moment. Dr. Tzemach Feldshtein’s Editorials in the Vilna Ghetto, 1942–1943’, Yivo-Bleter, New Series, vol. III, 114–205 (Yiddish). Gar, Yozif (1948) Umkum fun der jidische Kovne [Untergang des jüdischen Kaunas] [The demise of Jewish Kaunas]. Munich: Rubinstein (Yiddish). Kruk, Herman (2002) The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps 1939–1944, ed. and intro. Benjamin Harshav. New Haven and London: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Sutzkever, Abraham (2009) Wilner Getto 1941–1944 [The Vilnius ghetto 1941–1944]. Zurich: Ammann. Tauber, Joachim (2015) Arbeit als Hoffnung. Jüdische Ghettos in Litauen 1941–1944 [Work as hope. Jewish ghettos in Lithuania 1944–1944]. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.


This article has been published in the fifth issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the memory of Holocaust/Shoah.

>> Click here to see the R&S Studies site


Matthias Weber

Zum Thema der Tagung „Erinnerungsorte in Ostmitteleuropa – Erfahrungen der Vergangenheit und Perspektiven“

21 August 2018
  • Bukovina
  • Erinnerungsort
  • Gedächtnis
  • Ostmitteleuropa
  • Erinnerungskultur
  • Czernowitz
  • Tagung

Die Bukowina war seit 1849 eines der so genannten „Kronländer“ der multinationalen Habsburger Monarchie. Traditionelle Hauptstadt der Bukowina war ein in der zweiten Hälfte des 12. Jahrhunderts gegründeter, moldauisch-rumänischer Ort; ein Ort, der auf Deutsch den Namen Czernowitz – auch in der Schreibung Tschernowitz – trägt, auf Ukrainisch Tscherniwzi heißt, auf Russisch Tschernowzy, auf Rumänisch Cernăuţi und auf Polnisch Czerniowce. Heute ist die Stadt das Zentrum der ukrainischen Oblast Tscherniwzi.

Czernowitz steht für vielfältige Erinnerungen: Für die einen ist es das östlichste Zentrum österreichisch-deutscher Kultur, „eine bunte Stadt, in der sich das germanische mit dem slawischen, lateinischen und jüdischen Kulturgut durchdrang“, wie Rose Ausländer schrieb, für die anderen ist es die Stadt der „Todesfuge“ Paul Celans. Für wieder andere ist Czernowitz das durch Umsiedlung aufgegebene Zentrum der Bukowinadeutschen beziehungsweise ein – verlorenes – Zentrum rumänischen Geisteslebens. Für die meisten heutigen Bewohner ist Tscherniwzi eine nach den bleiernen Jahren der sowjetischen Herrschaft wieder auflebende Metropole der Ukraine.

Für sehr viele ist Czernowitz auch ein Ort der Erinnerung an das Zusammenleben von Ukrainern, Rumänen, Deutschen, Polen und Juden. Sie erinnern sich an die Zeiten der wechselseitigen Toleranz verschiedener Religionen und Kulturen im europäischen Geist, in dem man – wie Georg Drozdowski es formuliert hat – gut lebte „in jenen Tagen, in denen noch kein Satan die Unduldsamkeit eingeimpft hatte und keiner um seiner Sprache oder Rasse willen minderwertig war“; sie erinnern sich an einen Ort also, an den man sich zurücksehnt, noch mehr, den man herbeiwünscht. Insofern kann die Erinnerung an den Schauplatz Czernowitz emblematisch für das Thema der internationalen Fachtagung „Erinnerungsorte in Ostmitteleuropa - Erfahrungen der Vergangenheit und Perspektiven“ stehen, die vom 11. bis 13. Januar 2008 im Warschauer Königsschloss stattfand.

Die Staaten Europas haben durch ihren Zusammenschluss in der Europäischen Union in vielen grundsätzlichen Fragen bereits Konsens erreicht, auch wenn zahlreiche Einzelheiten des künftigen Zusammenwirkens noch offen sind. Mit der politischen Einheit des Kontinents sind die Chancen gewachsen, dass die Menschen im östlichen und westlichen Teil Europas nicht nur voneinander erfahren, sondern sich selbst ein Urteil bilden und auf diese Weise näher zusammenrücken. Sie stellen nun nicht nur die Frage, wie die Zukunft gemeinsam gestaltet werden kann, sondern blicken auch zurück und fragen, welche Phasen der Vergangenheit ein gemeinsames Erinnern nötig machen. Erinnerung ist stets subjektiv, betrifft einzelne Menschen oder Gruppen, die ein Ereignis unmittelbar erlebt haben – etwa die Grausamkeit des Krieges oder die gewaltsame Auflösung gewachsener Strukturen und Identitäten bis hin zum Holocaust. Die Diskurse in und zwischen den Gesellschaften zeigen, dass es in Europa ein wachsendes Interesse für eine bestimmte Erinnerungskultur gibt, die Vergleiche zieht, Analogien entdeckt und insofern über Ländergrenzen hinweg zu verbinden vermag.

Es stellt sich heute die Frage, in welchen Bahnen eine bi- bzw. multilaterale gemeinsame Erinnerung in Europa verlaufen könnte. Wie kann aber insbesondere vor dem Hintergrund der Erfahrungen des 20. Jahrhunderts, vor den singulären, von Deutschen ganz besonders im östlichen Europa und in Polen begangenen Verbrechen des Nationalsozialismus eine gemeinsame Sprache gefunden werden, in welcher sich zum Beispiel Nachbarn gegenseitig ihre Geschichten erzählen und Erfahrungen austauschen? Wo liegen die gemeinsamen Erinnerungsorte? Gibt es sie überhaupt?

In Ostmitteleuropa gibt es zahlreiche Orte, die – ähnlich wie die Bukowina mit der Hauptstadt Czernowitz – von einer Vielfalt der Beziehungen von Ethnien und Konfessionen geprägt sind. Verschränkungen und Mehrfachkodierungen ein- und desselben Erinnerungsortes sind für Ostmitteleuropa charakteristisch. Beispielsweise verbinden Polen, Ukrainer, Juden, Slowaken, Deutsche, und Ruthenen mit Städten wie Pressburg/Bratislava/Pozsony oder Lemberg/Lwów/L’viv ganz unterschiedliche Assoziationen und Erinnerungen. Viele Regionen haben im Lauf der Jahrhunderte infolge eines Herrschaftswechsels, (Zwangs-)Migrationen der Bevölkerungen und konfessionellen Wandels eine doppelte oder gar mehrfache historische und politisch-kulturelle Identität erhalten. Auch historische Ereignisse und Umbrüche sowie die entsprechenden Jahreszahlen haben in jedem Land Mittel- und Ostmitteleuropas andere Bedeutungen und Inhalte und werden in unterschiedlichen Kontexten diskutiert. Die geschichtlichen Beziehungen ethnischer Gruppen manifestieren sich im kollektiven Gedächtnis der Nationen  unter anderem in Form unterschiedlicher Erinnerungen an mitunter ein und dieselben Erinnerungsorte.

Der Begriff „Erinnerungsort“, wie er hier verwendet wird, umschließt die Erinnerung an den konkreten, topographisch benannten Ort, also an eine bestimmte Stadt, eine Region, einen Fluss oder an einen anderweitig geographisch festgelegten Ort. Auch eine Gedenkstätte, ein Konzentrationslager, eine Grablege oder ein Denkmal sind Orte, die in besonderer Weise in der Erinnerung verankert sein können. Der Terminus „Erinnerungsort“ wird aber in einer noch weiter ausgreifenden, übertragenen Dimension als eine Metapher verwendet. Der französische Historiker Pierre Nora hat dafür den Begriff lieu de mémoire geprägt und meint damit, dass auch historische Ereignisse, Persönlichkeiten, Institutionen, Bücher, Kunstwerke und andere kulturelle Artefakte, geschichtliche Daten oder Begriffe – im übertragenen Sinn – Orte der Erinnerung sind. Gerade solche Erinnerungsorte im übertragenen Sinn sind oft „langlebige, Generationen überdauernde Kristallisationspunkte kollektiver Erinnerung und Identität“, wie es Étienne François und Hagen Schulze in dem von ihnen herausgegebenen Werk „Deutsche Erinnerungsorte“ beschreiben. Als Beispiele mögen die „Schlacht bei Tannenberg/Grunwald“, „Nikolaus Kopernikus“ oder die in der vorliegenden Dokumentation behandelten Erinnerungsorte „Katyń“ oder das „Jahr 1945“ gelten.

Indem die Tagung gerade auch solche gemeinsamen, metaphorischen „Erinnerungsorte“ in den Mittelpunkt stellt, stehen weniger konkrete historische Ereignisse oder ein bestimmter Sachverhalt im Zentrum des Interesses. Es geht gerade nicht darum, den Verlauf der Geschichte neu zu erforschen, zu rekonstruieren und sich womöglich auf ein objektives Ergebnis zu einigen. Im Mittelpunkt des Interesses stehen vielmehr die Erinnerung als Phänomen, das der permanenten Konstruktion unterliegt, mithin das Fortleben und die Veränderung individueller Erinnerung und des kollektiven Gedächtnisses an historische Ereignisse und Sachverhalte sowie der Diskurs darüber, warum Erinnerungen unter den europäischen Nationen so unterschiedliche Ausprägungen erhalten haben. Gerade das 20. Jahrhundert hat im Gefolge von totalitären Systemen, zwei Weltkriegen, durch Zwangsmigrationen und durch neue Grenzziehungen dazu geführt, dass viele Erinnerungsorte heute einen anderen Sinn erhalten und eine andere Bedeutungen gewonnen haben. Manche Orte sind fast nur noch in der Erinnerung, in „musealisierter Form“ vorhanden. Die Erinnerungslandschaft in Ostmitteleuropa kann man sich als ein Mosaik von Erinnerungsinseln vorstellen, die im Zeitalter des Nationalismus miteinander in Konkurrenz gerieten

Durch die Diskussion über gemeinsame Erinnerungsorte soll eine Erweiterung der Wahrnehmung und der Aneignung angeregt werden, indem die Chancen transnationaler Erinnerungsorte konstruktiv aufgegriffen und weiterentwickelt werden. Denn geteilte Erinnerungsorte müssen nicht zwangsläufig antagonistisch sein, sondern können zur Überwindung der ihnen innewohnenden Gegensätze beitragen. 

Man muss sich davor hüten, aus falsch verstandener political correctness (neue) Stereotype zu produzieren. Demokratische Gesellschaften entwickeln ihre Bilder von der Vergangenheit unter anderem im Für und Wider gesellschaftlicher Diskurse; es besteht daher auch kein Bedürfnis, ein einheitliches, normiertes Geschichtsbild zu erfinden. Es geht im heutigen Europa, das endlich im Begriff ist, auch mental die unnatürliche Trennlinie des „Eisernen Vorhangs“ zu verarbeiten, vielmehr darum, unterschiedliche Geschichtsbilder und Erinnerungen zu vergleichen und somit für die Erinnerungen der jeweiligen Nachbargesellschaften wechselseitig Verständnis und Empathie zu wecken.

Der Umgang mit der gemeinsamen Vergangenheit ist seit etwa eineinhalb Jahrzehnten auch in der wissenschaftlichen Forschung stärker in den Mittelpunkt gerückt. Dabei wird ein Akzent auf die Betrachtung von Erinnerungsorten gerichtet – zuerst geschah dies im nationalen Rahmen, seit einiger Zeit richtet sich das Interesse auf übernationale, europäische Erinnerungsorte. In diesem Zusammenhang ist auch diese Dokumentation von Erinnerungsorten in Ostmitteleuropa zu sehen. Sie behandelt zwei wesentliche Aspekte, die sich in den folgenden beiden Fragen zusammenfassen lassen: In welchem Verhältnis steht die Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, wie sie heute von der wissenschaftlichen Forschung beschrieben wird, zur Erinnerung der nationalen Gemeinschaften an eben diese Geschichte und wie lassen sich die unterschiedlichen Erinnerungen der Menschen und Nationen zusammenführen und untereinander verbinden?

Im Folgenden werden materielle Erinnerungsorte und Erinnerungsorte im übertragenen Sinn thematisiert. Die Gliederung in: 1. Städte als transnationale Erinnerungsorte,  2. Orte der Erinnerung an totalitäre Systeme und 3. Historische Umbrüche im geteilten Gedächtnis –1944/45, 1956, 1968, 1980/81, 1989 orientiert sich an den Sektionen der Tagung.

Durch die Auseinandersetzung mit dieser Thematik können die verschiedenen Bedeutungen materieller und immaterieller Erinnerungsorte in Ostmitteleuropa herausgearbeitet und Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede verdeutlicht werden, um das Verständnis für die Erinnerungskultur des Anderen auszuprägen. Die Nation als klassische Erinnerungsgemeinschaft kann problematisiert und die wechselseitige Aneignung von transnationalen Erinnerungsorten befördert werden. Durch eine multiethnische Perspektive sollen Abgrenzungen und Verschränkungen sichtbar gemacht und ein Beitrag zu einer dialogischen Erinnerungskultur in Europa geleistet werden.

Prof. Matthias Weber (geb. 1961) - Historiker, Germanist. Seit 1999 ausserordentlicher Professor an der Universität Oldenburg. Seit Mai 2004 ist er Direktor im Bundesinstitut für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa, Mitglied des Steuerungsausschusses des Europäischen Netzwerkes Erinnerung und Solidarität.


Matthias Weber

Wspólne rozliczenie z przeszłością - Europejska Sieć Pamięć i Solidarność

21 August 2018
  • miejsca pamięci
  • pamięć społeczna
  • historia Europy w XX wieku
  • totalitaryzm
  • pamięć historyczna
  • tożsamość europejska
  • Europa Środkowo-Wschodnia

Pamięć dzieli, a historia jednoczy

Zakończenie konfrontacji Wschód-Zachód, integracja europejska oraz proces rozszerzenia Unii Europejskiej przyczyniły do międzynarodowej wymiany doświadczeń i komunikacji pomiędzy obywatelami oraz państwami, w takim zakresie, o jakim niegdyś narody europejskie nie odważyłyby się nawet pomyśleć, i to na wszystkich obszarach gospodarki, kultury, nauki oraz polityki. Również w dziedzinie nauk historycznych możliwości kooperacji z partnerami z Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej nigdy nie były tak zróżnicowane, a kontakty pomiędzy naukowcami ze Wschodu i Zachodu tak intensywne, jak obecnie. Taki stan rzeczy w znacznym stopniu zawdzięczać należy rozszerzeniu Unii Europejskiej o kraje Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej w latach 2004 i 2007 oraz zniesieniu większości granic wewnętrznych UE. Nie mniej znaczący wpływ przypisać należy działaniom wspierającym kulturę podejmowanym w Europie, które głównie poprzez wielostronną współpracą służą utworzenia tzw. „europejskiej wartości dodanej”.

Krzysztof Pomian, wybitny znawca „Europy i jej narodów”[2], oraz dyrektor tworzonego w Brukseli Muzeum Europy, zajmuje się w przetłumaczonej w ostatnim czasie na wiele języków analizie problemem „tożsamości europejskiej” oraz wykraczającą poza komunikację i kooperację samoświadomością Europejczyków. W swej rozprawie Pomian dochodzi do wniosku, że narody Europy ukształtowały się na gruncie tradycji chrześcijańsko-żydowskiej, przenikającej się, interferującej historii, pisma, prawa, licznych aspektów sztuki, architektury oraz całego szeregu przenikających się odniesień kulturalnych, a w końcu i przede wszystkich na gruncie „narodzin Europy w duchu oświecenia”. Mimo to narody europejskie nie są w stanie rozwinąć wspólnej tożsamości, ponieważ ich sposób myślenia oraz działania dyktowane są kategoriami oraz wartościami przeważającymi w danym narodzie. Dlatego też tożsamość europejska jest wprawdzie „faktem historycznym”, ale jednocześnie okazuje się być ona „coraz częściej problemem politycznym”.[3]

I faktycznie zauważyć należy, iż, pomimo przedstawionych powyżej pozytywnych tendencji rozwojowych, nie udało się (jeszcze) wytworzyć europejskiego „poczucia MY”, i że nie wykształciła się jeszcze wspólna pamięć historyczna oraz tożsamość europejska. Ludzkie rozumowanie sprowadza się najczęściej do znanych, narodowych wzorców; a świadomość historyczna, znajdująca swe odbicie w publicznych debatach, oraz medialne dyskusje na tematy historyczne w znacznej mierze nie wykraczają poza narodowe horyzonty. „Europa” jawi się wprawdzie na ustach wielu, ale w dalszym ciągu obowiązuje „prymat narodowych ram odniesienia” i zasada „drugorzędności pamięci europejskiej wobec pamięci narodowej”.[4]

Największe znaczenie na drodze ku utworzeniu świadomości europejskiej odgrywa kwestia obchodzenia się z przeszłością, pytanie, czy możliwa się wspólna pamięć historyczna. To zagadnienie jest o tyle ważne, że wraz z rozszerzeniem Unii Europejskiej z zaskakującą siłą do świadomości obywateli „powrócił” temat trudnej przeszłości kontynentu europejskiego. Historia XX wieku rzadko bywała tak obecna w dyskursie politycznym i społecznych, jak dnia dzisiejszego. Współcześnie z pewnością nikt nie będzie wymagał definitywnego oddzielenia się „grubą kreską” od przeszłości i zakończenia rozliczania ze zbrodniami popełnionymi w tymże stuleciu. Wręcz przeciwnie. Ponad sześć dekad po zakończeniu II wojny światowej i dwie dekady po upadku komunizmu w Europie problemy takie, jak dyskusja na temat historii, pamięć i upamiętnienie powróciły na porządek dzienny.

Niemcy oraz inne kraje europejskie rozpoczęły z szerszej perspektywy na nowo proces rozpatrywania własnej historii oraz dziejów europejskich. Państwa Europy rewidują przejęte przez nie od innych obrazy historii, dyskutują nad własnymi narodowymi wspomnieniami wydarzeń historycznych, a jednocześnie szukają wspólnych odniesień do spójnej, międzynarodowej kultury pamięci. Francuski historyk Pierre Nora wypracował modelową ideę „Lieux de memoire” – ideę „miejsc pamięci” w sensie materialnym i przenośnym, którą z sukcesem przetestowano na przykładzie Francji. Sukces ten jest oznaką nowego zainteresowania historią i możliwościami jej rozumowania. Wraz z wdrażaniem koncepcji „Lieux de memoire” Nory’ego powstały również liczne opracowania o miejscach pamięci w Niemczech, Włoszech, Holandii i wielu innych państwach.[5] Pomysł „miejsc pamięci” znajduje ostatnio także zastosowanie w ramach dużego bilateralnego polsko-niemieckiego projektu współpracy.[6]

Tematyka rozpatrywania historii i pamięci historycznej wykracza w swym zakresie poza ramy naukowe i stanowi bardzo aktualny temat[7], o czym świadczą chociażby towarzyszące nam każdego dnia dyskusje o nowo tworzonych miejscach pamięci, pomnikach upamiętniających ofiary, czy też informacje o muzeach historycznych poświęconych losom poszczególnych grup lub konkretnym wydarzeniom historycznych. Już w roku 1990 w Budapeszcie utworzono „Instytut Historii Rewolucji Węgierskiej 1956”. Kolejne instytuty badające przeszłość komunistyczną oraz opór stawiany podobnym uciskom utworzone zostały w Warszawie, Bratysławie, Pradze i Bukareszcie. W roku 2001 w Berlinie otwarto „Muzeum Żydowskie”, w 2004 „Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego”, w 2005 ukończono budowę pomnika upamiętniającego ofiary Holocaustu w Berlinie, w 2006 w Tbilisi i Kijowie otwarto „Muzeum Okupacji Radzieckiej”. Rok 2007 to z kolei początek planowania „Muzeum II Wojny Światowej”, które ma powstać w Gdańsku, a w roku 2008 rozpoczęto w Berlinie prace na pomnikiem upamiętniającym Cyganów niemieckich i Romów zamordowanych w czasie narodowego socjalizmu. Również w 2008 roku utworzono w Pradze „Instytut Badań nad Reżimami Totalitarnymi”, a w 2009 w Bukareszcie postawiono centralny pomnik upamiętniający ofiary Holocaustu autorstwa Petera Jacobi, artysty pochodzenia siedmiogórsko-niemieckiego. W roku 2009 powołano do życia Fundację „Ucieczka, Wypędzenie, Pojednanie” – placówkę poświęconą wypędzeniom na całym świecie, ze szczególnym akcentem położonym na los niemieckich uchodźców i wypędzonych. Wszystkie te inicjatywy można traktować jako znak „nowej świadomości historycznej”. Nie można zapomnieć również o wspomnianym już wcześniej „Musee de l'Europe” w Brukseli poświęconym historii integracji europejskiej od roku 1945, które ma się stać centralnym miejscem potwierdzenia europejskiej świadomości. Bez trudu można by mnożyć dalsze przykłady z innych państw.

Etienne Francois, współwydawca trzytomowej prezentacji „Niemieckie Miejsca Pamięci”, mówi o ogólnej tendencji „wzrostu znaczenia kultury pamięci” i o „ogólnoeuropejskim zapotrzebowaniu na pamięć”[8]. Jednocześnie wskazuje, i nie bez racji, na to, że ten rodzaj pamięci w żadnym wypadku nie obejmuje całej przeszłości. Faktycznie, w dzisiejszym dyskursie politycznym mniej uwagi poświęca się właśnie wcześniejszym okresom historycznym, kiedy to w Europie wykształciły się wspólne wartości i odniesienia kulturalne jednakie dla wielu narodów. Nowa świadomość historyczna znacznie bardziej odwołuje się w szczególny sposób do bolesnych wydarzeń najnowszej historii, zwłaszcza do „krótkiego” wieku XX. Taki rodzaj świadomości historycznej raczej dzieli, a niżeli sprzyja wytworzeniu wspólnej tożsamości, ponieważ ciągłość historii i pamięci historycznej została zaburzona przez zbrodnie dokonane w tymże wieku, zbrodnie, które swym rozmiarem przekroczyły ludzkie wyobrażenie. Nie należy wypierać się historii XX wieku, ale dziś, 20 lat po zakończeniu konfliktu Wschód-Zachód, trzeba jeszcze silniej nawiązywać do intelektualnych i kulturowych korzeni Europy.

Jakie to konkretnie wydarzenia XX wieku doprowadziły do załamania pamięci, spowodowały głębokie rany w świadomości narodów europejskich i doprowadziły do tak dużej ilości różnorodnych obrazów historii na tym kontynencie? Pierwsze załamanie ciągłości cywilizacji spowodowała I wojna światowa, która w Europie (jak i na całym świecie) utorowała drogę ideologiom totalitarnym i doprowadziła do wyobcowania „Europy naszych przodków”[9] (Pomian). Krzywdy wyrządzone w późniejszym okresie XX wieku są bezpośrednio oraz pośrednio powiązane z I wojna światową: „czystki etniczne" (wypędzenia, prześladowania oraz zagłada ludzkości) związane z I wojną światową, II wojna światowa, która przyjęła charakter zagłady konkretnych grup przez hitlerowskie Niemcy w Europie Wschodniej, oraz narodowosocjalistyczna okupacja i reżim, które szczególnie na wschodnich obszarach Europy doprowadziły do zniszczenia całych krajobrazów kulturowych; niezliczone szkody spowodowane wojną, prześladowanie Żydów i Holocaust; ucieczka, wypędzenia i migracja przymusowa w czasie i na koniec II wojny światowej; zbrodnie ludobójstwa popełnione pod rządami Stalina, reżim okupacji prowadzony przez ZSRR w państwach Europy Wschodniej i Środkowo-Wschodniej, w końcu Gułag. „Auschwitz” i „Gułag” to symbole okrucieństwa ówczesnego czasu. Kraje Europy Wschodniej w latach 1933-1944 stały się sceną dla hitlerowskiej i radzieckiej polityki terroru.[10]

Powyższe wydarzenia wykazują jedną wspólną i smutną cechę – czyny te wiążą się nierozłącznie z bezgranicznym bezprawiem i niewyobrażalnym okrucieństwem. Milionom obywateli przyniosły one ogromne cierpienie, choć często nie byli oni w ogóle związani z ówczesnymi wydarzeniami politycznymi. Te fakty, a w szczególności ogromna liczba ofiar opłakiwanych w wielu krajach, obecne są w pamięci narodów europejskich, aczkolwiek obecne w bardzo różnorodny sposób, jako że każdy naród w pierwszej kolejności rozpatruje dane wydarzenie historyczne z perspektywy własnego losu. Nie rzadko zdarza się również, że pamięć o danym wydarzeniu rozpowszechniona w jednym narodzie konkuruje lub nawet stoi w opozycji do postrzegania tego samego wydarzenia prze inną nację. Polityczny podział Europy na część wschodnią i zachodnią, systemy autorytarne/totalitarne i demokratyczne, które utrzymywały się po II wojnie światowej przez ponad cztery dekady wywarły długofalowy wpływ na ludzkie myślenie.[11]

We współczesnych międzynarodowych debatach o przeszłości (o ile prowadzone są one poza wąskim gronem naukowców) stwierdzić można jeden zasadniczy problem. We wzajemnym postrzeganiu państw zachodnich i wschodnich zauważyć można mianowicie pewnego rodzaju asymetrię. W czasie zimnej wojny zachodnie państwa Europy oraz dawna Republika Federalna w kwestii rozliczenia się z przeszłością były mocno związane z USA, a kraje Europy Wschodniej wydawały się być „znacznie oddalone”. Długofalowym skutkiem takiej tradycyjnej orientacji na Zachód jest fakt, że, ze względu na barierę językową, proces rozliczenia z przeszłością trwający w krajach Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej od 1989 roku do dnia dzisiejszego nie trafił w swym pełnym zakresie do świadomości wielu i nie przedostał się do politycznego dyskursu historycznego. I tak przykład na poparcie tej tezy stanowić może zagorzała debata o wypędzeniu i przymusowym przesiedleniu Niemców, która w latach 90. prowadzona była w Polsce zarówno w kręgach naukowych, jak i na łamach prasy, a która po dziś dzień nie doczekała się szerokiego rozpowszechnienia w Niemczech. Z drugiej strony zaś fachowa literatura historyczna wydawana w językach zachodnich stanowi cenne źródło, z którego często korzystają, i które dalej rozwijane jest przez kraje Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej.

Wyraz sprzecznego i konkurującego ze sobą pojmowania historii oraz asymetrii stanowi opublikowane w roku 2002 stanowisko Czeskiego Związku Historyków – „Historycy przeciwko ciągłemu naruszaniu historii”.[12] Poruszono w nim kontrowersyjne tematy z historii niemiecko-czeskiej XX wieku. Odezwa ta odbiła się jedynie nieznacznym echem w Niemczech, ale stanowiła jednocześnie wyraz troski małego kraju o to, że bolesne historyczne wydarzenia, jakich Czechy doświadczyły w czasie XX wieku, jak również ich osiągnięcia historyczne, jak chociażby debata „Przymusowe migracje w Europie” nie są w sposób odpowiedni doceniane.

Na tle różnorakiego postrzegania historii XX wieku wśród narodów europejskich, jak również nie rzadko burzliwych medialnych i politycznych debat, różnic narodowościowych w interpretacji najważniejszych wydarzeń, niespójnych obrazów historii oraz „równoległych rzeczywistości” w Europie zrodziło się zapotrzebowanie na fora dyskusyjne, inicjatywy i instytucje pośredniczące w możliwie jak najbardziej multilateralnym zakresie pomiędzy różnie ukierunkowanymi kulturami pamięci. Jedynie zrozumienie „różnorodności” może wesprzeć wzajemne zrozumienie oraz wzmocnić fundamenty europejskiej świadomości.

W roku 2008 „Międzynarodowe Towarzystwo Memoriał” (Moskwa) opublikowało „apel” o utworzenie „międzynarodowego forum historycznego” wspierającego międzynarodowy dyskurs. Pomimo tego, że ówczesna propozycja odnosiła się w głównej mierze do kwestii pamięci w kontekście radzieckiego obszaru władzy, to jednak apel sformułowany przez „Memoriał” oraz opierające się na nim cele cechują się powszechną aktualnością: „Narodowe różnice w interpretacji ważnych wydarzeń historycznych są kwestią naturalną i nie do uniknięcia. Należy jednak wiedzieć, jaki stosunek przyjąć wobec tych różnic. […] Nie ma sensu ignorować „obcych” wspomnień i zachowywać się tak, jakby ich nie było. Nie ma sensu, ogłaszać ich za nieuzasadnione [...]”[13].

Również w roku 2008 strona czeska oficjalnie wezwała do powołania w Europie międzynarodowej „Platformy do Badania Totalitarnej Przeszłości”. Placówka ta (muzeum lub instytut), stawiała sobie za cel między innymi wniesienie do „wspólnego europejskiego dziedzictwa” specyficznych doświadczeń nowych krajów członkowskich UE. Ponadto platforma miała przejąć zadania naukowe i dydaktyczne oraz funkcje koordynacyjne. Pomysł ten, choć w wielu aspektach podobny do założeń i celów działającej od 2005 roku Fundacji „Europejska Sieć Pamięć i Solidarność”, nie został jednak wcielony w życie.[14]

Na dzień dzisiejszy istnieje w zasadzie zgodność co do tego, że wydarzenia historyczne rozpatrywać należy z uwzględnieniem ich kompleksowości w odniesieniu do wszystkich zaangażowanych stron, lub stron przez te wydarzenia dotkniętych. Nie ma wątpliwości co do tego, że „zapotrzebowanie na pamięć historyczną” wszystkich stron musi być na równi respektowane oraz stanowić punkt odniesienia w czasie dyskusji. Nie ma wątpliwości co do tego, że przeszłość analizować należy uwzględniając i odnosząc się do perspektywy partnerów dyskursu. Świadomość szczególności każdego państwa i jego kultury pamięci stanowi warunek powstania wspólnego „europejskiego rynku historii”.[15] Fundacja Europejska Sieć „Pamięć i Solidarność” stawia sobie za cel działania wspierające wielostronne, a przy tym wspólnotowe postrzeganie historii zorientowane na różnice i cechy wspólne.


prof. Matthias Weber (ur. 1961)- historyk, germanista. Od 1999r. profesor nadzwyczajny na Uniwersytecie w Oldenburgu. Od maja 2004 roku jest dyrektorem Federalnego Instytutu ds. Kultury i Historii Niemców w Europie Środkowej i Wschodniej. Członek Komitetu Sterującego Europejskiej Sieci Pamięć i Solidarność.


[1] Cytat: Pierre Nora: Nachwort. [Posłowie] W: Etienne Francois, Hagen Schulze (ed.): Deutsche Erinnerungsorte [Niemieckie miejsca pamięci], t. III. München 2001, s. 681-686, tu s. 686; zob. również publikacje w: Transit. Europäische Revue 38 (2010), temat: „Vereintes Europa - geteilte Geschichte" [Zjednoczona Europa – podzielona historia].

[2] Tytuł rozprawy Pomiana, por. Krzysztof Pomian: Europa i jej narody. Tłumaczenie z języka francuskiego: Matthias Wolf. Berlin 1990.

[3] Krzysztof Pomian: Europäische Identität. Historisches Faktum und politisches Problem [Tożsamość europejska. Fakt i problem polityczny], link: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/article-2009-08-24-pomian-de.html, pobrano dnia 01.01.2010, publikacja w Transit. Europäische Revue 37 (2009); tytuł oryginału: De Europese identiteit. Een historisch feit en een politiek problem. W: Leonard Ornstein, Lo Breemer (ed.): Paleis Europa. Grote Denkers over Europa. Amsterdam 2007, s. 29-54.

[4] Etienne Francois: Geteilte Erinnerungsorte, europäische Erinnerungsorte. [Podzilone miejsca pamięci, europejskie miejsca pamięci] W: Robert Born, Adam S. Labuda, Beate Störtkuhl (ed./red.): Wizualne konstrukcje historii i pamięci historycznej w Niemczech i w Polsce 1800-1939 (Wspólne Dziedzictwo, III), s. 17-32, tu s. 26.

[5] Z całej masy publikacji na ten temat, nazwane niech będą przykładowe opracowania: Pierre Nora (ed.): Les lieux de memoire, t. 1-3, Paris 1984-1992; Mario Isnenghi (ed.): II luoghi della memoria. Simboli e miti Dell'ltalia Unita. Rom, Paris, 1996; Etienne Francois, Hagen Schulze (ed.): Deutsche Erinnerungsorte [Niemieckie miejsca pamięci], t. 1-3. München 2001; Pim den Boer, Willem Frijhoff (red.): Lieux de memoire: et identites nationales. La France et les Pays-Bas. Amsterdam 1993.

[6] Obecnie wdrażany projekt „Deutsch-polnische Erinnerungsorte / Polsko-niemieckie miejsca pamięci” pod kierownictwem Roberta Traby i Hansa Henninga Hahna przy Centrum Badań Historycznych Polskiej Akademii Nauk w Berlinie / Zentrum für Historische Forschung Berlin der Polnischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zob. http://www.cbh.pan.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&catid=21&ltemid:::74&lang =de, pobrano dnia 01.01.2010.

[7] Por. Johannes Feichtinger: Europa, quo vadis? Zur Erfindung eines Kontinents zwischen transnationalem Anspruch und nationaler Wirklichkeit. [Europo, quo vadis? Powstanie kontynentu pomiędzy potrzebą międzynarodowości a narodową rzeczysistością] W: Moritz Csäky, Johannes Feichtinger (ed.): Europa - geeint durch Werte? Die europäische Wertedebatte auf dem Prüfstand der Geschichte. [Europa – zjednoczona w wartościach? Europejska debata o wartościach z punktu widzenia historii] Bielefeld 2007, s. 19-43, tu s. 35; Publikacje autorów austriackich, czeskich i słowackich w wyżej wymienionym temacie w: Moritz Csäky, Elena Mannovä (ed.): Collective Identities in Central Europe in Modern Times. Bratislava 1999; Krisztiän Ungväry: Belastete Orte der Erinnerung. [Obciążone miejsca pamięci] W: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte [Z polityki i historii współczesnej] 29-30 (2009), s. 26-33.

[8] Francois: Geteilte Erinnerungsorte (zob. przypis 4),  s. 17, 19.

[9] Pomian: Europa i jej narody (zob. przypis 2), s. 141.

[10] Por.  Editorial Transit 38 (2010), zeszyt „Vereintes Europa - geteilte Geschichte“ [Zjednoczona Europa – podzielona historia].

[11] Burkhard Olschowsky: Erinnerungslandschaft mit Brüchen. Das „Europäische Netzwerk Erinnerung und Solidarität” und die Traumata des alten Kontinents. [Rysy na krajobrazie pamięci. Fundacja Europejska Sieć Pamięć i Solidarność i trauma starego kontynentu] W: Transit 35 (lato 2008), s. 23-48, tu s. 26.

[12] Stanowisko „Historikove proti znäsilnoväni dejin. Stanowisko Sdrużeni historikü Ćeske republiky", ukazało się w: Priloha ke Zapravodaji Historickeho klubu 12, 2 (2001), s. 3-7; tłumaczenie na język polski: Przegląd Historyczny 94 (2003), s. 59-63.

[13] Nagłówek apelu: „Nationale Geschichtsbilder. Das 20. Jahrhundert und der Krieg der Erinnerungen. Ein Aufruf von Memorial” [Narodowe obrazy historii. XX wiek i wojna wspomnień. Apel Memoriału]; przedruk w: Osteuropa 58 zeszyt 6 (2008), s. 77-84, cytat s. 81; link: http.www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-12-05-memorial-de.html, pobrano dnia 01.01.2010.

[14] O inicjatywie rozpoczętej w ramach czeskiego przewodnictwa Unii Europejskiej zob. Ma­teusz Gniazdowski: Czeska propozycja utworzenia platformy ds. badań totalitarnej przeszłości Europy. „Biuletyn" (Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych), nr 47 (515) z 26 września 2008 r., s. 1931-1932; zob. również: „Europas Gewissen und der Parlamentarismus - Entschließung des Europäischen Parlaments vom 02.04.2009 [Świadomość europejska i parlamentaryzm – rezolucja Parlamentu Europejskiego z dnia 2 lutego 2009 roku].  Nr: P6_TA(2009)0213, link: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0213+0+DOC+XML+V0//DE, pobrano dnia 01.01.2010.

[15] Nora: Nachwort [Posłowie] (zob.  przypis 1), s. 685 i kolejna.

Norbert Conrads

Wrocław – Tożsamości i pamięć kulturowa

21 August 2018
  • miejsca pamięci
  • Wrocław
  • Breslau
  • pamięć zbiorowa
  • historia Wrocławia
  • wrocławskie mity
  • symbol Wrocławia
  • pomniki we Wrocławiu

Wrocław jako miejsce pamięci jest młodszy, niż pozwalałaby przypuszczać tysiącletnia historia tego miasta. Pamięć o jego średniowiecznej przeszłości jest słabo widoczna. Może się to łączyć z faktem, że miasto rozwijało się w konflikcie z możnowładcami, z jednej strony z księciem czy królem, a z drugiej strony w konfrontacji z biskupem.

Miasto systematycznie marginalizowało obie rywalizujące ze sobą władze. Dominowało jako wolne miasto ze swoim bogactwem i miejskim patriotyzmem. Ukształtowanie się szczególnej świadomości, aby nie powiedzieć – ukonstytuowanie się pamięci kulturowej, nastąpiło dopiero w okresie humanizmu i renesansu. Tym samym Wrocław uczestniczył w ogólnym rozwoju europejskim. Wzorce dostarczyły Italia, Rzesza niemiecka oraz nowe uniwersytety. Podróżujący uczeni wrocławscy przywozili je ze sobą do domu. 


Aby przedstawić Wrocław jako miejsce pamięci, w dalszej części krótko nakreślam pięć tematów: wrocławskie mity – symbole –  obrazy historyczne – pomniki – oraz koniec niemieckiego Breslau.

1. Mity 

Najnowsza historia Wrocławia zna kilka swoich mitów. Atak z zaskoczenia, dzięki któremu Fryderyk Wielki w 1741 r. okpił od wieków niezwyciężone miasto Wrocław albo legendarne ostanie się miasta i kraju w wojnie siedmioletniej. Bitwa pod Lutynią w 1757 r. rozstrzygnęła o panowaniu nad Wrocławiem i Śląskiem, ale „Choral von Leuthen“ („Chorał z Lutyni”) i inne manifestacje pruskie nadały decyzjom politycznym religijny charakter protestancki, o którym we Wrocławiu często przypominano, mimo że był on dziwnie skontrastowany z wolnomyślicielstwem króla pruskiego.  

Wspomniane wydarzenie mogło zatem przybrać wymiary mityczne, ponieważ było związane z przezwyciężeniem straszliwych niebezpieczeństw. Tylko jednokrotnie w swojej historii Wrocław cieszył się szczęściem wielkiego momentu politycznego. To tutaj w 1813 r. polityczni i duchowi przywódcy młodej Europy spotkali się, aby odrzucić napoleońskie jarzmo. Wrocław nie był jedynie sceną, na której rozegrała się ta sztuka, bowiem entuzjazm spieszących do broni wrocławskich studentów wzmacniał morale wyzwolicielskich wojsk oraz polityczne nadzieje epoki przedmarcowej. Wśród wrocławskich lieux de mémoire szczególne znaczenie ma rok 1813 w którym miała miejsce królewska odezwa „An mein Volk“ („Do mojego ludu”) oraz ustanowienie odznaczenia Żelaznego Krzyża. O doniosłości tych wydarzeń niech świadczy fakt, że miasto pielęgnowało miejsca pamięci związane z rokiem 1813 i żadnego ze swoich historycznych momentów nie wspominało chętniej niż tego. 

2. Symbole

Pięcioczęściowy herb nadany miastu w 1530 r. przez Karola V został umieszczony po zachodniej stronie ratusza w 1536 r., a potem aż do XX w. również na wielu budynkach miejskich. Stał się on logo miasta, spopularyzowanym w niezliczonych publikacjach, a nawet na pokrywach studzienek kanalizacyjnych. Tradycyjny herb dawnego Wrocławia został usunięty dopiero aktem samowoli gauleitera Josefa Wagnera w 1938 r. Jego chrześcijańskie czy słowiańskie odniesienia nie odpowiadały już duchowi czasu. Wagner dekretem nadał miastu nowy dwuczęściowy herb, którego dolna połowa przedstawiała Żelazny Krzyż z 1813 r. Był on niczym omen zapowiadający nadchodzące lata i nie zyskał akceptacji. Również herb obowiązujący później w polskim Wrocławiu był zdechrystianizowany. Chwila, kiedy w 1990 r. za rządów ówczesnego prezydenta miasta Bogdana Zdrojewskiego, patrona konferencji „Miejsca pamięci w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej“, Wrocław ponownie przyjął swój dawny herb z 1530 r. pozostanie nieocenionym znakiem zwrotu i historyzacji.

Do Reformacji Archikatedra św. Jana Chrzciciela we Wrocławiu uchodziła za pierwszy budynek w mieście, kolejne były oba kościoły parafialne, a następnie świecki budynek ratusza. Perspektywa protestancka zmieniła tę kolejność. Katedra została odsunięta na bok. W zmaganiach o optyczną dominację nad Wrocławiem miasto już w latach osiemdziesiątych XV w. wzniosło jedyną wieżę Bazyliki św. Elżbiety Węgierskiej na pokaźną wysokość 130 m, tak że w 1529 r. zawaliła się pod własnym ciężarem. Również potem, przy zredukowanej wysokości 91 m wieża pozostawała optyczną koroną miasta.

Od połowy XIX w. Wrocław był już wielkim miastem niemieckim z imponującymi nowymi budynkami administracyjnymi, domami towarowymi, zabudowaniami fabrycznymi, wieżami ciśnień i mostami. Żadna z tych budowli nie dawała się jednak porównać ze śmiałą konstrukcją Hali Stulecia, która została wzniesiona w 1913 r. celem upamiętnienia roku 1813. Była awangardową budowlą, która jak żadna inna reprezentowała Wrocław nowoczesny i demokratyczny. W czasach Republiki Weimarskiej nazywano ją „Katedrą Demokracji”. Trzecia Rzesza dostrzegła jej potencjał jako sceny propagandowej i narodowego miejsca kultu. W świadomości Wrocławian Hala Stulecia od samego początku była jednym z dumnych symboli, na równi z Ratuszem, Archikatedrą i Uniwersytetem. Wszystko inne w porównaniu z nimi się kryło. 

3. Obrazy historyczne

Jako świadome własnej wartości wielkie miasto z żądną władzy elitą Wrocław dysponował tłumem wielbicieli i poetów, który był na jego usługi. Chwała Wrocławia wypełniała małe antologie, ale rzadko wychodziła poza banały. Cóż w końcu znaczyło, kiedy Martin Opitz sławił miasto jako „kwiat Europy”, a cesarz Leopold nazywał je „najszlachetniejszym kamieniem w swojej koronie”? Już akt erekcyjny nigdy niestworzonego uniwersytetu z 1505 r. sławił „wspaniałą i szczęśliwą naturę miejsca […], doskonałość jej znakomitych porządków” oraz twierdził, że „dzięki kulturze i wykształceniu jego obywateli z łatwością przewyższa wszystkie miasta Niemiec“. Niedługo zaczęły tego dowodzić uczone opisy miasta, których śladem ruszyła od XVIII fachowa literatura historyczna i krajoznawcza. 

Historyzm XIX-wieczny ożywił ducha miejskich tradycji i doprowadził do powstawania towarzystw historycznych oraz muzeów historii miasta. Odtąd zaczęto nadrabiać to, czego wcześniej nie przekazał żaden obraz. Urodzony we Wrocławiu Adolph Menzel potrafił w twórczy sposób wczuć się w życie Prus czasów Fryderyka. Część jego najważniejszych dzieł, które dziś znajdują się w Berlinie, najpierw wisiało we Wrocławiu. Śląskie Muzeum Sztuk Pięknych posiadało natomiast „Honorową salę historii Ojczyzny”, pełną obrazów i rzeźb o tematyce historycznej.  

4. Pomniki

W świadomości zbiorowej Wrocławian długo utrzymywała się pamięć o wielkich nieszczęściach, które dotknęły miasto: siarczyste mrozy, wylewanie Odry, plagi szarańczy, głód, pożary, dżuma i cholera. Rzadkością są wprawdzie obrazy przedstawiające je, wybijano natomiast pamiątkowe medale, pisano wiersze, pamięć o nich przetrwała również w tradycji ustnej. Przykład stanowi przekaz, że droga do Bazyliki św. Elżbiety była wybrukowana płytami nagrobnymi, pod którymi leżeli straceni buntownicy z 1420 r., których haniebną pamięć Wrocławianie deptali. W najprawdziwszym sensie wstrząsnęła miastem tragedia z roku 1749 - eksplozja wieży prochowej w centrum Wrocławia, która pociągnęła za sobą liczne ofiary i ogromne zniszczenia.

Potrzeba przypominania o znaczących osobowościach i wydarzeniach przy pomocy pomników pojawiła się dopiero w XIX w. Do tego czasu wszystkie ulice i place nosiły nazwy, które wskazywały na ich topografię, sąsiedztwo kościoła lub istniejące tam pracownie rzemieślnicze. Zmieniło się to, kiedy w 1823 r. powołano komisję ds. rewizji wszystkich nazw ulic i numerów domów. Wówczas rozpoczęła się fala przemianowań, która pokryła miasto przede wszystkim pruskimi nazwami.

5. Epilog

Z końcem wojny Wrocław stał się miejscem pożegnania. Utrata ojczyzny oznacza więcej niż tylko materialne wywłaszczenie. Oznaczała wyrwanie ze znanego otoczenia, ze społecznego bezpieczeństwa, z sieci rodziny i znajomych, oderwanie od domów i grobów. Tej traumy musieli doświadczyć pierwsi Wrocławianie narodowości żydowskiej, którzy od 1933 r. byli zmuszani przez narodowych-socjalistów do emigracji; nie wolno też zapomnieć ok. 8 tys. wrocławskich Żydów, którzy od 1941 r. byli deportowani i padali ofiarą bezlitosnego unicestwienia. Wrocławskie dworce stały się lieux de mémoire, najpierw dla Żydów, a potem już dla wszystkich innych Wrocławian. Miejski exodus rozpoczął się z końcem stycznia 1945 r., wcześniej władze polityczne do niego nie dopuszczały. Kiedy ludność w końcu została jednak wezwana do opuszczenia Wrocławia, odbyło się to w pośpiechu, bez planu i w zabójczym zimnie. Dziesiątki tysięcy ludzi rzuciły się na Dworzec Główny i Dworzec Wrocław Nadodrze, aby wsiąść do pociągu dającego nadzieję na ratunek. Dla wielu osób godziny spędzone w rozpaczliwej nędzy na przepełnionych dworcach należą do ostatnich wspomnień z Wrocławia. Niewielu spodziewało się, że będzie do pożegnanie na zawsze, a Wrocław pozostanie dla nich już tylko miejscem bolesnej pamięci. Ci, którzy wytrwali w mieście i przetrwali czas oblężenia, niedługo znaleźli się w obcym mieście. Czekało ich wydalenie, w skutek którego Wrocław stał się miastem bez Niemców.


prof. Norbert Conrads (ur. 1938) - niemiecki historyk. Do 2003 roku profesor Historii Nowożytnej na Uniwersytecie w Stuttgarcie i kierownik projektu "Historia Śląska". Jest autorem licznych badań w dziedzinie edukacji i historii społecznej Śląska.

Norbert Conrads

Wrocław – Identities and cultural memory

21 August 2018
  • Poland
  • Solidarity
  • Wrocław
  • Breslau
  • European Network Remembrance and Solidarity
  • Germany
  • History
  • Lower Silesia
  • Cultural Memory
  • Identities
  • zawiadowca

As a site of memory Wrocław is younger than its thousand-year municipal history would lead one to suspect. The interest in recollecting its medieval past was not particularly pronounced. This may be related to the fact that the city developed in conflict with its overlords, the duke or king on the one hand and the bishop on the other. Both rival powers were systematically marginalised by the city. The city dominated, with its burghers, its wealth and its municipal patriotism. The formulation of a particular consciousness and the constitution of a cultural memory only started with the rise of Renaissance humanism. As Wrocław participated in general European developments, Italy, the Austrian Empire and the new universities provided a model, and the travelling scholars of Wrocław brought the new ideas home.

To describe Wrocław as a site of memory, five areas will be outlined in brief below: Wrocław Myths – Landmarks – Historical Perceptions – Monuments – The End of German Breslau.

1. Myths

The more recent history of Wroclaw has its fair share of myths. There was the coup de main in 1741 when Frederick II of Prussia duped the city of Wrocław, which had not been conquered for centuries; even more important was the story of the legendary defence of the city and the surrounding region during the Seven Years’ War. The battle of Leuthen in 1757 resolved the question of sovereignty over Wrocław and Silesia, but the “Leuthen Chorale” and other Borussian manifestations gave the political decisions a religious and Protestant connotation, which later was often cited in Wrocław, although it contrasted oddly with the free-thinking stance of the Prussian king.

The above cited incident achieved mythical status because it was conjoined with overcoming appalling dangers. Only once in its history did Wrocław savour the joy of a great political moment. This was in 1813 when the political and moral leaders of a new Europe gathered together in the city to shake off the Napoleonic yoke. Breslau was not merely a stage for this drama: the enthusiasm of the Breslau students who flocked to arms spread to the troops of liberation and found its echo in the political hopes of the Vormärz. The year 1813 with the royal “Proclamation to my People” and the creation of the military decoration of the Iron Cross holds a particular significance as a lieux de mémoire for Wrocław. This is reflected by the fact that the city faithfully tends the memorials commemorating 1813 and prefers the memory of 1813 to all its other historical events.      

2. Landmarks

The five-part coat of arms granted to the city in 1530 by the Emperor Charles V was mounted on the west wall of the Town Hall in 1536, and was subsequently also affixed to many municipal buildings up until the 20th century. It became the city’s emblem, popularised in innumerable prints and even embossed on manhole covers. The traditional coat of arms of old Breslau was only removed in 1938 by an arbitrary act of Gauleiter Josef Wagner. The Christian and Slavic connotations of this traditional coat of arms were seen as no longer in keeping with the spirit of the times. Wagner decreed that the city should have a new divided coat of arms, with the lower half displaying the Iron Cross of 1813. It was like an omen for the coming years and did not gain general acceptance. The coat of arms subsequently used in Polish Wrocław remained without Christian symbols. It is a highly significant indication of a return to the city’s historical roots, that in 1990, under Bogdan Zdrojewski, the head of the town council at that time and a patron of the conference “Sites of Memory in Central Europe”, Wrocław once again adopted its former coat of arms from 1530.  

Up until the Reformation Wrocław Cathedral was considered the city’s foremost architectural building followed by the two main parish churches, although these were considered lesser buildings, and only then by the secular Town Hall. The Protestant perspective changed this order of precedence. The cathedral lost its pre-eminent position. As part of the struggle for visual dominance over Wrocław, in the 1480s the city raised the height of the single tower of the Church of St. Elisabeth to a formidable 130 meters, until in 1529 it collapsed under its own weight. Even thereafter with its reduced height of 91 meters it remained the city’s visual pinnacle.

From the middle of the 19th century Breslau developed into a major German city with imposing new administrative buildings, department stores, factory buildings, water towers and bridges. None of these buildings could be compared with the bold design of the Centennial Hall, erected in 1913 to commemorate the year 1813. It was an avant-garde building which like no other building in the city stood for a modern and democratic Breslau. During the Weimar Republic it was referred to as a “cathedral of democracy”. The Third Reich recognised its potential as a stage for propaganda and a nationally consecrated site. In the consciousness of Breslau citizens the Centennial Hall was from its inception one of the proud landmarks of the city, at the same level as the Town Hall, the Cathedral and the university. Everything else took second place.

3. Historical Perceptions

As a self-assured major city with an educated elite Wrocław commanded a host of admirers and poets, all eager to serve the city. The praises of Wrocław could fill a small anthology, but they seldom went beyond commonplace accolades. What does it signify if Martin Opitz eulogised the city as the “flower of Europe” or the Emperor Leopold referred to it as “the most precious stone in his crown”? The founding document of 1505 for a university which ultimately was never built extolled “the wonderful and happy constitution of the place […], the excellence of its outstanding arrangements” and that it “easily surpasses all the cities of Germany due to the culture and education of its citizens”. Soon scholarly descriptions of the city were also citing this in evidence of Wrocław’s pre-eminence, followed in the 18th century by historical tomes and literature on the city’s history and geography.

The rise of historicism of the 19th century revived the appreciation for municipal traditions and led to the founding of historical societies and museums of municipal history. Attempts were now made to recreate what had previously not been passed down in any pictorial form. The artist Adolph Menzel, born in Breslau, perfectly captured the life and world of Frederician Prussia. Some of his most important works, now in Berlin, once hung in Breslau. The Silesian Museum of the Fine Arts had a “hall of honour for patriotic history” filled with history paintings and statues.  

4. Monuments

In the collective consciousness of the citizens of Breslau the memories of important misfortunes suffered by the city were nursed for a long time: bitterly cold winters, flooding by the Oder River, plagues of locusts, famines, conflagrations, the plague and cholera epidemics. There are very few pictures of these cataclysms but commemorative medals were struck, poems were written, and the memories became part of the city’s oral tradition and were passed on. To take one example, according to a story handed down, the road to St. Elisabeth’s Church was paved with gravestones under which the executed rebels of 1420 lay, whose ignominious memory was ground in the dust under the feet of the citizens of Breslau. A catastrophe in 1749 literally shook the city to its foundations: the explosion of a powder house in the middle of Wroclaw with numerous casualties and widespread damage.

The urge to commemorate important personages and events by erecting monuments only began in the 19th century. Previously, all the streets and squares only bore names which either indicated their topography or their vicinity to a church or alluded to the crafts or trades carried out in them. This changed when in 1823 a commission for the revision of all street names and house numbers was appointed. This led to a wave of renamings throughout the city, flooding it primarily with new Prussian names.

5. Epilogue

With the end of the war Breslau became a place of leave-taking. The loss of one’s homeland signifies more than only material expropriation. It constitutes being ripped from familiar surroundings, from social certitudes, away from the net of family and relations, from houses and graves. This trauma was first suffered by the Jewish citizens of Breslau, who were forced into emigration after 1933 by the National-Socialists; moreover there were those 8,000 Jewish citizens of Breslau, deported after 1941, who were mercilessly exterminated. The railway stations of Wrocław became lieux de mémoire, first for the Jewish citizens of Breslau, then for all other citizens of Breslau. The urban exodus began in January 1945; the Polish leaders had not previously permitted it. When the population was finally pushed to leave Breslau despite all else, the exodus occurred precipitously, haphazardly and in deadly cold weather. Tens of thousands stormed the central railway station or the Odertor Station to reach the salvation of the waiting trains. For many, the hours they spent in desperate need in the overcrowded railway stations form part of their last memories of Breslau. Only very few of them suspected that this constituted a final leave-taking and that Breslau would only remain to them as a place of painful memories. Those who had held out in the city and survived the time when the city was encircled by Russian troops soon found themselves in an alien city. They awaited their expulsion, at the end of which Breslau/Wrocław became a city without Germans.

 translated from German by Helen Schoop

prof. Norbert Conrads (born 1938) - German historian. Until 2003 professor of modern history in University of Stuttgart and head of the project "History of Silesia". Author of numerous research studies on education and social history of Silesia.

Teresa Kulak

Wrocław w historii i pamięci Polaków

21 August 2018
  • miejsca pamięci
  • Wrocław
  • Breslau
  • komunizm
  • polityka historyczna
  • historia Wrocławia
  • repatriacja
  • tożsamość regionalna

Wrocław był największym miastem na ziemiach zachodnich, które po II wojnie światowej swymi granicami objęła Polska i gdzie od 1945 r. wskutek powojennych migracji dokonała się całkowita wymiana ludności. Polską administrację za zgodą władz sowieckich we Wrocławiu zaczęto tworzyć 9 V 1945 r. w płonącym jeszcze mieście, po upływie zaledwie 3 dni od kapitulacji niemieckiego dowództwa Festung Breslau. Nowe władze zastały w nim około 165 tys. Niemców, w tym około 150 uratowanych od śmierci niemieckich Żydów oraz blisko 3 tys. Polaków, wywodzących się zarówno z przedwojennej Polonii wrocławskiej, jak też spośród liczących kilkadziesiąt tysięcy osób z wielonarodowej rzeszy robotników przymusowych, którzy w mieście zamienionym w twierdzę przeżyli dramatyczne dni oblężenia przez wojska Armii Czerwonej. Stopniowo opuszczali oni Wrocław, do którego przybywali ludzie z innych części Polski, także z obozów pracy i obozów jenieckich oraz z przymusowych robót z głębi Niemiec.

Napływ ludności polskiej zwiększył się od sierpnia, gdy przybywać zaczęli mieszkańcy województw wschodnich przedwojennej Polski, zmuszeni do przesiedlenia się za „linię Curzona”, czyli za nową granicę państwową z ZSRR, wytyczoną na Bugu. Przybyłą ludność, wyrwaną ze swego rodzimego otoczenia, oficjalnie - lecz niezgodnie z rzeczywistym stanem prawnym - nazywano „repatriantami”.

Przesiedleni odczuwali tęsknotę za poprzednim miejscem zamieszkania. Wrocław bowiem wyglądał odstręczająco z powodu olbrzymich zniszczeń, dochodzących w niektórych dzielnicach nawet do 80% przedwojennej zabudowy. Wielkim zagrożeniem były ruiny, gdzie schronienie znaleźli złodzieje i bandyci oraz niemieckie podziemie zbrojne, a także zdarzały się ekscesy ze strony żołnierzy sowieckich. W nocy, w pogrążonym w ciemnościach mieście często dochodziło do napadów i rozlegały się odgłosy strzałów. W ciągu dnia dokuczały roje much, odór spalenizny oraz rozkładu ciał ludzkich i zwierząt w gruzowiskach, o zmierzchu natomiast wypełzały z nich tysiące szczurów, z którymi walczyć trzeba było również w mieszkaniach i pomieszczeniach biurowych. Sytuacja w mieście w pierwszych miesiącach pokoju nie sprzyjała stabilizacji życia - jak mawiano - na „dzikim Zachodzie”. „Przez pierwszy rok - wspominał przybyły z Poznańskiego student Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego - widywałem wrocławian z zaniedbanym ubiorem, wyglądali - jak by to rzec - tymczasowo. Zdawało się, że każdy z mieszkańców przybył tutaj na krótki okres czasu i pojedzie znowu z powrotem skąd przyjechał”. Przybyszów przytłaczało morze ruin, uczucie „głuchej martwoty”, widok „pustki” placów i ulic „pełnych brudu i pyłu” z rozbitych domów. W tych szczególnych okolicznościach nie mogło być początkowo mowy o wytworzeniu się jakiejś głębszej więzi mieszkańców z miastem. Dostrzegano obcość Wrocławia, jego „charakter niemiecki”, który niejednemu z przybyszów „podsuwał myśl opuszczenia tego miasta umarłych”. Takiej możliwości nie mieli wysiedleni - na ogół w dramatycznych okolicznościach - Polacy z kresów wschodnich, chociaż nie wszyscy porzucali nadzieję na zmianę powojennych granic i powrót do stron rodzinnych.

W przeciwieństwie do przymusowo wysiedlonych przybyszów „zza Buga”, Polacy z centralnej Polski przybywali na ziemie zachodnie dobrowolnie i w skali masowej. Wskutek tych wewnętrznych migracji powojennych we Wrocławiu wytworzyło się przekonanie, że właściwie do miasta przybyła „reprezentacja   ludności z wszystkich regionów Polski”. Wobec kulturalnego zróżnicowania, jej koegzystencja początkowo nie mogła być bezkonfliktowa, ale sukcesywnie następowało porozumienie i ukształtowanie się miejskiej wspólnoty. Jest to jeden z fenomenów powojennego Wrocławia, szybko powstały bowiem więzy łączące ogół wrocławian i postępował proces przekształcania się niemieckiego Breslau w polski Wrocław i w ich małą ojczyznę. Analiza ogółu przyczyn tego fenomenu wykracza poza merytoryczne ramy mego wystąpienia, ale należy tu podkreślić, że bez wątpienia wielką rolę odegrała w jego zaistnieniu polityka historyczna nowych, komunistycznych władz państwowych powojennej Polski. W efekcie tej polityki zintegrowano heterogenną zbiorowość, psychologicznie doprowadzając ją aż do identyfikacji z nowym miejscem zamieszkania.

Polityka historyczna komunistów skompromitowana została całkowicie przez ich uzależnienie od ZSRR i propagandę w czasach PRL, ale w tym początkowym okresie miała ona poparcie grona przedwojennych uczonych, dziennikarzy i publicystów, którzy już w czasie wojny przygotowali program zmian terytorialnych w sąsiedztwie z Niemcami, postulując granicę na Odrze i Nysie Kłodzkiej, niekiedy też i na Nysie Łużyckiej. Punktem odniesienia była sięgająca Odry i Bałtyku Polska Piastów, w której - jak wynika ze wzmianki w kronice merseburskiego biskupa Thietmara - Wrocław (nazwany w kronice Wrotizla, innym razem Wrotizlava), od 1000 r. był stolicą katolickiej diecezji podległej metropolii gnieźnieńskiej razem z diecezjami erygowanymi w Krakowie i Kołobrzegu. W państwie Piastów Wrocław był centrum administracji państwowej dla całej ziemi śląskiej, grodem obronnym i bazą wypadową w wojnach z Czechami i z Niemcami. Według pochodzącej z XII w. kroniki Anonima, zwanego Gallem, Wrocław był   jedną z „sedes regni principales” - czyli należał do „głównych siedzib królewskich”. Więzi te rozluźniły się w dobie rozdrobnienia dzielnicowego i mimo zjednoczenia Polski w 1320 r. nie powrócił Śląsk z Wrocławiem do poprzedniego kształtu terytorialnego Polski, chociaż Kazimierz Wielki, ostatni z dynastii Piastów, starał się w 1349 r. Wrocław odzyskać. Do połowy XIII w. większość mieszkańców Wrocławia pod względem narodowym była polska, ale mieszkali w nim też Walonowie, Żydzi oraz Niemcy, których liczbę zwiększyła dopiero lokacja miasta w 1261 r. na prawie magdeburskim. Po lokacji z ksiąg miejskich stopniowo usuwano język polski, w sądownictwie natomiast używano go jeszcze do 1337 r. Tradycje państwowo-terytorialne z epoki pierwszych Piastów, państwa opartego na Odrze i Bałtyku przetrwały w polskiej myśli zachodniej, weryfikowanej i utrwalanej od przełomu XIX i XX w. piśmiennictwem politycznym i historycznym. Wizja Polski piastowskiej mobilizowała wielu Polaków do wysiłków niepodległościowych przed 1918 r., a przywołano ją w czasie II wojny światowej, na przekór podwójnej okupacji kraju i martyrologii narodu polskiego,

Zasygnalizowaną tu faktografię, odnoszącą się do historii Wrocławia i Śląska, wykorzystały władze państwowe dla oswojenia nowych mieszkańców z teraźniejszością, odpowiednio modelując ich pamięć zbiorową wokół Ziem Odzyskanych, aby zracjonalizować powojenną sytuację i uzasadnić granicę zachodnią. Terytorialne przesunięcie Polski na zachód traktowano jako powrót do Macierzy ziem „odzyskanych” po „dziesięciu wiekach zmagań” z zaborczością niemiecką, rozpoczętych już za pierwszych Piastów. Państwo komunistyczne przyjęło politykę kierowania pamięcią społeczną, stosując odpowiednie propagandowe strategie dla wykazania polskiego powrotu po tysiącu lat, jako logiki dziejów, zwycięstwa racji stanu i ogólnonarodowych dążeń. Cenzura umożliwiała propagowanie pożądanych treści, a władze z kolei dbały o ciągłą aktualizację wyobrażeń o przeszłości, wymazywanie lub pomijanie faktów niewygodnych. Wyraźnie nieobecne w tej manipulacji przeszłością były wieki XV-XIX, gdy nikła polskość w mieście wśród ludności pozbawionej warstw wyższych i ograniczonej do warstw plebejskich. W zależności od aktualnych potrzeb politycznych i ideologicznych tworzono mity, upowszechniano antyniemieckie stereotypy. Z pamięci społecznej starano się usunąć te treści, które mogłyby zakłócać proces kształtowania tożsamości zbiorowej, w tym nadrzędnie kształtowaną świadomość głębokiego zakorzenienia Polaków w przeszłości miasta i ziemi śląskiej oraz etos wspólnoty losów ich przeszłych i obecnych mieszkańców. Udowadniano przy tym, że historia stosunków polsko-niemieckich dowodzi, iż wysiedlenie Niemców było jedynym i sprawiedliwym rozwiązaniem, nadto sformalizowanym w postanowieniach Wielkiej Trójki.

Dzisiaj ogół tych ówczesnych działań zinterpretować możemy jednoznacznie jako wysoce zideologizowane wysiłki kształtowania pamięci historycznej. Świadomie z przeszłości wybierano pewne wydarzenia, osoby, symbole dla potrzeb bieżącej polityki i legitymizacji teraźniejszości. Wykorzystywano przeszłość, aby uzyskać aprobatywne postawy mieszkańców dla różnego typu bieżących działań i dążeń. Charakterystyczna była antyniemieckość wszelkich poczynań, wynikająca ze smutnych doświadczeń 6-letniej wojny oraz z obaw przed rewizją granicy ustanowionej w Poczdamie. Dla jednych z nowych mieszkańców był to straszak przyszłej wojny i tymczasowości aż do pakowania walizek i ucieczki z nowego miejsca zamieszkania, dla innych natomiast oznaczało to konieczność „zwierania” szeregów i obronę stanu posiadania oraz pracy włożonej w odbudowę miasta z ruin. Mimo labilności postaw, stopniowo jednak rosło poparcie i legitymizacja władzy, powiększała się też liczba mieszkańców. Trwał proces „oswajania” miasta poprzez zmianę nazewnictwa ulic, a wraz z postępującą odbudową Wrocław stopniowo tracił wspomniany wyżej charakter niemiecki. Nowi mieszkańcy nie identyfikowali się z pozostawionym kulturalnym dziedzictwem, kojarzyło się bowiem z narodem, od którego doznano wielu cierpień i strat. Polityczne napięcia i przeciwstawność interesów widoczna wśród państw Wielkiej Trójki oraz nasilająca się od 1947 r. atmosfera polityczna zimnej wojny w dłuższej perspektywie utrudniały stabilizację nastrojów ludności na ziemiach zachodnich. Wielu wrocławian miało poczucie tymczasowości, gdyż przez wiele lat nie było międzynarodowego zabezpieczenia granicy na Odrze i Nysie Łużyckiej, wskutek czego stale obawiali się zakwestionowania granicy ze strony RFN. Stąd tak wielkie znaczenie przypisywano wizycie Willy Brandta i układowi z 8 grudnia 1970 r. Prawdziwe uspokojenie jednakże we Wrocławiu odczuto dopiero na początku lat 90., gdy po latach politycznych napięć i zagrożeń, nastąpiło międzynarodowe uznanie granicy polsko-niemieckiej w dwustronnym traktacie o dobrym sąsiedztwie i przyjaznej współpracy, podpisanym 17 VII 1991 r. w Bonn. Układ ten zdecydowanie pozytywnie wpłynął na postawy wobec Niemców i zmianę pamięci kulturowej Polaków, którzy już w nowej sytuacji politycznej kraju dostrzegli i odkryli skomplikowaną historię Wrocławia. Od tamtych lat są nią zafascynowani i sądzą, że jego przeszłość i kulturowe tradycje mogą stać się pomostem porozumienia między zachodem a wschodem Europy. Fragmenty swojej historii odnajdują w nim bowiem Niemcy, Czesi, Austriacy, a także Żydzi.

Od lat 90. szczególnie widoczne jest to, że Polacy starają się zachować, a także odtworzyć materialną sferę tego dziedzictwa. Teraz identyfikują się z nim, a istnienie wielkiej więzi emocjonalnej mieszkańców z miastem pojawiło się już w 1990 r. przy sprawie przywrócenia miejskiego herbu z 1530 r., odrzuconego w 1933 r. hitlerowców i w 1947 r. przez komunistów. Wewnętrzne więzi emocjonalne ugruntowała powódź 1997 r., a potem pojawiły się inne ważne dla wrocławian sprawy, jak problem odzyskania z Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie zabranej z wrocławskiego ratusza hermy św. Doroty, relikwii średniowiecznych mieszczan, oraz spór z Muzeum Wojska Polskiego w Warszawie o zwrot pawęży straży miejskiej z XVII w. Nie myślano wtedy we Wrocławiu o tym, że w tym ostatnim przypadku była to straż niemieckojęzycznego miasta znajdującego się pod panowaniem Habsburgów, lecz własność dzisiejszego Wrocławia - stolicy Dolnego Śląska i miasta, w którym mieszkamy. Z podanych tu kilku przykładów wynika, że zmiany w pamięci kulturowej nie pojawiają się spontanicznie, lecz uzasadnione są ważnymi dla konkretnej społeczności wydarzeniami. Przykłady te ponadto dowodzą, że pamięć kulturowa nie oddziela się od historii, ale jej realia nie są dla niej zbyt ważne i nie traktuje się ich rygorystycznie. Przez wiele lat po wojnie w systemie totalitarnym pamięć zależała od tego, jakie cele wyznaczała sobie partia sprawująca władzę, a w systemie demokratycznym to społeczeństwo decyduje, co z przeszłości chce wiedzieć i przyjąć do teraźniejszości. W polskiej nauce historycznej nie uznaje się ciągłości historii Breslau i Wrocławia, natomiast w pamięci kulturowej dzisiejszych wrocławian ważna jest świadomość ich wspólnego dziedzictwa, wobec którego odnoszą się ze szczególnym pietyzmem.



prof. Teresa Kulak (ur. 1941) – historyk, kierownik zakładu Historii Polski i Powszechnej XIX i XX wieku Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego. 

Teresa Kulak

Wrocław / Breslau in der Geschichte und in der Erinnerung der Polen

21 August 2018
  • Polen
  • Breslau
  • Schlesien
  • Deutsche
  • Gedächtnis
  • Erinnerungspolitik

Wrocław/ Breslau war die größte Stadt in den Westgebieten, die nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg an Polen fiel. Infolge der Nachkriegsmigrationen fand ein vollständiger Austausch der Bevölkerung statt. Mit Erlaubnis der sowjetischen Besatzungsmacht nahm die polnische Verwaltung am 9. Mai 1945 ihre Tätigkeit in der noch brennenden Stadt auf, kaum drei Tage nach der Kapitulation der Festung Breslau. Die neuen Verwaltungsbehörden fanden dort ca. 165.000 Deutsche vor, eine kleine Gruppe knapp mit dem Leben davongekommener deutscher Juden und 3000 Polen, die entweder der Breslauer Polonia der Vorkriegszeit angehörten oder zu den Zwangsarbeitern aus aller Herren Länder zählten, die in der Stadt die dramatischen Tage der Belagerung durch die Rote Armee überlebt hatten.

Die vormaligen Zwangsarbeiter verließen die Stadt nach und nach, Menschen aus verschiedenen Teilen Polens kamen dort an. Dieser Zuzug verstärkte sich ab August 1945, als die Bewohner der östlichen Wojewodschaften Vorkriegspolens einzutreffen begannen, die unter Zwang über die „Curzon-Linie“, das heißt über die neue polnisch-sowjetische Staatsgrenze am Bug aussiedelt wurden. Es trafen Menschen ein, die aus ihrer heimatlichen Umgebung herausgerissen worden waren und die entgegen der tatsächlichen Rechtslage als „Repatrianten“ bezeichnet wurden.

Das damalige Breslau wirkte abschreckend wegen der ungeheuren Zerstörungen, die in einigen Stadtteilen bis zu 80 Prozent der Vorkriegsbebauung betrafen. In den Ruinen kam es zu Ausschreitungen seitens sowjetischer Soldaten, auch fanden in ihnen Diebe und organisierte Banden Unterschlupf. Die Lage in der Stadt war anfangs nicht dazu angetan, die Niederlassung im, wie man damals sagte, „wilden Westen“ erstrebenswert zu machen. „Im ersten Jahr“, so erinnerte sich ein aus Poznań/Posen gekommener Student der Breslauer Universität, „sah ich immer wieder Einwohner der Stadt in abgerissener Kleidung, alle sahen aus, wie soll ich sagen, wie auf der Durchreise. Es hatte den Anschein, dass jeder Einwohner nur für kurze Zeit gekommen war und an seinen Herkunftsort zurückkehren würde.“[1] Die Ankömmlinge nahmen eine „stumpfe Lethargie“ der Stadt und ihren „deutschen Charakter“ wahr, der manch einem „den Gedanken eingab, diese Totenstadt wieder zu verlassen“. Die meist unter dramatischen Umständen und zwangsweise aus den östlichen Grenzgebieten ausgesiedelten Polen konnten das freilich nicht tun.

Im Gegensatz zu ihnen kam eine große Zahl von Einwohnern aus Zentralpolen freiwillig, um sich niederzulassen – manche auch nur zum Plündern. Wegen der großen kulturellen Unterschiede zwischen den verschiedenen Gruppen verlief ihr Zusammenleben zu Anfang nicht ohne Reibungen, aber allmählich wuchs das wechselseitige Verständnis, und es bildete sich eine städtische Gemeinschaft. Es war eine bemerkenswerte Erscheinung im Breslau der Nachkriegszeit, dass die Ankömmlinge ziemlich rasch Bande untereinander knüpften und parallel zum Wiederaufbau der Stadt die Umwandlung des deutschen Breslau in das polnische Wrocław eintrat. Dabei spielte nicht zuletzt die Geschichtspolitik der neuen, kommunistischen Regierung Volkspolens eine große Rolle. Heute wissen wir, dass die Geschichtspolitik der Kommunisten vollständig durch deren Abhängigkeit von der UdSSR und die Propaganda in volkspolnischen Zeiten kompromittiert ist, aber in der Anfangsphase wurde sie von Wissenschaftlern, Journalisten und Publizisten der Vorkriegszeit unterstützt, die bereits während des Krieges ein Programm der territorialen Veränderungen in der Nachbarschaft zu Deutschland entwickelt und die Grenzverschiebung bis zur Oder und Glatzer Neiße, manchmal auch bis an die Lausitzer Neiße gefordert hatten. Für sie war der historische Bezugspunkt das Polen der Piastenzeit, das bis an Oder und Ostsee reichte und in dem Breslau seit dem Jahr 1000 die Hauptstadt einer der Gnesener Metropole unterstellten Diözese war, errichtet zugleich mit den Bistümern von Krakau und Kołobrzeg/ Kolberg. Im Gebiet unter der dynastischen Herrschaft der Piasten war Breslau das Zentrum der Verwaltung ganz Schlesiens, ein fester Platz und Stützpunkt in den Kriegen mit Böhmen und Deutschland. Nach der aus dem 12. Jahrhundert stammenden Chronik des Gallus Anonymus war Breslau einer der „sedes regni principales“, also der Hauptresidenzen des Königs. Diese Beziehungen lockerten sich während des Zerfalls Polens in Teilfürstentümer. Auch die Wiedervereinigung Polens von 1320 stellte das vorherige Gebiet nicht wieder her, obwohl Kasimir der Große, der letzte Herrscher aus der Piastendynastie, sich um die Wiedergewinnung Breslaus bemühte. Bis zur Mitte des 13. Jahrhundert waren die meisten Einwohner Breslaus der Nationalität nach Polen, obwohl in der Stadt auch Wallonen, Juden und Deutsche ansässig waren. Die Anzahl der Deutschen stieg erst nach der Stadtlokation von 1261 nach Magdeburger Recht an. Nach der Lokation wurde der Gebrauch der polnischen Sprache in den Stadtbüchern allmählich aufgegeben, vor Gericht wurde sie jedoch noch bis 1337 benutzt. Die Traditionen der Zugehörigkeit zum Herrschaftsgebiet der ersten Piasten überdauerten in den polnischen Konzeptionen zur Westgrenze; diese wurden um 1900 im politischen und historischen Schrifttum für richtig befunden und festgeschrieben.

Die hier umrissenen „polnischen“ Aspekte der Geschichte Breslaus und Schlesiens wurden von der Regierung benutzt, um die neuen Bewohner mit ihrer Gegenwart vertraut zu machen. Die Verschiebung Polens nach Westen wurde als Rückkehr der „wiedergewonnenen Gebiete“ in das Mutterland gefeiert, nach „zehn Jahrhunderten der Kämpfe“ mit dem deutschen Expansionismus, der bis in die Zeit der ersten Piasten zurückreiche. Der kommunistische Staat unternahm es, mit einer gezielten Propaganda das gesellschaftliche Gedächtnis zu manipulieren, um die vermeintliche Logik der Geschichte im Verlauf eines Jahrtausends nachzuweisen, den Sieg der polnischen Staatsräson und der Bestimmung der ganzen Nation. Die Zensur kontrollierte die Propagierung der gewünschten Inhalte und sorgte für eine ständige Aktualisierung der Vorstellungen von der Vergangenheit, indem sie unbequeme Fakten auslöschte oder mit Schweigen überging. Ausgeblendet wurden das 15. bis 19. Jahrhundert, da in dieser Zeitspanne ein kleiner polnischer Bevölkerungsrest eine Existenz eher am unteren Ende der sozialen Hierarchie gefristet hatte. Man bemühte sich, diejenigen Inhalte aus dem kollektiven Gedächtnis zu löschen, die die Herausbildung eines Bewusstseins der tiefen Verwurzelung der Polen in der Vergangenheit Breslaus und Schlesiens hätten stören und das Ethos der Schicksalsgemeinschaft seiner früheren und gegenwärtigen Bewohner schwächen können. Dabei versuchte man die Behauptung zu belegen, die Geschichte der polnisch-deutschen Beziehungen lehre, dass die Aussiedlung der Deutschen die einzige und gerechte, zudem völkerrechtlich geregelte Lösung gewesen sei.

Heute lassen sich diese Anstrengungen eindeutig interpretieren, nämlich als ideologisch gesteuerte Versuche, das historische Gedächtnis zu formen. Bewusst wählte man aus der Vergangenheit bestimmte Ereignisse, Personen und Symbole, um Bedürfnisse der aktuellen Politik zu bedienen und die Gegenwart zu legitimieren. Dabei war die antideutsche Stoßrichtung für diese Unternehmungen der Regierung charakteristisch, welche die Tragik des sechs Jahre dauernden Krieges herausstellten wie auch für die sporadisch auftretenden Befürchtungen, die in Potsdam festgesetzte Grenze könne revidiert werden. Für eine Minderheit war es das Schreckgespenst eines neuen Krieges, ein Gefühl des Provisorischen, das Leben mit gepackten Koffern, für die Mehrheit bedeutete es, die Reihen zu schließen und den Besitzstand und die in den Wiederaufbau investierte Arbeit zu verteidigen. Trotz schwankender Einstellungen gewannen die Machthaber an Rückhalt und Legitimität; zugleich wuchs die Zahl der Einwohner von Breslau. Die Aneignung der Stadt durch die Änderung der Straßennamen schritt fort, und mit dem Wiederaufbau Breslaus wurde der deutsche Charakter der Stadt in den Hintergrund gedrängt. Die neuen Einwohner identifizierten sich nicht mit dem zurückgelassenen Erbe, denn dieses wurde mit einer Nation gleichgesetzt, die für viele Leiden und Verluste verantwortlich war. Langfristig brachte es die politische Atmosphäre des Kalten Krieges dahin, dass die Stimmung der Menschen in den Westgebieten dennoch wechselhaft blieb. Weil die Oder-Neiße-Grenze keine internationale Absicherung besaß, kamen immer wieder Befürchtungen auf, die eng mit den Landsmannschaften verbundenen Regierungen der Bundesrepublik könne sie in Frage stellen. Daher wurde dem Staatsbesuch Willy Brandts und dem Warschauer Abkommen vom Dezember 1970 so große Bedeutung zugeschrieben.

Eine wirkliche Beruhigung trat erst 1991 ein, als in einem bilateralen Vertrag die Anerkennung der polnisch-deutschen Grenze vollzogen wurde. Das hatte positiven Einfluss auf die Haltung der Polen, die nun in der breiten Öffentlichkeit die komplizierte Breslauer Geschichte für sich entdeckten. Seither lassen sie sich von ihr faszinieren und glauben, dass Breslaus kulturelle Traditionen eine Brücke der Verständigung zwischen West‑ und Osteuropa bauen können. Denn auch Deutsche, Tschechen, Österreicher und Juden finden dort Mosaiksteine ihrer Geschichte wieder. Seit den neunziger Jahren bemühen sich die polnischen Breslauer um den Erhalt und die Rekonstruktion auch des materiellen Erbes. Die starke emotionale Verbundenheit der Bewohner mit ihrer Stadt offenbarte sich während der Überschwemmungskatastrophe von 1997. Bereits vorher hatte die Stadtführung beschlossen, das Stadtwappen von 1535 zu reaktivieren, bald darauf kehrten die aus dem Breslauer Rathaus entfernte Herme der Heiligen Dorothea aus dem Warschauer Nationalmuseum und die Pavisen der Stadtwache aus dem 17. Jahrhundert aus dem Polnischen Armeemuseum zurück. Dabei war es unwichtig, dass es sich bei letzterem um die Wache einer deutschsprachigen Stadt unter Herrschaft der Habsburger handelte – sie gilt als Stadtwache Breslaus, der Hauptstadt von Niederschlesien, der Stadt, deren Erbe auch die heutigen Breslauer als das ihre verstehen.

Die Breslauer Erfahrungen zeigen, dass das kulturelle Gedächtnis nicht von der Ereignisgeschichte zu trennen ist – doch spielen die Fakten hierbei eine untergeordnete Rolle, es geht vielmehr darum, was die Gesellschaft aus der Vergangenheit wahrnehmen und für die Gegenwart übernehmen möchte. In der Geschichtswissenschaft wird keine Kontinuität der Geschichte Breslaus und Wrocławs konstatiert. Im kollektiven Gedächtnis dagegen ist ein Bewusstsein für die Magie des Ortes, das gemeinsame Erbe und den respektvollen Umgang entstanden.

Aus dem Polnischen von Andreas R. Hofmann

Jerzy Ran, Ku wyżynom. Pamiętnik studenta wrocławskiego [Zu den Höhen. Erinnerungen eines Breslauer Studenten], Wydział Prawa [Abteilung Recht], Zakład Narodowy  im. Ossolińskich [Ossoliński-Nationalinstitut],  Handschrift 14 574 II, Bl. 212.

Prof. Teresa Kulak (geb. 1941) – Historikerin, Leiterin des Instituts für Polnische und Allgemeine Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts an der Universität Wrocław.


Teresa Kulak

Wroclaw in the history and memory of Poles

21 August 2018
  • Solidarity
  • Breslau
  • European Network Remembrance and Solidarity
  • Europe
  • Germany
  • History

Wroclaw was the biggest city in Poland’s Western Territories that came within Poland’s borders after World War II and where the entire exchange of the population took place as a result of post-war migrations from 1945. Polish administration in Wroclaw started to be created with the approval of Soviet authorities in this city when it was still burning on May 9, 1945 after only three days from the surrender of the German command of Festung Breslau. The new authorities found about 165,000 Germans there. This included about 150 German Jews saved from death and about 3,000 Poles coming both from among the pre-war Wroclaw Poles and from among the crowd of forced laborers of many nationalities numbering several dozen thousand persons who experienced dramatic days of siege by the Soviet Army troops in the town turned into a fortress. They gradually left Wroclaw where people from other parts of Poland arrived. They came also from labour and prison of war camps and from the forced labour sites from the heart of Germany.

The influx of the Polish population increased from August when residents of Eastern voivodships of pre-war Poland started arriving. They were forced to resettle behind the Curzon Line, that is, behind the new state border with the USSR, demarcated on the Bug River. The population that arrived, uprooted from its native surroundings, was officially, but not in keeping with the legal state, called „repatriates.”.

The resettled population longed for its previous place of residence as Wroclaw looked like a repelling place because of great destructions amounting even to 80 percent of pre-war buildings in some districts. A great threat was posed by ruins where thieves and bandits and the remains of German armed underground soldiers found refuge. Besides, Soviet soldiers also committed excesses. At night, assaults often took place and shots could be heard in the town plunged into darkness.

During the day, swarms of flies, the stench of burning and the decay of human and animal bodies in rubble heaps were a torment. While at dusk, thousands of rats crept out of the heaps and it was also necessary to fight against rats in flats and office rooms. The situation in the town in the first months of peace did not promote the stability of life, as people said, in the wild West. „Throughout the first year, a student of the Wroclaw University who came from the Poznan region recollected, I saw Wroclaw residents wearing untidy clothes, who looked, as if to say, in a temporary way. It seemed that each of the residents came here for a short period of time and that he will go again there from where he had come.” Newcomers were overwhelmed by the sea of ruins and the feeling of „silent lifelessness,” by the sight of the emptiness of squares and streets „full of dirt and dust” from destroyed houses. Under these special circumstances, it was initially out of the question to develop any deeper bond between residents and the city. People noticed the strangeness of Wroclaw and its „German character„ that suggested to many newcomers to leave this city of the dead.” Such an opportunity was not enjoyed by Poles displaced—mostly under dramatic circumstances-- from the eastern borderlands, although not all of them gave up the hope of changing post-war borders and returning to their family regions.

As opposed to forcibly displaced newcomers from behind the Bug river, Poles from central Poland came to western territories voluntarily and on a mass scale. As a result of these internal post-war migrations, a conviction was created in Wroclaw that as a matter of fact „representation of the population from all regions of Poland” came to this city. In view of cultural differentiation, coexistence of this population initially could not be without conflicts, but successively agreement was reached and town community was shaped. This is one of the phenomena of post-war Wroclaw that the bonds linking most Wroclaw residents emerged quickly and the process progressed of turning German Breslau into Polish Wroclaw and into their small homeland. The/// analysis of most causes of this phenomenon exceeds essential scope of my speech, but one should stress here that historical policy of the new communist state authorities of post-war Poland undoubtedly played a great role in the coming into being of this phenomenon. This policy resulted in integrating heterogeneous community, psychologically leading it as far as identification with the new place of residence.

The communists’ historical policy was totally discredited by their dependence on the USSR and propaganda in times of People’s Poland, but in this initial period it enjoyed the support of pre-war scholars, journalists and writers who already during the war prepared the program of territorial changes in the neighborhood with Germans, postulating the border on the Odra and the Nysa Klodzka rivers and sometimes also on the Lusatian Nysa river. The point of reference was Poland of the Piast dynasty, a mediaeval dynasty of Polish princes and kings who set up the Polish state, reaching from the Odra River to the Baltic. In this Poland—as it results from the mention made in the chronicle by the Merseburg Bishop Thietmar-- Wroclaw (once called Wrotizla and next Wrotizlava in the chronicle) was from the year 1000 the capital of the Catholic diocese, subordinated to the Gniezno metropolis together with dioceses established in Cracow and Kolobrzeg. In the state of the kings of the Piast dynasty, Wroclaw was the centre of the state administration for the entire Silesian land, a defensive town and a starting base in wars against Czechs and Germans. According to the chronicle by Gall Anonim, coming from the 12th century, Wroclaw was one of the „sedes regni principales, ”that is, it belonged to the main „royal headquarters.” These bonds got loosened during the district fragmentation and despite Poland’s unification in 1320 Silesia and Wroclaw did not return to Poland’s previous territorial shape, although Casimir the Great, the last king of the Piast dynasty, tried to regain Wroclaw in 1349.

As regards their nationality, till the mid-13th century most residents of Wroclaw were Polish, but also Walloons, Jews and Germans lived in it. The number of which increased only by establishing this town under the Magdeburg law in 1261. After the establishment of Wroclaw under the Magdeburg law, Polish was gradually removed from the town books , while in the courts it was still used till 1337. The state territorial traditions from the epoch of the first kings of the Piast dynasty, that is, traditions of the state based on the Odra River and the Baltic survived in the Polish western thought, verified and consolidated from the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries in political and historical writings. The vision of the Piast Poland mobilized many Poles to make independence efforts before 1918 and it was evoked during World War II, despite the double occupation of Poland and the martyrdom of the Polish people.

The facts mentioned here, referring to the history of Wroclaw and Silesia, were used by the state authorities to accustom new residents with the present, appropriately modeling their collective memory around the Regained Territories to rationalize the post-war situation and to substantiate the western border. The territorial shifting of Poland to the West was treated as a return of the „regained” lands to Mother country after „ten centuries of struggle” against German rapacity, started already during the first Piast kings. The communist state adopted the policy of guiding social memory, using proper propaganda strategies to prove the Polish return after one thousand years as the logics of history, the victory of the reason of state and general national strivings. Censorship made it possible to propagate desired contents and the authorities took care of constantly bringing up to date concepts about the past, erasing or omitting inconvenient facts. Clearly absent from this manipulation of the past were the 15th-19th centuries when there was slight Polish identity in the town among the population deprived of higher classes and limited to plebeian classes. Myths were created depending on current political and ideological needs and anti-German stereotypes were spread. Efforts were made to remove these contents from social memory that could disturb the process of shaping collective identity, including the awareness of Poles taking deep roots in the past of the town and the Silesian land and the ethos of the community of destinies of their past and present inhabitants. This awareness was shaped in an overriding way. In this connection, it was proved that the history of Polish-German relations proves that the displacing of Germans was the only and equitable solution. Besides it was formalized in decisions by the Big Three.

Today, we can unequivocally interpret most of the then actions as highly ideologized efforts to shape historical memory. Certain events, persons and symbols were consciously selected from the past for the needs of the current policy and legitimization of the present. The past was used to gain approving attitudes of residents for various kinds of current actions and strivings. Typical was the anti-German character of all actions, stemming from sad experiences of the six- year war and from fears of the revision of the border established in Potsdam. For one group of new Wrocław residents this was the bogey man of a future war and temporariness till the packing of suitcases and escaping from the new place of residence. For others, this meant the necessity of „closing ranks and defending possessions and the work done to raise the town from ruins. Despite unsteady attitudes, support for and legitimization of power grew. The number of residents also increased. The process of „taming” the town by changing the names of the streets went on and Wroclaw lost its German character mentioned above together with the progressing reconstruction. New residents did not identify themselves with the cultural heritage that was left because this brought back to their mind the people from which they experienced a lot of suffering and many losses.

Political tensions and opposing interests evident among states of the Big Three and the political atmosphere of the cold war growing from 1947 in the longer run made it difficult to stabilize the moods of the population in Poland’s western territories. Many Wroclaw residents had the feeling of temporariness because for many years there was no guarantee of the Odra and Nysa border, as a result of which they were constantly afraid of questioning the border by the FRG. That is why such great importance was attached to a visit by Willy Brandt and the treaty of December 8,1970. But Wroclaw really quieted down only at the beginning of the 1990s when after the years of political tensions and threats international recognition of the Polish-German border took place in the bilateral treaty on good neighborhood and friendly cooperation signed in Bonn on July 17, 1991. This treaty firmly positively influenced attitudes to Germans and the change of the cultural memory of Poles who noticed and discovered the complex history of Wroclaw already in Poland’s new political situation. Since these years they have been fascinated with this history and think that the Wroclaw past and cultural traditions can become the bridge of agreement between the West and East of Europe. As Germans, Czechs, Austrians and also Jews find fragments of their history in it.

Since the 1990s, it has been particularly evident that Poles have tried to preserve and to reconstruct material sphere of this heritage. Now, they identify themselves with it and the existence of a great emotional bond of residents with the town emerged already in 1990 in the case of restoring the town coat of arms from 1530 rejected in 1933 by the nazis and in 1947 by communists. Internal emotional bonds were consolidated by the flood in 1997 and then emerged other questions important for Wroclaw residents such as the problem of regaining the herma of St. Dorothea, a relic of mediaeval townsmen, from the Warsaw National Museum. The herma was taken from the Wroclaw city-hall. Another problem was the dispute with the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw over the return of a wooden shield used by town guards from the 17th century. At the time, people in Wroclaw did not think that in the last case these were guards of the German language town under the rule of the Hapsburgs , but that this is the property of today’s Wroclaw, the capital of Lower Silesia and the town in which we live. Several examples given here show that changes in cultural memory do not appear spontaneously, but are substantiated by events important for a specific community. These examples also prove that cultural memory does not separate from history, but that its realities are not too important for it and they are not treated rigorously. For many years after World War II in the totalitarian system memory depended on what goals were defined by the party exercising power, while in the democratic system it is society that decides what it wants to know from the past and to accept to the present. Polish historical science does not recognize the continuity of history of Breslau and Wroclaw. But as regards cultural memory of today’s Wroclaw residents, the awareness of their common heritage is important, the heritage which they treat with special reverence. 


Prof. Teresa Kulak (born 1941) – historian, Head of Department of Polish and General History of the 19th and 20th Century at the University of Wrocław.


Teresa Kulak

Wroclaw a történelemben és a lengyelek emlékezetében

21 August 2018
  • emlékezet
  • Lengyelország
  • lengyelek
  • emlékezetpolitika
  • Wrocław
  • Szilézia
  • németek

Wroclaw volt annak a nyugati országrésznek a legnagyobb városa, amelyre a II. világháború után kiterjedtek Lengyelország határai és ahol 1945-tól a népesség háború utáni migrációja révén a lakosság teljes cseréjére került sor. A lengyel közigazgatás kialakítása Wroclawban 1945. május 9-én kezdődött meg a szovjethatalom jóváhagyásával, a még lángokban álló városban, mindössze három nappal a német Festung Breslau parancsnokság kapitulációja után.

Az új hatalom képviselői találtak itt kb. 165 ezer németet, – ezen belül kb. 150, a haláltól megmenekült német zsidót és közel 3 ezer lengyelt, akiknek egy része a háború előtti wroclawi Polóniából maradt itt, másik része pedig a több tízezer főt számláló soknemzetiségű kényszermunkás között volt, akik az erőddé változtatott városban élték át a Vörös Hadsereg ostromának tragikus napjait. Ők fokozatosan elhagyták Wroclawot, amelybe az emberek Lengyelország más részéből, a munka- és fogolytáborokból és a mélyen Németország belsejében végzett kényszermunkákból kerültek ide. A lengyel népesség beáramlása augusztustól felgyorsult, amikor ideértek a háború előtti Lengyelország keleti vajdaságainak első lakói, akiket a „Curzon-vonal” mögé való kitelepülésre kényszerítettek, azaz a Szovjetunió Bug mentén kijelölt új államhatárai mögé. Az idekerült, szülőföldjükről kiszakított népességet, hivatalosan – habár a tényleges helyzetnek ellentmondóan - „repatriáltaknak” nevezték.

A kitelepítettek honvágyat éreztek korábbi lakóhelyük iránt. Wroclaw visszataszítóan nézett ki a szörnyű pusztítások miatt, amelyek aránya némelyik negyedben a háború előtti épületállománynak majdnem 80%-át is elérte. Hatalmas veszélyt jelentettek a romok, ahol bűnözők és banditák, valamint az illegalitásba vonult német fegyveresek találtak menedéket, de előfordultak túlkapások a szovjet katonák részéről is. Éjszaka, a sötétségbe borult városban gyakran került sor támadásokra, és hallatszott a lövések hangja. Nappal a legyek támadtak milliós rajokban, mindenütt érződött az égésszag, a romok között heverő holttestek és állati tetemek bomlásának bűze, alkonyat után pedig a patkányok ezrei jöttek elő a romok közül, de harcolni kellett velük a lakásokban és az irodahelyiségekben is. A városban uralkodó helyzet a béke első hónapjaiban nem segítette elő az élet stabilizálódását - ahogyan akkor mondták - „a vad Nyugaton”. „Az első évben – emlékszik vissza a Wroclawi Egyetem egy Poznań környékéről érkezett hallgatója – ápolatlan öltözetű wroclawiakkal találkoztam, a kinézetük – hogy is mondjam - átmeneti volt. Úgy tűnt, hogy a lakosok mindegyike csak rövid időre került ide és nemsokára visszamegy oda, ahonnan érkezett”. Az ide érkezőket nyomasztotta a tengernyi rom, az „üszkös némaság”, a terek és utcák „pusztasága”, a lerombolt házak miatt „tele mocsokkal és porral”. Ezek a rendkívüli körülmények kezdetben nem tették lehetővé a lakosok és a város közötti bármiféle mélyebb kötelék létrejöttét. Érezhető volt Wroclaw idegensége, annak „német karaktere”, ami nem egy ide érkezőben „felébresztette a gondolatot, hogy elhagyja a halottaknak ezt a városát”. Erre nem volt lehetőségük az – általában drámai körülmények között – a keleti határszélről kitelepített lengyeleknek, bár nem mindegyikük hagyott fel a reménnyel a háború utáni határok módosítása és a szülőföldjükre való visszatérés iránt.

A „Bugon túlról” jött kényszer alatt kitelepítettekkel szemben Közép-Lengyelországból önként és tömegesen jöttek lengyelek a nyugati földre. A háború utáni belső migrációk eredményeképpen Wroclawban az a meggyőződés alakult ki, hogy a városba ténylegesen beérkezett népesség „Lengyelország minden régióját képviselte”. A kulturális sokszínűség miatt az együttélés kezdetben nem lehetett konfliktusmentes, de fokozatosan kialakult a megbékélés és formálódott a város közössége. A háború utáni Wroclawra jellemző egyik nem mindennapi vonás az, hogy gyorsan létrejöttek az összes wroclawit összekapcsoló kötelékek és bekövetkezett a német Breslau átalakulása a lengyel Wroclaw-vá és az ő kis hazájukká. E ritka jelenség összes okának feltárása nem fér bele előadásom kereteibe, de hangsúlyoznom kell, hogy kétségtelenül hatalmas szerepet játszott ennek kialakulásában a háború utáni Lengyelország új, kommunista államhatalmi szerveinek történelempolitikája. E politikának köszönhetően integrálták heterogén közösséggé, pszichológiailag elvezetve azt az új lakóhellyel való azonosuláshoz.

A kommunisták történelempolitikáját teljes mértékben kompromittálta a Szovjetuniótól való függőségük és a Lengyel Népköztársaság alatti propaganda, de ebben a kezdeti időszakban még élvezte a háború előtti tudósokból, újságírókból és publicistákból álló csoport támogatását, akik már a háború alatt előkészítették a területi változások programját a németek szomszédságában: az ajánlásuk szerint a határ az Odera és a klodzko-i Nysa illetve esetenként a Luzycki Nysa mentén futott. Viszonyítási alapként a Piastoknak az Oderáig és a Balti-tengerig terjedő Lengyelországa szolgált, amelyben Wroclaw, ahogy Thietmar merseburgi püspök krónikájában található (a krónikában Wrotizla, másutt Wrotizlava néven említve) az 1000. évtől a gnieznoi metropolita alá rendelt katolikus egyházmegye központja volt a Krakkóban és Kolobrzegben alapított egyházmegyékkel együtt. A Piastok államában Wroclaw az egész sziléziai országrész közigazgatási központja volt védvárral és kiinduló bázisként szolgált a Csehországgal és Németországgal folytatott háborúkban. A XII. századból származó Anonymus, másként Gallusnak is nevezett krónikája szerint Wroclaw egyike volt a „sedes regni principales” – városoknak, azaz besorolta a „főbb királyi székhelyek” közé. Ezek a kötelékek fellazultak az ország részfejedelemségekre való szétesésének időszakában, és Lengyelország 1320-ban bekövetkezett egyesítése ellenére Szilézia Wroclaw-val együtt nem tért vissza a korábbi Lengyelország területi felépítésébe, habár Nagy Kázmér, a Piast dinasztia utolsó tagja 1349-ben megkísérelte Wroclaw visszaszerzését. A XIII. század közepéig Wroclaw lakosságának többsége nemzetiségét tekintve lengyel volt, de laktak benne többek között vallonok, zsidók és németek is, akiknek a száma csupán az után emelkedett meg, hogy a város 1261-ben német magdeburgi előjogokat kapott. A német jog bevezetése (lokacja) után a városi anyakönyvekből fokozatosan eltüntették a lengyel nyelvet, azonban az igazságszolgáltatásban még 1337-ben is alkalmazták. Az első Piastok korának állami, territoriális hagyományai, és a Balti-tengeren nyugvó állam fennmaradtak a nyugat-lengyel gondolkodásban, amelyet a XIX. és a XX. század fordulóján rendszereztek és a politikai és történelmi művekben rögzítettek. A piast-i Lengyelország víziója számos lengyelt mozgósított 1918 előtt a függetlenségi erőfeszítések megtételére, visszaidézték azt a II. világháború idején, az ország kettős megszállásával és a lengyel nemzet mártírságával szemben.

Az itt jelzett, Wroclaw és Szilézia történelmével kapcsolatos tényanyagot használták fel az állami hatóságok az új lakosságnak a jelennel való megbékéltetésére, megfelelően modellezve közösségi emlékezetüket a „visszanyert földek” körül, a háború utáni helyzet racionalizálása és a nyugati határ indoklása céljából. Lengyelország nyugat felé történő területi eltolását úgy tekintették, mint a német bekebelezési törekvések ellen már az első Piastok idején megkezdett „tíz évszázados erőfeszítések” után „visszanyert” földeknek az anyaországhoz való visszatérését. A kommunista állam a társadalmi emlékezet irányításának politikáját alakította ki, hogy megfelelő propaganda-stratégia alkalmazásával az ezer év utáni lengyel visszatérést úgy mutassa be, mint a történelmi idők logikáját, az államérdek és az össz-nemzeti törekvések győzelmét. A cenzúra lehetővé tette a kívánt tartalmak propagálását, a hatóságok pedig gondoskodtak a múltról kialakított kép folyamatos aktualizálásáról, a nem kívánatos tények kitörléséről vagy kikerüléséről. A múlt manipulálásából hiányoztak a XV-XIX. közötti századok, amikor a felsőbb rétegektől megfosztott és a plebejusi rétegekre korlátozott városi lakosság körében elenyésző volt a lengyel jelenlét. Az aktuális politikai és ideológiai szükségletektől függően alakítottak ki mítoszokat, népszerűsítettek németellenes sztereotípiákat. A társadalmi emlékezetből igyekeztek kitörölni minden olyan tartalmat, amelyek megzavarhatták volna a közösségi azonosulás folyamatát, ezen belül annak mindenekelőtti tudatosítását, hogy a lengyelek milyen mély gyökerekkel kötődnek a város és a sziléziai föld múltjához, továbbá a múltbeli és a jelenlegi lakosság közötti sorsközösség etoszát. Emellett azt bizonygatták, hogy a német-lengyel kapcsolatok történelme igazolja, hogy a németek kitelepítése volt az egyetlen és igazságos megoldás, amelyet egyébként a Nagy Hármas határozatai formalizáltak. 

Ma az akkori tevékenységek összességét egységesen úgy értelmezhetjük, mint a történelmi emlékezet alakítására tett, nagymértékben ideologizált erőfeszítések. A múltból tudatosan kiválasztottak bizonyos eseményeket, személyeket, szimbólumokat az aktuális politikához és a jelen legitimmé tételéhez. Felhasználták a múltat, hogy megszerezzék a lakosság jóváhagyó hozzáállását különféle aktuális tevékenységekhez és törekvésekhez. Az összes tevékenységet németellenesség jellemezte, amely a hat évig tartó háború szomorú tapasztalataiból és a Potsdamban meghatározott határok revíziójától való félelemből eredt. Az új lakosok némelyikének ez az eljövendő háború, a létbizonytalanság, a bőröndök ismételt csomagolásának és az új lakóhelyről való menekülésnek a rémét jelentette, másoknak pedig a sorok azonnali „hadrendbe állítását” a birtokba vett vagyon megvédéséért, valamint áldozatos munkavégzést a város romjaiból való felépítéséért. A hozzáállások labilitása ellenére, mégis fokozatosan növekedett a hatóságok támogatottsága és legitimációja, növekedett a lakosok száma is. Tovább tartott a város „megszelídítésének” folyamata az utcanevek megváltoztatása révén, és az előrehaladó újjáépítéssel együtt Wroclaw fokozatosan elvesztette fent említett német jellegét. Az új lakosok nem azonosultak az itt hagyott kulturális örökséggel, mert az arra a népre emlékeztetett, amelytől sok szenvedés és veszteség érte őket. A Nagy Hármas államai között látható politikai feszültség, az érdekek egymással szembenállása és az 1947-től felerősödő hidegháborús politikai légkör hosszabb távlatban megnehezítették a népesség hangulatának stabilizálódását a nyugati országrészen. Számos wroclawiban megmaradt az átmenetiség érzése, hiszen évekig nem történt meg az Odera és a Nysa Luzycka folyókon megállapított határok nemzetközi megerősítése, aminek következtében állandóan attól féltek, hogy az NSZK megkérdőjelezi a határokat. Ezért tulajdonítottak olyan nagy jelentőséget Willy Brandt látogatásának, és az 1970. december 8-i megállapodásnak. Igazi megnyugvást azonban csak a 90-es évek elején éreztek Wroclawban, amikor a politikai feszültségek és veszélyeztetettség évei után bekövetkezett a német-lengyel határ nemzetközi elismerése a kétoldalú jószomszédi és baráti együttműködési egyezményben, amelyet 1991. július 17-én írtak alá Bonnban. Ez az egyezmény határozottan pozitívan hatott a németekkel szembeni hozzáállásra és a lengyelek kulturális emlékezetére, akik már az ország új politikai helyzetében észrevették és feltárták Wroclaw bonyolult történelmét. Az első évektől kezdve lenyűgözte őket és úgy vélik, hogy annak múltja és kulturális hagyományai a megértés hídját képezhetik Európa keleti és nyugati része között. Saját történelmük egy darabját találják meg ugyanis abban a németek, a csehek, az osztrákok, de a zsidók is.

A 90-es évektől különösen látható az, hogy a lengyelek az anyagi szférában igyekeznek megőrizni, sőt visszaállítani ezt az örökséget. Most azonosulnak vele, a lakosság és a város közötti erős érzelmi kötődés fennállása már 1990-ben megmutatkozott a város 1530-ból származó címerének visszaállítása ügyében, amit 1933-bana fasiszták, 1947-ben pedig a kommunisták vetettek el. A belső érzelmi kötődést megalapozta az 1997-es árvíz, aztán további fontos ügyek jelentek meg a wroclawiak számára, mint például a középkori polgárok relikviája, a Szent Dorottya ereklye wroclawi városházáról elvitt hermájának visszaszerzése a varsói Nemzeti Múzeumból, vagy például a varsói Lengyel Hadsereg Múzeumával folytatott vita a városi őrség XVII. századi tárcsáinak visszaadásáról. Ekkor már nem gondoltak arra Wroclawban, hogy ebben az utóbbi esetben németajkú város őrségéről van szó, amely a Habsburgok uralma alatt volt, hanem csak arra, hogy ez a mai Wroclawnak, Alsó-Szilézia fővárosának és annak a városnak a tulajdona, ahol laknak. Az itt megadott néhány példából kiderül, hogy a kulturális emlékezet változásai nem jelennek meg spontán, hanem azokat a konkrét közösség számára fontos események indokolják. Ezek a példák továbbá azt is igazolják, hogy a kulturális emlékezet nem különül el a történelemtől, de annak reális elemei nem túl fontosak számára és nem kezeli azokat szigorúan. A háború után sok éven át a totalitárius rendszerben az emlékezet attól függött, milyen célokat tűzött ki magának a hatalmat gyakorló párt, a demokratikus rendszerben a társadalom dönti el, mit akar látni a történelemből, és elfogadni a jelenben. A lengyel történelemtudományban nem ismerik el Breslau és Wroclaw történelmének folytonosságát, azonban a mai wroclawiak történelmi emlékezetében fontos azok közös öröksége, amely iránt különös kegyelettel viseltetnek.

Teresa Kulak professzor (szül. 1941) – történész, a XIX. és XX. századi Lengyel és Általános Történelem Tanszék vezetője a Wroclawi Egyetemen.

Benedict von Bremen

Work-in-progress Report: Research Project – the Economic Plundering of the Jewish Population in Wurttemberg and Hohenzollern

21 August 2018
  • Holocaust
  • Nazism
  • Shoah
  • Jews
  • Germany


The research project ‘Wirtschaftliche Ausplünderung der jüdischen Bevölkerung in Württemberg und Hohenzollern’ [The Economic Plundering of the Jewish Population in Württemberg and Hohenzollern] is a joint project by state archives, memorial societies and individual researchers in the Federal German State of Baden-Württemberg. It examines National Socialist policies and actions to show the various participators and perpetrators in the economic plundering of German Jewish citizens. It provides an insight into how commercial and ideological interests, as well as state legislation and actions, were intrinsic to the discrimination, disenfranchisement and persecution of Jewish people in this part of south-west Germany.




Economic measures against Jewish businesses were an important component of the discrimination, disenfranchisement and persecution of Jewish citizens during the ‘Third Reich’ [German: ‘Drittes Reich’]. 1 The boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933 marked the beginning of Nazi policies against Jews. It was followed by the Nuremberg Laws [Nürnberger Gesetze] of 1935, which marked an important step in anti-Semitic legislation. Actions such as ‘Aryanization’ [‘Arisierung’] – the forced sale, well below market rate, of Jewish property and businesses to the members of the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ – ‘the People’s Society’ – did not begin until after the Crystal Night of 9 November 1938; rather, the economic disenfranchisement of Jewish business-owners was among a protracted sequence of actions. ‘Wirtschaftliche Ausplünderung der jüdischen Bevölkerung in Württemberg und Hohenzollern’ [The Economic Plundering of the Jewish Population in Württemberg and Hohenzollern] examines Nazi policies and actions in what is today the German state of Baden-Württemberg. It is a joint project of the Central State Archives of Stuttgart, 2 Ludwigsburg State Archives, 3 Sigmaringen State Archives, 4 the Association of Gäu-Neckar-Alb Memorial Societies [Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu-Neckar-Alb e.V.] 5 and individual researchers from local archives and memorial societies.

The project examines a variety of businesses, from textile manufacturing to livestock dealers and law firms once located in cities in the region of Württemberg-Hohenzollern, from the university town of Tübingen and rural Rexingen to the urban and industrial city of Stuttgart, the location of the main tax and revenue office of the region. The aim is to show the involvement of various participators and perpetrators in the economic plundering of German Jewish citizens, including members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party [NSDAP; German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei], government tax and revenue officials and ‘Aryan’ business competitors. It will also provide an insight into how commercial and ideological interests, state legislation and actions were intrinsic to the discrimination, disenfranchisement and persecution of Jewish citizens in this region of Germany.

After a short overview of the current research concerning the economic plundering of German Jews between 1933 and 1945, this work-in-progress report traces how the project is run. It then presents a preliminary outline of the planned publication.


State of the research 6

The first German study to deal with the exclusion of Jews from economic activity in the Reich was Helmut Genschel’s Die Verdrängung der Juden aus der Wirtschaft im Dritten Reich [The expulsion of Jews from the Third Reich’s economy] (1966). Over the course of the next thirty years, there were, with the exception of Avraham Barkai’s Vom Boykott zur Entjudung: Der wirtschaftliche Existenzkampf der Juden im Dritten Reich 1933–1943 [From boycott to dejudaization: the economic struggle of Jews in the Third Reich] (1988), which took a national perspective, only a few, mostly regional and local studies tackled this topic; these included Barbara Händler-Lachmann and Thomas Werther’s Vergessene Geschäfte – verlorene Geschichte. Jüdisches Wirtschaftsleben in Marburg und seine Vernichtung im Nationalsozialismus [Forgotten business – forgotten history: Jewish economic life in Marburg and its annihilation during National Socialism] (1992). Frank Bajohr’s seminal study ‘Arisierung’ in Hamburg: Die Verdrängung der jüdischen Unternehmer 1933–1945 [‘Aryanization’ in Hamburg: the expulsion of Jewish businessmen 1933–1945] (1998) was a beacon in an era of more thorough research that continues to this day. Bajohr set the local example of Hamburg in the wider context of anti- Jewish German discriminatory and exploitative policies. However, works in the years that followed, such as the 2002 edited volume ‘Arisierung’ und Restitution: Die Rückerstattung jüdischen Eigentums in Deutschland und Österreich nach 1945 und 1989 [‘Aryanization’ and restitution: reimbursement of Jewish property in Germany and Austria after 1945 and 1989] and the 2003 edited volume Raub und Restitution: ‘Arisierung’ und Rückerstattung des jüdischen Eigentums in Europa [Robbery and restitution: ‘Aryanization’ and reimbursement of Jewish property in Europe] look at the topic from an international and comparative position. Case studies of the history of individual Jewish businesses, such as Simone Ladwig-Winters’ Wertheim – ein Warenhausunternehmen und seine Eigentümer: Ein Beispiel der Entwicklung der Berliner Warenhäuser bis zur ‘Arisierung’ [Wertheim – a department store business and its owners: an example for the development of department stores in Berlin up to the era of ‘Aryanization’] (1997) and the involvement of individual German companies and financial institutions, such as the edited volume Profiteure des NS-Systems? Deutsche Unternehmen und das ‘Dritte Reich’ [Profiteers of the Nazi system? German businesses and the ‘Third Reich’] (2006) were also published. A recent example of a local study is Christina Fritsche’s extensive Ausgeplündert, zurückerstattet und entschädigt: Arisierung und Wiedergutmachung in Mannheim [Plundered, reimbursed and restituted: Aryanization and compensation in Mannheim] (2013). Also published in 2013, Christiane Kuller’s Bürokratie und Verbrechen: Antisemitische Finanzpolitik und Verwaltungspraxis im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland [Bureaucracy and crime: anti-Semitic fiscal policy and administrative practice in National Socialist Germany] focuses on the role of the German tax and revenue offices.

As these works reveal, ‘Aryanization’ is a thorny topic (e.g. Goscher and Lillteicher 2002, 10; Rappl 2004, 17–30), not only because it is a Nazi term but also, according to some, because it denotes only certain aspects of the economic plundering of German Jews. This is examined in the introduction to the final edited volume of ‘The Economic Plundering of the Jewish Population in Württemberg and Hohenzollern’. A good definition of ‘Aryanization’ and how it can encompass the various Nazi measures taken against German Jews and the economic plundering of them as envisaged by the project is presented in the introduction of the 2004 edited volume München arisiert: Entrechtung und Enteignung der Juden in der NS-Zeit [Aryanized Munich: disenfranchisement and dispossession of Jews during the National Socialist era]:

‘Aryanization’ is the comprehensive and systematic theft of a certain sector of a civic society in modern history. The National Socialist state, by means of its party organizations, public authorities and a network of private and public interested parties, seized every type of Jewish asset – properties, companies, craft businesses, cash, financial stocks, life insurance certificates, furniture, antiques, precious metals, books, art works and much more. The result of this plundering was not only an ‘Aryanized’ and ‘Jew-free’ Munich but also many citizens, companies, institutions and administrative bodies who actively promoted the expropriation of their Jewish neighbours, Jewish companies and Jewish competitors or who knowingly profited from this process [...] The term ‘Aryanization’ was introduced by National Socialist administrative agencies in the 1930s and was – formally and bureaucratically – used to account for a process that transferred Jewish property into ‘Aryan’ hands. In hindsight, we now know the precise circumstances and the vast scale and consequences of these concerted actions against Jewish Germans, and we understand ‘Aryanization’ as the expulsion from the economic realm, the deprivation of rights, the misappropriation, the plundering and, finally, the extermination of Jewish citizens and their livelihood (Baumann and Heusler 2004, 10 f.). 7

Moreover, as the studies cited above and titles like that of the edited volume ‘Arisierung’ im Nationalsozialismus: Volksgemeinschaft, Raub und Gedächtnis [‘Aryanization’ during National Socialism: people’s community, robbery and memory] (2000) show, the often problematic restitution of Jewish property after the war is now also under investigation, not least because this tells us something about how Germans have dealt with this aspect of their history (Baumann and Heusler 2004, 15).


The economic plundering of the Jewish population in Wurttemberg and Hohenzollern 8

The proposal for the research project had been mooted for years and began in earnest in 2014. Since then, most of the participants have been meeting from time to time in the Central State Archives of Stuttgart, while smaller groups, such as the participants from the Association of Gäu-Neckar-Alb Memorial Societies, have got together more regularly to discuss their methods and findings.

The research project wants to add to the discussion of the economic plundering of German Jews, the legal framework, how it was undertaken and the participators – both perpetrators and victims – involved. The region investigated is the NSDAP party administrative district [Gau] of Württemberg- Hohenzollern, 9 and the cities represented range from Bad Mergentheim in the north to Rottweil, south of the Prussian province of Hohenzollern, and from Schramberg in the west to Ulm in the east. This encompasses the large industrial city of Stuttgart which, as the state capital, was also an important administrative centre; medium-sized cities, such as the university town of Tübingen; and small rural villages, such as Rexingen. The Jewish businesses considered are also wide-ranging, from livestock dealers to law firms and manufacturing companies.

The participators are looked at from different perspectives. The perpetrators – NSDAP party organizations, local authorities, administrative offices and private individuals deemed part of ‘the People’s Society’ [‘Volksgemeinschaft’] – participated in the economic plundering of their fellow Jewish citizens on varying, but often interlinked levels. The research project also sheds light on the response, and lack of response, of the victims.

The sources used for the most part are held in the State Archives of Baden- Württemberg. The State Archives of Ludwigsburg, for example, houses tax and revenue office records from Bad Mergentheim, Heilbronn and Schwäbisch Gmünd as well as from the regional tax and revenue office [Oberfinanzdirektion] of Stuttgart up to 1945. These files are invaluable because many records were destroyed in the war. The documents provide insight into how the disparate processes functioned and who the revenue officials involved were. For the years after 1945, the State Archives of Ludwigsburg houses records on restitution cases – almost a whole kilometre of recompensation [Wiedergutmachung] files alone. Other sources are located in the Sigmaringen State Archives: these include the tax and revenue office records of Horb. Here, as well as in Ludwigsburg, denazification records [Spruchkammerakten] are available, although these have to be examined very critically as many of the testimonies have been whitewashed. Moreover, the sources used include first-person files, largely from the victims’ point of view, such as autobiographies 10 and interviews. Contemporary sources, such as newspapers 11 and municipal registers of land ownership, have also also been taken into consideration.

The final publication opens with a preface by the editors setting out the basic processes of the economic plundering of German Jews in Württemberg- Hohenzollern as well as giving an overview of the major participators. It also defines the concepts used, and explains why the term ‘Aryanization’ is not used. The introductory chapter by Martin Ulmer (Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu-Neckar-Alb e.V. and Geschichtswerkstatt Tübingen e.V.) 12 summarizes völkisch [nationalist] and NSDAP ideology and agendas before 1933, with a special focus on the 1920 NSDAP party manifesto as well as calls for boycotts of Jewish businesses and legislative initiatives taken before 1933. Another introductory chapter written by Martin Burkhardt (Economics archives of Baden-Württemberg) 13 outlines the economic status of Jews in Württemberg and Hohenzollern in 1933, providing data on the range of professions and trades they practised and the percentage of Jews in selected professional fields. The main chapters are organized in five parts in chronological order. Opening sub-chapters elaborate on the larger context of anti-Jewish practices in the ‘Third Reich’, followed by respective case studies.

The first part deals with the time period from the Nazi seizure of power [‘Machtergreifung’] on 30 January 1933 to the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. Nicole Bickhoff (Central State Archives of Stuttgart) provides an overview of the legal actions taken by the National Socialist government during this time period. The new regime was able to add to the laws and ordinances issued by the Weimar Republic, such as the 1931 Reich Flight Tax [Reichsfluchtsteuer], which attempted to stem the flight of capital, but it also introduced its own legislation, such as the April 1933 Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service [Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums]. Another summary is planned to be written by Martin Häusermann (Ludwigsburg State Archives) on the topic of the immediate National Socialist actions that the Nazi government took against Jews as soon as they came to power in 1933. These included the exclusion of Jews from local councils [Gemeinderäte] and registered associations [Vereine] in addition to the 1 April 1933 boycott of Jewish shopkeepers, lawyers and doctors.

The first local case study is a jointly co-authored article by Hartwig Behr (Bad Mergentheim) 14 and Barbara Staudacher (Träger- und Förderverein Ehemalige Synagoge Rexingen e.V.) 15 who detail the sudden expulsion of Jewish butchers from the Württemberg meat market because kosher butchering was outlawed by the 21 April 1933 Law on the Butchering of Animals [Gesetz über das Schlachten von Tieren]. Jochen Faber (Ludwigsburg) sheds light on the economic demise of Jewish agriculturalists in Hoheneck, near Ludwigsburg. Benedict von Bremen (Geschichtswerkstatt Tübingen e.V., Initiative Alte Synagoge Hechingen e.V. 16 and Träger- und Förderverein Ehemalige Synagoge Rexingen e.V.) provides a comparative analysis of the destruction of small Jewish textile merchants in Tübingen, Hechingen, Horb and Reutlingen. Irene Scherer and Welf Schröter (Löwenstein Forschungsverein e.V. Mössingen) 17

present their findings on the Pausa textile company of Mössingen. Plans for taking over this enterprise were in place before 1933; putting these into effect after 1933 resulted in the early flight of the owners, the brothers Arthur and Felix Löwenstein and their families into exile in Britain. Winfried Hecht (Verein Ehemalige Synagoge Rottweil e.V.) investigates the rapid liquidation of the Schwarzwälder Bürgerzeitung [Black Forest citizen’s newspaper] in Rottweil. He describes the Bürgerzeitung’s loss of status as the official register of Rottweil and the following swift collapse of its economic basis. Carsten Kohlmann (Schramberg) looks into the acquisition of the Schramberg cinema, founded by Hollywood pioneer and Schramberg native Carl Lämmle by NSDAP members and the role of film as an important Nazi propaganda tool. The situation of Jewish lawyers is examined by Martin Ulmer, taking the examples of Dr Simon Hayum (Tübingen), Dr Manfred Scheuer and Dr Siegfried Gumbel (both Heilbronn), and other practitioners in Stuttgart. The first part ends with Gisela Roming’s (Verein Ehemalige Synagoge Rottweil e.V.) paper on the dissolution of the Jewish community in Rottweil between 1933 and 1940 and how they were excluded from the city’s economic and social life, resulting in their early flight into exile.

The years between the passing of the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and mid 1938 and the further radicalization of anti-Jewish Nazi policies is the subject of the second part. Nicole Bickhoff ’s introductory sub-chapter surveys the legislative foundations, such as the 1935 Law of the Reich Citizen [Reichsbürgergesetz], introduced under the Nuremberg Laws, which categorized German citizens as Reich citizens [Reichsbürger] of ‘German’ blood or other citizens of ‘foreign’ racial status, and also an inventory of all Jewish-owned property as the basis for the full-blown deprivation of rights and theft from German Jews to come. The pivotal role of the NSDAP and the mediation centre [Vermittlungszentrale]18 in making the German economy ‘Jew-free’ and in the forced sale of large corporations as well as the participation of trade associations and the auditing firm Swabian Trustee Inc. [Schwäbische Treuhand AG] 19

are the focus of Martin Ulmer’s paper. Peter Müller (Ludwigsburg State Archives) examines the role played by the Economic Bank [Wirtschaftsbank] foundation in the economic plundering of Jews.

The local case studies open with Doris Astrid Muth’s (Sigmaringen) paper on the expulsion from Hechingen of the three leading textile manufacturing companies – Julius Levi & Co., Karl Löwengart, and Hermann Levi – and their subsequent ‘Aryanization’. 20 Karl-Heinz Rueß (Göppingen) also looks at textile manufacturing in his study of A. Gutmann & Co. GmbH, a spinning and weaving company based in Göppingen. A different sector of the economy is examined by Martin Ulmer in his paper on the liquidation and forced transfer of Jewish-owned banks in Tübingen, Horb and Stuttgart. Claudia Kleemann’s (Stuttgart) account of the Landauer (Stuttgart, Ulm and Heilbronn), Schocken (Ulm and Pforzheim) and Hermann Tietz (Stuttgart) department stores provides insight into the boycotts and forced sales and transfers in the commercial sales sector. Susanne Rueß (Stuttgart) writes an article on the fate of Jewish medical practitioners in Württemberg. How three female Jewish women – a department store owner, a social worker and a bourgeoise of independent means – from Stuttgart fared is Fabienne Störzinger’s (Stuttgart) subject. 21

Martin Ritter (Freundeskreis ehemalige Synagoge Affaltrach e.V.) 22 investigates the Adler-Brauerei [Eagle Brewery] in Heilbronn. The section is anticipated to end with Amelie Fried’s (Munich) research on the Pallas footwear store and how its Jewish owners, Fried’s relatives, fought to save their business. 23

The third part covers the years 1938–1941 with the registration of all Jews, the 1938 pogrom, the start of the Second World War and the ghettoization of the German Jewish population. The introductory paper discusses preparations for and enactment of the November 1938 terror and its implications. The capital levy on Jewish Germans [‘Judenvermögensabgabe’] played an important part in funding Nazi Germany’s preparations for war. Jews were banned from carrying out independent economic activities. Other anti-Jewish decrees, such as wearing the yellow Star of David, Jewish-only shops, obligatory residence in Jews’ houses [‘Judenhäuser’] and forced relocations continued and exacerbated discrimination against Jews.

The first paper is co-authored by Hartwig Behr and Barbara Staudacher, who describe the economic demise of all Jewish cattle merchants in the region. 24 Jupp Kleegraf (Stuttgart) examines the ghettoization of Jews in Stuttgart’s ‘Judenhäuser’, ‘the attitude of ‘Aryan’ landlords and potential purchasers of Jewish property as well as the role played by the city of Stuttgart in the ‘Aryanization’ and restitution of Jewish-owned real estate. The forced sale of the Schramberger Majolika-Fabrik [Maiolica Factory, Schramberg], the flight of its owners, the Meyer family, and the company’s restitution after 1949 are the subjects of Carsten Kohlmann’s contribution. Another paper is expected to deal with the role of the Stuttgart, Heilbronn and Laupheim municipalities in the forced expropriation and eventual sale of Jewish property. Bettina Eger (Verein Ehemalige Synagoge Rottweil e.V.) closes this section with the history of Max Blochert’s and Wilhelm Wälder’s businesses as examples of the forced transfer of Jewish property in Rottweil.

The fourth part deals with preparations for and execution of the deportation and mass murder of Jews. The years from 1941 to 1945 signalled the final phase of economic plundering, ending in the financial (and often actual) death of Jewish citizens. Martin Ulmer surveys the part played by the state tax and revenue office [Oberfinanzbehörde] 25 in Stuttgart and the local tax and revenue offices [Finanzämter]. Cooperation between the state tax and revenue office, a local tax and revenue office, and the secret state police, or Gestapo, are exemplified by Heinz Högerle (Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu- Neckar-Alb e.V., Träger- und Förderverein Ehemalige Synagoge Rexingen e.V.) with the example of Horb, depicting the participators and profiteers of Jewish deportations from state agencies, Nazi party organizations and, through direct sales and public auctions, the local populace. Hartwig Behr examines the role of Gottlob Belzner, a tax and revenue officer from Bad Mergentheim. A topic that came to the attention of the German public in 2013 following the case of the art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is the Nazi theft of works of art. Concentrating on Stuttgart art historian and arts dealer Dr Morton Bernath, Anja Heuß (Stuttgart) deals with this aspect of economic plundering. 26 Joachim Hahn (Plochingen) 27 has been asked to provide an article on the forced sale of synagogues and the appropriation of Jewish cemeteries.

The fifth and final part deals with the years after 1945. The first paper introduces the concepts and realities of restitution and compensation. The early post-war years saw uncoordinated restitution for concentration and death camp survivors. Heinz Högerle shows how the tax and revenue office in Horb acted on this in 1945 and 1946. Barbara Staudacher also provides examples from Horb of the failure of restitution: the Wälder family returned from exile in France but had no chance of restitution, while the Esslinger family’s case failed because evidence was withheld. It is planned to give an example of a successful case of restitution as well.



The research phase of this project is scheduled to end in 2017, with the publication of its findings in an edited volume planned for 2018. An accompanying travelling exhibition of the project is planned to begin shortly afterwards.



Benedict von Bremen

Benedict von Bremen studied Modern History and American Studies at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen. He has published articles and given talks on memories of war in Germany, recollections of the American Civil War and aspects of the conventional arms race between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. He works for the Initiative Alte Synagoge Hechingen e.V. and the Träger- und Förderverein Ehemalige Synagoge Rexingen e.V. He is a member of the Geschichtswerkstatt Tübingen e.V. and the Verein für ein Lern- und Dokumentationszentrum zum Nationalsozialismus e.V. T übingen as well as an associate of the Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu-Neckar-Alb e.V.



1 ‘Drittes Reich’ [‘Third Reich’], ‘Arisierung’ [‘Aryanization’] and ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ [‘the People’s Society’] are National Socialist terms. In this article National Socialist terms have been placed within quotation marks.

2 Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Accessed 18 January 2016: http://www.landesarchiv- bw.de/web/49689/

3 Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Accessed 18 January 2016: http://www.landesarchiv- bw.de/web/49677/

4 Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Accessed 29 February 2016: http://www. landesarchiv-bw.de/web/47267/

5 Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu-Neckar-Alb e.V. Accessed 18 January 2016: http:// www.gedenkstaettenverbund-gna.org/

6 For an extensive historiography of research on ‘Aryanization’ and other National Socialist economic measures against German Jews, see Fritsche 2013.

7 English translation of original German text.

8 I am indebted to the minutes taken by Bettina Eger, Fabienne Störzinger and Martin Ulmer at various meetings of the project, as well as to Martin Ulmer for compiling the list of articles for the Table of Contents.

9 Before 1945 Württemberg was a German state and Hohenzollern was part of Prussia.

10 One example is Tübingen lawyer Dr Simon Hayum, see Hayum 2005.

11 For example, ‘Hechingens Marktplatz judenfrei’, Hohenzollerische Blätter [‘Hechingen’s market square now Jew-free’, Hohenzollern Papers] (Hechingen), 10 November 1938, quoted in Otto Werner, Deportation und Vernichtung hohenzollerischer Juden [Deportation and extermination of Hohenzollern’s Jews] (Hechingen: Verein Alte Synagoge Hechingen, 2011), 29–30.

12 Geschichtswerkstatt Tübingen e.V. Accessed 2 November 2016: http://www.geschichtswerkstatt- tuebingen.de/

13 Universität Hohenheim, Wirtschaftsarchiv Baden-Württemberg. Accessed 18 January 2016: https://wabw.uni-hohenheim.de/

14 See the website on Bad Mergentheim in Alemannia Judaica for references to Hartwig Behr’s previous research: Joachim Hahn, Alemannia Judaica. Accessed 18 January 2016: http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/synagoge_mergentheim.htm

15 Träger- und Förderverein Ehemalige Synagoge Rexingen e.V. Accessed January 18, 2016, http://www.ehemalige-synagoge-rexingen.de/

16 Manuel Werner, Synagoge Hechingen. Accessed 25 November 2016: http://altesynagoge- hechingen.de

17 Löwenstein Forschungsverein e.V. Accessed 18 January 2016: http://www.initiativeloewensteinverein. de

18 The Stuttgart Vermittlungszentrale worked for the government of Württemberg, the city of Stuttgart, the NSDAP and individual companies. It was present at negotiations with the Jewish owners of larger factories and properties, determining in large part the terms of sale, the buyer, purchase price, and so on. Martin Ulmer’s email to author, 2 February 2016.

19 The Schwäbische Treuhand AG appraised and rated Jewish-owned companies. Martin Ulmer’s email to author, 2 February 2016.

20 See Muth 2013, 47–64.

21 See also Störzinger 2016.

22 Freundeskreis ehemalige Synagoge Affaltrach e.V. Accessed 2 February 2016: http:// www.synagoge-affaltrach.de/synagoge.html

23 See also Fried 2008.

24 See also Kaufmann and Kohlmann 2013.

25 The Oberfinanzbehörde was the regional intermediate authority between the Reichsfinanzministerium [Reich tax and revenue office] in Berlin and the local tax revenue offices of the local administrative county districts (known as Oberämter until 1937, then Landkreise). See Martin Ulmer, email to author, 2 February 2016.

26 See also Heuß 2008, 68–81.

27 Joachim Hahn, Alemannia Judaica. Accessed 19 January 2016: http://www.alemannia- judaica.de/

List of References

Bajohr, Frank (1998) ‘Arisierung’ in Hamburg: Die Verdrängung der jüdischen Unternehmer 1933–1945 [‘Aryanization’ in Hamburg: the expulsion of Jewish businessmen 1933–1945]. Hamburg: Christians.

Barkai, Avraham (1988) Vom Boykott zur ‘Entjudung’: Der wirtschaftliche Existenzkampf der Juden im Dritten Reich 1933–1945 [From boycott to deiudaization: the economic struggle of Jews in the Third Reich]. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.

Baumann, Angelika and Andreas Heusler (2004) ‘Einleitung’, in München arisiert: Entrechtung und Enteignung der Juden in der NS-Zeit [Aryanized Munich: disenfranchisement and dispossession of Jews during the National Socialist era], ed. Angelika Baumann and Andreas Heusler. Munich: C. H. Beck, 10–16.

Fried, Amelie (2008) Schuhhaus Pallas: Wie meine Familie sich gegen die Nazis wehrte [Pallas footwear department store: How my family stood up to the Nazis]. Munich: Heyne.

Fritsche, Christina (2013) Ausgeplündert, zurückerstattet und entschädigt: Arisierung und Wiedergutmachung in Mannheim [Plundered, reimbursed and restituted: Aryanization and compensation in Mannheim]. Ubstadt-Weiher: Regionalkultur.

Genschel, Helmut (1966) Die Verdrängung der Juden aus der Wirtschaft im Dritten Reich [The expulsion of Jews from the Third Reich’s economy]. Göttingen: Musterschmidt.

Goschler, Constantin and Jurgen Lillteicher (2002) ‘Einleitung’, in ‘Arisierung’ und Restitution: Die Rückerstattung jüdischen Eigentums in Deutschland und Österreich nach 1945 und 1989 [‘Aryanization’ and restitution: reimbursement of Jewish property in Germany and Austria after 1945 and 1989], ed. Constantin Goschler and Jürgen Lillteicher. Göttingen: Wallstein, 7–28.

Goschler, Constantin and Philipp Ther, eds (2003) Raub und Restitution: ‘Arisierung’ und Rückerstattung des jüdischen Eigentums in Europa [Robbery and restitution: ‘Aryanization’ and reimbursement of Jewish property in Europe]. Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch.

Hahn, Joachim, Alemannia Judaica. Accessed 18 January 2016: http://www.alemanniajudaica. de/

Handler-Lachmann, Barbara and Thomas Werther (1992) Vergessene Geschäfte – verlorene Geschichte: Jüdisches Wirtschaftsleben in Marburg und seine Vernichtung im Nationalsozialismus [Forgotten business – forgotten history: Jewish economic life in Marburg and its annihilation during National Socialism]. Marburg: Hitzeroth.

Hayes, Peter and Irmtrud Wojak, eds (2000) ‘Arisierung’ im Nationalsozialismus: Volksgemeinschaft, Raub und Gedächtnis [‘Aryanization’ during National Socialism: people’s community, robbery and memory]. Frankfurt: Campus.

Hayum, Simon (2005) Erinnerungen aus dem Exil: Lebensweg eines Tübinger Bürgers [Memories from exile: A Tübingen citizen’s path of life], ed. Geschichtswerkstatt Tübingen e.V. Tübingen: Kulturamt.

Heus, Anja (2008) ‘Die Sammlung Littmann’ [The Littmann collection], in Raub und Restitution: Kulturgut aus jüdischem Besitz von 1933 bis heute [Robbery and restitution: Jewishowned cultural goods, 1933 to today], ed. Inka Bertz and Michael Dorrmann. Göttingen: Wallstein, 68–81.

Kaufmann, Uri R. and Carsten Kohlmann, eds (2013) Jüdische Viehhändler zwischen Schwarzwald und Schwäbischer Alb [Jewish livestock dealers between the Black Forest and the Swabian Jura]. Horb: Barbara Staudacher Verlag.

Kuller, Christiane (2013) Bürokratie und Verbrechen: Antisemitische Finanzpolitik und Verwaltungspraxis im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland [Bureaucracy and crime: anti-Semitic fiscal policy and administrative practice in National Socialist Germany]. Munich: Oldenbourg.

Ladwig-Winters, Simone (1997) Wertheim – ein Warenhausunternehmen und seine Eigentümer: Ein Beispiel der Entwicklung der Berliner Warenhäuser bis zur ‘Arisierung’ [Wertheim – a department store business and its owners: an example for the development of department stores in Berlin up to the era of ‘Aryanization’]. Münster: Lit.

Lillteicher, Jurgen, ed. (2006) Profiteure des NS-Systems? Deutsche Unternehmen und das ‘Dritte Reich’ [Profiteers of the Nazi system? German businesses and the ‘Third Reich’]. Berlin: Nicolai.

Muth, Doris Astrid (2013) ‘Die jüdische Textilindustrie in Hechingen und Hohenzollern’ [The Jewish textile industry in Hechingen and Hohenzollern], in Juden in der Textilindustrie: Dokumentation der Tagung des Gedenkstättenverbundes Gäu-Neckar-Alb am 10. Oktober 2010 in Hechingen [Jews in the textile industry: documentation of 10 October 2010 conference of the Gedenkstättenverbund Gäu-Neckar-Alb in Hechingen], ed. Karl-Hermann Blickle and Heinz Högerle. Horb: Barbara Staudacher Verlag, 47–64.

Rappl, Marian (2004) ‘“Unter der Flagge der Arisierung ... um einen Schundpreis zu erraffen”. Zur Präzisierung eines problematischen Begriffs’ [‘Under the flag of Aryanization ... to pay a cheap price.’ Specifying a problematic term], in München arisiert: Entrechtung und Enteignung der Juden in der NS-Zeit [Aryanized Munich: disenfranchisement and dispossession of Jews during the National Socialist era], ed. Angelika Baumann and Andreas Heusler. Munich: C. H. Beck, 17–30.

Storzinger, Fabienne (2016) ‘“Die alte Heimat für immer zu verlassen”: Drei Wege Stuttgarter Jüdinnen im Nationalsozialismus’ [‘Leaving the old home forever’: three paths of Jewish women from Stuttgart during National Socialism]. Presentation, AG Jüdische Studien, Ludwig-Uhland-Institut, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, 2 February.

Werner, Otto (2011) Deportation und Vernichtung hohenzollerischer Juden [Deportation and extermination of Hohenzollern’s Jews]. Hechingen: Verein Alte Synagoge Hechingen.


This article has been published in the fifth issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the memory of Holocaust/Shoah.

>> Click here to see the R&S Studies site


Christoph Mick

Wieloetniczne miasto Lwów

21 August 2018
  • Lwów
  • historia Lwowa
  • wieloetniczne miasto
  • obrona Lwowa
  • czyn listopadowy

Od założenia miasta Lwowa w mieście tym żyją wspólnie przedstawiciele różnych narodowości i religii. Pokojowe współistnienie oraz wzajemne kulturowe wzbogacanie się, jak również ostre, w niektórych fazach gwałtownie rozgrywane konflikty stanowią dwie strony jego historii.

Wystarczająco trudno było przez wieki godzić ze sobą sprzeczne interesy w mieście, a jednak Lwów zyskał kolejny problem, który w XIX i pierwszej połowie XX w. utrudnił pokojowe rozwiązywanie konfliktów.

Miasto leżało na przecięciu dążeń imperialnych i narodowych. Ani Polacy, ani zachodni Ukraińcy nie mogli sobie wyobrazić swojego państwa narodowego bez Lwowa, Austro-Węgry nie chciały oddać stolicy swojego kraju koronnego, car rosyjski w tej odnodze Rusi upatrywał swojego patrymonium, nazistowskie Niemcy podczas II Wojny Światowej chciały rozbudować Lwów w germański bastion na słowiańskim Wschodnie, zaś Stalin zgłaszał prawa do tego miasta i regionu dla sowieckiej Ukrainy.

W XX wieku każdy z pretendentów kontrolował miasto co najmniej raz. Kto zaś miał władzę, ten zaczynał zapełniać przestrzeń publiczną własnymi symbolami. Ulice otrzymywały nowe nazwy, pomniki były burzone i wznoszone, cmentarze zakładano i dewastowano. Lwów otrzymywał imperialne lub narodowe dekoracje i nowy lakier. Miastu dawano też nową historię, która legitymizowała własne roszczenia, ale marginalizowała życie innych grup oraz ich udział w kulturze i historii miasta.

Lwów jako miejsce pamięci o „dobrej” monarchii habsburskiej

Walka o pomniki i nazwy ulic rozpoczęła się na długo przed I Wojną Światową. Polskie elity po 1867 r. wykorzystały swoje możliwości, by rozszerzyć własną dominację. Uniwersytet został spolonizowany, tworzono polskie szkoły, zakładano banki i spółdzielnie, odsłaniano pomniki polskich poetów, polityków, królów i bohaterów, a ulicom nadawano polskie nazwy. Żydowska samoświadomość wyrażała się w budowie imponujących synagog, które prawie wszystkie zostały potem zniszczone przez nazistów. Dzisiaj już tylko tabliczki przypominają o znaczeniu gminy żydowskiej. Wszystko, co ukraińskie – za wyjątkiem kościołów greckokatolickich oraz budynków ukraińskich organizacji – zostało w miarę możliwości wyparte z przestrzeni publicznej.

Dzisiejsza nostalgia za Habsburgami jest częściowo uprawniona. Mimo całej „galicyjskiej nędzy” ostatnie dekady przed I Wojną Światową były nieporównywalnie lepsze niż wszystko, co przyszło później. Podczas gdy na wsi – szczególnie podczas walk wyborczych i strajków rolniczych mogła lać się krew, we Lwowie regułą miało być pokojowe rozwiązywanie konfliktów. Nie wolno zapominać jednak o ciemnych stronach austriackiego panowania podczas I Wojny Światowej. Austriackie władze straciły tysiące Ukraińców jako domniemanych rosyjskich szpiegów, a dziesiątki tysięcy uwięziły w obozach internowania.

Dotychczas nie zaszkodziło to jednak renesansowi Habsburgów. Austriackie dziedzictwo ma również walory turystyczne. Restauracje zyskały wystrój cesarski i królewski, portrety Franciszka Józefa wiszą na ścianach, a kawiarnie wszędzie starają się nawiązywać do austriackich tradycji.

Obrona Lwowa – „Czyn listopadowy“ – Pogrom

W popularnym polskim wyobrażeniu Lwowa jako antemurale christianitatis, bastionu Polski i chrześcijaństwa, Europa broniona była nie tylko przed Mongołami, Turkami i Tatarami, ale również przed Kozakami, później Rosjanami i bolszewikami. W polsko-ukraińskiej wojnie o Galicję Wschodnią w latach 1918/19 szablon ten został zastosowany wobec wojsk ukraińskich. Zachodnioukraińscy politycy uważali jednak, że zostali postawieni po niewłaściwej stronie muru i interpretowali upadek Rusi pod naporem mongolskim oraz rozpad państwowości ukraińskiej pod ciosami Armii Czerwonej za tragiczną ofiarę, którą poniósł naród ukraiński za uratowanie Europy. Wprawdzie te wyobrażenia o „przedmurzu” mogłyby posłużyć jako wspólne polsko-ukraińskie miejsce pamięci, ale ze względu na antyrosyjskie konotacje o cechach walki kulturowej nie jest to koniecznie pożądane.

Listopad 1918 r. jest kluczem do rozumienia konfliktów we Lwowie i wschodniej Galicji w czasach międzywojennych. Dla Żydów listopad nierozdzielnie związany jest z pamięcią o pogromie, zamkniętym na nadawanie mu pozytywnego sensu. Lwowscy Żydzi zostali przez to w centralnym punkcie, jakim jest obrona Lwowa, wykluczeni z polskiej wspólnoty pamięci. Natomiast Ukraińcy świadomie budowali swoją wspólnotę pamięci i w niekorzystnych warunkach ramowych stworzyli sobie miejsca pamięci, które miały uskrzydlać ukraiński patriotyzm. Próby podejmowane przez umiarkowanych polityków po obu stronach, by nawet w listopadzie 1918 r. znaleźć jeszcze pokojowe rozwiązanie, w rozgorzałej atmosferze międzywojennej były uważane niemal za zdradę ojczyzny. Czy bliższe przyjrzenie się tym poszukiwaniom kompromisu nie mogłoby wskazać istniejących alternatyw cywilnych, które później zostały przykryte marsową metaforyką bohaterów i ofiar?

Polsko-ukraińska konkurencja interpretacyjna oddziałuje po dziś dzień, podczas gdy żydowska pamięć o pogromie od 22 do 24 listopada 1918 r. została całkowicie przysłonięta wymordowaniem Żydów lwowskich w II Wojnie Światowej. 80 rocznica tak zwanego „czynu listopadowego” (Lystopadovyj čyn) – przejęcia władzy w Galicji Wschodniej i stworzenia Zachodnioukraińskiej Republiki Ludowej – była we Lwowie wystawnie obchodzona.

II Wojna Światowa

Kiedy dzisiaj poruszany jest temat stosunków międzyetnicznych we Lwowie podczas II Wojny Światowej, interpretacje są tak dalece rozbieżne jak w latach międzywojennych rozumienie listopada 1918: Nie ma śladu ponadnarodowego miejsca pamięci. Ukraińscy autorzy chętnie unikają pytania o udział Ukraińców w pogromach oraz rolę Ukraińskiej Policji Pomocniczej lub wskazują na rzekomą kolaborację Żydów z sowieckim mocarstwem. Żydowscy pamiętnikarze stawiają natomiast Polakom i Ukraińcom ostre zarzuty i oskarżają ich o brak pomocy lub wręcz udział w ludobójstwie. Tak różne doświadczenia mają też konsekwencje w pamięci. W odniesieniu do II Wojny Światowej istnieje więc nie tylko dwojaka, ale wręcz trojaka pamięć o wojnie.

Po uzyskaniu niepodległości w 1991 r. zachodni Ukraińcy starali się pozbyć przynajmniej najbardziej jaskrawych symboli przynależności do Związku Radzieckiego. Pomnik Lenina zniknął natychmiast, a również inne symbole sowieckiego panowania szybko zostały rozebrane. Nietknięte pozostały natomiast pomniki przypominające o zwycięstwie Armii Czerwonej oraz cmentarzysko Armii Czerwonej. Jednocześnie władze miasta nie mogły się powstrzymać, żeby nie podrażnić trochę wielkiego sąsiada i nazwały jedną z ulic w centrum na cześć Dżochara Dudajewa, który doprowadził do odłączenia się Czeczenii od Federacji Rosyjskiej.


Lwów powinien z pola konfliktu w polsko-ukraińskich relacjach stać się miejscem polsko-ukraińskiego pojednania i współpracy. Symboliczny jest tutaj cmentarz żołnierzy wojny polsko-ukraińskiej 1918/19. Jego odbudowa została uzgodniona przez prezydentów Polski i Ukrainy ponad głowami władz i ludności Lwowa. Odbudowa wierna oryginałowi nie powiodła się ze względu na lokalny opór, konieczne też było kilka poprawek, aby projekt był do zniesienia dla lwowskich Ukraińców. Jako kontrapunkt przed cmentarzem polskich żołnierzy postawiono ukraiński pomnik oraz zbudowano kompleks upamiętniający niektóre problematyczne elementy narodowej mitologii ofiar.

Rekonstrukcja cmentarza polskich żołnierzy jest z jednej strony znakiem budzącym nadzieję, z drugiej strony spór o jego kształt pokazuje, jak trudno uczynić Lwów ponadnarodowym miejscem pamięci. Miasto jest zbyt ważne dla narodowej samoświadomości zachodnich Ukraińców oraz ich pozycji w ukraińskim państwie narodowym.

Byłaby szansa, by Lwów uczynić miejscem pojednania. W tym celu jest jednak konieczne, by nie zamiatać pod dywan przeszłych konfliktów wokół miasta, Holocaustu oraz wzajemnych mordów Polaków i Ukraińców podczas II Wojny Światowej.

Dzisiaj to Rosjanie stanowią największą mniejszość narodową. Tak jak wcześniej pomiędzy Polakami i Ukraińcami, tak teraz granice pomiędzy Rosjanami i Ukraińcami są płynne. Częste są mieszane małżeństwa, niepewne jest, na którą kulturę zdecydują się dzieci. Naiwnością byłoby jednak zaprzeczanie istnieniu potencjału konfliktu.

We Lwowie współistnieją, konkurują ze sobą i nakładają się ślady i symbole różnych rządów, oraz grup etnicznych i religijnych. Nad wszystkim wisi ukraiński płaszcz, przez który jednak prześwitują, a wręcz są dziś świadomie ukazywane inne elementy. Zaczęło się od fali habsburskiej, teraz można obserwować renesans żydowskiej i polskiej przeszłości Lwowa. Odsłaniane są zakryte hebrajskie i polskie inskrypcje, co najmniej jedna restauracja ozdobiła swoje pomieszczenia polskimi eksponatami, a synagoga Złota Róża ma zostać odbudowana. Czy to znaki nowej wspólnoty?


dr hab. Christoph Mick - brytyjski historyk, w latach 2005-2010 profesor nadzwyczajny Uniwersytetu w Warwick. Specjalizuje się w historii najnowszej Rosji i Europy Wschodniej- szczególnie Polski i Ukrainy. Jego zainteresowania naukowe obejmują także badania nad historią nauki i techniki.

Stanisław Kulczycki

Wielki Głód na Ukrainie w latach 1932-1933

21 August 2018
  • miejsca pamięci
  • komunizm
  • totalitaryzm
  • polityka historyczna
  • zbrodnie komunistyczne
  • wielki głód
  • głód na Ukrainie
  • terror
  • zimna wojna

W pierwszej połowie 1933 r. na Ukrainie rozszalał się wielki głód. Ludzie ginęli milionami. Z oblicza ziemi zniknęły setki wsi, tysiące chutorów. Zmarłych w wyniku głodu grzebano na cmentarzach, pustkowiach, bardzo często – na działkach przyzagrodowych, wrzucano do studni, które później zasypywano. W wąwozach robiono długie wykopy i zwalano do nich zwłoki.

O głodzie tym nie można było pisać, ani mówić. I rzecz jasna nie można było stawiać pomników na mogiłach osób zmarłych z głodu. Pierwsze cenotafy wzniesiono w 1983 r. na przeciwległym końcu kuli ziemskiej – w Edmontonie i Winnipegu. W maju 1986 r. pomnik ofiar Wielkiego Głodu odsłonięto w centrum Los Angeles, a w 1993 r. – w Chicago. Kongres USA wydzielił w Waszyngtonie działkę pod pomnik ku czci zmarłych z głodu Ukraińców. Pomnik zostanie odsłonięty jesienią 2008 r. w 75. rocznicę tej tragedii narodu ukraińskiego.

Na Ukrainie pomniki w miejscach pochówku ofiar głodu zaczęto stawiać jesienią 1989 r. Jako jeden z pierwszych odsłonięto memoriał upamiętniający ofiary terroru stalinowskiego we wsi Pańkowcy w Rejonie Staro-Syniawskim w Obwodzie Chmielnickim. Przez wiele lat prace związane z lokalizacja ofiar głodu i budową pomników lub upamiętniających znaków prowadziły organizacje społeczne, przede wszystkim Stowarzyszenie Badaczy Głodu-Ludobójstwa z lat 1932-1933 na Ukrainie (założone w lipcu 1992 r.). W ostatnim okresie prace te kontroluje Sekretariat Prezydenta Ukrainy. Przed 75. rocznicą Wielkiego Głodu powinny zostać zlokalizowane wszystkie miejsca pochówku jego ofiar. We wszystkich obwodach rozpoczęto prace mające na celu określenie tożsamości zmarłych.

Co więc zdarzyło się na Ukrainie w latach 1932-1933? Dlaczego aż do grudnia 1987 r. nie można było o tym mówić? Wtedy to pierwszy sekretarz KC Komunistycznej Partii Ukrainy Wołodymyr Szczerbyćkyj zmuszony był z zaciśniętymi zębami potwierdzić, że był głód spowodowany jakoby żywiołem przyrody – suszą.

Historycy nie mają problemu z udowodnieniem zamiaru władz prowadzenia terroru przy pomocy głodu, a także odnotowaniem wyników realizacji tego zamiaru. O wiele trudniej udowodnić dlaczego Stalin go powziął. Nie mogą poświadczyć tego dokumenty, bowiem wódz nie miał obowiązku objaśniania podległym motywów, którymi się kierował. Jednakże, gdy brak jest bezpośredniego dokumentu, to historycy powinni znaleźć świadectwa pośrednie, które łącznie wskażą motywy.

W 1988 r. komisja Kongresu USA, dyrektorem wykonawczym której był John Meys, uznała głód na Ukrainie w latach 1932-1933 za ludobójstwo. W następstwie tego na prośbę organizacji diaspory ukraińskiej utworzono międzynarodową komisję składającą się ze światowej klasy prawników pod kierownictwem Georga Sandberga. Zbadała ona posiadane dowody i większością głosów potwierdziła tę opinię. Obie komisje oparły się przede wszystkim na zeznaniach emigrantów.

Dzisiaj również nie możemy się obejść bez zeznań naocznych świadków. Główną akcję terroru przy pomocy głodu, którą stanowiła konfiskata żywności w czasie nieprzerwanych rewizji poszczególnych zagród, przeprowadzono w styczniu 1933 r. na podstawie ustnych wytycznych na wszystkich poziomach władzy – od Kremla do konkretnej wsi. Wszelkie inne technologiczne elementy tej formy represji mają już potwierdzenie dokumentalne. Opisane w niezliczonej ilości dokumentów wyniki stalinowskiej akcji także są dobrze znane.

Potwierdzona w dokumentach technologia terroru polegała na:

- wyrywkowym wdrażania reżimu „czarnej deski” w początkowym stadium terroru (listopad-grudzień 1932 r.);

- stałych rewizjach chłopskich zagród w celu znalezienia ukrywanego zboża, niekiedy z nakładaniem kar płaconych w naturze – mięsem i ziemniakami (listopad-grudzień 1932 r.);

- konfiskacie w trakcie rewizji poszczególnych zagród wszelkiej żywności (styczeń 1933 r.);

- akcji propagandowej ukierunkowanej na rozpalanie nienawiści głodującej ludności miejskiej wobec „kułaków-sabotażystów”;

- blokadzie USRR i Okręgu Kubańskiego Kraju Północno-Kaukaskiego;

- zakazie używania terminu „głód” nawet w dokumentach z gryfem „ściśle tajne”.

Terror przy pomocy głodu miał miejsce w sytuacji kryzysu społeczno-gospodarczego, a kryzys był wynikiem polityki gospodarczej. Określając swą politykę w okresie od roku 1929 do stycznia 1933 roku sam Stalin znalazł dla niej wyrazisty termin – „podpędzanie”[1]. W przemyśle polityka ta polegała na ustanawianiu niewykonalnego tempa wzrostu z jednoczesnym represjonowaniem tych, którzy pozostawali w tyle. Na wsi „podpędzanie” urzeczywistniało się w formie konfiskaty zebranych plonów. Dostawy obowiązkowe zboża wstrzymywano dopiero wiosną każdego następnego roku i wtedy państwo przychodziło chłopom z pomocą szeroko rozreklamowanymi pożyczkami na materiał siewny i artykuły spożywcze. „Generalnej linii socjalistycznej industrializacji” towarzyszył wzrost przypadków śmierci w wyniku głodu wśród chłopów, którym zabierano zboże, a także wśród ludności miejskiej, której zmniejszano normy wydawania chleba lub w ogóle pozbawiano centralnego zaopatrzenia.

Na Zachodzie powstał wpływowy nurt tzw. „rewizjonistów”, czyli naukowców, którzy chcą oczyścić historię ZSRR z pełnych uprzedzeń ocen czasów „zimnej wojny”. W szczególności nie zgadzają się oni z określeniem głodu z lat 1932-1933 na Ukrainie jako ludobójstwa, które ugruntowało się w historiografii dzięki pracom R. Conquest’a i G. Meysa. Unisono z nimi uczeni rosyjscy twierdzą, że zboże poszło na „świętą sprawę” – industrializację. Według nich, bez polityki „podpędzania” Związek Radziecki nie mógłby wytrzymać uderzeń nazistowskich Niemiec.

Pozostawmy przyszłym pokoleniom odpowiedź na pytanie, czy można uważać za ludobójstwo śmierć setek tysięcy ludzi w różnych regionach ZSRR, w tym na Ukrainie, w wyniku dostaw obowiązkowych zboża i sprzedaży go za granicę. Mówimy tutaj o czymś całkiem innym, o zagładzie milionów ludzi zorganizowanej przez Kreml pod pretekstem dostaw obowiązkowych, a nie w ich wyniku. Do ostatnich miesięcy 1932 roku ludzie na Ukrainie, tak samo jak i w innych regionach, umierali dlatego, że pozbawiono ich zboża. Począwszy od listopada 1932 r. zaczęli umierać dlatego, że pozbawiono ich wszelkiej innej żywności.

Nasi oponenci podają zazwyczaj trzy argumenty, które podważają, jak im się wydaje, tezę o Wielkim Głodzie jako ludobójstwie. Po pierwsze, na wsi ukraińskiej umierali z głodu ludzie różnej narodowości. Po drugie, nikt nie prześladował Ukraińców ze względu na ich narodowość. Po trzecie, czy można nazwać ludobójstwem głód w przypadku, gdy władza sowiecka zorganizowała zakrojoną na szeroką skalę pomoc w 1933 r. właśnie ludności USRR i Kubania?

Argument o zagładzie ludzi różnej narodowości na ukraińskie wsi nie brzmi przekonywująco. Nie daje bowiem odpowiedzi na pytanie, dlaczego liczba ofiar głodu w USRR i na Kubaniu w 1933 r. była o rząd wielkości wyższa niż w innych regionach europejskiej części ZSRR. Odpowiedź jest prosta: terror skierowano przeciwko miejscowościom wiejskim Ukrainy, w których mieszkali nie tylko Ukraińcy. To, że zginęli ludzie różnej narodowości jest rzeczą całkiem zrozumiałą. Terroru przy pomocy głodu nie można było personalizować – było to uderzenie po całych przestrzeniach.

Pozostałe argumenty należy rozpatrzeć. Skupimy się najpierw na tezie, że nikt nie prześladował Ukraińców ze względu na ich narodowość. W komisji Kongresu USA, która badała głód z lat 1932-1933 na Ukrainie, świadkom stawiano to samo pytanie: dlaczego Stalin was unicestwiał? Dlatego, że jesteśmy Ukraińcami – odpowiadali. Jakąż inną odpowiedź mogli dać chłopi? Takie bowiem przekonanie utwierdziło się w diasporze ukraińskiej, a po 1991 roku rozprzestrzeniło się na Ukrainie.

A kogo w rzeczywistości unicestwiał Stalin? Amerykański badacz ukraińskiego narodowego komunizmu G. Meys jako pierwszy z uczonych oświadczył, że terror stalinowski na Ukrainie skierowany był nie przeciwko ludziom określonej narodowości lub grupie zawodowej lecz przeciwko obywatelom Państwa Ukraińskiego powstałego w okresie rozpadu Imperium Rosyjskiego i przeżyło swoją osobistą zagładę odradzając się w postaci państwa sowieckiego. Formuła o wyniszczeniu głodem Ukraińców jako narodu, a nie grupy etnicznej (to destroy them as political factor and as a social organism) została zawarta w referacie Meysa na pierwszej konferencji naukowej poświęconej głodowi z lat 1932-1933 na Ukrainie, zorganizowanej w Montrealu w 1983 r.[2]

Nasi oponenci mówią, że nie da się ułożyć w jedną całość zorganizowania głodu-ludobójstwa z udzieleniem głodującym zakrojonej na szeroka skalę pomocy żywnościowej. To, że taka pomoc została udzielona jest rzeczą bezsporną. Robert Davies i Stefen Wheatcroft opublikowali w 2004 roku monografię, w której przytaczają 35 partyjno-rządowych uchwał w sprawie udzielenia pomocy żywnościowej głodującym regionom ZSRR. Pierwsza z nich posiada datę 7-go lutego, a ostatnia 20-go lipca 1933 roku. Ogólny zakres pomocy stanowił 320 tys. ton zboża, z czego do USRR i na Kubań skierowano 264,7 tys., a do wszystkich pozostałych regionów razem wziętych – 55,3 tys. ton[3].

Cyfry te przekonały R. Conquest’a, że błędną jest teza o głodzie-ludobójstwie. Davies i Wheatcroft w widniejącej na obwolucie ich książki adnotacji podkreślają, że ich wywody „różnią się od tych, które zostały zrobione wcześniej przez licznych historyków, w tym R. Conquest’a”. Sam Conquest zapoznał się z książką jeszcze w rękopisie i obok adnotacji autorów na obwolucie figuruje jego werdykt: „Jest to w rzeczy samej wybitny wkład w badanie tak ważnego problemu”. Autorzy zacytowali w książce fragment z jego listu napisanego po zapoznaniu się z rękopisem, napisanego we wrześniu 2003 r. W liście Conquest oświadczył, że Stalin specjalnie nie zorganizował głodu w 1933 roku, chociaż nie zrobił niczego dla zapobieżenia tragedii[4].

Pomoc głodującym została rozreklamowana jako troska partii o ludność, która znalazła się w trudnej sytuacji z własnej winy. Technologię terroru przy pomocy głodu już znamy. Pozostaje jedynie dodać do niej jeden rys – pomoc państwa dla głodujących chłopów. Wtedy i tylko wtedy ta forma represji może stanowić świadomą czynność Kremla!

W istocie, czyż można wyobrazić sobie, aby władza sowiecka stale polowała na człowieka tylko dlatego, że był on Ukraińcem? Zresztą, tak samo nie można wyobrazić sobie, aby władza mogła unicestwić człowieka dlatego, że był chłopem. Pozostaje wyciągnięcie jedynego możliwego wniosku: Wielki Głód miał miejsce w wyniku zbiegu konkretnych okoliczności.

W czasie pierwszego komunistycznego szturmu w latach 1918-1920 bolszewikom udało się zbudować podstawy gospodarki nakazowej. W 1929 roku Stalin rozpoczął nowy szturm. Miał zamiar zrealizować to, czego nie udało się Leninowi: zagnać w komuny dziesiątki milionów drobnych producentów towarów. W wyniku tego na początku 1930 r. zaczął dojrzewać kolosalnych wybuch społeczny. Stalin zmuszony był zrezygnować z komun i ograniczyć się do arteli, czyli pozwolił chłopom na posiadanie działek przyzagrodowych. Sądząc, że kołchoźnicy zadowolą się produktami swych gospodarstw przyzagrodowych, zaczął zabierać wsi praktycznie całe plony zbóż. Chłopi nie mieli prawo otrzymania zboża do czasu wykonania planu dostaw obowiązkowych, które w praktyce nie miały granic. Zboże, które znajdowano po ukończeniu skupu uważano za ukryte przed zewidencjonowaniem lub skradzione. Chłopi nie chcieli pracować w kołchozach bezpłatnie, a państwo oskarżało ich o sabotaż. Kryzys ustroju kołchozowego groził zapaścią całej gospodarki. W styczniu 1933 roku rząd zmuszony był przejść od nieograniczonych dostaw obowiązkowych do zryczałtowanego państwowego skupu zboża na zasadach podatku. Oznaczało to, że państwo w końcu uznało prawo własności kołchozów i kołchoźników do produkowanych płodów rolnych. Nowe prawo zmieniało relacje między miastem i wsią tak radykalnie, jak ustawa o podatku produkcyjnym w marcu 1921 roku. Kołchozy uzyskały kształt, który zapamiętały obecnie żyjące pokolenia.

Nasi koledzy na Zachodzie rozumieją przyczyny społeczno-gospodarcze głodu z lat 1932-1933 w ZSRR, chociaż daleko nie wszyscy, co pokazaliśmy wyżej, zrozumieli stalinowska politykę „podpędzania”. Jednak większość z nich nie docenia drugiej strony problemu – narodowej. Dla nich głodujący ukraiński chłop jest po prostu chłopem, a nie obywatelem Ukraińskiego Państwa Sowieckiego. Związek Sowiecki pojmują jako związek bezprawnych republik utworzony przez tzw. naród „tytularny”. Ale takim ZSRR stał się dopiero po głodzie lat 1932-1933 i terrorze lat 1937-1938. Wcześniej Związek Sowiecki był związkiem państw.

Cieszący się autorytetem znawcy historii Rosji Richard Pipes twierdzi, że narodowa państwowość sowiecka od samego początku była fikcją, bowiem pod nią skrywała się dyktatura z centrum w Moskwie[5]. Ze stwierdzeniem tym należy się zgodzić, ale nie można się ograniczyć do niego. Pozostając w ramach takiego wyobrażenia o władzy sowieckiej nie pojmiemy ani Wielkiego Głodu na Ukrainie, ani destrukcyjnej dla losów ZSRR konfrontacji B. Jelcyna i M. Gorbaczowa w Moskwie.

Gdy chorego Lenina postawiono przed faktem utworzenia wspólnego państwa w drodze „autonomizacji” republik narodowych, wniósł do konstrukcji konstytucyjnej zasadnicze poprawki. Utworzono związek państw, czyli federację drugiego stopnia, do której „razem i na równi” wchodziła zarówno Federacja Rosyjska, jak też wszystkie inne niezależne republiki. W konstytucjach republik związkowych, tak samo jak i w ogólnozwiązkowej, podkreślano, że każda republika ma prawo wyjścia z Związku Sowieckiego (oczywiście procedury wyjścia nie podano). W taki oto sposób Leninowi udało się przechytrzyć historię i zachować podstawową część rozwalonego imperium przedrewolucyjnego w nowej sowieckiej powłoce.

Państwowość sowiecka – to niełatwe pojęcie zarówno w pierwotnym, czyli rosyjskim wymiarze, jak też wtórnym – narodowym. Podporządkowane dyktaturze wodzów kremlowskich rady posiadały realną władzę wykonawczą. Dzięki tej władzy partia bolszewików przeistaczała się w strukturę państwową.

Dwoistą konstrukcję władzy należy uznać za genialny wynalazek Lenina. Ale i on nie był bezpieczny dla centrum, które należałoby nazwać Kremlem, a nie Moskwą. Moskwa – to stolica Rosji, najbardziej obdzielonej prawami republiką. Wodzowie bolszewików przekształcili ogólnorosyjski KC RKP(b) w organ wszechzwiązkowy. I chociaż Rosja pozostawała republiką państwowotwórczą, to wszechzwiązkowe centrum nie dążyło ani do utożsamiania się z nią (przeszkadzała w tym konstytucyjna konstrukcja ZSRR), ani do stworzenia w Moskwie konkurencyjnego centrum władzy rosyjskiej. Zasada „razem i na równych prawach” przy wejściu formalnie niezależnych republik do ZSRR została odrzucona w latach 1990-1991 w wyniku konfrontacji M.S. Gorbaczowa B.N. Jelcyna.

Na czym polegało niebezpieczeństwo dwoistej konstrukcji władzy podczas przejścia od państwowości sowieckiej na Kremlu do państwowości narodowej? Niebezpieczeństwo owo miało charakter pierwotny i wtórny. Wtórne niebezpieczeństwo dotyczyło działań róznych działaczy politycznych, którzy nie podzielali jakichś poglądów centrum lub, już w trakcie rozwoju wydarzeń, mogli potencjalną wystąpić przeciw. Dlatego też w ogniu represji przepadło całe biuro polityczne KC KP(b)U, dziesiątki tysięcy pracowników aparatu i przedstawicieli inteligencji narodowej.

Pierwotne niebezpieczeństwo, które tłumaczyło te represje, czaiło się w tych samych przywilejach konstrukcji władzy, które zapewnił sobie Kreml. W rękach rad, w tym oczywiście rad narodowych, skoncentrowała się realna władza wykonawcza, która nadawała partii charakter struktury państwowej. Dopóki władza ta kontrolowana była bezpośrednio przez Kreml, zagrożenia dla rozpadu Związku Sowieckiego nie było. Ale jeżeli taka kontrola na własna rękę wyciekała do struktur regionalnych partii (w przypadku kryzysu władzy centralnej), to zagrożenie rozpadu stawało się realne. Największe zagrożenie na Kremlu utożsamiano z Ukrainą – republiką z trwałymi tradycjami narodowej (nie sowieckiej!) państwowości. Republika ta sąsiadowała z Europą, a pod względem swoich zasobów ekonomicznych (łącznie z potencjałem ludzkim) dorównywała wszystkim innym republikom narodowym razem wziętym.

Po utworzeniu ZSRR Kreml zaczął rozwijać w republikach narodowych kampanię zakorzeniania władzy sowieckiej w środowisku nierosyjskim. Na Ukrainie kampania zakorzeniania szybko wyszła poza ramy przedsięwzięcia czysto biurokratycznego i stała się narzędziem odrodzenia narodowego. Po spisie ludności w 1926 roku kierownictwo ukraińskie uporczywie wnioskowało do CK WKP(b) o przyłączenie do republiki sąsiadujących z nią terenów Federacji Rosyjskiej, gdzie Ukraińcy stanowili większość ludności, w tym Okręgu Kubańskiego Federacji Rosyjskiej. Starania te nie dały rezultatu. Jednakże kierownictwu USRR udało się uzyskać zgodę Kremla na ukrainizację tych rejonów poza granicami republiki, gdzie Ukraińcy stanowili większość ludności. Na Kubaniu w krótkim czasie język ukraiński wprowadzono do urzędów administracyjnych, szkół, środków masowego przekazu. Na Kremlu przyglądali się tym sukcesom z rosnącym zaniepokojeniem. W całości zukrainizowany Kubań przyszłoby przyłączyć do USRR, czyli zwiększać niebezpiecznie duży potencjał ludzki Ukrainy w ZSRR.

Po wszystkim tym, co zostało powiedziane pozostaje przedstawienie dowodu na to, dlaczego możliwa była przedsięwzięta przez Kreml w styczniu 1933 r. akcja konfiskaty zapasów spożywczych w miejscowościach wiejskich Ukrainy. Dowód dotyczy sierpnia 1932 r.

Historycy należycie ocenili nawyk Stalina do odpoczywania każdego lata po kilka miesięcy w kurortach Północnego Kaukazu. „Na gospodarstwie” na Kremlu zostawali L.M. Kaganowicz (po linii partyjnej) i W.M. Mołotow (po linii sowieckiej). Uwzględniając najwyższy topnień tajności Stalin zmuszony był kontaktować się z nimi poprzez wysyłanie własnoręcznie napisanych listów za pośrednictwem agentów specjalnych GPU. Gdy Stalin znajdował się na Kremlu kontaktowano się ustnie, tzn. nie zostawiano śladów w dokumentacji biura politycznego KC WKP(b). Okoliczność ta, dokładnie rozgranicza instytucjonalną i personalną miarę odpowiedzialności za wszystko to, co się odbywało w kraju. Jasne jest, o co można obwinić wyższy kolektywny organ partii państwowej, czyli czekistów i cały skład biura politycznego KC, a o co można oskarżyć bezpośrednio Stalina i jego najbliższych pomocników z tamtych lat – L.M. Kaganowicza, W.M. Mołotowa i P.P. Postyszewa.

Redaktor główny księgi „Stalin i Kaganowicz. Korespondencja z lat 1931-1936” O.W. Chlewniuk zauważył następującą właściwość: nawet w tajnej korespondencji konstruował on dla siebie i swego otoczenia obraz wydarzeń daleki od realnego, ale pozwalający zachować najwyższej władzy „polityczna twarz”[6]. Jednakże w adresowanym do Kaganowicza liście z dnia 11 sierpnia 1932 roku był niezwykle szczery, bowiem chciał przenieść go na stanowisko sekretarza generalnego KC KP(b)U. Kaganowicz znajdował się w centrum kombinacji kadrowej, dlatego też powinien znać jej istotę, a także charakter swoich nie cierpiących zwłoki działań na Ukrainie.

Istota listu Stalina z dnia 11 sierpnia 1932 roku zawarta jest w dwóch akapitach:

Najważniejsza jest teraz Ukraina. Sprawy na Ukrainie idą źle. Źle po partyjnej linii. Mówią, że w dwóch obwodach Ukrainy (chyba w Kijowskim i Dniepropietrowskim) około 50 komitetów rejonowych sprzeciwiło się planom obowiązkowych dostaw zboża uznając je za nierealne. W innych komitetach rejonowych sprawy stoją, jak zapewniają, nie lepiej. Do czego to jest podobne? To nie partia, a parlament, karykatura parlamentu. Zamiast kierować rejonami Kosior cały czas lawirował pomiędzy dyrektywami KC WKP i żądaniami komitetów rejonowych i dolawirował się do beznadziejnego położenia. Źle po linii sowieckiej. Czubar – to nie kierownik. Źle po linii GPU. Redens (Stanisław Redens do stycznia 1933 roku był przewodniczącym GPU USRR – Aut.) nie radzi sobie z kierowaniem walką z kontrrewolucją w tak dużej i szczególnej republice, jak Ukraina.

Jeżeli nie weźmiemy się teraz za naprawę sytuacji na Ukrainie, to Ukrainę możemy stracić. Miejcie na uwadze, że Piłsudski nie drzemie, a jego agentura jest o wiele razy silniejsza niż myśli Redens lub Kosior. Miejcie także na uwadze, że w Ukraińskiej Partii Komunistycznej (50 tysięcy członków, cha-cha) przebywa niemało (tak, nie mało!) zgniłego elementu, świadomych i nieświadomych petlurowców, w końcu – bezpośrednich agentów Piłsudskiego. Gdy tylko sprawy pójdą gorzej, element ten nie powstrzyma się, aby otworzyć front wewnątrz (i na zewnątrz) partii, przeciwko partii. Najgorsze jest to, że ukraińska wierchuszka nie widzi tych niebezpieczeństw. Tak dalej być nie może”[7].

Badając sytuację w ZSRR w drugiej połowie 1932 roku na podstawie gazet sowieckich znajdziemy jedynie raporty o oddawaniu do eksploatacji nowych budów pierwszej pięciolatki. Raporty GPU, na które powołuje się Stalin w liście do Kaganowicza pokazują inny obraz – pochmurny i złowieszczy. Miasto głodowało, głodowała wieś. Komunistyczno-partyjny aparat sowiecki był pogubiony lub otwarcie frondował. Wśród szeregowych członków partii narastało niezadowolenie z działań władzy.

Tutaj warto by przypomnieć kryzys, który miał miejsce półtora roku przed opisywanymi wydarzeniami. Na początku marca 1930 roku Stalin na pól roku wstrzymał kolektywizację w związku z wystąpieniami chłopskimi. Kanadyjska historyk Lynne Viola ustaliła, że znany artykuł pt. „Zawrót głowy od sukcesów” pojawił się pod wpływem wystąpień na Ukrainie i Północnym Kaukazie, które pod względem ilości i liczebności uczestników znacznie wyprzedzały wszystkie pozostałe regiony ZSRR razem wzięte[8]. Do tego co napisała należy dodać tylko jedno: Stalina szczególnie zatrważały wtedy wystąpienia w przygranicznych okręgach USRR. Rozumiał bowiem, że Ukraina to nie tylko region, jak inne, ale również republika o wysokim statusie państwowym granicząca z Europą. Wyraz temu daje również w liście do Kaganowicza z 11 sierpnia 1932 roku. Wymieniając przedsięwzięcia, które mogłyby doprowadzić do przełomu na Ukrainie tak kończy temat: „Bez tych i podobnych do nich przedsięwzięć (gospodarcze i polityczne wzmocnienie Ukrainy, w pierwszej kolejności jej rejonów przygranicznych itp.) powtarzam – Ukrainę możemy stracić”[9].

Tak więc druga połowa 1932 roku okazała się punktem, w którym zbiegły się i nałożyły na siebie dwa kryzysy – w społeczno-ekonomicznej i narodowej polityce Kremla. Jak wynika z dokumentów Stalin bał się ponad wszystko wybuchu społecznego na głodującej Ukrainie. Represje, które wkrótce rozpoczęły się, zostały jednocześnie skierowane przeciwko ukraińskiemu chłopstwu (terror głodem) i inteligencji ukraińskiej (indywidualny terror na masową skalę, czystka komórek partii komunistycznej). Ostre represje skierowane zostały nie przeciwko ludziom określonej narodowości lecz przeciwko obywatelom Państwa Ukraińskiego. I jest rzeczą zrozumiałą, że chodziło o Ukraińców. Sedno w tym, że obywatele Ukrainy nawet w pokornej rubaszce republiki sowieckiej samym swoim istnieniem stanowili zagrożenie dla kremlowskich zbrodniarzy, którzy zawładnęli partią i utworzonym przez nią nowym imperium.

Gdy mówimy, że państwo całkowicie uzależniło ukraińskich chłopów od siebie konfiskatą ich zapasów żywnościowych, to żądają od nas: pokażcie dokument! Nie ma dokumentu, nie ma ludobójstwa. Ludzie, którzy przeżyli Wielki Głód opowiadają, że specjalne brygady dokonywały rewizji w gospodarstwach chłopskich i zabierały całą żywność. Dziesiątki, setki, tysiące świadectw z różnych miejscowości tworzą zwarty obraz. Jeżeli tak, to trzeba wyciągnąć z tego jedyny możliwy wniosek: ci, którzy dokonywali rewizji działali na rozkaz, nawet gdy nie był on zapisany na papierze. Ale od nas wymagają dokumentu...

No cóż, można okazać również dokument pisemny, ale tylko we właściwym kontekście. Opowieść o nim należy rozpocząć od przypomnienia „prawa pięciu kłosów”, którego zadaniem była walka z „marnotrawieniem” plonów.

„Wychodząc na przeciw żądaniom robotników i kołchoźników” (czytamy w preambule) Centralny Komitet Wykonawczy i Rada Komisarzy Ludowych ZSRR w dniu 7 sierpnia 1932 r. przyjęły uchwałę „O ochronie mienia przedsiębiorstw państwowych, kołchozów i spółdzielni oraz wzmocnieniu własności społecznej (socjalistycznej)”. Za rozkradanie mienia proponowano rozstrzelanie, a „w razie okoliczności łagodzących” – pozbawienie wolności na okres nie mniejszy niż 10 lat[10].

W listopadzie 1932 r. Stalin delegował nadzwyczajne komisje ds. obowiązkowych dostaw zboża: pod kierownictwem W.M. Mołotowa – do USRR, L.M.Kaganowicza – na Kubań. Zgodnie z uzyskanymi od niego instrukcjami Mołotow sporządził tekst dwóch uchwał, KC KP(b)U z dnia 18 listopada i Rady Komisarzy Ludowych USRR z dnia 20 listopada, o identycznej nazwie „O przedsięwzięciach mających na celu wzmożenie obowiązkowych dostaw zboża” (ostateczny tekst został parafowany przez Stalina). Widniały w nich złowieszcze punkty o karaniu „dłużników” w naturze – mięsem i ziemniakami[11]. Wykorzystując sytuację stworzoną terrorystycznymi działaniami tych komisji biuro polityczne KC WKP(b) określiło ukrainizację Północnego Kaukazu mianem „petlurowskiej”. W uchwale KC WKP(b) i Rady Komisarzy Ludowych ZSRR z dnia 14 grudnia 1932 r. żądano „niezwłocznie przejść na Północnym Kaukazie w prowadzeniu dokumentacji sowieckich i spółdzielczych organów „ukrainizowanych” regionów, a także we wszystkich gazetach i czasopismach z języka ukraińskiego na rosyjski, jako bardziej zrozumiały dla mieszkańców Kubani, a także przygotować do jesieni szkoły do zmiany języka nauczania na rosyjski”[12]. W ciągu grudnia 1932 roku u chłopów bez przerwy szukano zboża. Do rewizji przywykli zarówno ci, których rewidowano, jak i przeprowadzający rewizje. Rewizje prowadzone były pod kierownictwem czekistów przez głodujących członków komitetów niezamożnych chłopów (otrzymywali określony procent z ujawnionego zboża), a także przez wydelegowanych z miast robotników. Tak, jak w roku poprzednim, w ramach obowiązkowych dostaw zboża, jeszcze przed rewizjami pozbawiono wieś prawie całości zboża.

W dniu 1 stycznia 1933 r. Stalin wysłał do Charkowa telegram z żądaniem oddawania zboża i zaproponował KC KP(b)U i Radzie Komisarzy Ludowych USRR „szeroko powiadomić poprzez rady wiejskie, kołchozy, kołchoźników i pracowników indywidualnych, że:

a) ci wszyscy, którzy dobrowolnie oddadzą państwu wcześniej rozkradzione i ukryte zboże nie zostaną poddani represjom;

b) wobec kołchoźników, kołchozów i pracowników indywidualnych, którzy z uporem ukrywają rozkradzione i ukrywane przed ewidencją zboże stosowane będą najbardziej surowe kary przewidziane w uchwale Centralnego Komitetu Wykonawczego i Rady Komisarzy Ludowych ZSRR z dnia 7 sierpnia 1932 r.”[13]

Telegram, którego całą treść stanowiły dwa zacytowane punkty wydaje się dziwny. Wcześniej Stalin nie zwracał się do chłopów którejkolwiek z republik związkowych z pogróżkami. Ponadto wiedział, że na Ukrainie zboża nie ma, bowiem przeprowadzone przez czekistów grudniowe rewizje dały mizerny wynik. Jednakże sens dokumentu jest zrozumiały, jeżeli zestawimy te dwa punkty. Punkt drugi jest adresowany do tych, którzy zignorowali wysunięte w pierwszym żądanie, czyli nie oddali zboża. A jak było można stwierdzić, kto nie oddał ukrytego zboża? Tylko rewizjami! Tak więc telegram Stalina był sygnałem do prowadzenia rewizji.

Osoby, które przeżyły Wielki Głód opowiadały, że w trakcie tych rewizji chłopom zabierano nie tylko ziemniaki i mięso ze słoniną, jak przewidywała uchwała w sprawie karania w naturze, lecz wszystkie artykuły żywnościowe. Tak więc telegram bezbłędnie wskazuje człowieka, który dał sygnał rozpoczęcia represyjnej akcji związanej z konfiskatą żywności, czyli organizatora terroru przy pomocy głodu.

Działania Stalina należy analizować w połączeniu. Na wspólnym posiedzeniu biura politycznego KC i prezydium Centralnej Komisji Kontrolnej WKP(b) w dniu 27 listopada 1932 r. powiązał on krach obowiązkowych dostaw zboża nie z polityką przydziałów (z której w końcu zrezygnował w styczniu 1933 r.) przenosząc relacje między państwem i kołchozami na system podatkowy), lecz ze szkodnictwem i sabotażem w kołchozach i sowchozach. „Było by niemądrze – oświadczył wtedy gensek – gdyby komuniści, wychodząc z założenia, że kołchozy stanowią socjalistyczną formę gospodarowania, nie odpowiedzieli miażdżącym uderzeniem na uderzenie tych odrębnych kołchoźników i kołchozów”[14].

Praprzyczyną akcji terrorystycznych było dążenie stalinowskiej grupy do zrzucenie z siebie winy za zapaść gospodarczą w „budownictwie socjalistycznym”, która doprowadziła do głodu w całym kraju. „Miażdżące uderzenie” skierowano wobec republiki, która mogła wykorzystać katastroficzne następstwa „podpędzania” gospodarki, aby wyjść z ZSRR. Stalin obawiał się, że wierchuszka USRR mogłaby wykorzystać wybuch społeczny dojrzewający wśród głodujących dwa lata z rzędu chłopów. Pozbawienie wszelkiej żywności było efektywnym środkiem stłumienia buntowniczego potencjału wsi ukraińskiej.

Stalin nie ograniczył się do konfiskaty żywności. 22 stycznia 1933 r. własna ręką (rękopis zachował się) napisał dyrektywę KC WKP(b) i Rady Komisarzy Ludowych ZSRR zaczynającą się od słów: „Do KC WWKP i Sownarkoma doszły informacje, że na Kubaniu i Ukrainie rozpoczęły się masowe wyjazdy chłopów „za chlebem” do Obwodu Centralno-Czarnoziemskiego, na Wołgę, do Obwodu Moskiewskiego, Obwodu Zachodniego, Białorusi”. Kreml żądał od kierownictwa sąsiednich regionów blokady USRR i Kubania[15].

U osób, które przeżyły okres Wielkiego Głodu powstało wrażenie, że władza wyniszczała ludzi w oparciu o przynależność etniczną. Rzeczywistość okazała się bardzie złożona: władza jednocześnie wyniszczała i ratowała ukraińskich chłopów. Pawieł Postyszew, który przyjechał w końcu stycznia 1933 r. na Ukrainę z dyktatorskimi pełnomocnictwami miał dwa zadania: zorganizować wiosenne siewy i zlikwidować „nacjonalistyczne odchylenie” w partii i aparacie sowieckim. W lutym uwolnił posiadane w USRR zapasy zboża, aby karmić głodujących. Pomocy udzielał jedynie tym, którzy zdolni byli do podjęcia pracy. Tak oto chłopów przyuczano do pracy w kołchozie. Jednocześnie Postyszew uderzył w Ukraińską Partię Komunistyczną i bezpartyjną inteligencję. Ilość osób aresztowanych przez czekistów w roku 1932 stanowiła 74 849, zaś w 1933 roku – 124 463[16]. Po Wielkim Głodzie i masowych represjach w latach 1937-1938 republika straciła swój buntowniczy potencjał (za wyjątkiem obwodów zachodnich, które weszły w skład ZSRR w 1939 r.).

Nie ma już tych polityków, którzy rzucili Ukrainę w wir przerażających represji. Nie istnieje także totalitarne państwo, którego kierownictwo niesie odpowiedzialność za Wielki Głód. Oczekujemy od społeczności międzynarodowej uznania tej zbrodni za ludobójstwo. Przede wszystkim oczekujemy tego od Federacji Rosyjskiej, ludność której również poniosła wielomilionowe straty w latach stalinowskich jednoosobowych rządów.


prof. Stanisław Kulczycki (ur. 1937) – ukraiński historyk, wicedyrektor Instytutu Historii Ukraińskiej Akademii Nauk.

[1] Сталин И. Сочинения. – Т. 13. – С.183-184.

[2] Famine in Ukraine 1932–1933. – Edmonton, 1986. – P.12.

[3] Davies R.W., Wheatcroft Stephen G. The Years of Hunger. Soviet Agriculture, 1931–  1933. – Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. – P. 481-484.

[4] Ibidem. – P.441.

[5] Пайпс Ричард. Россия при большевиках. – М., 1997. – С.184.

[6] Сталин и Каганович. Переписка. 1931–1936 гг. – М., 2001. – С.18.

[7] Tamże, s. 273-274.

[8] Lynne Viola. Peasant rebels under Stalin. – New York, Oxford, 1996. – P.138-140.

[9] Сталин и Каганович. Переписка. 1931–1936 гг. – С.274.

[10] Tamże, tom 3, s. 453-454.

[11] Голод 1932–1933 років на Україні: очима істориків, мовою документів. – К., 1990. –     С.254; Колективізація і голод на Україні. 1929–1933. – К., 1992. – С.549.

[12] Tamże, s. 293-294.

[13] Голод 1932–1933 років на Україні: очима істориків, мовою документів. – С.308.

[14] Трагедия советской деревни. – Том 3. – С.559.

[15] Tamże, s. 32, 635.

[16] Нікольський В.М. Репресивна діяльність органів державної безпеки СРСР в Україні     (кінець 1920‑х – 1950‑ті рр.). – Донецьк, 2003. – С.119.

Anna Kaminsky

Widoczna pamięć – miejsca pamięci ofiar reżimów komunistycznych w Europie Środkowo-Wschodniej

21 August 2018
  • miejsca pamięci
  • historia europy XX wieku
  • totalitaryzm
  • pamięć historyczna
  • pamięć europejska
  • pamięć kulturowa
  • fundacja badań nad dyktaturą SED

W zeszłych latach często dyskutowano nad tym, jak w przyszłości ma wyglądać pamięć historyczna i kulturowa nowej, rozszerzonej Europy, traktowanej przede wszystkim jako rozszerzona Unia Europejska. Najbardziej kontrowersyjne były przy tym najczęściej tematy, które dotyczyły historii państw o ustroju komunistycznym należących uprzednio do Układu Warszawskiego. Konflikty dotyczące pamięci i upamiętniania wynikały przede wszystkim z różnych narodowych poglądów na historię własnego państwa i ich ocenę w XX wieku. Przede wszystkim chodzi w tej dyskusji o państwa, których obchodzenie się ze zbrodniami nazistowskimi i komunistycznymi nie pokrywają się z powstałymi w przeciągu ostatnich dekad w zachodniej Europie i przede wszystkim Republice Federalnej Niemiec oczekiwaniami i standardami.

Nie chodziło i nie chodzi tutaj jedynie o to, które zdarzenia historyczne są – lub może trafniej: powinny być - upamiętniane w jakiej formie. Dyskusja o tym, jak należy oceniać te zdarzenia historyczne i jak powinny one być wplecione w poszczególne narodowe i ponadnarodowe narratywy historyczne jest co najmniej tak samo burzliwa. Przy tych dyskusjach niemałą rolę odgrywa też kwestia poszczególnych priorytetów w odniesieniu do przedstawiania i upamiętniania innych wydarzeń historycznych, w szczególności zbrodni nazistowskich.

W znacznej mierze chodzi tutaj również o kwestie estetyczne, zaadaptowane formy i wymiary ilościowe, które ustalają znaczenie pomników lub miejsc upamiętnienia na podstawie wysokości, rozmiaru lub wyrażonej w metrach kwadratowych rozciągłości poszczególnych instalacji i z których czystej wielkości wywodzą się wnioski dotyczące istotności w odniesieniu do pomników dotyczących innych – często obieranych jako konkurencyjnych – zdarzeń.

Dyskusje te są obecnie prowadzone przede wszystkim w odniesieniu do rozwijających się kultur pamięci w byłych zdominowanych przez Sowietów postsocjalistycznych państwach Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, które w przeciągu XX w. stały się miejscem zbrodni dwóch największych totalitarnych systemów – narodowego socjalizmu i komunizmu.

Wiele z tych państw przeżyło przy tym wielokrotną okupację, która dziś, w regionalnie i narodowo różniącej się skali, kształtuje powstające od 1991 r. kultury upamiętniania w tych państwach. Szczególną pozycję w tej dyskusji zajmuje rozwój w Federacji Rosyjskiej, której przypisuje się wyłączną winę za popełnione w całym bloku wschodnim przestępstwa. Przy tym często się zapomina, iż społeczeństwo rosyjskie również padło ofiarą zbrodni stalinowskich, tak samo, jak w krajach później okupowanych przez Związek Radziecki. Te wspomnienia nieco przykrywają autorytarne reżimy z czasów międzywojennych, które również prześladowały ludzi lub grupy ludzi na tle politycznym, religijnym i/lub etnicznym.

W połączeniu z rozgraniczeniem czasu po Drugiej Wojnie Światowej, ocenianym wyłącznie jako niewola sowiecka, służą one promocji narodowosocjalistycznej tożsamości i są równoznaczne z szeroką eksternalizacją winy i odpowiedzialności – najczęściej w kierunku Moskwy – jak i z konstruowaniem własnej, uzasadnionej narodowo, tożsamości ofiar bądź oporu. 

Związane z tym jest widoczne przejęcie obszaru publicznego za pomocą:

-        własnych pomników i symboli, które zastępują dotychczasowe,

-        zmian nazw ulic i instytucji publicznych (do których zalicza się również tak powszechne instytucje jak kawiarnie i restauracje),

-        zmieszczenie/przekształcenie pomników i symboli sklasyfikowanych jako obce, które należy zneutralizować bądź znacjonalizować, tym samym usuwając ślady totalitarnej przeszłości,

-        reaktywację symboli narodowych i religijnych, które ze względu na swoja tabuizację i stłumienie w obszarze publicznym pod rządami komunistycznymi mają pozytywną konotację.

Od nowa powstające pomniki i miejsca upamiętniania spełniają, obok funkcji pamięciowej i upamiętniającej, również zadania informacyjne. Po pierwsze zaznaczane są odnalezione miejsca popełnienia masakr i groby masowe. Po drugie udziela się, za pomocą ustawionych tablic informacyjnych, wskazówek służących identyfikacji ofiar, poprzez przedstawianie znalezionych w grobach masowych przedmiotów osobistych takich jak etui na papierosy, okularów lub piór z inicjałami i proszenie społeczeństwa o pomoc w identyfikacji zmarłych. Nekrologi są upubliczniane i uzupełnia się je o nazwiska zidentyfikowanych ofiar, w celu ukazania wymiaru prześladowań i zbrodni.

Podczas gdy zbrodnie popełnione przez niemieckiego okupanta podczas Drugiej Wojny Światowej i walka przeciwko rządom narodowosocjalistycznym w byłych państwach socjalistycznych są – nawet jeżeli również selektywnie – upamiętniane w formie pomników, muzeów i miejsc upamiętniania, jak i poprzez rytuały, zbrodnie popełnione przez Związek Radziecki bądź krajowych komunistycznych rządzących były tabuizowane i od 1991 r. przeżywają upamiętnianie.

W przeciągu ostatnich lat w byłych państwach komunistycznych Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej i Wschodniej powstał różnorodny materialny krajobraz upamiętniający w formie pomników, muzeów i miejsc upamiętnienia. Badania przeprowadzone przez „Fundację Badań nad Dyktaturą SED” (Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur) w ramach projektu dokumentacyjnego „Miejsca upamiętniające dyktatury komunistyczne” objęły dotychczas ponad 3.500 pomników, miejsc upamiętniających i muzeów. Wśród nich znajduję się ca. 400 pomników w Federacji Rosyjskiej upamiętniających Wielki Terror w latach 1937/38, bądź 300 pomników wzniesionych na Ukrainie dla ofiar wielkiej klęski żywiołowej Hołodomor w latach 1932/33. Stłumienie Rewolucji Węgierskiej z 1956 r. upamiętnia 150 pomników. Dotyczą one najczęściej narodowo-państwowych lub konkretnych regionalnych zdarzeń bądź konkretnych zbrodni. Upamiętnia się przy tym akcje, osobowości lub grupy osób, które odzwierciedlają narodowy opór przeciwko rządom komunistycznym i narodową asertywność. Związana z tym jest pozytywna narracja pamięci, która w szczególności w krajach nadbałtyckich i na Ukrainie[1] kładzie nacisk na walkę przeciwko komunizmowi, a swoich protagonistów przedstawia jako działaczy ruchu oporu i ofiary komunizmu. To, w jakiej mierze ten opór był jednocześnie związany z zaangażowaniem na rzecz wartości demokratycznych, jest w tym przypadku drugorzędne.

Pomniki upamiętniające zbrodnie popełnione pod rządami komunistycznymi i ich ofiary powstawały jednakże w żadnym wypadku jedynie po upadku reżimów komunistycznych. Przykładowo w 1981 r. powstał pomnik upamiętniający powstanie w 1956 r. w Poznaniu. W „wolnym świecie” powstawały liczne pomniki upamiętniające zbrodnie komunistyczne i ich ofiary. Zalicza się do tego przykładowo pomniki, które zostały wzniesione ku pamięci rewolucji węgierskiej w 1956 r. lub zbrodni katyńskiej w Europie Zachodniej, Kanadzie lub Stanach Zjednoczonych.

Po 1989/90 r. w byłych państwach komunistycznych nie powstawały jedynie pomniki i muzea, które krytycznie rozliczały się z przeszłością bądź upamiętniały ofiary. Wznoszono również muzea, miejsca upamiętniania lub symbole pamięci, które pozytywnie odnosiły się do przeszłości komunistycznej. Do nich zaliczają się przykładowo – jak w niektórych byłych republikach sowieckich - popiersia Stalina lub poświęcone Stalinowi muzea w Tbilissi, muzea dot. służb wywiadu, jak w Dnipropetrovsku lub Marij El. 

Ta powstała w zeszłych latach różnolita materialna kultura pamięci w formie tysięcy miejsc upamiętnienia i muzeów, symboli pamięci, pomników, monumentów, budowli sakralnych i parków muzealnych nie świadczy o tym, jak upamiętnienie zbrodni komunistycznych jest zakotwiczone w pamięci zbiorowej i jakie znaczenie mają dla większej części społeczeństwa takie symbole w przestrzeni publicznej. Często takie pomniki inicjowane są przez prywatne lub lokalne inicjatywy lub stowarzyszenia ofiar, co napotyka na brak zainteresowania lub nawet opór społeczności bądź instytucji publicznych. Wnioskując z dużej ilości nowo powstałych pomników na jednolitą pamięć narodową zastawiane jest dojście do istniejących dziś często obok siebie pamięci i różnorodnych ocen. Na Ukrainie jest więc kilkaset pomników upamiętniających wielką klęskę żywiołową w latach 1932/33, jednakże wyciągniecie z tej ilości pomników wniosku, iż pamięć o Hołodomor i jego ofiarach należą już do kanonu pamięci kulturowej nowej Ukrainy, byłoby błędne.

Wymownym przykładem tego są też setki pomników dla ofiar represji stalinowskich lub Gułagu, które powstały w Federacji Rosyjskiej. W wielu miejscach samo istnienie tych pomników nie jest znane większej części społeczeństwa, nie wspominając już o tym, że miałyby być częścią żywej kultury pamięci.


[1] Można by przytoczyć dalsze przykłady z Rumunii, Węgier lub Chorwacji, ale również i innych państw.

Piotr Cywiński

Wem gehört Auschwitz?

21 August 2018
  • Polen
  • Juden
  • Deutsche
  • Erinnerungsort
  • Gedächtnis
  • Museum
  • Auschwitz
  • SS

Was ist Auschwitz heute? Diese Frage ist gleich am Anfang zu stellen, bevor danach gefragt werden kann, wem es „gehört“. Dem Ort Auschwitz sind verschiedene Bezeichnungen zugewiesen worden. Die früheren Häftlinge, die dort nach dem Krieg eine Gedenkstätte schufen, nannten ihr Projekt ein Museum. Später, in den sechziger Jahren, wurde in Birkenau ein Denkmal errichtet, so als ob die Lagerruinen zur Erinnerung nicht ausreichten. Danach kam die Vorstellung auf, es handle sich um den größten Friedhof der Welt. Schließlich kam die Bezeichnung Gedenkstätte in Gebrauch. Das ist ein Neologismus, der vielleicht am klarsten die Unfähigkeit zeigt, die Sache beim Namen zu nennen.

Von allen ähnlichen Orten in Europa ist nur dieser in der Liste des Weltkulturerbes der UNESCO eingetragen. Diese Eintragung sollte zeigen, dass der Ort repräsentativ für andere Objekte dieser Art sei und dass die anderen nicht in die Liste aufgenommen werden würden. Ich weiß nicht, was „Objekte dieser Art“ bedeutet. Geht es um andere Vernichtungslager? Oder um das ganze System der Konzentrationslager? Ist der GULag in diese Typologie eingeschlossen? Mit der Eintragung „andere Objekte dieser Art“ in der Weltkulturerbeliste wird Auschwitz prägend für eine bestimmte Kategorie von Erinnerungsorten und zugleich Teil des Erbes der Menschheit. Hier stellt sich die im Titel formulierte Frage: Wem „gehört“ Auschwitz?

Die Frage lässt sich unter vielen verschiedenen Gesichtspunkten, die sich wiederum nicht ausschließen, betrachten: dem der Geschichte, der Politik, der Empathie, auch der Moral oder der Anweisung zum Handeln. Eine solche Komplexität von Betrachtungsweisen führt zu einer gewissen Subjektivität. An diesem Ort gibt es kein Entrinnen vor jener Subjektivität, denn die Menschen haben das Recht, sich mit diesem Ort in verschiedenen Abstufungen verbunden zu fühlen. Die Vernichtung des jüdischen Volkes war das eine, die Geschichte des Konzentrationslagers etwas anderes. Unter den nichtjüdischen Opfern gibt es viele Überlebende, die sich an diesen oder jenen Cousin erinnern, der dort umgekommen ist, zum Beispiel als politischer Häftling.

Auch politische und ideelle Unterschiede spielen eine Rolle. Für einige wird die erzieherische Funktion des Ortes im Vordergrund stehen. Für andere Gemeinschaften ist Auschwitz ungemein wichtig als Ort der Selbstidentifikation. Ich denke dabei an die jüdische Diaspora, in gewissem Grade auch an die Roma. In Polen fungiert Auschwitz dagegen besonders als Symbol der Unabhängigkeit, aber es sollte nicht vergessen werden, dass auch Polen verschiedene Geschichten über Auschwitz kennt. Zum einen war es ein Ort der polnischen Eliten, die dort in der Anfangszeit die meisten Häftlinge stellten. Eine andere Geschichte erlebten die Einwohner des Gebiets von Zamość, die dorthin verschleppt wurden, um ermordet zu werden. Wieder eine andere Geschichte war die der Hauptstädter nach dem Warschauer Aufstand. Und noch eine ganz andere Geschichte ist es für diejenigen, die bei einer Razzia aus der Straßenbahn gezerrt wurden und keine Ahnung hatten, wieso man sie dorthin brachte, wo sie doch gar nicht der Widerstandsbewegung angehörten. Für die Deutschen ist Auschwitz natürlich eine besondere Erfahrung. Ihre Besuche dort wecken starke persönliche Bezüge zu diesem Ort. Die katholischen Christen sehen einen Bezug zum Märtyrertum, ja gar zur Heiligkeit, die sich ihnen dort offenbart.

Bei all diesen vielgestaltigen Sichtweisen von Auschwitz wird verständlich, wieso nach dem Fall des Kommunismus die neunziger Jahre so konfliktgeladen waren. Plötzlich trafen all diese Erinnerungen an diesem Ort aufeinander, und ihre Akteure begannen, einander wahrzunehmen. Ich hoffe, wir sind heute aufgrund dieser Erfahrungen klüger.

Von allen Zugehörigkeiten drängt sich die derjenigen am meisten auf, deren Asche dort verstreut ist. Die Erinnerung und die Zugehörigkeit der Erben der Opfer hat Vorrang, vor allem der Juden, aber auch der Polen, der Roma, der Kriegsgefangenen der Roten Armee.

Auschwitz ist natürlich ein Symbol des Völkermords, aber auch das größte Konzentrationslager. Deshalb identifizieren die Besuchergruppen von heute diesen Ort auch mit Geschehnissen, die sich vielleicht häufiger an anderen Orten abspielten. Geistliche wurden öfter in Dachau ermordet, ihrer wird aber auch hier gedacht. Frauen in Ravensbrück. Deutsche Homosexuelle oder Zeugen Jehovas auch in anderen Lagern – Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Flossenbürg. Behinderte wurden überhaupt nicht in den Lagern ermordet, sondern oft in Einrichtungen an den Pflegeheimen oder in Vergasungswagen, dennoch wird auch ihrer an diesem Ort gedacht.

Was ist über die Personen auf der anderen Seite des Stacheldrahts zu sagen? Dort arbeiteten ungefähr 8000 SS‑ und Gestapoleute. Historiker schätzen, dass  im gesamten Lagersystem ca. 70.000 NS-Funktionäre tätig waren, von denen nach dem Krieg 1600–1700 den Gerichten übergeben wurden. Die meisten der Angeklagten bekamen Haftstrafen von drei bis fünf Jahren, oft auf Bewährung.

Wenn schon einmal von den Tätern die Rede ist, bleibt noch eine sehr heikle Frage offen. Ein Häftling konnte zugleich Täter sein, denn so funktionierte das System. Der Kapo, der Blockälteste oder der Pritschengenosse konnte zum Täter werden, wenn er schlug, Brot stahl, denunzierte oder keine Hilfe leistete. Hier haben wir es mit einer elementaren Erfahrung des Menschseins zu tun, mit etwas, das jeder von uns in seinem Leben durchmachen könnte, mit der Erfahrung, sich über jeden Zweifel erhaben zu wähnen und dabei unterschiedliche Gesichter zu haben.

Um den 60. Jahrestag der Lagerbefreiung herum galt die These, dass dieser Erinnerungsort bereits jetzt der gesamteuropäischen Geschichte angehöre und dass schon alles über ihn gesagt sei. Aber allein an der Besucherzahl sehen wir, dass die Menschen immer noch nach Antworten suchen. Während der vergangenen fünf Jahre hat sich die Zahl jedes Jahr verdoppelt. Letztes Jahr wurde ein absoluter Besucherrekord erreicht. Vor einigen Jahren tauchten in den Besucherstatistiken auf einmal auch Südkoreaner auf, heute sind es fast 40.000 jährlich. Fast so viele Besucher wie aus Frankreich oder Israel. Dabei gehört Korea doch zu einer ganz anderen Welt mit einer ganz anderen Geschichte. Die Mandschurei, China, Japan und Korea hatten während des Zweiten Weltkriegs ihre eigenen Tragödien. Und dennoch besuchen Menschen aus jenen Ländern diesen Ort. In den neunziger Jahren galt Auschwitz vor allem in Europa, Israel und Nordamerika als Symbol. Aber jetzt, vor unseren Augen, hat es sich in ein Symbol wahrhaft der gesamten Welt verwandelt.

Es gibt geographische, politische und historische Regionen, die sich mit Auschwitz nicht verbunden fühlen und das nicht offenbaren wollen. Vor allem möchte ich auf Österreich hinweisen, das in gewisser Weise ein Problem darstellt. Nur 3000 österreichische Besucher im vergangenen Jahr, bei 60.000 Deutschen und 56.000 Italienern. Wenn aus Österreich 3000 kommen und aus Tschechien fast 25.000, heißt das, dass wir es mit einem Erziehungs- und Identitätsproblem zu tun haben, das noch nicht bewältigt ist und über das wir gemeinsam nachdenken müssen. Ich betone: gemeinsam. Menschen aus Afrika und der arabischen Welt kommen überhaupt nicht. Dieses Problem geht auf die heutigen politischen Umstände zurück. Aufgrund dieser Vernachlässigung entsteht eine neue Geografie der Verleugnung.

Von wachsender Bedeutung wird die Tatsache sein, dass die nationale Zugehörigkeit im heutigen Europa nicht mehr der wichtigste Bezugspunkt für die eigene Identität ist. Es gibt national gemischte Besuchergruppen, die sich an diesem Ort selbst in anderer Weise wiederfinden – als Ärzte, Juristen oder Priester.

Es gibt noch andere Merkmale einer subjektiven Zugehörigkeit – zum Beispiel der persönliche Einsatz für die Erhaltung der Gedenkstätte. Seit Jahren trägt die polnische Regierung die Hälfte des Gedenkstättenbudgets. Die andere Hälfte muss das Museum aufbringen, einige wenige Prozent kommen aus dem Ausland. Zugehörigkeit und Verantwortung lassen sich nicht trennen, sie fügen sich   zu einem moralischen Problem.

Zum Schluss möchte ich noch die Frage der Teilhabe ansprechen – das ist vielleicht die wichtigste Frage, die sich aus dem Zugehörigkeitsgefühl und der Verantwortlichkeit ergibt. Wenn man die Bilder der Befreiung des Lagers betrachtet, lässt sich die Assoziation mit Ruanda nicht verdrängen. Die Frage richtet sich nicht auf die beiden Ereignisse, sondern auf unsere Passivität. Die Idee gesellschaftlicher Partizipation besteht darin, dass der Mensch verbunden ist mit dem, woran er mitarbeitet, was er erschafft, für was er sich engagiert, dessen Zwecke er verfolgt. Die Zugehörigkeit eines Menschen zu diesem Erinnerungsort wäre die Erfüllung des Ziels, das heißt: Nie wieder. Unterdessen besuchen Millionen Menschen Auschwitz und andere Orte dieser Art – wie zum Beispiel Yad Vashem oder das US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Und dieselben Menschen sitzen später vor ihren Fernsehern, schauen sich die Berichte aus Darfur an und sehen den Zusammenhang nicht. Als Einwohner freier Länder kritisieren sie diejenigen, die in den Jahren Hitlers nichts dagegen getan haben. Unmittelbar darauf tun sie selbst nicht das Geringste gegen andere Tragödien in der Welt.

Wenn ich also die mir gestellte Frage beantworten soll, würde ich sagen, dass Auschwitz als Erinnerungsort auf tragische Weise allen und zugleich niemandem gehört. Immer noch, leider.

Aus dem Polnischen von Andreas R. Hofmann

Dr. Piotr Cywiński (geb. 1972) – Historiker, Direktor des Staatlichen Musuems Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mitglied des Internationalen Auschwitz-Rates. Katholischer Aktivist, ehemaliger Präsident des Klubs der Katholischen Intelligenz in Warschau.


Lavinia Stan, Andrzej Stankiewicz

We or They

21 August 2018
  • totalitarian regimes
  • communism
  • transitional justice
  • remembrance

Interview with Professor Lavinia Stan: The Romanian example has shown that demands for radical accountability can lead to a situation in which hardly any account settling occurs.

Andrzej Stankiewicz: What is transitional justice, especially in our part of Europe?

Lavinia Stan: This is an attempt to settle accounts with the legacy of a dark and gloomy past. The countries of our part of Europe have had a difficult Nazi and communist past. In Romania, this included crimes committed during the revolution, and in former Yugoslavia – during the civil war.

But this is an entirely different fate, a different kind of gloom. Does any common denominator, therefore, exist when it comes to settling accounts with the past?

There are practices and processes that have been common to nearly all the region's countries. It is another matter whether this has resulted from a mutual flow of ideas or taken shape independently. Those common areas pertain to politics, public debate and the legal situation. In most cases account settling has involved judicial proceedings. Access to secret police files was provided. The issue of restitution of illegally taken-over property emerged, although at times little has come of it, as in Poland's case.

Our region's specific feature has been vetting – one of the most controversial instruments of justice in the transformation period. Another important phenomenon has been memorialisation – the destruction of some monuments and their replacement with others, as well as a change of symbols and street names.

You are studying the influence of civil society on account settling with totalitarian systems, and focus on the perspectives of three different groups: victims, the intellectual elite and the totalitarian elite (‘nomenklatura’).

Nearly everyone wants to regard themselves as victims of the former system. But not all of us were victims. Most people supported the dictatorship through their passivity. But how many people of my generation will admit it?

Each of these groups – true victims, the system's dignitaries and intellectuals – perceive justice of the transformation period differently. Let's take Romania. Victims demanded radical vetting, putting secret informers of the Securitate on trial and sacking them from their jobs. To people wronged by the regime, vetting regulations were never sufficiently severe. They wanted to entirely eliminate people of the ancien régime from public life. Punishing collaborators became a symbol of justice to them. Such demands emerged soon after the collapse of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceauşescu in the Timişoara Proclamation of 1990. These, of course, were never fulfilled by the political class, which in Romania was in a large part rooted in the former Communist Party.

In Poland the former democratic opposition was divided to a greater extent. A portion of the right-wing politicians demanded vetting, whilst centre-left politicians were opposed.

In Romania such harsh rhetoric by the regime's victims resulted from the way the dictatorship was overthrown – in bloody revolution. We lacked ‘round-table’ talks. Because of the bloodshed, the regime's victims did not want dialogue with their former oppressors, and it boiled down to a case of ‘we or they’. At the same time, the Romanian example has shown that demands for radical accountability can lead to a situation in which hardly any account settling occurs.

You ascribe none too flattering a role to intellectuals, accusing them of agreeing to some measure of account settling while blocking attempts to bring the dictatorship to account.

In Romania intellectuals played a significant role because some of them were dissidents, whereas in our country there were few such people. We do not have a civil society; hence nothing like Solidarity ever arose in Romania. After the revolution, intellectuals became very influential. It was they who made public opinion aware of the demands on which accountability was based. But mindful of the victims, intellectuals always softened the demands.

Subsequently, it turned out that some of the intellectuals had a disreputable past by virtue of having collaborated with the regime. Intellectuals politicised account settling and diminished public support for transformation solidarity.

The third group comprised Communist Party dignitaries, people attached to special services and other beneficiaries of the former system. In most of the region's countries they retained significant influence on public and political life for years.

When I initially became involved with transitional justice, my research focused on groups advocating account settling. But in Romania, I saw a different situation with my own eyes.

One of the most vociferous groups were tenants residing in property that had been illegally taken from its former owners. To make things clear, these were not poor workers or rank-and-file hirelings of socialism, but representatives of the former regime's elite. Very quickly they organised themselves, acted very effectively and blocked the restitution of property to the heirs of their former owners.

They convinced politicians to legally safeguard their interests including the right to continued residence in flats confiscated during the communist era and their purchase in the event that their former owners had no heirs.

Perhaps there are countries in our region where transitional justice is only a pretence?

Even in Romania, which has done less in many areas than other Central European countries, there has been clear progress in the realm of transitional justice. In spite of everything, some real estate is being returned, and this process is far more advanced than in Poland. Restitution of the property of the biggest religious denomination, the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the Greek Catholic Church is moving forward.

Which country is the most advanced in terms of account settling?

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states have done the most to settle accounts with the past. In Romania and Bulgaria there are regulations on the books enabling account settling, but life is what it is, and a great deal still needs to be changed. Albania and the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia have achieved the least.

What about Russia?

Russia is regressing compared to the Gorbachev era.

When will the administration of transitional justice be completed in our part of Europe?

It will not end as long as a significant portion of society continues to lodge claims that the authorities are unable to fulfil. In Poland, the question of property restitution must be resolved. This issue has far-reaching legal and financial consequences, and thus account settling with communism cannot be completed without resolving it. In Romania, authentic vetting continues to be a problem, Up until 2006, secret files were controlled by the new security services that were largely comprised of former Securitate officers, as there was no verification of special services in Romania. Access to these files continues to be limited. Please do not ask whether vetting makes sense this late in the game – this is an entirely different matter. However, the victims do need a symbol.

Do you support settling accounts with former Communist Party leaders by means of court proceedings?

I know that discussions are also under way in Poland as to whether a dictator who has peacefully handed over power should be absolved of his past transgressions. Personally, I believe dictators should be put on trial if there is evidence that they broke the law.

Interviewed by Andrzej Stankiewicz (Rzeczpospolita)


>>Professor LAVINIA STAN is a Romanian political scientist with books and articles to her credit. She is employed at the Centre for Post-Communist Studies at Canada's St Francis Xavier University. A year ago, together with Dr Nadya Nedelsky, she published the Encyclopaedia of Transitional Justice, the first comprehensive work devoted to the accountability of dictatorial regimes.

Robert Blobaum

Warsaw’s Forgotten War

21 August 2018
  • Poland
  • Great War
  • First World War
  • World War I
  • Warsaw
  • remembrance
  • Piłsudski
  • Dmowski


By the winter of 1916–1917 most Varsovians likely believed their world was coming to an end, as their city was being visited by rapidly escalating incidences of starvation, disease, death, and conflict over increasingly scarce resources. Overshadowed by the greater horrors of a war yet to come, the existential crisis of Varsovians during the Great War has largely been forgotten. This article draws on various theoretical perspectives from the field of memory studies, particularly of the political and cultural structures which create silences, in an effort to explain why the First World War is likely to remain Warsaw’s forgotten war.

By the winter of 1916–1917 most Varsovians likely believed their world was coming to an end, as their city was being visited by rapidly escalating incidences of starvation, disease, death and conflict over increasingly scarce resources necessary to sustain human life. Were it not for copyright law, the title of Tadeusz Konwicki’s famous novel, A Minor Apocalypse, would serve as an apt heading for a study of the impact of the world’s first total war on the daily lives of the inhabitants of one of central Europe’s great cities. Overshadowed by the greater horrors of a war yet to come, the major apocalypse of devastation and destruction which characterized Warsaw’s amply-documented experience of the Second World War, the deprivation and desperation marking the existential crisis of Varsovians during the Great War has been largely forgotten. In Warsaw today, one is hard pressed to find any sign or site of public memory that might recall or reflect on the suffering of its citizens during the Great War, even as minor apocalypse. This is in stark contrast to the innumerable commemorative plaques, memorials and monuments devoted the Warsaw’s experience of the Second World War that dominates the city’s memory culture.

Not surprisingly, the historiography on Warsaw during the Great War is extremely limited, while that devoted to Poland more generally occupies little more than a shelf in the stacks of the Warsaw University library. Again, the contrast with the ever-expanding literature on the city’s experience of the Second World War could not be more striking. Moreover, in the traditional Polish national narrative that has dominated the existing sparse scholarship on the First World War, Warsaw figures little more than the major urban political setting in the larger story of the recovery of an independent Polish state (Królikowski and Oktabiński 2008; Wyszczelski 2008). One glance at the existing Polish-language secondary literature reveals an overwhelming preponderance of outdated titles on the military history of the war, devoted primarily to battles in which Polish legions participated, along with accounts tracing the activities of political parties and personalities during those years, especially those identified with the struggle for Polish independence. This has been supplemented in recent years by important German and English-language scholarship on the German occupation regime, which established its seat in Warsaw following the Russian evacuation of the city in August 1915 (Polsakiewicz 2009; Kaufman 2008). However, inasmuch as Warsaw appears in these studies, it does so mainly as a setting or target of German occupation policy, rather than a subject worthy of study in its own right.

The only real scholarly treatment of the experience of Warsaw’s inhabitants during the Great War is the one written by Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz, published nearly forty years ago (Dunin-Wąsowicz 1974). While Dunin’s focus was directed partly at the material condition of the population and the demographic consequences of the war, his short monograph is descriptive rather than analytical and interpretive, and lacks any kind of comparative perspective. Given the context in which it was written, Dunin’s book also ignored important issues related to class, ethnicity, gender, and culture that have inspired the best recent scholarship of the wartime experience of other capitals and major cities. Three years earlier, Dunin was also responsible for the publication of the only significant anthology of memoirs on the First World War in Warsaw, which informed and shaped his later study (Dunin-Wąsowicz 1971). The perspectives presented, as we shall see, were predominantly those of the male Polish intelligentsia and, as such, they focused more on wartime political developments than on everyday life.

Truth be told, literature on the urban experience of World War One in European metropolitan centers is still in its infancy. The pioneering volume of essays on the war’s social history in London, Paris and Berlin, Capital Cities at War, edited by Jan Winter and Jean-Louis Robert, was published only in 1997. This was followed by a second volume devoted to a cultural history of the war in the three capitals in 2007. In between, Belinda Davis, one of the contributors to the first Capital Cities volume, published Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin (2000). Outside of the “Big Three” capital cities, David Rechter published an analysis of Jewish politics in wartime Vienna in 2001 (The Jews of Vienna and the First World War); but the real breakthrough came with Maureen Healy’s Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I (2004) with its focus on shops, street corners, schools, pubs, and apartment buildings, everyday sites of conflict and “communal disintegration” on the home front as a consequence of growing hunger, violence, and the deterioration of social norms. More recently, Roger Chickering’s The Great War and Urban Life in Germany: Freiburg, 1914–1918 (2007) adopted a comprehensive methodological approach to a micro-history that illuminates the wartime experience of a medium-sized frontline city.

If the literature on the social and cultural history of the Great War in major European urban settings has yet to extend much beyond London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna to places like Warsaw Budapest and Prague, there is even less to be said of studies of war-related memory and memorialization in these latter cities. In Warsaw’s specific instance, one basically needs to start from scratch. In its attempt to initiate such a discussion, this article draws on various theoretical perspectives in the field of memory studies, beginning with the classic “socio-constructivist” approach to memory originally developed in the 1920s and 1930s by Maurice Halbwachs (Halbwachs 1980), as well as its significant amendment by Jan Assmann to account for institutionalized commemoration through cultural evolution (Assmann 2011). It has also benefited from the considerable theoretical contributions of Pierre Nora and his collaborators, particularly those related to the “places” (or “realms”) of memory, an academic enterprise developed over several decades (Nora 2001 and 2007). Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s analysis of the relationship of power to silences in memory, commemoration, and the production of historical narratives (Trouillot 1995) is especially relevant to this study, which focuses not only on what has been forgotten from Warsaw’s lived experience of the First World War, but also why it has been forgotten. At the same time, this article will contrast the forgotten war with the minimally memorialized one. Commemorating the social and economic experiences of non-combatants in wartime is a challenge in any case, but a monument constructed in 1925 in Vienna’s Central Cemetery depicting a grieving mother who was just as likely to have lost her child to malnutrition and disease as to battle during the war, suggests at least one possibility (Healy 2006, 54). Present-day Warsaw’s memory landscape of the First World War, as we shall see, contains nothing of the sort.

A Past Buried by Memory

Over twenty years ago, in his famous discussion of the recovery of memory of the Second World War, the late Tony Judt argued that in contrast with Western Europe, the problem in post-communist Eastern Europe was not a shortage of memory, but its reverse: “Here there is too much memory, too many pasts on which people can draw. [...]” (Judt 1992, 99). For our purposes, Warsaw’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Grób Nieznanego Żołnierza) in present-day Piłsudski Square offers a case in point. In 1923, a group of anonymous Varsovians, inspired by state-sponsored monuments and commemorations originating in Britain and France, placed before the Saxon Palace, then the seat of the Ministry of War, a stone tablet commemorating the unknown Polish soldiers who had fallen during the years 1914–1920. This effort at commemoration already conflated two wars, the Great War of 1914–1918 and the Polish-Soviet War, not to mention the border wars and armed conflicts with Ukraine, Lithuania, and Germany. Soon enough, the initiative for an official tomb was taken up by the War Minister, General Władysław Sikorski; some forty battlefields were considered by the Ministry for removing and transporting to Warsaw the remains of an unknown soldier, and ultimately Lwów during the Polish-Ukrainian War in eastern Galicia was selected. On 2 November 1925 the ceremonial reburial was accompanied by a twenty-one gun salute and the lighting of the eternal flame by President Stanisław Wojciechowski (Ministerstwo Obrony Narodowy 2005).

The burying of memory of the Great War, by heaping on it more recent memory, had clearly begun. In fact, it was already in process before the appearance of the tablet of the anonymous citizens in front of the Saxon Palace. Without a doubt more unknown Polish soldiers had died on the battlefields of the Great War than in independent Poland’s subsequent border wars and war with Soviet Russia. Accompanying this process of historical production were more fundamental silences about the everyday experiences and sufferings of Warsaw’s non-combatants, who died in even greater numbers than did its soldiers fighting in various armies during the First World War.

Let us return for a moment to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Ministry’s decision to use the site of the tomb to honor those who had died fighting for an independent Poland since 1794 contained a silence about the majority of Poles who had died fighting in the Great War in the service of the imperial Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian armies. Of the thirteen battles of the years 1914–1918 currently inscribed on tablets at the site, all of them involve Polish legions and brigades which fought – presumably for the idea of independent Poland – under their own banner, but as part of other armies, particularly the Austro-Hungarian and French. If the reality of Pole fighting Pole (rather than for independence) for the greater part of First World War contradicted the emerging narrative, so too did the collaboration of Polish political elites with ruling regimes and occupation authorities, even if those elites were divided in their support of the Entente and Central Powers. This includes those rival political figures now credited through their combined efforts with the restoration and defense of an independent Poland, Józef Piłsudski and Roman Dmowski, to whom statues, squares, and roundabouts have been dedicated in Warsaw.

In any event, the thirteen battles featured in Piłsudski Square are not representative of Polish combat during the First World War. However, they are overshadowed by twenty-four battles from late 1918 to 1920, the years of the Soviet-Polish war and of Poland’s border wars with its Ukrainian, German, and Lithuanian neighbors, when Polish soldiers were mobilized and fought for a Polish state. The Battle for Lwów, as mentioned, fits this category, and that one of its battlefields, Gródek Jagielloński, was selected over dozens of others for the removal of the remains of an unknown soldier was not accidental. General Sikorski had commanded troops there in fending off a bloody Ukrainian siege in January 1919 (Wapiński 1997, 471). The wars of 1918–1920, too, would be dwarfed after 1945 by the seventythree inscriptions commemorating land, naval, and air battles of World War II in which Polish forces fought, or, like Katyń, were buried. They would also be bracketed by fifty-two “battles” prior to 1914, including terrorist attacks on Russian troops during the revolutionary years of 1904–1908. Thus, of the 162 battles featured at Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, approximately 45% are dedicated to World War II, 32% to the period 972 to 1914, 15% to the wars of 1918–1920, and only 8% to the years of the Great War – none of which, again, commemorate the thousands of Polish soldiers who died in the service of imperial armies. “Commemorations,” according to Trouillot, “impose a silence on events they ignore and fill that silence with narratives of power about the event they celebrate” (Trouillot 1995, 118). Whatever the intentions of the Warsaw citizens and their homemade tablet in 1923, the state-driven narrative at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is about the state, and those who fought and died for it for nearly a millennium. The tomb embraces accompanying themes of victimization and martyrdom, while excluding and trivializing what does not fit the conceptual framework which shaped its creation and evolution. The effective silencing of Polish military casualties during the Great War is not the result of conspiracy or even a political consensus. Instead, its roots are structural. This memory structure is also reflected in Warsaw’s larger monument landscape, which, in its few references to World War One, emphasizes its outcome – namely, independent Poland – at the expense of its actual course.

One can hardly expect military cemeteries, even symbolic ones like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to commemorate non-combatants of any era, yet as Katrin Van Cant has shown in her analysis of the nearly eighty open-air monuments erected in Warsaw between 1989 and 2009, the emphasis on the heroes of recent Polish military history and particularly those of World War II is similarly pronounced in the city’s streets (Van Cant 2009). 1 30% of these monuments are directly related to World War II, the majority of which commemorate the Home Army and the Warsaw Uprising. By comparison, only 6.5% of the new statues refer to World War I. “The most natural explanation for this,” according to Van Cant, “is that in Polish national memory, this war, despite the terrific human and material losses on the Polish side between 1914 and 1918, mainly has a positive connotation, because of its outcome” (Van Cant 2009, 98–99). In other words, the Great War does not easily fit the dominant narrative told by Warsaw’s monuments (any more than it did the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), “of Poland and the Polish people as victims of their history, nevertheless always displaying an indestructible will to fight for the existence and freedom of the nation” (Van Cant 2009, 113).

However, if we look closely at these monuments, we will see that there is more to the story. None of the monuments in Van Cant’s study refer to the Great War as it was experienced by non-combatants in Warsaw, but to its “positive outcome” for the Polish nation. That outcome had been a relatively taboo subject in the communist era, during which not a single monument was erected to commemorate a person or event that took place prior to 1945, with the exception of the monument to the Polish communist and founder of the Soviet secret police, Feliks Dzierżyński, in the city center. 2 The 1998 Memorial to the Military Action of the Polish American is dedicated to Polish-American soldiers who fought under the command of General Józef Haller in France and against the Ukrainians in eastern Galicja in 1918. There is also the 2005 memorial to Father Jerzy Skorupka, a chaplain in the Polish army who died in 1920 during the war with the Soviets. In the 1990s three statues were dedicated to Piłsudski, the acknowledged “founder” of the interwar state, and a final one to Dmowski in 2006. Due to Dmowski’s primacy of place in the pantheon of Poland’s radical right, the monument and surrounding roundabout in his name proved the most controversial, despite Dmowski’s “positive” role at the Paris Peace Conference.

Also honored, in Skaryszewski Park, is Colonel Edward M. House, advisor to the American wartime president Woodrow Wilson and “friend of Poland,” whose 1932 statue was removed by the communists in 1951 and restored in 1991. 3 Wilson and Herbert Hoover are two other Americans connected to the First World War honored in the Polish capital. Tellingly, Wilson is honored with a plaza (plac in Polish) for making an independent Poland one of his Fourteen Points and an American war aim. Constructed in the interwar period as a major transportation hub, plac Wilsona and its name survived through and beyond the communist era. Meanwhile, Hoover, the head of the postwar American Relief Administration responsible for saving thousands of lives, is honored with a skwer (which really isn’t a square) adjacent to Warsaw’s most prominent boulevard, Krakowskie Przedmieście. Skwer Hoovera remains the only physical marker of Warsaw’s existential catastrophe of the Great War. In 1922 a monument “of gratitude to America” had been erected in Hoover’s honor that portrayed two women holding children who had presumably been saved from starvation as a result of American relief efforts, but by 1930 the sandstone sculpture was already falling apart and had to be removed from the square. It was subsequently destroyed during the Second World War. Under the communist regime, the square was stripped of Hoover’s name along with the pedestal for the original monument, but the square’s original name was restored in 1992, accompanied by a stone memorial. Plans to restore the original statue of 1922, however, have not been realized to date (Hoover Institution 2005).

Two groups, as Van Cant shows, are completely underrepresented in Warsaw’s public monuments – women and Jews. Three of Warsaw’s currently standing monuments commemorate Jews, all of them directly related to World War II and the Holocaust, of which only one was erected after 1989, in the distant suburb of Falenica. Women come off slightly better, with four new monuments since 1989, raising the total to seven, which honor “the fighting (and caring) woman and first-class patriot” (Van Cant 2009, 109). Primarily viewed as non-combatants during the First World War, no member of either group is remembered for this time period. More significant, however, is that Varsovians themselves are woefully underrepresented in the monuments and statues of their own city. Only a few local heroes have been honored with their own monument in Warsaw, and none of them are connected to the First World War. The emphasis is clearly on the national rather than the local. As Van Cant explains, “Warsaw as the capital fulfills the role of visiting card to the entire country” and the narrative delivered by its monuments is firmly focused on the later history of twentieth-century Poland “because it was extremely traumatic and [because] the scars inflicted by those events are still very fresh in the national consciousness” (Van Cant 2009, 112). However, the problem with remembering the First World War in Warsaw may run much deeper than a preoccupation with what came after it, but with how its “history” was recorded in the first place, in its very sources.

The Root of the Problem

The recording of history, Assmann argues, gives rise to “a dialectic of expansion and loss,” the latter “through forgetting and through suppression by way of manipulation, censorship, destruction, circumspection, and substitution” (Assmann 2011, 9). According to Trouillot, “[Sources] privilege some events over others, not always the ones privileged by the actors [...] Silences are inherent in the creation of sources, the first moment of historical production” (Troiullot 1995, 48 and 51). If, as Trouillot argues, “History is the fruit of power” and “in history, power begins at the source” (Trouillot 1995, xix and 29), what can be said of the sources available for an examination of the everyday lives of ordinary Varsovians during the First World War?

Let us begin with the archival evidence. Warsaw was under Russian rule during the first year of the war, until early August 1915, after which the city came under German occupation. The documents written and compiled by these political authorities obviously reflect a certain perspective, if not always from the top, then from various ranks of administrations concerned primarily with the preservation of order and control. Seldom do we hear from those who are the subjects of these documents, except when they offer resistance to or come under suspicion of the authorities. The most significant archival collection of Russian administration for the first year of the war, the files of the Warsaw Superintendent of Police, demonstrates a preoccupation with requisitioning and evacuation, along with ungrounded fears of Jewish espionage on behalf of the Central Powers. 4 No attention is paid to the steady deterioration of living standards caused by the war and requisitioning, at least in the documents available to us. And what is available to us represents only a small fraction of the written record, since many documents were deliberately destroyed during the Russian evacuation, while others were transported from Warsaw, never to return. Thus what have survived are fragments, such as the files of the requisitions commission for Warsaw’s fourth precinct, 5 which historians may take as representative – at least for a particular process.

The documents of the German occupation authorities in Warsaw fared no better, in fact, even worse. Again, there was purposeful destruction. The majority of the most important and secret documents from the Warsaw Governor-General’s office were burned in November 1918, as described in his memoirs by Bohdan Hutten-Czapski, the principal “Polish expert” of Governor-General Hans von Beseler (Dunin-Wąsowicz 1971, 478–479). Nevertheless, some 980 volumes were preserved, as were those of the Chief of Administration, and deposited in the Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN). Following the German invasion of 1939, these documents were packed off in their entirety to Potsdam, where they were destroyed in 1945 during the siege of Berlin. Meanwhile, fragments from Beseler’s personal collection had been preserved by his family and after World War II were transferred to the German federal archive in Koblenz. Some were reproduced on microfilm and photocopies and returned to Poland. Today, some thirty-six files as well as fragments from fifteen others, only a tiny fraction of what had once existed, are available to researchers at the Archiwum Główne Akt Dawnych (AGAD). 6 These consist primarily of Beseler’s reports, the quarterly reports of the Chief of Administration, and a small number of announcements, declarations, orders and petitions. The collection of the Imperial German Presidium of Police in Warsaw contains only a few random documents, which are practically useless, since it is difficult to place them in larger contexts.

Nonetheless, the available German documents, taken as a whole, reveal more about wartime living conditions in Warsaw than the Russian documents, perhaps because their political implications grew as the war continued. Official quarterly reports, for example, discuss the refugee crisis the Germans encountered upon entering Warsaw, high inflation and unemployment, threats to public health, tensions in Polish-Jewish relations, fraternization of German troops with Polish women, and especially issues related to the food supply – its control and distribution, and associated activities, such as smuggling. Appendices to the reports of Chief of Administration contain particularly valuable statistical data on various diseases and levels of employment. What is striking, however, is the absence of references in these documents to the political situation in Warsaw, perhaps because these were precisely the kinds of documents that were purposefully burned in November 1918.

In an early report from the Fall of 1915, Beseler claimed that one of his main tasks was “to contain or deflect political propaganda” for independence. 7 To do so, the German occupation regime first permitted cultural expressions of Polish (and Jewish) national sentiment and, as the war continued and the Russians failed to sue for peace, the establishment of quasi-state institutions and self-governing bodies such as municipal councils. Among the former was the Provisional State Council (Tymczasowy Rada Stanu – TRS), a consultative body formed to work with German and Austrian authorities to design state institutions in the occupied Polish Kingdom. Before it was replaced by one of those institutions (the Regency Council), the TRS lasted some seven and a half months, from 14 January to 31 August 1917. It is estimated that over 25% of its archive survived the Second World War, 8 a far higher percentage than that of its successor, both of which are located in Warsaw’s AAN. Whereas one is hard-pressed to find references to the political situation in the German documentary collections housed in Warsaw-based repositories, this appears to have been a primary concern of the TRS, whose files reveal a careful monitoring of the Warsaw press, both legal and underground, thanks to which we have some evidence of incidents of unrest – food riots and student strikes in May 1917, demonstrations and political vandalism following the arrest of Józef Piłsudski in July 1917. However, such documents afford us only fleeting and fragmentary glimpses into the lives of ordinary Varsovians during the First World War, and these through lenses trained on other objects.

The same could be said of the collections of private papers of individuals who served in these “Polish” institutions which are also housed at AAN, principal among them the Dzierzbicki and Drzewiecki papers. 9I mention these two in particular because of the positions held during the war by Stanisław Dzierzbicki and Piotr Drzewiecki, respectively. A civil engineer by training, Stanisław Dzierzbicki was a dedicated public servant who, during the war years, became involved in the provision of relief and assistance to victims of the war, most significantly as the president of the Main Welfare Organization (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza – RGO), after which he became a member of the Provisional State Council and Minister of Agriculture under the Regency Council. To judge by his papers, Dzierzbicki was concerned primarily with issues related to funding, provisioning, and the distribution of assistance before 1917 and, as his functions changed in that year, by outbursts of unrest in Warsaw’s streets and universities. Piotr Drzewiecki, who had presided over a number of industrial and commercial boards before the war, was one of the founding members of the Warsaw Citizens’ Committee, an NGO formed with imperial Russian approval in August 1914 in order to deal with war’s side-effects, economic or otherwise, on the Warsaw home front. As the war continued and the needs of Warsaw’s inhabitants mounted, the Citizens’ Committee became the main welfare agency in the city. Following the Russian evacuation, its executive branch was transformed into the Warsaw city administration, where Drzewiecki served as vice president. Drzewiecki’s papers for this period reveal the perspective of an administrator dealing with German demands for labor, unwelcome German supervision of the city’s judicial and educational institutions, and a strained city budget. They also reveal a National Democrat concerned with electoral politics, in this case, the newly formed Warsaw City Council. In both the Dzierzbicki and Drzewiecki papers, with the focus on the administrative and political, only side-glances are offered toward the quotidian struggles of those whom they presumably served.

The best view of these struggles from the archives, at least for the first twenty-one months of the war, is contained in the minutes of meetings of the Warsaw Citizens’ Committee and its presidium, which are available in the Warsaw city archive. 10 The minutes of these meetings are quite detailed and demonstrate how the committee’s responsibilities expanded in conjunction with the needs of the city and its population. From concerns about the city’s unemployed, waves of refugees, energy supplies, and setting price ceilings in the early months of the war, to the provisioning of public kitchens, food rationing, the spread of infectious diseases and drafting an electoral ordinance during the first year of the German occupation, the challenges facing the Committee are well documented. However, while the Committee’s discussions of the reports of its sections and sub-sections appear in the minutes, they are abbreviated, while the reports themselves – which would provide an even closer view of everyday life on the ground – are not available. Thus, what we often see is in the aggregate – the number of refugees sheltered, or meals served in public kitchens over a particular period – instead of the specific. Far less complete are the archives of the Committee’s successor organizations, the Warsaw city administration and the Warsaw city council, although what is available provides evidence of financially strapped city institutions trying to make ends meet while dealing with an implacable occupier and growing urban unrest, including a strike of municipal employees. 11 Basically, the documentary evidence is far more robust for the first year of the war, when Warsaw remained under Russian rule and before the Warsaw Citizens Committee and its sections were transformed into organs of self-government, than in the last three-plus years when the general economic crisis experienced by the city’s inhabitants was gradually transformed into an existential catastrophe.

Indeed, a similar imbalance can be noted in a reading of the mass circulation press, the principal chronicler of everyday life. The difference can be explained by censorship, whose constraints were fewer under the Russians than the Germans. In part, this was because Warsaw’s Polish-language daily press, by and large, was pro-Russian, as were the National Democrats, who possessed the strongest political organization in the city. Greater press freedom was also a consequence of the Revolution of 1905, which led to a veritable explosion of press titles in Warsaw, including those in Yiddish and Hebrew. Compared to its Polish counterpart, the Jewish-language(s) press in Warsaw was viewed with far greater suspicion by the Russian government during the first year of the war, to the point that it was shut down entirely as the Russians prepared their evacuation from Warsaw in the summer of 1915 (Zieliński 2005, 116). While reporting on the situation at the front, especially as it drew closer to Warsaw in the fall of 1914 and again in the summer of 1915, was largely taboo, the Polish press remained free to express itself on practically everything else, including the now perennial “Jewish question.” More to the point, through featured sections titled “Z miasta” (“From the City”), dailies such as the long-standing Kurjer Warszawski, with its close ties to the city’s Polish political and cultural elites, as well as Nowa Gazeta, representative of Warsaw’s assimilated and liberal Jewish elite, were able to offer relatively clear snapshots of how the city’s residents sought to negotiate the hardships of the war’s first year, although the accompanying commentary reflected the biases of journalists and editors.

This situation was reversed under the Germans, who were well aware of the politically destabilizing effects of the ever-deteriorating living conditions in the city, to which their policies of requisitioning and control of resources were the main contributing factor. Thus, reporting on those conditions and their consequences became increasingly taboo, particularly following the establishment of preventive censorship on 25 September 1915, which specifically targeted “all rumors, news and commentaries about the decisions of the occupation authorities, whether civil or military” and “all articles about incidents, accidents, epidemics and poverty.” 12 While some circumvention of the censor was possible, as I have discussed in another article devoted to a discussion of Warsaw’s “barefoot” phenomenon (Blobaum 2013), the issues had to appear politically innocuous to avoid scrutiny. One will therefore find no mention of Warsaw’s major food riots of June 1916 and May 1917 in the officially registered Warsaw daily press – a most dramatic instance of silencing. What we know about these riots come from other sources – a list of ransacked grocery stories subsidized and administered by the city that Nowa Gazeta and other legal dailies intended but were never able to publish, as well as accounts in the clandestine press. Interestingly, even in a media outlet whose self-proclaimed goal to provide information that could not otherwise appear in the Warsaw press, news about the May 1917 riots appeared in its back pages, this despite the fact that looting had lasted an entire day. 13

As if in compensation, the German occupation authorities were more than willing to permit public expressions of Polish national pride in commemorations, the most significant being the celebrations of the anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May 1791, and in the press commentary leading up them. Particularly welcome was the discussion of events in Polish history that had an anti-Russian flavor, such as the 1830 and 1863 uprisings. There was another form of venting, however, that proved even more valuable to the Germans. After an initial attempt to put a lid on public expressions of Polish-Jewish hostility in order to prevent disturbances in the rear of their armies, as the war continued the German authorities gradually began to lift it in order to release steam from frustrations built up by their own policies. By the end of the war, the vitriol in Polish-Jewish press polemics in Warsaw matched that of the last years of Russian rule.

The point here is that, over the course of the war, as everyday struggles in Warsaw literally became a matter of life and death, the Warsaw press moved away from these struggles in its coverage. One might blame the German censor in the case of the legal press, but the issues of malnutrition and starvation were not a priority of the uncensored “independent” press, even when the collapse of living standards resulted in food rioting.

Memoirs are often taken by historians as a more suspect type of primary source, even if they place too much faith in the value of archives and contemporary press accounts. However, it is important to raise questions about which memoirs get published and with what objective. A look at those compiled by Krzysztof Dunin-Wąsowicz in his anthology for Warsaw during the First World War is instructive here. As mentioned, despite its claim to represent a cross-section of perspectives, the anthology displays a clear bias in favor of political activists and journalists from the male Polish intelligentsia. Bogdan Hutten-Czapski, a landed Polish aristocrat close to the Kaiser who arrived in Warsaw as a member of the entourage of Governor- General Beseler, is the sole voice of the German occupation authorities in the anthology, while the perspective of the of the imperial Russian regime lacks a single representative. Despite Warsaw’s pronounced demographic feminization during the war, excerpts were taken from the writings of only two women, Maria Kamińska and Władysława Głodowska-Sampolska, activists with ties to the radical left, ancestors of the communist regime which ruled Poland at the time of the anthology’s publication in 1971, but who were politically insignificant during the war years. Further exaggeration of the role of proto-communist formations is evident through the inclusion of memoirs written by male activists Bronisław Fijałek and Aleksander Tomaszewski. The anthology also appeared three years after that regime’s 1968 “anti-Zionist” campaign, a purging of Jews from the state bureaucracy, party apparatus, and positions of prominence in Polish society. Excerpts from the memoirs of two assimilated Jews – those of Kamińska (whose real name was Maria Eiger) and the journalist Aleksander Kraushar – do make an appearance, but their authors’ ancestry remains unacknowledged by the editor. Wartime Warsaw thus appears in the anthology as ethno-religiously homogeneous, and without a single mention of Polish-Jewish relations, the defining issue of local politics following municipal council elections in 1916.

This is not to suggest that Dunin-Wąsowicz’s anthology is worthless for the study of everyday life in Warsaw from 1914 to 1918. As mentioned, Dunin’s book on Warsaw during the First World War pays a great deal of attention to material conditions and their deterioration, and his anthology does provide space for the memoirs of social workers. One of the most revealing comes from Franciszek Herbst, who served as secretary of the Labor Section of the Warsaw Citizens Committee and continued to serve the city administration following the Committee’s dissolution. Yet even Herbst writes that the distribution efforts of the Citizens Committee were exclusively carried out by women volunteers (Dunin-Wąsowicz 1971, 306). If women were in the front lines in the distribution of aid during the war, the direct recipients of this aid, first and foremost, were also women. These two categories of women are absolutely crucial to understanding the experience of war in Poland’s once and future capital, but their voices are nowhere to be found in Dunin’s anthology. Nor will we find them in the works of professional historians.

History and Memory

Pierre Nora has succinctly defined historiography as “the scholarly construction of memory” (Nora 2001, xx). Michel-Rolph Truillot ties that “scholarly construction” to power and to “the size, the relevance, and the overwhelming complexity of the overlapping sites where history is produced, notably outside of academia” (Trouillot 1995, 19). “The value of a historical product,” he argues further, “cannot be debated without taking into account the context of its production and the context of its consumption” (Trouillot 1995, 146). In this sense, history – as the story about what happened – becomes part of continuous myth-making and sanitization processes that include the creation of sources, the social construction of memory itself, and its cultural organization, commodification, and institutionalization through ceremony and commemoration. Despite professional historians’ belief in scientific history and an ability to set aside their own preferences and stakes, only broad and profound transformations of consciousness and identity can create new ways of understanding the past – for example, of the kind in France identified by Nora which gave birth to memory studies.

In Poland, while the beginnings of such transformations may be perceptible, national consciousness and identity are still largely shaped by feelings of victimization and the “struggle” for independence which, in turn, have provided the conceptual framework that makes some narratives rather than others powerful enough to pass as accepted history. Except for its outcome, as we have already noted, the First World War ill fits this framework and the everyday travails of non-combatants on the Warsaw “home front” during the war even less so. To demonstrate this point more specifically and the way that “history” can be made to fit an established and accepted framework, let us return for a moment to how women and their wartime roles are featured in the few studies devoted to them.

As mentioned previously, Warsaw’s women, broadly speaking, can be divided into two categories. The first, to borrow Belinda Davis’s term used throughout her study of wartime Berlin, were the “women of lesser means” (Davis 2000), who, in the case of Warsaw as well as Berlin, comprised the vast majority of women. In Warsaw this included the laboring poor, but more significantly the female unemployed, particularly former domestic servants, who before the war comprised the largest number of employed women in Warsaw and whose jobs were lost due to the evacuation of Russian officials and the growing impoverishment of middle-class and intelligentsia households. Joining these “women of lesser means” were single mothers and wives left temporarily or permanently without male partners due to wartime circumstances of conscription and labor out-migration. Among the most publicly and politically visible women in this category were the rezerwistki, soldiers’ wives whose sense of entitlement was publicly acknowledged – that is, until it came to be perceived as a threat to the existing social order. Finally, there were the “women of loose morality,” as they were referred to in the press, occasional prostitutes whose numbers increased significantly in the midst of the city’s economic destitution.

The second kind of women in Warsaw were similar to those identified by Maureen Healy in her study of wartime Vienna, defined as a vocal minority among affluent women who spoke on behalf of “women” in general, including “women of lesser means” (Healy 2004, 167). Although the numbers of women of affluence, if anything, declined in Warsaw during the war years as economic misery traveled up the social hierarchy, the size of the minority speaking on behalf of women grew noticeably as a small number of prewar feminists of conviction were joined by a much larger group of feminists of wartime circumstance. The latter can be defined as the female members of prewar social and cultural conservative elites whose perspectives and, ultimately, demands were shaped by their wartime experience in philanthropy, social work, and public assistance. These women, conservative in their political outlook but well aware of the importance of their wartime social roles, made and ultimately won the case for women’s suffrage and equal political rights by the end of 1918.

Neither of these two groups of women, however, is featured in the scant literature on women during the First World War. Instead, the focus has been placed – or misplaced – on those women who served as volunteers in auxiliary military organizations, particularly those which supported the Polish Legions. These organizations, with a combined 16,000 members by the middle of 1916, were also the largest wartime women’s associations on Polish lands. As noted by Joanna Dufrat, their agenda included the promotion of equal political rights (Dufrat 2008), but to assign the achievement of those rights to these organizations is to exaggerate. To claim, moreover, that “the most significant role” played by Polish women during the war years was their work in auxiliary organizations (Kuźma-Markowska 2011, 267), trivializes and even silences the wartime home front roles played by the majority of women, as consumers in dire need of philanthropy and public assistance and social workers attempting to meet that need, especially in urban centers like Warsaw.

The fact that women are featured at all in the Polish narrative of the First World War – even as patriots contributing to the recovery of an independent state – is the outcome of a slight alteration in the conceptual framework resulting from the introduction of women and gender studies to Polish universities since 1989. An even more fundamental change has occurred in the discussion of Polish-Jewish relations, starting in the late 1980s and accelerating with the publication of Neighbors by Jan Tomasz Gross in Polish (Gross 2000). Over the last couple of decades there has been a great deal of new research into the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Poland (Blobaum 2005) and on the parallel and interrelated trajectories of modern Polish and Jewish politics (Porter 2000 and Ury 2012). For the period of the First World War, the work of Konrad Zieliński particularly stands out (Zieliński 2005).

There is a danger, however, in reducing the histories of Poles and Jews in the modern era to their “relations,” to the emergence of radical nationalism and anti-Semitism, and more generally to the rise of mass political organizations. I raise this issue as someone who recently has become conscious of his own participation in this distortion and, therefore, in the neglect of other possible narratives. As Assmann reminds us, the past is not something that can be “preserved,” but is “continually subject to processes of reorganization according to changes taking place in the frame of reference of each successive present” (Assmann 2011, 27). In this instance, professional historians have become prisoners not only of a fashionable historiographical trend focused on the rise of modern and competing nationalisms, but also of sources that confirm their own predispositions, in particular the writings and memoirs of political activists and intellectuals, as well as the articles and columns which characterized a highly politicized Polish and Jewish press. In the process, we have taken evidence of political mobilization, the development of national identities, and growing antagonism between Poles and Jews to shape what is becoming an accepted narrative, while ignoring evidence to the contrary: namely, that majorities of Poles and Jews, even in Warsaw’s hothouse, were not politically mobilized, and that the numbers of those who were not only waxed, but also waned.

During the First World War, only a minority of eligible voters participated in Warsaw’s first-ever municipal elections in 1916. What then can be said of the even larger numbers of Poles and Jews, especially women, who were not embraced by the limited suffrage in the electoral ordinance approved by the German occupation authorities earlier that year? In the end, identity politics were likely of secondary or even tertiary concern to the majority of Poles and Jews who by circumstance should have been, and were, focused on pursuing strategies of surviving the wartime existential crisis, even if it came at the other’s expense and, truth be told, at the expense of fellow co-nationals.

According to Trouillot, historians, whether amateur or professional, are full participants in the processes of historical production, of shaping and reshaping of conceptual frames of reference that determine what is thinkable and unthinkable, and of making the unthinkable a “non-event” (Trouillot 1995, 98). Warsaw’s two major food riots during the First World War, clear expressions of concerns at the street level, have thus become non-events in conceptual frameworks that contain space only for events of political and national significance. Recovery of the lived experiences of ordinary Varsovians during the war and the capacity of such a narrative to pass as accepted history require a fundamentally different, if not directly competing, framework. The odds, at least in the short term, are against its emergence.

Conclusion: An Imagined Centennial

The hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War is rapidly approaching. It will be interesting to see how this event will be commemorated in Warsaw, or if it will be treated as a “non-event.” Given the layered structures of memory, commemoration, and historical production, one can imagine possible scenarios. As a consequence of the war’s “positive” outcome in November 1918 – the restoration of an independent Polish state – the centennial of August 1914 may not pass by entirely unnoticed. Perhaps a wreath will be laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of those Poles who died as members of the Polish legions, to the neglect of those who did not. Perhaps honorable mention will be made of women who served in auxiliary organizations supporting the legionnaires. One might expect to hear speeches of politicians in front of Warsaw’s two monuments to Józef Piłsudski, likely in competing claims to the founder’s legacy. This expected accentuation on the end point of independence may not be entirely exclusive, however. Perhaps newspapers and magazines will publish articles by local, non-academic historians focusing on the nuts and bolts of the city’s history to include stories from the war’s first days and weeks – of a city in motion, of the run on banks, of panic-buying, of the shortage of coin to make spare change, of the prohibition on sales of alcohol.

Such stories, if they do appear, will not challenge the existing conceptual framework. No mention will be made of the thousands of young men who volunteered to serve in the Russian army, or of the support of Warsaw’s political elites for the generally popular cause of Russian arms. No mention will made of the thousands of young women who volunteered to serve on the home front as nurses and nurses’ aides in treating the Russian wounded. No mention will be made of the Russian government’s financial support for and fruitful working relationship with the Warsaw Citizens’ Committee in managing the immediate economic consequences of the war’s first weeks and months. Mention might be made of Warsaw’s most popular political figure during the war’s first year – Prince Zdzisław Lubomirski, co-founder and presiding officer of the Warsaw Citizens’ Committee and the city’s first president following the Russian evacuation – but a proposal to honor his contributions to the city’s well-being and his efforts to fend off existential disaster is extremely unlikely. After all, in November 1918, Piłsudski technically seized power from the Regency Council, one of the quasi-state institutions created by the German occupier and headed by Lubomirski who had “collaborated” with not one, but two imperial regimes. To date the sole tribute to the well-meaning prince’s activities during the war remains the publication of the diary of his devoted wife (Pajewski 2002).

Just as Lubomirski’s profile fails to fit the statuary mold of hero and martyr, so too does that of Dr. Justyna Budzińska-Tylicka. Trained in France as a specialist in tuberculosis Budzińska-Tylicka began practicing in Warsaw in 1908, where she became an early pioneer in the area of women’s health and formed part of the leadership core of the prewar feminist movement that focused on equal rights. During the war years, Budzińska-Tylicka organized courses in the delivery of first aid and organized a field hospital for treatment of the wounded, while also continuing her advocacy of women’s rights. In September 1917, she presided over the Polish Women’s Congress, whose most prominent delegates came from the fifteen organizations that comprised the Union of Polish Women’s Associations. Following the meeting of this “small women’s parliament,” as Nowa Gazeta called it at the time, 14 Budzińska-Tylicka and the executive committee of the Women’s Congress intensively lobbied the Warsaw city council and administration to revise the electoral ordinance of the previous year, while organizing mass meetings to pressure male elites into granting voting rights at both the state and local level. Following the war and the death of her son from the Great Influenza, and with the success of the suffrage campaign behind her, Budzińska-Tylicka became a prominent spokesperson for planned parenthood and birth control. Budzińska-Tylicka’s support for “conscious motherhood,” including abortion, was condemned at the time by Poland’s interwar Roman Catholic Church and would be condemned now by its more powerful and more politically influential contemporary version. Moreover, Budzińska-Tylicka opposed the Sanacja regime established by Józef Piłsudski following his coup d’état of 1926 (Sierakowska 2006, 80). Thus, despite Budzińska-Tylicka’s prominent place in the successful women’s suffrage movement of the war years, we should not expect to see a public monument constructed in her honor any time soon. A more likely candidate would be the better known “national feminist” Iza Moszczeńska, who, as founder of the Women’s Military Auxiliary League sought to merge women’s desires to participate in the struggle for independence with their emancipatory aspirations as early as 1913 (Dufrat 2008, 118). Moreover, Moszczeńska was an early twentieth-century defender of the more traditional notions of “Polish” motherhood (Blobaum 2002, 807), and thus better fits existing conceptual structures for commemorating women in Warsaw. That said, the odds against a Moszczeńska monument are long as well, given the general paucity of public statues devoted to women in the Polish capital.

There remains the monument of the desperate mother and her two hungry children which once stood prominently on Hoover Square – to my mind, the most symbolic representation of everyday life in Warsaw during the First World War. The planned reconstruction and resurrection of that monument, originally announced in 2006, has been inexplicably delayed. I can imagine no better moment than the centennial of August 1914 for a ceremonial unveiling of that statue, not necessarily “in gratitude to America” (the inscription on the original statue), but in remembrance of a forgotten war and its horrific impact on the lives of the majority of city’s non-combatants. After all, a conceptual framework once existed to accommodate that statue in the heart of Warsaw. The question is whether one exists in the present.


Robert. Blobaum. In Eberly Family Professor of European History and Director of the Transatlantic MA Program in East-Central European Studies at West Virginia University. His books include Rewolucja: Russian Poland, 1904–1907, which was awarded the Oskar Halecki Prize, and Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland, both published by Cornell University Press. He is currently working on a book devoted to everyday life in Warsaw during the First World War.


1 Being interested primarily in the “street scene,” Van Cant’s study deliberately excludes cemeteries.

2 The monument to “bloody Feliks,” whose hands were repeatedly painted red by politically-inspired vandals in the 1980s, was removed immediately after the 1989 revolution.

3 This according to the inscription on the base of the statue.

4 Archiwum Państwowe m. st.Warszawy (APW), Zarząd Oberpolicmajstra Warszawskiego (ZOW).

5 APW, Komisja Rewizyjna IV Rejonu Miasta Warszawy (KR).

6 These are available in three collections: Cesarsko-Niemieckie Generał- Gubernatorstwo w Warszawie (CNGGW), Szef Administracji przy Generał-Gubernatorstwie w Warszawie (SAGGW), and Cesarsko-Niemieckie Prezydium Policji w Warszawie (CNNPP).

7 AGAD CNGGW 1, Beseler to the Kaiser, 23 October 1915.

8 Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN), Tymczasowa Rada Stanu w Warszawie (TRS), description of collection.

9 AAN, Akta Stanisława Dzierzbickiego (ASD) and Akta [Piotra, Ludwika i Wiesława] Drzewieckich (AD). The Drzewiecki collection, in addition to the papers of Piotr Drzewiecki, also contains those of his brother Ludwik and Ludwik’s son, Wiesław.

10 APW, Komitet Obywatelski Miasta Warszawy (KOMW), 1914–1916.

11 APW, Zarząd Miejski m. st. Warszawy (ZMW), 1915–1919.

121 APW, Redakcja Nowej Gazety (RNG) 1, Circular #12 of the Press Department of the Chief of Administration under the Warsaw Governor-General, 6 October 1915. This collection of documents from the editorial board of Nowa Gazeta contains communications and announcements from the German occupation authorities and offers a rare perspective on how one Warsaw daily dealt with German censorship.

13 See “Rozruchy żywnościowe wybuchły w Warszawie,” Komunikat Informacyjny 1 (9–11 May 1917), p. 4. The same could be said for Rząd i Wojsko, an “independent” press organ published by Piłsudski’s supporters; see “Głód i polityka” and “Rozruchy w Warszawie,” Rząd i Wojsko 18 (20 May 1917), pp. 7, 8.

14 “Po zjeździe kobiet”, Nowa Gazeta 446 (10 September 1917), p. 1.

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This article has been published in the second issue of Remembrance and Solidarity Studies dedicated to the European memory of the First World War.

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