By: Wojciech Skóra
Translated from the Polish by Caryl Swift
Contrary to common beliefs, Europe is an area of highly stable and long-term settlement. A mosaic of several dozen nationalities, numerous national minorities and ethnic groups have occupied the same tracts of land for hundreds or thousands of years. Essentially, the last mass movements were the migrations of peoples in connection with the fall of the Roman Empire as antiquity gave way to the Middle Ages. This sets Europe in vivid contrast to the recent intense transformations for which the arena was both Americas, Australia and Africa. The peoples of the last-mentioned continent migrated continually until the mid-twentieth century. Ryszard Kapuściński, a distinguished Polish traveller and writer who spent several years there noted that:
The population of Africa was a gigantic, matted, crisscrossing web, spanning the entire continent and in constant motion, endlessly undulating, bunching up in one place and spreading out in another, a rich fabric, a colourful arras. This compulsory mobility of the population resulted in Africa’s interior having no old cities, at least none comparable in age to those that still exist in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. R. Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life, Klara Glowczeska (trans.), Penguin Books, 2002, no page number, retrieved from: … Continue reading
In Europe, as a result of the social stability, cities and towns like that are the anchors of settlement. One of them was Słupsk, in the historical region of Pomerania. In 1910, when it was still the German city of Stolp, it ostentatiously celebrated six hundred years since town rights were bestowed on it. Originally, this city on the Słupia River was Slavonic but later, it gradually and peaceful became Germanised, a process which took several centuries. When the city was ruled by the Gryfici dynasty, settlers arrived from deep in the German Reich. In the mid seventeenth century, Słupsk lay within the state governed by the Brandenburg Hohenzollerns.
In 1939, it had 50,377 residents, mainly German, with a small Jewish minority. A. Czarnik, Lata Republiki Weimarskiej i Trzeciej Rzeszy (1918-1945), in Historia Słupska, Stanisław Gierszewski (ed.), Poznań 1981, p. 333. It was a typical medium-sized German city in the country’s eastern borderlands. What made it distinctive was its proximity to the border with Poland, which lay less than fifty kilometres away. For the citizens of Słupsk, the war brought no major disruptions and no air raids. It was only in the final months that German refugees started appearing in large numbers, mainly from East Prussia. They brought stories that aroused terror. They were harbingers of change. In February 1945, the number of residents in Słupsk had almost doubled, reaching 100,000. Desperate new arrivals filled the public buildings.
The Red Army occupied the city on 8th March 1945, without a fight.For further information, see W. Skóra, Słupsk w 1945 r. Miasto Niemców, czerwonoarmistów i Polaków, in Słupsk i ziemia słupska od średniowiecza do współczesności, Wojciech Skóra and … Continue reading. However, the event was accompanied by the fear-stricken flight of a number of residents and around two hundred suicides, as well as murders, rapes and arson attacks. The conquerors were taking their revenge for the brutal German occupation in the east. When the situation calmed down, one third of Słupsk had been destroyed and it now held around 30,000 Germans and a substantial number of Red Army units. The first groups of administrators and specialists from Poland arrived in April in order to ready the city for settlement. In May, the gradual influx of settlers from Polish soil began. Soon after, the expulsion of the German residents began, although some left voluntarily. The census of February 1946 showed that the Germans still predominated numerically. There were 18,525 of them and only 15,422 Poles. However, the expulsions and Polish settlement progressed. By early August 1946, Słupsk was a ‘fully Polish’ city. Of the 37,116 residents, the Poles represented a decisive majority, at 22,777.Archiwum Państwowe w Szczecinie (State Archive in Szczecin), Urząd Wojewódzki w Szczecinie (West Pomeranian Voivodship Office in Szczecin), Ref. No. 324, Opis powiatu słupskiego na 1 VIII 1946 r. … Continue reading
The replacement of the population was almost total and had been relatively fast. The buildings, schools, workplaces and streets were the same, but now a new community filled them. Overall, between 1945 and 1951, 122,471 German citizens were expelled from the city and the Słupsk district. A. Sakson, Kształtowanie się nowej społeczności powiatu słupskiego po 1945 roku na tle przemian społecznych na Ziemiach Zachodnich i Północnych, in Obrazy Ziemi Słupskiej. … Continue reading. In 1950, there were only 1,089 people described as ‘autochthons’, in other words, inhabitants who had lived there prior to 1945. The current German community in the Słupsk district is estimated as being between 200 and 300 people.
The expulsion of around 3.5 million Germans from the lands awarded to Poland as a result of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 and the settlement of millions of Poles in their place was unique, even bearing in mind Hitler’s and Stalin’s wartime activities. The processes of German settlement in the east and Germanisation, which stretched back to the twelfth century, were violently halted. This was accompanied by the displacement of the Polish population in Poland’s former Eastern Borderlands, which is to say, the eradication of Polish settlement in the east and the Polonisation which had gone on there for centuries. The great powers, primarily at Stalin’s bidding, undid hundreds of years of historical processes. Stalin’s motives are clear. He wanted Germany weakened, Poland tied to the USSR, and Moscow’s permanent annexation of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. However, the radicality of the actions taken at the time bore fruit in their enduring nature. Nowadays, only a few people question the new ethnic reality which was born in 1945.
How has that process been remembered at a microscale, in other words, in terms of the realities of Słupsk? The human memory does not fix what was, as a camera or dictation machine does. It records fragments of events, linking them with interpretations and with earlier and later perceptions. It is a mechanism subject to immense pressure from culture, nationality and, first and foremost, emotions. Memory depends on individual observation, sensitivity, sex, age, education and a host of other factors. After all, people differ enormously in terms of their ability to remember. When recollections are recorded is another crucial aspect. Systematically, at the time? Or years later, when the events are covered with the deposits of reading material, conversations and dreams? To sum up, memory and the recollections that are the result of it, are matter which is extraordinarily difficult to interpret historically; they are ‘high-risk material’, but also immensely attractive. One has the impression, sometimes delusory, of touching real life.
We have a multitude of recollections of Słupsk from 1945 to 1946. They are the reminiscences of Poles and Germans, in other words, the settlers and the expelled. In fact, the latter were also settlers, because having left Słupsk, they made their homes in new places in Germany and it was from that perspective that they wrote their memoirs. They thus knew what it was like to begin again from scratch. Even though both national groups were ‘settlers’ writing their accounts, they are diametrically different. To this day, despite thirty years of close, friendly Polish-German relations, dozens of educational programmes and hundreds of books, there are two separate narratives concerning the post-war period; the Polish and the German. Each nation has its ‘memory’ and cultivates it. Sometimes they make it as far as being presented at academic conferences, but they are attempts to mix oil and water; after a while, a suspension emerges, but before long, both fluids stratify again. And perhaps there is no other alternative, for memory is subject the mechanisms described earlier. The Germans unleashed a storm, they were to blame and they lost their small, local homeland. The Poles won a bitter victory and received substantial compensation at the cost of the losers. As a consequence, we have the separate recollections of the defeated and the winners and they barely connect.
The first Polish settlers to arrive in Słupsk were forced labourers. There were hundreds of them. Some had seen the Soviet invasion with their own eyes and they were also the first to try and get themselves organised in their new city. In the final year of the war, around 1,000 of them were working there. In addition, there were some 2,800 Poles working in the villages of the Słupsk district.T. Machura, I. Malczewski, Robotnicy przymusowi z terenu miasta Słupska i powiatu słupskiego, “Rocznik Koszaliński” 1965, p. 237.. There was a certain freedom, but they were second-class residents. Józef Chaciński, a railway worker, was brought in from the Warsaw area to work in Słupsk in 1942. Years later, he recalled the city during the war, although he had been far from the front, at a remove from the hostilities:
In the streets […]All the insertions in square brackets in the citations have been made by the author. [we] were forbidden to walk on the pavements. Going to restaurants, cafés and inns was forbidden. One time, when I went to buy some cigarettes, the German saw my ‘P’A letter ‘P’ worn to indicate that the wearer was a Pole. and declared that he didn’t serve Poles. Plenty of shops had signs saying ‘No Poles and no dogs’. […] We couldn’t go to the municipal baths, either. And I was there once anyway, where I was informed that it was only for the residents of Słupsk and that foreigners weren’t residents of Słupsk. Another case was when I wanted to go to the cinema. I went once, I went twice, but the third time, the police launched a sweep. I had to pay a fine for going to a German event. […] As a land rat, I was interested to see the sea. One time, me and two mates set off for Ustka. We bought our train tickets and off we went. On the street in Ustka, they carried out an identity check and we were taken to a camp under escort.Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH (Main Library, Pomeranian University, PTH Collections), Ref. No. 144, J. Chaciński, Wspomnienie.
In later accounts, the Germans to all intents and purposes failed to recall the Polish workers in Słupsk. That exploited and humiliated group was not immortalised in their chronicles. Is this, perhaps, the phenomenon of forgetfulness, in other words, the repudiation of that which is uncomfortable or hard to accept, since it would soil the image of the person remembering as a ‘victim of unjustified violence’?
After the war, the Red Army soldiers and the Poles took the Germans’ belongings. The former certainly acted brutally, although the items they took were smaller, like clothes, household equipment, valuables and food.The Soviets also dismantled and removed entire former German industrial facilities, but this involved what was now theoretically Polish property. It was partially sanctioned by agreements between … Continue reading
There were many more Poles at the time and, in the end, they also became the owners of everything; homes, furniture, gardens and land. Erich Drescher, a resident of Słupsk, recalled Christmas 1945 at the presbytery on the current ulica Grottgera, formerly Immelmannstrasse, like this:
I’m sitting at my desk in our parish room, when suddenly the door’s smashed open. Two drunk Russians come into the presbytery. They both have a large rucksack and they stuff everything they can into them. They make me remove my coat and, despite my firm resistance, I also have to remove my trousers. Both items of my wardrobe vanish into a bag. Now I had to stand in the left-hand corner of the office and one of the Russians unslung his rifle from his shoulder and took aim, preparing to shoot me. At that moment, there was nothing else I could do but gesture at the cross that was standing on the small table set up as an altar. Then the second Russian grabs his comrade, whose rifle is aimed at me, by the collar and, with huge difficulty, manages to drag him out of the room The sound of a few blows resounded in the corridor. After that, they left the presbytery.Erich Drescher, Boże Narodzenie w Słupsku 1945 (Stolper Weihnachten 1945), “Stolper Heimatblatt für die Heimatvertriebenen aus der Stadt und dem Landkreise Stolp in Pommern” 1954, No. 12.
To the Poles and the Soviets, what the Germans see as violence and plunder was fair redress for the wrongs they had experienced. The accounts are opposing, which is hardly surprising, given that the members of one group lost everything they owned, while the members of the other group were seizing parts of it. For the Poles, it was a time of fairly significant enrichment, of a sudden improvement in their living conditions. Journeymen shoemakers, locksmiths and bakers could count on having a workshop assigned to them, free of charge. For a shopworker, it would be a shop. Despite the communists’ policies and the nationalisation that came later, there are families in Słupsk today whose material success derives from that key period. One of the first bakeries in the city was set up by Władysław Dzikowski. He arrived in mid May 1945, directly from the Nazi Potulitz-Lebrechtsdorf concentration camp, opened his bakery on ulica Kilińskiego and ran it until 1948. The nationalisation process, which was an element of the Sovietisation of Poland, forced him to close it down. He then started working in a cooperative as the head of the bakery. In 1957 During the ‘thaw that followed Stalin’s death – translator’s note., he opened his own bakery again.Kronika Koła Pierwszych Słupszczan, napisana w ramach działalności Słupskiego Towarzystwa Społeczno-Kulturalnego, w zbiorach Bałtyckiej Biblioteki Cyfrowej w Słupsku, (Chronicles of the First … Continue reading. There are examples like this aplenty.
Pre-war Poland was a much poorer country than Germany; this was particularly true of the country’s Eastern Borderlands. At the same time, Germany numbered among the world’s wealthiest countries, just as it does now. More than 70% of Polish society lived in rural communities. Homes were overcrowded and, in most cases, had no bathrooms. Once they arrived in the former German area, many of the Poles gazed on their new locations with delight, noting in the margins, as it were, the continuing presence of the people who had inhabited them thus far. In 1945, a young Pole and his family wound up in Kobylinca, just outside Słupsk. Years later, he wrote:
I was really interested in our new home. Here it is, at last! At a bend in the road, a hedge of thuja trees appeared, separating the street from a small garden where a single-storey, red-brick house stood. My mother was the happiest about it because she’d longed to live in a house with a small flower garden and a hedge. I was thrilled too, because our new house was comfier and nicer than the one we’d lived in temporarily in Przeworsk when we were forced to flee from Kałusz in order to escape being transported to Siberia. There was electricity here, and light, but not from an oil lamp. There was a pump alongside the house, instead of a well, the road was cobbled, there was a sewage system, etc. Even the rain here was different from Przeworsk. There, a light rain caused large puddles and mud, but here, even after prolonged rain, you can keep your feet dry. The house itself had four rooms, a kitchen, a pantry and a large attic. After we arrived, we took over two rooms, with the Germans still living in the other two. The kitchen was shared. As I mentioned earlier, there was a fruit and flower garden by the house, separated from the road by a hedge. Alongside the house, there was a fair-sized courtyard where the outbuildings stood. There was a small locksmith’s and electrical workshop in one of them, which is what made my father happiest. Beyond the courtyard, there was a fruit and vegetable garden.Mieszko, Oczami dziecka, in Mój nowy dom. Wspomnienia słupskich osadników (prace zgłoszone na konkurs literacki Słupskiego Uniwersytetu Trzeciego Wieku), Słupsk 2009, p. 42.
The attitude of the incoming Poles to the German inhabitants of Słupsk was usually marked by enmity and the desire for revenge for the humiliations experienced during the war, which had stripped people of their sensitivity and brutalised relations. A great deal depended on individuals’ dispositions and the experiences they had undergone. Good people who had been mildly affected by the war behaved decently. There is no lack of Polish figures like that in the Germans’ recollections. However, the majority behaved ruthlessly towards the Germans. Amongst the Poles, the war had created a negative stereotype of that nation. The women, children and elderly people living in Słupsk were seen through the prism not only of the soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the occupier’s officialdom, but also of the Germans in Pomerania and Wielkopolska who, post-1939, had thrown Poles out of their homes. They were dubbed ‘murderers’, ‘Nazis’ and worse. And they were treated like that, as well. As far as they could, the Germans repaid the Poles in kind, with repugnance and contempt.
The Germans had lost their social status; they were living in degradation. They were forced to work more or less for free. Only a few, highly qualified professionals lived in relatively good circumstances. For most of them, work consisted of removing the rubble from the city, excavating dead bodies and repairing or dismantling industrial facilities. Erhard Groll worked in the pharmacy on Stary Rynek, the Old Marketplace. His diary entry for 5th May 1945 reads:
The sight of people standing outside the pharmacy every day, semi-starved, in torn clothing, their faces weary and their shoulders drooping is shocking, Hunger, terror and hopelessness have levelled them all. It is hardly surprising that more and more people are taking their own lives. Erhard Groll’s memoirs, “Stolper Tagebuch” were published in instalments in “Mitteldeutschen Zeitung” magazine.
Then, the following day:
How do most of the people in Słupsk live? Several people huddle together in one room, often not simply because of space, but because then they have a greater sense of safety. Everything edible is cooked. Grains constitute many meals, like gruel made with water or sometimes with milkIbidem
Because the German population of Słupsk predominantly consisted of women, the rapes perpetrated by Red Army soldiers were a very real drama. Some women lived with Soviets in longer-term relationships in order to provide an upkeep and safety for themselves and their children. Ursula Pless-Damm, who arrived in Słupsk in March 1945, recalled this:
I sympathise, particularly with young girls who were still at school just a few weeks ago. They are not children any more, but neither are they women. They have been deprived of a gentle passage into the world of adulthood. They are fifteen to sixteen years old and, in fact, it is the youngest who most often become victims. TheyThe Red Army soldiers – translator’s note.
appear like locusts, holding candles, and the hunt begins. They mark their victims during the day and unfailingly find them.Pless-Damm, Droga w nieznane, in Wypędzone, compiled by E. Czerwiakowska, Warsaw 2013, p. 118.
As distinct from the circumstances of the Germans, this was a time of advancement and forging a career for a great many Poles; it was a time for emerging from the humiliation of the occupation. It was not only settling in new regions that was decisive in this, but also the change in the political system. Communism, which was imposed on the Poles, brought with it the marginalisation of former elites and the advancement of ‘new people’ from strata that had thus far been far removed from high positions. This phenomenon occurred with particular intensity in the regions taken from the Germans. To a considerable extent, who took on what post was decided by the order in which people arrived. The first starosta The head of the administrative organisation for a district (starostwo) – translator’s note. of Słupsk, was Jan Kraciuk, a tram driver from Warsaw and both a social and communist activist. He arrived in April 1945 and this is how he described setting up the Polish authorities:
[…] I received written instructions to establish a party organisation on the territory of the Słupsk district. When I returned to Słupsk, I issued a proclamation to the people, with instructions to secure the property of the state and prohibiting any kind of plunder, rape and lawlessness. […] Our first job was to surround the Poles arriving in Słupsk with care. That was done by just the four of us. We were in constant contact with the Soviet authorities. Meanwhile, comrade [Włodzimierz] Federowicz Shortly afterwards, Kraciuk appointed Federowicz the mayor of Słupsk. He was the first to hold the position. arrived with a group of Poles who stayed on ulica Długa. We were unaware of this because they went around without red-and-white armbands Identifying armbands in the colours of the Polish flag – translator’s note.. They were PPS PPS: Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party). activists. Once we realised that they were Poles, we immediately established contact with them. In the meantime, the land commissar, [Bogusław] Nowak (now deceased) has arrived. We have begun giving thought to securing former German property and possessions. Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 3, Relacja Jana Kraciuka.
Positions and power also had their dark side. Although possessing weapons was prohibited, in practice anyone who wanted to be was armed. And a great many wanted to be, for these were dangerous times. Wartime demoralisation gave rise to the massive brutalisation of interpersonal relationships. Exercising power was no simple matter under such circumstances. Those in authority were a focal point around which disgruntled people converged. In the spring of 1945, Stanisław Witek became the first sołtys Sołtys: the head of a rural administrative unit know as a sołectwo – translator’s note. of the village of Jezierzyce, not far from Słupsk. His wife summed up his advancement like this:
What a nomination! The first representative of the people’s authorities here, where there is still not so much as a single Pole, and he is followed by the hostile gaze of the Germans. He is threatened by rotten, drunken [Soviet] soldiers for not allowing destruction, pillage and rape. Why? Has there been too little destruction, too little pillage? As a woman, I thought, ‘enough’. More than once standing between my husband-the-sołtys and an armed assailant, explaining that my husband is here to keep order, because that is what they instructed him to do. I threatened to go to their commanding officer and tell him, because I knew that no commander, high ranking or low, would permit the lawlessness allowed in those demoralised units. It often The word ‘often’ was handwritten after the phrase ‘just for a moment’, which is crossed out. helped. It would have helped if there had been something to buy them off with. Vodka. But where was that to found in those days?Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 62, Wspomnienia Anny Witek.
The recollections of the Germans are permeated with a yearning for their lost homes, cities, towns and land. Similar feelings were not shared by the arrivals from central and western Poland, even though they, too, had left their homes and regions. They had, after all, volunteered to come. But there was a group of Poles who had lived through a drama like the Germans. There was a fairly substantial number of them. They were former residents of Poland’s pre-war Eastern Borderlands, which had been seized and annexed by the USSR. Those Poles were offered the possibility of leaving and most of them settled in the west and north of post-war Poland. There were 11,425 zabużan Zabużan; a word referring symbolically to people from the far side of the Bug River. among the residents of Słupsk in 1950, representing 36% of the population. Given that the Eastern Borderlands were not urbanised to any great extent, a great many of them had come from rural communities, where they had had smallholdings and farms. The exceptions to this were those who had been residents of Lviv and Vilnius. The sense of alienation was intensified by their unfamiliarity with the comforts of civilisation, with electricity, gas and plumbing. They thus faced difficulties in adapting to former German cities and towns. In comparison to the Poles from the central and western parts of the country, they stood out with their eastern accents and different cuisine. At times, their clothes and customs also differentiated them. In the Eastern Borderlands, before the war, they had belonged to the nation which had culturally dominated the other peoples, the Lithuanians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. In Pomerania, things were different. Conflicts and disputes occurred when the settlers from central Poland allegedly demonstrated their ‘superiority’, The discomfort of the Poles from the east intensified their feeling of being far from home The journey could sometimes take more than a week., the profound strangeness of their surroundings and their sense of being wronged. The last-mentioned sprang from the fact that they were the only group of settlers who had not left their homes of their own free will and had left everything they owned at the mercy of strangers. They also understood the drama of the Germans better and were more open to them. A Pole who arrived in Słupsk with her parents as a little girl in 1945, recalled how:
I explored the streets or, in fact, the rubble around the post office. One day, as I was walking along the street, I heard murmuring coming from inside a small house just beyond the post office. And then, a little girl climbed out of a window. She scared me and I scared her. As it turned out, she was a German whose sick grandfather was living in that little house and didn’t want to leave it. We started talking. I understood a few words of German, but she didn’t know a single word of Polish. The fact that we didn’t speak each other’s language was no barrier to our conversations and we met more and more often. After two weeks, we were almost good friends. We climbed in through the window together, taking food to her grandfather. She brought what her mother had given her and I… I brought what I could sneak out of my home. In return, my German acquaintance gave me little figures of animals and angels, little pictures or flowers in a pot. At the same time, without being aware of it, I was learning German Jana, Mój nowy dom, in Mój nowy dom…, p. 131..
The two groups also recall the expulsion of the Germans differently. The Poles describe it tersely; the people who had lived there so far left simply left and, before that, they waited at the railway station in Słupsk. The Germans’ accounts are detailed and dramatic. Baroness Libussa Fritz-Krockow’s recollection of her departure from Słupsk railway station in 1946 looks like this:
“Stop! Papers!” The militia The national police organisation at the time – translator’s note surrounding the station are everywhere. It is swarming with them, as if the highest state of emergency had been announced or mobilisation were in progress. I show my permit To travel to Germany, only just obtained. “Buy a ticket.” The tone is becoming coarser. They escort me to the ticket office. I have to pay one hundred and fifty zlotys again. That is now half of my money. Besides, I receive no ticket. Then I go onto the platform, with a double escort, as if I were a captured criminal who was thinking of nothing but escaping. And, in fact, the train is already there, admittedly without a locomotive for the time being. It is oddly made up; passenger carriages with broken windows at the front and cattle wagons at the back. In addition, there is an uncanny sense of contrast; outside the passenger carriages, there is a colourful ebb and flow of movement. […] At the back, a deathly silence… and it is there that they lead me. The Polish and German parts of the train!Ch. Graf von Krockow, Czas kobiet. Wspomnienia z Pomorza 1944-1947 według relacji Libussy Fritz-Krockow, Warszawa 1990, s. 110-111.
When commenting on that account, it should be noted that attacks on trains transporting expelled Germans involved not only Red Army soldiers, but also Polish settlers. Unfortunately, some of them carried out criminal activities, explaining them away as revenge for the occupation. They were a diverse group. Some were settlers who made life in their new home easier by way of theft. Others stole because they had no food or because either there were no shops or there were no goods in the shops or because they themselves had been robbed. German property was fairly widely known as ‘no one’s’. There were also those who had no intention of settling in Słupsk, but came as if they were on a looting expedition. In mid 1945, Leonard Borkowicz, the voivod Voivod; the head of a voivodship, Poland’s highest level of administrative division – translator’s note. of Szczecin, wrote about that type:
They receive everything; houses, flats, smallholdings with livestock and even machinery and tools; just let them not evaporate into thin air after a few days. Because we have already had a sad experience of that kind. Some gentlemen from central Poland arrived, this one is an engineer, this one is a farmer, this one is a husbandry expert, the marvels they told us, what they were capable of. In full good faith, we took them to their homes and smallholdings, but after a week… they vanished, along with the most valuable furniture, the fixtures and fittings of the artisanal workshops and a certain stock farmer had even managed to sell two cows that were there in the byre on the farm assigned to him L. Marschak, Zaraz po wojnie, Warsaw 1978, p. 199.
A source of tremendous discomfort for Polish settlers and German residents alike was the necessity of living together temporarily in the same accommodation. What usually happened was that a Polish family would be assigned a home where the Germans who had lived there thus far were still in situ. After they arrived, they were forced to gather the Germans in one room, where they were to await expulsion. This was by no means always a rapid process and that led to disputes, since the kitchen and toilet were shared. It was also difficult to bear. In a report compiled by a government proxy in Słupsk in the autumn of 1945, we read that:
In the village of Krępa, a Ukrainian translator to the soldiers of the Red Army, threatens to shoot all the Poles who come to settle and thus incites the Germans to the same […] The settlers’ discontent is growing on account of continually having to live with Germans, for which reason, a great many Poles are sick with typhoid fever. Moreover, stocking up on fuel and foodstuffs for winter, particularly in the city, is fraught with difficulties on account of Poles and Germans sharing one room. The bitterness among the settlers is also the result of tickets not being issued at a reduced price in order for their families to join them. […] The expulsion of the Germans is indicated as a necessity, from the city and from the villages, since more than a dozen villages have now been one hundred per cent settled, while the settlers living together with large numbers of Germans do not feel fully in charge. Finally, inasmuch as the removal cannot take place at a more rapid pace, separating the Germans from the Poles is indicated, particularly in the city.Archiwum Państwowe w Gdańsku State Archive in Gdańsk, Urząd Wojewódzki w Gdańsku (Pomeranian Voivodship Office in Gdańsk), Ref. No. 1431, Sprawozdanie Pełnomocnika Rządu RP w Słupsku z akcji osiedleńczej z 15 X 1945 r. The author would like to express his thanks to Tomasz Urbaniak for the document.))
Another outcome of the shared accommodation was that people sought support from the soldiers of the Red Army. Sometimes the Germans succeeded in doing so. Sometimes the Poles did. But life was wretched for everyone. All the more so, in that the soldiers could be a deadly danger. When they were out on a pass, they were drunk; demoralised by the years of war, they had a sense of impunity. Michalina Dąbrowska arrived in the village of Głąbino (Gumbin), not far from Słupsk, in the autumn of 1945. The family received a smallholding. Not long afterwards, she went to the authorities in Słupsk. Weeping, she explained that, the previous day, her husband had caught a Red Army soldier stealing a cow. He had intervened effectively, but the course of events then became tragic:
On 14th November, at around ten o’clock at night, I was woken by shots. As I looked out of the window, terrified, I saw three individuals wearing Red Army greatcoats. They were speaking Soviet [Russian]. They tore the window out of the stable. One of them must have climbed in and opened the stable, which was locked on the inside. Since the robbery the day before, my husband had been keeping watch and sleeping in the stable and when those individuals broke in, he asked them not to take the cows but, in response, one of them shot my husband, hitting him in the head, so that he fell, groaning horribly and they left, taking a cow with them. Then I dashed out to my husband and found him covered in blood, there was blood flowing incessantly from his head, mixed with brains. With the help of the neighbours and the commanding officer of the M.O.M.O. Militia Obywatelstwo (the Citizens’ Militia); cf.: footnote 28 – translator’s note. I took him to the hospital in Słupsk, where he died, leaving me alone with three young children, in despair, and filled with fear about my own safety and my children’s. Archiwum Państwowe w Gdańsku, Urząd Wojewódzki w Gdańsku, Ref. No. 73, Protokół rozmowy z Michaliną Dąbrowską w Referacie Osiedleńczym w Słupsku z 17 XI 1945 r.
There is one thing that the recollections of the Germans and the Poles are in agreement about; the razing of the city centre by fire. ‘Little Paris’, as Słupsk had previously been known, ceased to exist. Stanisław Witek, who had been a forced labourer and had taken a real liking to the undestroyed city he saw during the war, was unable to get over the meaningless destruction:
I imagine the Old Town in Słupsk, undevastated, today. How many tourists there would be, how many educational trips. How many people would be walking along those historical streets, narrow and as if they were covered by a glass roof. Today, still, I am swept with sorrow that it was all destroyed, burned to the ground. Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 61, S. Witek, Wspomnienia z lat 1939-1945 (Jezierzyce, 1964).
The old drama of two groups of humans coming into contact with one another was played out in Słupsk on a microscale. It was also the everlasting phenomenon of memory and a challenge for historians. The Germans and the Poles remember the wrongs done to them very well, but the memory of the wrongs they did to others is much fainter. The recollections of the winners are full of optimism. Those of the losers are marked by despair and bitterness. Those arriving had a sense of justice and those departing, of injustice. The settlers recall the arduous task of becoming accustomed to a new place. The expelled recall leaving their own, small homeland grimly and with pain.
Accounts of the meeting of Germans and Poles in post-war Słupsk are two different stories. They really are like the oil and water mentioned earlier. They are histories which rarely and fragmentarily intersect and repeat reciprocally. During seminars with students, one oft-used example is that of a road accident as a way of demonstrating the difficulty involved in academic studies of the past. If an accident is extremely bloody and complicated, where it is known that there will be judgements concerning fault and damages, the versions of what happened given by the drivers affected are often diametrically different. Observers’ versions also differ. And it can be posited that most of those talking about the accident believe their story. Or start to believe it after a while, in order to rationalise their behaviour and not have to live under the pressure of being aware that they are liars.
The Polish and German accounts of what happened in 1945 and what came afterwards are also different on account of the opposing course of events. To the Poles, the years 1939 to 1945 were a time of brutal German and Soviet occupations, a time of humiliation, expulsion, the death of loved ones and, often, of starvation. For the Germans in Słupsk, they were a time of calm and prosperous living. Truth to tell, some of the men were at the front, but the fighting itself was not noticeable in the city, where it was only in March 1945 that a few Soviet missiles exploded. Apart from that, it was calm. Children went to school, there were goods in the shops, people got married, gave birth and worked without any major changes taking place. After the turning point of March 1945, the situation was reversed. The Germans fell into the depths of humiliation, fear, starvation and ill treatment. They asked why it had happened to them; it was unjust. They usually failed to perceive the relationship between cause and effect. The settlers who arrived in Słupsk breathed a sigh of relief and began to build normal lives. They changed the names of the streets and eliminated foreign inscriptions. Unfortunately, they were building their lives on the ruins of the Germans’ lives. But they also believed they had the right to do so. The suffering they underwent during the years of occupation justified their stabilisation and gains. Mutual hatred deprived people of empathy. The settlers and the expelled walked different roads, locked up in the experiences they had endured and were enduring.
References and footnotes
|↑1||R. Kapuściński, The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life, Klara Glowczeska (trans.), Penguin Books, 2002, no page number, retrieved from: https://books.google.pl/books?id=Hs8Kr1A729kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Kapu%C5%9Bci%C5%84ski+the+shadow+of+the+sun&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=snippet&q=gigantic&f=false on 15.09.2021.|
|↑2||A. Czarnik, Lata Republiki Weimarskiej i Trzeciej Rzeszy (1918-1945), in Historia Słupska, Stanisław Gierszewski (ed.), Poznań 1981, p. 333.|
|↑3||For further information, see W. Skóra, Słupsk w 1945 r. Miasto Niemców, czerwonoarmistów i Polaków, in Słupsk i ziemia słupska od średniowiecza do współczesności, Wojciech Skóra and Agnieszka Teterycz-Puzio (eds.), Słupsk 2021, pp. 161-208|
|↑4||Archiwum Państwowe w Szczecinie (State Archive in Szczecin), Urząd Wojewódzki w Szczecinie (West Pomeranian Voivodship Office in Szczecin), Ref. No. 324, Opis powiatu słupskiego na 1 VIII 1946 r. wykonany przez urząd pełnomocnika obwodowego.|
|↑5||A. Sakson, Kształtowanie się nowej społeczności powiatu słupskiego po 1945 roku na tle przemian społecznych na Ziemiach Zachodnich i Północnych, in Obrazy Ziemi Słupskiej. Społeczeństwo-administracja-kultura, Materiały z VII Konferencji Kaszubsko-Pomorskiej, A. Czarnik (ed.), Słupsk 2003, p. 133.|
|↑6||T. Machura, I. Malczewski, Robotnicy przymusowi z terenu miasta Słupska i powiatu słupskiego, “Rocznik Koszaliński” 1965, p. 237.|
|↑7||All the insertions in square brackets in the citations have been made by the author.|
|↑8||A letter ‘P’ worn to indicate that the wearer was a Pole.|
|↑9||Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH (Main Library, Pomeranian University, PTH Collections), Ref. No. 144, J. Chaciński, Wspomnienie.|
|↑10||The Soviets also dismantled and removed entire former German industrial facilities, but this involved what was now theoretically Polish property. It was partially sanctioned by agreements between Warsaw and Moscow.|
|↑11||Erich Drescher, Boże Narodzenie w Słupsku 1945 (Stolper Weihnachten 1945), “Stolper Heimatblatt für die Heimatvertriebenen aus der Stadt und dem Landkreise Stolp in Pommern” 1954, No. 12.|
|↑12||During the ‘thaw that followed Stalin’s death – translator’s note.|
|↑13||Kronika Koła Pierwszych Słupszczan, napisana w ramach działalności Słupskiego Towarzystwa Społeczno-Kulturalnego, w zbiorach Bałtyckiej Biblioteki Cyfrowej w Słupsku, (Chronicles of the First Residents of Słupsk Club, written under the auspices of the Słupsk Social and Cultural Society, held in the collections of the Baltic Digital Library in Słupsk) p. 21.|
|↑14||Mieszko, Oczami dziecka, in Mój nowy dom. Wspomnienia słupskich osadników (prace zgłoszone na konkurs literacki Słupskiego Uniwersytetu Trzeciego Wieku), Słupsk 2009, p. 42.|
|↑15||Erhard Groll’s memoirs, “Stolper Tagebuch” were published in instalments in “Mitteldeutschen Zeitung” magazine.|
|↑17||The Red Army soldiers – translator’s note.|
|↑18||Pless-Damm, Droga w nieznane, in Wypędzone, compiled by E. Czerwiakowska, Warsaw 2013, p. 118.|
|↑19||The head of the administrative organisation for a district (starostwo) – translator’s note.|
|↑20||Shortly afterwards, Kraciuk appointed Federowicz the mayor of Słupsk. He was the first to hold the position.|
|↑21||Identifying armbands in the colours of the Polish flag – translator’s note.|
|↑22||PPS: Polska Partia Socjalistyczna (Polish Socialist Party).|
|↑23||Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 3, Relacja Jana Kraciuka.|
|↑24||Sołtys: the head of a rural administrative unit know as a sołectwo – translator’s note.|
|↑25||The word ‘often’ was handwritten after the phrase ‘just for a moment’, which is crossed out.|
|↑26||Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 62, Wspomnienia Anny Witek.|
|↑27||Zabużan; a word referring symbolically to people from the far side of the Bug River.|
|↑28||The journey could sometimes take more than a week.|
|↑29||Jana, Mój nowy dom, in Mój nowy dom…, p. 131.|
|↑30||The national police organisation at the time – translator’s note|
|↑31||To travel to Germany|
|↑32||Ch. Graf von Krockow, Czas kobiet. Wspomnienia z Pomorza 1944-1947 według relacji Libussy Fritz-Krockow, Warszawa 1990, s. 110-111.|
|↑33||Voivod; the head of a voivodship, Poland’s highest level of administrative division – translator’s note.|
|↑34||L. Marschak, Zaraz po wojnie, Warsaw 1978, p. 199.|
|↑35||Archiwum Państwowe w Gdańsku State Archive in Gdańsk|
|↑36||M.O. Militia Obywatelstwo (the Citizens’ Militia); cf.: footnote 28 – translator’s note.|
|↑37||Archiwum Państwowe w Gdańsku, Urząd Wojewódzki w Gdańsku, Ref. No. 73, Protokół rozmowy z Michaliną Dąbrowską w Referacie Osiedleńczym w Słupsku z 17 XI 1945 r.|
|↑38||Biblioteka Główna Akademii Pomorskiej w Słupsku, Zbiory PTH, Ref. No. 61, S. Witek, Wspomnienia z lat 1939-1945 (Jezierzyce, 1964).|