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Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wroclaw during the Century of Expulsions

Gregor Thum
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 544
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    Book Description:

    With the stroke of a pen at the Potsdam Conference following the Allied victory in 1945, Breslau, the largest German city east of Berlin, became the Polish city of Wroclaw. Its more than six hundred thousand inhabitants--almost all of them ethnic Germans--were expelled and replaced by Polish settlers from all parts of prewar Poland.Uprootedexamines the long-term psychological and cultural consequences of forced migration in twentieth-century Europe through the experiences of Wroclaw's Polish inhabitants.

    In this pioneering work, Gregor Thum tells the story of how the city's new Polish settlers found themselves in a place that was not only unfamiliar to them but outright repellent given Wroclaw's Prussian-German appearance and the enormous scope of wartime destruction. The immediate consequences were an unstable society, an extremely high crime rate, rapid dilapidation of the building stock, and economic stagnation. This changed only after the city's authorities and a new intellectual elite provided Wroclaw with a Polish founding myth and reshaped the city's appearance to fit the postwar legend that it was an age-old Polish city. Thum also shows how the end of the Cold War and Poland's democratization triggered a public debate about Wroclaw's "amputated memory." Rediscovering the German past, Wroclaw's Poles reinvented their city for the second time since World War II.

    Uprootedtraces the complex historical process by which Wroclaw's new inhabitants revitalized their city and made it their own.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3996-4
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-x)
    Gregor Thum
  4. A NOTE ON NAMES (pp. xi-xii)
  5. PROLOGUE: A DUAL TRAGEDY (pp. xiii-xlii)

    What Vienna was at thefin de siècleand Berlin in the “Golden Twenties”—that was sixteenth-century Wrocław. The largest city in Silesia and one of the largest in Europe, it was a bustling center of commerce at the crossroads of two major European trade routes: the Amber Road leading from the Baltic Sea through the Danube region and on to the Adriatic; and the Via Regia, a branch of which took the traveler from the mouth of the Rhine at the North Sea to the Black Sea and farther, via the Silk Road, all the way to China. In...

  6. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-14)

    Today Wrocław is a city that at first glance reveals little of the dramatic rupture of 1945. It appears no different than any other major city in Poland. It is the seat of a voivodeship administration, a university town with important cultural institutions, a transportation hub, an industrial city, and also, increasingly, a magnet for tourists. The central squares and streets in the Old Town look as if they had survived the war without significant damage. Visitors familiar with photographs of the ruins of 1945 stare in amazement at the Baroque façades of the patrician houses and of the university....

  7. PART ONE The Postwar Era:: Rupture and Survival
    • CHAPTER ONE Takeover (pp. 17-52)

      On August 2, 1945, the final communiqué of the Potsdam Conference announced to the world the Allies’ decision to remove from the German Reich all territories east of the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers and place them under Polish administration, with the exception of northern East Prussia, which was to be ceded to the Soviet Union. By this point in time a Polish mayor was already in office in Breslau and the population exchange was in full swing. Before the Allies had reached an agreement about the precise location of the new German-Polish border, and while experts in the London...

    • CHAPTER TWO Moving People (pp. 53-104)

      The remapping of Central Europe after the Second World War was radical not so much in terms of changes in national borders, as in the broadscale shifting of settlement boundaries. The borders had already been altered after the First World War and new countries created upon the ruins of the fallen Central and Eastern European empires. Prolonged mass migrations also ensued at that time. Many people did not want to live in the countries they found themselves in after the political map was redrawn, or they fled growing discrimination against ethnic minorities. To be sure, the victorious powers asserted at...

    • CHAPTER THREE A Loss of Substance (pp. 105-139)

      After the population exchange, the most urgent task that Polish leaders in the western territories faced was the revitalization of the economy. Władysław Gomułka declared in August 1945:

      The reborn Poland has scored a great political victory at the Potsdam Conference. The Polish nation has reason to be happy and triumphant. But this victory will only be complete when Poles inhabit all the towns and villages in the west and on the Baltic coast, when smoke billows out of all the factory chimneys, when all the Recovered Territories begin to flourish, and when, along the great Oder river that forms...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Reconstruction (pp. 140-168)

      The reconstruction of Europe’s war-destroyed cities served an important additional function, one that was not merely practical. It was of course necessary to restore the basic necessities of life. But more than that reconstruction meant the promise of a better future. This was particularly true in Poland, where people tied the rebuilding of devastated cities to the hope of moving beyond the horror of war and occupation and of overcoming the enormous losses the country had suffered.¹ The city of Warsaw, 75 to 80 percent of which had been reduced to rubble by the end of the war, became a...

  8. PART TWO The Politics of the Past:: The Cityʼs Transformation
    • CHAPTER FIVE The Impermanence Syndrome (pp. 171-189)

      Wrocław, June 12, 1945

      I’ve been in Wrocław for three days already. . . . I’m sitting at a table in someone else’s house in a foreign city. I’ll do my best to describe in detail our journey and initial impressions.

      . . . The train kept stopping; it wasn’t until around noon that we made it to the historical Psie Pole. The train came to a stop about half a mile from the station. It was impossible to go any further because the bridge over the river had been demolished.

      With some difficulty we got out of the train...

    • CHAPTER SIX Propaganda as Necessity (pp. 190-216)

      The integration of the former German territories into the Polish state was a complex undertaking. Not only did the area have to be settled to a sufficient density, but the administrative structures of the old territories also had to be expanded to serve the needs of the new territories. Efficient transportation connections had to be created between regions that had previously been separated by a national border, a uniform economic area had to be developed, and Polish cultural and educational institutions had to be established throughout the western territories. The task of merging two entirely different parts of a country...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Mythicizing History (pp. 217-243)

      The study of local history as an “act of self-reassurance” has everywhere grown in importance as societies have become mobile and people are less tied to a specific location. “To put it bluntly,” historian Helmut Flachenecker writes of modern society, “one is no longer the citizen of a location primarily by birth but rather by history.”¹ This is true to an extreme degree of the Polish city of Wrocław, whose society came into being as the result of a complete population exchange. Societies of this kind typically yearn for tradition just as much as they lack it. And so it...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Cleansing Memory (pp. 244-287)

      Incorporating the German territories into Poland entailed a large-scale renaming operation.¹ More than 30,000 place names, tens of thousands Of natural features such as rivers, streams, lakes, forests, meadows, and mountains, as Well as hundreds of thousands of streets and squares were to be given Polish names. And time was of the essence. In order for state authorities, the railways and the postal service, the military, and other institutions that had to rely on fixed place names not to descend into chaos, the renaming procedures had to be carried out as quickly as possible. It also had to be implemented...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Pillars of an Imagined Tradition (pp. 288-322)

      Historians like Karol Maleczyński probably had a greater impact on Wrocław’s postwar history than all of the city’s mayors prior to 1989 taken together. It was their writings, both popular and scholarly, that shaped the perception of Wrocław as the “age-old Polish” city. Maleczyński’s first lecture on November 15, 1945, was a significant historical event. The ever-observant Joanna Konopińska noted in her diary that

      without much ceremony, as if his classes had been interrupted only for a few days, Professor Maleczyński began his first history lecture at the Polish university in Wrocław. He spoke beautifully about Silesia’s relations with the...

    • CHAPTER TEN Old Town, New Contexts (pp. 323-378)

      Jan Zachwatowicz, Poland’s General Conservator from 1945 to 1957, was the country’s most powerful voice in the field of historic preservation.¹ Not only did he personally direct the rebuilding of the devastated old towns of Warsaw, Gniezno, and Poznań, but in a widely regarded lecture delivered at the first postwar congress of Polish art historians in August 1945, he formulated the program for reconstructing Poland’s historic buildings:

      The significance of historic buildings² for the nation has been made dramatically clear by the experiences of recent years, when the Germans destroyed the monuments of our past in an attempt to annihilate...

  9. PART THREE Prospects
    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Amputated Memory and the Turning Point of 1989 (pp. 381-408)

      Wrocław was not lost in 1945. The Polish state and the people who came to Wrocław after the Second World War managed to rebuild and revive this city. Considering the situation at the end of the war—the devastation, the complete collapse of the previous order, the evacuation of its entire population—this achievement borders on a miracle. And if that were not enough, after overcoming its tremendous postwar challenges Wrocław has gone on to become more than simply a functioning Polish city. The secret capital of the western territories ranks next to Warsaw and Krakow as one of Poland’s...

  10. APPENDIX ONE List of Abbreviations (pp. 409-410)
  11. APPENDIX TWO Translations of Polish Institutions (pp. 411-411)
  12. APPENDIX THREE List of Polish and German Street Names (pp. 412-416)
  13. NOTES (pp. 417-458)
  14. SOURCES AND LITERATURE (pp. 459-493)
  15. Map of Poland after the Westward Shift of 1945 (pp. 494-494)
  16. Simplified Map of Wrocław Today (pp. 495-496)
  17. INDEX (pp. 497-508)