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Displaced Memories

Remembering and Forgetting in Post-War Poland and Ukraine


Anna Wylegała

The book is a comparative case study of collective memory in two small communities situated on two Central-European borderlands. Despite different pre-war histories, Ukrainian Zhovkva (before 1939 Polish Żółkiew) and Polish Krzyż (before 1945 German Kreuz) were to share a common fate of many European localities, destroyed and rebuilt in a completely new shape. As a result of war, and post-war ethnic cleansing and displacement, they lost almost all of their pre-war inhabitants and were repopulated by new people. Based on more than 150 oral history interviews, the book describes the process of reconstruction of social microcosm, involving the reader in a journey through the lives of real people entangled in the dramatic historical events of the 20th century.

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5 Remembering the Absent: Germans and German Heritage in Krzyż219

5  Remembering  the Absent: Germans and German Heritage in Krzyż219

Settlers vs. Germans: Memories of the Oldest Generation

The first encounters between Poles and Germans in Krzyż were above all emotional, because the experience of the war was still fresh and painful for both sides. A man who arrived in Krzyż in one of the first transports of “repatriates” (K17Am) remembered that, when he came out of the station and walked into the town’s main street, a German woman leaned out of a nearby window and started to shout obscenities at him: “polnische Schweinerei” [“Polish scum.”] He still remembered the anger he felt at that moment, although for the most part his recollections of relations with local Germans were positive and filled with empathy. Closer contact with Germans occurred primarily at the moment when Poles moved into houses inhabited by Germans. For obvious reasons, these were difficult meetings:

I remember this sad, but at the same time kind of reconciliatory meeting with a German farmer, a Bauer. He came to us and proposed of his own accord that we take over his homestead. I remember the Bauer was called I., a nice man, elderly. […] But it was sad. I know he was suffering, he put on a brave face, but it was tough for him. We went into his house, and there was a group of women sitting there. Women are more emotional about things, they suffer more, and they didn’t want to talk to us. […] There was an old lady and a younger woman sitting there, the young woman’s husband was at the front and she was waiting for him to return. Somehow I got talking to these German ladies and they somehow warmed up to me, and they started to show me where they had stored their supplies of summer fruits preserves, they even gave me some, told me how they made them, and I showed them that I was interested in everything… (K18Af).

The encounter with the Germans of Krzyż was remembered as a disheartening event because it had been oppressive for both sides. Gestures like the one discussed above could alleviate the discomfort, but they could not significantly alter the overall situation, in which both Poles and Germans were deprived of subjectivity. Accounts of other first encounters that took place in more neutral settings were less emotionally burdened. Among those likely to meet Germans ←163 | 164→were Poles living in the vicinity of the barracks where Germans were stationed whilst they awaited resettlement, as well as railway workers. Polish railway workers remembered having friendly relations with their German colleagues, whilst their wives recalled trying to enter into dialogue with German women and offering them assistance.

[A German woman] came for milk, and… Well, she plucked up the courage, after all I wasn’t the type who would refuse to give it to her, but I didn’t know what she wanted. She said something, I shrugged to show that I didn’t understand. Then she took out a baby’s dummy from her pocket, put in her mouth, and went “yum, yum” and then I finally understood that she wanted some milk. I didn’t speak any German, and she didn’t speak Polish, but we managed to understand each other (K36Af).

Positive experiences predominated in the memories of the Poles, but their contact with Germans was not always disinterested; moreover, it was usually the Poles who benefitted from these exchanges. German machinists were de facto forced laborers, who were forbidden from leaving for Germany because their skills were required by the new (first Soviet, then Polish) authorities in order to get the railways up and running.220 Many of the oldest respondents in Krzyż talked about the unpaid, often forced labor undertaken by the Germans for the Poles and Soviets, but none of them called this phenomenon by its name. Not once were the phrases “forced labor” or “forced laborer” use; rather, Germans were said to have worked with the Poles, to have helped, to have been captives, but never anything more than that, as if even a verbal comparison of their status with the wartime experience of Poles was impossible.221 The testimonies of a mother and daughter who had a German housekeeper for some months after the war are very illustrative.

She [a German woman] came at first to do our laundry. […] And then she told us that she could come and clean the house. Then she noticed that I was sitting at the sewing machine, and she offered to [help]. She was a very kind woman, very polite. We gave her bread and everything else, and she was very happy. Whether she had kids or someone else at home, I don’t know. I never asked her. […] She even asked us whether we could give her more jobs, yes. She was very insistent, saying she had nothing to do at home… The Russians were still around, they were, I’m telling you, a nasty bunch. If you were ←164 | 165→a German, you had to [endure rape], you had no choice. She wasn’t so keen, and she always asked my father to walk her home (K23Af).

We had a German maid. […] She looked after me and my sister a lot. And the things she had to live through because of the war! Her whole family had died and she didn’t really want to go to Germany. In the end she was forced to leave. […] She never cried, she was always happy. She would always talk to my mum, and to my dad a lot too. We treated her like our aunt, we didn’t call her by her name, maybe that’s why I don’t even remember what she was called. It was just Auntie. Auntie this, Auntie that (K23Bf).

The situation of the German woman, who carries out heavy labor for the Polish family for mere subsistence, and whose private life does not even interest that same family, undergoes a surprising metamorphosis in the daughter’s testimony. From a poorly compensated housemaid with only the most superficial personal freedom, she becomes nothing short of a member of the family, but nonetheless, she is forced to leave for Germany. We need not doubt the authenticity of the speaker’s childhood memory; the woman surely did indeed look after the daughters with genuine affection. At the same time, it is more likely that she was only working for the family because of a fear of violence by Soviet soldiers, rather than because she had nothing to do at home; likewise, she probably felt some relief at the opportunity to depart for Germany. This situation shows the extent to which the post-war forced labor of Germans in Poland remains taboo in the collective memory of Poles.

Besides Germans who worked on the railways, in industry and in Polish homes, agrarian families also remained in the nearby villages, comprised mainly of women, children and elderly people. These Germans were obliged to allow Polish resettlers from the pre-war eastern provinces into their homes: this was the beginning of a period of communal living, often within a very limited area. After initial moments of mutual anger and regret, the Poles and Germans tried somehow to work out a modus vivendi. They worked together, because the Poles had arrived just before or during the harvesting season. Cooperation was not without its difficulties: the Polish settlers were accustomed to different ways of working the land and did not know how to use German machinery. The Germans, meanwhile, were often unwilling to supply the necessary hints. Accounts of this short period of coexistence contained traces of the distrust from that time: the behavior of the Germans was remembered as having been purposefully spiteful, intended to cause problems. For example, interviewees recalled that Germans sold off their property behind the backs of the Poles, so as not to leave things for the new owners of their homes.

More often, however, pictures of communal life with Germans were very emotive and positive; they showed a harmonious coexistence, as far as possible ←165 | 166→in the circumstances, as well as above all, a sense of empathy for people who were about to lose their homes, as the Poles themselves had done. Such sentiments appeared almost exclusively in interviews with eastern Poles, rarely with people form Wielkopolska, and never in the testimonies of settlers from nearby villages. There were memories of holidays and feast days celebrated together, as well as accounts of how these former cohabitants maintained epistolary contact long after the Germans had gone. Against the background of a perceived commonality of experience, the mutual foreignness, both linguistic and cultural, was often relegated to the shadows.222

The German woman was with us because she wanted, as anyone else would, to stay on her own property. They must have hoped that things would change, that we would be forced out, and that they would stay. […] Those Germans were with us for around a year. They were nice people, very nice. When they were leaving, their son came […], and we said such an emotional goodbye, they cried with us, because we had grown so used to each other. We helped those Germans, in the garden for instance. The men would dig up the garden, we would do the planting, she thought she would collect [the vegetables] herself, but later they were taken away, and we were left with the produce (K21Af).

There were also respondents who described the injuries the Germans had suffered, although such voices were definitely in the minority. Most of all, the perpetrators of hurt were the Soviets, who raped German women and treated German laborers with disdain. If Poles featured as wrongdoers in these stories, they were, as a rule, treated by the interviewee as alien elements that did not belong in Polish society; speakers made efforts to separate themselves from these villains. Polish perpetrators came from elsewhere (“The ones from Belarus or wherever, they were nasty to the Germans, shouting ‘You bloody Hitlerites!’ at every turn” [K21Af]), were social degenerates, or were simply “not real Poles.” Brutality against Germans emerges in these cases as yet another method for expelling guilty parties from the confines of “our” world.223

←166 | 167→

In this context the following accounts of (what appears to be) the same event, by Poles from different regions who lived in neighboring streets, are very interesting.

“Get out of here!” And this elderly couple came out of the house, so as not to make things worse, they sat down under the wall, as long as they had the strength to sit there. Later, once the cold night had set in, they lay down on the ground. As for the Poles, the Polish family [who had forced the Germans out], the residents of the house, they were completely unmoved, they just didn’t care. They still live in Krzyż, I know their names… My parents knew about it, and after lunch they would tell me to go and take some food out to them [the Germans]. And I would bring them their lunch, but in the end it became so cold that they died – without any medicines and living only on that lunch. The people who lived in the house […] for them it was like water off a duck’s back, they just buried them in the garden (K25Bm).

I remember this event; I was walking into town with my mum, it was just after we had arrived. […] There was an old German woman, poor, who was lying on a feather blanket. I still remember this like it was yesterday. She had a feather blanket and she was just lying on it. Who kicked her out, what that was all about, I don’t know… Later she was taken in, someone came to look after her and took her in (K2Af).

The first respondent, a Pole who returned from emigration in Germany, sharply criticized the behavior of Poles towards the Germans and directly accused them of killing the elderly couple. This speaker’s family had suffered a significant amount of abuse in post-war Krzyż, because they were considered by other Poles to be “camouflaged” Germans. The second speaker, a woman from former eastern Poland, also expressed concern for the German woman, but saw the story’s ending very differently – she was convinced that someone must have taken the evicted woman into their care; she did not even consider the possibility that her compatriots could have been so heartless towards a fellow human being.

The second most emotionally intense memory, after cohabitation with Germans, was the deportation of the Germans. Again, the eastern Poles were the group who remembered this event most strongly, irrespective of whether they were talking about Germans with whom they had shared a house or others whom they may have never met.

They may be our enemies, but you have to treat them humanely, they are also people! Just like we came here as expellees, they were also forced out. When we arrived in Łokacz [a village near Krzyż] and wanted to move into this house, a German woman put all of the crockery into a basket and, out of spite, took it all outside and threw it on the ground so it would break, right in front of our eyes. The path was made of stone, so everything smashed into small pieces. Then the policeman who had accompanied us here to the house, a Pole, took his rifle and started to beat her, the German, on the back. We’re ←167 | 168→standing there, crying our eyes out, because how can you beat a woman like that? [Voice breaking] But she was in the wrong too. Who was the guilty party here? The policeman, the woman, or us? Whose fault was it? I don’t know (K8Af).

I also endured a tough, sad moment. One day, my father and I went with the horses to Przesieki [a village near Krzyż]. And in P., we enter a house because my father wants to meet someone there, and we look up: the doors are open, a pot is on the stove with potatoes cooking, and everything is open. There are plates on the table, as if the table has just been set for us all to sit down for lunch. It was the moment when they had come to get the Germans, to deport them. Today we protest when those German expellees gather somewhere and complain, claiming this and that. But they really were expelled like that. I know it was an international treaty and all that… But they were also deported. I understood that they were expelled the same way that we were (K17Am).

These two quotations illustrate a sentiment that was shared across a range of social divides. Other than the fact of being resettlers from the East, these two speakers had very little in common – the first interviewee is a woman, born in a village and possessing no educational qualifications, who spent her whole life working as an agricultural laborer. The second is a man who grew up in a town in a well-to-do, educated family, with a university qualification, who worked as a teacher and was an important figure in local public life. These differences are visible in the ways in which the two respondents narrate their stories; at the same time, it is striking that the content of their speech is almost identical. Both speakers sympathize with the Germans, seeing in their experiences a reflection of their own post-war past. Neither denies that the Germans were deported in accordance with a set of legal norms, or that they were collectively responsible for the atrocities of the war. At the same time, it is clear to both speakers that in some cases, that collective responsibility was very heavy indeed, and they both felt vulnerable as a result.

In the testimonies of these eastern Poles, expelled Germans gain a status similar that of the Poles themselves: the status of people who were at the mercy of the whims of political change and caught up in a trajectory over which they had no control; this is precisely why, for these Poles, the Germans deserved their empathy.224 Meanwhile, almost none of the eastern Poles, let alone other settlers from Wielkopolska or neighboring villages, stated outright that Poles had been guilty of over-zealousness in their attempts to expel the Germans. One of the ←168 | 169→very few who did state something to this effect was a man from near Lublin, who reported with sadness and a degree of remorse that: “When I hear today that Germans have been saying that the Poles treated them so badly during the expulsions, I remember that this really was how it was then (K16Am).” On the whole, in the testimonies, the Germans are expelled by faceless perpetrators, who are labeled simply as “they,” the “police,” “soldiers,” or, occasionally, Poles from a different social group or place of origin than that of the speaker.

Not even the most sympathizing interviewees suggested that the Germans could have stayed in Krzyż. All of the older respondents were convinced that Poles and Germans could not have peacefully coexisted in the formerly German territories after the war. Settlers from the East and from nearby villages reasoned that the Germans would be under threat from other Poles, although they personally had no issues with them. Respondents from central Poland and Wielkopolska saw the deportations of the town’s Germans as an act of justice and, to a certain extent, as a form of reparation for the harm they themselves had suffered. Nonetheless, they also hesitated when asked directly whether the expulsions were fair – they constructed their responses using equivocations, saying that deportation was perhaps an undeserved punishment for some individual families: “How should I know whether it was fair? It’s tough luck, those Germans might not have done anything wrong, but we were also kicked out from our homes” (K36Af). The speaker quoted here, who was herself expelled from her home and forced into labor for Germans in a distant locality, spoke with bitterness about her own past hurt, but then immediately began to talk at length about the “good Germans” who had helped her to survive the occupation – as if she wanted to offset and justify her preceding critical evaluation.

Settlers from central Poland and Wielkopolska also voiced the very few testimonies that featured unconcealed joy at the expulsion of the Germans. The dialogue quoted below loses some of its expressivity in transcription, but when listened to, its tone of vengeful satisfaction is striking. The speaker’s wartime biography is fairly standard among people from Wielkopolska; he was not persecuted by the Germans noticeably more than other interviewees. His unforgiving views can probably be better understood in the light of his post-war political career in the Polish United Workers’ Party and a very strong faith in the socialist state’s propaganda.225

←169 | 170→

The Russian NKVD came along. They ordered them [the Germans] to pack their bags and get to the station to board a train, and they passed the buildings to us, Poles. [Did the Germans leave obediently, or did they protest, or cry?] How could they protest? [Well if they couldn’t, did they just carry out the orders?] If they tried to resist, they’d get a bullet in the head and that was the end of it. Those Germans knew after all what they’d done in the East, so they acted like meek sheep (K28Am).

It was also amongst this group of respondents that the German narrative of expulsion was most frequently contested. Settlers from central Poland and Wielkopolska claimed fairly often that no one had been deported from Krzyż; the Germans had left of their own accord. As a rule, it was people who had arrived in Krzyż later, after 1946, or people who had no direct contact with Germans who made such claims. Their convictions about the fate of the Krzyż Germans was often based on their own experiences; they did not even consider that the situation in Krzyż could have been different from what they themselves had been through. One interviewee (K30Af), who had worked as a forced laborer on a German estate during the war and was forced to evacuate with her hosts, said of the Krzyż Germans: “They ran away by themselves, no one kicked them out.” Thereafter she spoke at length about her own journey to the Third Reich. A somewhat similar statement, made with recourse to other narrative devices, was the claim that the deportation of the Germans took place in less drastic circumstances than the resettlement of Poles from the pre-war eastern provinces. Interestingly, it was not the eastern Poles who argued in this way, but people from other regions who were closely connected with them, such as spouses or close neighbors. The expulsion of the Germans is not negated in this logic, but the validity of the word “expulsion” is questioned – since the Germans were not transported in “cattle cars,” they cannot have experienced what the resettled Poles did. “I wouldn’t say they went in those cattle cars. […] For example there was a couple that lived in that house opposite, their son came to get them from Germany in a car” (K2Am).

There were a few exceptional examples of eastern Poles who argued that the Germans had never been deported. These were isolated instances of people who had endured exceptionally difficult experiences during the war, or were generally indisposed to Others. The individual quoted below – who came from Volhynia and was a forced laborer in Austria during the war – had suffered greatly in difficult circumstances during his time as a laborer, including the death of his brother. His wounds were still raw, and because he had been forced to leave Volhynia, he was convinced his life had been wasted. His own biography was clearly visible both in his account of his own resettlement and of that of the Germans, with his identity as a victim acting as the axis around which ←170 | 171→his narrative revolved. To recognize the Germans as victims of expulsion would have been to share this status with the people he considered unequivocally to have been perpetrators.226

It was fine, they were told to leave, and they signed up for trains and left for Germany. Now that woman, you know that one from the television, that leader… [Erika Steinbach] Yes. The way she describes it all, that we kicked them out, it’s a lie. No one kicked anyone out. They left by themselves. Actually it was the opposite – they tried to get rid of us. They peppered us with bombs. Who? The Germans. And now they are trying to claim something from us (K24Am).

It is instructive to compare the Krzyż interviews with the results of quantitative research.227 A survey conducted in 2010 by the Museum of the Second World War showed that 83 % of respondents considered the post-war expulsion of Germans to have been justified; 10.7 % thought they had not been justified. Just 4.5 % were convinced that it would certainly have been possible for Poles and Germans to live peacefully side by side in the “Recovered Territories” after the war; 20.7 % considered this to have been probably possible, whereas 30.4 % thought it probably impossible. 32 % of respondents thought it was definitely impossible. These answers were matched against respondents’ age and area of residence – the possibility of peaceful coexistence was supported above all by older people and people who lived in Wielkopolska. This survey had a nationwide scope, but my local sample from Krzyż supports these observations strongly; it can explain why some answers were common and others less so.

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Before our Grandparents: Memory Among the Younger Generations

Memories about the Germans were less abundant in conversations with younger respondents, for obvious reasons. Encounters with the Krzyż Germans were not a part of their own biographical experience; thus, social memory, constructed through family transmission and socialization outside of the home environment, was the only medium through which narratives concerning the German presence could be passed on. Just a brief glimpse at the interviews with younger residents of Krzyż shows, however, that both of these modes of transmission were fairly ineffective. Asked about family stories about the Germans, respondents usually told tales from the occupation period, only thereafter (if at all) turning to the period after their family arrived in Krzyż. The wartime stories are worth consideration because images of the Germans during the war closely affected stereotypes about Germans in the early post-war period – as they did for the oldest interviewees. Descendants of Poles from Wielkopolska spoke of decent conditions during forced labor, while people whose families had moved from the eastern territories remembered that their grandparents were surprised that the Germans turned out to be less evil than expected, especially in comparison to the Soviets. Personalized accounts from the early years in Krzyż, with specific events and personalities, were few and far between. Although the oldest Poles remembered their relations with local Germans very well, these memories were not passed down to successive generations. The son of one of the women quoted in the preceding section of this chapter (K21Cm) did not know that his mother had lived for a significant time in a house shared with Germans. Perhaps this is a result of the specific character of family memory in that household: the father’s memories played a greater role in the son’s identity formation. Nonetheless, extended narratives about contacts with local Germans were rare among other families as well. Occasionally, there were general and depersonalized exchanges about living with Germans. There was only one detailed account, in an interview with a woman whose grandmother had migrated from today’s Ukraine:

The other house228 was inhabited by Germans, there were still Germans in this area then. They lived together well enough for that short while. There weren’t any conflicts or quarrels or anything else like that… I know from what my grandparents had told me that they treated each other as fellow humans, not as invaders. That was the state ←172 | 173→of things: they were leaving this land, and Poles from the East, from the Kresy, were arriving here (K9Df).

Interestingly, the granddaughter described the Germans as sympathetic, even ideal, and she also recounted a later visit by the former German homeowners in similar tones; the grandmother, meanwhile, spoke of her time of cohabitation with the Germans with a slight resentment, and the later visit with a mixture of indifference and anxiety. This difference recalls the mechanism, described by Harald Welzer, Sabine Moller and Karoline Tschuggnall, by which family memory is transformed in younger generations so as to preserve an image of the moral rectitude of the family.229 In the instance described by Welzer et al., a granddaughter claims that her anti-Semitic grandmother helped to conceal a Jew who had escaped from the camps; the interviewee in Krzyż inscribes a harmonious coexistence with Germans into the family narrative, although the period of cohabitation was in fact far from ideal. This will to re-write memories can be ascribed above all to a universal desire to idealize one’s own family. In this particular case, the respondent’s positive personal attitude to the German past of her home town is also a significant factor: the young woman maps her vision of her grandmother’s erstwhile relations with Germans to her own present-day picture of Polish-German relations.

One theme that practically never appeared in these testimonies was the Soviets’ brutal treatment of the Germans, and Polish mistreatment of the Germans even less so (with the exception of a few individuals with a special interest in local history). Respondents had clearly not heard such stories at home, because their grandparents were not inclined to discuss the harm suffered by people they had recently considered to be enemies. Polish collective memory, in turn, continued to have little room for an image of a German victim, as shown by the controversies that arose in Poland when plans for the construction of a Centre Against Expulsions in Germany were announced.230 Considering that the question of whether to recognize the Germans as victims as well as perpetrators of the war is a difficult topic for Polish intellectual elites, we cannot expect memories of injury suffered by Krzyż Germans to enter the history curricula of local schools.

←173 | 174→

Narratives about the deportation of local Germans were also significantly simplified in the family transmission of memory. Like in the case of the expulsion of Poles from Zhovkva (see: Chapter 7), the family memories of Krzyż’s new residents did not leave any room for dwelling on others’ traumas. Memories of people’s own difficult experiences were predominant. All of the residents with whom I spoke in Krzyż knew that the town had been a German community before the war and that Germans had lived and worked in its buildings. Nonetheless, the question of what happened to those Germans faded against the fog of war in the minds of the younger generation. When asked what had happened to the Germans, one interviewee (accompanied by her father) answered that:

I think that you know, it was wartime, so it was, there were lots of those… I can’t remember what the place is called… [turns to her father] Dad, what’s that place with [the monument of] Hans Pasche, you know, we went there, to the monument, what’s it called? Zacisze. Zacisze, exactly. So we went there, and there are lots of little cemeteries near the houses. It looks as if the residents died and then the houses were empty, and the cemeteries remained by the [houses] (K25Df/K25Cm).

In this account, the Germans disappeared from their houses in some mysterious way, leaving behind empty houses and cemeteries, but it is unclear what happened to the residents of the village that the Poles called Zacisze after 1945. A different respondent gave a similar response; here, it is particularly striking that the speaker was convinced that the Germans could not have been deported because the Poles would never have allowed such a thing to happen.

[When your grandparents came here, were there no Germans here, did they say anything about that?] They didn’t say anything about any Germans. I can’t remember them saying anything about any Germans here. It was just empty. I think no one lived here, I mean, there can’t have been anyone living here, because they wouldn’t have kicked them out, right? (K5Df).

Conversations with the youngest residents were sometimes reminiscent of a guessing game – speakers would begin to think out loud about what had happened to the Germans, and it was clear that they were considering this question for the first time. Today’s residents of Zhovkva asked themselves about the history of local Jews in an identical fashion; the key difference, however, was that in Krzyż there were just a few individuals from the youngest generation who were unsure, whereas in Zhovkva, memory of the absent Others was largely speculative among a much greater range of interviewees, also including members of the oldest generation. Among people in their forties and fifties in Krzyż (at the time of the interviews) there were no individuals who did not ←174 | 175→know what had happened to the Germans. The clear tendency was for them to believe that the majority had left of their own accord, before the Red Army arrived: “They packed up and left. […] They knew the threat they were facing, the Red Army was advancing after all, and they didn’t deal in half-measures. Here, in our territories, they had permission to do whatever they wanted – and they did” (K2Bm).

The expulsions that did actually occur were relegated to the background, but – in comparison to the state of memory about Jews in Zhovkva – this relativization was of a much smaller scale than the belief that the Jews had simply “left” Zhovkva. After all, some of the Germans had indeed escaped from Krzyż themselves, without the “help” of the Poles or Soviets, and the others were deported, not murdered. In statements made by people who did mention the expulsion of the Germans, a similar tone was discernible to that of the testimonies of the older generation: the Germans had certainly been deported, but it was a non-descript group of “others” who had carried out the operation – other Poles and the Soviets, but no one connected to respondents’ own families and friends.

There were probably situations where Poles just kicked them out, after all, Poles aren’t all necessarily good people. I reckon those looters came from various places […] and they took everything they could when the Germans left. […] My father used to tell me that there was a guy who lived with him for a short while, and then he wanted to leave, but he had to wait a bit for that transport. And my father helped him out (K2Cf).

Only a few young people in Krzyż had any substantial knowledge of the deportations – as a rule, it was only those individuals with an above-average interest in local history. It always became apparent in the course of an interview that this knowledge came not from family transmission of memory, but from other sources, such as books or the Internet. For some of these interviewees, the discovery that the previous residents had been violently expelled was a shock. One respondent, an avid collector of German postcards (K42Dm), said that reading oral history interviews published online had changed his way of thinking about his own family’s history. Only direct contact with testimonies of concrete individuals had led him to see the real hurt and drama of the expulsions, for which Poles had also been responsible. Another interviewee, a young history teacher who wrote his Masters thesis on post-war expulsions in the Krzyż region, commented as follows on the archival research he had carried out:

That kind of expulsion operation, there’s nothing nice about it, nothing good. I will never forget searching through those records of things that were confiscated from the Germans who left: a bag of some rags, some soap, a pair of long johns, underwear, that kind of thing. In other words, these were things that clearly showed that people were unequivocally evicted from here (K44Dm).

←175 | 176→

The way in which current residents of the town who were born after the war remembered the Krzyż Germans is a reflection of the older generation’s representations, filtered further through individual experiences and emotions. Neither family transmission of memory nor school education could fill this gap; informal channels of social memory have started to make small inroads in recent times. Families do not talk about the Germans who lived in Krzyż, because for the older generations, encounters with the town’s pre-war residents were not essentially important events. The community does not construct its identity on the German past, so it has no interest in preserving narratives about it, and schools are silent on this matter. In principle the younger residents of Krzyż know that Germans lived here before the war, and that they disappeared as a result of the same political transformations that compelled their own parents or grandparents to come to Krzyż. What is lost with the passage of time is memory about concrete individuals and their stories, as well as a sensitivity about questions of guilt and responsibility. Memories of the past make occasional returns through new media, converting anonymous traumas into the troubles of real people made of flesh and blood, and activating this sensitivity in moments of heated public debates about the past. Nonetheless, these flashes in the pan affect a small number of individuals at best, passing by the social collective as a whole.

The Germans Today: Castaways, Tourists, Litigants?

Whilst they are no longer physically present, the vanished others continue to remind the new residents of Krzyż that this was once their town. One German family remained in Krzyż after the war, while several elderly individuals and a few people who entered marital relations with Poles also stayed. When I asked about these autochthonous Krzyż residents during interviews with Poles, it was usually the family, who lived on the outskirts of the town, that was mentioned. The male head of the family was perceived by the local community as a wealthy landowner, who maintained excellent relations with the authorities as well as with Poles, many of whom had been employed by him. He was an assimilated German, who had “even” learned to speak some Polish.

I remember him as a nice man, he spoke some Polish, he really tried to speak Polish, whereas his sister wasn’t so good at speaking Polish. […] I went there a few times with my father, because they had a very big farm and my father had a few chickens. He would go there from time to time and buy grain. That was my contact with that family. I don’t remember anything bad (K32Cf).

Practically every respondent who remembered this individual seemed to feel obliged to add some kind of commentary. The speaker cited above noted that ←176 | 177→the man was harmless despite being a German – such statements clearly show the effects of post-war propaganda, whereby the image of a “bad German” was instilled in the subconscious of this woman raised in socialist Poland. Older interviewees tried to explain why the Z. family had remained in Krzyż. There was a huge variety of explanations, from the simple statement that “they clearly hadn’t done anybody any harm” to the hypothesis that Z. had collaborated with the communist secret police after the war, informing on local Germans. Another possibility was that Z. had been an ally of the Poles during the war and that he had been granted special permission to stay in light of his contribution to the resistance. No matter the truth, it is noteworthy that the residents of Krzyż were convinced that he could not have stayed for no particular reason at all – he had to have some underlying motive. This shows once again that the post-war expulsion of the Germans from Krzyż was generally considered to have been an act beyond questioning.

Older interviewees sometimes remembered other Germans who had remained in Krzyż; however, these were accounts that invariably ended in their disappearance, a fact that was treated as a natural outcome of events: the German population either blended into Polish society through marriage and assimilation, or gradually died out.

Here [in Kuźnica, a village near Krzyż] one German woman stayed behind, but she married a Pole and became like a Pole, she crossed over. [And who was that?] Well, her father was a miller […] She owned a farm. They had a Polish farmhand. And those young ones had fallen in love and when the parents were deported, he came and took her from the train. She knew about it, she helped to arrange the escape. […] She was a very nice woman, small in build, but very kind and full of generosity (K19Af).

In this and other similar statements, a glaring feature is the ostentatious emphasis that the Germans who remained in Krzyż were good people – they were good despite their Germanness, and they could be accepted because they had “crossed over.” Nevertheless, it was only the oldest generation of respondents who expressed such views. For younger people, there were simply no more Germans in the town – as is indeed the case in today’s Krzyż.

The Germans who do appear in today’s Krzyż are most often tourists. Practically every interviewee had had direct contact with German tourists, seen them, or heard of such visits. Visitors from Germany started to arrive in the 1970s when the border between Poland and East Germany was opened. Almost all of those tourists had a family connection with Krzyż. A similar situation prevailed in the 1990s, when a second wave of German tourists arrived; this time, it was West Germans with roots in the now-Polish town, who came. Only recently ←177 | 178→have Germans started to arrive who treat Krzyż simply as a holiday destination, although they are still in the minority. Both kinds of visitor are received well by the town’s Poles. Interviewees from all backgrounds and generations stated that they harbored no ill feelings towards the former residents of Krzyż, and that they accepted and understood their desire to visit the town. Such assertions were often accompanied by a more or less explicitly articulated conviction that their openness was possible because the Poles themselves bore no guilt for the tragedy that the Germans had lived through; indeed, they felt the opposite was true, i.e. that they themselves (or their families) had suffered at the hands of the Germans during the war, and that they now had every right to treat the Germans badly if they so wished. These statements are therefore mixed at some level with a sense of the speakers’ own self-righteousness: between the lines it is implied that “we don’t have any duty to be nice to them, they are our old enemies, but we do so because we pity them.”

They came here, they didn’t want us to feed them, no. But they had lunch, and then when they were leaving, I had a duck, I gave them this duck, a live one, they took it. Fancy that! [with emphasis] Then she came again, just the daughter this time, she said that her mother had died, and she came just with her husband. I have a photo, they took more pictures. They left their address, they said we should come, but… […] I mean, what do I owe her and what does she owe me? (K9Af).

A large number of interviewees did however recall the German visits without hidden subtexts and with genuine emotion. The most empathetic accounts were those of eastern Poles of the oldest generation, especially those who had shared a house with Germans after their arrival in Krzyż. A striking example is that of a woman who met the family she had lived with in Krzyż, almost half a century after the departure of the Germans. The evicted former homeowners, with whom the interviewee had grown very close during their period of cohabitation in her childhood and with whom she continued to correspond for many years, had left a photograph of themselves as a souvenir. The speaker had kept the image for nearly five decades, enabling the Polish woman and her former German friends to recognize each other long after they had played together in the streets of Krzyż.

I kept this photograph between other pictures. I never threw it away. […] It was 1992. […] And what do I see, a [German car] pulling up outside. […], three men and a woman come out. They walk towards the house, but they seem so unsure, but they come in, they clearly want to come into the courtyard. The woman comes up to me, and she grabs of me like this, and asks “J.?” [the speaker’s name,] and she’s in tears. At first I didn’t know what it was all about, but she’s standing there crying. She says “S.,” and I know that name, S., it’s her surname. I know it because I wrote it down on that photograph, because ←178 | 179→I thought that after my mum dies, as time goes by, I would forget, so I wrote it down in pencil. […] And so we met in that same courtyard where we had said goodbye. It’s amazing! There’s that saying [in Polish] that mountains never meet, but people always find each other somewhere down the line… […] We were so happy, we were literally holding hands. It was a bit like lost siblings finding each other. You could say we understood them better than anyone, but we ourselves had had to pack our bags and travel in those cattle cars, just like they did. Who cares about politics, borders being here and there, and all that? We have no influence over that stuff, none at all. But we’re all humans and we spent time together, that was our destiny. And we understood that they also had to leave, they were born here but had to move out, just like we had been born over there and had to leave (K26Bf).

Not all the interviewees in Krzyż were so emotional about the visits of the Germans – only a few individuals had personal histories that would predispose them to such moving encounters. Nonetheless I would claim that the most common feeling with which the Poles met the German visitors was sympathy, as well as, even more so perhaps, understanding.231 This attitude is shown in the following statement by a younger respondent, who never met any local Germans, but declared that he understood their feelings.

They came here, and I was the headmaster of the school in 1991, and I sometimes looked out of my window to see older people standing around and pointing with their fingers. I would go out, have a talk with them, and invite them inside. They cried, they were really in tears, as they came in. “This was the boarding house, this was where we slept, this was where we met, that was the church where we got married – can we go inside the church?,” that kind of thing. […] These people were shocked to see someone coming out towards them, that I was trying to speak their language, however badly. That this could happen in communist Poland, as they still saw it then… I know it meant a lot to them then (K40Cm).

Such visits as described in the above two quotations could not infrequently result in long-term friendly relationships between the old and present-day residents of Krzyż. Many interviewees recalled receiving help from Germans during the Martial War period in Poland (1981–83) (in the form of aid packages sent through the post) and exchanging gifts during visits; nonetheless, such accounts are more frequent in the testimonies of older residents. Younger people who ←179 | 180→spoke about the German visitors concentrated more on the symbolic dimension of the contact with the town’s former residents, considering these encounters as a means of building bridges between the Polish and German parts of their town’s history.

We were all standing in front of the house, we invited them inside and we were just talking and laughing. It was pleasant. They were so grateful that we had invited them in and talked to them, that we had accepted them as guests. There used to be a huge pear tree that grew in our garden. This pear tree had been there since before the war. When they came, they went into the garden and saw that tree. They were so moved, they started crying. I also cried with them. A couple years later my dad had to chop the tree down, it had dried up and was attracting lightning, so we had to remove it. So that last symbol of our shared life on this land is now gone (K9Df).

A similar tone was struck by people who appreciated the visits of the Germans as an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the history of Krzyż. This was especially true of individuals who were particularly interested in local history, who wanted to obtain information from the Germans about the history of their town; for such individuals there was also a symbolic aspect to these meetings, whereby they gained a moral right to access the German heritage of Krzyż.232

I am in contact with two gentlemen who used to live in this area. […] The way I perceive it, they want to share these things with me. […], to show, remind, bring to my awareness, that this happened here and that was there. But I never get the feeling that they have any kind of revisionist intentions, that this is their place and that they are planning to come back some time (K37Bm).

The above quote raises a different issue connected to the German visitors: distrust. When I embarked on this research, I expected respondents to be distrustful of German tourists, perhaps more than any other sentiment they might hold; however, this only turned out to be the case for a marginal few. Not a single interviewee admitted to not letting Germans into their house. I heard of only instance of such an event, from a young man who claimed that his grandmother had refused to invite a German family into her home, although the grandmother herself did not say a word about such an incident in her own interview. Of course ←180 | 181→it cannot be said for certain that no one else had acted in this way. Nonetheless, it appears more probable that, although for the majority of people the visits of the town’s pre-war residents may have initially caused anxiety and negative emotions, they really were able to accept the tourists once it became clear that the Germans had no intention of claiming back their families’ former homes.

On the first visit, the Germans arrived, and they didn’t come into the courtyard or the house, they just stood around and took photographs. Then my mum and dad were a little anxious. Who were these people and what were they doing here? Then someone said they were Germans, and mum said “That’s a bit sick isn’t it? Do you think they want to come here?” But once we had talked to them, once they came to visit specifically, it was OK… They’re not interested in living here, they just wanted to come and see their own haunts. Where their mother was born, or where their father was born, where they lived before, they just wanted to see if things had changed or not. So my parents calmed down a bit after that (K15Cf).

The Poles’ initial reluctance is easy to understand. There was still a grain of uncertainty about the extent to which they could feel safe in their formerly German homes. Contemporaneous political debates also affected their attitudes towards Germans coming to Krzyż. The fear of a mass return of Germans, whose echoes were heard especially in interviews with older people, was stoked by campaigning before the referendum on Poland’s accession to the European Union. In this period of tension, in which Eurosceptics whipped up a supposed threat, even neutral behavior by Germans could be interpreted as somehow suspicious.233

We had a period when Germans were coming in droves. I guess it lasted for about two years. There’s a lake nearby, and they would gather there, they had some sort of conference there or something, I don’t know… So they were here, or their children were here, and I thought they were here to try and reclaim their property. […] We always lived with a hope that we wouldn’t be left to live on the street, that it would go through the government, and if the government gives them the houses, then they’d put us somewhere else too. But later it became calmer (K19Af).

Almost all of the interviewees spoke of their doubts and distrust towards the Germans as a thing of the past. They perceived their feelings of that period as an individual weakness, often admitting with expressions of shame that they had let themselves be deceived by political manipulation. Younger speakers who ←181 | 182→confessed their fear of Germans immediately turned it into a joke, trying to convince me – and also themselves – that no one was “seriously” afraid “We had a laugh! [After a visit by Germans] my son-in-law said ‘Mum, are we packing our bags then, are you packing your bags?’” (K16Cf).

The respondents who had definitely lost no sleep at all over the prospect of German revanchism belonged to the youngest generation. They were the least empathetic towards the Germans, but they also felt no anxiety at all. This is the first generation of residents of the former “Recovered Territories” who consider the Germans’ visits as simply irrational – similarly to their perception of their own grandparents’ desire to travel to their distant places of birth. The key to understanding this attitude is pragmatism: they were convinced that these trips have no purpose. As one of the youngest interviewees put it, laconically but poignantly: “They won’t stay here, what would they be looking for? Their life in Germany is better. What is there for them here? Practically nothing” (K16Dm).

Another related question is that of reparations that might in theory be paid to Germans as compensation for property left in Krzyż. All of the respondents, irrespective of age and background, were unanimous in their opinion that no financial reparations were owed to the Germans. The most common argument to support this view was that the loss of their property was a just punishment for the fact that it was Germany that started the war; some interviewees added that the Germans had received compensation from their own government.234

Here is my opinion: it wasn’t us who decided what would happen to this land, and we shouldn’t be compensating anyone for what happened, neither should they compensate us for anything. Because it wasn’t our decision. We need to accept this as a pre-existing fact. […] What should our state pay them reparations for? We didn’t do them any harm. We didn’t invade them. How did they treat our parents? How was my mother treated when she was evicted from her home and sent to labor? They treated us like dogs (K1Bf).

It is surprising, meanwhile, that a clear majority of respondents who did not experience resettlement argued that no reparations in any form should be paid to Poles who were resettled from the pre-war eastern territories. The most common reasoning behind this belief was that it was not worth digging up past injuries after so many years, no matter who the victims were. A range of different ideas lies behind this view. One is fear of a chain reaction: one set of reparations could mean that another group would have to be compensated, and at the end of the chain might be the expelled Germans coming to reclaim their old homes from ←182 | 183→the Poles. Looking at the broader situation in Krzyż, however, another explanation looks more justified: the town’s new residents see Krzyż as their only possible home and they see no need to make claims on any other homeland, including in the financial realm.


The most surprising thing about memory of the Germans in Krzyż was that the first Polish settlers remembered the short period of cohabitation in the town in mostly positive tones. People only rarely spoke in a disparaging way about the former enemy, and never with condescension or contempt. The overall absence of strongly negative attitudes is striking especially when compared to how the same speakers talked about the Soviets. Even the vocabulary used was markedly different: when discussing the Soviets, pejorative terms such as “Russkies” [Ruscy, Rusoki] and “Katsaps” [Kacapy] would predominate; the Germans, meanwhile, were rarely referred to as “Krauts” [Szwaby] or similar. The existing scholarship on the attitudes of Polish society towards the Germans in the immediate post-war period shows unequivocally that people at this time were ill-disposed towards the old foe.235 This was at least partly a consequence of the strong anti-German rhetoric of the Polish state propaganda, which would soon become the rhetoric of the Cold War; nonetheless, these were also genuine social attitudes.236 It would therefore be reasonable to expect that interviewees would recall their feelings and thoughts from those times when returning to that era in the act of retelling; however, this was usually not the case. Whilst there were examples of negative attitudes towards the Germans being reported, in most accounts these were attributed to other people, such as neighbors, acquaintances and randomly encountered individuals – people rarely remembered themselves in this role. Narratives of encounters with Germans were organized according to a symbolic division of the remembered world into two camps: “us, who were good” and “them, who were bad.” “We” were not only the speaker’s in-group, variously defined, such as family, neighbors and relatives, but also, for example, “our” Germans. “We” and our close neighbors didn’t hate and didn’t expel any Germans, and “our” Germans were not actually too bad. “They” were the “bad” Germans who had killed all those Jews, as well as “bad” Poles who could not forgive the Germans after the war, humiliated them and evicted them from their homes.

←183 | 184→

There were two principle reasons behind this unexpectedly positive image of the Germans in respondent’s memories. First, the speaker’s own real-life relations with Germans, both before and after the war. The pre-war encounters were important for the group of “neighbors” in particular; they spoke in very positive tones of their relations with local Germans before 1939. Whilst it is difficult to speak of any positive reminiscences from the occupation period, it is interesting that memories of Germans from this period are much less negative than those of contact with the Soviets, despite the enormous damage caused by the Nazis during the war.237 There is a clear division between the occupier, an impersonal representative of German power, and the individual German, an ordinary human being with whom one could have surprisingly good and “human” relations.238

In the case of people who came to Krzyż from the pre-war eastern provinces, their own experiences of losing their homes played a key role in forming their memories of contacts with local Germans. Someone who had very recently been forced to leave their homeland was in a better position than anyone to empathize with another deportee, irrespective of the reasons behind the latter’s deportation. The earlier experience of Soviet occupation (1939–41) also influenced the emergence among “repatriates” of a strikingly empathetic memory in relation to the Germans: for these Poles, the greatest trauma of the wartime period, which also had a major effect on their individual destinies, was the annexation of Poland’s then-eastern provinces by the USSR – it was as a consequence of this event that they had to depart from their homes forever. The German occupation was also tough, but this group of respondents remembered it as relatively moderate in comparison to the Soviet period. The perpetrators of the most severe suffering (from a Polish point of view) – arrests, deportations, mass executions ←184 | 185→and murders – were the Soviets and, in some respects, the Ukrainians. Thus, the most important wartime enemy and object of hatred were the Soviets, who were responsible for the deportation of both the Poles and Germans; meanwhile, wounded memory of the German occupation was somewhat mellowed, and negative attitudes towards the German occupier were not transferred to the local Germans in Krzyż. For the eastern Poles, the Soviet occupiers were the embodiment of barbarism. Even if the Germans had not actually behaved much better, they were perceived by this group as representatives of a common, western civilization, whereas the Soviets were seen as the greatest threat to this civilization, a symbol of eastern chaos and barbarism. Thus, when after the war, the Soviets supervised the expulsion of the Germans, they came across at the symbolic level as barbarians deporting unarmed people from “our” civilizational group. The Germans deserved sympathy at this moment, despite their civilizational degradation resulting from the atrocities they had carried out during the war.

How, then, to explain the fact that settlers who came to Krzyż from Wielkopolska and central Poland also remembered the local Germans as “good people?” They did not experience the Soviet occupation, which had the effect of dividing Poland’s two wartime occupiers into a “better” one and a “worse” one. Germans should therefore represent the entire spectrum of evil and cruelty that they would associate with the war, especially if the experience of forced labor is taken into account. Nonetheless, it again transpires that individual experiences played a crucial role in the formation of a present-day image of the Germans. Most of the Poles from Wielkopolska had German neighbors before the war. With the exception of two individuals, every respondent from Wielkopolska and central Poland had worked in a German family-owned farm or a small workshop during the war, where they had contact with civilians above all. All of them were treated well – in some cases, they were even treated as part of the family. Fortuitously, very few of their pre-war hometowns and villages were subjected to the violent reprisals that were often carried out by the Germans in regions annexed to the Third Reich (the exceptions were two interviewees who were deported). All interviewees emphasized that, if they had not been sent to work in the houses of “local” Germans (i.e. those who came as occupiers, or those who were already living there), the Arbeitsamt [employment office in Nazi Germany] would have sent them to Germany proper, which would have been a significantly worse fate. Their lives during the war were filled with difficult manual labor, but working for German civilians also de facto meant being cordoned off from the crimes being carried out by German soldiers in the occupied territories. The terror that the “repatriates” had lived through during the entire war period only really struck the settlers from Wielkopolska when their German hosts started ←185 | 186→to flee from the advancing frontline and the Red Army began to “liberate” the eastern parts of the Reich. Edmund Dmitrów has reached a similar conclusion in his analysis of how the Poles perceived the German occupation: for the Polish villages in the General Government that were not subjected to mass repressions by the Germans, the occupation was a relatively benign time in economic terms, a period of relative “order,” especially in comparison to what followed when the Red Army arrived.239

There was, however, a difference in attitudes between Poles from the East and those from Wielkopolska and central Poland. A phenomenally strong empathy for the evicted Germans and an emotional approach to the deportations were characteristic only of the Poles from the pre-war eastern territories. Other accounts contained understanding and were devoid of hatred, but did not feature feelings of regret and compassion. The coldness of these statements is easy to understand: setters from Wielkopolska and central regions did not experience the forced loss of their homes, and if they did, it was the Germans who were responsible for that loss. For people whose main wartime experience was the occupation, there was no question of sympathizing with the German expellees.

Another, no less important trope are the meetings between today’s Krzyż residents and the German visitors. This experience is the missing element of the puzzle. The oldest respondents remembered the brief period of cohabitation with Germans as a happy time. Only when we see this period as an experience that is overlaid on top of the relatively neutral wartime years and the almost exclusively positive post-war encounters do we begin to see why the memory of the time between 1945 and 1946 takes this particular form. The German visits that started in the 1970s gradually facilitated the loosening of tensions in Polish-German relations at the level of relationships between individuals. The new residents of the “Recovered Territories” gradually came to the conviction that the Germans had no intention of returning to their old houses, and during successive encounters they began to perceive the tourists as human beings no different to themselves, not the monsters portrayed by anti-German propaganda. As a consequence, they remembered the post-war period of cohabitation with the Germans with much more empathy.

Scholars of individual memory have long been convinced that memory does not operate like a tape recording, which remains the same irrespective of the circumstances; rather, it is formed continuously through the entire life of the individual and is influenced by events that occur much later than the thing or ←186 | 187→event being remembered.240 The oldest Poles’ memories of the Krzyż Germans confirm this thesis emphatically. Constructed on a base of specific experiences, they were later modified by subsequent events in the lives of the speakers. The final layer is added by contemporary Polish memory culture and the general state of Polish-German relations: the stability of the Polish state on the international stage, the common presence of Poland and Germany in the European Union, and various forms of economic and cultural cooperation, especially in western Poland. The Germans, as a nation, are seen by the Poles in an ever better light, with survey results showing that Poles associate the Germans with the Nazi occupiers ever more rarely; rather, they increasingly associate Germany with cultured, western “Europeanness.”241 Only with all of these factors in mind is it possible to fully understand the testimonies of the residents of Krzyż.

Around Material Heritage

Although, objectively speaking, fewer traces of German culture survived in Krzyż in comparison to the Polish relics in Zhovkva. The overall consciousness of the “Germanness” of the town’s past is much more widespread than awareness of Polish heritage in the Ukrainian town. Asked when and how they found out that Krzyż used to be German, many respondents struggled to formulate an answer: the town’s Germanness was so obvious that they could not name a specific moment of discovery. One speaker put it as follows: “I don’t know, it just sort of came gradually. […] I don’t remember when I learned it” (K9Df). Many interviewees pointed to their family as a source of the knowledge that Krzyż used to be called Kreuz; most often this fact was conveyed in stories about the former place of residence of the speaker’s grandparents or parents. In such instances the Germanness of Krzyż would appear as an aside or as a matter of context.

I learned from my parents, my mother used to tell me stories about how she came from the East, what her life was like there, and that we are now living on German territory, ←187 | 188→formerly German that is. […] When I started school, I knew that this area used to be German (K2Cf).

Often, the space itself caused people to talk about the town’s German past – for example, roadside posts remaining from pre-war check-points could prompt passers-by to point out former places where the border between Germany and Poland used to run. The middle generation of interviewees most often discovered the Germanness of Krzyż through its material traces – the same signs that the socialist authorities had tried so hard to erase in the early post-war years. These included German inscriptions and shop signs that gleamed though the layers of paint applied by Poles. Ironically, even the old name of the town, the most prominent symbol of Krzyż’s German heritage, was not effectively masked from its new residents: “We knew as kids that it was called Kreuz. Even at the train station, when I was small, it said ‘Kreuz,’ I think. The sign was painted over but you could see the letters through the paint” (K25Bf). It was not only the urban fabric that contained reminders of the German past. The natural landscape also contained German traces – there were German bunkers under the forests, and everyday objects from the pre-war period are still occasionally dug up from the ground. Even members of the youngest generation still notice signs of German heritage, although this was limited to people with an active interest in the town’s history. The “German patina,” as communist propaganda called it, must have covered Kreuz in a very thick layer indeed, if it can still be seen today.

I’ve been interested in history practically since I was a small child. History has always interested me, but there were also always lots of signs of the German past here when I was small, you just had to be able to spot them. […] Bunkers, when I went out mushroom picking with my dad, or German cemeteries, which were out there somewhere with their strange letters. So I don’t really know when exactly I grew aware of this. It was always obvious to me that this was a German town (K44Dm).

For respondents from the middle generation, who were born in Krzyż or arrived as infants and toddlers, the material layers of German culture were part of the environment in which they grew up; they were part of the magical world of childhood. In their recollections the debris of German houses turned into lost Atlantises, in which the rosy-cheeked children of Krzyż’s new residents hunted for German treasures, while the town as a whole emerged as a space filled with buildings of unknown purpose – and the more time divided today’s retirees from those intrepid young explorers, the more mysterious those places became.

There was something very interesting here as well. In the park […] was a kind of mound, and I remember it like it was yesterday, it had these small doors. […] Then there were ←188 | 189→some old wooden doors and a kind of storage space, which we were afraid to go into. We didn’t want to get locked in or fall into a hole. We would look in, but never climb inside. […] They say it used to be some storage area or a passage of some sort, but no one knows for sure (K26Bf).

Stories about searches for German treasures sometimes took on a somewhat macabre hue, when instead of hidden valuables, people dug up human remains. In such moments, the tangible, eerie mementos of the past would act as a sobering reminder that searches were not necessarily all fun and adventure: “We went digging umpteen times, and hit upon a tin bathtub. Under that, we heard some wooden boards, like we were hitting a coffin. Granddad decided to stop digging, he didn’t want to see or hear any more” (K23Bf). On another occasion, the romantic fervor of a child aiming to find some German treasures turned into pragmatic calculation on the part of the adult rememberer, who secretly regretted that he had not been able to dig up the riches before the Germans – as well as sadness that it is increasingly unlikely today that such valuable discoveries can be made.

I remember in Huta [a village near Krzyż], near my uncle’s house, there was a demolished house, and some Germans had asked about it, and every night the dogs were barking and there was a lot of noise. They [the speaker’s uncle and parents] went to check it out one morning, and the basement had been dug up. No one knew that there was a basement under the ground there, and it had been dug up and cleaned out. [The Germans] must have known that there was something there, they had their own supplies of something there, maybe gold, who knows. Anyway they took it all. […] There must be other unexplored places like that here, whole generations died here after all (K21Cm).

Thus, the material traces of Krzyż’s German past accompany the town’s residents at all times, up to this day, including at the most everyday level – many respondents continue to live in formerly German buildings. Interestingly, the fact of living in a German house did not necessarily prompt people to reflect on the town’s Germanness. Especially among younger respondents, the term “formerly German” [poniemiecki] seemed to have lost its original meaning, now denoting nothing more than an old, well-constructed building that probably required refurbishment. This is shown by the statement of a young woman who only began to consciously think about her experience of living in a formerly German house after the previous owners paid a visit:

I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life, it had never even occurred to me that it wasn’t my granddad who built this house, that the house was already here and used to belong to Germans. […] It was only later, when the Germans came, that it somehow came out that they [the speaker’s grandparents] had traveled here [to Krzyż, after the war]. Granddad told me that he came here with M. and started to live here (K5Df).

←189 | 190→

Right after the war, German homes and German architecture were unattractive to the new residents of Krzyż because of their foreignness – this was especially true for settlers from the East. This aversion is illustrated above all by the example of a church in one of the villages, a historic wattle and daub structure from the eighteenth century, which was completely rebuilt by the “repatriates” in order to remove all traces of its Germanness. One of the participants of the refurbishment project described this endeavor as follows:

It was such a big crowd of people and everyone was against those German fittings, German relics, even though it was historic architecture – that didn’t bother anyone. […] Everyone wanted to bring a piece of the church that they had left behind, in the place where they came from, here. Whatever they remembered from their church over there, they wanted to fit here (K13Am).

Nonetheless, such sentiments appeared only in accounts of the first post-war years. 65 years later, people’s attitudes to the German heritage were diametrically opposite. The pre-war buildings left by the Germans were now perceived as attractive and valuable. Respondents from the youngest generation in particular spoke of their fascination with the architecture of vanished Kreuz, which many were discovering anew thanks to the Internet. Some speakers regretted that the Polish administration had allowed German technical solutions to fall into disuse, such as the irrigation system. Respondents, especially younger ones, also questioned the insufficient maintenance of historic buildings, which they believed were losing their unique character; some were on their way to outright ruination, such as the former neo-Gothic abattoir. These statements very clearly express the self-criticizing Polish auto-stereotype of polnische Wirtschaft [serious mismanagement], according to which careless and unprofessional Poles allow German technology to go to waste. Such opinions were also voiced by older interviewees who had had personal experience of the German times, as well as younger people who had heard of them through storytelling.

Krzyż is completely irrigated, there are pipes all over the place. Some of them are as thick as my arm, so that the excess water we get around here goes into the river. But it’s all buried [and disused]. Maybe it’ll happen in my lifetime, but if not, it should happen in yours, that they’d pull it all out. You’ll remember me telling you this when they do. […] Take our river flowing from the lake, the Germans left it all done up, with drains everywhere, but that’s all gone. Finished. Today there’s no trace of it. It flows because it flows. They should have looked after it (K12Am).

Among the interviewees who expressed an admiration for German heritage, the ones who turn words into action deserve special mention. One respondent, an employee of the town hall, had long been active in the preservation and ←190 | 191→commemoration of the pre-war heritage – it was on his initiative, among others, that the town council published an album of old German postcards, and that the oldest village in the district, Huta Szklana, held tercentenary celebrations. His courtyard was filled with objects destined for the rubbish dump, such as an old German memorial to the soldiers who had died in the First World War, which after years of neglect had simply fallen over and was earmarked for removal. During our conversation, he enthusiastically described some of his latest ideas:

Among other things, I have an idea like this: we apply for funds from the EU, from the rural development fund, and open a nature-historical park in the area around Żelichowo [a village near Krzyż]. Using the old Sapieha242 estate as a foundation […] The point is to turn this area into a memorial, to showcase it. Not necessarily for locals, it’s not at all about that. Our aim is to provide a place where school groups and other visitors can come and learn about the history (K37Bm).

It is thanks to such enthusiasts that the affair concerning the leveling of the old German cemetery in Krzyż came to the broader public consciousness. Located next to the Polish cemetery and separated from the town by a forest, the German graveyard was for most residents of Krzyż an integral element of the local landscape.243 People walked along footpaths and collected wild lilies-of-the-valley in thick, picturesque shrubbery amidst gravestones that were increasingly grown over by nature. Perhaps it is precisely because of the “idyllic” nature of the cemetery, a result of long-term neglect, that for most of the town’s residents the burial place of the pre-war residents had begun to lose its sacral significance, becoming nothing more than a part of the natural landscape. This attitude can be seen, for example, in the following statement, in which an echo of anti-German prejudice is also discernible – “their” cemetery is of a different, inferior, order, unlike the Polish one, which is a “proper” cemetery: “There was a German cemetery, yes, but they dug it up, now it’s a Polish cemetery. Our proper cemetery is round the back” (K21Cm). The gradual defacing of the old cemetery was not only an effect ←191 | 192→of natural forces, it was also hastened by new residents of Krzyż, who reused the expensive granite slabs to turn them into headstones for their own deceased.

On the one hand, that cemetery could have been preserved the way it was, but Poles removed headstones and crosses from there straight after the war. […] The headstones, those were all converted from old German ones. I don’t know how old I was then, but I know I would cycle past, so it was after my first communion, and there were still lots of tombs there. The names, everything was intact, and now there is nothing left (K31Bm).

Such behavior was universally condemned by today’s residents, who were critical of the “graveyard hyenas,” especially in cases where the clergy participated in the procedure. One respondent (K19Af), who told me about the sale of German gravestones by the local priest, seemed both angry and ashamed that such a thing had taken place (“But it was the priests and the town authorities who arranged it, it was all legal. It was a little ugly. When they [German visitors in the 1990s] arrived, they recorded it on film, because some of the tombstones had been placed upside down, and you could see it.”) For this speaker, it was as if the heinous act put the whole community to shame, especially in the context of Germans visiting the cemetery.

In 2009 a large portion of the main cemetery in Krzyż, which was directly adjacent to the Polish graveyard, was razed to the ground and made available for new Polish burials. When asked about the reasons behind this procedure, the mayor explained as follows: the idea had been consulted with the leaders of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, exhumations had been carried out in line with all existing regulations, and only then were new burials carried out. At the same time, she noted that the decision to convert the old cemetery had been taken by the previous administration, and she as mayor was only putting it into practice; she had, meanwhile – after protests by local residents – made sure a commemorative plaque to the exhumed Germans was installed. All residents interviewed were unequivocally critical of the leveling of the cemetery. A few exceptional voices argued that this solution was preferable to allowing natural decay and the “graveyard hyenas” to carry out the full course of destruction. Nonetheless, a huge majority of respondents, irrespective of age and background, considered the authorities’ decision to have been misguided, many of them arguing that all human remains deserved proper respect, “even Germans” (and even, as one interviewee added, “Russians.”)

It’s good that they at least set up that burial and chapel. I am against all vandalizing of graves, it doesn’t matter whether they’re the graves of former Soviet soldiers who liberated this territory or those of local residents. A cemetery is a cemetery and you have to respect a place like that. […] You have to transfer the remains, exhume them, put them ←192 | 193→in one place, commemorate them properly, showing that here lie the remains of former residents of this land, may they rest in peace (K25Cm).

Another oft-cited argument in favor of respecting the German cemetery was a comparison with Polish burial sites in the East (“There are so many of our graves in the East and we Poles would be sad if our graves were being destroyed” [K27Bm]). Interestingly, it was not only people whose families had come from the East who raised this point – interviewees with no personal relation to the pre-war eastern territories also saw the analogy, although they usually felt a need to explain that “not all Germans were bad” (“Why not let the cemetery be, those Germans lived and worked here and they weren’t all Hitlerites” [K27Bm]); in other words, to their minds, respect for the German cemetery needed to be specifically justified with argument.

The state of repair of the German cemeteries that still exist in the Krzyż region (besides the main parish graveyard, there are also village cemeteries and numerous private ones) is for many of today’s residents a source of discomfort and shame, especially before people from outside. I encountered several instances of people trying to justify the collective passivity. Many respondents turned out to be keen observers of their social environment, who gave convincing answers to why the given situation had come to pass: they spoke of prejudices against the Germans that resulted from the war, propaganda in socialist times, and lack of rootedness among the new residents.

A guest is not going to look after anything that they still associate with people who were, in one way or another, the cause of hurt, who caused such pain. So you need to understand these people too. When I was a child I also protested against the vandalizing of graves, for example. That is, it was for me, something sacred. For example people took fences and things from German cemeteries, saying those cemeteries were all overgrown. And that was when […] my father said that a few more generations would need to pass before people started to treat these places as the resting place of innocent individuals (K41Cf).

At the same time, it is striking that these statements of regret about the state of the cemeteries are never accompanied by a desire to actively do something to fix the situation. Respondents typically believed that “someone” should take care of the cemeteries – perhaps the authorities, perhaps an as yet undefined organization.244

←193 | 194→

There should be an institution that fences off the land and looks after it, at least to make sure that no one can go in there, and cuts the shrubs to make it obvious that this is a cemetery. I’ve never seen children running around in there or anything, but I know that the metal gates and all that, all that is gone. It was all stolen (K5Df).

This relinquishing of individual responsibility overlaid on a declared goodwill may be connected to universal processes of social atomization and the fading of collective bonds, especially among the youth. But it is not without reason that people become passive when the matter at hand is in some way “foreign.” The Krzyż residents expressed sufficient empathy with the Germans to accept hypothetical action by others, but not enough to take up action themselves. It is interesting in this context to compare the attitudes voiced in Krzyż with the results of nationwide quantitative research, analyzed by Lech M. Nijakowski.245 The sociologist argues that a declared readiness to preserve the graves of members of other national groups is a useful indicator of a person’s inner disposition towards those national collectives. The data he analyses show that 58 % of Poles were prepared to look after German graves (in comparison, 81 % would work to preserve Jewish graves, 63 % would look after Soviet burial sites, and 53 % would respect the graves of Ukrainian nationalists). In Krzyż the proportion of people concerned about the German cemetery was much higher than 58 %, but when one considers the actual condition of the cemetery, it becomes clear that these declarations of intent are no more than verbal declarations. It remains an open question how many of the 58 % of Poles identified in the research carried out by the Museum of the Second World War would turn their intent into concrete action.

German Heritage and Identity

Finally, it is worth considering whether and to what extent the erstwhile Germanness of Krzyż bears significance for the social identities of today’s residents and their lives in the present-day town. Age, education and the place of origin of individual respondents or their families were all significant factors in this regard. In the oldest generation, the former “neighbors,” i.e. settlers from nearby villages who witnessed the end of the German presence, had no issues with coming to terms with the German past. Their testimonies did not ←194 | 195→contain propaganda staples from socialist times that justified the Polishness of the “Recovered Territories.” Such phrases did, however, appear fairly regularly in statements by people who settled from the East, Wielkopolska and central Poland, especially less educated people and those who were less interested in history.

I put a figure of Mary here at the corner, that was me, from my own pocket. And it says, “Holy Mother, Bless us in these Recovered Polish Lands.” Because this was Poland before, probably. The Germans took it from us. Who knows if that is actually true? It’s what I’ve heard in any case from older and more serious people, I doubt they were lying. […] I wasn’t there, I didn’t see or hear it, so I can’t say for sure, but that’s what I have in my memory and that is what I think. That’s why it says “in these Recovered Polish Lands” (K27Af).

This statement is striking for its uncertainty about facts: Krzyż was “probably” Polish at some point, but it is unclear how or when exactly it became German. At the same time, it is apparent that this uncertainty was not an issue for the respondent; it did not stir up any unease on her part. History remained the realm of other, “more serious” people, and that was for her a good thing. The topos of the “Recovered Territories” also featured in statements by children of resettlers. As a rule, they were aware of the great extent to which this idea had been politicized as it was inculcated in them when they were growing up, yet they nonetheless sometimes repeated key arguments concerning the Polish presence in the “Recovered Territories.”

We know that this was Kreuz before the war, not Krzyż. But if we, in turn, go back a few centuries more, wouldn’t we reach the conclusion that, with the time of Mieszko I, and, you know, Bolesław Chrobry,246 that these were Polish territories right up to the river Oder? (K2Bm).

Full recognition of the former Germanness of Krzyż, without any equivocation, was voiced very rarely in conversations with people from the second generation. The first cohort to have no issues with admitting that the town was once German was the third generation, now middle-aged people who entered adulthood around the time when Poland transitioned to independence. For the fourth and youngest generation, the myth of the “Recovered Territories” belonged to a reality that had passed long ago. Residents in their twenties and thirties felt no need to justify their presence in the town. Even if Krzyż had been German at ←195 | 196→one point, as they admitted with few scruples, this fact had no bearing on the present; the German heritage of Krzyż was so distant for them, like most other historical events, that it aroused few emotions. As one interviewee put it: “[The Germanness of Krzyż] has no significance, because you know… I only know from learning history that Germans used to live here. But on the whole […] I don’t really feel it” (K25Df).

This brief summary of different generations’ attitudes to the town’s German past, combined with the analysis provided so far, shows that the myth of the “Recovered Territories” has been irrevocably abandoned. It was partly internalized by the oldest settlers and laid deep roots in the minds of the middle generation who grew up and were educated in socialist times, but was only reflected in linguistic mimicry among the youngest interviewees who went to school after 1989. These words and phrases will surely remain present in Polish language usage for some time, but their original meanings have been lost irreversibly. The myth of the timeless Polishness of the lands transferred from Germany in 1945 may have been a necessary tool for creating social cohesion, but it never stood a chance of being fully successful because it was a flawed myth. It lacked an element that would complement the idea of the regained land, namely an abandoned homeland or lost paradise;247 the settlers had supposedly come from nowhere, the tension caused by unmourned lost homelands steadily increased, and the myth was destroyed from within and rejected at the first possible moment.

Acceptance of the town’s Germanness corresponded with an increasing recognition of the pre-war residents’ contribution to its development. Asked straightforwardly whether today’s residents of Krzyż should remember the Germans and whether the town should be thankful to them for anything, interviewees replied nearly unanimously in the affirmative. The Germans were an unquestioned source of the town’s heritage.

Well of course we should [remember the Germans], because in any case, no one would have come to this place called Krzyż if it hadn’t existed. No matter what, they also spent some time educating, building and creating culture here, didn’t they? They built and maintained the railway. Krzyż probably wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for the railway. They also had their own plans, their own dreams, just like everyone here now (K31Bm).

The oldest residents of Krzyż also agreed that knowledge about old German Kreuz should be spread, although they made it very clear that questions of guilt and responsibility should be foregrounded in such a way as to prevent dangerous ←196 | 197→relativism. As one interviewee put it: “It should be taught, but within the limits of, as they say… So that they don’t come back or anything like that, so that they don’t think that this place is still theirs” (K15Bf). In the first and second generations the acceptance of remembrance of the town’s German heritage was less conditional among people who had migrated from the East, whereas it was more conditional among the group of “neighbors.” This fact provides further support to the hypothesis that a sense of commonality arose between the eastern Polish resettlers and the Germans expelled from Krzyż.

Attempts to include the German past in the history of Polish Krzyż can be seen in conversations with local teachers, people who – at least in theory – have both greater knowledge of history and a direct responsibility to transmit knowledge. A respondent who taught history stated that students in her classes always learn that “[Krzyż] owed its history to the Germans. And that its history was related to the development of the German state, not the Polish one” (K41Cf). The vision of history teaching advanced by this woman was very open to talking about the German past, and it also made a point of avoiding interpretations typical of communist education; at the same time, she was convinced that there was no space in school history for relativization. It was important that the Germans were seen to have been responsible for the outbreak of war, and therefore for their own post-war fate, no matter how cruel. It is interesting to compare the attitudes of Krzyż teachers with available qualitative survey data. Research conducted among teachers from the cities of Zielona Góra, Gorzów Wielkopolski and Olsztyn in the mid-1990s showed a similar level of openness to the German past, but a significantly greater adherence to ideas from socialist-era propaganda and, consequently, a greater fear of the Germans returning.248 The changes in attitudes can be explained by the passing of time and the deepening of the conviction that life had become no less secure in the Polish-German borderlands after Poland joined the EU, the borders were opened and free movement of people and goods began. Teachers, like other residents of Krzyż, today feel secure in the ←197 | 198→“Recovered Territories” – and the way they teach history is a consequence of that sense of security.

Krzyż’s German past rarely had any significance for people with little interest in history and for those whose daily lives provided few reasons to reflect on this past. Only very rarely did respondents note that they consciously considered it an element that affected their experience of living in the town. Much more commonly, people stated outright that the pre-war heritage had no influence whatsoever on their lives today. Sometimes interviewees were even surprised at the question. The quintessence of this outlook can be seen in the following answer concerning the German past’s significance for life in Krzyż today: “What kind of meaning could it possibly have? I feel fine here, I have no strange dreams that some German guy used to live here, I sleep fine. It has no meaning for me, none at all” (K2Bm).


This last quote illustrates the greater point of this chapter. Memory of the absent Germans in Krzyż may not be devoid of the complications typical for this type of memory, but is relatively unproblematic. Memories were abundant and detailed among the oldest generation, fading and losing their sharpness as they were passed down to successive generations; this is, however, a typical process for collective memory in general. In terms of Jan Assmann’s typology, the Krzyż Germans stopped being characters of living, communicative memory, increasingly becoming impersonal and distant elements of cultural memory;249 this process cannot be assessed using categories of good and bad or healthy and pathological. The process of moving forward is one in which certain things are lost: emotions, which comprised an integral part of the biographical memory of interviewees, are lost forever. Children and grandchildren can try to reconstruct them, but this requires a lot of effort – and this effort is not always undertaken.

One of the dangers of the intergenerational transformation of memory is the relativization of responsibility, but it seems that in Krzyż this has not taken place to such an extent that falsification and secondary traumatization of memory would result. The most important elements are suppressed to a similar extent: it is not the case that violence exerted by Poles against Germans has been completely forgotten while harmonious coexistence is celebrated as a formative experience. Younger residents know little about both phenomena. It is a result of this particular equilibrium that today’s residents of Krzyż do not experience any ←198 | 199→real difficulties regarding the town’s German past. They neither build their identity on it, nor do they strive to forget or negate that heritage; they neither build new myths nor believe in the old ones; they do not fight for any causes and do not attempt to impose their views on others, because they feel there is no need to do so. This collective self-confidence is conducive to the ever-diminishing strength of historical prejudices held against the Germans today. The younger a resident of Krzyż (and the more educated, although this is not a hard and fast rule), the more likely they are to look at Germans visiting their town through a lens of ordinary curiosity and economic interest, and the less they see in them the former owners of local buildings and a potential threat.250 This calmness is captured in a phrase uttered by an interviewee of the oldest generation, a woman living in a nearby village. An older German had recently built a summerhouse near her home and was spending the warmer months there: “[How did people here react when a German built himself a house? Was there no fear? That the Germans would come and start claiming property?] No, no. You know, no one even noticed” (K19Af).

We may ask whether this specific tranquility of memory is not a step too far, whether it isn’t threatening to turn into passive forgetting, and whether it can really be a benefit to the local community in the long term. I will resist the temptation to hazard predictions and recommendations, in part also because of my personal ties to Krzyż. At the same time, I can say with complete certainty that the overall state of memory in Krzyż is the absolute opposite of the feverish condition of memory in Zhovkva, to which the next two chapters are dedicated.

←199 | 200→←200 | 201→

219 An earlier version of this chapter was published as a stand-alone article as: “Obraz Niemca we wspomnieniach nowych mieszkańców niemieckiego miasta,” Kultura i Społeczeństwo, Vol. 3 (2009), pp. 45–66.

220 On Germans working in Poland after the war, see: Service, Germans to Poles, p. 115; Halicka, Polski Dziki Zachód, pp. 303–317.

221 Specifically for post-war attitudes among Poles towards German PoWs working as forced laborers in Poland in the years 1945–1950 (including differences among regions), see: Jerzy Kochanowski, “Nienawiść ograniczona. Niemieccy jeńcy wojenni a społeczeństwo polskie 1945–50,” Przegląd Socjologiczny, Vol. 49 (2000), pp. 115–140.

222 Andrew Demshuk writes about the mutual understanding that was achieved between autochthonous Germans and eastern Poles in Lower Silesia, in: Andrew Demshuk, The Lost German East. Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945–1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 106.

223 Aleida Assmann calls this type of phenomenon “externalization:” the guilt that an individual feels, either directly or indirectly (e.g. through belonging to the same national group), is projected onto someone else by a process of delineation, whereby the other is rhetorically expelled from the community, see: Aleida Assmann, “Fünf Strategien der Verdrängung,” in: Der lange Schatten der Vergangenheit. Erinnerungskultur und Geschichtspolitik (CH Beck: München, 2006), pp. 169–182.

224 Marek Czyżewski reaches similar conclusions in his: “Repatrianci i wypędzeni: wzajemne uprzedzenia w relacjach biograficznych,” in: Biografia a tożsamość narodowa, ed. Marek Czyżewski, Andrzej Piotrowski and Alicja Rokuszewska-Pawełek (Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, 1996), pp. 159–172.

225 For a brief summary of post-war propaganda in the “Recovered Territories,” see: Tyszkiewicz, “Communist Propaganda.”

226 The psychological concept of “competitive victimhood” can help to understand this type of reaction. According to this idea, members of groups that are affected by brutal conflict often create a special narrative, according to which the enemy collective did not suffer at all, see: Masie Noor, Nurit Shnabel, Samer Halabi and Arie Nadler, “When Suffering Begets Suffering: The Psychology of Competitive Victimhood Between Adversarial Groups in Violent Conflicts,” Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 16(4) (2012), pp 352–374; Katie N. Rotella and Jennifer A. Richeson, “Motivated to “Forget:” The Effects of In-Group Wrongdoing on Memory and Collective Guilt,” Social Psychological and Personality Science, Vol. 4(6) (2013), pp. 730–737.

227 Cf. Lech M. Nijakowski, “Pamięć o II wojnie światowej a relacje Polaków z innymi narodami,” in: Między codziennością a wielką historią. Druga wojna światowa w pamięci zbiorowej społeczeństwa polskiego, ed. Piotr T. Kwiatkowski, Lech M. Nijakowski, Barbara Szacka and Andrzej Szpociński (Warszawa: Scholar, Muzeum II Wojny Światowej, 2010), pp. 239–286.

228 The speaker lived in a large farmhouse with two separate entrances; the “other house” is therefore the neighboring apartment within the same building.

229 Cf. Welzer, Moller and Tschuggnall, “Opa war kein Nazi,” pp. 81–104, 134–161.

230 For a discussion of the debates surrounding this project, see: Basil Kerski, “Historia i pamięć w aktualnych debatach politycznych między Niemcami a Polakami,” Borussia, Vol. 30 (2003), pp. 33–46; Maren Röger, Flucht, Vertreibung und Umsiedlung. Mediale Erinnerungen und Debatten in Deutschland und Polen seit 1989 (Marburg: Verlag Herder-Institut, 2011). See also: “Introduction,” footnote 5.

231 Another study carried out in a locality near Krzyż reached similar conclusions about residents’ attitudes to German tourists, see: Cezary Trosiak, “Kaława a ‘bunkry.’ Z badań nad stosunkiem społeczności lokalnej do poniemieckiego zabytku,” in: Wspólne dziedzictwo? Ze studiów nad stosunkiem do spuścizny kulturowej na Ziemiach Zachodnich i Północnych, ed. Zbigniew Mazur (Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, 2000), pp. 355–388.

232 Zbigniew Czarnuch has analyzed the phenomenon whereby second-generation settlers in the “Recovered Territories” explore local German heritage and seek contact with Germans, including with members of unions of expellees [Vertriebenenverbände], see: his “Oswajanie krajobrazu.” On Poles who see visiting Germans as potential links between the new and old histories of the “Recovered Territories,” see also: Demshuk, “Reinscribing Schlesien as Śląsk,” p. 68.

233 Andrzej Sakson has analyzed the effect of the pre-referendum campaigning on perceptions of Polish-German relations, in: Andrzej Sakson, Przeszłość i teraźniejszość stosunków polsko-niemieckich w świadomości społecznej Polaków (Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, 2002).

234 This is partially true, similarly to the case of Polish resettlers from the East, see: Ther, “The Integration of Expellees.”

235 See: Sakson, “Niemcy w świadomości społecznej Polaków;” Mach, Niechciane miasta.

236 Cf. Edmund Dmitrów, Niemcy i okupacja hitlerowska w oczach Polaków. Poglądy i opinie z lat 1945–1948 (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1987).

237 Barbara Szacka has noted a similar phenomenon in her research. She explains that Polish-German relations have been worked through in the last two decades and, to a certain extent, “unblocked;” a new, positive image of a German has also been constructed. In relation to Russians, however, negative emotions that have been suppressed for 50 years are still being released, leading to a rise in the temperature of every discussion, see: Barbara Szacka, “II wojna światowa w pamięci rodzinnej,” in: Między codziennością a wielką historią. Druga wojna światowa w pamięci zbiorowej społeczeństwa polskiego, ed. Piotr T. Kwiatkowski, Lech M. Nijakowski, Barbara Szacka and Andrzej Szpociński (Warszawa: Scholar, Muzeum II Wojny Światowej, 2010), pp. 81–132.

238 Tomasz Szarota, among others, has drawn attention to the existence of a trope of a “good German” in Polish memory (e.g. farmers at places of forced labor, merciful soldiers of the Wehrmacht, etc.), see his: Niemcy i Polacy. Wzajemne postrzeganie i stereotypy (Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 1996).

239 Cf. Dmitrów, Niemcy i okupacja.

240 See: Tomasz Maruszewski, Pamięć autobiograficzna (Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne, 2005).

241 The fullest quantitative analyses are the opinion polls conducted by the Public Opinion Research Centre (Centrum Badań Opinii Społecznej, CBOS), see: Komunikat z badań CBOS “Jak Polacy postrzegają swoich sąsiadów,” Sygnatura: 5241, Numer publikacji: Nr 124/2015,, last accessed 7.05.2018, according to which only 3 % of respondents used historical associations in their descriptions of Germans, whereas positive images of diligence and honesty were dominant (27 % of respondents).

242 The Sapieha family, a house of Polish magnates, were in the eighteenth century the owners of most of the land on which Kreuz and the surrounding villages developed.

243 Andrzej Brencz has argued that placing a town’s new Polish cemetery next to the former German one, and allowing the German one to go to ruin, was a typical practice in villages and small towns in the “Recovered Territories,” see: his “Niemieckie wiejskie cmentarze jako element krajobrazu kulturowego środkowego Nadodrza,” in: Wspólne dziedzictwo? Ze studiów nad stosunkiem do spuścizny kulturowej na Ziemiach Zachodnich i Północnych, ed. Zbigniew Mazur (Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, 2000), pp. 287–308.

244 Passive acceptance of commemoration of German former residents, with little active engagement, is not a specific trait of Krzyż. Similar attitudes are described, for example, by Tomas Sniegon in his article on memorial plaques commemorating violence against Germans in post-war Czechoslovakia: Tomas Sniegon, “Between Old Animosity and New Mourning. Meanings of Czech Post-Communist Memorials of Mass Killings of the Sudeten Germans,” in: Whose Memory? Which Future? Remembering Ethnic Cleansing and Lost Cultural Diversity in Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe, ed. Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (New York-Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2016), pp. 49–72.

245 Nijakowski, “Pamięć o II wojnie światowej.”

246 Mieszko I and Bolesław Chrobry were Polish rulers of the Piast dynasty (10th-11th centuries), under whose rule the area of the latter-day “Recovered Territories” first became part of a Polish state.

247 Cf. Marcin Kowalewski, “Ziemie Odzyskane. Co dalej?,” Przegląd Polityczny, Vol. 67/68 (2004), pp. 64–65.

248 Over 70 % of the teachers surveyed stated that the “Recovered Territories” returned to Poland in 1945, and 53 % believed that they belonged to Poland because they were inherently Polish. 43 % of people believed that the Germans were trying to return to the “Recovered Territories.” Interestingly, of the three cities studied, it was Olsztyn – located furthest from the Polish-German border – that showed a significantly lower level of fear of German revanchism and the greatest level of openness, see: Zbigniew Mazur and Krzysztof Wawruch, Nauczyciele wobec przeszłości Ziem Zachodnich i Północnych (Poznań: Instytut Zachodni, 1998).

249 Assmann, Cultural Memory, p. 6.

250 This rule was noted in the “Recovered Territories” in the early 1990s, and since then, the observed tendencies have only become stronger, see: Sakson, “Niemcy w świadomości społecznej Polaków.”