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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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9 A Land Without Heroes: Problems of the Memory Canon in Krzyż


Good Russians and Bad Russians: Autobiographical Memory

In contrast to the heated debates in Zhovkva about who should fill the role of the collective hero, Krzyż is rather a town with no heroes at all – there is no local conflict that complicates relations, but there is also no source of common pride that bonds residents together. The only shared memory that came across from the interviews was an anti-hero: the Soviets as they left the town in 1945. Of course, a number of specific nuances characterized the memories of today’s residents. Two asymmetrical themes can be identified: one mocking and the other serious. Statements in the mocking vein were very similar to analogous statements about the barbarity of the Soviets in Zhovkva, as well as stories told by eastern Poles about the Soviet aggression of 1939. Often, narrations about the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939 flowed seamlessly into stories about the Soviet presence in Krzyż – the “repatriates” made obvious comparisons. In both cases, speakers mocked the Soviets mercilessly, for example in recurring anecdotes about Russkies buying watches or about the dress choices of the wives of Soviet officers. A similar intent is observable in the following description of Soviet soldiers looting a German homestead:

And the Russkies said “we won you such nice houses” [quoted in broken Russian: My vam zavoiovali takie horoshie doma], in that way that they speak, “and we are going back to the kolkhoz.” They said they envied...

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