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Veterans, Victims, and Memory

The Politics of the Second World War in Communist Poland


Joanna Wawrzyniak

In the vast literature on how the Second World War has been remembered in Europe, research into what happened in communist Poland, a country most affected by the war, is surprisingly scarce. The long gestation of Polish narratives of heroism and sacrifice, explored in this book, might help to understand why the country still finds itself in a «mnemonic standoff» with Western Europe, which tends to favour imagining the war in a civil, post-Holocaust, human rights-oriented way. The specific focus of this book is the organized movement of war veterans and former prisoners of Nazi camps from the 1940s until the end of the 1960s, when the core narratives of war became well established.
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Figures

List of Tables


Chapter 1: Communism, Myth and Memory

Collective Memory, Memory Groups and Myths of War under Communism

Agents: Veterans, Victims and the Nation State

Structures: Organizations in the Communist System

Sources Consulted

Chapter 2: The Communist Post-war: Organizing Life and Memory

Challenges of Demobilization

Communist Legislation and the ex-Combatants and Prisoners, 1945–48: A View From Above

Memory Groups: A View from Below

Commemoration: ‘I can still smell that putrid stench’

Assistive activities and group interests

‘The Soil Has Been Tilled’: Towards the Unification of Memory Groups

Chapter 3: The Myth of Victory over Fascism (1949–55)

Setting the Stage

The Unification Congress

Fighters for peace

In the ranks of the national front

Sites of Memory and the Myth of Victory

Concentration camps

Fields of battle

The forest and the urban resistance

Behind the Scenes: Organization as Illusion

Unity and exclusion

‘We have been unable to plough this fallow field’

The withdrawal of patronage and awards

Chapter 4: The Myth of Unity (1956–59)

Memory Unbound


‘They gather almost every day and muck-rake in the past’

Against the monopoly of memory

ZBoWiD in the provinces: the case of Lublin region

The Myth of Unity: Formation

The ‘family of combatants’ and criteria for verification

‘Let’s do patriotism’

Anti-German attitudes

The Second ZBoWiD Congress

Chapter 5: The Myth of Innocence (1960–69)

Clientelism: ‘We Have Been Able to Arrange It’

The Partisans

‘Only ZBoWiD can speak in the name of the Home Army tradition’

Partisan culture

Rival Martyrologies

Wartime martyrdom


The innocent Poles and the ungrateful Jews

Afterword: The Long Shadow of the Communist Politics of Memory

Polish War Memory in Comparative Context

Communist Narratives: between Persistence and Change


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