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The Past in the Present

The Construction of Polish History


Robert Traba

What do we remember from our national past and why? What are the dangers of history being (mis-)appropriated by politicians? Past in the Present provides a critical analysis of recent disputes over Polish historiography. The author uses theories of collective memory as a guideline, and the Polish-German borderlands as his leitmotif. Western academic currents and long-standing (and often forgotten) Polish intellectual traditions serve as backdrop. Throughout his work – with topics ranging from Golo Mann and Stefan Czarnowski to the «other side of memory» and the «political cult of the fallen» – Traba advocates modernization and «polyphony» in the construction of a new Polish history.
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Chapter 1: On Germans “Mine” and “Not Mine”: A Personal Case Study


To all my German friends whom I do not mention in this text.


“Germans” - in a symbolic and impersonal form – have revolved around me since birth. In no way did I want them, but what could I do given that, by a twist of fate, I was born in a home that was, as we say in Polish, “poniemiecki” (formerly German). Contact with “Germans” was, indeed, the most natural thing in the world for anyone born in Węgorzewo, which thirteen years earlier had been called Angerburg, and for anyone whose home was at 28 ulica Armii Czerwonej (Red Army Street, a name that should surprise no one, given that the year was 1958), which had once been called Nordenburger Straße. The “German” presence was persistent, often indirect, unconscious, and - for the first 20 years of my life - mostly symbolic, limited to the dimension of “poniemiecki” artifacts on the Masurian landscape, of family stories about World War II, of PRL iconography and rhetoric. Just as Red Army Street, or Plac Wolności (Liberty Square) or ulica Pionierów (street of the Pioneers) were natural ingredients in “my reality,” so too were those things that were “poniemiecki”: The RUBBLE that lay next to our family home until the end of the 1960s, and the cemetery, whose perimeter was the best place in the neighborhood to play soccer.

There was nothing about this environment that was particularly frightening, strange, even mythical,...

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