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Poles from Lviv/Lwow - emigration or forced resettlement?
October 25, 2009 1:21 PM   Subscribe

At the end of World War II, would a Polish-ethnicity girl/young woman and her family from Lwów/Lviv have been given the option of moving west of the Curzon line to post-war Poland, or would they have been forcibly resettled?

On a train from Warsaw to Bydgoszcz today, I met a woman in her seventies or eighties who was telling me about her childhood. Like many older people in the western part of what is now Poland, her roots go back to the areas which belonged to Poland between 1919-1939 and no longer do.

My Polish wasn't good enough to pick out much more than this:

• She was born in Lwów/Lviv.
• "In the 1940s", according to her, she moved to what is now Poland. Soon after this, she went to university in Gliwice, near Katowice, perhaps at the Silesian University of Technology (my own guess - she didn't say, but their Wikipedia page turned up that many of Lwów/Lviv Polytechnic's professors and curricula ended up there.
• She met her husband after she left Gliwice, while they were both studying in Szczecin.
• She now lives in Bydgoszcz.

While I've consulted the Wikipedia article on the Repatriation of Poles (1944-1946) here and found this book (which, from the title, seems perhaps less than objective?), I don't have much in the way of English-language sources for what it was like for those moving/being moved.

I realize this is a really specific question, but any additional information you can provide would be amazing. Thank you!
posted by mdonley to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
From what I understand - and my information comes from books, so I'll have to try to dig through them to find out - neither the "option of moving west" nor being "forcibly resettled" really describe the situation realistically. Resettlement was encouraged by diminishing the rights of ethnic Poles (to such things as education in their language, the threat of forced military serve, and so on) in former Polish territories (such as western Ukraine.) There was also the threat of resettlement to less desirable areas such as Siberia.

That said, one had to apply for resettlement. The majority of those who did chose post-war Poland. Many, but not all, were approved for resettlement. Others, particularly those who fit some combination of self-defined "Polish" intellectual / writer / political figure (etc), *were* forced to move to post-war Poland or were sent "East" to Siberia. Still others - particularly those who already lived in communities of mixed ethnicity or who were conversant in Ukrainian / Russian (et al) were allowed to stay, especially if their personalities and occupations made them seem less threatening to Ukrainian cultural / linguistic / political dominance.

So, as best as I know, the answer to your question is . . . it depends.

I've recommended it here before, but for a couple of dollars on Amazon you can buy the book:

The Enemy At His Pleasure: A Journey Through the Jewish Pale of Settlement During World War I by S. Ansky and Joachim Neugroschel

It deals with the colossal mess of the upheaval of people in this same general area one world war earlier . . . but it gives great insight into just how confusing, inconsistent and arbitrary issues of resettlement, deportation and expatriation in this area have always been.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:39 PM on October 25, 2009

Based on what I remember from high school and what Polish wikipedia is saying I'd say that Poles in Lwów were technically given an option to resettle but in practice there was no choice for a Pole to stay in areas belonging to newly enlarged Soviet Union. Polish-Russian relations never been quite friendly. More importantly, the Soviet regime actively seek and murder Polish intelligentsia during the war. It was just not safe to stay in the Soviet Union, especially for an educated girl who wanted go to the university. If she was lucky she just couldn't be accepted to any Soviet one, if she wasn't she would be sentenced to forced labour in Siberia just for being a "class enemy".
-- Poles were (and still are) Roman Catholics while Soviet Union was an atheist state. Polish Communists even in the darkest period of Stalinist oppression still had to tolerate Roman Catholic Church. Fun fact: "So help me God" was removed from soldiers oath in 1950 -- 3 years after the communist regime took over the country. Staying in Soviet Union was equal to renouncing ones faith.
-- As Norman Davies put it: Poles, though Slavic people like Russians, have much more in common with French culture that with the Russian one. Russian (or Soviet) culture is alien for a Pole.

So basically the women you've met on train would theoretically stay in Lwów. But at that time it would be a very, very bad idea to do so.
posted by przepla at 4:41 PM on October 25, 2009

Tons and tons of Poles moved from that area into the post-war borders of Poland. This was such a big event, that the people from there were called "zza Buga" which meant "from behind the river Bug" which roughly separates post WWII Ukraine from Poland. These people had heavy eastern accents in Polish, easily identified. There were even TV comedy shows made about those resettled peasants based around the many cultural misunderstandings that occurred as they became acclimated to their new land. One very long running show was called "Sami Swoi". I tried to watch it, and even though I've studied both Polish and Russian, I couldn't understand the "zza Buga" accents. Bottom line: Poles moving from Ukraine to Poland post WWII is a well recognized movement of people.
posted by VikingSword at 5:55 PM on October 25, 2009

According to Norman Davies' book Microcosm, the Polish expellees from Vilius and Lwow were forcibly resettled, even though it was called "repatriation". He considers it a case of ethnic cleansing.

My boyfriend was born in Wroclaw ( formerly the German town of Breslau) where the new (in 1946) Polish university was filled with academics recently arrived from Lwow.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:28 PM on October 25, 2009

There were plenty of nice places to move into if you were a Pole being forced westward. During my undergrad I uncovered (to the surprise of everyone in the department) a collection of first-hand accounts from this period, dealing mostly with ethnic Germans being expelled by the Poles, Czechs, Russians, or some combination of the three. If the Red Army treated the Poles anywhere as harshly as they treated the Germans in question, I would guess that this wasn't a pleasant move for anyone involved.

Again, my knowledge would be from the German perspective, so I can't say for sure if this was the case. Plenty of people moved on their own, because of the rumoured savagery of the Red Army. Plenty of people moved because they were forced to. It was a highly confusing time with millions of people making long treks under harsh conditions.

So, I guess while some people may have moved of their own volition, it was hardly as consensual as my uncle deciding to move to Florida to escape Toronto winters.
posted by Her Most Serene Highness at 7:31 PM on October 25, 2009

I did a few papers on this time period, and there are very few sources in English. The aftermath of the Second World War is a great source of embarrassment for anyone who likes to imagine the whole ordeal was a struggle between righteous democracy and monolithic evil. It was all quite messy. (People getting pushed into barns and being burned alive, etc, I'm not sure what it was like for the Poles, mind you.) You're going to find very few books on the subject unless you go to a university library and go into the section where they keep government documents, primary sources, etc.

The collection I've referring to was put out by West Germany in the 1950s (the US was still in charge, don't worry about revisionism), and is called "Expulsion of the German population from the territories east of the Oder-Neisse-line" ("Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mitteleuropa"). The author would be "Germany (West). Bundesministerium für Vertriebene, Flüchtlinge und Kriegsgeschädigte."

Since this issue is very complex and messy and intertwined, looking up anything on "Oder-Neisse" might help. After all, the Oder and Neisse rivers were made the new eastern border of Germany so that German land could be given to Poland to make up for what was being kept by the Soviets. Most English sources will be interested in Germany, rather than Poland, so that might be a good place to start looking. A lot of this was decided at Potsdam, so that's another angle to tackle.
posted by Her Most Serene Highness at 7:40 PM on October 25, 2009

Her Most Serene Highness: Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mitteleuropa

If you have access to Questia you can read an English translation of a part of it (by "part" I mean nearly 600 pages).
posted by Kattullus at 8:38 PM on October 25, 2009

Thanks all. The answers here remind me that this is a fascinating part of the world; the overlapping layers of history continue to astound me.
posted by mdonley at 2:59 PM on November 18, 2009

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