How a German city became Polish after World War II
With the stroke of a pen at the Potsdam Conference following the Allied victory in 1945, Breslau, the largest German city east of Berlin, became the Polish city of Wroclaw. Its more than six hundred thousand inhabitants―almost all of them ethnic Germans―were expelled and replaced by Polish settlers from all parts of prewar Poland. Uprooted examines the long-term psychological and cultural consequences of forced migration in twentieth-century Europe through the experiences of Wroclaw's Polish inhabitants.
In this pioneering work, Gregor Thum tells the story of how the city's new Polish settlers found themselves in a place that was not only unfamiliar to them but outright repellent given Wroclaw's Prussian-German appearance and the enormous scope of wartime destruction. The immediate consequences were an unstable society, an extremely high crime rate, rapid dilapidation of the building stock, and economic stagnation. This changed only after the city's authorities and a new intellectual elite provided Wroclaw with a Polish founding myth and reshaped the city's appearance to fit the postwar legend that it was an age-old Polish city. Thum also shows how the end of the Cold War and Poland's democratization triggered a public debate about Wroclaw's "amputated memory." Rediscovering the German past, Wroclaw's Poles reinvented their city for the second time since World War II.
Uprooted traces the complex historical process by which Wroclaw's new inhabitants revitalized their city and made it their own.
This is a textbook. So why would someone who usually reads fiction and narrative non-fiction pick this up? I was intrigued to learn that the entire German population of 600,000 people was expelled after WWII and entirely replaced by Poles. I had no idea this had happened and couldn't begin to imagine how such a feat could be accomplished. And how could a local culture emerge?
Thum does a good job detailing the process, narrating in clear, informative language. I was mostly interested in the hows and whys of things and did skim through some parts.
If this idea piques your interest, this is a worthwhile read.
I'll admit my taste is unusual, but this might be my favorite book I've read in the last few years. Yes, it's academic history---but the writing is as clear and smooth as Wikipedia (which I love reading), and Thum weaves a story through many themes of scholarship.
I learned of this book in researching family history, largely centered on Lviv/Lwow/Lemberg, which had sort of the opposite history to Breslau/Wroclaw---so in those terms, this book answered all of the questions I had about just how the Polish borders were moved. The logistics and the alignments of who was where when are often bizarre.
But more significantly, this book answered questions I didn't know I had, about how culture somehow becomes real. It's easy to say that things are social constructs---but it's less easy to say how what things are socially constructed, and what they mean. A big focus of Thum's book is the sheer effort that the Polish state went through to invent a Polish past for their new city, via means as menial as renaming streets and changing all the signs, for the benefit of the popular imagination and identify formation.
Thum's writing renders all of his historical themes transparent. I admittedly can't critique the book on any more technical grounds---there are extensive endnotes that I didn't peruse, and he doesn't really discuss methodology---but I really loved reading his narrative.
Książka, którą, moim zdaniem, powinien przeczytać każdy mieszkaniec Wrocławia. Bardzo rzetelnie opracowana, czasem niewygodna. Mi pozwoliła popatrzeć na Wrocław inaczej, wiele rzeczy, które do tej pory były mętlikiem (to Wrocław jest bardziej niemiecki czy bardziej lwowski?) zostały wyjaśnione. Czasem ciężko było mi przejść przez wiele dat, faktów, ale naprawdę warto ją przeczytać, by dowiedzieć się prawdy historycznej, która była ukrywana w powojennej Polsce. Szkoda, że takie tematy nie są poruszane na lekcjach historii w szkole.
I've been living in Wroclaw for the last 9 years and I am so glad I finally read this book. It provided such insight into the beginnings of the Polish version of this city and the absolute mental gymnastics people went through to justify the city as Polish "through centuries". I feel like I know my adopted city so much better, even as I prepare to move away from it, and I am so glad.
A quiet interesting way to show Breslau's past-war history,that has been full of sorrow. The book tells bout the expulsion of the "origin" german inhabitants of Wroclaw and the polish propaganda to bring about people forget about the German history of the city. I really enjoyed this book. We do not only see dates,dates and more dates, but a pretty much livingly created city-history. My recommendation!
Ein sehr interessanter Weg , die Vergangenheit von Breslau nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg zu zegien. Einen Prozess voll von Leid.. Das Buch erzählt von der Vertreibung der "Ursprungseinwohner" von Breslau(600Jahre Deutsche Geschichte) und der polnischen Propaganda ,die sich das Ziel nahm die deutsche Geschichte der Stadt ins Vergessen zu ziehen. Ich genoß das Buch einfach. Wir sehen hier nicht nur Termine, Termine und mehr Termine, aber eine ziemlich lebendig geschaffene Stadtgeschichte. Meine Empfehlung!
I bought this wondering if it wasn't an impulse buy of a big tome that was way too specialist... but much to my surprise, I enjoyed reading it, and I read it quickly and without effort. You have to be interested in recent Polish history or in the post-war re-shuffling of entire nations to some extent, but the author managed to enliven the story with authentic quotes and curious details. For me, this was a well-written, interesting book.
Very detailed and informative, though a little too scholarly for my taste. It's unfortunate that the diversity of cultures that made Breslau/Wrockaw so successul at it's historic peak could not have been celebrated instead of obliterated over and over again.