Everyday life in the Western Territories

By Polish History Museum

Muzeum Historii Polski

The period 1945–1948 are a time of massive migrations of people on Polish lands. The largest part of this is forced – shifting borders resulted in replacing Poles from eastern voivodeships of the Second Republic now occupied by the USSR and in the displacement of Germans living in the regions of Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia ceded to Poland. Everybody had to find a new place to live and build new social bonds. 

Wrocław after capitulation by A. CzelnyOriginal Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia

HOMECOMINGS

The period 1945–1948 is a time of massive migrations of people on Polish lands. The largest part of this is forced – shifting borders resulted in replacing Poles from eastern voivodeships of the Second Republic now occupied by the USSR and in the displacement of Germans living in the regions of Silesia, Pomerania and East Prussia ceded to Poland. However many Poles migrated voluntarily. They came back from captivity and forced labor, escapes abroad, searching for a better place to live, leaving ruined cities and villages, migrating after sustenance and seeking easier livelihoods, looking for adventure.

Deportations, Resettlements, Migrations by Łukasz KubackiPolish History Museum

Establishing Poland's eastern border along the Curzon Line meant one thing for Poles of the Eastern Borderlands – displacement to the West. The culmination of the "repatriation" occurred in 1945–46.

Borderlanders before departure to the Recovered Territories, Hłyboka (Ukraine), Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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“And it got so that [...] the marshall came: 'Go on!' 'But where do I go?' 'To Poland.' And I say: 'But I'm in Poland.' And he says: 'This isn't Poland anymore.'”
— Edward Jaremko (from: S. Ciesielski, "Exit: Eastern Borderlands – Western Territories," Memory and Future)

A welcome for re-emigrants returning from the west, organized by the National Repatriation Office in Szczecin, Original Source: Centrum Dialogu Przełomy Muzeum Narodowe w Szczecinie
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"The Western Territories are waiting!" - Propaganda poster encouraging departure to the Western Territories, 1946/1947, Original Source: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich
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“At the Warsaw East Station, I saw colorful posters encouraging settlement in the mythic Western Territories. I walked past them, indifferent so far. 'Varsovians, Settle in Elbląg!' – the fabulously colorful poster tempted with luxurious villas in gardens, comfort and splendor. Opportunity! I wasn’t a Varsovian at that time, but a repatriate thrown out to the margins, so did I have anything to lose? Everything to gain: work, apartment... I made the desperate decision: We'll head west!” — Zdzisław Żaba (from: "Settlers," edited by A. Knyt)

Application by inhabitants from Włochy near Warsaw, requesting resettlement to the Western Territories.Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość"

Repatriates unloading at the Gryfino station, Władysław Smereka, Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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Daily life of the settlers was marked by anticipation – to get underway, to conclude extended halts, finally for directions to the place of settlement. Halts were often instigated to impose bribes on settlers (mostly involving alcohol)

Frist Christmas in WrocławOriginal Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia

EVERYDAY LIFE REGAINED 

Everyday life in the Western and Northern Territories, along with typical postwar problems with provisions, was characterized by the lack of social bonds and uncertainty regarding the future fate of these territories. Settlers came from different regions, had different habits, spoke in different versions of Polish – the tajoj from Lviv sounded comical to settlers from central Poland. Slowly, local societies stabilized and necessities of getting by under difficult conditions strengthened neighborly bonds.

Advertisement in a newspaper, "Szczecin Pioneer"Original Source: Książnica Pomorska

A post of a street photograph in the ruins of Gdańsk, Zygmunt Reinhard, 1945/1950, Original Source: © Muzeum Narodowe w Gdańsku
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Postwar resourcefulness often worked in improvised conditions.

The meat shop of Adam Zaremba in Wrocław, Original Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia
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In public spaces occupied by settlers, new Polish shops and craft shops were established.

The marketplace, originally called the shadow market, Adam Czelny, 1945/1949, Original Source: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich
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Poster warning potential looters of penalties, Original Source: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich
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Lack of social bonds, depopulation but also easy access to the spoils fostered crimes. Among the most frequent crimes were mugging, thievery, rape and looting.

Children's class in a Lower Silesian kindergarten in Pszenno by Adam CzelnyOriginal Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia

NEW TERRITORIES, NEW INSTITUTIONS

Among the most urgent needs was the creation of an effective working web of daily-life institutions – schools, higher education, health centers, local newspapers. This often required engagement by local societies and leaders who were learning to take matters in their own hands: “arranging” equipment, “organizing” locations. The Western Territories were a terrain of active state operations, as well as a self-organizing society.

By-law about mandatory vaccination against cowpox virus, Prezydent Miasta Słupska [wystawca], Original Source: Książnica Pomorska
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Among the tasks of local administration and health centers was the struggle, typical of the postwar period, with the threat of contagious disease.

The opening of the academic year in Aula Leopoldina, Krystyna Gorazdowska, 1946-09-06, Original Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia
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The first Polish schools of higher education in Wrocław – universities and polytechnics – were convened in summer 1945.

First page of "Pionier Szczeciński", Original Source: Książnica Pomorska
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Local press had a key meaning for the circulation of information –included regulations from the authorities, comments on important daily-life problems, minor announcements and entrepreneurial adverts.

Removing German signs in Szczytnicki Park in Wrocław, Original Source: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich
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Names of places and streets, monuments, signs, labels on taps for cold and hot water – the resettled lands were marked by traces of former German inhabitants. Introduction of Polish names was a kind social need to domesticate the culturally foreign environment by settlers who happened to now live there.

Postcard from MiędzyzdrojeOriginal Source: Książnica Pomorska

SETTLERS AFTER HOURS

Local centers of culture and entertainment arose quickly on the resettled territories. Some of these were linked with communist organizations, but many were created thanks to the settlers' efforts. The Western and Northern Territories offered, thanks to the post-German infrastructure, excellent conditions for development of tourism and sports. 

Vacationers before the Aurora Rest House in Szklarska Poręba, 1946/1948, Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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Visits in the Sudetes Mountains and at the coast integrated the resettled territories with the rest of the nation – tourists from other regions could know new places and acknowledge them as theirs.

Parade of Wrocław athletes from the Pafawag Workers' Sports Club, 1945/1949, Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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Poster for a "Guerilla New Year's Eve", Original Source: Książnica Pomorska
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Souvenir photograph from Wrocław, Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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People's Hall (formerly the Germans' Centenial Hall) | The Exhibition of the Recovered Territories, 1948-07-21/1948-10-31, Original Source: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia
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The authority also supplied educational entertainment, though not without a propaganda content.

Public visiting the Exhibition of the Recovered Territories, Kaeber Gerhard Jerzy, Original Source: Ośrodek „Pamięć i Przyszłość”
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In 1948, a large Exhibition of the Recovered Territories was organized in Wrocław, which summed up achievements in developing the Western and Southern Territories.

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