Between Uncertainty and Confidence. The Art, Culture and Everyday Life of Polish Displaced Persons in Germany 1945-1955
The end of the Second World War liberated people in Germany from wartime events and the National Socialist regime. Around 8,000,000 people who had been transported from their homes to Germany during the war and survived forced labour, the concentration camps and civilian labour, were also liberated. They were regarded as "Displaced Persons", to be cared for immediately.
But it was not long before huge difficulties arose, especially for Polish Displaced Persons (DPs). The upshot was that many of them were prevented from returning home for many years and some of them were never able to return. Despite the lengthy periods of uncertainty life had to go on and every day conditions had to be organised in an alien country. But why did Polish DPs have such great difficulties in returning home quickly? What did the everyday life of Polish DPs in the camps look like? How did the DPs and the German population react to one another? And there again, there was another special feature: the Polish enclave of Maczków...
In this WebQuest you will independently learn various aspects of everyday life and the framework conditions of Polish Displaced Persons in DP camps in Germany between the end of the war in 1945 and the early 1950s.
In doing so, you will take on the role of a scholarly journalist who has been commissioned by a news magazine to write a title story on the everyday life of Polish DPS in Germany.
To enable you to do this the WebQuest will offer you material on the following themes:
- In the waiting room - Polish DPs caught between repatriation and resettlement
- Prejudices and revenge - the DPs and the Germans
- Coping with scarcity - living conditions in the camps
- Personal affirmation - art, culture and entertainment
- Looking to the future - school and further education, training and professions
- The Emsland - a "Polish occupying zone"
The leading question on the individual themes is in the same sequence:
The Allies programme of immediate measures for Displaced Persons had two aims: on the one hand they should be cared for, supported and assembled; on the other hand the Allies aimed to organise an orderly return of DPs to their home countries as quickly as possible. Since these duties could not be solved by the military forces alone, in November 1944 the Allied Supreme Command made a contract with the previously founded UN aid organisation, UNRRA. However, since many things did not run according to plan, in 1947 UNRRA was replaced by IRO. Polish DPs in particular found themselves once again in a “waiting room”, caught between repatriation and emigration.
How and why did the attitudes of the Allies towards DPs change in the course of time?
“Every case of violence committed by foreigners, etc, should be immediately reported.”
This regulation was issued on 27 April 1945 by the occupying forces in the first information sheet sent to the mayors in the rural district of Meppen: it was an attempt to prevent assaults by DPs, as well as to maintain peace and security from the very start.
Criminal acts in the area of tension between Nazi racial ideology and a desire for vengeance made up the defining moment in relations between DPs and Germans. But: were the DPs really as they were feared by the Allies and claimed by the Germans? Were there only tensions or was there also a peaceful coexistence?
In 1996 Józef Szajna, a Polish artist and Professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, wrote the following to Andreas Lembeck in his memories of the time he spent at the DP camps in the Emsland: “The thing that wasn’t missing was DDT - a substance against bugs”.
How were supplies and the life in a DP camp organised?
“Yes, we were prisoners. We had been through many concentration camps: Auschwitz, Lublin, Dachau, Buchenwald; people had hauled us out of the deepest hole of the war. We had lived for years on end and had nothing of our own. Not even ourselves. But one thing we did have - a homeland.”
These were the words used on 15 June 1945 by Tadeusz Borowski, one of the most important Polish writers of the generation who lived through the Second World War, to describe the situation of Polish DPs in Germany.
In the light of this statement how important were art, culture and entertainment for DPs in the camps?
In 1996 Józef Szajna, a Polish artist and Professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, wrote the following to Andreas Lembeck in his memories of the time he spent at the DP camps in the Emsland: "We wanted to learn, catch up on the lost years of the war".
What basic and further training opportunities were there for people in the Polish DP camps? What future perspectives were associated with them?
In 1996 Józef Szajna, a Polish artist and Professor at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, wrote the following to Andreas Lembeck in his memories of the time he spent at the DP camps in the Emsland: “At last we could live amongst ourselves as if we were in Poland.”
Poles were living together for around two years in the Polish enclave of Maczków. How did these special conditions come about? What did Maczków mean to its inhabitants and what were the main characteristics that made this town different from other camps?
Because of the many aspects and the restricted time available you will initially work on the theme in pairs or small groups (maximum of four persons per group). In this way you will be able to gather your information and turn it into a joint title story.
The learning unit on Polish DPs will cover six lessons.
First of all, you should make up groups of 23 or a maximum of four persons and divide the themes amongst yourselves, for example by drawing lots.
Decide on a group speaker who will be responsible for keeping to the timetable and ensuring that the various tasks are distributed equally amongst the group, as well as being responsible for communicating with the respective teacher when problems arise.
Look at your assignments together and first of all consider which aspects of your theme might be important. Then decide on how you will approach the work on your part of the theme. Who will do research in the library/specialist literature? Who will research the suggested websites? Who will research additional websites? What keywords will be the most useful for your search? Who will research representations and who will research sources? How much time will you need for your research and how much time for your discussions in the group?
At the end of your research swap your results and work on the first version of your part of the title story.
Present your results to one another.
Agree (in the plenum) on a sensible sequence of part themes and develop the complete story.
Subsequently work over your texts in your groups.
Put the individual texts together and complete a final edited version.
- Jacobmeyer, Wolfgang: Vom Zwangsarbeiter zum heimatlosen Ausländer. Die DisplacedPersons in Westdeutschland 1945-1951. Göttingen 1985.
- Studies on the region you are researching, like for example:
Schröder, Stefan: Displaced Persons im Landkreis und der Stadt Münster 1945 - 1951. Münster 2005.
When working on your part themes you can also research other suitable Internet pages and publications that might be helpful to you in collecting your information. If time allows, you can also search for respective sources in local archives.
Here you can find a brief overview of the evaluation criteria:
You have organised and discussed the work with your partners or group, as well as dividing the work equally amongst all those concerned.
You have completed your tasks in the given time.
You have thoroughly researched and worked on your part theme using suitable resources, and mentioned the sources you have used (Internet, specialist literature, primary sources, etc.).
The title story is objectively correct.
The title story is linguistically appropriate to the format.
Now that you have worked on your WebQuest you should have achieved the following learning aims:
- independently researched information on Polish DPs in Germany in various different media
- grappled with different types of sources in a critical manner
- characterised and made an appreciation of the life situation of displaced persons and the way they dealt with it: characterised and questioned the behaviour of DPs towards the Germans (and vice versa), and the policies of the Allies towards the DPs
- learned to prepare your results in a targeted manner and specific to your target group; and to present it to the class
- composed a text in a specific genre
independently organised and reflected on your learning and working process