The archive of the Union of Poles, Zgoda, in the Federal Republic of Germany

Association flag of the Union of Poles, Zgoda, in the Federal Republic of Germany
Association flag of the Union of Poles, Zgoda, in the Federal Republic of Germany

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After the Union of Poles, Zgoda, ceased its activities in the Federal Republic of Germany, the organisation's archive was handed over to “Porta Polonica”in Bochum, the headquarters for documenting the culture and history of the Poles in Germany, in 2015. Following this the organised inventory was transferred to the Archive for Social Movements (AfsB) in the Haus der Geschichte des Ruhrgebiets in Bochum and made available to the general public for research purposes.

Location in the atlas of remembrance places

I. The History of the Organisation

The Union of Poles, Zgoda (Harmony), in the Federal Republic of Germany [Związek Polaków „Zgoda“ w Republice Federalnej Niemiec] was set up in Hamburg in 1950 and registered in 1952 as a cultural and educational society in the register of societies at the district Court in Hamburg. It was a breakaway from the Union of Poles in Germany, Rodło (BPiD “Rodło”) [Związek Polaków w Niemczech “Rodło” (ZPwN “Rodło”)] that was set up in 1922 and revived after the Second World War. The main reason for the split was the different political positions taken by the main officials in the BPiD “Rodło”. The divisions became clear in the second half of the 1940s and escalated further between 1950 and 1952. This period played a decisive role in deciding the future of the BPiD “Rodło”, and affected the lives of Poles in Germany for decades to come. The conflict was accompanied by obstinate attitudes in the consular department of the Polish military mission [Wydział Konsularny Polskiej Misji Wojskowej] in Düsseldorf. The government of the Peoples Republic of Poland attempted to persuade the board of the Union to encourage Poles living in Germany to return back home. This resulted in two different political groupings in the BPiD “Rodło”, a national Catholic group headed by Michał Wesołowski and a pro-Polish group (regarded as pro-Communist), led by Augustyn Wagner. The annual general meeting of the BPiD “Rodło” on 26. March 1950 marked the turning point in the conflict: Michał Wesołowski was elected as Chairman of the Union. At the same time Augustyn Wagner was pushed out of the board since it was feared that the German side of the Union might be pressurised to ally itself more closely with the ideas of the communists. Subsequently Wagner was a major figure in setting up the Union of Poles Zgoda, which by contrast with the BPiD “Rodło”, pledged its loyal support to the Polish government and the changes introduced in the People's Republic of Poland. The newly founded organisation aided and abetted the work of the Polish government. That said, it was primarily popular amongst Poles living in Germany for financial reasons, because its members could benefit from a reduction in the mandatory amount of exchange when they travelled to Poland. As a result Zgoda attracted many new members until 1990. When the mandatory amount of exchange was done away with in 1990 its membership began to decline. Despite all its attempts to change its image and find new ways to finance its activities it continued to decline. The Union of Poles in the Federal Republic of Germany finally ceased to exist in 2013.

II. The History of the Archive Stock

After the Union of Poles, Zgoda, in the Federal Republic of Germany was dissolved, in 2015 its archive was handed over to “Porta Polonica” in Bochum, the organisation responsible for documenting the culture and history of Poles in Germany. Subsequently the ordered inventory was transferred to the Archive of Social Movements (AfsB) in the Haus der Geschichte des Ruhrgebiets in Bochum and made available to the general public for research purposes.

III. The Main Features of the Archive

The Union's archive stocks in the AFsB are incomplete. The registers of ingoing and outgoing correspondence (in so far as these were conducted) and some of the annual volumes of circulars are missing. The documents were placed in thematic files and collected in card index boxes (membership declarations and membership cards). It is difficult to say exactly how complete the remaining archive is, although it is certainly around 90%. It is in a good state of repair. The majority of documents are in Polish. The individual archive units also have Polish titles. When an inventory of the stock was made, titles were given in German.

IV. The extent of the archive

The extant documents allow us an overall view of the structure of Zgoda and its activities. They contain the minutes of board meetings, documents from general meetings (minutes, agenda, lists of delegates, the texts of speeches, correspondence between regional groups, lists of expenses incurred in organising the meetings) and papers belonging to the council of the Union (invitations, agenda, minutes, lists of the councillors).

The vast majority of the documents concern the correspondence between members and the board. This has been arranged according to regional groups and different themes. The correspondence was mainly about membership questions and membership fees, applications for exemption or reduction of the mandatory exchange for visitors to Poland, as well as the organisation of recreational visits and stays at Polish health resorts for adults and children. Furthermore the documents of the regional groups contain the correspondence between the people who wrote articles for the Union's press organ, “Głos Polski”, and the people working in the editorial office. The correspondence written in the 1980s and 90s mostly concerns financial help as a result of the political and economic difficulties in Poland during and after the time of martial law, and after 1989 during the years of transformation.

The stocks also contain the complete index of the members of Zgoda, arranged according to regional groups (from 1 to 113). Each index card contains all the personal details of the members (first and family name, date of birth, place of birth, profession), the date of arrival in Germany, and the date when the member joined the Union. Similar information can be found in members' enlistment and resignation declarations. But the information in these documents is only rudimentary. Membership cards make up the majority of the documents, since they had to be handed back when members left the organisation.

Further documents mostly relate to the Union's statutory duties, its contacts with Polish and German authorities, as well as NGOs. During the Peoples Republic most contacts were with the Polish consulate in Cologne, in order to clear up visas and questions to do with mandatory exchange, not forgetting the celebration of different state festivities. Other contacts with Poland and Polish organisations were conducted via “Polonia”, the Society for Links to Foreign Poles, [Towarzystwo Łączności z Polonią Zagraniczną “Polonia”] and the Polonia Centre [Centrum Polonijne] in Lublin. These activities were closely controlled by the Polish authorities. When compulsory visas and mandatory exchange regulations were abolished in 1989 contacts with the Polish consulate continued, but these were restricted to the organisation of state festivities and cultural events, as well as to the Union's efforts to obtain financial support for its statutory activities. Financial questions were also the driving force behind contacts to the Polish community “Wspólnota Polska”, that had taken over the functions of “Polonia” after it ceased its activities. In its active time Zgoda also worked with the following organisations: the Polish Motor Car Union [Polski Związek Motorowy], the Culture and Education Society in Opole [Opolskie Towarzystwo Kulturalno-Oświatowe], the Polish Anglers Union [Polski Związek Wędkarski],  Polish Radio [Polskie Radio], the Polish Olympic Committee [Polski Komitet Olimpijski], the Polorbis Travel Agency [Biuro Podróży Polorbis], the Union of Polish Military Invalids [Polski Związek Inwalidów Wojennych], the Union of Polish Choirs and Orchestras [Polski Związek Chórów i Orkiestr] etc. All these links are documented in their own archive units.

After the political and social upheavals in 1989 Zgoda kept contact with organisations of Poles abroad, not only in Germany but also another countries. This was particularly so in the case of the BPiD “Rodło” and the Polish Congress in Germany [Kongres Polonii Niemieckiej].

Furthermore the Zgoda archives contain documents on its internal activities and cultural events. The most important of these were the organisation's Jubilee activities that also contained cultural programmes consisting of contributions by choirs, dance groups and the like. Hence the archives of the Union also contain documents on dance and folklore festivals [Festiwal Zespołów Tanecznych i Folklorystycznych], Polish choir festivals [Festiwal Chórów Polonijnych] and the Polish Culture Days [Dni Kultury Polskiej] in Recklinghausen.

Circular letters make up an important part of the archive. These include circulars for members, information on the work of the Union, its plans, day trips and recreational stays in Poland and other themes. “Głos Polski”, the press organ of the Union had a similar function: from 1951 to 1998 it appeared once a week, then every two weeks, and finally once a month. When it ran into financial difficulties in the 1990s it could only appear sporadically. Indeed there was not a single edition between 1999 and 2001. In 2002 it was revived as a quarterly and was published with one break between 2006 and 2008 before it closed down for good. The editions of “Głos Polski” between 1956 and 2002 were handed over to the AfsB along with the Zgoda archive: more precisely, not the first few years, and after that some editions are missing, although there is a complete register of all the editions. That said, the editions during these years are not an integral part of the stock. 

A fundamental part of the archive stock consists of documents relating to the purchase, renovation, upkeep and work of the “Polish House” [Dom Polski] in Recklinghausen. It was purchased as the headquarters of the Union on 20th June, 1980. This was where the organisation held its political, social and cultural events. The stock also contains files on matters concerning children and young people. These include the school system, youth conferences and youth meetings, recreational trips and other trips to Poland, as well as documents on educational opportunities in Polish grammar schools and places of further education from the 1990s onwards. Zgoda also promoted the activities of its female members. Here there are documents on women's conferences and congresses, for example congress documents, reports on trips to Poland and other material. The documents handed over to the AfsB also include further budgetary documents, the Union's annual reports and editorial documents from “Głos Polski”.

One part of the stock consists of a collection of photographs documenting the work and cultural commitment of the organisation, its jubilee festivities, Polish national holidays and religious holidays, the recreational stays of officials and their children in Poland et etc. 

 

Artur Kamiński

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