Making Sense of Unexpected Life-Courses – Autobiographical Narratives of Polish Post-World War II Resettlements

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Piotr CICHOCKI, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland
Michał NOWOSIELSKI, Institute for Western Affairs, Poland
In the aftermath of the World War II, Poland’s boundary-changes resulted in one of the greatest state-sponsored resettlement programs in the history of Europe. Following the expulsion of Germans from the newly annexed Western and Northern Territories (the pre-1939 population comprised over 8 million predominantly German inhabitants), more than 4 million Polish settlers arrived from: 1) Eastern Territories annexed by the USSR, 2) regions of central Poland, 3) foreign displacements. Thus, accidental communities were formed by uprooted individuals, who had to manage the social and economic upheavals of newly imposed communist rule on top of their unforeseen relocation to emptied places they had few prior ideas about. While contemporaneous sociological research on those newly forming communities was limited due to practical and political constraints, one notable exception came in the form of open competitions for authors of personal journals organized by the researchers of the Institute for Western Affairs in the period 1945 – 1970. The available 1141 journals were composed in periods of profound political change, such as the post-Stalinist thaw, which seemed to have enticed the authors to exercise more freedom of expression, divulging information hitherto kept secret as well as of memories from the early moments of settlement. However, political sensitivity of the material ensured that only perfunctory analyses could be attempted at the time, and only recently the material came to be fully digitized, which opened the corpus of personal journals to exhaustive inquiry. The proposed paper would focus on the findings of a research project “New society on the Polish Western Territories. Personal journals of settlers from an autobiographical perspective”, which combines textual analysis with qualitative research with selected descendants of the journal-authors. Our focus would be on the narrative strategies of dealing with the trauma of life-course disruption through war, resettlement and regime change.