culture and customs
introducing the area
for local map
Currently the only collection on this
website gathered in the North, these interviews show how the complex
political history of Europe's last 80 years has had a profound
impact on a relatively remote highland area. The slant on mountain
development may be different to the other collections, but the
sense of the urgent need to meet new challenges if a sustainable
way of life is to be established is equally strong.
Klodzko Valley, in Sudety mountains, southwest Poland, was directly
effected by what has been called one of the greatest population
shifts in European history. Once part of Germany, the region was
within the Western territories "recovered" for Poland from Germany
after the Second World War (1939-45). The redrawn national boundaries
involved many Germans, such as those in the Klodzko Valley, being
expelled across the new Polish border to the west. In turn, Poles
from Poland's eastern provinces settled in the towns, villages and
farms vacated by the Germans. These Poles were "sent" there by the
Russian authorities from their own homelands in the Eastern territories
(now Ukraine and Byelorussia) which Russia in turn had "recovered"
from Poland. (In effect, Poland's post-war borders took a great
shift westwards.) Many of these narrators had been sent to Siberia
during the war, and there are powerful descriptions of camp survival,
as well as of pre-war rural life in the fertile but undeveloped
"flatlands" of the east.
new Polish settlers were quite unfamiliar with mountain terrain,
and many found it threatening and alien. There were virtually no
social ties between the settlers, and for nearly 50 years many existed
in a state of limbo, believing their situation to be "temporary".
Indeed, unlike many culturally rich and distinctive mountain groups,
these settlers were not united by any commonly held tradition, folklore,
songs or other forms of cultural expression. Interviews with different
generations illustrate how, for some, a sense of identity with the
location has only gradually developed. This collection also contains
stories from some of the few Germans who stayed on in the Valley
after 1946, having become "outsiders" in their old environment.
groups - the original German inhabitants and the Polish resettlers
- were joined by a final group of settlers, who identify themselves
as the intelligentsia déclassé. The waves of their retreat to remote
rural areas coincided with crucial moments in Poland's post-war
history: 1956, 1968, 1976, 1981 and 1989. Most were professionals
(writers, academics, journalists, politicians, scientists etc) who
left public life and urban environments because of disillusionment
with the political regime. Although all took up farming to survive,
since 1989 many have revived their old skills and interests, establishing
NGOs and becoming a "driving force" for change in the region.
Indeed, there is a real sense that only now, in this new era of
openness and looking to the future, would such a community history
project be possible. Germans who had remained silent about their
origins, for example, are now willing to open up. The result is
over 40 varied, vivid and compelling personal accounts of change
- social, political and environmental - which, being set in such
a central part of Europe, tell a wider story of how major historical
events affected individuals and their families.
While questions of identity, conflict, reconciliation and politics
characterise this fascinating collection, there is also much material
on the changing environment, and perceived shifts in patterns of
weather, seasons, wildlife etc. During the communist era, local
farmers were relatively well-off, but today agriculture has become
barely sustainable economically and out-migration is accelerating.
People's testimony and old photographs show that changes in agricultural
practices and policies (and the polluting effect of unregulated
industry during the communist era) has visibly affected the local
environment, although this immediate area (Lower Silesia) escaped
some of the pollution which ravaged Upper Silesia. Another topic
is the impact of the massive flood in 1997, which caused widespread
damage in the area, and loss of life.
Zdanie (the "Point of View" Association), a local NGO with a strong
grassroots base, was a natural home for the project. There are 15
permanent members but more than 150 regular volunteers.
Zdanie was founded 10 years ago by Krzysztof Komornicki, who coordinated
the oral testimony project. The interviewing team were all female:
four school students, four undergraduates studying journalism at
Wroclaw University and one radio journalist from the regional programmes
department of Radio Wroclaw. Interviews were gathered in the summer
of 1999. The testimonies were collected from people who it was felt
could talk eloquently about particular themes such as the environment,
the flood, resettlement, migration or being an original inhabitant.
The result is that individual testimonies sometimes focus on one
or two topics in detail, whereas narrators in other collections
on this site tend to cover a wider range of issues.
In June 2000, Zdanie launched a publication Swiadectwa Ludzi Gór (Sudety), and an exhibition based on extracts from the testimonies with portraits of each narrator, together with photographs old and new of the surrounding environment. A series of weekly radio programmes based on the testimonies was created, and broadcast on Radio Wroclaw 1 (the biggest station in SW Poland) in December 2001 and January 2002. The series’ success in generating letters and phone calls from listeners prompted plans for another series with settlers of different nationalities in Wroclaw.
In 2001 the collection was expanded, with a particular emphasis on the German narrators in the area and on the Czech side of the Sudety mountains. During IYM 2002, local coordinator Krzysztof Komornicki presented the project at several conferences and in 2003, Zdanie organised another exhibition in Amberg, with an accompanying booklet and set of postcards based on the new interviews and some from the first collection. Interview excerpts were in Czech, German and Polish, and two hundred copies of the booklet were disseminated among local people, parliamentarians, diplomats and Zdanie’s German and Czech partners. The interest generated by all these activities highlights the growing importance to those living “in the heart of Europe” of acknowledging the varied national histories and cultures which have shaped their physical and social environments.