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August 1999


This interview is quite difficult to read, as it contains several voices and often short responses. Because of her lack of confidence, slightly faltering Polish and also hearing difficulties, the narrator is joined by two friends. All three are original German residents of the area. She is reluctant to speak too openly about a range of issues, which the interviewer believes reflects a traditional pattern of female deference – “she avoided expressing her own individual judgements and opinions”. Together, the women discuss some of the old German customs, traditions and cuisine, and life in the area before the Poles arrived. All three found it difficult to learn Polish, and the narrator admits she is losing her Polish fluency as she gets older and increasingly isolated. The thing she misses most about the past is “an opportunity to have a conversation in German, you know, in the company of friends”. This is now easier with the establishment of the Polish-German Association.

The narrator hesitates to say much about the re-settlers: “I wouldn’t like to say anything, that’s not nice, I don’t want to talk … I wouldn’t like to talk about what they did to us”. Later her friend notes that “sometimes it’s better not to learn the truth, isn’t it? How they looted and things”. She replies that “the fact is that we were in a state of shock … but those from the central parts of Poland were the worst”. The narrator is also unwilling to draw comparisons between the Poles and the Germans – “you cannot generalise, you can come across a drunkard in Germany as well as in Poland”. However, she does say, “Poles drink more … I told my husband about how my parents drank. They would have a glass of brandy after coffee, and they would put the rest aside. And my husband said, “Apparently they were mean” [laughs]. And when a Pole takes out a bottle, they will not leave it before it is emptied”.

To a certain extent the silences in this interview are more significant than anything else, for example, the reluctance to talk about the Russians, the war, the behaviour of the Polish settlers, the immediate post-war years etc.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Early life history: she has lived in the Valley of Klodzko all her life.
Section 2  Briefly describes the “enormous” differences between German and Polish times: lack of “cleanness … the untidy flats, for example” and “that vodka drinking by the Poles”.
Section 3-4  All agree the Poles were “friendly”. The Germans had different cuisine and also different customs, for example for Easter, and didn’t celebrate “name day, the way you do in Poland”. Other traditions: harvest home festival, May Day, Corpus Christi and its procession, and traditional pig slaughters.
Section 5-6  All three stayed because they married Polish men. Remembers that there were a lot more industries and factories in German times. Farms were always poor. Doesn’t miss much from the German times apart from speaking the language (it was forbidden in the 1950s).
Section 7  Reluctant to talk about what happened when the re-settlers arrived after the war. People were very poor and there was some looting.
Section 8  Taught their children to speak German, but they now speak better Polish.
Section 9  Memories from childhood, especially the first Holy Communion.
Section 10  Admits she now thinks and dreams in German, though she used to do this in Polish. Now that she is getting old and stays in more, she speaks more German. Language seems to have been quite an issue: “If people had wanted to be malicious, they would make fun of us speaking in improper Polish.”
Section 11-12  The women never learned the Polish system of grammar and used incorrect expressions: “we often tried to translate German expressions into Polish, and the results were sometimes funny”. Says she does not recall any war incidents or bombings. Some reference to how unpleasant it was when the Russians arrived and how they “hid wherever we could”. But their silence on this is revealing.
Section 13-16  They cook both types of cuisine these days, from German “meat collars” to Polish “golabki”. Notes that the “Poles drink more”. Doesn’t see any difference between Polish and German Catholics.