Poland glossary















The conversation between me and Mrs Kocon was very pleasant, although at the beginning she was nervous. She hesitated for some time over whether she was the right person to be interviewed. Before I started recording, we talked a little about our families because Mrs Kocon knows my grandmother and my parents. She told me she wouldn’t agree to be interviewed by someone she doesn’t know. She showed me some photos of her husband. She speaks Polish well, although sometimes she pauses while she searches for the right word. Her flat is very neat and doesn’t differ much from an ordinary Polish flat. The walls in the living room are covered with deer antlers which, she explained, belonged to her husband, who worked at a forest inspectorate. On the shelves I noticed a lot of coloured boxes with German writing on them.

After I had switched off the microphone, she told me even more interesting stories, but she didn’t want them recorded. When I asked her to sign the agreement to publish the interview, she got a little nervous and asked me not to reveal her real name in any official publications. She explained that in a little town like Bystrzyca, such a publication would set people’s tongues wagging, and she preferred to avoid unecessary gossip.

Section 1
Thank you very much for finding time for talking to me today. First of all, I’d like you to introduce yourself and tell me some of your personalities.
My surname is Kocon, my christian name sounds German – it’s Irmgard. My family name was Janke. I am 66 years old. I was born in Lasówka, near Bystrzyca and I’ve been living here for my whole life. I mean, I lived in Lasówka till the year ’74, and since then, I’ve lived in Bystrzyca. I got married to a Pole in 1955. My nationality is German.

Do you have any memories of your childhood? Do you remember, for example, the year 1945?
I remember a little. When the war ended, I was 11 years old. I remember when the Russian army entered. As soon as they passed through, the Czech army appeared in the village. I remember they were very cruel to people. Then, the Polish soldiers arrived and they showed the Czech where their place was. The Polish army moved the Czech away, to the south.

What was the attitude of the Polish soldiers to the original inhabitants?
I must say, they were pretty kind. My brother-in-law, who is Polish, before getting married to my sister in 1948 visited us very often. Thanks to him we could feel safer, he was able to protect us. My parents didn’t move to Germany after the war. My father worked in the crystal glass work in Lasówka, formerly named Kaiserswalde, where he was a foreman. He was good at his job so the head of the glass-work didn’t want us to move. They finally moved to Germany in 1958 and I stayed because I got married to a Pole.
Section 2
Didn’t you want to go to Germany with your parents?
As soon as I became a Polish man’s wife, I had to be consequent. My husband was Polish and he always felt Polish inside. Once he said he would never move, I was determined to stay with him. And I never regretted my decision.

What was life like here before? Do you remember what people did, how they earned for a living?
In the mountains there was a factory (glass-works), besides, many people dealt with cottage-industries. A very popular cottage-industry was production of wooden boxes for keeping ointment in. In the old days all the medicines from the chemist’s were sold in boxes. There were a few lumbermen in the village as the area is surrounded by forests. Formerly, the village was larger than it is today. There were two bakers, two butchers, petrol station, a shoe shop, a few groceries. Today, more or less a quarter of all the households remained here. People don’t keep as many cattle as they used to just after the war. It is not profitable enough.

You got married to a Polish man. Didn’t your parents object to it?
No, they definitely did not. They liked me very much. My family accepted my husband as well, especially my mom. The only thing I remember was the conversation between my father and my husband, when my father said: ‘Remember who you take as a wife, don’t keep reminding her of it too often’. Apart from me, also my sister got married to a Pole and my parents agreed, and then, in 1954, my brother got married to a Polish girl. He left to Germany in ’58 and took her with him. Since then he’s been living there, but he visits us from time to time, and I visited him there, a few times. So, my family is all mixed, but they didn’t like my parents for letting us do that.

Who didn’t like that?
The German who remained in the village. I’ve learnt of it only recently. My parents’ German friends were very disappointed that my parents let us all marry the Polish.

Did the others object to it, too, or weren’t they interested in it at all?
Sometimes neighbours kept asking my husband: ‘Aren’t there enough Polish girls around, did you have to choose the German one?’ My parents-in-law also very often heard such mocking remarks. My mother-in-law used to reply: ‘They married those who they loved, if my children love them I like them, too’.

What were the relationships between the original inhabitants and those who moved here from central Poland and from the East? Were there any conflicts between them?
Just after the war, the German still lived in the village. Some soldiers who were released from the army arrived and moved to the village. At the beginning, they lived together with German families. They were farming together until the German were removed from the area of Poland. Later on the new settlers usually brought their families from the East and the German gradually moved away. Me and my family accepted the situation as it was, we had no other choice. We tried to keep good relationship with the Polish.
Section 3
You are catholic aren’t you?
Yes, I am.

In which language do you pray?
When I am at the church I pray together with the others. At home, on the other hand, it depends. When I pray before going to sleep, I say one prayer in Polish, for my husband, he’s not with us any longer, and the other I say in my thoughts, in German, on my own.

How did you learn Polish?
When the first settlers appeared I met a girl who came from the East. We spent a lot of time together and she taught me a few words of Polish. This brought about some funny situations, as some of the words she taught me were vulgar, and I used them as ordinary words. Later, she explained to me that I shouldn’t use some of them. I kept improving my Polish gradually, but I learned most when my children went to school. I had to help them, checked their homework, I had to look the words up in dictionaries to find mistakes, etc. Besides, I myself had to go to school when I wanted to begin work. I hadn’t finished German school before the war, so I had to go to class 7 of Polish school. Then I worked in school, so I kept in touch with the teachers all the time, and they helped me a lot. I always had problems with your ‘s’, ’z’, ‘sz’, ‘cz’, etc. Once I decided to enrol for a course for bakers, I didn’t have any problems. Then I took an exam and I succeeded, of course.

Weren’t you treated worse at school than the others?
No, I definitely wasn’t.

What about your children? How did you bring them up; in which tradition: German or Polish?
My children have never felt embarrassed to have German origin. My husband taught them to admit who their mother was, that it is not a shame. At school they said the others that their mother was born here and she is German. Some people never admitted to have a German member in their family.

Have you heard of any conflicts between children caused by different nationalities?
I know, there were conflicts between children at school. My children were called names. They tried to resist but they were clever enough to reply sometimes: ‘How is my mother worse than yours? We are German and you are Ukrainian, so you are a stranger here as well’.

Did your husband interfere in such quarrels?
Not really. Of course, he got upset with it, but everybody knew him as a man of integrity. He was a forest officer and people respected him. He didn’t want to get involved in any conflicts. I myself sometimes got rid of all the remarks which my children had to listen to, so I was able to catch the intruder and tell him a few ‘strong words’.

Have you kept any German traditions at your home?
Christmas Eve, for instance, is held in both Polish and German tradition. We cook some traditional Polish meatless meals and some typically German. We didn’t keep Lent before Christmas. We put presents under the Christmas tree in secret, after the Christmas Supper, which is not very rich but always solemn and welcomed by everybody.
Section 4
Can you tell me which traditional German meal do you serve at Christmas?
Christmas Eve was different in my family home and it has changed totally. We served twelve courses, but for the whole day, and not like in Poland, at once, for supper. So, we had mushroom soup with a toast for breakfast, then we had a kind of milk soup, but it was a strange soup with some herbs – not very tasty. Then, we had boiled peas and cabbage for lunch, fried rice with cereals – it was delicious. We didn’t know raviolis at all, we’ve learnt how to do them here. The supper began with bread soaked with milk, which we ate from one plate together, then we had poppy bread and for desert we had cake and coffee. Late in the evening we served hot sausages, meat, fried sausages, and after that we went to the Midnight Mass. These days I serve borsch and fish, which are typically Polish, and some German meals. I put it all on one table to satisfy the taste of everybody.

Do you mean your diet has changed since the new settlers appeared here?
Yes, of course, it has. I’ve learnt a lot: various sorts of ravioli, golabki (cabbage stuffed with meat and rice), red borsch which I really love today. My husband, on the other hand, also often asked me to cook something typically German, which he found very tasty.

Now, let’s go back to the place where you live. At the beginning you lived in Lasówka, didn’t you?
Yes, I did.

Then you moved to Bystrzyca...
Yes, in 1974.

Could you compare Bystrzyca then to Bystrzyca now: what has changed?
Everything is constantly changing. Some of the houses got demolished, there are some new ones on their place. I lived in the village before, so I didn’t go to town very often. The park was much nicer formerly. The market square has changed over the years [Mrs Kocon lives there]: There used to be a few restaurants here, there are more shops these days, in the building where book-shop is today, there used to be a drug store, the whole building belonged to the chemist’s. I cannot point anything else.

What do you like here? I do not mean the town itself but e.g. landscape.
I got used to living in the mountains and I like the views here. The others may like seaside but I couldn’t spend there more than a few days. I prefer mountains because the landscape is more varied: Hills here and there, behind the hill you can see a village, behind another hill – another village. I find mountain landscape very attractive and I wouldn’t like to live anywhere else.

Is there anything special you admire here?
I like the winding mountain roads, villages in the valleys, mountains, beautiful little chapels here and there. I wish it was all better looked after. This area isn’t developed enough. It has much more agricultural and economical potential. I think the soil is quite fertile here and it is absolutely unused. That is not good.
Section 5
How was this area governed by the German authorities and how are they governed now?
I don’t remember much of the times before the war as I was 6 when the war broke out, but, I know that every little piece of land was used. Every farmer kept some farm animals for his own needs. Then, all the little farms got liquidated. New settlers moved in and out, they took some properties when they were moving thus making the places poorer and poorer. There used to be some villages which ceased to exist, for example Rudawa, Piaskowice, Mostowice. Those villages were a few kilometres long with many houses and farms. In Mostowice today there are [the narrator thinks for a while] three houses left.

You mentioned, you liked mountain environment. In Germany there are mountains as well. Wouldn’t you prefer to live in the mountains, but there, in Germany?
No, I wouldn’t.

Why not?
I was born here, I’ve spent all my life here, I have friends. I’d feel a stranger in Germany. I am in my late sixties now, my children live here, I feel like home here. I can visit Germany from time to time, but, I wouldn’t stay there for good; I am afraid I wouldn’t get used to their mentality. Here I am in the circle of my close friends. I think, this is my place on Earth.

Coming back to the mentality, you mentioned: what differences can you see?
Polish people are more friendly and more sociable. In Germany, everyone lives on one’s own. Families don’t meet so often, people rarely invite each other to their houses. Whenever they want to visit a neighbour or a friend, they have to phone first and ask if it would be available. Here, we often meet in the park, we visit each other more spontaneously. In Germany, parents can neither reprimand their children nor give advice. They just don’t interfere in their children’s life. Here I can always tell my children what I approve of or what I dislike.

What do you feel, where do you belong: to Poland or to Germany?
I don’t know how to say it [narrator wonders for a moment], here is my home but I cannot say that Germany is a foreign country to me. I live here, and, automatically, I belong to this culture: I am interested in Polish history, read Polish books, watch TV news every day; I am interested what happens in my country. The problems of Germany as a country are unfamiliar to me nowadays. I feel like home here and not there.

You mentioned you were interested in Polish history. I’d like you to tell me whether you prefer Polish or German literature?
It doesn’t make any difference. I like Polish historical books, I’ve borrowed so many of them from the local library, that now it’s difficult for me to choose something I haven’t read before. I can say I know Polish history better than many native Polish people. I am interested in what is going on in the world and in Polish economy these days, despite I am an elderly person.
Section 6
I would like to come back once again to the new settlers who appeared here after the war. How did you find them?
In my opinion, those who arrived from the East were more kind to us than those from the central Poland.

How do you feel among the local inhabitants these days?
I generally feel accepted. I have a very close friend who came form the East, the other one who came here from the seaside. We feel well with each other and we don’t feel any national differences. Whenever I visit my old neighbours from Lasówka they give me a very warm welcome. It’s just like home.

Do you regret your decision to stay here instead of moving to Germany.
No, I definitely do not regret. [very firm voice] I’ve had a chance, even recently when I was in Germany, they suggested me to stay there but I refused. I repeat, I feel, my place is here.

Could you tell me a few words about the relationship between your husband and you, as a mixed couple?
My marriage was happy, we generally agreed about everything, but it was different in cases of similar couples. As soon as the border opened, many wives with children left to Germany. They were said to have been treated very badly by their Polish husbands. I was in Germany with my son in 1959, and I came back of course. My parents also brought me up in such a spirit: ‘you chose a husband for yourself and it’s your duty to stay with him’.

Which forms of entertainment did you participate in? Do you remember any places where young people used to meet?
During the war there were, of course, no parties at all. After the war, when I was still unmarried, I used to go to parties. I belonged to ZMP (Polish Youth Association) because my friends enrolled me claiming that I must have felt lonely being the only German among them. We organised many meetings and parties. My relationship with the young people was very friendly.

How did you find new friends? Did you look for new friendships or rather keep in family circle?
Many people visited us. Just after the war they were the German mainly, but later, the glass works got liquidated and most of the workers with their families moved to other parts of Poland. Suddenly , my family turned out to be the only German family to stay here. My father started working in Szczytna doing his job, but it was too far to commute every day, he was too much time out, so he decided to give it up. Finally took up the post of a lumberman in the local forest and he did his job until my parents left. We had an uncle who lived in Germany in some Ministry and he helped my parents to arrange for any necessary documents which let them emigrate to Germany. So, my parents and my brother with his wife left to Germany but me and my sister with our husbands decided to stay here.
Section 7
Now, let me touch another point. The German are famous for drinking beer, were there any breweries here?
Yes, of course there were. There was a brewery in Szczytna and probably here as well. There were a few of them around here but I don’t know the exact places. German people, indeed, drink a lot of beer. They don’t drink it with meals, but usually after a meal, as a desert. They tend to drink rather light beer. My father used to have his favourite restaurant just round the Czech border where we often went for a meal and a glass of beer. We knew the owner very well, we had a circle of friends there. It often happened that when we went there, he invited us to stay longer, he brought a jar of beer, we sat together and had a lot of fun.

Is there anything you particularly miss? Maybe something that used to be here formerly and doesn’t exist any more.
I don’t know there isn’t anything special I’d like to tell you. When I recollect my youth, I have rather pleasant memories. Anyway, I remember I had to be very careful about the gossips around me. I was a stranger here and some people might not have like that, so I had to work very hard on my view. Life after the war was generally very hard. Sometimes I wonder, maybe if I had left together with my parents I’d have an easier life now. But, as I said before, I never regretted to have married a Pole. My husband was very good to me, my parents-in-law were kind and warm as well.

You said you had grandchildren. Pupils at schools learn a lot of foreign languages these days. Do you help them in learning German?
Whenever it’s necessary, I do. I help not only my family but friends as well. I remember my neighbour going to secondary school. She asked me very often to do her homework for her. I never refused but I always asked her not to confess to the teacher that somebody had helped her. She never did but the teacher used to be surprised why she always had such well done homework after weekend. My grandson, who is in class 8 of primary school, attends private lessons on German and I try not to help him. The teacher wouldn’t like it, I think. My granddaughter is in secondary school, she learns English and German and I sometimes help her.

You claim that it was your own choice to stay here and you wouldn’t move away. However , if you had to, what would you miss most?

Nature? Mountains? Maybe something else?
I don’t know if I can call it my motherland [hesitates how to express her thoughts], but I was born here, I grew old here and this is my place, I think.

What about your motherland, then?
Well, my nationality is German but I am the citizen of Poland, and, this is my motherland, my place on earth.

Thank you for the interview.
You’re welcome. Thank you, too.