OTHER LOCAL THEMES
culture and customs
introducing the area
quotes about family life
key testimonies featuring family life
The older narrators in this collection grew up during the war, often surviving great hardship and in some cases, being lucky to have escaped with their lives. Many among the settlers from the east had lost parents and siblings, in battle or from starvation and disease in the camps. Some describe pre-war childhoods in great detail - often in simple, self-sufficient rural societies in which, they all agree, family ties were strong and children were far more obedient to their parents than they are today. Gender was rarely discussed, but it was clear that women had time-consuming and often specific roles to play in agriculture and in the processing of products (such as making linen from flax). Today, farming is in decline and many more women are joining the formal labour force; for younger women this may mean leaving the Valley.
Most of the narrators who stayed on in the area after the border change were women who did so because they married Poles. Because of the broader political situation, this often meant losing part of their personal identity, as they replaced traditional German dishes, customs and language with their husbands' Polish culture, and brought up their children as Poles, not Germans. However, this was not always the case, as one explained: "we found a way of living together. He always told me how they did things, I told him how we did. So we cultivated both traditions. He accepted mine, and I accepted his." For some, the suppression of their German identity has led to a denial of family history, and lost contact with those relatives who were deported.
It is clear that for some narrators wartime memories are too painful to discuss, and gaps and silences have been part of peoples' family histories for many years. A few narrators hint that this has had some effect on family life, and has mitigated against close relationships. Equally - with age and the liberating effect of a new political climate - some narrators now seem able to talk more freely of their experiences with their grandchildren and others, and to enjoy their amazement at stories of a different world.
quotes about family life
""Certainly, [my grandchildren] know where I was born, where I come from.... They are very keen listeners when I talk about the past. I would now have a lot of questions to ask my mother, but it's not possible - therefore, I tell my six grandchildren to ask questions if there's something they want to know.""
Anna, F/69, pensioner, Poland 13
""In the past, women didn't work at all, it was rather unheard of for a woman to work. They looked after children, the home, how many years ago was that? For a woman to work, unthinkable! My father was a clerk, why should my mother work anywhere? They didn't work at all, that was just not like that.""
Hane, F/85, pensioner, Poland 28
""[Once you are married] you're no longer free, you've got duties. You are like a servant, you have to cook, bake, iron. When you're getting married, you're taking such a load on your back, you've got duties.""
Aniela, F/77, pensioner, Poland 9