culture and customs
environmental knowledge
family life
social relationships



introducing the area

 the themes
 the partners
 the testimonies

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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.

barn in PolandKlodzko 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.

These 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.

church in PolandThese 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.

the themes

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.

the partners

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.


Local language booklet (Polish):
Swiadectwa Ludzi Gór (Sudety)
> Download booklet (pdf, 2.13 mb)

Voices from the mountain: Poland

A selection of oral testimonies from deep within the Sudety mountains of southwest Poland
> Download booklet (pdf, 847 kb)


the testimonies

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1   Maria   female/76   pensioner   Szczawina  
Summary Transcript   10   Sylwester   male/50   geodesist (surveyor)   Orlowiec  
Summary Transcript   11   Maria   female/63   former farmer   Wilkanów  
Summary Transcript   12   Jan   male/60   former baker/hunter   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   13   Anna   female/69   pensioner   Szczytna  
Summary Transcript   14   Maria   female/53   works in the bakery   Goworów  
Summary Transcript   15   Stanislaw   male/86   army officer   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   16   Stanislaw   male/81   retired forester   Miedzylesie  
Summary Transcript   17   Adolf   male/65   carpenter/pensioner   Wilkanów  
Summary Transcript   18   Maria   female/78   pensioner/former farmer   Kudowa Zdrój  
Summary Transcript   19   Maria   female/80   pensioner   Stara Lomnica  
Summary Transcript   2   Edward   male/45   dam operator   Miedzygórze  
Summary Transcript   20   Elzbieta   female/74   pensioner   Wójtowice  
Summary Transcript   21   Adam   male/62   vice-president of Siberian Deportee Association   P  
Summary Transcript   22   Krzysztof   male/60   scientist   Stronie  
Summary Transcript   23   Andrzej   Full name:/47   construction engineer   Ponikwa  
Summary Transcript   24   Wladyslaw   male/72   pensioner/beekeeper   Międzylesie  
Summary Transcript   25   Romuald   male/67   pensioner   Klodzko  
Summary Transcript   26   Bronislaw   male/66   retired forester   Klodzko  
Summary Transcript   27   Miroslaw   male/70   retired forestry engineer   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   28   Hane   female/85   pensioner   Klodzko  
Summary Transcript   29   Egidiusz   male/72   pensioner   Bardo  
Summary Transcript   3   Leokadia   female/74   pensioner   Miedzylesie  
Summary Transcript   30   Kazimierz   male/45   forester   Strachocin  
Summary Transcript   31   Waldemar   male/45   owner of sawmill   Nowa Bystrzyca  
Summary Transcript   32   Anonymous   female/45   manager of social welfare home   P  
Summary Transcript   33   Stefan   male/74   engineer   Nowa Wies  
Summary Transcript   34   Franciszek   male/68   electrician   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   35   Irena   female/52   shop assistant, pensioner   Wilkanów  
Summary Transcript   36   Maria   female/44   teacher   P  
Summary Transcript   37   Urszula   female/71   P   P  
Summary Transcript   38   Ryszard   male/54   agricultural engineer/farmer   P  
Summary Transcript   39   Tadeusz   male/43   farmer   P  
Summary Transcript   4   Franciszek   male/79   former local mayor   Dlugopole Zdrój  
Summary Transcript   40   Adolfina   female/63   pensioner   P  
Summary Transcript   41   Irmgard   female/66   baker   P  
Summary Transcript   42   Bronislaw   male/40   works at waste water plant   P  
Summary Transcript   43   Edward   male/72   former teacher/ pilot/general manager   Klodzko  
Summary Transcript   44   Krzysztof   male/57   ex-journalist/local MP/chairman of local NGO   Wójtowice  
Summary Transcript   45   Leszek   male/45   forester   Bardo  
Summary Transcript   46   Ewa   female/39   artist   Katy Bystrzyckie  
Summary Transcript   5   Anonymous   female/67   housewife   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   6   Stanislawa   female/68   pensioner   Bystrzyca Klodzka  
Summary Transcript   7   Zbigniew   male/52   district council member   Gorzanów  
Summary Transcript   8   Józef   male/48   physical labourer   Gorzanów  
Summary Transcript   9   Aniela   female/77   pensioner   Stara Lomnica