The Latecomers: Ethnic German Resettlers from Poland and Their Integration into West Germany, 1970-1990 Restricted; Files Only

Woodard, Stefanie Marie (Spring 2019)

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This project examines the enduring presence of ethnic German identity in Silesia, a western Polish borderland, and how this identity evolved through contact with and migration to West Germany. Although scholars have frequently described Silesians as nationally indifferent or ethnically ambiguous during the first half of the twentieth century, the Cold War thrust them into the center of a clash over ethnicity and memory. Whereas the Polish government downplayed or denied the Silesians’ German heritage, West German authorities cast these borderlanders as the last victims of World War II and as “sufferers for Germanness.” Not simply the passive subjects of Cold War discourse, Silesians also catapulted themselves into the ethnicity debate. When emigration became possible in the 1970s and 1980s, many Silesians leveraged any ties to Germany—even involvement with Nazism—to secure exit visas. Drawing on diaspora studies and migration scholarship, my dissertation treats events on both sides of the border as a continuous process of ethnic-identity formation to answer this question: how did resettlers challenge and expand the perceived boundaries of the nation in West Germany and in Poland? Through interviews and extensive archival research in German and Polish archives, I argue that the resettlers’ borderland context enabled them to invoke their German ethnicity to receive privileged-immigrant status in West Germany or, later, to lobby for cultural rights in Poland. This dissertation thus makes three core interventions. First, it reveals the legacy of national indifference and enduring malleability of ethnic identity in the latter half of the twentieth century. Secondly, this project establishes that, for resettlers from Poland, “Germanness” was not simply an identity to be experienced but also a status to be claimed. Thirdly, this study demonstrates that, by declaring their Germanness in significant numbers, Silesian emigrants questioned and ultimately undermined the Polish state’s authority over them. In sum, by interpreting this migration as embedded in its Cold War context, this dissertation reveals how an ethnically-coded conflict over victimhood and memory shaped not only the lives of individual émigrés from Silesia, but also West German-Polish relations as a whole. 

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Keeping the ‘Recovered Territories’: Evolving Polish Attitudes toward Indigenous Silesians

Chapter 2: Settling and “Selling” the Resettlers: West German Integration Programs

Chapter 3: Distrust and Unraveling after Helsinki, 1978-1982

Chapter 4: The Not-So-Golden West: Integration Experiences in West Germany

Chapter 5: Unrest and Protest: Poland’s German Minority in the mid-1980s



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