“German” Roots of a Culturally Homogeneous Polish Nation-state:

T.D. Curp, A Clean Sweep? The Politics of Ethnic Cleansing in Western Poland, 1945-1960 (New York: University of Rochester Press, 2006).

Wartime and Post-war Reverse Ethnic Cleansing

The moment Germans are defeated, a ruthless , mass terror must be organized. The imported Germans must be expelled…by the same methods by which they settled here –by force and ruthless extermination. …The factual conditions which the Germans have succeeded in creating, and which they will undoubtedly amplify in the near future, can be destroyed only by means of a ruthless mass terror …. Polish citizens of German descent betrayed Poland in a body. That is why whatever future of Poland may be we cannot allow any Germans to live here. They were only loyal to Germany. We have seen that.

Jan Karski’s “fiancé” in D. Curp, A Clean Sweep? (2006)

T.D. Curp’s book A Clean Sweep? makes a significant contribution to Polish historiography and that of the Second World War by addressing one of the neglected facets of the war and its aftermath. That is, the forceful removal of Germans from the “wild west” of the country where, before the onset of the two world wars, they had coexisted peacefully for centuries. For instance, it makes for a good reading companion of R.E Alvis’s Religion and the Rise of Nationalism (2005), which is a profile of the East-Central European city of Poznan that is part of the Poznan region Curp uses as a case study. He also includes Wielkopolska, Zielona Gora and, on occasion, Ziemia Lubuska. It is remarkable that whereas his chosen time scope is between 1945 and 1960, Curp traces German-Polish relations the region back to the late nineteenth century. As such, this work complements Alvis (2005) who juxtaposes Catholic Polish nationalism and German Protestanism (Lutheran or Reformed Church) –both groups, Alvis notes, understood the place of demonization of ethnic and religious outsiders to motivate and mobilize supporters. To this picture, in the late nineteenth century, Curp (2006) adds the political dimension of this national rivalry in the form of the German Hakatists and Polish Endecja, two nationalist prodigies emergent in the last decade of the nineteenth century.[1] These groups and ethno-nationalism were locked in a zero-sum conflict before the two world wars and were “ruthless toward any persons, institutions, or customs of their own nation that threatened …final victory as they were toward their national enemy.”[2] This state of affairs is what, then, foregrounds the brief Nazi Germany takeover of Western Poland and radical ethnic cleansing and erasure (Polonization) after Russian liberation.

In addition, it builds up from where P. Kenney in his book Rebuilding Poland (1997) leaves his argument: as Curp (2006) notes, Kenney’s narrative is an insightful description of the early Stalinist period for elements of the industrial working class.” However, it does not really help to explain how the rest of the population –much of the intelligentsia and Poland’s peasant majority got on board the wagon of Stalinist Communism especially considering that for these groups, it “represented virtually the opposite of ‘prosperity, class integration and …appeals to tradition.’” This, weakness in Padraic’s argument is what Curp attempts to remedy in what seems to be a daunting task of marshaling diverse evidence from various sources including party memos, minutes, secret security documents and memoirs. How then, were the Catholic peasant and intelligentsia levels of Polish society, saddled with Stalinism?

Befitting the complex postwar history and deeply religious identity of Poland is a biblical analogy of twist and turns of ideological, ethno-religious, right wing (nationalist) and Stalinist geopolitics of the period. This is the story of the birth of Esau and Jacob, fraternal twins with the latter coming quick, literally, on the heels of the former –Jacob was holding onto his brother’s heel. This serves to simply the uneasy compromise between right-wing nationalist communists like Gomułka; radical left-wing dregs of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP) led by Bierut; Catholic masses –Lords (Pańskie) and Peasant (Chlopskie), and to some extent, the German preface of the ethnic cleansing they themselves would have to endure in Polish hands. With regard to the Polish postwar political elements outlined above, they all coalesced around a generally accepted common denominator and policy anti-Germanism, and subsequent ethnic cleansing. This was compromise on what (first) emerged during the war and the immediate postwar period

[1] T.D. Curp, A Clean Sweep? The Politics of Ethnic Cleansing in Western Poland, 1945-1960 (New York: University of Rochester Press, 2006) 16.

[2] Ibid., 17.

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Nicholas Githuku

Assistant Professor, African History at York College, CUNY
Nicholas Githuku is a Ph.D. holder in African Studies. His research interests include: War & Peace Studies in general; Conflict and Security and mediation in general and trends in the Great Lakes the Horn Regions of Africa; Memorialization of War; Development studies (Sub-Saharan Africa): Postcolonial/Contemporary Kenyan Politics; European History (1648 to 1900); First and Second World Wars; and Post-1989 Eastern Europe (Balkans) History.