This is Info-Poland's cache of It's the snapshot that we took of the page when we last activated our link to it. The page may have changed since that time or the link to it may be broken.

Remembering and Forgetting as Modes of Survival:
the Manipulation of Ethnicity across the River Oder

Robert Parkin

To a large extent in anthropology, the term 'ethnicity' is still apt to conjure up a vision of minority groups suffering anything from mild disadvantage to outright persecution from whichever ethnic group is dominant in the country in which they live. It is still comparatively rare for anthropologists to tackle a majority ethnicity head-on. One of the main exceptions is Greece, in work by Roger Just (1989) and Michael Herzfeld (1982) - and even here, the historical perspective they find themselves adopting ends up depicting the emergence of this majority ethnicity out of minority status within the Ottoman Empire. Yet however we define ethnicity, surely, this association with minority
status is a bias rather than a characteristic. Rather, it is the circumstances which give rise to expressions of ethnicity that deserve attention. Very broadly, this is often when there is reason to oppose one's own ethnicity to someone else's, as when a threat is perceived to exist to it. One of the reasons that minority ethnicities seem so visible may be that they constantly feel themselves to be at a disadvantage in relation to a more powerful group. Majority groups can afford to be more casual about their own ethnicities more of the time, though they too can become vocal under threat. Thus ordinarily, overt expressions of British ethnicity are not only rare, they are widely felt to be an embarrassment, the preserve of the extreme right. However, the South Atlantic war saw a conspicuous increase in flag-waving, while the response to European integration, with its supposed dilution of British sovereignty, has similarly excited nationalist sentiment. This oppositional aspect is surely one of the most important legacies of Edwin Ardener's work on the subject, as well as that of many of his students.

This article is largely about the relation between what by any standards are two majority ethnicities in central Europe, Germans and Poles, who, at least along their common border, also define themselves in opposition to one another. There appears to be little specifically on Polish ethnicity in the academic literature, more attention being given as usual to minority groups instead. Forsythe wrote two articles in german ethnicity in the 1980s, one a plea for it to be studied (1984), the other covering history but also Germans' attitudes to various groups of foreigners, which is fairly predictable as far as it goes, but unaccountably disregards Poles and other east Europeans. Dumont's work on German identity (1986, 1991) largely sees matters in terms of ideology, not identity. Bornemann's work (1992, 1993) is mostly focused on eastern Germany, and is especially concerned to contrast identity as shaped by official policy in the two halves of the country during the Cold War era. However, I do not intend to devote much space here to establishing what each respective ethnicity might consist of--a lengthy process anyway, and one with the ever-present danger of essentialism--but rather concentrate on the ways in which individuals who are able switch, manipulate or otherwise negotiate their ethnicity and the circumstances that have led them to do so. In any case, it is claims as much as behaviour that are at issue here, not to mention the contestedness of those claims in certain cases. This is not a new phenomenon but something that has been going on for decades, and it is changing constantly. Although I shall be presenting some ethnography later, I shall therefore be looking at history (mostly since the second world war) as well as presenting some ethnography later. History is particularly pertinent given the nature of the century's conflicts in the region, especially in respect of Poland, a country devastated by war not just once but twice, and subsequently weakened further by a form of government which was seen by most of the population as delivering foreign control and rhetoric rather than a decent standard of living. From this arises the notion of the manipulation of ethnicity as a form of survival, meaning by this both physical and economic survival. Generally speaking, outside a quite narrow circle of dissident intellectuals, the ideal of political freedom seems to have been less of an issue than freedom from threats to on''s safety in certain periods, and more recently freedom from
scarcity, from the queue, from a depressing statist culture, etc. This is just one respect in which Western cold-war assumptions of what the oppressed populations of the east really wanted only imperfectly matched ethnographic realities.

First, however, I should say something about the notions of memory and forgetting in the context of ethnicity. The notion of social memory is first of all associated with Halbwachs, who in the usual Durkheimian manner stressed the fact that this seemingly individual capacity is really a collective phenomenon. From here, it is short step to recognizing the connection between collective memory and tradition-building. That culture depends on memory, or rather, perhaps, that even quite small groups define themselves partly in relation to the memories they share, is by now generally accepted. Indeed, they may be defined virtually solely in this way, for instance a group of students which disperses on completion of their studies, only to come together at a college reunion twenty or so years later. In general, therefore, the notion of memory as something sociologically relevant is, if not unproblematic, at least generally recognized. The notion of forgetting is perhaps less so, though reference to it can be found in literature dating back at least to the middle of the last century (e.g.
Renan). In his well-known book Imagined Communities, Anderson opposes forgetting to the process of creating community through imagining, since as much is left out of account as is put in.
This view echoes Parsons (1975: 75-6), who points to the fact that descent from only one black ancestor is enough to identify a person as black rather than white in the USA - there being no intermediate category like the Coloureds in apartheid South Africa. This means in effect that the much larger white component in that person's descent is being ignored or 'forgotten'.

Memory and forgetting may suggest a considerable degree of initiative and deliberation by the social actor. This is relevant in the present case in so far as some of the chief players are citizens of Poland who have been able to gain entry into Germany by claiming at least one German grandparent. This suggests that, in terms of the paradigm, the fact that the other three grandparents might well have been Polish, Jewish or something else entirely was being conveniently forgotten, by both the applicant and German immigration officials. In the same vein, one might say that a Polish citizen's sudden decision to make such an application depends on an equally convenient return to the memory that he or she has German forebears. And when, as has happened increasingly since the collapse of communism, some migrants start claiming back their Polishness in order to effect a return to Poland, this too entails a reconfiguration - a reversal, in effect - of both remembering and forgetting. However, the deliberateness of such switches of memory has to be heavily qualified in other cases. In the context of ethnic classifications in the United States, Parsons' example, cited above, does not give individuals with what are considered 'black' physical characteristics much choice in being white, nor those without them the choice to be black. Here is a particularly strong demonstration of the sometimes neglected fact that ethnic identity depends not only on one's own claims but on the acceptability of those claims to others. More generally, it is a reminder of Eriksen's (1993) point that self-ascriptions regarding ethnicity are constrained by their availability and their credibility in the overall cultural context.

In the rest of this paper, I will offer an account of ethnic manipulation in the interests either of crossing the German-Polish border or of staying on one or the other side of it in the post-war period, as well as saying something about the ethnic cross-stereotyping that has accompanied such movements. I have divided the account into two broad sections, the first dealing with the post-war expulsions of Germans from Poland and German popular and official reactions to it, the second with those who have elected to migrate to Germany subsequently, and in some cases to return to Poland again. While the first is, as already indicated, therefore historical, the second is principally an ethnographic account relating to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was resident in both Germany and Poland.

German Expellees in West Germany

After the war, border changes deprived Poland of the eastern territories which had been taken over by the Soviet Union in 1940, while she acquired territories from Germany as compensation. This entailed mass expulsions of all supposed Germans who did not accompany the retreat of the German army. A considered estimate (Urban 1994: 56-7) is that about seven million people were expelled from the annexed territories, plus a further 1.3 million from within the pre-war Polish borders. Despite this tremendous upheaval, 1.1 million are estimated to have stayed behind in 1945 who could have qualified for German citizenship.

In order to weed out as many Germans as possible, the Polish authorities instituted a verification process (verificacja), in which dubious individuals had to prove their Polishness to the authorities by, for example, demonstrating their fluency in the language. To begin with, although there were differences between regional authorities, the process was strictly, even vengefully carried out, no distinction of class or political opinion being taken into consideration: even Germans who had belonged to the resistance to Hitler were expelled (ibid.: 7, 15). However, by the late 1940s the authorities were changing tack, encouraging as many candidates as possible to apply for Polish citizenship in order to boost the population figures in the newly annexed areas (ibid.: 17). Even then, there was a refusal rate of about ten percent.

One of the characteristics of the second world war was the extent to which the ethnic identity one assumed or was recognized by could determine one's chances of physical survival. This was not entirely a feature of Naziism. To the notorious cases of Jews, Poles and often Russians can be added the lesser known ones of the many Latvians and Estonians who claimed Germanness in order to escape creeping Soviet rule after the fourth partition of Poland of 1939/40 (Lumans 1993: 160). Nor did this cease with the ending of the war. While it was official post-war Polish policy to expel Germans, not kill them, in practice the expulsions entailed great risks, and some 1.2 million people are thought to have lost their lives as a result. Beyond that, ethnicity was important as a means of ending up where one wanted to be. As we have seen, proving Polishness was for long necessary if one wanted to stay in the country. In 1945, this was not necessarily considered undesirable: although Poland's infrastructure had been largely destroyed in the war, for a time it still seemed a better economic prospect than a destroyed, divided Germany swollen with refugees and likely to be under foreign occupation for years to come, its eastern factories already being dismantled and trundled off to the Soviet Union. Only as the 1950s economic miracle took hold in Germany did this perception change. Conversely, those who actually wished to go to Germany in 1945 could only gain entry as Germans. Nor did this situation apply solely to the west of Poland. An equally large number of migrants were on the move in the east too, from areas taken over by the Soviet Union. Their entry into Poland similarly depended on ethnicstatus, and on hiding any Ukrainian, Lithuanian etc. background.

In the post-war period, this situation has contributed to Polish cross-stereotyping between different regions, on the basis of which can be considered the most Polish. It is difficult to challenge the Polishness of Masovia, the region around Warsaw in the heart of the country. But Poznan, even though the earliest Polish capital is near by, at Gniesno, is often considered very German, its inhabitants supposedly being harder working and more orderly than elsewhere in Poland. This representation amounts to forgetting the important role played by Poznan in anti-German resistance before the first world war, though the attitude has a long history, marked by Pilsudski's suspicion of the loyalty of the area after that war. Similarly, the far west of Poland, to which many eastern migrants were sent in 1945, is variously seen as German or Ukrainian, the latter conceptualization meaning that Poland's ethnic geography has become mixed up, its west becoming its east, so to speak. This is one basis for the contestedness of ethnic claims, to which I will return.

It is worth remarking at this point on the perhaps better-recognized problems of westward-moving refugees in being recognized as Germans in the rump Germany. It is clear that they bore the full brunt of Polish and Soviet revenge after the war, more so than the inhabitants of the Altreich (cf. Schieder 1960: 15-16). One recent book (de Zayas 1993) explicitly seeks to establish their credentials as victims of the war, going so far as to envisage an agreed return of some lost territory some time in the future as recognition of this. More straightforwardly anthropological is Lehmann's study (1993), his opinions, when they do make themselves felt (e.g. ibid.: 76), leaning towards what he identifies as a common West German feeling, namely that although the expulsions were unjust, they were the result of German crimes against Poland. Whatever happened in the past, the cycle of revenge must be broken by accepting the present situation.

Although on the whole the refugees managed to become integrated and to achieve varying degrees of success in the new Federal Republic, there was nonetheless the potential for conflict between them and the settled population. The latter often saw the refugees as Poles, Russians, Romanians or Gypsies, depending on area of origin, as superstitious, backward, etc., and generally cast doubts and aspertions on their claims to being proper Germans (Lehmann 1993: 49, 170ff., 235; Schmalstieg 1990: 156-7). The older term Volksdeutscher came to be associated with, and then in popular discourse replaced with, Beutedeutscher (cf. English 'booty') or Auch-Deutscher ('would-be German'), though in official discourse they remained Vertriebene ('expellees'). Here, as Lehmann makes clear, a popular racism survived the discrediting of Naziism, leading at least to the deprecation of the refugees as of mixed origins. The arrival of Gastarbeiter in the 1960s improved things somewhat for refugees, in that this re-directed popular dislike away from them somewhat. For the refugees too, these newcomers, who were mostly from southern Europe and the Balkans, occupied a lower position down the hierarchy, broadly speaking the position they themselves had occupied previously. As a consequence, they lost some of the feeling that they were foreigners in what had become their own land (ibid.: 68, 175).

Thus categories applied to the refugees by others came to be transferred by those refugees on to yet other categories of people who arrived later (cf. Lehmann 1993: 178-9). This aided their own identification with the Federal Republic. On the one hand, their new home in Germany was presented in a good light (ibid.: 33), in order to increase their identification with it in the eyes of others. Another part of this process, however, was to adopt the same attitudes to Gastarbeiter, Spätaussiedler ('late migrants', who came of their own accord in the 1950s and later), black labour from Poland etc. as the indigenous population (ibid.: 32-3, 176ff.). Expellees compared the official willingness to accept these categories with their own difficulties with elements of the indigenous population after the war. The involuntary removal of the expellees and their generally recognized contribution to the post-war economic miracle were also compared favourably with the voluntary, supposedly largely economically driven motivation of the other categories in wishing to seek settlement in Germany. Spätaussiedler from Poland were especially regarded with some disgust, since they tended to be seen as people who became Polish immediately after the war in order to be able to avoid expulsion from what seemed at the time more favourable economic conditions. When the Polish economy collapsed, it is said, these very same people came over to Germany to improve their economic conditions once again. Here,one's own consistency and loyalty to Deutschtum ('Germanness') was compared with the fickleness and opportunism of the newcomers. Language was another sore point: true Germans should speak German, something many of the Spätaussiedler could hardly do, so that the German government had to spend public money providing them with courses (ibid.: 182; also Otto 1990: 52-3).

In the official context too, the question that chiefly arose is who exactly qualified as German. West and East German officialdom answered this question quite differently (Bornemann 1992: 81). Theoretically, anyone who accepted the socialist message could become a citizen of East Germany, but for West Germany 'Germanness' ( 4Deutschtum 5) was above all important, as enshrined in Article 116 Paragraph 1 of the West German constitution. This defined a German initially through citizenship and then through the concept of Volkszugehörigkeit (lit. 'belonging to the people') in the case of refugees from the east (Urban 1994: 18-19; Otto 1990: 55). The vagueness of this definition led to a practical reliance on descent, mediated through a notion of blood. This was aggravated by the poor or non-existence knowledge of the German language of many migrants: although Volkszugehörigkeit could officially be defined through language, having had a German upbringing, having German culture and so on, lack of the first effectively ruled out the other two.

This West German reliance on blood as a determinant of Deutschtum had obvious continuities with the Nazi period. There was a similar desire to make the area of German settlement coordinate with German political rule. This could now only be achieved by bringing Germans abroad back to the homeland, not by conquest. However, even this is less of a contrast than it seems: Hitler's early policy, before the launch of Operation Barbarossa, often had to be very similar, for strategic reasons. These post-war migrants were not immigrants in the official view, because they were supposedly identical ethnically with the home population. Moreover, even acknowledging one's Germanness in official documents was seen as inheritable, in that the children and grandchildren of those registered in them were also eligible for entry into West Germany (Otto 1990: 49). Although this reliance on blood was widely rejected by a younger generation from the 1960s onwards, most vocally but not entirely by those on the radical left (Bornemann 1992: 282-3), it conforms with what is still perhaps the most common folk model (Forsythe 1989). One result of this official position has been that Volksdeutsche from the eastern bloc have enjoyed a much more secure and privileged status in the Federal Republic than foreigners who have settled or even been born in there, let alone asylum seekers (cf. Bornemann 1993: 307; Diedrich 1993: 38).

Another continuity was the fact that Nazi documentation was used for many decades by the West German immigration authorities in deciding cases of migrants from Poland in particular. One of the main forms of Nazi documentation used was the so-called Deutsche Volksliste (DVL), established as a register of who in the conquered population of Poland could be considered German and therefore useful and who not and therefore dispensible. It should be remembered here that German policy towards Poland's population not only entailed the ultimate destruction of the Jews, but also the reduction of the Poles themselves to virtual slave status by deliberately killing off their political, cultural and religious leaders and other elites and depriving them of all but the most basic education. Because of the country's ethnically mixed population before 1945, the DVL was created to identify not only ethnic Germans - who were covered by the first two of its four categories - but also what Himmler and the SS called the eindeutschungsfähig ('those capable of becoming German'). These basically consisted of individuals who were regarded as either polonized Germans or germanized Poles. Unlike members of the first two categories, those in Category III were considered suspect in either racial or political terms, only acceptable once they had been deported to the Altreich and retrained in being proper Germans. The last, fourth category was reserved for individuals who were supposedly ethnically German, but who had shown themselves to be politically anti-German or anti-Nazi in the ethnic struggles of inter-war Poland. Their usual fate was the concentration camp. Enrollment on one of the first three lists was long accepted as proof of Germanness by the authorities of the Federal Republic (Bornemann 1993: 308; Lehmann 1993: 179; Otto 1990: 33; Otto ed. 1990: 187). In practice Category III, the most ambiguous one, was most relevant in this context. Members of Categories I and II must generally be assumed to have been able to find refuge in Germany during the retreat of 1944-5, while members of Category IV mostly suffered extermination. Other Nazi documentation accepted by the West German immigration authorities included Germany army and SS identity cards
(Tagezeitung, 17/1/1989).

The numbers of those applying on any of these grounds were modest up to 1988-9, after which the progressive falling away of travel restrictions in eastern Europe led to a flood of applicants - 370,000 in 1988-9 (ibid.). The West German authorities would also accept people on the basis of their having German forbears or at least a German grandfather from before 1914, whom Polish commentators called, in ironic reference to the Nazi period, the 'Aryan grandfather'. Although proving one's Germanness was formally required, before 1989 language and other tests were often applied perfunctorily, if at all. Acceptance as an Aussiedler automatically brought acceptance of close family members too, even if not of provable German descent, in the interests of keeping families together (Urban 1994: 20). Although the German authorities justified this as an obligation under international law, emigration could actually represent a splitting up of families, some members of which would frequently actually be left behind in Poland. Here is another example of the gap between Western cold-war rhetoric and Eastern representations of reality in this period (cf. Bornemann 1993: 181; Kurcz 1991). Not unexpectedly, the desire to leave Poland for West Germany was strong enough to stimulate a black market in both genuine and forged personal documents. Those who needed recourse to such methods would come to becalled 'Helmut' in Polish slang, after Helmut Schmidt, whose 1975 agreement with Gierek led to the exit of another 125,000 individuals. Another tactic, especially for women, was simply marriage to a 'German', which often meant someone who had only recently been accepted as of German descent by the West German authorities. In this way, many individuals acquired both Polish and West German papers, and in effect dual citizenship, something they took advantage of to peddle trade back and forth across the border as part of the growing shadow economy. According to German figures, anything between 300,000 and 700,000 people may have both sets of papers today, contrary to German though no longer Polish law (Urban 1994: 20-1, 23-4; on the shadow economy, Irek 1998).

This laxness by the authorities in accepting individuals as Germans was ended by legal changes made in July 1990, passed in an atmosphere of growing public concern over the numbers of immigrants entering the country generally. Applicants now have to satisfy the authorities of their knowledge of German and of the fact that they had suffered discrimination because of their Germanness in their home country. In addition, they must await the outcome of their application in the home country and not in Germany. Above all, it has become much more difficult to gain acceptance through one's own or one's forbears' enrolment in Category III of the DVL. As a result of these changes, the numbers arriving went down from 250,000 in 1989 to 40,000 in 1991, and have decreased still further since then. Other reasons given for this reduction are the easing of travel restrictions between the two countries, the recognition that there is a German minority by the Polish government, and the pensions agreement between the two states, whereby Polish citizens who come to live in Germany no longer receive German but Polish pensions, which are smaller (Urban 1994: 22-3).

At this point, we return back over the border, to take up the story of the expulsions and migration from that side. The return of Gomulka to power in 1956 signalled a thaw in Polish political life, an event which also coincided with post-war disillusionment with Soviet control and the first spring shoots of Germany's economic miracle. Some 400,000 people resettled from Poland to Germany between then and the introduction of the state of emergency in 1981, this being part of the regime's policy to solve minority problems by encouraging free exit of their members, a reversal of policy from the late 1940s. Other reasons for allowing freer movement out of the country were the need for West German credit, the desire to lower the chronic unemployment figures, and the recognition that many who left to work abroad brought back or remitted much needed foreign exchange (Urban 1994: 19-20). Even under the state of emergency, the outflow by no means ceased, some 600,000 leaving in the 1980s, leaving some Upper Silesian villages practically depopulated (ibid.: 91-6).

Not even this outflow, however, has denuded Poland of those whose own view of their ethnic identity was that it was not Polish. This is most strikingly true of Silesia. The question here is, to what extent is it German or actually Silesian? The numbers involved are the first problem. Figures for remaining 'Germans' in 1989 ranged from 1.1 million (Bund der Vertriebenen) to 200,000 (German Red Cross) to 2,500 or zero, depending on which Polish official figures one consulted. The newly founded Deutsche Freundschaftskreise could boast altogether 300,000 members in the early 1990s (Urban 1994: 12). Many of these groups appear to have existed solely to bolster proof of their members' Germanness for purposes of migration, slowly but almost automatically dissolving as their members left for Germany. Polish commentators have persistently had difficulties in accepting these people as German. Rather, they prefer to talk of a separate Silesian identity, or of germanized Poles, or of a dialect group, Wasserpolnisch (Slonsak). The bases of claims to a Silesian identity are partly linguistic, in that Wasserpolnisch is derived from Old Polish, but they also lie in the fact that many if not most of the minority have distinctly Slavonic surnames (ibid.: 12-13; Peuckert 1950: 352). The latter is also true, however, of thousands of otherwise thoroughly German citizens born and bred in Germany,
not to mention nineteenth-century Prussians and many of Hitler's officers and officials.

Similar claims have been made in relation to other minorities in twentieth-century Poland. One example are the Masurans of north-central Poland, who also speak a supposedly archaic Slavonic dialect related directly to High Polish but who have at times been claimed to be Germans on the basis of their protestantism. A recent German study (Rogall 1992) sees them as descendants of the original, i.e. Slavonic Prussians, Poles from around Warsaw and German, Dutch and Swiss settlers, their own claims to Germanness arising because this is connected with good conditions and advancement. However, Masuran labour migrants into pre-world war I Germany, who felt themselves to be German, were often inscribed as Poles in official documents. Another example are the Kashubans of Pomerania, another separate but Slavonic dialect group. A third are the Sorbs or Wends (Serbs), a Slavonic-speaking group of Lausitz, eastern Germany. All these groups and the areas they live in, including the last, have been the basis of Polish claims to sovereignty, while to German commentators, whatever their origins, what is important is that they are germanized (Urban 1994: 12-14). The Masurans mostly left Poland in the late 1950s and settled in West Germany, including many who had been accepted as Poles by the post-war verification commissions (ibid.: 81).

Such debates have a long history in academia (especially in history and ethnology) as well as in political life and ethnic conflicts between Poles and Germans. The days of the crudity and hectoring of Nazi wartime foundations such as the Institut für Deutsche Ostarbeit at Cracow are long past as far as the former arena is concerned. Increasingly, one tactic has been to use the concept of a minority in order to deny a particular ethnic affiliation to the opposite side. From the Polish point of view, one of the virtues of claiming the existence of a separate Silesian identity which is neither German nor Polish is that an ethnic separatism can be recognized without accepting German claims to it. There are similar examples from the German side, such as the Masurans cited above. This may not be deliberate propaganda, but nonetheless, in their enthusiasm for establishing checklists of German and Slavic minorities in Poland, both sides have tended to pursue a certain essentialism, ignoring the right and ability of the people concerned to choose their own ethnicities and, what is more, to choose to change them. The more distanced and nuanced commentaries recognize this, though often only over time: thus the Polish sociologist Zbigniew Kurcz has noted the passing in and out of Germanness by the same Silesian families, generation after generation, depending on political and economic fortunes (1991).

The Current and Recent Ethnographic Situation

In this final section, I will continue to view matters from the Polish point of view, bringing the story up to date as far as possible. At this point history becomes less salient, and we can begin to use at least the ethnographic present. The main focus will be on the migration of Polish citizens into the German city, now officially capital again, of Berlin. This concerns those whom German officialdom would regard as Spätaussiedler and to whom many Poles give the ironically loaded label '120% Germans'.

In the recent past, citizens of Poland who are in a position to claim German citizenship if they so wish, principally because they can prove direct descent from at least one German parent or grandparent, can be divided provisionally into two groups. The first consist of inhabitants of Silesia, who as we have seen, are partly concerned to create recognition of their status within Poland itself. They have been accorded considerable attention in the literature. The other group consists of those from all parts of Poland who have wished to obtain German citizenship in order to settle in Germany itself, many of whom have migrated. It may seem that they too have been dealt with sufficiently academically. However, the restricted, usually problem-oriented perspectives that have conventionally been applied to them in German social-science literature still leaves a gap in our understanding of the phenomenon. Although there is scarcely a typical migrant or refugee among the millions who have entered Germany from the east by claiming German descent, the picture that frequently emerges in the literature is one of poor migrants who can claim some German descent and, by virtue of that fact, also some degree of cultural if not political persecution in their countries of origin, but whose knowledge of the German language is poor or non-existent. Economically, they may be able to prove competence in a particular trade, but they are generally seen as non-professionals, an image which immediately places them in a lower rather than middle- or upper-class category. Only their claims to Germanness, and the idea that in migrating they are recovering their ancient homeland, distinguishes them from migrants in the normal sense of the term. As we have seen, because of their difficulties in speaking German their Germanness is often questioned, by academics and politicians as well as by ordinary Germans. Nonetheless, they are regarded officially as being assimilable, though in need of intensive retraining, both professionally and linguistically. In other words, whichever side one takes in this argument, their ethnic identity is seen as a matter of either/or, not both/and.

However, there are many migrants into Germany from Poland who do not fit this stereotype. Originally generally well-established in Poland, they chose to leave it for good (as they thought) during the economic crises of the 1980s to seek a new life in Germany. They tended to resemble the above picture in having little or no knowledge of the German language, but differed in being largely though not entirely professionals and business people. Thus this was essentially middle- and upper-, not lower-class migration. This has had two further consequences, each differentiating them further from the above stereotype. One was that they quickly established themselves in more or less lucrative professions (as accountants, doctors etc.) or in business, thus soon ceasing to be a bureaucratic problem (learning German rapidly, for instance). Their efficiency and keenness in this regard is one of the things that has led Polish acquaintances to dub them '120% Germans'. Secondly, however, they have not regarded their ethnic identity as fixed, but have manipulated it to gain trading and other economic advantages when engaging in informal trade with what I will call acknowledged Poles present in the city. Also, following recent political changes, many have abandoned, at least temporarily, their German identity to seek further economic advantage in Poland itself. In other words, for them ethnic identity is and has been precisely a matter of both/and, not either/or. In their case, the questions to be asked concern not their integration and the problems associated with it, but their own self-view and self-definition, as well as the reasons for their relatively greater success in settling in Germany.

Many though not all of the '120s', as I shall henceforth call them, hail from the west of Poland, from the area directly over the border from Frankfurt and extending as far as Gorzów/Landberg on the river Warta/Warthe. This area is known in German variously as Ost-Brandenburg or Lebuser Land, to Poles as Ziemia Lubuska, a direct translation of
the latter. It is one of the three principal areas taken over from Germany by Poland after 1945, the other two being Silesia, to the south-east, and Pomerania, to the north and north-east. The German response to the loss of these areas differs interestingly. Although it is obviously impossible to generalize to all Germans, the only real tendency towards irredentism, i.e. the return of territory, relates to Silesia. This tends to be attributed by Poles to the German desire to get back its industry and coal, for both of which Silesia was both famous and important, though the presence of a minority that occasionally claims itself to be German is undoubtedly an important factor. The German response to Pomerania, conversely, is rather one of nostalgia, as is evidenced by the stream of travel and other books that continue to pour out on the region. Although today mostly devoid of people claiming to be Germans, Pomerania was a fairly thickly settled agricultural area which many refugees continue to call home. Ost-Brandenburg, on the other hand, hardly receives any German response at all at the present day, despite the fact that of the three areas, it was longest in German (including historically Brandenburg, Prussian etc.) rule.

As a border area, Ost-Brandenburg, or Ziemia Lubuska, has undergone many changes and mixtures of identity, from Slavonic (Polish, Sorb, etc.) to German, and from German to Polish. As we have seen, the post-war situation introduced new population elements. In the eastern territories lost to the Soviet Union, declaring oneself Polish was essential to escape Soviet rule and was resorted to even by some who might be considered wholly or partly Ukrainian, Lithuanian, White Russian etc. The epithet 'Ukrainian', rather unflattering in this context, is commonly used in western Poland for migrants from the east, despite the latter’s own claims to be considered Polish patriots, which they feel their very decision to migrate should be enough to indicate. The one exception was in the period immediately after the state of emergency (but still under the Jaruselski regime), when it was easier to obtain permission to travel out of Poland as a Ukrainian than a Pole. It is often said too that if Ukraine suddenly struck oil, Ukrainians would be popping up all over the place to return and claim citizenship. Varying one's ethnicity for financial gain or the right to travel is often represented as just one example of a way of life where everything had to be negotiated or manipulated, thus putting it into the same bracket as obtaining meat in a shop or finding a workman to mend the plumbing.

But whereas the Ukrainian option in manipulating ethnicity has remained only potential, the German option has long been actual, a way of escaping the relative failure of communism to provide either an adequate standard of living or an acceptable political system. The presence of Poles in Berlin is certainly not a new phenomenon and can be traced back at least to the industrialization of the last century (cf. Herbert 1986). While Poles under Bismark were subject to attempts to assimilate them, the wars of the twentieth century have thrust Poles and Germans more and more apart, both physically and politically. This resulted in a situation following the Second World War in which the only recognized Poles in West Berlin were diplomats and other officials, and political refugees. The possiility of using proof of German descent to obtain residence in the city had the effect of making other 'Poles' less visible there compared to other migrant groups (Turks, former Yugoslavs etc.) or to Polish communities in other countries or even in other parts of Germany, such as the Ruhr. For instance, before the political changes of 1989 there were no Polish newspapers, churches, associations, or even restaurants or bars in the city.

However, there has always been a considerable non-official Polish element in the city, being less concerned to claim Germanness than to engage in the shadow economy as cleaners, building workers, small traders, etc. The virtually exclusively unofficial nature of their work in Berlin is another factor distinguishing Poles from other migrants, many of whom have been allowed to live and work there under inter-governmental agreements. This not to say that every Turk or ex-Yugoslav is there legally. For Poles, however, there was until recently no such agreement legitimizing their living and working in Germany. In addition, the Berlin stereotype of Poles who came to the city and maintained their identity placed them immediately in the category of potential black workers who could be employed at low wages and given inferior accommodation to live in. This marginality was one motivation for switching identities: if one wanted to live and work legally in Berlin, by far the easiest way to do so was to become German.

A distinction must thus be made between Polish citizens who could claim German residence rights or even citizenship on the basis of some German descent, and those who could not and therefore had to work in Berlin informally. The distinction also has a diachronic dimension. The first group typically came in the 1970s, under Gierek's more liberal regime. This outflow slowed considerably under Jaruselski's state of emergency (i.e. after December 1981). Those who came out and arrived in Germany in this period could normally expect a degree of welcome and support from those who had already made it. However, the lifting of the state of emergency in the mid-1980s increased the numbers migrating sharply, causing the established migrants in Berlin to withdraw their previously unqualified support, or at least to require a financial consideration for helping the new arrivals.

However, accompanying these movements was an increase in informal cross-border trade, something Poles generally had greater freedom to pursue than other nationalities in eastern Europe under communism, with the exception of the Yugoslavs, with whom they competed for the control of east European informal trade. As far as trade between Poland and Germany was concerned, a dual German-Polish identity - and the papers that went with it - could be put to good use. This shadow activity reached its height in the perestroika period, immediately after 1989, when travel became even easier but shortages in the shops in Poland still persisted, and the value of the zloty in terms of the Deutschemark was still such that a profit could be made smuggling in either direction (cf. Irek 1998).

In this situation, the potential for manipulating ethnicity in the 1980s and early 1990s was considerable. The '120s' in the city, who normally represented themselves as Germans in order to be able to work there and to avoid the negative image Poles had there, often revealed a Polish identity to acknowledged Poles who came there in connection with the informal economy. They did this in order to establish connections and gain some additional advantages in trading, possibly exploiting the situation in order to obtain cheap labour at home or in their businesses. In return, they often had to help their contacts obtain apartments or at least beds, even bus tickets, etc. (the latter frequently knew no German). Conversely, the latter valued the situation as a means of obtaining jobs and other income that might not otherwise be available, for money that, however little it might be, still had great purchasing power in Poland. Nonetheless, the image of the 'Germanness' of the former group was rigorously maintained and expressed in, for example, their insistence on proper work from their 'employee''. This businesslike attitude, and the insistence that they never be spoken to in Polish in public, are other bases for the ironic term '120% German''. It could be difficult enough for them to convince native Berliners of the status they were claiming for themselves, because of accent etc.

In western Poland too, the German identities of migrants and returnees tend not to be recognized by the local population, however convincing they may have been to Germans in Germany. Here, local knowledge is important, being strongly shaped in this area by the history of the population transfers, and largely unencumbered by knowledge of what went before. There is thus a particularly sharp awareness of who came and who stayed behind, and of what their identities 'should' be accordingly. There is also an expectable tendency to defend the area against the stereotypes of other regions, with its frequent references to the 'Germanness' of western parts of Poland. These factors all play a part in the denial locally of claims of Germanness to many if not most of those who raise them.

With the complete changeover to a capitalist democracy and the full convertiblity of the now relatively stable zloty, the conditions that were formerly favourable for the shadow economy have mostly disappeared. Such activities have therefore largely ceased, though many of those who made hay while the sun shone have done well enough to be able to start their own businesses in Poland. However, this tradition of informal trading is well established. If it becomes advantageous to do so in the future, it can and will resume at a moment's notice.

Thus many 120% Germans have now decided to resume a Polish identity in recent years in order to be able to acquire property or set up a business in Poland, and they have begun teaching their children Polish. Again, to do this it is easier to switch identities: foreigners wanting to buy property have to obtain special government permission, a time-consuming process. This is not limited to Poles from Berlin: those born or resident in England, France, Holland, the USA or even the Ruhr are doing the same thing. They, however, have typically not hidden their Polish identities while abroad, unlike the 120% Germans. Since the changes of 1989, Poles in Berlin have also slowly been becoming more visible, with the arrival of Polish newspapers, congregations, restaurants and bars, etc. The circumstances that required the manipulation of ethnicity in Berlin have been modified by the change to a market economy, but there is no reason to believe that this will prove a stable situation.

A last question to be addressed is the representation of personal reasons for migrating. The popular suspicion that the main motives for moving into Germany are economic is not entirely born out by surveys made among migrants of their intentions. Although economic reasons figure increasingly between the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, the desire to live as a German among Germans and the existence of family ties tend to predominate (cf. Otto 1990b: 43). The population on either side, however, are much surer that economic motives are the real reason (ibid.: 52-3). Certainly the economic and social help the migrants were entitled to in Germany was considerable (ibid.: 58-9).

Questionnaires may not be helpful in this context, since they are prone to prior or at least essentialist definitions of ethnicity, motivations and so on. The general tendency among both Germans and Poles to ascribe purely economic motives to the 120s, both in going to Germany in the first place and in returning to a reborn Poland subsequently, neglects the circumstances in which many made the initial move from Poland to Germany during the Cold War. At the time, such decisions seemed to be irrevocable, with the very real possibility that contacts with one's family would be lost and that one might never be able to return to Poland again. Rather than being seen in narrowly economic terms, these decisions to migrate seem to have reflected a giving up on Poland, a turning of one's back on a country which was regarded as hopelessly poor, inefficient and corrupt, dominated by a stagnant ideology of foreign origin, with no freedom of manoeuvre in foreign affairs, and with the very real threat of social unrest followed by Soviet invasion, of the sort that had already happened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. To many, there was simply no point in continuing to be a Pole if one could exercise another option. Being a Pole was therefore 'forgotten' as an option, only to be 'remembered' again when the old regime collapsed, and Poland suddenly became freer and more prosperous than it had ever been.


Anderson, Benedict 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
Origin and Spread of Nationalism
, London and New York: Verso.

Bornemann, John 1991. Uniting the German Nation: Law, Narrative, and
Historicity, American Ethnologist 20, 288-311.

1993. Belonging in the Two Berlins: Kin, State, Nation,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

de Zayas, Alfred Maurice 1993. The German Expellees: Victims in War
and Peace
, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan.

Diedrich, Maria 1993. Born Guilty? The New German Challenge,
Transition 60, 34-51.

Dumont, Louis 1986. Are Cultures Living Beings? German Identity in
Interaction, Man 21/4, 587-604.

1991. Homo Aequalis II: L'idéology allemande: France-Allemagne
et retour
, Paris: Gallimard.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland 1993. Ethnicity and Nationalism: Anthropological
, London and Boulder: Pluto Press.

Forsythe, Diana 1984. Deutschland als wenig erforschtes Gebiet: ein
Problem in der Ethnologie Westeuropas, Kölner Zeitschrift für
Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie
, Sonderheft 26 ('Ethnologie als
Sozialwissenschaft'), 124-40.

1989. German Identity and the Problems of History, in Elizabeth
Tonkin, Maryon McDonald and Malcolm Chapman (eds.), History and
, London and New York: Routledge (ASA Monographs 27).

Herbert, Ulrich 1986. Geschichte der Ausländerbeschäftigung in Deutschland
1880 bis 1980: Saisonarbeiter, Zwangsarbeiter, Gastarbeiter
, Berlin and
Bonn: J.H.W. Dietz.

Herzfeld, Michael 1982. Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the
Making of Modern Greece
, Austin: University of Texas Press.

Irek, Margaret 1998. Der Schmuggelzug--Warschau-Berlin-Warschau:
Materialien einer Feldforschung
, Berlin: das Arabische Buch.

Just, Roger 1989. Triumph of the Ethnos, in Elizabeth Tonkin,
Maryon McDonald and Malcolm Chapman (eds.), History and
, London and New York: Routledge (ASA Monographs 27).

Kurcz, Zbigniew 1991. Ksztaltowanie sie niemieckiej mniejszosci
narodowej na Slansku, Kultura i Spoleczenstwo 35/2, 73-84.

Lehmann, Albrecht 1991. Im Fremden ungewollt zuhaus: Flüchtlinge und
Vertriebene in Westdeutschland 1945-1990
, Munich: C.H. Beck.

Lumans, Valdis O. 1993. Himmler's Auxiliaries: The Volksdeutsche
Mittelstelle and the German National Minorities of Europe, 1933-1945
Chapel Hill and London: The University of Carolina Press.

Otto, Karl A. 1990. Aussiedler und Aussiedler-Politik im Spannungsfeld von
Menschenrechten und Kaltem Krieg: historische, politisch-moralische
und rechtliche Aspekte der Aussiedler-Politik, in Karl A. Otto (ed.),
Westwärts - Heimwärts? Aussiedlerpolitik zwischen 'Deutschtümelei'
und 'Verfassungsauftrag'
, Bielefeld: AJZ Verlag.

Parsons, Talcott 1975. Some Theoretical Considerations on the Nature
and Trends of Change of Ethnicity, in Nathan Glazer and Daniel P.
Moynihan (eds.), Ethnicity: Theory and Experience, Cambridge, Mass.,
and London: Harvard University Press.

Peuckert, Will-Erich 1950. Schlesien: Biography der Landschaft,
Hamburg: Claassen Verlag.

Piper, Richard 1975. Reflections on the Nationality Problems in the
Soviet Union, in Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan (eds.),
Ethnicity: Theory and Experience, Cambridge, Mass., and London:
Harvard University Press.

Rogall, J. 1992. Ein Diskussionsbeitrag--Suche nach eigener Identität:
Masuren und Ermländer im XIX. und XX. Jahrhundert, Borussia
1992/1, pp. 4ff.

Schieder, Theodor 1960. Die Vertreibung der Deutschen aus dem Osten als
Wissenschaftliches Problem, Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 8/1, 1-16.

Schmalstieg, Herbert 1990. Aussiedlerzuwanderung: eine Chance für
Städte und Gemeinden, in Karl A. Otto (ed.),Westwärts - Heimwärts?
Aussiedlerpolitik zwischen 'Deutschtümelei' und 'Verfassungsauftrag'
Bielefeld: AJZ Verlag.

Urban, Thomas 1994. Deutsche in Polen: Geschichte und Gegenwart einer
, Munich: C.H. Beck (2nd edn.).