Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wrocław during the Century of Expulsions

Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wrocław during the Century of Expulsions

Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wrocław during the Century of Expulsions

Uprooted: How Breslau Became Wrocław during the Century of Expulsions

Synopsis

With the stroke of a pen at the Potsdam Conference following the Allied victory in 1945, Breslau, the largest German city east of Berlin, became the Polish city of Wroclaw. Its more than six hundred thousand inhabitants--almost all of them ethnic Germans--were expelled and replaced by Polish settlers from all parts of prewar Poland. Uprooted examines the long-term psychological and cultural consequences of forced migration in twentieth-century Europe through the experiences of Wroclaw's Polish inhabitants.

In this pioneering work, Gregor Thum tells the story of how the city's new Polish settlers found themselves in a place that was not only unfamiliar to them but outright repellent given Wroclaw's Prussian-German appearance and the enormous scope of wartime destruction. The immediate consequences were an unstable society, an extremely high crime rate, rapid dilapidation of the building stock, and economic stagnation. This changed only after the city's authorities and a new intellectual elite provided Wroclaw with a Polish founding myth and reshaped the city's appearance to fit the postwar legend that it was an age-old Polish city. Thum also shows how the end of the Cold War and Poland's democratization triggered a public debate about Wroclaw's "amputated memory." Rediscovering the German past, Wroclaw's Poles reinvented their city for the second time since World War II.

Uprooted traces the complex historical process by which Wroclaw's new inhabitants revitalized their city and made it their own.

Excerpt

What vienna was at the fin de Siècle and Berlin in the “Golden Twenties”—that was sixteenth-century Wrocław. the largest city in Silesia and one of the largest in Europe, it was a bustling center of commerce at the crossroads of two major European trade routes: the Amber Road leading from the Baltic Sea through the Danube region and on to the Adriatic; and the Via Regia, a branch of which took the traveler from the mouth of the Rhine at the North Sea to the Black Sea and farther, via the Silk Road, all the way to China. in Wrocław these trade routes crossed the Oder River, a serious barrier that would not become fully navigable until the nineteenth century. From Wrocław, the roads spread out to what are today Toruń, Gdańsk, and Kaliningrad in the north; to Krakow, Lviv, and Kiev in the east; to Prague, Vienna, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Milan, Genoa, and Venice in the south; and to Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne, Bruges, and Antwerp in the west. Merchants from all over the Holy Roman Empire, from Poland, Lithuania, and Russia met in Wrocław. At the city’s large marketplaces and in the expansive cloth halls, they sold their wares and negotiated new business deals. This hustle and bustle made the city rich and powerful, a splendid Central European metropolis, marked by spacious urban design, magnificent patrician houses, an impressive city hall, and monumental churches, whose steeples proclaimed the city’s pride from afar.

But this resplendence would not endure. As the Netherlands and England rose in prominence over the course of the seventeenth century and Europe’s economic life shifted northward and westward, Wrocław’s star began to wane. the region between Prague and Krakow, Wrocław and Gdańsk, which had been at the heart of Europe in the late Middle Ages, became its periphery, and the Silesian capital gradually lost stature in the hierarchy of . . .

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