A Cold War in the Soviet Bloc: Polish-East German Relations : 1945-1962

A Cold War in the Soviet Bloc: Polish-East German Relations : 1945-1962

A Cold War in the Soviet Bloc: Polish-East German Relations : 1945-1962

A Cold War in the Soviet Bloc: Polish-East German Relations : 1945-1962

Excerpt

The alliance of the two nations [German and Polish] is . . . not by any means a beautiful dream, a charming illusion; no, gentlemen, it is an inevitable necessity resulting from the common interests of the two nations.

--Friedrich Engels, 1847

I crossed the Oder-Neisse border for the first time in 1987 on an overnight train from Hanover to Warsaw. As the train approached Frankfurt/Oder around midnight, I was aroused from my sleep by a phalanx of gruff East German border guards and customs agents. They took over three hours to check documents and comb the train from top to bottom for stowaways and contraband. I had experienced many close inspections and long delays on trips between West and East Germany, but the East Germans seemed to be even more vigilant along their border with Poland than they were on their western border, across which sat enemy NATO troops.

The incident prompted me to ask my East German and Polish friends about their impressions of relations between the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the People's Republic of Poland (PRP). On the one hand, the East Germans responded that interstate relations were cordial and emphasized their government's constructive political, cultural, and economic efforts to bring the two peoples together. On the other hand, they often harbored old prejudices; that is, the Poles were lazy, disorganized, and untrustworthy. Many complained about Poles who crossed the border to buy up scarce East German consumer goods. The Poles also had ambiguous opinions about the East Germans. Although some criticized the East Germans' arrogance, dogmatism, and slavish adherence to Stalinism, they begrudgingly respected the GDR's economic and technical achievements. But the Polish attitude can be summarized in the old saying Jak świat światem, nie będzie Niemiec Polakowi bratem (As long as the world is whole, no German will be a brother to a Pole).

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