Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Contribution of Post-World War II Schools in Poland in Forging a Negative Image of the Germans

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Contribution of Post-World War II Schools in Poland in Forging a Negative Image of the Germans

Article excerpt

Public opinion polls conducted in Poland in the second half of the 1980's revealed the image the Poles have of the Germans. The negative elements included (in order of frequency cited): haughtiness, conceit, arrogance, megalomania, contempt for Poles, overconfidence, a fascist past, aggressiveness and hostility toward other nations, racism, nationalism, chauvinism, acquisitiveness, eagerness for conquest, noisiness, crudeness and coarseness, slavish obedience, and professional overeagerness.(1) The Poles' perception of East Germans did not differ significantly from their perception of West Germans: in 1985, 34 percent of the respondents regarded the Federal Republic as the country with the most evil intentions toward Poland. The GDR was in fourth place in this category and was the only member of the Warsaw Treaty Organization considered by the Poles more as a potential enemy than as an ally.(2)

In the context of the Polish negative stereotype of the Germans, it is worth mentioning the results of one more public opinion poll, which was conducted on the occasion of the East German leader Erich Honecker's first visit to the Federal Republic in September of 1987. Almost half of all Poles saw the possibly closer cooperation between the two German states as negative and disadvantageous to Poland.(3) The reasoning behind this perception was fear of: increased military danger (43.1 percent - the typical response within this group was, "They will surely demand the change of Polish frontiers."); endangering of the peaceful order in Europe and of rebirth of the "Drang nach Osten" (17.8 percent); the repetition of the tragedy of September 1, 1939 (4.7 percent).(4)

Thus it is not surprising that on the eve of October 3, 1990, German unification, more than 55 percent of Polish respondents openly declared that they did not like Germans, 70 percent feared Germans (while only 10 percent were afraid of Russians), and more than 40 percent questioned the Germans' right to self-determination and unification. At the same time, 70 percent of the respondents claimed agreement with the famous Polish saying that "as long as the world exists, the German will never be a brother to the Pole."(5)

What factors are responsible for the decisively negative image the Poles have of the Germans and for the formers fear of the latter? The first thing which comes to one's mind is the nightmare of World War II, during which more than six million Polish citizens perished. The second part of the answer is, however, that to ensure its continuance in power, the communist government in Warsaw for almost four and a half decades did its utmost to etch in the Poles' minds the allegedly ten-century long German enmity. The territorial revisionism in the Federal Republic, the communists in Warsaw claimed, was its most recent embodiment. The People's Poland used all tools available in the authoritarian state to achieve its goal. This paper discusses one of them, arguably the most effective one: the elementary and secondary schools.

As will be exemplified in the course of this study, the Polish students learned that Germans, in relations with other nations and in particular with Poland, were always the same: they sought to expand eastward at the expense of the Poles and other Slavs (the famous Drang nach Osten); when faced with the latter's resistance, they made numerous attempts to exterminate the people living east of the Oder River. Hitler's undertaking only added to the earlier forms of extermination the most hideous one: genocide. Hence, the ten centuries of Polish-German relations were full of life-and-death struggles. (Parenthetically, the Polish students were taught that all of German history was full of the unceasing conquests of foreign lands, unscrupulous plunder, foul murders, and barbaric devastation of Germany's neighbors. Regardless of the era, Germans were described as extremely cruel, eager for conquest, very aggressive, destructive, and the source of their neighbors' tragedies and suffering. …

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