Prisoners of War, Prisoners of Peace: Captivity, Homecoming, and Memory in World War II

By Bob Moore; Barbara Hately-Broad | Go to book overview

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Hatred within Limits: German Prisoners
of War and Polish Society, 1945–50

Jerzy Kochanowski

In comparison with the USSR, the United Kingdom, France or Yugoslavia, relatively few German POWs remained in post-war Poland.1 In the second half of 1945 there were about 50,000. A year later, when the system of captivity stabilized the initially high mortality rate fell, and once the identification and rehabilitation of certain prisoners - Volksdeutsch and the so-called autochtons(German citizens who felt themselves to be Poles) - had taken place, around 40,000 former soldiers remained in Polish captivity. Approximately 25,000 were in sixty camps located in the vicinity of the Silesian mines, the rest were in a number of, often small, camps scattered across the whole country2 This number of prisoners remained constant until the first releases in October 1948.


Different Attitudes

Immediately after World War II, relations between Poles and Germans, both civil and military, were conditioned by two basic factors. Despite losing the war, the Germans still had a stereotypical picture of Poles and of Poland that had been strongly developed through National Socialist propaganda during the Nazi era.3 On the Polish side, relations were determined by the nightmare of the past war and occupation. There was a common feeling that the Germans should also suffer fear, pain, debasement, humiliation, hunger, cold and exhausting work.4 However, just as the Poles had met displays of assistance and sympathy from the enemy during the war,5 post-war relations were no longer in black and white. On the one hand passing columns of prisoners were frequently welcomed in Polish towns and villages with abuse, stones and beatings that sometimes resulted in bloody lynchings.6 On the other hand even in 1944 there were incidents of sympathy and assistance, and even fraternization, especially with those Polish soldiers who had survived the war outside occupied territory.7

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