[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Nationalism]: Chu on Kulczycki, 'Belonging to the Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Polish-German Borderlands, 1939-1951'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Mon Oct 24 18:21:39 MDT 2016

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 5:45 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Nationalism]: Chu on Kulczycki, 'Belonging to the
Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Polish-German Borderlands, 1939-1951'
To: H-REVIEW at h-net.msu.edu

John J. Kulczycki.  Belonging to the Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion
in the Polish-German Borderlands, 1939-1951.  Cambridge  Harvard
University Press, 2016.  416 pp.  $49.95 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Winson Chu (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
Published on H-Nationalism (October, 2016)
Commissioned by Cristian Cercel

The German-Polish borderlands in the twentieth century have been the
setting for several recent studies on nationalization and ethnic
cleansing. These examinations have focused on policies as well as the
people affected, including those that have been considered to be
"nationally indifferent."[1] John J. Kulczycki has written a fine
examination of the origins of the idea to purify nations and its
application during and after the Second World War, a process that
resulted in the resettlement of many interwar Polish citizens in
Germany. Kulczycki seeks to show how the stories of those who left
Poland for West Germany in the 1950s do not easily fit the narrow
categories of expulsion or economic migration.

The study begins in 1939 with the Nazi invasion of Poland and ends in
1951 with the end of deportations of "Germans" from Poland to East
Germany. Kulczycki examines how German and Polish officials tried to
determine the nationality of people in the borderlands throughout
this period. The tendency was to move from purportedly objective
signs of ethnicity to subjective assessments of an individual's
virtues, past behavior, and attitude toward the current regime.
Notably, Kulczycki does not himself use the term "ethnic cleansing"
and at least in the Polish case seems to prefer the concept of
"nationality cleansing," whereby "one had to declare one's national
loyalty to Poland, not just exhibit Polish ethnic characteristics"
(p. 120).

Kulczycki stresses the similarities in the nationalization policies
of both Nazi Germany and Communist Poland. At the same time, the book
is not simply a story of a "double occupation" by two totalitarian
regimes. Instead, he focuses on the deeper historical roots and
broader societal support for the implementation of nationalization in
both cases. These include the intellectual enterprises of
_Ostforschung_ and the Polish Western Idea. The latter idea of
promoting Poland's right to expand westward found expression in the
Polish Western Union (Polski Związek Zachodni), an interwar
nationalist organization that the Communist authorities reactivated
not just to garner popular support but also to collaborate actively
in the process of national verification. Two interrelated strands can
be discerned here: who among interwar Poland's citizens was German
enough to warrant exclusion and expulsion, and who among interwar
Germany's citizens, the _Reichsdeutsche_, might be Polish enough to

Kulczycki focuses first and foremost on the so-called
_Volksdeutsche_. Although the term had multiple and changing
meanings, in postwar Poland it largely entailed the people of the
borderlands who had been on the wartime German nationality list
(Deutsche Volksliste, DVL). Yet the nationality list, with its four
gradations that were each interpreted differently by Nazi officials
in different regions, had included close to three million people, and
postwar Polish authorities soon discovered the limitations and
unfairness of using incomplete German records in establishing the
Polishness of the autochthonous population in the borderlands. An
overreliance on actual DVL registrations meant, for example, that
voluntary applicants rejected by the Germans could evade postwar
reprisals, in contrast to those who had been forcibly enrolled in the

Kulczycki reveals how the verification process gradually dragged in
more and more people beyond the DVL registers as property became an
incentive to find more _Volksdeutsche_. Resettlers frequently
denounced autochthonous farmers as Germans in hopes of taking their
land, while the cronyism of local officials also relied on the goods,
forced labor, and sexual exploitation of purported Germans. Central
authorities however became increasingly concerned over the possible
loss of genuinely Polish inhabitants and the disaffection of the
autochthonous population, and Kulczycki brilliantly shows the limits
of Communist control in Warsaw over local powerbrokers.

Although Kulczycki seeks to show the parallels in German and Polish
policies of ethnic cleansing and nationalization, the connections
remain largely left undiscussed until the conclusion. It is clear
that Kulczycki is more interested in examining Polonization than
Germanization. In his synthesis of recent scholarship, he covers the
German occupation in about 50 pages. In the remaining 250 pages on
postwar Poland, however, Kulczycki provides a fuller and more
satisfying analysis, in large part by drawing on a multivolume edited
collection of documents.

Yet the reliance on edited collections that focus on "Germans" in
various parts of Poland after the Second World War likely influenced
the author's structure and findings. Small chapters (thirteen,
excluding the introduction and conclusion) broken into numerous
subsections allow Kulczycki to engage the challenge of covering
geographical diversity and temporal changes, sometimes in a scattered
manner. In one paragraph, for example, Kulczycki provides reactions
to the introduction of collective farms in Kashubia, Łódź,
Katowice, and Gdańsk. This geographic breadth, along with the
author's tendency to give a close relation of the sources, resulted
in sometimes detailed discussions of evidence. Moreover, the
terminology often gets unwieldy: the book uses "autochthons" to
encompass former Reich (non-German) citizens in Szczecin and Wrocław
in the "recovered territories" as well as the _Volksdeutsche_
populations of Łódź and Katowice in interwar Poland. Perhaps this
unwieldiness underscores the sheer challenge historians face in
writing about the complex geographies of nationalism. Finally, the
discussion of Jews in postwar Poland uses mostly secondary sources
and is limited to a few pages.

Despite his wide geographical coverage, Kulczycki leaves out the
explanation of why there was still so much variation in official
responses beyond the lack of central direction. Thus, a
historiographical thread that could tie the different pieces of the
two regimes together is largely absent. The book would have benefited
from stepping back more consistently in order to assess developments
and connections. The term "national indifference," which is used
throughout the book, could have provided such a narrative focus.

Yet it is clear that Kulczycki has written an engaging and deeply
informative account of nationalization policies in the German-Polish
borderlands. The book presents many of the findings of German and
Polish scholars of the last twenty years in English and will be
helpful to advanced students and scholars alike. Judicious and fairly
written, the book reminds readers that the need to respect the
cultural variety of the region remains relevant to this day.


[1]. On national indifference, see Tara Zahra, "Imagined
Non-Communities: National Indifference as a Category of Analysis,"
_Slavic Review_ 69 (2010): 93-119.

Citation: Winson Chu. Review of Kulczycki, John J., _Belonging to the
Nation: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Polish-German Borderlands,
1939-1951_. H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. October, 2016.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46514

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

More information about the Marxism mailing list