German on the Oder: Where story(s) merge

German on the Oder: Where story(s) merge

WAldemar Gielzok is angry. A year ago, the Polish government reduced the number of language lessons for the German minority. Since then, children in Opole and Silesia have only been learning German for one hour a week. “Here we have a case where Polish citizens who profess to be Polish, live in Poland, pay taxes, suddenly found out that they have become hostages in a political dispute between Germans and Poles,” says the chairman of the German Education Society in Opole.

Among other things, the organization takes care of further training for German teachers in Silesia. The conservative-nationalist government in Warsaw wants to force the federal government to also recognize the two million Polish-speaking people in Germany as a minority, says Gielzok. And she should spend more money on Polish lessons at German schools.

The demands are not new. They keep popping up, as do those after reparations. The fact that they are getting louder again at the moment also has something to do with the fact that parliamentary elections will be held in autumn in Poland take place. “The Germans serve as an enemy image. Anti-German resentment is a good basis for addressing a certain electorate,” says Gielzok, referring above all to those who are critical of the European Union and equate Germany with Brussels.

A new generation

The leading coalition partner, the party Law and Justice (PiS), has clearly lost approval in recent polls, but is still ahead with more than 35 percent. The liberal coalition of citizens is currently around 30 percent. She has support especially in western Poland. In the past parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2019, a clear east-west difference can be seen on the voting cards. In the former German territories, the right is far less successful.

Waldemar Gielzok, Chairman of the

Waldemar Gielzok, Chairman of the “German Educational Society Oppeln”

Image: Rosa Burczyk

Anyone traveling in Silesia and West Pomerania quickly realizes that the relationship to the Germans and the German heritage in the region has changed in recent years. Old buildings, cemeteries and monuments are cared for, rediscovered and restored. For a long time there was concern that the reunified Germany could second World War lost territories beyond the Oder, there is now a generation of Poles who are no longer directly affected by the trauma of war and expulsion.

This reportage follows the Oder, formerly a German river, now the very porous border between Poland and Germany. It begins in Oppeln, the center of the German minority Wroclaw, once one of the largest cities in the German Reich, and ends in Stettin, a metropolis in the otherwise structurally weak region in the triangle of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and West Pomerania. It is just 20 kilometers from the city center to the border, two hours by car from Berlin.

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