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The unbearable wholeness of being : memory, nostalgia, and German expellees in the post-war archive Ickert, Stefanie Carissa


In 1949, Paul Jendrike, former Chairman of the National Association of German Teachers in Poland (1922-1939) sent a questionnaire to each of the Association’s former members. Cognizant that living memory would soon disappear, Jendrike sought to document the experiences of German teachers in interwar Poland. Most of these teachers who received questionnaires were now living in West Germany, kicked out of their former homelands in Poland after the Second World War, joining approximately eleven million other expellees from the former German east. As citizens of Poland but members of an ethnic German minority, the Germanness of these so-called Volksdeutsche had often been a source of debate. Now, in Germany, and relabelled Vertriebene, or expellees, they were made into a bounded group, still distinct from the rest of the German-speaking population. The questionnaire was set up in such a way as to show a clear distinction between “Germans” and “Poles,” in addition to showing that Poland had blatantly defied the terms of the Minority Protection Treaty, signed in 1919. Respondents, however, defied Jendrike’s intentions by using the undisciplined spaces of the questionnaire to exercise their nostalgic longing. The nostalgia in these undisciplined spaces shows not only that many of the respondents were persistently non-national, but that they had no political or revanchist aims, in contrast to what most works on the expellees have shown. This essay demonstrates that taking nostalgia seriously exposes a surprising story about expellees, one that reveals that there was no real sense of groupness, either before the war or after. Attending to nostalgia in this way illustrates the need to reconsider Vertriebene and Volksdeutsche historiographies and break down these temporally delimited definitions of groupness.

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