Andrew Demshuk

Graduate Student, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Stay: 10 May to 28 June 2006

Research Project:

Poland's West and Germany's East: Portrayals of Lower and Upper Silesia, 1945–1970


While I am intrigued by broad historical questions and have explored areas as far removed as Tang Dynasty China and Byzantine studies, my doctoral research focuses upon the steady transformation of East?Central Europe from a complicated mosaic of ethnic groups before 1918 into supposedly »homogenous« nation?states after World War II.  Most especially, I seek to explore how, beneath a veneer of nationalist rhetoric, the residents of East-Central Europe often retained multiple identities, at times determined by contingent interests, and how these identities evolved during an era of intense inter-ethnic strife and mass-movements of population.  In addition, I wish to discern how varying parties perceived the same populations and historic territories through differing, often national lenses, and how these perceptions could produce starkly conflicting narratives about the same subject.  More specifically, my research concerns itself with the German population of Lower and Upper Silesia, both in the interwar period and after World War II, by which time most of this population had been expelled.  I investigate the varying ways in which expellees perceived and remembered their lost Heimat, and how this compared with depictions of this land by other groups in Poland, Germany, and the West.  However, the difficulty, especially in Upper Silesia, of identifying a reified »German« population highlights the importance of maintaining a perspective which takes into account the interdependent nature of the various population groups (for instance: Czech, German, Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, and many regional groups) as the multiethnic fabric of East-Central Europe unraveled. Especially since the expansion of the European Union, this region and its ethnic heritage have acquired an even greater importance, as neighbors seek to establish new patterns of interaction which, it is hoped, will be less destructive than before.