Omzwervingen langs Oder en Neisse
Wandering around the Oder-Neisse line
Huge population shifts took place in the border area between Germany and Poland in the years immediately following the Second World War. At the Postdam Conference in the summer of 1945, the allies put into force their decision to transfer the eastern part of the German Reich beyond the rivers Oder and Neisse to Poland. The Germans living there fled, were driven out, or merged with arriving Poles and Ukrainians forced to leave lands further east. Around fifteen million people in the region moved home.
For decades Poles and Germans lived with their backs to each other on either side of the Oder-Neisse line, confined to their respective socialist people’s republics. Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc relations have not improved greatly, despite Poland becoming a member of the EU on 1 May 2004. The border region is still a place of division, where two peoples burdened by centuries of distrust and enmity are attempting to forge closer ties.
Journalist Annemieke Hendriks travelled through the region, on both sides of the border, from Silesia in the south to Pomerania in the north. Traces of the eventful history of the region in town and country are evocatively described in her book, as Hendriks talks to both Poles and Germans about the problems that divide them and their attempts to come to terms with the past. She describes how differently the two areas are developing today, illustrating the enormous contrast between economic misery on the German side and dynamic neo-capitalism just over the border.
Divided Land is a book no German or Pole could have written. Political correctness means Germans never dare speak ill of Poland, while Poles are too chauvinistic to abandon their own prejudiced version of history. As an outsider Hendriks feels free to challenge the reciprocal fears and prejudices of Germans and Poles and as a result her book is full of tense clashes, unexpected twists and turns, and enlightening observations. Hendriks proves the ideal reporter for such an undertaking. With great precision, in a smoothly readable style and with a perfectly judged dose of humour, she unlocks a painful aspect of European history, one that has received little attention until now.