The Victims of War, Forced Labor, Flight and Expulsion

Jan M. Piskorski (* 1956 in Stettin) is a Polish Historian. In his internationally acclaimed book „Die Verjagten“ he lays out the story of flight and expulsion in Europe of the 20th century. During his two month long residency with DISPLACED 2015 at Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf he is researching this issue specific to the region of Fläming, where our festival is located.Piskorski has kindly written the following essay for our blog.

The Victims of War, Forced Labor, Flight and Expulsion

An Essay by Jan M. Piskorki

European history begins with the Trojan War. By the end of the war, Troy was devastated. The Trojans escaped with Aeneas, who had lost his beloved wife in the fire. For many years, they wandered in the area of the Mediterranean Sea, between Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and Africa. Finally, they were welcomed into Libya. There, they were able to rest and even settle.

33 centuries later, thousands of refugees are fighting for their lives on the Mediterranean Sea. They are not welcome, and are saved only occasionally. Out of general helplessness and shame there are now calls for the bombing of the „smuggler ships“ in Libya.

Instead of opening the world’s congested migration channels wider and legalizing them, people naively wish to believe, that one of the greatest problems in human history can be solved with guns. Fortunately, there is no lack of committed people, who invest private money and effort to save these people. One of them, a 19-year old girl from Malta, hopes, that the refugee problem will be solved at last by the time she has children of her own. She says “we live in 2015, where something like this should not happen” – and adds “what’s happened to humanity, where is our soul?”

What is happening to „our soul“ – with our European memento of war and expulsion – that is the question I’d like to ask the last remaining contemporary witnesses of World War II in Teltow-Fläming. Henrik Schulze, the local chronicler from Jüterbog, describes it as the „war of 19 days“. „…which lasted at least 10 years“ – is what I would like to add, as I sit with his interesting books and read of the atrocities. The Jews were already ousted from here in the 1930s. Then came the forced laborers from all over the world, who kept the National Socialist economy and agriculture going for 6 years. Some of the locals began thinking that the world would remain forever separated into masters and slaves. Shortly later, the first German evacuees from the big cities arrived, forcing the people to reconsider, then in 1944/45 began the wave of Germans expelled from the East, and of the evacuees from the concentration camps, who often lost their lives in death marches, in this aforementioned „war of 19 days“.

Here, as in the rest of Central Europe, this vast migration came to an end around 1947. But the battle in the minds continued. Those who were children at that time confirm that the most severe battles were fought for the minds. They never end, though they had their beginnings as all wars do. The after-battles keep haunting us, even though everything has been systemized and explained away in museums and textbooks. People take the horror images, screams and smells with them into their grave. Like my aunt Maryla from Poznań; she carried her bridegroom, who died during WW I, in her heart and head until the 1980s. The older she became, the more often she talked about him. Finally, he became the most important event of the 20th century for her – during a time when the process, which led to the end of the cold war, began.

Jan M. Piskorski mit Emily Pütter – Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf.