The transformation of the memory of forced migration during World War II in local contexts. Places, themes and agents in socialist industrial cities after 1989

Funded by the Government Commissioner for Media and Culture (BKM), this project examines how local cultures of remembrance changed after the change of system in 1989, focussing on specific post-socialist cities.


The interrelationship of different local memories of World War II migrations is a central concern of the project. Do the memories and historical narrative of a particular ‘migrant group’, as mediated by certain social agents, dominate in the local context?


The selected Central and Eastern European industrial cities Hoyerswerda, Ústí nad Labem, Košice and Łódź were all centres of migratory movements; all have been shaped by the influx and exodus of different population groups for various reasons, including refugee movements, forced migration and labour during World War II, the deportation of Jews and other groups, expulsions and the settlement of expellees after World War II, but also economic migration, especially in the context of socialist industrialisation.


Against the backdrop of a pluralist and democratic urban society that began to emerge after 1989, where the historical (master) narratives of the state socialist era became obsolete, the project first analyses the memory agendas of local groups. Do the memories of different wartime migrations compete with each other? What is the relationship between, for example, the memories of the fate of German expellees and those of the fate of forced labourers in the cities and surrounding regions? Were these memories overshadowed by memories of mass economic migration under state socialism and an attendant spurt in urbanization?


Based on a “conception of memory as politics”, the project also examines and compares the memory hierarchies invoked by locally active agents such as local party organisations, migrant and non-migrant associations, (citizens’) initiatives, and municipal institutions, including city councils, museums, and archives. The investigation revolves around concrete discussions about what constitutes the ‘right’ memory of forced wartime migration after 1989 and further migration processes in industrial cities as a local field of action now shaped by different power resources. In this way the collective acts of remembrance conveyed by the media (commemorative events, public speeches, written documents, exhibitions) come into focus.


The interaction between remembering individuals, local civil society groups, and municipal institutions must be studied in order to describe the strategies and objectives pursued in the construction of memory in post-socialist societies beyond the social context and actual local power constellations. To what extent are ‘big’ national debates about processes of (forced) migration reflected in local contexts? Or do at least partially ‘autonomous’ forms of memory emerge in cities under investigation? A central hypothesis of this project is that post-1989 memory in the local context is dominated by specific experiences of oppression and suffering during the communist era.


The comparative project envisages four individual studies:  on Hoyerswerda (K. Erik Franzen), Ústí nad Labem (Frauke Wetzel), Košice (Adam Gajdoš) and Łódź (Ulrike Lang). 


K. Erik Franzen