Changing Social Roles in a Polish-German Border Town: The Case of Międzychód/Birnbaum
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In this article I focus on the questions of how the social roles of Germans and Poles changed after Międzychód/Birnbaum came back to Poland on January 17, 1920; what were the stages in the process of change the town went through; and, what factors were responsible for this change. I begin with a broader introduction presenting, first, the situation in the early modern times, pointing to what it meant to be ‘Polish’ in a ‘German’-dominated urban society in the Greater Poland region; and, second, the change which occurred during the nineteenth century. With the examples of individual biographies, I show the variety of role perceptions in a mixed Polish-German setting. The main section analyses the ways in which the role reversal was enforced in favour of Międzychód’s Poles in the arena of local politics, which is preceded by a glance at the impact of an international conflict between Germany and Poland on the lot of German ‘optants’ – i.e. those who had opted for keeping the German citizenship and who later on were forced by the Polish authorities, in most cases, to leave Poland. My argument is that the role reversal in Międzychód/Birnbaum was a protracted process, which began with the onset of nationalism and was facilitated by economic and social change.
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