Diaspora and Denial? Holocaust Accounts of a Polish Community in Exile
After the defeat of the Polish Army by German forces in September 1939 some 100,000 Polish soldiers fled Poland for France, and were reassembled into Polish Army Units under the Polish Government in Exile. Some units then saw active fighting in France, Norway, the Western Front, the USSR and Syria, and suffered great losses; others were charged with the defense of more remote and uncontested corners of Allied territory, including the east of Scotland. At the end of the War, and in the wake of revelations of massacres of Polish officers at Katyn, probably by "Russian allies" (Novick, 2000), a number of Poles in Scotland elected to stay. In this paper I consider the Polish diaspora community in Scotland that has its origins in this moment of postwar exile. Making use of wartime records published by the Polish Ministry of Information in 1941, as well as contemporary theory on the development and maintenance of collective identity, I examine some of the factors influencing this community’s shared mythology – collective memory – of Poland and, in particular, Poland’s role in the Holocaust. Who are this community? Who do they think they are? How have they maintained their cultural identity in exile? And how has this contributed to their imagining of Poland and 'Poland's War'? I conclude by proposing that this community’s collective memory has been “frozen” in Diaspora, and I reflect on whether similar “frozen” Diaspora narratives are a phenomenon that may be complicating commentary on, analysis of and resolution of continuing conflict situations around the globe.
Keywords: Polish Diaspora, Scotland, Second World War, Holocaust, Collective Memory
Dr. Leah P. Macfadyen
Research Associate & Instructor, Science Centre for Learning and Teaching (Skylight)