The Trek : The Evolution of National Identity Among WWII Polish Refugees Deported from Soviet-Occupied Poland
MetadataShow full item record
The author conducted interviews with three Polish refugees, including his grandfather. Polish national identity and connection to home appeared to evolve throughout the journey of Polish deportees-turned-refugees during WWII. Initially, the practice of Catholic religious traditions and the Polish language were vital components, but as hardship and suffering became more commonplace for the deported Poles, especially during exile in Soviet labor camps and the trek from those sites to locations where the Polish Army was being organized, resilience emerged as another prominent characteristic. The USSR's greater aim of absorbing Poland into its Soviet empire was demonstrated by the hostility directed towards Polish culture on a local level in Soviet-occupied Poland and in Soviet labor camps. The NKVD, acting on the behalf of the interests of the Soviet Union, implemented a campaign not only to indoctrinate Polish deportees with the Communist ideology and produce loyal Soviet subjects, but also to degrade Polish national identity through the confiscation of religious writings, the banning of religious holidays, and the restriction placed on the use of the Polish language. In spite of the widespread effort to educate Polish children in Russian and the Communist doctrine, Polish refugees remained vigilant during their exile and journey to sites of accommodation established by the Polish government-in-exile and the British government. Additionally, the collective suffering of the Polish refugee population acted as a source of commonality rather than demoralization. The threat to their national identity as well as the integrity of their people and their nation also served as motivation for the displaced Polish population because it compelled them to survive and uphold the traditions so they could ensure the preservation of their country. Meanwhile, the construction of community centers and schools in refugee camps in Persia and India allowed the Polish refugee community to maintain and enhance their national identity and connection to home. The ability to implement a curriculum with emphasis on Polish language and history as well as the freedom to celebrate religious holidays and perform dances and songs that were distinct to the Polish folk culture significantly contributed to the solidification of Polish national identity. The promotion of groups and communities through scouting and sports programs provided the Polish youth with disciplined figures to model their behavior after and with the opportunity to feel as though they belonged to a unit or family unified by Polish identity and culture. Finally, the respect and sensitivity displayed by the organizers and staff of these refugee camps, in particular the Polish, British, Indian, and Persian personnel, allowed Poles to reclaim a sense of humanity and self-worth, which had been attacked while in exile. These factors not only ensured the survival of Polish national identity among the refugee population, but also the perpetuation of Polish cultural, religious, social, and political values worldwide during a period in which Poland remained a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Although a large portion of the Polish population that was displaced from the Soviet-occupied zone of Poland chose to settle abroad, their connection to their home remains strong as made evident by their continued practice of Catholicism and celebration of Polish history and culture today.