Schlesier in den Niederlanden
Schlesische Flüchtlinge gaben sich in Holland als Polen aus, um nicht
weiter verfolgt und ausgegrenzt zu werden.
I am Dutch, born in Amsterdam in 1948. At least, that is what my passport
says, and the facts certainly are correct. When people ask me about my
name, that rhymes with 'Sarowski', I always tell them that my parents were
Poles, that after the war found themselves in Amsterdam. Indeed, I flaunted my
Polish background at school: Poles were loved in Holland, and dark suggestions
about the suffering of my parents under the German occupation always were
good for a bit of sympathy - especially with the girls. I was a very happy
young man of Polish descent, of the country of the valiant heroes. In some ways
it was better even than being Jewish, because you could also eat pork
sandwiches without feeling guilty, which my friends from "Oud Zuid", the real Jewish
neighbourhood of Amsterdam, could not.
My parents never said much about their past, but when I brought home a
Polish flag after an international scouting camp, and wanted to hang it in my
room, they let me feel somehow that this was perhaps not a good idea. And when I
learnt German in school I wondered a bit about the many books in the
German language in our house. Also, I noted that the other Poles in Amsterdam, at
least those that were befriended with my parents, always spoke German
among themselves (and Dutch with me). It was disappointing that nobody ever
wanted to tell stories about the many heroic adventures, that they must have had
fleeing from the Germans, and how many they killed, because killing
Germans certainly was the done thing', either as a Pole or as a Dutchman. My Dutch
neighbours of course all had been active in the resistance and between
them must have accounted for at least five German divisions.
I do not remember very clearly how exactly I learned the truth about my
parents and myself, but afterwards I was amazed how blind and stupid I
must have been. It may have been a minor matter, perhaps the inability of my
father to translate a simple Polish sentence read in a book. But I remember his
words: "Aber wir sind Deutsche..." "But we are Germans...". Funny - he may have
uttered these words in Dutch for all I know, because we /always/ spoke
Dutcat home. But I remember him saying these words in German.
It was certainly in the Dutch language that he and my mother tried to
explain to me. How they fled from a small town near Breslau in the winter of 1945.
How the following years they were handed over as 'Displaced Persons' from one
concentration camp to the next, how they made their escape and landed in
Amsterdam. How they rapidly learned that a German fugitive had no future,
but that as 'Poles' they could get what they needed most: a permit to stay in
Holland, and identity papers. And wagonloads of sympathy. I do not blame
The funny thing was that judging from the 'Polish' friends of my parents,
there must have been dozens of Germans in Amsterdam that passed themselves
as Poles, and in the whole of Holland there must have been thousands. Years
later my father voiced the suspicion that the Dutch governement knew very well
what was going on, but he declined to give a reason for their rather atypical
I will not say much about the weeks and months that followed. You can not
imagine how it is for a young man to find himself struck from hero status
to that of the most despised race in the world. Of course I told nobody, and
after forty years almost everybody still thinks I am a Pole. In the
seventies I even went to the township where my parents were born, now a part of
Breslau, and met my grandparents and nephews. Actually the greater part of the
family had stayed in Silesia, and the older people remembered that once they had
been Germans. But my nephews and nieces were convinced that they were born as
Poles and hated everything German.
And every now and then I meet another Dutchman who says that his father
and mother are Polish, and fled to Holland after the war. I never ask and
neither does he.
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