Greater Poland

Border: Poland – Germany
At present: Poland

The beginning of 1919 in Greater Poland was extremely tumultuous. Poles were catching the wind of change using their historical chance. Greater Poland insurgents were achieving unhoped-for results, and the German authorities, paralyzed by the loss of the war and the specter of the communist revolution, were unable to offer resistance. Ultimately, the Greater Poland Uprising turned out to be one of the few victorious Polish liberation fights. As a result, almost all of the pre-partition Polish lands were annexed to the newly revived Polish state. 


The course of events was completely different for the village of Świętno, which, in the mayhem of insurgent fights in January 1919, declared independence as Freistaat Schwenten, i.e. the Free State of Świętno. After 218 days of ephemeral existence, the Free State of Świętno joined Germany voluntarily. Later, its history was eagerly used by Nazi anti-Polish propaganda, and Świętno itself did not return to Poland until 1945, when the entire pre-war world of Central Europe finally came to an end. 


In the Green Market Square in the city of Wschowa, on the border of Lower Silesia and Greater Poland, there is a small statue “In tribute to the fallen, murdered and banished from the eastern borderlands of the Second Polish Republic over the period 1939–1945”. After the war, the survivors of the Volhynian massacres were deported to Wschowa, which used to be on the German side of the border. From a burnt, deserted village to a burnt, deserted town. From the eastern outskirts of the Second Polish Republic to the western outskirts of the People’s Republic of Poland. It’s as if they would always remain on the margin of Poland. The Germans had departed, the Volhynians had arrived. 


One of the survivors was Mrs. Antonina Tokarz: “Before the war, it was the farthest thought from everyone’s mind to wish ill for a neighbor, son-in-law, brother-in-law, classmate or friend from the neighborhood. After all, the Ukrainians had also saved us. If our neighbor hadn’t come running or warned us, we wouldn’t have had time to hide in the barn. He played the odds; if he had come across these bandits, they would have slit his throat for helping the Poles. There, what was really inside people would crawl out to the outside. If somebody was good, he would become noble, and if he was evil, he would become merciless. We tend to keep the memory of anger, hatred, the harm suffered for longer. Nobody has ever apologized to us.”
Antonina Tokarz passed away a few months after our conversation, in the winter of 2020.

Railway station in Zbąszyń, western gate of the Second Polish Republic.
Railway station in Zbąszyń, western gate of the Second Polish Republic.

The first station, on the Polish side of the border, was a stop for trains from Paris via Berlin to Warsaw and then to Moscow.

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A former site of the border by the road near Zbąszyń.
A former site of the border by the road near Zbąszyń.
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The facility of Polish border guards.
The facility of Polish border guards.
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Railway station in Zbaszynek.
Railway station in Zbaszynek.

The city was built from basics after Germany had lost the Zbaszyn railway junction to Poland.

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Monument commemorating Greater Poland Insurgents from Margonin.
Monument commemorating Greater Poland Insurgents from Margonin.

The small squad blew up the strategic bridge over Notec River.

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A mural of the Greater Poland Uprising made by football fans from Pila.
A mural of the Greater Poland Uprising made by football fans from Pila.

After the First World War, Pila was incorporated into Germany.

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The former seat of the Frontier March of Posen-West Prussia in Piła, today a police school.
The former seat of the Frontier March of Posen-West Prussia in Piła, today a police school.

The March was formed from the territories of Greater Poland and Pomerania, which did not return to Poland.

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Border post in front of the museum in Pila.
Border post in front of the museum in Pila.

A former site of the Polish Consulate in the interwar period.

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Greater Poland
Greater Poland
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Henryk Lach, who came to the former border areas abandoned by the Germans in 1946:
Henryk Lach, who came to the former border areas abandoned by the Germans in 1946:

“There is only one German left in Świętno. Quiet, calm, he tried to be inconspicuous.”

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Church in Świętno, where Emil Gustav Hegemann was the pastor.
Church in Świętno, where Emil Gustav Hegemann was the pastor.
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Former Wolff’s inn, where the independence of the Free State of Świętno was declared.
Former Wolff’s inn, where the independence of the Free State of Świętno was declared.

Pastor Hegemann became president, mayor Henryk Drescher became the minister of internal affairs and Karl Teske, the forester, was the minister of war.

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House of the pastor - President Hegemann.
House of the pastor - President Hegemann.
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Former pastoral house, and later the presidential palace.
Former pastoral house, and later the presidential palace.
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Interior of the pastoral house.
Interior of the pastoral house.
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A closed railway viaduct near Świętno.
A closed railway viaduct near Świętno.
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The town of Wschowa, which belonged to Germany until 1945.
The town of Wschowa, which belonged to Germany until 1945.

Many Poles who survived the massacre of Poles in Volhynia carried out by Ukrainian nationalists came here after the war.

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Monument in Wschowa.
Monument in Wschowa.

“In tribute to the fallen, murdered and banished from the eastern borderlands of the Second Polish Republic over the period 1939–1945”.

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Mrs. Antonina Tokarz, who survived the slaughter in Volhynia.
Mrs. Antonina Tokarz, who survived the slaughter in Volhynia.
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A gold five rubles coin, which Mrs. Antonia wore during the slaughter sewn into her collar.
A gold five rubles coin, which Mrs. Antonia wore during the slaughter sewn into her collar.

It was her ransom from death if she had met the Ukrainian nationalists, so-called "Banderites".

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Mrs. Antonina’s diary in which she wrote about her childhood memories of the slaughter.
Mrs. Antonina’s diary in which she wrote about her childhood memories of the slaughter.
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