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.