The Walloons and Breslau/Wroclaw

I’m preparing for a holiday to northern Uppland, the “Walloon” iron-making area.

Some of the questions going through my mind:

How many French-speaking Walloons came to Sweden in the seventeenth century?

What parts of present-day Belgium and France did they come from) (Liege and Sedan or elsewhere). Were they all protestants?  How many brought their families with them and how many stayed in Sweden? What exactly were their skills?

What made them come? What role did religion play? What role did economic factors play? State of evidence on these topics. Structure of academic work on the Walloon immigrants and issues in dispute.

The organisation of Walloon labour. Were there conflicts with the employers and how were these resolved? Or were they like Sheffield’s little meisters or “labour aristocrats”. The relationship between the Walloon immigrants and the existing rural population. Their subsequent integration.

Why did the Swedish kings want them to come: What were the technical improvements in iron making in the area around Liege, which were desirable?

Sweden’s need for metal in this period when Sweden was developing into a major power.

The background and motives of the investors/entrepreneurs who came, in particular the originally Dutch/Flemish (?). The relationship between De Geer and the Swedish establishment.

De Geer’s rapid naturalisation and becoming a Swedish aristocrat. Subsequent history of the De Geer family.

Early development of capitalism in the Netherlands. Reasons for investing in Sweden.

Relationship between this early industrialisation and its finance and the subsequent development of capitalism in Sweden and its late industrialisation.

Technical terms on mining and the iron industry in Swedish and English.

Exploring the environments around Dannemora and Lövsta and elsewhere.

My reading about the Walloons has been interspersed with a very interesting book about how the German city of Breslau became Polish Wroclaw, “Uprooted. How Breslau became Wroclaw during the century of expulsions” by Gregor Thum.

I have been fascinated by a long time by cities that have changed nationality, for example, Breslau, Stettin and Königsberg. Unlike Danzig where there was very much both a German and a Polish presence in the pre-war period, the Polish presence in Breslau was thin (it had been a Polish city but many centuries ago). According to Thum, it was not a city that Poland would have expected to receive in the post-war adjustments to the German-Polish border until it was transferred as compensation for Poland’s losses to the Soviet Union in the east (Lwow/Lvov etc). The expulsion of the German population and their replacement by people coming not just from Poland’s lost territory in the east but from many parts of Poland in the immediate post-war years meant that the city was repopulated by people with no relationship to the city nor in many cases to other incoming Poles. Some people of mixed parentage who were Polish and German speaking were allowed to remain but that was a rather thin layer of “heritage folk”.

What made matters worse was uncertainty about the durability of the arrangements agreed at Potsdam, whether the border would remain at the Oder-Neisse line in a world where there was great hostility between the Soviet Union and the western powers.

Thom describes the impressive reconstruction of the badly battered city at the same time as the “communist” Polish government made great efforts to stress that the transfer of Breslau to Poland was a justified restoration of a city that was fundamentally Polish and attempt to remove all vestiges of the German city; this led to there being an uneasy relationship with the history of the city, a tiptoeing around an absence not talked about, only alleviated once the German government stated its acceptance of the post-war borders and the collapse of the PCP and its need to stress the importance of the Soviet Union as the guarantor of the post-war arrangement.

The description of the process whereby it was decided to restore many historical buildings rather the prevailing idea at the time (as per Coventry Cathedral) which was not to do so as the result would be false. And, of course, in some ways it is false as the restored old facades are often just facades with a modern structure behind with internal arrangements quite unlike the historic. But it is not just aesthetics and architectural purity which is at stake but the responses of a population that had been subjected to an attempt to obliterate its culture and historical references. When wandering through the restored central streets of Gdansk, I found it pleasant and acceptable and wasn’t overpowered by a Disneyland feeling of artificiality (which I have felt in the Nikolaiviertel in Berlin and at Prince Charles’ extravaganza at Poundbury).

There are some fascinating quotes translated from Polish sources about what it felt like to move into a flat filled with the possessions of the previous German owners who had fled, like guests in someone else’s life.

It’s hard to conceive of the disappearance of a geographical area, not just its people but the knowledge handed down the generations of its culture, history, linguistic features etc. etc. And in the immediate post-war period and for a long time after, there wasn’t much sympathy for the German refugees from the East outside Germany after the horrors inflicted on Eastern Europe by the German army and state.

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