There has been a significant Polish community in Ealing since the 1940s, which has grown substantially over the subsequent decades. There is a Polish church in the borough, Polish businesses and councillors of Polish origin. However, despite this considerable local impact, there has been relatively little historical information which is easily accessible.
This project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the London Borough of Ealing, seeks to rectify this omission, by means of oral history. For the first time it is possible to easily gain access to the experiences and thoughts of 20 of Ealing’s Polish residents, with memories from the 1940s to the beginning of the twenty first century. This will give readers an insight into the Polish experience of Ealing. In doing so, it is hoped that a greater understanding of Ealing’s Polish community will be gained and also for Polish people of different generations to learn about each other.
The recordings and transcripts have been kept for posterity and can be viewed at Gunnersbury Park Museum.
There are three main sections to the site:
1. Interviews – These are the full interviews recorded in 2009 / 2010.
2. Interactive – An alternative way of experiencing the content. The audio has been broken up into clips and themed and dated so you can take your own route around the stories.
3. Educational resources – A resource for teachers who may want to use the content in their lessons.
A brief history of Poland
The Polish nation came into existence in the tenth century as a unitary kingdom. Its rulers converted their subjects to Christianity. It became a cosmopolitan state with the largest number of Jews in Europe living there. By the sixteenth century, the union of Poland and Lithuania resulted in the creation of one of the most powerful states in Europe. This led to the age of Golden Liberty in which the equal and free Polish nobility ruled the country and the monarchy was elective.
Unfortunately this system of government had its weakness in that the country could not mount a successful defence against its more powerful and absolutist neighbours. Between 1772 and 1795 Poland was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Poland no longer appeared on the map of Europe. In 1807 Napoleon created a rump state called the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, in return for Polish military aid.
In the nineteenth century there were numerous revolts against Russian rule, but these were eventually suppressed and once again, Poland no longer appeared on maps of Europe. Poland regained its independence in 1918 following the defeat in the First World War of Germany, Austria and Russia. The Soviet Union and Poland were soon at war, but Polish forces defeated the invaders at the battle of Warsaw.
The next twenty years saw Poland enjoy a cultural and national revival as a republic. This did not last long. In 1939 Poland was invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union and was occupied by both. Many Polish people were killed in or after the fighting and many were deported. Some escaped and a Polish government in exile was formed in London. Polish troops were prominent in several major campaigns of the war. Many thousands were killed by the Soviet forces at Katyn in 1943. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 was crushed by the Germans and Warsaw largely destroyed. In all, about five million Poles died during 1939-1945; two thirds of them Jewish.
Although Germany was defeated in 1945, Poland was not free. Its borders were shifted westwards, to incorporate parts of Germany’s pre 1939 boundaries. A Soviet backed Communist People’s Republic of Poland was formed. Some Poles remained in exile and many of those who remained resisted Soviet sponsored rule. In the 1980s the Solidarity movement proved a major thorn in the flesh of the occupier, and the Catholic Church provided another focus for loyalties, especially because Pope John Paul II was Polish. The Communist government fell in 1989.
In 1990 the democratically elected Lech Walesa of the Solidarity movement became president. Poland shifted from being a Communist state into being a capitalist democracy. In 1999 Poland became part of NATO and in 2004 a member of the EU.