‘I am also a Foreigner, but with Me it’s Different’: Polish Displaced Persons, War Memory and Ethnification in Belgium

  • Machteld Venken
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies book series (PMMS)


It is estimated that during Second World War up to twenty million people left their homes. Many did not want to go back after their liberation since their homelands were within the Soviet sphere of influence and they feared that they would encounter repression. Following the unsuccessful attempt by the Allied Forces to repatriate all these people, a special body, the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), granted them the status of Displaced Persons and coordinated their settlement in the Atlantic World. The Displaced Persons described in this chapter belonged to the First Polish Armoured Division. It was established in Poland in the 1930s and numbered, at its peak, about 16,000 soldiers. After the invasion by the Soviet Union in September 1939, the Division fled the country and marched through Southern Europe and France. It stayed in Great Britain for four years, and then helped to liberate Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In sixteen days it passed through Flanders.1 During their stay, many soldiers fell in love with young Flemish women. After the Division had passed through the Netherlands, it hoped to march on and liberate Poland, but in February 1945 the Yalta Conference consolidated the Soviet Union’s influence over Poland. After the war, the Division was deployed as an occupying force in Germany for two years. When it was dissolved, all the soldiers who did not return to the Polish People’s Republic lost their Polish citizenship and received Displaced Persons’ status.2 About three hundred of them married Flemish women and settled in the Flemish cities they had helped to liberate.3


Host Society Displace Person Polish Migrant Polish Immigrant Atlantic World 
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© Machteld Venken 2012

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  • Machteld Venken

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