A Tear for Poland

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The recent influx of Polish migrants to the UK has sparked much debate, but just how far back do our links with Poland go? The answer might surprise you.

In the last few years, some remarkable projects have explored cultural and historical connections between Birmingham and Poland. A range of inspiring and moving accounts of post-war migration were documented through oral history work developed under the theme ‘In War and Peace, Collected Memories of Birmingham’s Poles’. Linked to local exhibitions and a book publication, this powerful selection of stories and testimonies was assembled by the Polish community based at Millennium House, itself a hugely important site of Birmingham–Polish relationships.

At the same time, a group called the ‘Polish Ex-Pats Association’ (PEA) began delivering a range of cultural, artistic and heritage-based activities, providing essential practical advice and guidance to families living and working in Birmingham since Poland entered the EU. These powerfully linked, yet very different projects, histories, voices and representations are a reminder of how much we have yet to learn about Birmingham’s long relationship with the enduring but often overlooked contributions of Polish labour, skill, culture and ideas.

Most traditional histories of the West Midlands still tend to remain silent on the subject of more extended historical connections between Birmingham and places such as Warsaw, Kraków, Katowice or Gdansk. I want to hint at a much earlier historical association that can transform our perception of Birmingham’s complex and powerful relationship with Poland.

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Migration

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