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About Polish miners, “Polish mines” and “Workers from the East” – A look back at 100 years of the history of Polish workers in Bochum (1871-1973)

Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer
Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer
Introduction
 

According to the cult song Bochum by the singer Herbert Grönemeyer, the town “deep in the West” is “completely grey from work”, but that has not been the case for a long time now. Nevertheless, the mining and the economic and demographic change it brought with it remains a chapter that has left a deep imprint on Bochum's history. In the second half of the 19th century, with industrialisation rapidly developing in the Ruhr area, which was then known as the “Rhenish-Westphalian industrial region”, an important period of the Polish East-West internal migration began within the German Reich. The ethnic group of Polish-speaking Prussian nationals, collectively referred to as “Ruhr Poles”, migrated in large numbers from the eastern regions of what was then Prussia to what is today the Ruhr area, mainly to work in mining.

The fact that Bochum was once the cultural centre of these Polish workers is still evident in a few places in the city: In the street called Am Kortländer, a weathered inscription on a wall indicates the former existence of a Polish workers’ bank (see Fig. 1 & 2); in the Bochum district of Dahlhausen, an information board recalls the Polish economic migrants and their multi-faceted culture of associations during the time of the Empire (see Fig. 3); and today, in St. Joseph’s Church, the Polish Catholic mission in Bochum still offers pastoral care to the Polish-speaking Catholic community in the region, including holding regular masses (see Fig. 4 & 5). But Polish workers were not just to be found in Bochum and the Ruhr area during the period of industrialisation: they remained in the German Reich for many more decades, experienced the darkest chapter in German history, including working as forced labourers during the two world wars, and were also active in a number of different areas within the Federal Republic of Germany in the period after the war. They have been an established feature of Germany’s diverse society right up to the present day.

What was the history of Polish workers in Bochum like and what changes did they live through over the decades? This question forms the basis of the following article which looks back on a period of about 100 years – from the moment the Ruhr Poles began to migrate when the empire was founded in 1871 to the closure of the last mine in Bochum in 1973.

Mediathek Sorted

Mediathek
  • Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer

    Fig. 1: “Bank Robotników”

    Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer
  • Close-up of the inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.” (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer

    Fig. 2: Close-up of the inscription “Bank Robotników”

    Close-up of the inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.” (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer
  • Information board of the City of Bochum on economic migration in the German Empire, with a picture of the Polish association Heiliger Josef in the Dahlhausen district

    Fig. 3: Information board on economic migration in the German Empire

    Information board of the City of Bochum on economic migration in the German Empire, with a picture of the Polish association Heiliger Josef in the Dahlhausen district
  • St. Joseph’s church in Stühmeyerstraße

    Fig. 4: St. Joseph’s church in Stühmeyerstraße

    St. Joseph’s church in Stühmeyerstraße
  • Crucifix with Polish inscription in front of St. Joseph’s church in Stühmeyerstraße

    Fig. 5: Crucifix with Polish inscription

    Crucifix with Polish inscription in front of St. Joseph’s church in Stühmeyerstraße
  • Cast steel bell of the Bochumer Verein for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867 in Willy-Brandt-Platz in front of Bochum Town Hall

    Fig. 6: Cast steel bell of the Bochumer Verein for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867

    Cast steel bell of the Bochumer Verein for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867 in Willy-Brandt-Platz in front of Bochum Town Hall
  • Photograph of a rally at the Hannibal mine in Bochum taken in 1943

    Fig. 7: Photograph of a rally at the Hannibal mine in 1943

    Photograph of a rally at the Hannibal mine in Bochum taken in 1943
  • Barrack settlement for former forced labourers during the Second World War in Bergener Straße in Bergen

    Fig. 8: Barrack settlement for former forced labourers

    Barrack settlement for former forced labourers during the Second World War in Bergener Straße in Bergen
  • Barrack settlement for former forced labourers during the Second World War in Bergener Straße in Bergen

    Fig. 9: Barrack settlement for former forced labourers

    Barrack settlement for former forced labourers during the Second World War in Bergener Straße in Bergen
  • Threshold to remember the concentration camp sub-camp at the crossroad of Kohlenstraße and Höhe Obere Stahlindustrie

    Fig. 10: Threshold

    Threshold to remember the concentration camp sub-camp at the crossroad of Kohlenstraße and Höhe Obere Stahlindustrie
  • Dahlhauser Heide colony in the Bochum district of Hordel

    Fig. 11: Dahlhauser Heide colony

    Dahlhauser Heide colony in the Bochum district of Hordel
  • A pulley in the Dahlhauser Heide colony donated by the Oberhordel IGBE group and the Förderverein Hannover to remember the mine in Hordel

    Fig. 12: Donated pulley in the Dahlhauser Heide colony

    A pulley in the Dahlhauser Heide colony donated by the Oberhordel IGBE group and the Förderverein Hannover to remember the mine in Hordel
  • Am Rübenkamp 4 – Headquarters of Porta Polonica, the Documentation Centre for the Culture and History of Poles

    Fig. 13: Workers’ houses

    Am Rübenkamp 4 – Headquarters of Porta Polonica, the Documentation Centre for the Culture and History of Poles
  • Malakow tower with adjacent machine hall at the Hannover mine / Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage in the Bochum district of Hordel

    Fig. 14: Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage at the Hannover mine

    Malakow tower with adjacent machine hall at the Hannover mine / Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage in the Bochum district of Hordel
  • Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum, photo taken on 19 June 1950.

    Fig. 15: Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße

    Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum, photo taken on 19 June 1950.
  • Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum, 1954.

    Fig. 16: Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum, 1954

    Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum, 1954.
  • Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum. Photo taken on 05 February 1954.

    Fig. 17: Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum

    Former concentration camp on Brüllstraße in Bochum. Photo taken on 05 February 1954.
  • Copyright: LWL / Dietrich Hackenberg'>
    The faded inscription Bank "Robotników e.G.m.b.H" is a remembrance of the district's past as a centre of Polish institutions in the Ruhr area.

    Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer

    The faded inscription Bank "Robotników e.G.m.b.H" is a remembrance of the district's past as a centre of Polish institutions in the Ruhr area.
  • Copyright: LWL / Dietrich Hackenberg'>
    The faded inscription Bank "Robotników e.G.m.b.H." is a remembrance of the district's past as a centre of Polish institutions in the Ruhr area.

    Inscription “Bank Robotników e.G.m.b.H.“ (Polish Workers’ Bank) in the street Am Kortländer

    The faded inscription Bank "Robotników e.G.m.b.H." is a remembrance of the district's past as a centre of Polish institutions in the Ruhr area.