The Bochum forge

Die Mitglieder der Bochumer Schmiede um 1925: Stefan Szczepaniak, Dr. Jan Kaczmarek und Dr. Józef  Michałek
The members of the Bochum Forge Stefan Szczepaniak, Dr. Jan Kaczmarek und Dr. Józef Michałek (from left) 1925.

For Polish immigrants it must have seemed like a Christmas miracle when the Polish priest Józef Szotowski was appointed to the post of chaplain at the parish of St. Peter in Bochum shortly before Christmas Eve on 23rd December 1884.

The priest was exclusively responsible for caring for the Polish community in the parish. He was sorely needed. The people from the eastern provinces of Prussia felt like strangers in their new surroundings in Westphalia and the Rhineland and were therefore delighted to welcome a Polish-speaking priest. Józef Szotowski’s new home was in the Redemptorist monastery in Bochum.

At the time he had no idea that Klosterstrasse, the road leading to the monastery, would become one of the most important places in the development of Polish life in Germany at the start of the 20th century. This place was later called the "Bochum forge".

The attitude of the German authorities to Poles living in Germany was far from ideal. Exclusion, chicanery, hostility, slander, and police surveillance of Poles was on the increase. One of the best ways to protect themselves was a well-run independent organisation.

Of course the Polish priest Szotowski was only one of many elements in strengthening Polish structures. The first independent self-help organisations were important; but the many different Polish clubs, the “Polnische Berufsvereinigung” (ZZP) trades union, the Polish “Nationale Arbeiterpartei” (NSR) political party and the “Union of Poles in Germany" also played an important role.

There were Polish restaurants and cafes, businesses, printing houses, newspapers and Polish banks, even a Polish organisation to promote education. They all grew up in and around Klosterstrasse in Bochum, where they became a symbol of Polish life in the Ruhrgebiet and Germany.

On this basis élites and activists in the Polish community could come together, indeed be forged together in the “Kuźnia Bochumska”, the “Bochum (squad) Forge”.

Adam Gusowski / Sabine Krämer, December 2013

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