Emilia Smechowski

Emilia Smechowski
Emilia Smechowski – journalist, columnist and author of the book “Wir Strebermigranten”

“Simone Schmollack from Deutschlandfunk radio wrote the following about Emilia Smechowski, the journalist, columnist and author of the book “Wir Strebermigranten”: “Emilia Smechowski is a typical Polish woman: successful but invisible.”[1] Smechowski herself does not find it so easy to describe her identity. She admits that she doesn't like being questioned about whether she feels more German or more Polish, and says: “It sounds as if you have to choose between the two.”[2]

Emilia Elisabeth Smechowski's passport says that her birthplace was Neustadt in West Prussia, the German name of today's city Wejherowo, where she was born in 1983 as Emilka Elżbieta Śmiechowska. The first five years of her life were carefree, and memories of the time refer to family reunions and children's games in a sandpit or swinging on a rusty carpet rod in the courtyard. A break in this biography occurred in June 1988, when Emilia's parents prepared to leave for the West – forever, secretly and without saying goodbye to family and friends. Germans would have called this a “Polish departure”.

Arriving in West Berlin, the family first found refugee accommodation in Berlin-Neukölln. Two years later, as a result of one of her grandfathers signing the “Volksliste” during the Second World War, she was granted the status of a German repatriate. She began a new life, acquired a high social status and quickly climbed the ladder of prosperity:“My parents were doctors, we built a house, with a garden. First we drove a Mazda, then a BMW and a Chrysler, later only Audi limousines.”[3] But although living conditions were changing so much, the parents continued to put pressure on their children. There were Latin lessons and lessons in ancient Greek, ballet and piano, to provide Emilia and her sisters with the best conditions for their future. It was not enough just to be good in school. The daughters were ordered to come home with first-class grades. Two mistakes in a German dictation were reason enough to be ashamed, and this also applied to speaking Polish on the streets. In fact, the family even avoided talking to each other outside their own four walls for as long as their knowledge of German was still inadequate.

In this respect, the Smechowskis did not so much become a prime example of successful integration as of complete assimilation in the shortest time possible. Later in her book Emilia Smechowski writes: “We are the fantasy of right-wing conservative politicians, according to which immigrants must adapt to the host society, which in turn remains as it was before”.[4] But over time, the author's experience of migration and her rise in German society created an identity crisis, and Smechowski went through a stormy period of rebellion as a teenager. At the age of 16 she fantasised about leaving home to become a singer. This was a perfectly legitimate dream: Emilia sang solos in a church choir, ran a music society in her school, and received singing lessons. However, all this failed to convince her parents, who were hoping for a bright future for their daughter. The only option that remained for her was to move out and start a life on her own account. Many years later, Emilia Smechowski came to the conclusion that all this was less a teenage rebellion than a refusal to follow her family's way of life.

After graduating from high school, Emilia studied opera singing and Romance studies in Berlin and Rome, earning her living with various odd jobs. Finally she became a journalist and wrote for “die taz”, “die Zeit”, “Geo” and the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, among others. The migration motif remains a hallmark of her texts. For her essay on invisible Poles in Germany entitled “I am someone you cannot see”, she was awarded the German-Polish Tadeusz Mazowiecki Journalist Prize, the German Reporter Prize and the Konrad Duden Journalist Prize in 2016.[5]


[3] E. Smechowski, Wir Strebermigranten, Hanser Berlin 2017, p. 11.

[4] Wir Strebermigranten..., p. 11.

[5] http://www.taz.de/!868119/ (called up on 02.03.2018).