• Realisation: Michael Majerski
  • Duration: 70 min
  • Poster

Imagine that the place where you live becomes a different country.  What would you do? For the 11 women in this documentary the decision was to stay even when Germany suddenly became Poland. ‘I was once a German’ is about the lives of those German women who stayed where they were in 1945 not realising the hard times ahead.

After WW II, the German region of Silesia became Polish. The formerly German area was then repopulated by Poles, many of whom had been expelled from eastern Polish areas taken by the Soviet Union. They brought their language and their culture into this new, foreign world, and immediately collided with the traditions of the local population. These women, now grown old, spoke publicly for the first time about what it meant for them being German, living in their home and then it being regarded as a foreign country. This is their story.

There was so much suffering while WW II was on and there was suffering afterwards. It is so sad to see that even after 60 years, these women still get tears in their eyes when telling their story.  Most of them live in seclusion and are not a part of the community. They have their memories and documentaries like these are so important. Oral story telling can get lost in time but documentary story telling will keep their memories alive.

The director and producer is multi award wining filmmaker Michael Majerski who was born in Poland 1948 to a German mother and a Polish father and immigrated with his family to Germany in 1978. This phase in his life proved to be one of his most important life experiences. He has a special connection to the protagonists of his films. For him, having empathy is a crucial requirement in filmmaking. Michael has made two other films of the same genre called: ‘Oberschlesien – We Are The Heirs of Hate’ and ‘Once It Was A Land Called Pomerania’.  Both are available on the Films for Change catalog. Michael feels at home in Berlin, but he still identifies himself as a Silesian, or rather Upper-Silesian. His full-length documentaries are autobiographically motivated and deal with the consequences of WW II for the former and current inhabitants of the lands added to Poland afterwards.

I felt quite emotional watching this film as there was so many familiarities.  I was born less than 20 years after the war and being from a Dutch Jewish family, the wounds of our family being put on the train to Auschwitz was still fresh. When I was 13 we moved to Australia and I relate to these women who said: “When I am in Germany, I do not feel German, but when I am in Poland I also do not feel Polish”. Even after living here for 43 years, I do not feel Australian, yet when I visit the Netherlands, they ask me where I am from as I am clearly not Dutch. What I loved was the way these women were dressed.  They wore what is called an ‘Overdress’, worn to protect the clothes underneath. My grandmother used to wear that as well, and she also peeled the potatoes the same way as one of the women did.  Their home decor was also similar. All in all I felt very connected to these women and their stories.

Lest we forget is a popular war phrase and is said in remembrance of those who died in war. It’s true, we should not forget what went on and the more we can listen to the stories of those still alive the better. But that generation is very old and quickly fading therefore theses films are very important. No wonder that Michael Majerski’s films are considered outstanding as his films deal with sensitive topics avoided by others.

Today there is a new generation of Polish and German people who socialise and understand each other better than their elders did. They focus on the similarities between the two cultures and most are not even aware of the pain that happened 60 years ago.  A deeply moving and important documentary for teachers, parents and children, may they indeed never forget.

Sandra Kimler is an author, international speaker and a Vegan Nutritionist.
She is a mother of three, living in the Byron Bay Hinterland.