Fragmented Worlds: Informal Communication and Occupation in Polish Borderlands: a Case of East Upper Silesia (1939-1945)


Rumour as a form of communication can be found in all modern societies. They spread especially at in times of crisis or war. In conditions of oppression, exclusion and terror, when official channels of information cannot be trusted, it is informal communication that fills the space left by the information gap and general lack of orientation about the world. Rumours and informal communication in general become a mass communication phenomenon, which reflects significant social and cultural changes within a society. This was also true of Poland’s population during World War II. Social interactions were dominated by searching for news and interpreting them.

The ambition of this project is to examine the ways of informal communication under Nazi occupation in Poland with an emphasis on rumours, their circulation and role in shaping the public sphere. The topic is especially interesting from the perspective of the circulation of the first information about the Holocaust. What was the reception of rumours by Jews and non-Jewish Poles about the first killings? How did rumours affect the perception of reality by Nazi-occupied populations?

As informal communication can be a powerful tool in the fight against occupiers, the underground state’s actions need to be taken into account. How did the Polish underground use rumours and hearsay in their fight against propaganda? What was the position of rumourmongers in society?

Seeking answers to such questions sheds more light on what role unofficial, often non-written and non-physical factors have in constructing public communication and influencing public mood.

As the project focuses on wartime Poland, it aims to study the social phenomenon of rumours and other ways of informal communication from a micro-historical perspective mostly based on testimonies and archives.

Communication as a process and example of a social dynamic can be studied from various angles. It requires a multi-disciplinary approach, including the fields of history, social anthropology, sociology and psychology.


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