25th Annual Symposium of the Friends of the GHI

Nov 11, 2016

Award of the Fritz Stern Prize at the GHI | Prize Winner: Katharina Matro

  • Prize Winner: Katharina Matro, Postwar in No Man’s Land: Germans, Poles, and Soviets in the Rural Communities of Poland’s New Territories (Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 2016)

Prize Citation

This year’s selection committee for the 2016 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize was composed of Monica Black (University of Tennessee-Knoxville), Eva Giloi (Rutgers University-Newark), and James Melton (committee chair, Emory University).  

Katharina Matro’s Stanford dissertation, “Postwar in No Man’s Land: Germans, Poles, and Soviets in the Rural Communities of Poland’s New Territories, 1945-1948,” explores the fate of Prussian noble estates after the Second World War.  Focusing on Further Pomerania (Hinterpommern), a former German territory assigned to Poland in the wake of Nazi defeat, Matro’s absorbing study shows that population transfer and resettlement did not happen overnight.  For more than four years, Soviets, Poles, and Germans lived alongside each other.  The rural space they co-habited was to be sure a contested one, and her detailed, compelling account of everyday life in the region underscores the violence and disorder of those years. 

Yet Matro’s fascinating dissertation, based on painstaking research in Polish as well as German archives, also yields surprises.  Most German villagers, many of them laboring on and attached to land their forbears had worked for generations, chose not to flee out of a conviction they would be allowed to remain.  Polish Communist officials, recognizing the need for labor and for local expertise that newly arrived settlers did not yet have, were often at odds with their Soviet counterparts.   Poles back east were themselves reluctant to settle in a sandy and remote region some called the “Wild West.”  Those who did often suffered the same mistreatment accorded their German neighbors.  Faced with uncertainty about their status on the lands they occupied, few ultimately chose to stay.  In an evocative and poignant epilogue that brings Further Pomerania up to the present, Matro notes that the region is today one of the most sparsely populated areas of Europe.  Much of its stark and sandy landscape, once cultivated as farmland, has reverted to forest.    

The selection committee has nothing but praise for this gracefully written and tightly argued study.  Beyond making a significant contribution to the scholarship, “Postwar in No Man’s Land” already reads like a book; the committee is hopeful it will soon become one.  It is with pleasure that the selection committee awards its author, Katharina Matro, the 2016 Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize.  

Monica Black, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Eva Giloi, Rutgers University, Newark
James Melton (committee chair), Emory University, Atlanta