Irene Newhouse <einew@...>
"Belarus" is a recent concept. In the Russian Empire, which means up to
1917, what is now Belarus was divided up into several different guberniya -
the Russian equivalent of a state in the US or a province in other
In the period after WWI & before WWII, what is now Belarus was divided
between Poland [west] & The USSR [east].
Before that, there was a shifting history of rule by one empire or another.
In these fought-over regions, your "official" ethnicity & the languages
which you admitted speaking were political statements as much as anything
My father's cousin was born in Lida, now in Belarus, in 1907. She grew up
in Warsaw after WWI. On her immigration documents, she called herself a
Pole. The logcial choice would have been Russian, in that Lida was in the
Russian Empire at the time of her birth. However, she detested the Russian
government even more than that of Poland, so she called herself a Pole.
My father grew up in what is now Sovetsk, >from the age of 2, having been
born in Vilnius. He left Sovetsk, then Tilsit, East Prussia, Germany, for
Berlin after WWI ended. He always considered himself a German & German is
the language he spoke best, although he recalled his mother telling him
Russian fairy tales in Russian. Just before the 1936 Olympics, he left
Berlin for Prague, where he had a hard time making himself understood in a
combination of German, Russian & a Czech-German dictionary. He was stunned
when, in 1938, right after the Germans took over, people who had always
acted as if they'd never even heard of German were, overnight, speaking
perfect German! It so unnerved him, he hid on trains, crossing Germany
illegally, was caught near the Dutch border & sent to Dachau.
Finally, I have read in some places on the web that the 1897 Revision List
from areas now in Belarus was more accurate than Polish censuses in the 20s& 30s because the Poles "deliberately" inflated the numbers of ethnic Poles
in the region. First, I see no reason not to accuse the Russian Empire of
deliberately under-representing the numbers of ethnic Poles in the region,
because they wanted to convince the world it's a Russian area. Each regime
would have had pretty much equal motivation. But actually, I would not at
all be suprised if multi-lingual people, who are very common in such
regions, chose to shift their "official" ethnicity >from Russian to Polish
when the regime changed. There are SO many perks associated with belonging
to the dominant group!!
I am therefore not at all surprised to hear stories of ancestors whose
ethnic affiliation doesn't match current gegraphical & politicall reality.
First, the current geographical & political reality in these regions is
recent & 2nd, such affiliations seem to have been more a state of mind,
partly influenced by pragmatism.