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A Gloomy Carnival of Freedom

Sex, Gender, and Emotions among Polish Displaced Person in the Aftermath of World War II

Katarzyna Nowak

This article investigates the experiences of Polish Displaced Persons (DPs) through the lens of sexuality, analyzing their perceptions of liberation and life in DP camps in Allied-occupied Germany and Austria (1945–1951). It draws on a wide array of sources, including archival material, memoirs, and letters. Employing Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts of carnival and the carnivalesque, it argues that the dynamics of DPs’ sexual and romantic encounters, analyzed as emotional experiences, can be characterized as having a carnivalesque structure of oppression, eruption, and normalization. It demonstrates how the eruption of sexuality (including sexual violence) was connected to the wider problems Poles faced, including feelings of emasculation, war trauma, and the challenges of rebuilding a community in exile. Polish elites, acting mostly within a Catholic conservative register, boosted normalization by combatting perceived “immorality” and promoting family values. To this end, they cooperated with international organizations and the Allied military in an attempt to contain venereal disease, prostitution, and abortion. Many of these efforts focused on policing women’s bodies and regulating their sexuality, as a part of rebuilding the nation after the hecatomb of war.