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Marian Małowist Seminar “Polish Refugees in British Colonial Africa”

We invite you to the Marian Małowist Seminar (Global History & Anthropology). Lecture titled “On the Edges of Whiteness. Polish Refugees in British Colonial Africa during and after the Second World War” will be delivered by Jochen Lingelbach.

The meeting will take place on November 23, 2023 at 5 pm in room 125 of the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw and online (link to the meeting)



From 1942 on nearly 20,000 Poles lived in refugee camps in the British colonies of Uganda, Tanganyika, Kenya, Northern and Southern Rhodesia. They were mostly relatives of Polish soldiers fighting under British command. Despite the intention of colonial officials to isolate the Poles and minimize their interaction with members of the hosting societies, numerous informal encounters with Africans, European settlers and others evolved. After the war, most of the refugees refused to return to their, by then Soviet-dominated, home-country. The colonial administration was, however, eager to get rid of this problematic group and by 1950 most had been resettled elsewhere.

This paper is based on extensive archival and oral history research in Africa and Europe pursued in the course of my recently finished PhD-project. It uncovers this little-known episode and answers the question where these mainly poor, female, peasant-class refugees belonged in colonial societies signified by the ‘politics of difference’. It becomes clear that their positionality was not clear-cut, but relationally depending on the perspectives of those involved. While they were privileged by their whiteness, they were nevertheless marginalized as refugees, women and Eastern European peasants. Consequently, they found themselves on the edges of colonial whiteness.


Jochen Lingelbach is a postdoctoral research fellow in African History at the University of Bayreuth. He obtained his doctorate at the University of Leipzig with a dissertation on Polish refugees in Africa (published in 2020 with Berghahn as “On the Edges of Whiteness. Polish Refugees in British Colonial Africa during and after the Second World War”). Currently he works on the project “Africa in the Global History of Refugee Camps” within the University of Bayreuth’s “Africa Multiple” Cluster of Excellence.”