Civility and history

Unfortunately when people are expelled from areas, civility is not always, or perhaps even generally, the rule. Such was the case in Poland.  The Polish Communist government was eager to lay claim to its newly obtained German lands and expel all Germans not simply from the lands but also from memory and history.

Over time however even this changes, as is noted in my earlier posting about the Zeyer Cemetery. However as the following story from Fred Rump relates, it was not always that way.

“I actually found some cemeteries hidden in a forest and all overgrown out in the rural parts of East Prussia and there are some WW1 German memorial and military cemeteries because these boys died fighting the Russians who were invading Poland. Some of the old maps show where the cemeteries used to be and one needs to look for them. A suspicious sign would always be a forested section in the middle of fields and farms. The area was simply left to nature after the graves had been dug up. In the cities everything was plowed over or built upon. Today there might be a memorial stone there as civility has returned to life.

But whatever remained of what used to be a village cemetery is today treacherous walking because it was full of holes overgrown with weeds as most graves had been dug up to look for rings, gold teeth or whatever people used to put in the graves with their loved ones.

[For example] In Steinort, at the estate of (Count) Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort which had been in his family for 600 years, we found such a cemetery at the end of a huge line of trees which we followed through the woods. These trees used to be an allee of oaks leading to the family crypt and chapel as well as the cemetery of Steinort. Now they were simply part of a new forest. A few iron ornaments which were anchored too well could be found among the holes the locals dug to uncover the graves. The crypt had been stripped, the chapel lay in ruins. Later we asked one of the workers who know lived at the estate (the main house had been purchased by a Swiss investor) if he knew anything about what happened to the place.

We got quite a story. Apparently when this man was a boy he and his friends used the coffins from the crypt as boats on the lake of the estate. He further went on to tell us how it used to be. How under Gomulka the standing order was to destroy anything German that was still left standing. He recalls one drunken night when they moved all the old books out of the library and had a great big bonfire in the yard. 600 years of family history was thus burned to a crisp.”

But things appear to be changing. As Poland enters the European Union and moves passed its Communist past, acknowledgements are beginning to occur. Archives are being developed and published, memorials appear, and perhaps a brighter more civil future awaits.

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