“We Are The Heirs Of Hate”  

I am in Upper Silesia and I am looking at the land and its people. I can see rubble and ashes, uprooted people, confused identities, uncertainty. The new Polish settlers continue to fight a war against a German and Jewish legacy which is irksome to them; they maintain an old concept of the enemy from their home country. The history of Upper Silesia has been suppressed for more than seventy years. The Jewish, German, and Silesian legacy has been gouged out of the landscape. I ask myself, what will happen to a land and its people when its history has been denied and its historical roots have been severed? The younger generation is asking for it. The future generations would like to know where they are living. They conjecture about the existence of a Silesia that does not exist anymore; a rich land full of life, history, culture, and tolerance. Even when their fathers remain silent, the youth have a right to find answers to their questions.  

 

Subtitles  for the Documentary Film, “Oberschlesien – Here Is Where We Meet”

Since the end of the Second World War, entire ethnic groups have begun to disappear – the Silesian, Pomeranian, Masurian. Indifference and silence overshadow the gravity of this historical reality. Upper Silesia has always been a landscape of encounters and a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe. After the Second World War, millions of people from the annexed eastern Polish territories were forcibly resettled here. They brought their culture into this new, foreign world, and immediately collided with the traditions of the local population. From then on, old and new inhabitants, winners and losers, had to live as next-door neighbors. The only thing which united these people was their broken biographies. Was it possible for a new community to grow together on such soil?

This is a landscape of sorrow; sorrow and trauma. It is difficult to get out of that. It is a trauma – unprocessed, open; one that somehow always surfaces at the moment when we are not able to mourn these things.

I am in Upper Silesia and I am looking at the land and its people. I can see rubble and ashes, uprooted people, confused identities, uncertainty. The new Polish settlers continue to fight a war against a German and Jewish legacy which is irksome to them; they maintain an old concept of the enemy from their home country. The history of Upper Silesia has been suppressed for more than seventy years. The Jewish, German, and Silesian legacy has been gouged out of the landscape. I ask myself, what will happen to a land and its people when its history has been denied and its historical roots have been severed? The younger generation is asking for it. The future generations would like to know where they are living. They conjecture about the existence of a Silesia that does not exist anymore; a rich land full of life, history, culture, and tolerance. Even when their fathers remain silent, the youth have a right to find answers to their questions.  

 

(Poem) I hear the little creek rushing. In the forest, here and there, in the forest, in the rushing. I don’t know where I am.  

(Song) “Look into the valley and see a divided country, demons of history, invisible, a knife stabbing into its middle.”

There is a problem. It just cannot be that a person cannot find his place in his own country. We are in a region in which people used to live together. I play in a group in which most people are Silesian – of flesh and blood. And, as one can see, that does not bother any of us – neither when we are making music, nor while working or taking part in everyday life. We are good friends, and I really believe that there is no point to have any kind of differentiation among Silesian, Polish, East-Polish, Gorals, or Kashubians. It should also stay that way.

I am a German by birth and no one can take that away from me.

I am a German. But I was born in Silesia.

“Are you are German just because you have papers to prove it?” Well, yeah I’m a German.

“And on the other hand you’re also a Silesian?” Well, yeah, I’m also a Silesian.

I remember one day when a Polish officer knocked on the door. He said we had to get out of our house – he had been assigned to our apartment and would be living there from then on.

( Door )  “Association of those expelled from East-Poland”

I have lived in Bytom since 1945, and not of my own accord.  No one ever ask me or my parents if we wanted to move here. We were expelled and our house and farm were taken away. They re-located us here; they threw us out of the train and said, “Now you can do what you’d like.”I still remember that my mother packed the most important stuff in a small children’s carriage.

We moved into an apartment that had just been left by other Germans. That was the Weinhold family. They obviously had to leave all of their possessions behind.

Transports were going to the West, and my mother went to the train station every day to find out about them.

We had already packed everything in 1945 – even before the Russians marched in. There were transports going to Germany and we were afraid… because the Russians had murdered. My mother also said that my father, who was still in the war, must be in Germany. Then came Grandma and she said that if we’re going to die, then we should all die together. And so we just stayed here.

It was very cold; it was January. Mother forgot to take gloves with her for my oldest brother. My younger brother was already dead

Then we went back home from the train station. Mother decided that we were going to leave the country. When we went to the train station the next day, the last train to Germany had already left. So, we stayed here.

As long as I can remember, where we come from has been important for us. I always have asked about Lemberg, which seemed to be a beloved land to me. I asked my father when we would drive back there.

(Wall) “Always faithful”

My father then sat me up on a suitcase. Even today, I still have that suitcase because I think that if I throw it away, then that would mean that I have given up all hope. My father put me on that suitcase and he said: “Danusia, raise your hand. When you’re grown up enough that your hand reaches the ceiling, then we will go back”. But I never got to experience that. My father is not here anymore, but the suitcase is.

(Poem) If not every one, but maybe some poems, find the way to Lwow through the familiar alleys. Maybe Odysseus will die far from Ithaka: in London, Warsaw, Gliwice, Bytom, on a sinking ship, within foreign walls.

There was a moment that I understood emotionally… a certain similarity to the situation. I don’t actually mean that we are colonizers — only that people who had to go away from here are also just as expelled… and that we’re similar to each other.

My whole childhood, I found little notes stuck to the inside of cabinet doors and the underside of tables and chairs. Written on the notes was the following: Josef Weinhold, Kattowtiz O/S, Müllstrasse 90 – an address. For a child, it was very exciting to know that you are living in a world that someone else was living in only a short time before you.

“Do you see a German minority here?” No, not really.

“Why? Because it’s hiding itself?” I don’t know… maybe yes.

Maybe because they are afraid of what the others could say about them.

Exactly – that is where the problem is. I only notice the Germans and Jews here in the past. I don’t see them anymore. It is obvious to me that they are here, but you just do not notice them. I know that there was a period of history that was ended brutally.  I know that it was a break in the history of Upper Silesia. It signifies a change and demands that we understand it in a new way. It was like the ripping out of its lungs. We know that one lung has always been Germanic, while the other was Slavic. And from the Germanic, we are only left with the remains.

That’s not so easy because there were a lot of influences in Upper-Silesia – first and foremost, there was German, then Polish, Moravian, Hungarian, and even southern German, like Bavarian. We know that it was actually a country of encounters. As I already said, there were even people earlier who did not understand that there was such a thing as Poland, but who considered themselves to be Polish anyway.

Honestly, it is actually pretty obvious that Upper-Silesia also had a German part. The difference between the typical Silesian and Silesian-German way of dressing is, however, not something that was explained to us, and we cannot differentiate between them. It’s probably not very exciting to find out whether their skirts had a floral pattern or stripes, but rather how they wore them. They mostly wore multiple skirts over one another so that they didn’t freeze. This style was supposed to give off the impression that they were strong and healthy women. The thing that I liked the most was how they helped out in the tasks of everyday life. For example, when it was raining, they simply threw their outer skirts over their heads to protect themselves from the rain. That inspired me while I was making my design. If I had only known earlier about the differences, then I would have looked for these differences in my family. But not much has stayed – you don’t usually find much anymore.

The world is looking ahead; modernism is already deeply rooted.

You can’t really expect that my grandma would still have those kinds of things in her closet. But, all of the fabrics that I used for my dress come from the era of my grandmother.

The Upper-Silesians who lived here, regardless if they tended to associate as German or Polish, were able to live well together. It often happened that, when a German girl was supposed to make a pilgrimage to Piekary, the Polish neighbor of the mother said: “Come on, I’ll dress your daughter.”

“Are you a German minority here?”

I don’t feel like a minority; like a German minority. I don’t understand the question. I was born in Germany and now I’m Polish. If I had left to go to Germany, then I would have spent the rest of my life being a foreigner. I stayed here because this is my home. I am home. I am from here. I don’t feel like a minority.

“Neither German nor Polish?” – No, not a minority.

(…) : “Getting Polish nationality… that, however, can be denied at any time.”

I found myself to be in a situation that I didn’t understand. I would say, it wasn’t about conflicts, but rather a kind of discrepancy.

I first heard the word Bytom when I was a kid. One of my friends sang: “Bytom, Bytom, Upper-Silesia”, and that sounded very exotic.

I know that many of my classmates in school spoke German at home, not Polish. But what remained a puzzle to me and remained difficult to understand for a long time was the reality that most of my friends didn’t have fathers.

We got to know the local kids. One time when I was invited home to a friend’s house, I saw a photograph of her father on a little cabinet. He was wearing a uniform of the armed forces. I wondered about where it came from.  I began writing and speaking German at a very young age. It’s because of this that I don’t have any problem with it – especially since the path to learning it was so exciting. I am going through a big, dark boiler cellar with old archways – it’s beautiful. It was totally full of books – stacked to the ceiling. They were books which came from the museum that had been on the other side of the street, which were taken away. The plan was to burn all of the books. There was a book-burning which took place there – a ritual of burning the cultural goods. Their only fault was that they were German. As a child, I took three books out of a pile. They had beautiful leather covers with golden imprinting and an unfamiliar writing. Now, I have the impression that these books culturally and artistically equipped me for the rest of my life.

The identity of every person, mine included, is deeply rooted. It is a process. For me, this process had already started in elementary school in Orzesze. It was not actually a bad school, but it was a communist school that had the task of making me into a Pole. This also happened with my mother. They brutally tried to change her name, surname, everything. I don’t want to talk about that, though.  The difference between what was said in the school and what I heard my grandparents say at home was there. My beloved grandparents, Jorg and Heidi, who unfortunately are no longer living… they loved the multicultural life in Upper-Silesia. The tended towards the German part of the culture and they also spoke German. For them, that was essential. For me, this enlarged the discrepancy between what I was learning in school and what I was hearing from my grandparents at home. The result of that was that I started to ask myself: who am I? Am I a person who is being formed by school, or am I a person who is deeply rooted in my family; in the life of my grandparents?

This was only a small thing, but a lot of work is behind it. That is a scorpion – Scorpio, my astrological sign.   It’s forged from only one piece of metal. It’s about 55 centimeter long – everything is made by hand, without welding, soldering, or drilling. Not even a file touched it.

This workshop has existed since 1702; the whole time it has been under the same name. It has already survived three different political states. From 1702 until 1942, it was in Austria, then in Prussia, then in the Third Reich. After the Second World War, we are now in Poland. 

“So what generation do you belong to?”

The ninth. We now have a collection of old appliances and machines. Old anvils which are from grandpas and great-grandpas. “Is someone interested in them?” Of course – groups come… even from Greece and a Schmidt from New York who saw us on TV also came. The thing that is the most fun for me is when I have the task of refurbishing old things – for example, old grates, doors, or something for the church.  Our church has a small tower with a cross. During the war, they completely ruined the two towers which were here. Everything collapsed and then burned. There, I found some writing: renovated, 1934, Johann Socha. That was my great grandfather. It was a pleasure to restore that tower and to forge new parts. Then, I engraved my signature into it: Robert Socha 2000. Now, the cross is on the tower again.

Over a long time, maybe 40-50 years, no one talked about the fact that there was any kind of German cultural legacy. They destroyed all the traces and so the legacy was also washed out of the heads of the population. When we look at the objects which are left, then we can still see some writing in German. That shocks the people. In Zabrze, over the door of the famous drainage tunnel, there is a German  inscription: 1791 “good luck”. A greeting like this is there – one still used today in the old Silesian families and among mineworkers. And just imagine that there was a huge discussion recently about this because the tunnel is supposed to be renovated. In the report, they recommended not to reconstruct the writing.

A sage is someone who applies himself to values and traditions on a philosophical level – who returns to the major thoughts of the older generations in order to bring them back into the consciousness of the people.  Regarding Upper-Silesia, I would say that a restoration could only succeed using paths such as these… just as with a curator of monuments, who considers how to restore the old while creating something new. In order to escape the agony, a form of therapy should be initiated; one which leads to the healing of everything which has happened here.

The extent of the destruction in Upper-Silesia after 1945 is enormous – materially and idealistically. That is the work of the new occupiers. They arrived in a country which was called “The territory of Poland that was won back” after the war, and which we honestly now say was occupied or colonized.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen,  roots pointed down. Slowly. And now a shovel for the Woivoden men and one for the directors. Yes, now just smooth out the soil a little. Yeah, it’s good like that.

(Director, Silesian Library)

In 1998, when the Silesian library was finished, we thought to plant trees in front of the library – for outstanding figures of history. Our dream was that people would come into contact with trees here which symbolized our universal culture. Because of that, I think we decided we should use Nobel Prize winners for literature. Of course, we also chose Jan Kochanowski, and Chopin has his place here, too. That attests to a general perspective, a wider one, which is essential for the entire culture.

(Q) “But those are only Polish Nobel Prize winners. Where are the ones from German culture? Why don’t we find any German Nobel prize winners here? Where are they? Where is this culture hiding?”

When I think about Nobel Prize winners, then I think about the Polish ones – but Upper-Silesia is also represented. For me, it was a big thing to set up a grave stone here in the park, commemorating the founder of Katowice.

(Q) “But there isn’t a name on it.”

Of course there isn’t a name on it. That’s a mistake which should be corrected, and I’m going to do that. I mean, we acquired an archive of Arnold Zweig, who was connected to Katowice and who attended the high school here. We have his works in the library.

(Q) “I mean here – next to the trees!”

The time will come for that.

(Q) “And where is Hauptmann?”

Hauptmann is also represented in the collection. But, this here is about universal culture. That’s our starting point.

The second thing is a set of aggressive Polish policies which can still be seen. When we say Upper-Silesians, then we mean the district of Opole and a part of the Silesian Woivodship. Thinking about the entire Silesia and its future does not happen. Because of that, there are thoughts which arise about autonomy. I understand them because they reflect a longing for an inner autonomy. Me and many of my acquaintances, relatives, authors, scientists at the Silesian University think about autonomy as being connected to spirit. We would like to be independent in our thinking, emotions, and activities. We would like to be Upper-Silesians in entirety, and be allowed to live up to being them as such. That is my dream. I don’t want to be embarrassed about that. I don’t want to be afraid, to hide anything, only because we are long-established residents. But ok – if we are a minority, then please in a civilized and democratic manner – how it’s done in other civilized states where the minorities are protected.

In the Silesian Woivodship, we are in the Diaspora; we are the absolute minority here. It’s not like in Opole where about 1/3rd of the inhabitants are German. When we started to organize ourselves, we were together with the ward in Ratibor, and we were able to do something. They divided us and then we couldn’t do anything anymore. We are too weak to manage to get a representative in government or parliament.   

This is where we lived. And Salzberg? Glowalla, Laschke? This is where we lived – on the right of Glowalla. Salzberg isn’t alive anymore, only the daughter. Rita Salzberg – look how that all fits together. And I am Rita Zweigel.

“Where are you from? From what region?”

From Wodzislaw.

“Were you born there?”

Yes.

“And you? Born here, too?”

Yes – here in Bytom.

She’s my granddaughter.

 “Granddaughter?”

You can see that, can’t you?

Salzberg? Yeah – she’s called Opiela nowadays. Opiela? And lives in Germany?

No, Salzberg died and the daughter lives here.

The daughter lives here?

I stayed here because I would have been a foreigner anywhere else – that was my will and that still is my will.

“How do you feel? Like a Pole or a German?”

I live here, I eat Polish bread.

“What does that have to do with your identity?”

I have to be thankful; I have to be loyal.

“Because of the bread?”

Yeah. You could say that.

The war – that wasn’t their fault. Everyone who was responsible for it already suffered the consequences… you can’t judge them for the crimes of their forefathers – it’s as simple as that.  They should reveal themselves and show other people how we can look at them; look at something new.

“Have you heard of the German minority?”

Well, yeah.

“Where is it?”

“The German minority – the whole organization… what meaning does it have nowadays?”

How can I explain that to you? These people feel an inner need to speak to each other in German; to sing… or just go somewhere to try to see where the rest of them remain. And if it’s about the signs… we had a DFK sign in Piekary outside in front of the office. Someone ripped it down because most people here can’t stand Germans. Now, I have a sign in my office – it’s hanging at the entrance, but inside. It’s not outside… otherwise it would be destroyed. People here don’t understand and they’re programmed to act as if the Germans did something terrible to them.

“How many Germans still live on this street?”

It’s got to be six families.

“Are you the only Germans who live in this settlement?”

Hold on… I’ll tell you in a second. Ah, yes, Mrs. Müller still lives here.

“And did many people move here after the war?”

Everyone. It was only foreigners.

“Is it difficult to live in Gleiwitz as a German?”

Not really. I don’t have any problems. Ok, no problems besides the broken window over there. A month ago, they broke my window pane for the third time. Maybe it’s a little harder in Gleiwitz – I don’t hear about such things in other places. I’m going to get the window insured because I’m a little afraid and because windows are expensive.

There was an incident with a man from the military apartment block in over there. I went shopping. There was a Mr. Mrozek who lived in this settlement, and he only spoke German. When I went into the business, he said to me in German, “Ah, you’re still here?” Then I answered, “Yeah. We’re still here, and we’re going to stay here”. Then the man from the military apartment block came. He stood there and said: “Come on, please, the Swabians are still here”. Then, I answered right away, “There are no Swabians here – just Germans who still live here.”

When we go on vacation, for example, to Poznan or somewhere else, they say to us: “the Goebbels came”, or something similar. People connect the Silesians immediately with Germans.

“Couldn’t you beat them up for that?”

There’s no point in fighting with them. You’ve got to form your own opinions and stay calm.

 “Who of you has seen people discriminating the German language?”

 “Who of you does not have an emotional problem with the German language or the Germans?”

“You?”

Yeah, maybe not completely. But, the language brings up feelings, and you associate the feelings with the war.

For me, it doesn’t bring up any controversies. For example, I don’t like it when people try to persecute the German language.

“And you think that the reservations still exist today?”

Yeah, yeah.

I would like to learn German because my great grandmother was a German and I have family in Germany. It’s good to learn the language because my grandpa and uncle speak German. German was always present in my life. My mother taught German and spoke German at home.

(Q) “And your father?”

(A) My Father?, not

My grandparents come from Pomerania — they spoke German. At home, we have German prayer books and a bible in German. They’re in a closet somewhere. On the other hand, my mother can’t stand German.

I see the German language from different perspectives. On the one hand, I see it as a foreign language – I have to emphasize that. In Upper-Silesia, German became a foreign language. On the other hand, my grandma loved to speak German at home and to sing German songs. And so, I grew up in an environment where the German language was present. When I visited grandma, she sung in German and always had German expressions on hand.

“Is it a problem for you when someone goes to the Germans to get a bowl of soup?”

No, I don’t see it in those kinds of categories.

“That the soup comes from the Germans?”

That doesn’t matter… it could also be from the Russians.

It’s not a problem for me. It’s enough when I have a bowl of warm soup.

“But would you rather get a bowl of soup from a Pole?”

If I don’t have enough at home, then I come here every day to get something to eat. It’s totally normal. No, that’s not important anymore. Maybe parents still think about that. But now even a part of my family emigrated to Germany: aunt, uncle, and cousin. My mother is dead – my father, too. At the beginning, it used to be the case that you would say in school: you are a Silesian, and you are a German, Gorol, or something else. Now, that’s not the case anymore – everyone speaks Polish. Kids learn German or English in school, and so they can communicate. They even learn it in Kindergarten already— “Dankeschön” and “auf Wiedersehen”.

(Song) “Be careful, without violence, when the bells toll behind the forest, we will get ready to fight…”

(Q) “How much is something like that?” (A) 20 Zlotys and that one is 25.

At the beginning, when the Polish teachers came here, it was them who spread the hate. They taught hate to the children and youth. That was the worst of it.

We forget that there were teachers coming from Lesser Poland and from the Greater Poland Governorship in addition to Upper-Silesia. They were supposed to expel German-ness or Silesian-ness out of the heads of the school children. That’s something that we have to remember and can’t forget.

I probably stood out in school because I spoke German more than Polish in the break or at other times. My mother was summoned to Ratibor, where I had to report. That’s where the state’s security service (UB) was, and they tested me there to see if I was improving in Polish. I was told to either sing a song or read something in Polish. I memorized a poem and I recited it for them – the officials were pleased. It was a poem about pilots and planes.

“Could you recite it now?”

Yes – that stayed in my memory. It went like this:

“I would love to be a pilot, sit in a plane. The propeller: vroom, vroom, vroom. And I fly around.”

There were Jewish and Polish people here. My grandma could speak Polish. The Jews delivered goods, sometimes without money. My grandma paid them later. There was a wonderful friendship among the people here. There wasn’t any hate. In the churches, there were German-Polish services.

Everyone was ready to help; polite. That’s how the people were here… until the Goroles came. That was the end of it.

They settled into the nest which had been made. There were apartments, antiquities, furniture here – everything was from the Germans. And did they value that? Everything was already there – everything from the Germans.

“What are Goroles?” They’re just Goroles. Don’t you know what a Gorole is? They are the Polish.

They had to get out of here – what else could they have done? The train didn’t go any further and there wasn’t any way to get back. So, they settled here. We have to accept that. There’s no point to provoke conflict or arguments. We have to accept the situation and try to help each other somehow.

There’s a settlement here for military-officials, and my Oskar goes to school there. His friend said to him once, if you can speak German, then you could help me with my homework. Then, Oskar said that I could speak German better. I went to his family and I explained a few words to the boy. The family was from somewhere in southern Poland and had moved here. Then, the boy asked me why I could speak German so well. I explained to him that I was born here and have lived here ever since. I told him that Bytom has always been German and that I went to a German school. He was amazed that Bytom was a German city. I said, if you don’t know that, then maybe your parents do. You should tell your parents that Bytom was a beautiful, old German city and has always been German. Then he widened his eyes. I gave him a kind of art lesson about the city.

“Do you learn in school about the history of Silesia?”

No, no.

I should know more about Silesia. I know so little.

“Who of you thinks that you’re taught too little about the history of Silesia?”

I remember that in Polish schools they only learn about the Piast dynasty until the Middle Ages – when king Kasimir the Great abandoned Silesia. Then, there is a black hole. In history class, there was almost no information about the time that followed it. At least we are supposed to learn our history here in Silesia. No one tells us that Upper-Silesia was autonomous and independent from the Polish state.

I think that most of history is hidden because otherwise it would be uncomfortable for the Polish state.

mass-grave in Tost/ Upper-Silesia, about 3500 deceased

That used to be a field – a field of flowers – when we were there once. Now, it’s a coal plant. The entrance is prohibited. They don’t want us to go onto the property. In Tost, we’ve never really had problems with our concentration camp. It wasn’t about being “against the Polish”, but rather about the Germans who were killed by the Soviet secret service. The new owners dumped coal on the mass graves.

Now to the side, to the side. Here it’s deep – about 7 meters deep.

“And there’s nothing over there?”

No, nothing. Only the question: where are the deceased?

That used to be a gravel pit – a state gravel pit – and that’s where they were buried. In mass-graves– 10 meters long, 10 meters wide. And then they were piled up, over a meter high… head to foot to head to foot.

“Did you see that?”

Yeah, of course – because we had that field here.

“Isn’t it terrible to stand in front of a fence and not be able to go in to see where your father lies?”

Yeah. It’s pretty horrible… that he doesn’t have a grave that we can take care of. Now I just have the grass.

They were not war criminals– that has to be said. That’s clear. When I was here the last time, I put flowers on the compound in front of the mass graves. And now, there’s a concrete wall here and I can’t go there anymore.

Today, I came here with a huge group of people from Saxony who have relatives that died in the camp in Tost. My father was there and from others there were grandfathers. They were all civilians.

“Are Silesians also there?”

Silesians are also in there – about a thousand – with the Breslauer, Upper-Silesians, and Lower-Silesians. I can’t estimate the number because there aren’t any transportation lists about it. No one is interested in that. It’s unfortunately often the case that people say that it happened so long ago and we’ve got to stop thinking about it.

Following your own fate does not have to mean putting yourself in danger. Everyone has the right to articulate their own concerns and to fight for them.

My grandmother was burned by the “Banderowcy” (Ukrainian nationalists) just because she didn’t want to leave her house. She said: “What can they do to me? I am an old woman and not a soldier”. They came and they burned the old woman, together with her house. We demand commemoration of all victims of the Second World War who are on the eastern border.  They are just people – people who not only don’t have their own graves, but also don’t have a cross at the places where they were murdered.

This here is a piece of someone’s spine. Stuff like this is strewn about all over the grass here. It’s not like someone has to use a spade to look for bones here. People here had to leave the city before the Russians came. Those that came after 1945 were Polish. They were not interested in documenting something here. And anyway, who knew anything about the people here and what happened here? No one.

“Are you the last German in this place?”

No, there are still some others here. They’rea older and many have also died. It’s just been so many years since the war ended.

“What grave are you taking care of here?”

I’m specifically looking after Eichendorff’sgrave. Back then, in 1943 to 1944, I couldn’t even comprehend it when we learned about Eichendorff in school. Then, the Russians came and I never thought that I’d ever get to rebuilding after Neisse– that the grave of Eichendorffis here and that I would be the one taking care of the grave. Isn’t that a coincidence?

I built my house right next to here and I can’t watch when the dogs dig around in the dirt. After every construction project – whether it be installation or canalization work – after every rain… human remains resurface. Up to now, I have collected them and buried them, but I think that’s just not a normal situation. Their families live somewhere and I’m sure they would love to know where their loved ones are laid to rest. 

I had a similar situation myself when strangers discovered my grandfather in the dumpster of the police building in Mielec. For me, it was important to find out who my grandfather was. He was a person considered to be a bandit for a long time, but who really wasn’t one. The dead can’t defend themselves, after all.

A neighbor of mine told me a story. When he was a young man, he was supposed to go with a Russian soldier and get something. When they got there, there was a woman in the kitchen at the stove. She was a German. The soldier shot her in front of her children. When my neighbor told me that, he just started crying… as if he were living out the story again. He had that image in his head of the children pulling at the corpse: “Mommy, mommy”. When he asked the soldier why he had done that, the soldier just said: “that’s the way it has to be”.

“Are you going to bury the bones again?”

What else could I do? Throw them away?

“Is the war still in your consciousness?”

In my consciousness there are moments that I haven’t comprehended yet – drastic ones that I had to endure but that I didn’t understand.

When I was 10 years old, I was visiting a family that was expelled from East-Poland. One night, an 18 year old boy jumped through the window, yelling: “Banderowcy is coming” – and I didn’t know what it was about. I was just 10.

“Did that happen here?”

Yes.

My parents ignored my questions: “That’s nothing for you”, they said. Later, I found out that the Ukrainian nationalists had murdered his whole family. The boy was traumatized, and, believe me, Poland never has concerned itself with helping those kids and families. It happened in the past, and it’s all over now…

“Do you know who Eichendorff  was?”

No. No idea. No.  

(A) Nobel Prize winner?

He was a poet. He was a poet from the Romantic period. He’s a symbol of the coexistence of cultures because he was a German and lived in Silesia where the Poles had the majority.

“Do any of you know that this school was named after Eichendorff? That this is the well-known Eichendorff school?”

People don’t talk about that in our school… only about the Polish period. The period of the Germans is silenced. It would be nice if the students in this school knew, but no one told us that – not in class and not in the group lessons. We only learned about Julius Slowacki, not anyone else.

And I walk outside of the walls, out into the open field. Sublime glistening, divine shivering – the world is so expansive and so still! (Poem by Eichendorff)

Silver streams draw down. Flowers sway, far and near. All around things become colorful and more colorful – Lenz! Are you back already?(Poem by Eichendorff)

If you look at the Upper-Silesian culture, at its humanistic traditions, then Upper-Silesia is, in a way, a mirror of what we would call a civilization of German culture — through its way of life, culture, history, and a certain tendency to German culture in a more natural way.  There’s no doubt about that. No doubt.

I think that the German culture is already history. The most important thing here is that the German history is being blocked… excuse me, I mean, a whole culture is being blocked.  Culture always invokes its roots. When someone is afraid that the roots could be coming from the wrong source, then they try to block this culture. I think that is the dangerous thing. I don’t know whether contemporary Silesian artists would refer back to the German culture. No, I don’t think so.

I’m not a fan of German opera. It wouldn’t bother me, however, if a German opera were performed here. The reality that you can’t find any trace of earlier times is pretty strange, but it’s also typical for Silesia. What they do here is pretend as if history started after 1945.

You’re asking if it doesn’t bother me that you can’t find any German roots here? I mean, they’re there, but that’s not made public. Every program that you open starts with the first performance of “Halka” in the 1940s – sometime…

“Did everything here first start in 1945?”

That’s something you should ask the management here.

When we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the opera house in 2001, we welcomed guests from all over the world and from Germany, too. I had the idea of rehearsing a staging of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”. In – and imagine this – Polish. Everyone liked it a lot.

It doesn’t bother me that there’s nothing here in the German language. But, if it were here, it wouldn’t be bad.

That’s a very difficult question, very difficult. That’s something that we have to figure out calmly so that everyone here is satisfied.

Maybe the people here are inspired by the loneliness. Maybe because they can sort of see themselves as marking posts. It’s like being in the desert; in a cultural desert. High culture does not need financial support  to keep it going.  It also needs an emotional environment. And, so, it’s simply a reality that outstanding people, artists, need to get away from here in order to prevail.

“So, what could they make better here?”

Maybe the consciousness of the people. They could make it clear to them what happened here and why it looks the way it does.

I would advocate for Upper-Silesia to become autonomous again. Since we’ve been connected to Poland, we have lost a lot of resources and money. We’re getting poorer and we don’t have the possibility to develop ourselves further. I will see to it that everyone, starting in childhood, has contact with the history of Silesia.

That is the great message of Plato: eudzen, “live well”. But, you can’t live well if you don’t know the country that you’re living in; the space in which you’re immersed. And you can’t live well without community.

End

 

Cast:

 

Upper-Silesian musicians

Artists in Upper-Silesia, university professor

Author, artist – raised in Upper-Silesia

Polish musician in Upper-Silesia

German woman in Upper-Silesia

German man in Upper-Silesia

 Polish journalist

Professor, Silesian University

Citizen of Upper-Silesia

Citizen of Upper-Silesia

Care-taker of the mass-grave in Tost/ Upper-Silesia

Director, Silesian Library

Director, Silesian Opera

Fashion student in Upper-Silesia

School student in Upper-Silesia

School student in Upper-Silesia

Lyceum (secondary school) in Upper-Silesia

Curator of monuments