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Published: July 15th 2011
It’s not every day we get to fulfil a dream.
This one is going to be short, from the heart and I hope not to offend, as this is Michelle’s story and I’m not sure if I’ll able to give it full justice.
Following WWII Germany was, basically, dissected with Russia integrating 200 + km of territory (known as Lower Silesia) into Poland. So villages such as Deutsch – Hammer were to be lost to all, but for memory. Now known as Czeszow, Deutsch – Hammer is where Michelle’s father was born and raised until the spoils of war were divvied up and the might of the Soviet army moved in, packed up the remaining German citizens of the area and shipped them out.
Michelle’s father died at a young age, leaving a wife and three small children.
Even before we discussed coming to Europe, Michelle would occasionally drop a hint that one of her strongest dreams was to visit from where her roots began. I’m not a 100 % sure, but I don’t think she fully believed in the possibility.
As fortune would have it, during one of our trolls on the internet we came
across a reference from someone who lives in Wroclaw, a city about 40 minutes’ drive from Czeszow and they were in possession of a rough hand drawn map of the village (pre 1945). This map also showed the names of the owners of the individual properties in the township.
This person gratefully emailed the map to us.
Wroclaw is a sprawling city, located in the south west corner of Poland. It tries hard to show case it’s presence as a tourist destination, yet (and no offence Wroclaw) we struggled to warm to its offerings though we found the people warm and helpful.
With Garmin set and rough map in hand we headed off to Czeszow.
The day was gloomy and I could sense the trepidation that Michelle must have been feeling. Road works and manic drivers did little to lighten the mood and at one point Michelle commented that if Deutsch – Hammer was as depressing as the surrounding area she would prefer not to continue. But continue we did.
Pot holes tested the suspension; suicidal Poles in BMWs and Audis rocketed past us.
This is a 50 kmph road, well road is a
liberal use of the word but the Poles don’t seem to be able to read road signs (I guess that’s why they hold the record for the most road fatalities in Europe) and we laugh that maybe they are related to the Greeks.
Industrial estates opened to pretty hamlets and open farmlands. Then on to dark (heaven forbid, should I use the “enchanting” word) forests. A light shower seemed to freshen the air and then we entered Czeszow.
Passing a new hotel and crossing a small creek we drive around trying to get our bearings. We find the new cemetery and take a walk around, feeling we are intruding on some ones inner privacy we quickly move on.
We come to the village centre (the local church) and take a wander. Near to the church we find a pharmacy and enquire within as to some information regarding the village and old cemetery. Fortunately the young man working there speaks some English, but alas he is not from the area so is unable to assist with any of our enquiries.
We take a walk around the village and are met with questioning looks. ”Why are you here??”
The map we have in our procession becomes clearer and we are confident, from the information we have gathered, we have found the house where Michelle’s father may have lived.
Back to the car and before we leave we approach a woman at a nearby shop who, despite our lack of verbal communication accompanies us back to the pharmacy and try to work out where the old cemetery may be (Michelle’s grandmother is believed to be buried there). Again we come up with a blank. The young man then writes down on a piece of paper, in Polish, “can you tell us where the old cemetery is?” and suggests we find someone who is from the area to assist.
Emotions are stretched and we feel it is time to leave.
As we are leaving we stop at one last shop and using the note we have, from the pharmacy, we push for an answer as to the whereabouts of the old cemetery and head stones. One of the elderly patrons, within the shop, points to the church yard.
With a tear in our eyes we head back towards Wroclaw, through the
forests and lament on a life that must have been.
I for one would have loved to have grown up here.
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