Return to Jauer – 2010 

Since I had joined the American Army and become an intelligence agent (See Making of a Spy, my second book), my security clearances prohibited my traveling behind the Iron Curtain. But even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the demise of the Soviet Union, I had felt no desire to return to Silesia. Periodically I toyed with the idea, generally after a family gathering where lots of different narratives of the Old Days tickled my curiosity bone and made me wonder how things had changed under the Polish regime. But I generally concluded that Jauer and Silesia were parts of my past that were best preserved in memories.

Some two or three years ago, my older son Erik suggested that we ought to visit Jauer. He and his younger brother Erwin wanted to see the place my parents and I had so often described. Undoubtedly, from stories told by my parents, my sons, especially Erwin, had romanticized Jauer. He mentioned wanting to visit the old wine cellars that my grandfather had patronized, and the blacksmith shop to which I had often led horses to be shoed. He wanted to see the family manor house on Vorwerkstrasse, the fields that my grandfather had cultivated for so many years, and the road to the sugar refinery in Altjauer, the destination to which I had driven the horse-drawn wagon loaded with sugar beets, and the residue “Schnitzel” — shredded and reprocessed sugar beets — loaded for the return trip.

Initially I considered, but rejected the idea; but the boys, especially Erik, persisted, asking in exasperation, “If not now, Dad, when?” Indeed, a point well taken. Especially since it was now 2010, a milestone birthday year for both me (80th) and Erik (60th). By offering to handle all the details like researching flights, car rental and hotels, Erik managed to peel away my feeble resistance. And so it was decided: Five of the Thamms – Erik and his wife Jackie, Erwin, Suanne and I — would return to Silesia and Jauer in May 2010. Finally the die had been cast!

During the planning stage I tried to dampen the boys’ thoughts of a romantic Jauer. Travel accounts from friends who had returned from visits to the area over the years were generally unenthusiastic, citing changes made by the Polish Communists that had turned a once well-kept little town into a dreary town with a collection of shabby buildings and stores. Also, I knew from my cousin Manfred Thamm’s visit that that the Poles, in an attempt at urban renewal, had torn down the ancient Thamm manor buildings and replaced them with Soviet-era apartment houses. To Erwin, I explained that today’s Jawor would bear little resemblance to the town of Jauer that I knew; with the expulsion of the German population, there would not be anyone living in the town that I even knew.

And so after several months of researching, planning and making arrangements, our departure day finally arrived. On May 14th, Erik with wife Jackie, Erwin, Suanne and I boarded Lufthansa flight LH 419 bound for Frankfurt, Germany. There we boarded LH 3308 for Wroclaw (formerly Breslau). As the plane broke through the clouds and made its final approach, we were finally able to catch our first glimpse of Silesia. We saw lush green farmlands, interrupted by fields of brilliant yellow flowers denoting the abundance of rapeseed fields.

On May 15, we arrived in Wroclaw on an overcast and unseasonably cool afternoon. Wroclaw has a small, but efficient airport; a much larger, highly modern one is under construction. Erik had rented a five-passenger van, large enough for us and our luggage. We overnighted at the Radisson Blu Hotel, which Wroclaw’s hotel guide describes as the “Cream of the Crop hotel, overlooking a quiet park. Rooms come with clean, light colors, heated bathroom floors and a telephone next to the toilet.” Indeed, a very elegant place. We also had reservations there for our last three nights in Poland. We received room upgrades into business suites with all the conveniences, including two-sided views of the city. The conference – living room included a large flat screen TV, a table for eight, a coffee and alcohol bar, sofas and chairs; the large bedroom contained another flat screen TV and adjoined an ultra modern bathroom. An enormous hot and cold buffet breakfast was included in the price.

On May 16th, we departed for Jawor via the Autobahn, which has been upgraded to a first class highway. Erik did all the driving and while I started out as navigator, via popular demand Erwin replaced me early in the trip. Following my description in “Boy Soldier”, Erik had planned and arranged the travel route, first to Jawor via Luboradz (formerly Lobris), where my Uncle Arthur had his farm. From there, via Bolkov (formerly Bolkenhain) to Jelenia Gora (formerly Hirschberg), then return to Wroclaw, with another brief stop in Jawor.

It is only 68 kilometers from Wroclaw to Jawor, and along the way we turned off into a secondary road toward Jawor. We drove though good farmland, and got close-up views of the large tracts of yellow-flowered, rapeseed fields. In my days, this area was sugar beet country. Now, rapeseeds have replaced sugar beets; later I learned that the Jauer sugar refinery had to close when it could not obtain spare parts. Rapeseeds are far easier to harvest than sugar beets. Along the way I was also struck by the absence of horses, a major change from the old days. Tractor farming prevails even in modest areas.

We drove through a few totally dilapidated villages. There seemed to be a general appearance of neglect, all looked terribly backward, and poor. The houses lacked paint, and seemed as if they had not been repaired since the end of World War 2. Jackie reminded us that many German refugees claimed that the houses were purposefully neglected by the Poles to make them less desirable for the Germans should they try to reclaim the land. While such a belief might have had some foundation in the immediate postwar days, twenty years have now passed since the signing of the German–Polish Border Treaty on 14 November 1990, finalizing Germany’s boundaries as permanent along the Oder-Neisse line, and thus, renouncing any claims to Silesia, East Brandenburg,Farther Pomerania, and territories of the former province of East Prussia. Rather I suspected that years of neglect under the communist system and the absence of any significant economic development efforts might be more to blame.

Sooner, much sooner than I had expected, we arrived in Luboradz. I guess I was still in the old Silesian mental time warp regarding time and distance. It took some mental adjustment to get used to the difference between time and distance when walking or riding a bicycle, and when riding in an automobile.

Luboradz had once been a clean, well-maintained village; it now seemed totally dilapidated. On our first pass through the village I failed to locate Onkel Arthur’s farm. Actually, I almost missed the village all together. I realized that we had already passed through Luboradz when I noticed the entrance to the von Wolkenstein castle. Erik turned around for a second and third look. I searched for the millpond near the farm; it was no longer there, and the mill was now just another house. What had once been the village’s inn and bar, across from my uncle’s former farm, also looked dilapidated. I never was able to spot the site of his farmhouse – the Soviets had burned it in 1945, and possibly another structure had taken its place. I had planned to take a few photos, but…

Disappointed, we went on the road again, to Jawor, and once again passing the entrance to the castle, also in a sad state of repair.

Here again, I should have realized that instead of more than an hour’s walk, it took only a few minutes by car to get from Luboradz to Jawor. In no time at all, Jawor appeared suddenly as we drove under the bridge of the town’s bypass the Nazis had built shortly before World War 2. Although I had no illusions regarding Jawor, I still wondered what my feelings would be when I saw the town where I had spent my early youth.

My first impression of Jauer was not a pleasant one. The once busy flower mill near the city limits looked abandoned; the same held true for the former Grätz farm machinery factory. With considerable trepidation I directed Erik to take the road, Breslauer Strasse, where my grandmother Preuss had lived. We rode along Breslauer Strasse (I will use all the familiar German titles for location in town) past the Töpfer estate, once a prosperous city farm–it too looked unkempt, almost abandoned. We passed the Menzel house where Preuss Oma had lived, and the large apartment building where my Tante Gertrud had a large apartment; both buildings appeared to be in fair shape.

We turned onto Vorwerkstrasse and stopped in front of the Soviet cemetery, across the street from what had been the Thamm manor house. Here again a ten or fifteen minute walk from Preuss Oma’s apartment to the Thamm estate was reduced into a one- or two-minute drive.

I had told my sons that their great grandfather’s estate had been directly across the street from that cemetery. I watched and pointed out the spot. A cluster of apartment houses occupied where once had been the Mager Villa, the home of one of Jauer’s wealthy hardware store owners, and the Thamm estate. This estate once had three street numbers, 17 – 19, and I saw a large number 17 on one of the apartment houses.

Erik parked the car and we walked into a park-like cemetery and war memorial area. For me, it was another shock. The German World War 1 monument, a huge ice-age bolder, for the dead of the 154th Silesian Infantry Regiment had been replaced by a granite monument for all victims of wars.

Originally, I had planned to use the World War 1 monument as my reference point. I later realized that the removal of this monument was only a small part of a concerted effort by the Communist Polish government to “polonize” the entire area that became “Western Poland”. (In the annex I will insert an article published in the “Wroclaw in your pocket” guide titled “Recovered Territories” that describes in detail the polonization of Silesia).

I was disappointed, but to my surprise, it meant absolutely nothing to me. It was as if I had no connection to the soil, the town, even the street I had walked so often. Indeed, I was a stranger in my own land.

Through a long connection of friends I had made contact with Daniel Tuora, a Pole living in Jawor. Daniel and family lived on ul. Starojaworska 47 (formerly Altjauerstrasse 47). They lived around the corner from where my grandfather’s estate once was. I knew the way to his house. Daniel and his father Eugeniusz (HAM Radio operator SP6NIP) greeted us like long lost cousins. They lived in a small house with a large vegetable garden and a view southward toward the foothills of the Sudeten Mountains.

From their house I pointed to the next village, Paszowice (formerly Poischwitz), and told Erik and Erwin that this was the area I had described in Boy Soldier, where I had spent a few months looking across the meadow – the minefield – at Soviet occupied Jawor.

Strange as it seems, I explained all of this as an impartial observer, not someone with sentimental links to the place or the past circumstances.

Daniel and his father guided us (leading in their car) to our first place of the visit, the Church of Peace, designated by the UN as the 72nd World Cultural Heritage Site. I was confirmed in that church, and my sister Helga was baptized there. We entered the church–Daniel and Eugeniusz photographing all the while. I showed my sons my grandfather’s private loge–I suppose I will be the last of the Jauer Thamms to sit in it – and I have the photos to prove it!

Surprisingly, in spite of the government’s polonization program, all the German language inscriptions remained. This was even more surprising later, when we discovered that in other churches the Poles had removed and replaced all indications that Germans had once lived and worshipped there.

Thereafter, we ventured into what had once been the evangelical cemetery. For me, this was the most shocking disappointment. In their attempt to polonize Silesia, and Jawor, the Polish government had desecrated the cemetery. They had removed and discarded every gravestone; they had ripped plaques from the wall, including the one above my grandmother’s grave. There was nothing there that could have indicated that Germans had been buried in that area; it was a large grassy area, akin to a poorly maintained park.

Daniel and Eugeniusz brought us back to the place where my grandfather’s estate had been; the area now has several apartment houses on it. Fortunately for us, Eugeniusz remembered the place and described it to my sons.

Most people, including most Germans, do not realize that with the postwar border realignment between Poland and the Soviet Union, the Soviets had deported all the Poles, including Daniel’s father and family, from their ancestral homes in eastern Poland, and resettled them in western Poland, in what had been German Silesia. The Poles living in present-day Jawor and Silesia have no personal or family ties to this region that predate their arrival in the mid to late 1940’s.

After we walked the untended playground and park area that once was part of the Thamm estate, we crossed the street, where Eugeniusz pointed out the Soviet war cemetery. Originally, in 1945, there were about sixteen simple war graves with plain, but dignified grave markers. The wrought iron fence that had once enclosed the Thamm estate’s park garden had been appropriated to surround the graveyard. Over the years, the Soviets had turned the once simple but dignified war cemetery into just another monument glorifying the Red Army and Communism. The wrought iron fence was gone, and the cemetery now spread over an area at least twice the size of the old one. The original grave markers had been replaced by huge, ugly concrete slabs. Eugeniusz shocked us by spitting on the graves to express his hatred for the Soviets; Daniel expressed his doubts that there were even remains of Russian war casualties under those plates. I did not argue the point, but wondered whether the fallen had been dug up and reinterred under the concrete slabs, or if the Soviets had just enlarged the site for propaganda purposes.

I was and always had been reluctant to walk among the graves, unsure whether the young Russian I had killed in 1945 was buried there. I was glad to leave this area, and with it, my troubled thoughts.

We resumed our drive through the town, parking in the town center so that we could explore on foot the city square, the “Ring”. What had once been a fashionable part of the city, home to city hall, fashionable apartments and a variety of the town’s most fashionable shops and restaurants, looked dismal indeed. Reconstruction efforts were underway thanks to a European Union grant, and the rock plates that had surfaced the square were being replaced by cobblestones. Piles of stones and gravel covered what had been a large open area. That was understandable.

Many Silesian town centers had arcades, vaulted sidewalks, in front of the town’s most prestigious stores, wine cellars, and restaurants. They protected the shoppers from inclement weather, and facilitated meetings, and chats between friends. The structures surrounding the Ring usually had three or four floors, only the first was, set back under the second floor of the building, in commercial use, the upper floors had apartments with prestigious addresses. Some cities had only partial arcades, but Jauer’s Ring was surrounded on all sides with these structures.

Several buildings on the north side of the Ring had been destroyed during the last part of the war. The Poles had reconstructed those ruins to look, as best as I could tell, exactly as they had been before the war. However, in general, the buildings surrounding the “Ring” looked pitiful. The Poles had turned the once elegant restaurants, bakeries, wine cellars, bars, etc. into apartments and cheap Pizza joints. Uninspired retail shops mixed with drab clubs and unkempt buildings covered with spray-painted graffiti (a situation not limited to Jawor unfortunately.)

The weather continued sunless, windy and cold. At Daniel’s suggestion we decided to try the restaurant in the city hall restaurant, formerly the Ratskeller. I had mentioned to Erik and Erwin that I had last been in that restaurant shortly before noon on 12 February 1945 when I collected food for our lone police officer — already with Soviet artillery firing into the city. We enjoyed a simple, pleasant meal attended by a young waitress representing a new generation more in tune with pizza than either pierogi or schnitzel.

After lunch we completed our tour of the city to include a small but comprehensive city museum and the old railway station. After a full day with conversations conducted in English, German, Polish and a mixture of all three, Daniel and his father invited us to their house for coffee and cake–all prepared by Daniel’s mother. I am not sure how we can ever thank those good folks for their generosity in time and spirit to help us make the most of our brief visit.

We parted company and headed for our accommodation, the Hotel Jawor, the only local hotel recommended. It was a nice, though simple place, on ul. Staszica 10, the former Blücher Strasse. We were greeted by a friendly, English-speaking manager who had worked in London previously for many years. The hotel, though quite small, boasted comfortable rooms, secure garage parking, and probably the best restaurant in town. That evening we had a sumptuous meal, where we were introduced to what became our favorite drink throughout our trip: Wodka Zoladowa Gorzka, a high-octane honey and herb flavored vodka that takes the chill out of your bones quickly. The Hotel Jawor was billed as serving “the best coffee in Jawor,” which we were able to verify the next morning at yet another big Polish breakfast buffet that preceded a made-to-order breakfast tailored to each guest’s request. After breakfast and a final walk around the town we loaded the van and said our good-by’s to the hotel staff.

There were at least two events that made our otherwise somewhat disappointing day at Jawor pleasant: The Tuoras, and the Hotel Jawor.

I had entered Jawor with some trepidation, but without any sentimental feelings. I had this odd feeling that I was a total stranger in the town where I had grown up. I had no feelings such as, “This is my old hometown.” Nothing. It shocked my sons, but Suanne understood: I was a stranger in my hometown. We all agreed that the Tuora family and the Hotel Jawor were the highlights of the visit.

Next posting will be Jelenia Gora – Hirschberg – following the 1945 road of retreat into the high mountains

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