Jelenia Gora (Hirschberg) 2010 

We departed Jawor the next day, may 17th, a Monday, driving south toward Jelenia Gora, formerly the German city of Hirschberg. Erik and Erwin were interested in the route I described in Boy Soldier, where the front line had been, the no-man’s land, the minefields. Thus, a short way south of Jawor we ventured toward the foothills of the Sudeten Mountains: the Riesengebirge.

About four Kilometers out of Jawor, we stopped near the town of Paszowice, formerly German Poischwitz. There, with great difficulty, I tried to describe the area. Everything had of course changed over the past 65 years. New houses, pretty houses with gardens, many trees had obscured what had been our “field of fire,” but I hope Erik and Erwin got at least some the idea of how it had been toward the end of World War 2. I was able to identify the frontline where we had hunkered down during the last few months of the war, but failed to spot the dairy that had once stood in the middle of what had been no-man’s-land.
Erik resumed driving along the narrow country road through several villages toward our next destination of Bolkenhain (Bolkov), further into the Sudeten foothills. I tried to remember if I had ever even seen these villages previously. I started to wonder what else had changed. In 1945 we used the road between Paszowice and Bolkov only at night. I had never been on that road during daylight hours. In the olden days the Soviets would fire on anything moving during the day.
Here again, instead of hours by horse-drawn cart, it took only minutes, maybe 30 or so, before we arrived at Bolkov. By now I slowly became used to the time distance difference between the olden days and now. Although the roads were still narrow, they were in top shape and well paved. In 1945, these narrow mountain roads had prevented Soviet armor from penetrating our line, although they did make a few attempts. In 1945, we had large tank barriers strategically located at the steepest, most curving places of this road.
Erik expertly handled the driving on this narrow, turning and twisting road, always climbing higher into the mountains. We drove through beautiful pine forests – reminiscent of the Silesian mountain people’s song, Blaue Berge, grüne Täler (Blue Mountains, Green Valley). Sooner than I expected, we reach Bolkov, formerly our Combat Command headquarters. It was also the place where I had recovered from my wounds. I pointed to the two castles, the Schweinhausburg, and the Bolkoburg, that had, eons ago, guarded this southern entrance into Germany. By this time, it had begun to drizzle and clouds hung low over the castle ruins. While originally we had planned to stop and look around a bit, the penetrating, damp cold quite literally chilled any enthusiasm for that plan. We continued on toward Jelenia Gora, hoping for some sun and a little warmth.

We now were now on the road that our detachment of boy soldiers had taken to Jelenia Gora (Hirschberg) in early May ’45 attempting to cross into Czechoslovakia. In 1945, we had walked all day. We arrived in Jelenia Gora dead tired in the late afternoon. Here again, the mountain road was narrow, but well paved. As always, Erik handled these roads with his usual expertise. We encountered a good number of tourist buses rushing downward at a good speed and little clearance on either side. We arrived in Jelenia Gora shortly after lunch.
Erik had made reservations at a fine hotel, the Palac Paulinium, situated a little distance from downtown atop a high hill. With clear skies the site offered a gorgeous view of the mountain chain that separates Poland from the Czech Republic. But alas, we did not have clear skies; even so we were able to see some snow in the higher elevations of the neighboring mountains. Erik had selected yet again a top of the line hotel. Originally, the home of an industrialist, it later served as headquarters of German and Polish troops. After much rehabilitation, it became a hotel serving the growing tourist traffic. The hotel was almost empty when we arrived, but that was to change the next day. While the rooms were tiny even compared to Hotel Jawor, the service was superb, as was the food.

After checking in, we decided to explore the main shopping and entertainment area of the city which is off limits to vehicular traffic. Erik parked the van a couple of blocks from our destination and we spent a pleasant afternoon in downtown Jelenia Gora meandering through the streets and plazas of the city. Here too, we had great food (pierogi, Hungarian goulash over potato pancakes, etc.), topped off with delicious pastries and lattes.

Jelenia Gora is one of Poland’s top tourist areas, and we saw many vacationing Poles, Germans, and some Brits. Yet one of the shopkeepers told us that we were the only Americans he had ever seen. Here again, we were surprised how much English was spoken by the Polish service personnel. Suanne and Jackie spent a small fortune in a tea and coffee shop. The shopkeeper had a fantastic selection; he roasted his own coffee beans. Erik was convinced that they had spent so much money that the shop would close a week to let the owner go on vacation.
Jelenia Gora, a pretty town, was never damaged during the war. The Poles, however, made their mark on the city in some rather curious ways: the city gate still bore the old German coat of arms, but with a new logo in Polish. Well done, it looked as if it had been there for centuries. The city was in wonderful shape, with great restaurants, shops, and many sights to see. Streets were well kept; houses painted and well maintained–a visual treat after dull Jawor. The boys liked it so well that they decided to call this “New Jawor,” finding it much easier to call this the family hometown than the dreary village we had just left!
On our second day opted for a sightseeing trip into the mountains. We drove deep into the Sudeten Mountains hoping to get a glimpse of the Schneekoppe, Silesia’s highest mountain, but a constant cloud cover obscured the view.

During our several tries from different approaches to see the top of that mountain we noticed a strange phenomenon; it seemed as if any road we selected always led to Karpacz (formerly Krummhügel). I later discovered that this was a town I had always wanted to visit as a boy, Krummhübel. Erwin declared, “So that was the reason we always ended up heading towards Karpacz!”

On Wednesday we left for Wroclaw traveling once again via Jawor for one last peek. After some searching, I finally managed to locate the corner of Thamm Opa’s land at the northwestern edge of the Catholic cemetery, and the old road leading into the fields. We saw the fields that once had been Thamm Opa’s lands; even today those cultivated fields still stretched to the horizon. So much for the old Silesian refugee tales that much of the land lies fallow.

Then, via the so familiar old Chausee to Legniza, formerly Liegnitz, we reached the Autobahn for our return trip to Wroclaw.
Next posting Wroclaw – Breslau

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3 Responses to “Jelenia Gora (Hirschberg) 2010”

  1. Gene Seymour says:

    Gerhardt, I see you did get to see the farm of your boyhood.

  2. About the old Thamm estate: I saw the location, but the site of my grandfather’s estateis now occupied by a cluster of apartment houses . The estate had three street numbers, 17 – 19, and during our visit in 2010, I saw a large number 17 on one of the apartment buildings. Actually, and according to one of my aunts, the Poles had followed, partially, a 1935 urban renewal/modernization plan that called for the Vorwerkstrasse 17-19 estate to be raised, and relocated about a half a mile to the north, just north of the (at the time to be build) beltway. The cluster of apartment houses was part of the old German plan.

  3. I saw the location, but the site of my grandfather’s estateis now occupied by a cluster of apartment houses . The estate had three street numbers, 17 – 19, and during our visit in 2010, I saw a large number 17 on one of the apartment buildings. Actually, and according to one of my aunts, the Poles had followed, partially, a 1935 urban renewal/modernization plan that called for the Vorwerkstrasse 17-19 estate to be raised, and relocated about a half a mile to the north, just north of the (at the time to be build) beltway. The cluster of apartment houses was part of the old German plan.

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