Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 19, 2023

Chronik, Ksiąz Śląski and Kasia

In the spring of 1991, husband Art and I made our first venture into southwest Poland. The Berlin Wall had come down a little more than a year before and I was a bit nervous. The inhabitants of the small villages seemed equally uneasy toward us. This mutual tension was understandable. The area had been part of Germany from the 18th century until the end of World War II. It then became part of Poland, a country dominated by the heavy hand of Moscow until the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We were accompanied by Art's mother Donna, and our goal was to visit the places where some of his and his mother's relatives had lived prior to immigrating to the U.S. in 1856.

The villages, roads, and buildings were gray and depressing. The Soviets had not wasted money on things like colorful paints and the locally-available brown coal used for heating and industry had left a thin layer of soot everywhere.

But improvements have marked every subsequent trip. Now, most streets and roads are in good shape, accommodating large tractors and other farm equipment, just as they do in other areas of Europe. Fiber optic cables are being installed everywhere, providing high-speed internet. Buildings are bright yellows, oranges, purples and greens. And the people, rather than being suspicious, are like other Europeans, going about their business or being curious as to why we’re there.

This past April, Art's cousin Kris joined us so she, too, could see where her ancestors had lived. Art had prepared a "cheat sheet" for us, made possible by a "Chronik" - a short chronicle about the family - written about 1841 by Ernst Graetz, Art's and Kris's great-great grandfather. Their cousin Jeff had found it among his mother’s things and Art spent four months meticulously translating it line by line. Written in the old German script, it was necessary to first convert the letters to their modern versions before translating the German words to English. And for us to visit the relevant places, he then had to identify their current Polish names.

Our first stop was at Krosno Odrzański, a town of 11,000 on the Oder River. It's not connected with Art's family, but the beautiful church prompted a visit.

Then it was off to Słone, called Schloin when Ernst taught there. It was the birthplace of Art's great-grandmother Anna a little more than a year before the family left for America. The little cemetery was beautifully decorated with flowers and candles for the recent Easter holiday.

Ochla (Ochelhermsdorf) was where Georg Graetz, Ernst's grandfather, was born. Georg was a dragoon master sergeant during the reign of Friedrich the Great, and, according to Ernst, "was well known for his abilities in battle. He was a very strongly built man, rugged in appearance, with a very compact physique ..."

Zatonie (Günthersdorf), where Ernst studied a few years, was our next stop. We took pictures of the beautiful little church, with its hand-hewn balcony.

Ksiąz Śląski - pronounced "K-sh-ah-sh Sh-l-ah-s-k-ea" - and previously known as Furstenau, was where Ernst's father Christian had a tavern. Christian, despite being a Protestant, was good friends with the village's Catholic priest Schardekk, but said that when they were together "... the coffee did not taste right to me. First, I think it was because the old housekeeper with the face of a thousand wrinkles was not so clean as my mother, and second, was because of the three fat small house dogs, to which the High Reverend would drop coffee for them to drink. ..."

Kris tried the door of the present-day church, but it was locked. We had barely turned to leave when a woman appeared with a key, offering to open it. Her few words of German and English were sufficient for us to understand.

She offered us coffee at her home across the street and we accepted, sitting at her little table outside. Her name is Katarzyna "Kasia" and she lives with her sister Romuelda "Roma" and Roma's son Damian. Fortunately, Damian's English was quite good and he was able to serve as our translator. Kasia and Damian are both teachers.

After perhaps an hour, we exchanged contact information and bid them "goodbye" - "Do widzenia" in Polish. What fun it was to chat with them, despite the language difficulties. Kasia has since texted us a number of times and included images of picture postcards taken in 1933, when the village was still known as Furstenau.

Wichów (Weichau) was our next stop. Ernst Graetz had married Ernestina Grossmann there, where her father was a teacher. The couple had met when she was keeping house for her uncle in Furstenau.

By then, we had been traveling for some time and the coffee was having an effect. In Kożuchów (Freistadt), Art noticed a toilet outside the bus station. He told Kris and me to go for it. It was a pay toilet, but the euro coin immediately dropped into the return area. Someone had left a one-zloty coin there as well, which Kris claimed along with the rejected euro. She snapped a picture of the instructions and we returned to the car. Putting our three heads together, we deciphered that the "entrance fee" was one zloty. We gals then returned to the toilet and Kris inserted the one-zloty coin. Success!

We hadn't realized that Poland, although a member of the European Union, still uses zlotys rather than euros. The person who left the coin will never know the relief he or she enabled. For days to come, one of us would randomly say, "One zloty for a potty!"

Ernst had begun his "Chronik," by stating he didn't really know much, commenting, "Never the less, my descendants would like this chronicle..." Meeting Kasia and her family had been great fun and the "zloty for a potty" continues to make us laugh. Ernst's chronicle may have been modest, but I'm sure he never would have imagined the effect it would have on his great-great grandchildren and me these 180-plus years later!

Top (l-r): Kris pointing to area map containing the village of Schloin (faintly circled in red at the upper-right); Zatonie church in village that had been Günthersdorf. Church had been Lutheran, but is now Catholic; photo inside Zatonie church; two photos from postcard image texted by Kasia. Bottom (l-r): Kasia, Kris and Art in Ksiąz Śląski church; Gloria, Art, Kris, Kasia, Roma and Damian; bus station toilet in Kożuchów; top of Ernst's chronik. Note the shape of the "e" and "r" in the word "Der" at the start of the second line. German spelling and letters were not standardized until the 1930s. (Zatonie external photo from http://www.polskaniezwykla.pl)

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