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July 1999


Maria is one of the original German inhabitants of the area. Her answers are short but this is not the interviewer’s fault, who persevered and asked many good questions. Brief but atmospheric description of the area pre-war – the mineral water bottling plant, holidaymakers, spas, hikes in the mountains, every house with a flower garden (“Such things were a must”). Working the land was hard and mostly done by hand. There was more cultivation then so fewer trees; today the thick forest obscures the old views she loved. She was 16 when war broke out, and from her description it is rather as though time, and all thoughts of fun, stopped dead. She says little about that time. She married a Pole and so stayed. Weeps when she recalls her German relatives packing to leave. When the Poles arrived, she kept her distance, not least because of language problems. Gradually she learnt Polish, aided by listening to the radio a lot. Now, though “maybe it’s a shame to admit”, she even prays in Polish. Though she’s been among Poles longer than her own people, she still feels German. She visited old friends a few times but not often now. She feels sad that the area has declined and never developed into the spa town it might have done.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Early life history – grew up in a small farm in Szczawina.
Section 2  Describes village life when she was younger. Says the number of houses has decreased from 30 to 11 and deteriorated (“above all they were well looked after”). Also describes the area – the spa, the shops, guesthouses, and a bottle plant. Many of these have also disappeared: “there are no traces, there are some ruins only!” Mentions the poverty of the settlers from the east – “everybody who came to settle here didn’t have anything”.
Section 3  The difficulty of tilling the soil by hand, as “here in the mountains we didn’t know any other tools”. Little co-operation between neighbours: “everyone on his own”. She believes Christmas traditions have not changed much, although “there wasn’t any meat, as the Christmas Eve was a lent-day. Apart from that, there weren’t as many dishes as there are today”.
Section 4  Describes the tidiness of the local residents and their flower gardens. Believes the “mountains haven’t changed, only the trees have grown tall”. She prefers mountain life when she was younger “because we had a view”.
Section 5  She had a dream to be “a hairdresser or a seamstress, but my parents didn’t allow me, so I had to stay at home and help them”. She says, “you couldn’t even dream about seeing the world” because “the times were rather difficult”.
Section 6  When war broke out, she felt afraid although “it was rather quiet around here … only when the war was over, there came some troops, but other than that – nothing”. The Poles arrived from ‘45, although some worked for local farmers during the war (“they didn’t have a hard time here”). Then “governments between themselves…. [decided] where the borders would be, who would settle and who had to leave.”
Section 7  She weeps when she remembers how her German relatives had to leave. Says “people changed” when the Poles arrived and “everyone was left to himself. We didn’t visit each other”. She gradually learnt Polish (by reading, listening to radio and talking). Some settlers spoke German and they “communicated as much as we could”. Her husband did the shopping in the first years because “how could I go to a shop, what would I say?”
Section 8  Hard for Polish people to adjust to farming as they came from the lowlands (“it was very difficult for them, so many of them gave up and left the mountains”). Although she had different traditions from her husband, she says, “we found a way of living together … we cultivated both traditions”. Her own children eventually stopped speaking German.
Section 9  Now prays and thinks in Polish, yet feels herself to be “always German”.
Section 10  Felt sad after all her German relatives and neighbours left. Describes the relationships between the Poles – “all of them originally came from the same village, so stuck together here as well. They helped each other out, because the times were hard … the ties between them were much stronger”. But times have changed: “now it is that one wants to have more than another”. “When they were driving the Germans away, people would say ‘It’s not for long, not for long, only a couple of months’.”
Section 11  Such thoughts have faded: “it’s been so many years now. They have made their links with the people there, and that’s all there is to it. Nobody’s expecting it to happen now. They come to visit, they stay for a couple of days and that’s it. I haven’t met a single one who would say “I would like to”. These are childhood memories and that’s all.”
Section 12  The area, the spa etc declined “because nobody looked after it”. Blames the Poles: “they came at night and looted the place”.
Section 13  Decline of farming in the area as “there is no owner, all of this belongs to the State, so who is to plough or harvest?” Thinks young people don’t want to live in the mountains “because it is easier in the town”.