Gone and forgotten?

Family cemetery Mrągowo

Some may consider that an unusual hobby, but I like to visit old cemeteries wherever I go. Especially those that are no longer used by any community, that are forgotten and decaying because the people whose relatives were buried there no longer live there. It started when as a kid I used to spend some time every year in the summer at my grandparents. The village they live in was once inhabited by Germans, expelled after World War II when that region was incorporated to Poland. Apart from houses and other belongings they left a small cemetery hidden in the nearby forest. I used to visit it many times looking for the last remains of graves and stone tombs. Last time I saw it the only sign of the cemetery’s former presence were the two rows of tilia trees once marking the entrance. The rest had been totally absorbed by forest.

Every year I spend two weeks in Masuria region in Poland. There is a similar historical background behind that land, whose mixedFamily grave Bezławki German / Masurian population disappeared almost completely after 1945. Their houses became inhabited by newcomers from other parts of Poland, protestant churches turned into catholic ones but nobody needed their cemeteries anymore. When I’m there I always look for the signs of the presence of people who were born and spent all their lives there. Although there’s new life there and a few generations of post-war inhabitants have already been born there, I still have that unpleasant feeling of emptiness, the notion that something is missing.

Old cemetery Mrągowo Last year I came to the old cemetery in Mrągowo (formerly known as Sensburg) and saw exactly what I could have expected. The place dominated by weeds, the remains of tombs slowly but constantly sinking into the ground. However I saw also a few graves that apparently someone was taking care of and that was a hopeful sign. You can still  read the names on tombstones or steel crosses and think that not only them but also their families and the world they used to know is gone.

However, probably even more piercing experience can be a visit to one of  jewish cemeteries left in Poland. Many of them were destroyed during the war by Nazis, who profaned them and

Jewish cemetery Warsaw
Source: http://www.thevisitor.pl

used the tombstones (matzevah)  to toughen the  roads or as elements of buildings walls.  They wanted not only to kill the Jews but also annihilate the memory of them. It’s worth mentioning that some Poles were doing exactly the same after the war had ended but it deserves another, separate  post in future. One of the biggest jewish necropolis that mostly survived that barbarity is located in my hometown, Warsaw. I’ve been there only once so far and it really hurt. There are thousands of gravestones there and almost every one of them is in some way crooked or distorted. The area is tightly overgrown with trees so when you cross the gate you feel like you were entering a mysterious, shady forest. I’m not good at describing my feelings, so I’d use just one word to express what I felt when I saw it all: regret. Very deep regret, made even greater by the fact that I couldn’t read the Hebrew inscriptions on the tombstones and they seemed to me even more silent witnesses of what once was.

The last war made my country a land of ghosts of people for whom it had been their place on earth. What we can do is to remember they once lived here. And I do.

P.S. It was not my intention to put Holocaust and expulsion of Germans on the same level. These are two different things and I know it. I’m only describing my feelings.

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9 thoughts on “Gone and forgotten?

    1. Thank You coolfeline!

      Life is cruel and we’re alll going to die. Period. But we should try to make the world better place and one of the ways to do that, in my opinion, is to remember about the past, even if unplesant, and to learn from it.

      It’s a tragedy that milions of people were (and are being) murdered and shortly after that nobody cares about it. Life goes on?

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      1. Yes. We seemed to heave learned nothing. Shortly afterwards they said that this must never happen again, but people want to forget and they also seem to neglect to teach their young. It isn’t all that long ago … there are still a few survivors alive!
        We human beings have always been cruel, methinks..

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  1. Wonderful post – I’m going to share it. I love cemeteries, too. There’s so much history in a cemetery (not all of it pleasant, as you have pointed out). I made a point of visiting a lot of cemeteries when traveling around Europe. In my country European settlement is relatively recent, and First Nations (indigenous) people didn’t create long-lasting monuments to the dead as we do.

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  2. Thanks Leslie!

    People in Poland just love to build long lasting monuments for their dead, the bigger, the better. They are so ugly! And they are all alike as they are mostly manufactured by the same stonemason. So the newer cemeteries are definitely not appropriate places to think about the history, time passing and so on. Unless you visit a specific grave of someone you loved, then it’s a little different. I prefer the old ones.

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  3. A lovely post! I, too, am fascinated by cemeteries – especially the very old ones – so much history and a small peep into the lives and deaths of others.

    thanks for visiting my blog too 🙂

    Lorraine

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  4. Mother Pawel Grogan, Thanks for a GREAT POST! Many of us seem to get a glimpse of the past in these cemeteries. What is even more amazing to me is that poland also has the tilny flower myrtle growing in your old cemeteries. Now I begin to wonder if the myrtle was not European cemetery custom that has been transferred to the US. Once again, thank you for a great post and a super blog. Wally

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    1. Thanks for your compliments Waldo, it means a lot to me when someone appreciate my humble posting on this blog.

      As to the myrtle: you’re probably right, because the plant is connected to european cemeteries since the ancient times. Greeks and Romans trated it as a symbol of life beyond death as far as I know.

      Paweł

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