From a meeting with a former employee in the president Vaclav Havel chancellery to a conversation about local traditional herbalism - read how one of the In Between? groups explored the history of the Czech-German-Polish Borderland.
We arrived in Liberec on 15 September and stayed there for the next week in order to explore both history and the dynamic factors that shaped the presence of the region, to conduct interviews with the representatives of local communities and collect photo-, audio- and video documentary. Consequently, we visited places located in all the border sides, including Großhennersdorf and Görlitz in Germany, Wolimierz in Poland, as well as Liberec, Ještěd, Rumburk, Hejnice, Hrádek nad Nisou and Jindřichovice pod Smrkem in Czech Republic.
The range of interests and educational backgrounds represented by the team members was varied, but coherent, and we learnt shortly how to take an advantage of this variety. There were 7 of us, including Ivanka Průchová, who studies History at the Department of History, Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague, Dorota Mysior, student of Film and Media Culture Studies at Adam Mickiewicz Unversity in Poznań, Felix Rapp, who graduated with a BFA in Photography studies at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and is currently based in Dresden, Valentina Semeghini, who studies at Department of Sociology and Social Research of University of Trento, Rebecca Brown, who received MA degree in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art, Eldaniie Abdurashytova, graduate of History at the Ternopil Volodymyr Hnatyuk National Pedagogical University and current student of the University of Warsaw, and Karolina Dziełak, our ENRS coordinator.
Ivanka and Mr Himmel:
On the first day of our study visit we spoke with Mr Jan Šolc, former employee in the president Vaclav Havel chancellery, social activist and Ethics lecturer at Technical University in Liberec (Technická univerzita v Liberci). During this 1,5 hr long conversation we were able to ask questions that were translated into Czech by Ivanka and hear the first-hand memories from Liberec just after the II World War. Among others, we heard a story about Mr Šolc’s friend, a watch repairman who had been shoot in Liberec accidentally. We were given a powerful advice: in response to this strange life logic we should bear in mind the temporariness of life was a fact, and consequently, we should always be brave and with reason.
On Saturday we met Ms Tana Holcakova in The Liberec Library (Krajská vědecká knihovna v Liberci). There were local archival photographs, magazines and books from 1938-1968, already selected and prepared for us, depicting both tragic moments that happened in Liberec in past, such as resettlements and bombings, as well as the everyday life of its inhabitants. We spent some hours scanning, studying and documenting the materials, and exploring historical books. Soon Mr Petr Čížek, who studies History at Technical University of Liberec, joined us and provided us a short lecture about historical background of the Sudetenland. In the rainy afternoon he also met us over a coffee and shared some more rather tragic stories about the history of Liberec soon after 1945. On the same day we also met Mr Jan Suchánek, and our interview took place at the Roman Catholic parish-archdeanery in Liberec.
We spent the following day with Andreas Schönfelder from Großhennersdorf. Firstly, we visited Rumburk and took part in the holy mass in the Orthodox Church in Rumburk. After this calming and intimate experience we had an opportunity to conduct an interview with the local bishop Vratislav Drda. At midday we arrived in the Großhennersdorf library (Die Umweltbibliothek Großhennersdorf ) and conducted a short interview with Mr Andreas Schönfelder. After travelling to Görlitz we had two more interviews in the university (Hochschule Zittau/Görlitz) - Felix spoke with the sociologist and transformation researcher, professor Raj Kollmorgen and, later, with the sociologist and Eastern Europe expert, professor Anton Sterbling.
On 19 September we were exploring the Jewish heritage in Liberec. In the morning we visited the New Synagogue of Liberec (Nová Liberecká synagoga). Liberec synagogue was built in the years 1887-1889 by the renowned company of Sachers & Gärtner from a design by the architect K. König from Vienna. It served its purpose until 1938, when it was burnt down by the Nazis on the tragic "Crystal Night". We visited the new, modern and atypical Liberec synagogue, built together in harmony with Liberec library and housed on the site of old synagogue destroyed by Nazis in 1938. After a short guided tour with the representatives of local Jewish community, we met Ms Markéta Lhotová, who provided us a short lecture about history of Jewish community in Liberec and presented us a collection of archival photographies. After lunch we went to the Jewish cemetery and another memorial place, where we conducted an interview with Mr Pavel Jelínek, who was born in Liberec before II World War.
Being lucky with the lovely weather, we headed off to Ještěd in the evening. The opportunity of seeing all the border sides, including Český ráj, Sněžka and chimneys of electric power station in Bogatynia in the sunset light not only gave us a wider perspective at the region, but also provided motivation to get involved more into its exploration, although we started feeling quite tired due to our busy schedules.
The next day we started in the Liberec Museum (Severočeské muzeum v Liberci), where we were greeted on doors and guided through impressive historical artifacts collected in museum. However, we did not have enough time to explore its expositions properly in order to attend two lectures with practicans and historians on documenting the stories of the region. Again we met Ms Markéta Lhotová, who spoke of the everyday life of Liberec citizens before and after the ressetlements and showed us more archival pictures. We were also given another lecture about the labour- and concentration camps there in the region in past. We also discussed briefly the methodology of collecting and archiving oral stories. In the afternoon we visited the local German community in Liberec (Svaz Němců v regionech Liberec) in order to conduct an interview with Mr Erwin Scholtz, where we were welcomed with a warm greeting. Over a big table with a café and homemade cakes served generously, we spoke in both German and Czech with 3 community representatives: Mr Erwin Scholtz, Ms Vera Strakova and Ms Monika Spálenská.
On 21 September we went to Ms Mirka Kopalova’s home and were greeted with handmade slippers and homemade snacks. She comes from Zelów in Poland and moved to Liberec shortly after 1945. It was the longest interview so far, where we spent almost 3 hours with Ms Kopalova and her husband, listening their life stories. In the afternoon we travelled to Hrádek nad Nisou, where Mr Horst Himmel was already waiting for us. We conducted the interview with him in both Czech and German. It was a great example of combining deep reflection with a great sense of humor, as at the end we received a symbolic souvenir of his European identity - his homemade ‘1 Himmel note’.
On Thursday we travelled to the open air museum in Jindřichovice pod Smrkem (Žijící skanzen v Jindřichovicích pod Smrkem) and observed a large collection of local artifacts of material culture. On our way we also visited stunning Parish and pilgrimage church in Hejnice. Later, we headed off to Wolimierz in Poland and visited Ms Wiesława Dowchań. Firstly, we had a short chat with Ms Anna Hernik, who told us about her experience in oral histories documenting within her project ‘Stankowice - Place, People, History’ (Stankowice- miejsce, ludzie, historia). Then we spent over 2 hours scanning and describing archival photographs collected by Ms Wiesława Dowchań before starting the interview. In her workshop we could observe many more old artifacts such as old agricultural tools, irons, textiles and we spoke with her husband who presented us his stunning collection of herbs, explaining to us some basics about the local traditional herbalism. Ms Wiesława Dowchań told us about the times her family settled down in Wolimierz just after 1945 and the transformation the village went through in ’80. Therefore, we spoke about migrations, flax textiles industry, her artwork and inspirations. We also visited Stacja Wolimierz and Atelier for a while.
Throughout the project we collected hundreds of photographs, scans, and many hours of video and audio documentation, which are all described with metadata and will be stored in the National Polish Archives. Since returning from the study visit we have used the time to complete transcriptions of the interviews conducted in Liberec, and continue to work as a group with the stories and materials collected, and the aim of presenting our unique experience of the region and the project.