The memory of places we experience is fundamental to a sense of self.
Eugenia Kałużna (born in 1927), nee Schiller is one of the descendants of the historical Olender settlers of German origins in the Pyzdry Forest, in the southern part of the Greater Poland Lowland. She was born and raised by Otylia and August Schiller in Stary Borowiec/ The Old Borowiec in the house build from the unique local building material – the bog iron. The whole household was established by Eugenia’s grandparents – Julia and Gotlieb Schiller.
Together with her siblings, Eugenia spent her childhood and youth in Stary Borowiec and its surroundings, within the Grodziec Commune. Her future husband – Bolesław Kałużny, came from Rozalin, one of the villages in the neighbouring Rychwał Commune.
During the World War II Bolesław was working as a farm hand by Eugenia’s parents and in this way they met and fell in love. Despite the hard wartime, different living conditions, different origins and languages, they decided to get married.
August Schiller, Eugenia’s father, was sent to the front to Norway, with one of the Wehrmacht troops. Although the war ended on 8 May 1945, after the capitulation of Nazi German forces in Europe, August Schiller never came back to Stary Borowiec and stayed in Germany. After the end of the war, whole Eugenia’s family – her mother with her siblings, decided to join her father in Germany and so they left Stary Borowiec. Eugenia decided to stay and married Bolesław in April 1946.
After Hitler’s defeat Stalin took over the power in Central – East Europe. A decision has been made to remove all non-Poles landlords from their lands and introduce the returnees from the eastern parts of Poland, incorporated to the USSR, to take their place. Consequently, Eugenia and Bolesław had to fight for the recovery of their property with the new authorities – the communist regime.
They finally managed to settle down in Stary Borowiec in Eugenia’s family home, have done a lot of repairs and established their own family with several sons and daughters. They continued the cultivation of barren Pyzdry Forest’s soil and the development of the old Schiller’s farm.
When Bolesław died, in the first half of the 90s, Eugenia left Stary Borowiec and passed the household and the land to family members. She came over to Wielołęka, within the Grodziec Commune, and stayed with one of her daughters.
Today Eugenia is a 88-year-old lady, surrounded by a large crowd of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her memories revolve around Borowiec (Stary Borowiec) again and again – her home, her land, her love, her lost… They are expressed most fully in songs.
Eugenia’s songs about a little cottage – Gdzie ta moja chatka mała, about love – Ja cię kocham Liebe Kleine and about Stary Borowiec settlement – Borowiec, Borowiec wie schön bist du gebaut are sang in Polish, in German, and both – Polish and German neatly bound together, just like the biographies of her and her husband, and many similar personal stories from that place and time…
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In the 2nd half of the eighteenth century in Poland, during the reign of Stanislaw August Poniatowski (1764–1795), the last King and Grand Duke of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Olenders of Dutch and German origins settled the central part of the Pyzdry Forest and established 46 Olender settlements, including Borowieckie Stare Olędry/ Old Borowiec (circa 1770) and Borowieckie Nowe Olędry/ New Borowiec (circa 1789).
Olender settlements in Poland were initiated in years 1527/1540 by the Dutch mennonites (named in old Polish Olędrzy- Olenders) in Żuławy, the alluvial delta area of Vistula River, because of their special skills of controlling flood lands, swamps and areas situated along banks of rivers. The process of colonization of these hard-to-reach lands was continued by their descendants, predominantly by the Germans from Church of Augsburg confession (Lutherans), in smaller degree from Evangelical Reformed Church (Calvinists) as well as Poles.
Immigrants to the Pyzdry Forest were mainly peasants from Silesia, Brandenburg and (Western) Pomerania, who ran away from extended exploitation, including increasing burdens of serfdom, expropriation from farmland, army conscription, strict taxation regime, starvation, epidemics as well as war destruction in conclusion of Silesian wars (1740-1742) and the 7-year War.
The majority of Olender settlements were established on so called raw root- in places previously uninhabited, in forests or swampy areas, sporadically in depopulated and deserted villages. The Olender hamlets are most characterized by their unique architecture based on bog iron as a building material to a greater extent than anywhere else in Poland or in Europe.
Up to the World War II the Pyzdry Forest with its residents was a multicultural area managed and inhabited by the Polish citizens of several nationalities and numerous religious affiliations. The remnants of their farms, roads, churches and cemeteries, scattered in the woods, constitue an impressive and complex common European cultural heritage.
The World War II stopped the process of colonization of the Pyzdry Forest. The Olenders of foreign origin were subjected to pressures from two totalitarian regimes, Hitler’s and Stalin’s. They were forced eventually to abandon their homes and fields. The majority of them, with German origins, either ran away before the march of the Red Army or have been resettled after the war.
Abandoned farms have been occupied by the Poles, locals or immigrants from other parts of the country. What is left, passed into the hands of the State. The policy in the postwar period was not conducive to the development of the former Olender settlement areas. Thousands of hectares of land have been re-forested, many villages disappeared entirely from the surface. A lot of households have been desolated and neglected.
The movie was filmed by Dąbrówka Stępniewska in Rzgów and Stary Borowiec, in the municipality of Grodziec, the Greater Poland Voivodeship, district of Konin, in March 2015.
Historical consultation – Dariusz Błaszczyk, PhD, a historian and an archaeologist affiliated with the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw, Poland.
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