26th September, Krzyżowa

Once upon today… we met in Krzyżowa.

After a descent amount of free time we gathered in the Palace – the heart of the Krzyżowa estate. Here we began a next stage of our project. Our guide was Dominik Kretschman – trainer and teacher at the Krzyżowa Foundation.  He is a man who knows everything (really everything) about history of Krzyżowa. We started with a small introduction about the origins of the foundation and the place we were staying in. After that the main part began.

Basicly, Krzyżowa can be described with an equation – 3 x Helmut(h) + X. Why so? In the history of Krzyżowa there were three persons named Helmut(h). First was Feldmarschall Helmuth Carl Bernard von Moltke – one of the greatest Prussian-German strategists, named the one of “father” of unification of Germany.  As a sign of gratitude for his service in the Austrian-Prussian war he received a large sum of money. That money allowed him to buy the Krzyżowa estate in 1867. Although he was constantly needed by the Prussian army, he was able to create a peaceful and special place here in Silesia. The place he could call home.

The field marshall died in 1891, which leaves us with an interesting story about narratives. His nephews, who inherited Krzyżowa, started building the myth around his uncle. To create the myth they needed to somehow change the narration of uncle’s life. They ordered two enormous wall paintings, called “Shame” and “Revenge”. The first shows the capture of Lübeck in 1806. The title refers to the defeat of the Prussian army. The other sound painting shows us the Prussian revenge – the triumphal parade in Paris in 1871. On both paintings there is Helmuth von Moltke – as a scared six year old child in Lübeck and as a victorious general in Paris. To tell the truth, there never was a small Helmuth present during the events in Lübeck nor  the adult one in Paris. It’s just a story, made up and painted on the wall for the glory of von Moltke’s legacy.


Then we tracked down another Helmuth. We went for short trip to the House on the Hill – the place not far away from main mansion, where the von Moltke family moved due to the economic crisis in 1927. The House on the Hill was a place where the Krzyżowa Circle met several times on invitation of Helmuth James von Moltke and his wife Freya.

Helmuth James opposed the Nazi regime from the very beginning. In 1939 he met Peter Yorck. Soon they became close friends. They both agreed that they want to resist Hitler’s regime. But they chose a unique way to express this resistance. Soon a group of similar thinking people joined Peter and Helmuth. The group wasn’t ever formalized. Even the name came up from the Gestapo investigation. Inside the House we were shown the photos of the members of “Circle”: different backgrounds and different professional occupations,   priests and leftists,  men and women, aristocrats and intellectuals. They didn’t want to kill Hitler, they didn’t plan the coup d’état or used any kind of force. They were just talking. Talking about future. Talking about how to deal with the evil that was woken up? How to prosecute the war criminals? How to rebuild the democracy.

They were meeting in the small groups or just in pairs. But the three biggest meetings took place right here, in Krzyżowa. That’s why the Gestapo, that arrested most of the members in early 1944, called the group  “Krzyżowa Circle”. After the attempt to assassinate Hitler in Jule 1944, Nazi government decided on the fate of the group. Most of them were sentenced to death and executed. Helmuth James Moltke died in January 1945. Many members of circle survived the war but they didn’t manage to put the ideas they had discussed during the war into action.  The history seemed to forsake the “Krzyżowa Circle.”

Then the X factor came up. We discussed this back in the Palace. The Catholic Intelligence Club (KIK, one of the few NGO’s that was allowed to operate in communist Poland) took interest in the place and its stories in the late 80’s. In the 1989 KIK organized a conference for all interested in the story behind Krzyżowa. Academics and ordinary people from both from East and from West Germany, Poland, the USA and the Netherlands visited Krzyżowa.

It wasn’t a pleasant view. The palace had been treated like many other former German properties. It was devastated and partially ruined. The buildings of the state-owned farm, which was situated here, were also in very bad shape.

But for participants of conference didn’t felt discouragement or sorrow. They were inspired. This is the Place – they said for meetings, for communication, for stories, for discussion, or future – just like in the past.  Sounds utopic I know. But somehow the fate decided to help the Krzyżowa supporters. It was because of the third Helmut Kohl. He met with Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Krzyżowa in late 1989. They decided to support the initiative. Both countries provided funds for the Meeting Place.

And that’s how three Helmuths + x shaped Krzyżowa as we know it today. But that is just one narrative…

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