When Maria Zarębska was born, in July 1948, the village of Sztynort was still scarred by war. A few Masurian families had remained living there, but most of the inhabitants – like Maria's parents – were newcomers. Everyone was struggling to survive, to get along with each other, to find their way in socialist Poland. For a child like Maria, all this was "normal." The curious girl later became an avid and perceptive chronicler.
Maria Zarębska lives in one of the former "Leutehäuser” (people's houses) "Leutehäuser” (people's houses) Houses where the estate’s “instleute” lived (agricultural workers with a fixed employment contract) as well as servants who worked in the manor. at the foot of Lehndorff's castle, which the villagers call the "Pałac", "Palace". She has always felt at home here, only once leaving
deu. Steinort, deu. Groß Steinort

The village of Sztynort is located in the north of the Masurian Lake District on the Jez Peninsula between Jezioro Mamry, Jezioro Dargin and Jezioro Dobskie. Until 1928 the village was called Groß Steinort, then Steinort.

. We’ll get to this later.
Her son has just added a large living room on the side of the house facing the garden. With the window open, she can hear the good-humored tourists, families and groups, ambling towards the harbor. "Or to the castle. It’s lively up there in the summer." She is a keen and very lively storyteller.
The Pałac used to give her the creeps – it was haunted, and the adults claimed that Nazis carrying guns could appear around every corner. The east wing was home to Maria's kindergarten in the 1950s. Other parts of the building housed the offices of the PGR, the Państwowe gospodarstwo rolne (Agricultural Producers Cooperative/ LPG), and a number of families lived in the complex too. The Pałac was the center of Sztynort life, quotidian and at the same time full of secrets.
"Lehndorff, I've heard that name many times," says Maria Zarębska. "He was a count, they said, very rich, and he owned many people."
Maria grew up with stories like this from the village's past – and those of her Ukrainian mother, whose thoughts always returned to her homeland of
Outer Subcarpathia
slk. Čelná karpatská priehlbina, ces. Vněkarpatské sníženiny, ukr. Прикарпаття, pol. Podkarpacie Zewnętrzne, pol. Podkarpacie, deu. Karpartenvorland

Outer Subcarpathia is the name given to the area on the outer side of the Carpathian Arc. The Polish voivodeship Podkarpackie takes its name from this.

, in the Carpathian foothills. She was born here in 1919 and grew up in a village near Przemysl. It was an ethnically mixed region in the southeast of the country, where Poles and Ukrainians lived until nationalism and war destroyed the historic neighborhood. The "Operation Vistula" "Operation Vistula" "Operation Vistula" (Polish: Akcja Wisła) refers to the forced resettlement of about 150,000 ethnic Ukrainians, Lemkos and Boykos from the Polish eastern territories to the so-called "Recovered Territories" in the west of the country, mostly in the period from April to July 1947. spelt its end – the Ukrainian population was expelled and resettled in the "recovered territories". "recovered territories". The former German eastern territories, including Gdansk, which had become part of the People's Republic after World War II, were referred to in Poland from 1945 as the "Recovered Territories" (Ziemie Odzyskane in Polish).
Maria's mother never got over the trauma of April 1947, when her parents' house was destroyed, and the family was violently forced into a cattle wagon. Destination: Masuria. Maria Oryńczak, as she was called as a girl, longed for the forests and mountains of her old homeland all her life.
Maria Zarębska knows little about her father. He was a Pole from
deu. Krakau

Krakow is the second largest city in Poland and is located in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship in the south of the country. The city on the Vistula River is home to approximately 775,000 people. The city is well known for the Main Market Square with the Cloth Halls and the Wawel castle, which form part of Krakow's Old Town, a UNESO World Heritage Site since 1978. Krakow is home to the oldest university in Poland, the Jagiellonian University.

, a tractor driver in the PGR, and died in May 1950 in an accident at work.
Despite all the hardships, Maria and her younger sister Stefania had a sheltered childhood. They got along well with the other girls and boys from the neighborhood. 
The game "Poland declares war on..." was especially popular. Each child chose a country, and whoever won was allowed to take a piece away from those who were defeated. In many places throughout traumatized Europe at that time, children were playing games like this one.
Sztynort – languages, religions, customs
"There was no hatred between us children". It seems that they moved quite freely between the different groups in the village, for the most part without any prejudice, unlike the adults, who, in their private lives, stuck with their own kind.
Like everywhere else in the Olsztynskie Voivodeship, Sztynort's population was mixed: there were the old-established Masurians, whom the communist regime regarded as stray Poles and who for the most part saw themselves as Germans. Then there were the Poles who had moved from surrounding counties, as well as the Polish "repatriates" from the eastern territories lost to the
Soviet Union
deu. Union der Sozialistischen Sowjetrepubliken, deu. Sowjetunion, rus. Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, rus. Sovetskiy Soyuz, rus. Советский Союз

The Soviet Union (SU or USSR, Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, СССР) was a state in Eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia existing from 1922 to 1991. The USSR was inhabited by about 290 million people and formed the largest territorial state in the world, with about 22.5 million square km. The Soviet Union was a socialist soviet republic with a one-party system.

, who were called "Belarusians" or "Lithuanians" depending on their region of origin. And forcibly resettled Ukrainians like Maria's mother made up about 10% of the total population of the voivodeship.
The young Maria observed that her mother wore her headscarf differently from Lithuanian women. And the old Masurian woman, whom everyone addressed as "Oma" (grandma), crossed her apron strings at her back. This Frau Kielbasa hardly spoke Polish, and Frau Bartnik, the widow of the last count's coachman, also had a hard time with it. Maria noticed a boy named Stefan Tymiec "because he was especially polite."
With its various languages and dialects, confessions and customs, Sztynort was a multicultural place. Realistic as she was, Mother Zarębska chose Polish as the family language. Her Chachłacki, the Ukrainian dialect from the Carpathian foothills, had no future.
Though Greek Catholic herself, she chose for her daughters to grow up Roman Catholic. After 1945, the Roman Catholic Church had quickly and powerfully taken over most of the Protestant churches in Masuria and left its mark on the bleak landscape with wayside crosses and Marian altars. Maria and Stefania celebrated their first Holy Communion in
deu. Rosengarten

Radzieje, founded in 1417 as "Rosengarten" (“Rose Garden”), is a parish village in the Polish voivodeship Warmia-Masuria. Radzieje had 510 inhabitants in 2006.

, the former patron church of the Lehndorffs.
As in German times, Masuria was a periphery – "Polish Siberia", on the border with Russian
rus. Kaliningradskaja Oblast, deu. Kaliningrader Gebiet, deu. Oblast Kaliningrad, rus. Калининградская область

Kaliningrad Oblast (rus. Калининградская область) is positioned between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. The oblast is the westernmost part of Russia and is populated by about 1 million people. The capital of the oblast is Kaliningrad (German: Königsberg).

, far from the cities. In the small world of state-owned farms, opportunities were extremely limited. Everyday life took place between field and stable, under the direction of the PGR. People had their own vegetable garden, a cow, chickens... For a long time, it was hardly possible to escape this simple existence.
Only the Masurians could, like the family of the polite boy Stefan Tymiec, whose mother was German. Almost all of them gradually applied for permission to leave for the West. Until the longed-for permission was granted, they mostly kept to themselves. Their silent exodus continued until the 1970s.
Maria Zarębska missed the Masurians. For herself, staying was the right thing to do. In the 1960s, during the Gomulka era, a breath of fresh air came to the village: a new director, Władysław Kotulak, took over the management of the PGR. "He introduced culture. And refuted the bad reputation of the PGR, the idea that only good-for-nothings worked there."
Rural socialism
Around that time, the “people's houses” got running water and a roof made of eternit. A club-café was established in the Pałac with dance evenings and weekly film-screenings, "for example, Crusader films". Trips were offered, even to
deu. Warschau, eng. Warsaw

Warsaw is the capital of Poland and also the largest city in the country (population in 2022: 1,861,975). It is located in the Mazovian Voivodeship on Poland's longest river, the Vistula. Warsaw first became the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian noble republic at the end of the 16th century, replacing Krakow, which had previously been the Polish capital. During the partitions of Poland-Lithuania, Warsaw was occupied several times and finally became part of the Prussian province of South Prussia for eleven years. From 1807 to 1815 the city was the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a short-lived Napoleonic satellite state; in the annexation of the Kingdom of Poland under Russian suzerainty (the so-called Congress Poland). It was not until the establishment of the Second Polish Republic after the end of World War I that Warsaw was again the capital of an independent Polish state.

At the beginning of World War II, Warsaw was conquered and occupied by the Wehrmacht only after intense fighting and a siege lasting several weeks. Even then, a five-digit number of inhabitants were killed and parts of the city, known not least for its numerous baroque palaces and parks, were already severely damaged. In the course of the subsequent oppression, persecution and murder of the Polish and Jewish population, by far the largest Jewish ghetto under German occupation was established in the form of the Warsaw Ghetto, which served as a collection camp for several hundred thousand people from the city, the surrounding area and even occupied foreign countries, and was also the starting point for deportation to labor and extermination camps.

As a result of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from April 18, 1943 and its suppression in early May 1943, the ghetto area was systematically destroyed and its last inhabitants deported and murdered. This was followed in the summer of 1944 by the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation, which lasted two months and resulted in the deaths of almost two hundred thousand Poles, and after its suppression the rest of Warsaw was also systematically destroyed by German units.

In the post-war period, many historic buildings and downtown areas, including the Warsaw Royal Castle and the Old Town, were rebuilt - a process that continues to this day.

, to attend the operetta theater. Kotulak promoted education and took a stand against alcoholism. "Golden years," Maria Zarębska enthuses. On the initiative of the good director, a small sailing harbor was even built for the locals – water sports for everyone!
Maria's mother insisted that her daughters complete their secondary education. To do so, they had to go to
deu. Allenstein, lat. Holstin, lat. Allenstenium

The city of Olsztyn (population 2022: 168,212) was founded in 1353 as Allensteyn on the Łyna river. Olsztyn is the largest city in Warmia and the capital of the Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship. The city is member of the European Route of Brick Gothic, especially because of its Old Town market sqare and the Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter.

The picture shows a city view of Olsztyn /Allenstein on a postcard from before 1945.

deu. Angerburg

Węgorzewo is a city in northeastern Poland in Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship. It is inhabit by about 11,000 people and is located not far from the border of Poland with Russia.

. Maria wanted to start a correspondence course in psychology and pedagogy after this, but ended up at the newly founded Institute of Agricultural Economics, based in Sztynort.
Later she managed the Szytnort kindergarten, did the accounting for the PGR, sometimes banking in Wegorzewo – whatever was convenient and worked in with her private life. Her sick mother needed her. And Piotr, her son, who was born in 1980. He was the fulfillment of her most ardent wish. She did not need a husband; she was a proud single mother – quite unusual at that time.
Through her work, she had fleeting contacts with foreign tourists who began coming to the region in the 1970s: anglers and sailors from Switzerland in particular and from the Federal Republic, including many old Masurians and, to Maria Zarębska's delight, former residents of Steinort.
In particular, she would never forget the summer of 1977, when she was the secretary of the water sports center. Countess Gottliebe von Lehndorff paid a visit with her daughter Gabriele. Apparently, they wanted to spend the night in the castle, "We had hotel rooms here," but the director refused. Mrs. Zarębska recalls the countess crying. In retrospect, she blamed herself for not offering the distinguished guests a bed herself.
In a letter from Gottliebe Lehndorff dated August 1977, these events are described: ORBIS in would not have given permission for the unannounced overnight stay in the castle. "And I certainly would not have done it," the countess said, "stay in my own rooms. They’ve been furnished in such an indescribably stuffy and miserable way."
deu. Polen, pol. Polska

Poland is a state in Central Eastern Europe and is home to approximately 38 million people. The country is the sixth largest member state of the European Union. The capital and biggest city of Poland is Warsaw. Poland is made up of 16 voivodships. The largest river in the country is the Vistula (Polish: Wisła).

had been in a deep economic crisis for some time. In Sztynort, socialist agriculture was at an end. With the founding of the Solidarność trade union in 1980, a freedom movement began that even martial law could only temporarily stop. The village was also caught up in it, with tourists bringing oppositional ideas from the cities.
At that time, Lake Mauer became a national center for sailing. Vacation resorts and sailing camps enjoyed growing popularity and attracted young people from all over Poland. Cooking was done in the Pałac, where the old count's wood stove was allegedly still in operation.
Then came 1989. Poland was free and Europe was coming together again. And Maria Zarębska, enterprising as she was, opened a grocery store. Soon, there was a rich array of wares on offer in the “Shop at Maria’s". "Dad, there are chips!" Shouted the children. Her son Piotr was excited about the attractive yogurt pottles from Germany. The miracle of the consumer society! Again, she was an astute witness of the times, and also knows a thing or two about the dark side of capitalism: In 2000, she went bankrupt.
She watched closely as Sztynort was transformed. They were difficult years – the "Marina", the harbor, soon started to prosper, but jobs were only available there in the summer. Community life died, the bus to town ran less and less frequently. And the young people left for Olsztyn, Warsaw, London.
And the Pałac stood empty. For the second time since 1945, Lehndorff Palace stood deserted, exposed to looting and vandalism. "One night, the green stove in the east wing was stolen," recalls Maria Zarębska. No one looked after the rose beds and thuja hedges anymore, and the park became wild and overgrown. What was to become of it? The castle became visibly dilapidated – a symbolic image of the worries and fears of the village, but also an empty canvas onto which they could project their hopes for the future.
“Our Pałac is a jewel". Maria Zarębska was happy when it became the property of the Polish-German Foundation in 2009 and a memorial stone to Heinrich von Lehndorff was erected. Not everyone in the village was pleased to see the descendants of the noble family come to visit. She, on the other hand, was honored to receive a visit from Countess Vera, the famous "Veruschka". For the first time in 2011 or 2012, "I was able to give her back a key from the Pałac, and some coins I had found in a ditch as a child."
“Everything is going much too slowly in Sztynort." We need young people in the village again, she complains. Her son Piotr has also emigrated. He lives on Mallorca as a developer, building villas for rich Englishmen and Germans. "He's like me, excitable, a hothead, with lots of ideas. But he has more patience in implementing them." Four years ago, she visited him and his wife Justyna – also originally from Sztynort. Full of pride, she shows a brochure of the glamorous houses.
"Maybe the two of them will come back to Sztynort?"
Anyway, this summer, her son and daughter-in-law have come to visit her and are helping with the preserving.
English translation: William Connor

Siehe auch