Stefan was the firstborn son. Later came two brothers and a sister. In the photo from the summer of 1951, he is dressed up like a little prince. "The knitted knee-length socks are made from old sacks from UNRRA”, the United Nations Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Administration.
Stefan's mother Aurelia originally came from Warmia. Born a Milkus, she grew up Roman Catholic, German on her mother's side, her late father was a Prussian Lithuanian. At the end of the war, her mother Gertrud had decided to stay in the homeland, where she knew her way around and there was plenty to eat.
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.
Horyniec-Zdrój is a village and spa town in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine.
In 2020 Horyniec-Zdrój had 2,454 inhabitants.
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.
Stefan Tymiec wanted Aurelia Milkus immediately, but she resisted at first. The wedding was in September 1949.
They were an unequal couple in terms of their age, denomination (he was Greek Catholic), and language – so many differences had to be bridged. In everyday life, the couple spoke German with each other. During the war, Stefan Tymiec had worked for a year and a half in the potash mines on the Werra, "voluntarily," as he always emphasized. He was attracted by the adventure. He was someone who could find his way around anywhere and learned quickly. In the wedding photo, he looks a bit like Charlie Chaplin – with a dark beard and a rather oversized suit.
Only the harvest festival can he remember more clearly. Wearing their Sunday best, the family would make their way to the Schlossberg, where sandwiches were served on large trays. "It was a happy experience. We only knew home-baked bread."
"Everything in my childhood was beautiful and colorful," says the 70-year-old. “The meadows, the forest and the lakes. The flowers along the fences that I picked for my mother's birthday."
Stefan was five years old when his mother developed breast cancer. He remembers when she came home from the hospital. "She showed me her bandage and said, ‘Mommy’s sore.' And apparently I said, 'When I grow up, I'm going to be a doctor and heal you.'" Turning sad things into good would become a life-long theme for Stefan Tymiec.
On the first day of school, he didn't know a word of Polish. About a quarter of the class felt the same way. Fortunately, his teacher was bilingual, "He always interpreted for us”.
He often heard the adults talking about leaving for West Germany, to relatives in Remscheid-Lennep or Düren. Only later did he understand that the family was “sitting on packed suitcases". One application after another had been rejected. Each time, the Polish authorities argued that Gertrud Milkus had signed a document in 1946 stating that she wanted to stay and was therefore a Polish citizen.
In Sztynort, life was poor – there was future there. So, in 1958, the family, like many others who wanted to emigrate, moved to
The Polish town of Słubice belonged to Frankfurt/Oder as a "Dammvorstadt" (“dam suburb”) until 1945. The settlement was mentioned in writing as early as 1253 as "Zliwitz". In 2019, Słubice had 16,705 inhabitants.
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).
The children helped out on the family’s small farm. They had a cow and a pig, and chickens, raised vegetables and fruit for their own use. They also had several dozen bee colonies: since his youth in Horyniec, father Stefan had kept bees. The honey, up to 1,000 kilos per year, brought in a good extra income.
In 1968, the family moved to Eisenhüttenstadt – another step westward. Stefan had already graduated from high school in Słubice. He dreamed of studying medicine at the famous Humboldt University in East Berlin. His German left much to be desired, and he had been stateless since his resettlement. Somehow, he managed to overcome all the hurdles. "I was a brave guy at the time."
At the Charité, he met Anemone, a medical student from Saxony. These were hopeful years of love, friendships, big city life, but his inner restlessness remained. Stefan Tymiec began to take an interest in Steinort and its history. For the first time he read something about Heinrich von Lehndorff and the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944.
Czechoslovakia was a state existing between 1918 and 1992 with changing borders and under changing names and political systems, the former parts of which were absorbed into the present-day states of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine (Carpathian Ukraine, already occupied by Hungary in 1939, from 1945 to the Soviet Union). After 1945, Czechoslovakia was under the political influence of the Soviet Union, was part of the so-called Eastern Bloc as a satellite state, and from 1955 was a member of the Warsaw Pact. Between 1960 and 1990, the communist country's official name was Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (abbreviated ČSSR). The democratic political change was initiated in 1989 with the Velvet Revolution and resulted in the establishment of the independent Czech and Slovak republics in 1992.
But the group, consisting of Anemone, who was two months pregnant, Stefan, his younger brother Marian and his girlfriend, failed to pull it off. In the ČSSR they were discovered hiding in a truck and arrested. What a nightmare! They faced three years and ten months in prison, the women a little less. Anemone was temporarily released to give birth. Hendrik was born in June 1977, and in December his mother had to send him to a children's home.
In March 1978, the Federal Republic of Germany paid for the four to be released early. It was not until St. Nicholas Day that Stefan and Anemone Tymiec were finally able to hold their son in their arms. "That's when I saw Hendrik for the first time." He still gets teary-eyed when he thinks of it today. "I hated everything red. For years, I couldn't even wear a red sweater."
This was a perfect challenge for the couple and their business flourished. In just one decade, Stefan and Anemone Tymiec had managed to achieve their ambitious goals. Their sons Hendrik and Patrick later followed in their footsteps, also becoming doctors. The long road to the West had been worth it.
And history proved them right: On November 9, 1989, they sat stunned in front of the television. "We couldn't believe it – all that without a single shot fired, without any deaths." The Wall had fallen. One communist regime after another collapsed.
What Stefan Tymiec saw called forth his entrepreneurial spirit. He noticed that medicines were in short supply here, so the next time he came, he brought some with him. For two or three years, he supplied pharmacies with aspirin and vitamins, until the big retailers displaced him.
Together with an architect, he examined the building down to the smallest detail, calculated everything meticulously – but then decided stepped away from the project. The ownership structure was too unclear, and there was too much corruption involved.
"Steinort is my original home," he says. "I am a German, ultimately" – he is sure of this today. "But I feel my Germanness is refined by other cultures" – Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian.
Most of his accordion repertoire is Polish. Stefan Tymiec also likes to show his guests the Masurian boulder in front of his house and the "Papierówki" in the garden, "paper apples" from a Polish nursery.