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Finding Reiner #8: Trail's End?

 Pawel, WS, & Lukasz' Family

I’m reluctant to say goodbye to Łukasz and his family because now I want to buy my own metal detector and continue digging in Poland. But, Paweł and I have a long drive ahead to ŚwieradÓw ZdrÓj, a Polish spa town in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, near the Czech border.


ŚwieradÓw ZdrÓj was once called Bad Flinsberg, and Germans flocked there for the mineral baths at the turn of the last century.


I first heard about the mountain village from my mother-in-law, Liselotte. Her two spinster aunts, Grete and Ella Niemann, lived there in a beautiful home then called Haus Niemann. The aunts sold hand-made chocolates from a small kiosk nearby. In their spare time during the war, they baked cakes to send with chocolates and newspapers to Reiner and his brother Wolfgang in the military. Imagine Reiner eating hand-made chocolates in his muddy battlefield hole, the one he shared with frogs and horseflies.


Bad Finsberg0004

Reiner loved Bad Flinsberg. He saw his family for the last time there after he had managed to survive the destruction of the 6th Infantry Division at Babruysk in early July 1944. He and his father hiked to the top of Tafelfichte, or Smrk, the highest peak in the Czech part of the Jizera Mountains. I plan to make it up there.


 Crossing the Czech Border


I’m eager to see the former Haus Niemann, so when Paweł’s little red car starts making weird sounds on the highway, I know we’re in for a delay. Paweł is under the car in no time though and yanks off the offending loose part.


Pawel to the rescueThen off we go, west.

Nine hours later, we’re happy to be in the mountain village and hungry for a good meal.


Main Street SwieradowBut first, we wash up at Hotel ŚwieradÓw and walk a half-block to see the famous family house. I stand in front of the building and take a full breath. Yes, this is the home I know from family photos. It's now the ŚwieradÓw police station, which feels like a funky, fairy-tale twist.


 Police Station Backyard

Bad Finsberg0005

In the morning, I meet the town’s unofficial historian, Magda, and she hands me an old photo of the house and a page from a registry that must be dated after 1950 because both Niemann sisters are listed as dead.


Whitney & MagdaMagda informs me that the aunts didn’t own the house on Brunnenstrasse, but shared it with other residents. The building also housed city offices.


I want to know what happened to the Niemann aunts when the Russians occupied the town in 1945. But, Magda can find no record of this. A German historian in Leipzig told me that Grete died in 1947 and Ella in 1950, so both must have experienced the end-of-war chaos that Reiner predicted and history books describe in horrific detail.


But now, I'm too excited to think about the war. Madga has arranged for me to see inside the house.

 Comparing Photos

Photos Close Up

A city official lets us in, and as we tour, she tells me the house will come up for sale in a few months.


Touching History

Original FloorsMy brain goes into overdrive. What an end to my quest——that our family buys the house where generations of Niemanns once gathered.


Bad Finsberg0008

I ask loads of questions, and wonder how to raise the money for renovations.


Window Light

Secret archive roomsWhat's Inside


"Buy a Polish lottery ticket,” two strangers in ŚwieradÓw tell me. And I take that as a sign.


Which Way to the Past

I push Paweł (who's never bought a lottery ticket) to help me buy thirteen of them. We both think the number is lucky, so my stars must be aligned. Right?


 Polish Lottery Ticket

I don’t want to leave ŚwieradÓw until I’ve climbed the Tafelfichte and taken the cure in a mineral bath. Paweł is more than willing to lead me up and down the mountains.


 Tireless GuideHiking to Reiner

View from the Tower

Tower StepsBut, there’s no way he's getting into a mineral bath. He refuses more than once.

"Look how cool the old Kurhaus is,” I whine.


Das KurhausKurhausBut he shakes his head again.


Okay, so I’ll just save that treat for my return with family. We’ll call it the "GRAND HAUS NIEMANN HOTEL TOUR,” and we’ll soak for days. Then we'll cash in my lottery tickets, buy the house, and turn the basement jail cell into a wine cellar.


Behind Locked Doors


All jokes aside, I’m glad to end my third research trip in this still mountain setting.


Gondola over Swieradow ŚwieradÓw is a balm to my heartache about Reiner’s death.


Niemann [1)

As a writer, I want a happy ending to this story, though I know that's impossible. Reiner is gone and mostly forgotten, except by me, who obsesses over him.


Near the end of his life, he reflected on war and wrote words that perhaps few 22-year-olds would understand today. I, too, wonder if I understand exactly what he meant.


"War, which arises from baseness, imperfection, and a hatred of Mankind, has its most important impact on the positive nature of man in that it is a self-chastisement and a self-purification of Mankind."


 But, he left another phrase that gives me purpose for telling his story. So, I pass it on to you, in hopes that you will look into your own family stories.


"In each of us is the other preserved."

 Reiner Niemann, 1944




 Now, if you're wondering about those lottery tickets... ha! You'll have to read my book about Reiner or travel to ŚwieradÓw ZdrÓj, Poland to find out. I have a strong affection for this country that has treated me so kindly, and maybe you will too. And by the way, I know a guy with a metal detector and a great photographer, just in case you need them.


You can find links to the other parts of the Finding Reiner series right here.


 Lukasz as GuidePawel Equipped


The North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA)  announced Whitney Stewart won BRONZE place in the 2014 NATJA Awards Competition in the Travel Series - Online category for Finding Reiner.




Images (45)
  • Bad Finsberg0004: Haus Niemann Landscape
  • Bad Finsberg0005: Haus Niemann Backyard
  • Bad Finsberg0008: Niemanns Gathered
  • Brunnenstrasse: Brunnenstrasse
  • Tafelfichte: Tafelfichte
  • Niemann (1): R I P
  • Pawel, WS, & Lukasz' Family: Pawel, WS, & Lukasz' Family
  • Polish Lottery Ticket: Polish Lottery Ticket
  • Das Kurhaus: Das Kurhaus
  • Pawel to the Rescue: Pawel to the Rescue
  • Which Way: Which Way
  • Mountain Dinner: Mountain Dinner
  • Crossing the Czech Border: Crossing the Czech Border
  • Tireless Guide: Tireless Guide
  • Pawel Equipped: Pawel Equipped
  • Whitney & Magda: Whitney & Magda
  • Comparing Moments in Time: Comparing Moments in Time
  • Haus Niemann Close Up: Haus Niemann Close Up
  • Touching History: Touching History
  • Original Floors: Original Floors
  • An Old Handle: An Old Handle
  • Swieradow Jail Cells: Behind Locked Doors
  • Secret archive rooms: Secret archive rooms
  • Swieradow Police Station: Swieradow Police Station
  • Police Station Backyard: Police Station Backyard
  • Street signs: New History
  • What's Inside: What's Inside
  • Kurhaus: Kurhaus
  • Main Street Swieradow: Main Street Swieradow
  • Shopping in Swieradow: Shopping in Swieradow
  • Gondola over Swieradow: Gondola over Swieradow
  • Beer Time: Beer Time
  • Hiking to Reiner: Hiking to Reiner
  • Dead Zone: Dead Zone
  • Theodor Körner: Theodor Körner
  • Mountain Landscape: Mountain Landscape
  • View from the Tower: View from the Tower
  • Tower Steps: Tower Steps
  • Searching the Past through Photographs: Searching the Past through Photographs
  • Jumbled Past: Jumbled Past
  • Window Light: Window Light
  • In Need of Paint: In Need of Paint
  • Lukasz as Guide: Man with Map and Metal Detector
  • Reiner Niemann: Wisdom of Youth
  • 2014Seal_Bronze

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Comments (7)

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Reiner is far from forgotten, thanks to all your research.


Poland too holds special memories for me and from what you show of Świeradów Zdrój,it is spectacular.


Thanks again Whitney for your incredible moving series.Reiner would be proud!

If you want a thing done, ask a busy man.

It would have been so very nice for you to have found Reiner as an elderly man slowly walking home with the aid of his cane from his daily dip in the mineral spring, and joined him for a revitalizing sip of schnaps and shared with him your journey.  How cool would it have been for you to say, "Hi, Reiner. I'm your nephew's wife, Whitney".  I think he'd be tickled to no end to know how much you've cared and how hard you've tried to find him....


Sadly, the absence of an ending like this should make us contemplate the terrible cost of war and to do our best to stop them before they begin.  From what I've learned about history, appeasement of a tyrant is not the best way to do this.


I've really enjoyed this series, Whitney, and offer you my heart felt thanks for sharing it on TravelGumbo.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

I've travelled to Brisbane Australia looking for clues to my fathers war record.

It was a hot summers day when I found Roe Street Barracks - still in use !

I was convinced it would have gone years ago to a development.

I stood in the entrance and I felt a shiver run down my back.

A feeling I've heard described as "someone walking on your grave"


Last edited by GarryRF
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