Grave business! Teen spends five years restoring German cemetery to ‘give back dignity’
A teenager has become a pioneer in cemetery restoration after spending five years restoring an abandoned German graveyard to give previous generations ‘dignity.’
Piotr Marczenia from Świebodzin in Western Poland began cleaning up the forgotten Evangelical cemetery in the nearby village of Podła Góra in 2015 after becoming fascinated with the lives of those who had lived in the place where his mother had been born.
Carefully putting the broken headstones back together and reconstructing missing parts, the 18 year old is now the first person in Poland to reconstruct missing elements of headstones so that they can be matched with existing broken parts, fitting together like a jigsaw.
He has also mastered reading the Gothic German used to inscribe tombstones when the village was called Steinbach.
Piotr told TFN: “I’ve always had a passion for old places. I love looking around old churches and graveyards.
“I’ve been going there since I was a small boy. It was always overgrown with bushes. I wanted to give it back respect.
“Sure they were Germans not Poles, but everything here was built by them, the houses, the roads, they planted the trees. This should be respected.”
Before the war, Podła Góra was part of Germany and was called Steinbach. Its history goes back to the XIII century when Silesian duke Henry the Pious gave the village to an order of Cistercian monks.
Two hundred years later, they sold the property and the residents became protestant.
By 1939, there were almost 300 people living in Steinbach. A cobblestone road ran through the village. On both sides there were brick houses with well-kept gardens. There was a distillery, an inn and a windmill.
Hitler’s National Socialists took the estate of Steinbach away from its last owner, Abraham Heymann, who was Jewish.
When the Red Army arrived in 1945 the cemetery was destroyed and by the 80s most people in the village had left.
The project to restore it has now become a family affair. Most Saturdays Piotr is at the cemetery with his mother Marta, his father Damian, a full-time soldier, and his younger brother.
But restoring the memory of the dead involves not only restoring forgotten graves, it also means hundreds of hours spent in the archives.
Piotr has compiled a whole archive devoted to the former residents of the village and has used this information to have pieces of black glass plaques remade, which he has then fitted together with original pieces.
Piotr says that it will take many years before the job is completed and said that the cost of fully restoring a single headstone can be as much as PLN 10,000.
His plan, however, is to keep on going.