A Pole in Poland:
Flagpole in this foreign land flies Confederate battle flag
Once upon a time in 2008, these Polish people waved Confederate battle flags, as from a tall wooden pole in Poland our beloved banner unfurled to the breeze.
By Nancy Hitt
On the morning of Wednesday, September 3, 2008, a bus loaded with folks from Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States arrived in the small village of Gizyn, Poland. Many an unusual sight greeted them: girls adorned with flowers in their hair, uniformed Polish fire department members and German reenactors wearing Confederate uniforms gathered around their tents.
One Polish couple was cooking a pot of stew over an unusual green metal stove. The local village people had cleared a dirt road past those tents, leading to a large brick chapel. German Pastor Friedhelm Moeller, in coordination with Polish Major Jerzek Zigmund, arranged much of this effort.
Historic for several reasons, here was a joyful day full of songs and dancing in a poor, drab little village – a moment in which long-standing barriers broke down if only for a few short hours. For this land has witnessed centuries of bloodshed. Now in the possession of these resettled Poles, the turf had belonged for hundreds of years to Prussia, an important part of Germany.
Hopefully this exciting day helped salve somewhat that bitterness caused by the loss of German homesteads to these current occupants, themselves forcefully removed from their former homes east of Prussia and deposited on land to the west. The area still remains replete with distressed homes, fallow farmland and poor inhabitants; but, for one day in 2008, only hospitality and understanding prevailed in Gizyn.
How could I foresee the consequences of my research, having begun in 2003 to locate the gravesite of CSA Col. Heros von Borcke? Little did I even understand the terrible situation that had befallen the von Borcke families – formerly of Prussia for generations, proud descendants of a noble ancestry but, as World War II came to an end, driven like cattle from their homes.
They could never safely return to live upon their hereditary homeland. In fact, many of those manors have suffered total destruction. Their lives damaged in many ways, often having lost family members during the War, they’ve had to confront a cruel bigotry nursed against all German nationals.
But these strong-willed Germans have not allowed Russian prison camps, loss of parents and forfeiture of homes to conquer them. Many members of the von Borcke families vacated their Fatherland and faced such hardships with courage, descendants who’ve since managed through hard work to overcome the many hurdles placed in front of them.
This memorial service proceeded in the morning at that chapel which had once held the gravestones and remains of CSA Colonel Heros von Borcke and his parents. Heros had volunteered to fight in helping our efforts toward Southern Independence. He became a staff officer under General Jeb Stuart, the two of them becoming very close friends. Heros stood beside the deathbed of General Stuart on May 11, 1864, although himself suffering from a serious throat wound received at the Battle of Middleburg on June 19, 1863.
On December 21, 1864, Heros von Borcke received the rank of Lt. Colonel, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis sent him on a mission to Europe. The War for Southern Independence ended while he remained in London. Heros wrote several books: about our War, the Brandy Station cavalry battle and his own autobiography.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Madgalene Honig, and they had three sons. His wife died in 1883. Returning then for a visit to Richmond, Virginia, in 1884, twenty years after having left the States, he was received with much affection and a banquet took place in his honor. Heros presented his famous Damascus sword to the State of Virginia, where it was later placed in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.
Heros returned to Germany and married his wife’s younger sister, Tony Honig. They had a daughter, naming her Virginia, and the Confederate flag flew from their manor at Giesenbruegge, today renamed Gizyn. Heros died in Berlin on May 10, 1895, from blood poisoning probably due to the after-affects of his injury received at Middleburg.
Heros von Borcke has been mentioned in various military articles. Mary Chestnut wrote about him in her Diary of Dixie. Students of history had known of him, but, along with the location of his burial site, he became a lost legend.
Even the descendants of von Borcke’s family remained unsure where Heros lay buried. These questions existed because of the destruction caused during several wars, and the subsequent occupation of Prussia by Polish refugees. The name of the town had changed, and one could discern nothing from the village’s roadsides that pertained to the former von Borcke family’s having ever lived there. Language proved also a barrier to research.
Actually, the chapel of the von Borcke family remained hidden in a forest which had grown up between the road passing through Gizyn and that building. Much damage had occurred to the original three large gravestones, and trees grew out of the chapel’s antique roof. Its graves looted, a wilderness had taken over naturally.
German Pastor Friedhelm Moeller, Polish Major Jerzek Zigmund and Czech author Stefan Slivka were able to locate and document the site of the Heros von Borcke chapel serving as a mausoleum. This find, and a subsequent 2005 article in the Gray and Blue magazine by Stefan Slivka, were the leads I needed to begin the paperwork necessary for placing a V.A. marker and Southern Cross of Honor at that embattled location.
The memorial ceremony served as part of the yearly reunion of von Borcke families who belong to the von Borcke Family Association. In 2007 they had begun to organize this 2008 tour of their former estates and included the memorial service in their program.
The highlight of this ceremony was the presence of those two great-grandsons of the famous Confederate soldiers. Eckhard von Borcke and Jeb Stuart IV both met for the first time in Berlin just days before the ceremony. They each gave a speech in front of the von Borcke chapel. Colorful children sang Polish songs, a firefighter played accordion and the villagers raised high our battle flag.
My talk described how I had located and ordered the stone sent to Pastor Moeller in Germany. Eckhard von Borcke and Jeb Stuart IV uncovered that memorial and cross of honor. A Texas color guard stood behind the speakers and Hamptons Legion of South Carolina fired three volleys. This was all performed by Germans, with three American volunteers.
Pastor Moeller concluded our ceremony with his prepared remarks to the audience, each speech translated into Polish for the benefit of the locals. A tasty stew and Polish beer was served on the grounds for both visitors and reenactors.
The day ended with those who lived there singing and dancing for us in their town hall. We sat at tables listening and watching the entertainment while drinking coffee and enjoying Polish home made deserts. The weather had proved lovely and the event was perfect!
If we really hope to save our Southern heritage, I firmly believe we must keep in contact with such European friends. Let us maintain a bond with those Confederates who live outside the States. Many folks in foreign lands love our Southland because of the honor and courage demonstrated by Confederates in battle. They believe in our Cause of Liberty no less than we do.
In order to understand the thinking of the European Confederates, one only has to read their astute letters to our critics. Through a contact by email with Raphael Waldburg of Madrid, actually a German, I made connections with the von Borcke family, an important turning point in my search.
Many Europeans have learned much more about our military history than we know of that ancestry ourselves. And even though few of them may claim Confederate forebears, they are nevertheless “manning the barricades” today, ready to give the bayonet to our enemies.
We must stand beside these European friends now more than ever, in order to rally all of our troops to do battle with those who seek to destroy our way of life and wonderful Southern heritage. Let us not forget that we received our glorious birthright through the bloody sacrifice of more than 300,000 dead Southern men, women and children.
TFF’s globetrotting reporter Nancy Hitt writes from Louisville, Kentucky.
On The Web: http://www.gulftel.com/firstfreedom/14.htm