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Separated 99 Years, part 2

Finding Herbert Harschnek

a little saga of 99 years parted, part 2

Recall that in our last blog on Herbert Harschnek, the US family had been searching for any German relatives for decades with no success. While in Germany for a couple years, I decided to pick up where my grandfather had left off and to try again but had little luck until a tantalizing phone message was left for me.

Alois with siblings 1880's

I came home from the Universität in Kiel, and found a message from a Herrn Harschnek from a German phone number- Grampa didn’t have a German phone number. It could only be the long-lost German branch of the family. I immediately returned the call. It was our cousins, and a day later, I stepped off the train in the little town of Annaburg in Sachsen-Anhalt in former East Germany, the first time in 99 years that the two sides of the family had laid eyes on each other, and some 88 years since the last contact.

(far right: Alois, with his siblings in the 1880’s)

Jovial Herbert Harschnek was so excited! His father Albert had always told them, “Kinder! One day we’ll be rich! I have ... an uncle in America!” That was clearly Alois. Albert had died in the ’50’s, and Herbert never did know who the uncle was, or indeed, whether it was an actual uncle or an older cousin called an uncle. We quickly established that we had cousins in common... but the generation that knew how the various Harschneks were related had all died. And when the Red Army swept through Silesia, the Harschneks had had 12 hours warning to throw what they could on the wagon, hitch the horse, and flee for their lives.

All the old family photos, all the letters were lost, access to now Polish churches was lost to the East Germans. All the connecting lore was lost. So, we know our two sides of the family are related, but now a quarter-century on, we still don’t know how we’re related. When Grampa had written that widow of