Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Part I: Pomerania - An Introduction

In February 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, the leaders of the Allied “Big Three” — Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill — met in Yalta to discuss, among many things, the realignment of borders after the war. Of the four proposals given for the partitioning of Germany, three of them would have kept the province of Pomerania as part of a partitioned Germany. The fourth proposal, pushed by Stalin and eventually agreed upon, did not. It is in the province of Pomerania where my German roots lie.

Pomerania's northern border is the Baltic Sea. To its west lies the province of Mecklenburg, to the south Brandenburg and to the East, Poland. The part of Pomerania that lies west of the Oder River is known as Vorpommern, while the land to the east is called Hinterpommern.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Pomerania was comprised of 32 counties. In German, a county is called a Kreis. The Kreis Stolp was one of the northern most counties, and the second farthest eastern county, and it was this county where my great grandparents, Leo Schröder and Emma Gleffe Schröder, were born.

Their families lived in the southernmost area of the county, very close to the Rummelsburg and Butow counties of Pomerania. Stolp was one of the least populated of the counties and it was dotted with many small villages whose names I now recognize. Names such as Budow, Gross Gansen, Klein Gansen, Wundichow, Gaffert, Muttrin, Klein Nossin, and Nippoglense have become like familiar friends.

Budow, for example, was the village in which my great grandparents were living when their oldest son Wilhelm, or Willi, was born. The village is mentioned in a document dated 1340 but it is thought to be older than that. Slavs settled first in the area and later Germans moved in and coexisted peacefully with their Slavic neighbors.

According to one legend, the village was moved after a particularly devastating plague killed many of the villagers. They shoveled under the old village and rebuilt it in another location not far away.

While the village was once a part of the Holy Roman Empire, and as such a Catholic village, a local priest by the name of John Stojentin began to follow the doctrine of Martin Luther, and the villagers became Lutherans by default. This did not set well with their Polish neighbors and once, in the early part of the 16th century, Polish raiders came and burnt the village along with the church as the people who had been worshiping watched in horror.

The word of the burning of the church spread, and donations from all across the Pommern came, enabling a wonderful new church to be built. During the Thirty Years War, once again, the church went up in flames and once again, it was rebuilt. The church burned a third time in September 1815 when a house next to the church caught fire and the straw roof of the house blew onto the wooden roof of the church. The church that was rebuilt this time was the same church in which my great grandparents had their sons Willi and Max baptized in 1903 and 1905, respectively.

In Gross Gansen, where my great-great-grandfather Gleffe lived, the population numbered 362 in 1905. It was this village that Emma and Leo listed as their home on the ship's manifest in March of 1906.

The county Stolp, had as its largest city, a city also named Stolp with slightly more than 31,000 people in 1905. A letter from Stolp arrived in Clyde, Ohio in 1908. The language spoken in Pomerania was Plattdüütsch or Low German, which is still spoken in parts of Northern Germany and it is a separate language from High German, the official German language. An Internet friend from Germany, Jörg Gliewe, translated the letter into High German for me, so that I could get an approximate translation from my online translator.

The letter is from Emma's brother Paul and his wife, Bertha. Karl who is also referred to in the letter was Emma's youngest brother, who was 10 years older then his nephew Willi.

Below is an approximate translation of the letter:

Dear brother and sister

We have gotten your letter and the picture. We have always asked if you still think of us. Karl has always talked about Willi. He says he remembers quite well how he and Willi drove to Gross Gansen in the wagon. He was very pleased about the picture. We will also send one. We now have 3 (2 boys and a girl) The smallest boy is 1.5 years old.

Dear Sister, write us whether you still want to come back. Or don't you? Or do you think you do (in America) better than in Germany?

I like it in Stolp and it is also quite good. I deserve also very beautiful. I am here also in the Steinsetzern. I will make 4 Mark each day. I still learn and I only receive about 6 Mark each day. Then I will be ready.

Write us, whether the work is also very difficult and how long you have to work. We work here 10 hours from 6 to 6. Tell us whether you also live in the city or in the countryside. And if you live in the country, do you have cows and pigs and chickens -- Just like here, too? Do you have grain and potatoes? And is it also expensive as here? Or is it cheaper? Write us again exactly how it for you. What else I do not know to write. Now you as well and send us back soon.

Karl says to say hi to Willi. He says: Willi should come back again. Now you write to us soon.
Best Greeting

Paul and Bertha

An address directory in 1938 confirms that Paul and Bertha were still living in the city of Stolp at that time. As far as we know, because the letters stopped coming from Germany at the start of World War II, all the remaining family were living in either the city of Stolp or in the villages of Stolp as the Russian Army approached from the East in early March 1945.

Tomorrow I will continue this series with a look at end of the war and its aftermath.

Until Next Time - Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note: At you will find these maps of interest.
Pomerania – Mid 19th Century
The German Empire – 1871 – 1918
Pomerania – 1938

At this website, you can see the villages and towns of Stolp. Most of the villages mentioned can be founded at the southern most tip of the map.


Lisa said...

What a wonderful family letter and accompanying history that you shared, Terry. How exciting, scary and sad it must have been for those that left and those that stayed behind during those years of emigration. I look forward to reading more about your German side of the family as you discover their story.

Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again
100 Years in America


Thanks Lisa, for your kind words. I hope to do more on this subject too.

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