“Kolonists” in Eastern Prussia

I received an email from the man I use for translation of historic German documents.  His name is Klaus and he lives in Florida.  In the most recent document, Auguste Bertha Schmidt’s birth record, I noted that her father Friedrich Schmidt was listed as a “Kolonist”.  I asked Klaus about these people who were sent to “Germanize” the eastern parts of Prussia, and this is what he wrote:

Not being a historian, I can only offer you a bit of the things I remember from listening to and overhearing my Grandmother (the mother of my stepmother) Emma Kopischke.

My Grandfather was a teacher, and the Kopischke’s had been lured (I do not know by which administration) to move into the Eastern Territory as part of the “Germanisation Effort” program of the Prussian State.  I believe the intent was to take German culture and preciseness there, to exploit the vast farmland areas and to provide the “homeland” with agricultural products.

Grandfather taught mainly the children of settlers (“Kolonists”).  From Grandmother I remember remarks about the Polish field hands and house helpers to be mainly negative or derogatory.  From her occasional talks I formed a picture of Wanda, the house maid (probably a kind of servant) as being lazy, dumb, uneducated and primitive.  She and other Poles had to constantly be watched or they would steal your shirt off your back.  Things like that.  I do not remember ever hearing a word of praise about the local population.  I assume the settlers suffered from adverse propaganda and/or were brainwashed and felt like the superior race or population.

The Kopischkes lived in the Posen (Poznan) area. I remember hearing of visits to settler friends in Gnesen, Tschenschstochau and other neighboring villages.  Those German settlers were driven out of the territory sometime around 1900 or so.  The Kopischkes moved to Goerlitz, (then Silesia), a city which today is split by the Neisse River, the new Polish/German border since 1945.  I grew up there, in the triangle where Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic meet.  One of my sisters and her descendants still live there today.

Your Schmidt family settled not far from the Poznan area, a few miles north-north-east in the direction toward Dansk.  They must have lived under similar conditions as my Kopischkes.

This portrait of the region was augmented by my friend Jörg, who lives in Germany

In the 16th century Polish landslords brought German settlers, mostly farmers, into the Netzekreis.  After the mid-17th century, German craftsmen were hired.  The town of Schönlanke, for example, [very near where the Winkelmann and Schmidt families lived] was famous for its textiles (draperies, weavers, clothiers).  In 1772 Netzekreis (including the city of Schönlanke) became Prussian. There were 220 clothmakers and many shoemakers, tailors and other craftsmen at that time. 

After 1822 Russia closed its borders for imports and exports and the machine age began.  It was the beginning of the end of the textile industry in that region.  Their guild was dissolved in 1888.But more and more craftsmen immigrated there, bakers, slaughterers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and merchants etc.   The town grew slowly but steadily, and a railway station was built there in 1851.  The economy stagnated somewhat after that.  

But after the “Gründerzeit” – the founder epoche in abt. 1870 – everything had changed.  There was a resurgence in the region in the tobacco and timber industry, and many lumber mills and joineries (carpentries) were established there during this period.

The word “Kolonist” came from the Latin “colonus” = farmer (Bauer in German).  So the “Kolonisten” were settlers… farmers from other regions, who reclaimed moorland, or in this case swampland, along the Netze river and cultivated it.

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About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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