The Prielipp Family and the Prussian Explusion

In the Summer of 2013, I managed to track down a living descendant of Otto Prielipp, whom my great-grandfather had helped come to America. I had a suspicion at the time that his family and mine were related, a suspicion I have since been able to confirm. In fact, it is quite likely that the Prielipps are the reason that my great-great-grandfather Wilhelm Schmidt decided to come to America.

This living descendant, Donald Otto Prielipp (1929-2015), was my 3rd cousin twice removed.  His great-grandmother, Hanna Auguste Friedricke “Friedricke” Winkelmann (b 1839) was the sister of my 3x-great-grandmother Wilhelmine Winkelmann. She married Wilhelm Friedrich Julius Prielipp in the town of Karolina, Kris Czarnikau, Posen, Prussia on 14 Feb 1864. The couple had at least seven children in Karolina, Gornitz, and Stieglitz (all of which were very near each other). Whereas my branch of the family came to America in 1885 and 1892 and was thus spared the fury of the Red Army at the end of WWII and the subsequent Prussian Explusion (1945-1947), Donald’s family was not so fortunate. Here are his recollections of his family and their story, with additional details added from my research, as he related them to me during our phone conversation.

“My grandfather was Franz Wilhelm Hermann Prielipp, but he went by Hermann.  He was born in the town of Karolina, Kreis Czarnikau, Posen, Prussia on 31 Mar 1865 to Wilhelm Friedrich Julius Prielipp and Hanna Auguste Friedricke “Friedricke” Winkelmann.  Hermann’s wife was Emma Therese Osten, who was born in the town of Putzig, Kreis Czarnikau, Posen Prussia on 10 Jul 1866 to Carl Wilhelm Osten and his wife Henriette Quast.  Hermann and Emma were married on 29 Sept 1890 in the town of Grünfier, Kreis Carnikau, Posen, Prussia where Hermann was listed as an “eigenthümer”, or owner of a small farm.

Hermann was, indeed, a farmer in Gornitz and he owned about 10 acres of land between the small towns of Gornitz and Ascherbude. His father Wilhelm Friedrich Julius Prielipp had owned the land before him, and had built a house, a granary, a barn, and a storage barn on the property.  About 1/3 of the land was Scotch Pine, and they used it for firewood and lumber. Another acre of the land was the farm complex itself with the house and barns and so on. The rest of the land was in wheat, barley, and rye. Hermann worked the farm until he died.  He died in his field of a heart attack.

My father, Otto Karl Prielipp was born on the farm in Gornitz on 26 Jul 1904.  He had an older brother, Emil W Prielipp (b 26 Feb 1903), a younger brother, Walter Karl Prielipp (b 10 Jul 1907), and at least two other brothers, (Carl and Adolf), and a sister.  My father came to America in 1922 when he was 17 year old aboard the “SS Mount Carroll”.  Your great-great-grandfather Wilhelm Schmidt had arranged a job for him working in the paper mill in Rothschild, Wisconsin in the “beater room” with your great-grandfather Edwin Schmidt.  He married my mother, Lillian Mable Pfleiger, in Rothschild, Wisconsin on 5 May 1828, and we lived in Rothschild for many years.

After WWI the province of Posen where the Prielipps lived was given back to the Poles, but the Germans were not displaced and there were no problems with harassment or anything at all. Then when Germany began its rise to power in the 1930’s my dad’s mother wrote to him to ask him to come back to Gornitz. She said that there were lots of jobs and that the conditions were very good. My father Otto said, “no way”. He could see which way the political winds were blowing and wasn’t about to go back there.

At the end of WWII, the Red Army began to sweep through the Eastern Prussian provinces, pushing out the retreating Germans.  The troops had been encouraged to rape, pillage, murder, and destroy everything they could, and this extended to the German-speaking people living in those provinces.   The Russians came through Gornitz and killed almost all the male Germans.  My uncle Adolph was the eldest brother of the family and would have inherited the family farm from Hermann. The Russians tore the house apart and ripped the beds to shreds looking for money, and then they beat Adolph to death with their guns.  Adolph’s mother (Emma Therese Osten Prielipp) was ejected from the house in the middle of winter and they found her frozen to death on the side of the road.  (This would have been around January, 1945.)

There was a Radtke family in the town, and Otto’s sister (name unknown) was married to a Radtke. They had a daughter named Hilda Radtke.  I was friends with that family and every other year for 20 years either my family would go to Germany and visit them or the Radtkes would come to the US to visit us in Easton, Wisconsin.

Mr. Radtke was a principal, or superintendent of the school. He got in touch with Hilda, and then when the Prielipps went to Germany one year, they packed up and drove to Poland from the town of Volmersted where Hilda lived (probably Wolmirstedt, Börde, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany).  They showed us around their area and we got to know their family very well. Four years later when we went back to Germany, we all went first to Volmerstead, and from there to Gornitz. We spent a week in Gornitz about 1980. It was an interesting linguistic exercise. Our guide was a Hungarian man who knew German. Fritz (Radtke, perhaps?) knew German and English. We only knew English. Every conversation was three or four languages translated back and forth. That’s how we learned the history of our grandparents and uncles. There was nothing left of Gornitz when we went there. Some private residences remained that were occupied by Polish people.

With the guide who knew Polish and Hungarian and German we could visit with those people and they were very hospitable. With the people from the Radtke family, we all spent 2-3 hours with them and they were very agreeable, and we could ask any questions about our family’s stay in Gornitz.

Then we went to the farm where my father Otto grew up on, where his father Hermann had farmed. Hermann’s father Wilhelm Prielipp had lived on the farm after the first World War, and he was badly crippled from a fall off a ladder off one of the buildings, so he looked like a question mark, all hunched over. He couldn’t work, but he could shuffle around. He lived in the grainary. They had built him a kind of an apartment in there. He and his wife lived in it. When Hermann’s father was young he went to Russia and worked in logging, and did river drives.  Eventually he took over the farm in Gornitz.

Hermann had an older brother named Adolph. There was also a brother Carl and one other brother. One of those brothers was killed in WWI.  Then there was Emil and Otto, and a younger son named Walter.  Walter fought in the german army, was captured by the French, and in a French prisoner of war camp when the allies came through France at the end of WWII.  Emil and Otto brought Walter to the United States and he lived with Otto’s family for a period of time and looked for work and finally found work in Milwaukee, so he went to Milwaukee and worked in a leather tanning factory and was married and has since died. He never had any children.

Emil had three kids. His son Robert was a mathematician and taught at a college in Wisconsin. He had no children. Second son was named Ronald. He was also a mathematician who taught at University of Kansas in Salinas. He still lives there.  He married a woman named Beth, and they have no children. Ronald’s legs don’t work, so he’s in a wheelchair. He lives in a full-care facility. Beth is trying to sell the house. She plans to join him at the facility. Their third son was Walter. He went west and worked for Boeing in Seattle.  He was married with no children, and his wife is a union activist, she’s involved in politics in Washington. Walter died in 2009.

In terms of my immediate family, my brother Russell Prielipp is retired. He and his wife Bonnie have no children. They live in NJ and are doing relatively well. Our sister Marian Prielipp Doddington works for a design firm in Washington DC.”

Donald mentioned that he had an article on the death of his grandfather Hermann Prielipp. It’s in German and gives the date of his death. He was going to try to find it for me, but he passed away before that happened. He also mentioned that he helped build the home of my mother’s first cousin Gloria Johnson on Grand Avenue in Wausau, Wisconsin. This home was right next door to my great-grandparents’ house (Edwin Schmidt and Olga Hanson).

Donald passed away on 23 Feb 2015 in Redding, California.  He was 85 years old.

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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

One response to “The Prielipp Family and the Prussian Explusion

  • Johnson Gloria

    So interesting. You never heard from Marian, did you? I remember you tried to get in touch with her. She’s become quite distant from us. I had Russell for a TA in Physics at Madison. I have many memories from spending time at Marian’s. Otto was sweet but very strict! We’re on our way to Wisconsin for the summer. I hope to see your mom. G Sent from my iPad

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