|1781 - 1941 A Walk in
the Shadow of Our History
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
For centuries, Europe was a hornet's nest - one
poke at it and everyone got stung. Our ancestors
were in the thick of it. They were the ones who suffered
through the constant upheavals that tore Europe apart.
While the history books tell the broad story, they
can't begin to tell the individual stories of all
those who lived through those tough times. And often-times,
the people at the local level had no clue as to the
reasons for the turmoil nor how to get away from
it. People in the 18th century were duped just as
we were in 1940 when we were promised a place in
the Fatherland to call home.
My ancestor Konrad Link went with his parents from
South Germany to East Prussia”Poland in 1781.
Poland as a nation had been squeezed out of existence
by Austria, Russia and Prussia. The area to which
the Link family migrated was then considered part
of their homeland - Germany. At that time, most of
northern Germany was called Prussia. The river Weichsel “Vitsula” divided
the newly enlarged region of Prussia into West Prussia
and East Prussia. The Prussian Kaiser followed the
plan of bringing new settlers into the territory
to create a culture and society that would be more
productive and successful. The plan worked well for
some time. Then Napoleon began marching against his
neighbors with the goal of controlling all of Europe.
His forces arrived in Prussia and, fearing the Kaiser,
Napoleon drew the Prussians into a situation that
was to the German's disadvantage. Napoleon won this
important battle. The Polish people rose in support
of Napoleon and got their land back. Only a small
remnant of the area, east of what was now called
Poland, remained as East Prussia under German control.
The Prussian plan for the area now known as Poland
came to an end. The German settlers that had been
brought in by the Kaiser suddenly lost all of their
rights. Left without Prussian support, they were
quickly driven off their settlement land. Unwanted
in Poland, many German settlers moved on to Russia.
This is what my Link ancestors experienced. While
in Prussia, the settlers had worked hard to build
homes, schools and cultural centers. Their work left
a memorable trace on the land and the culture of
the area. They had lived in Prussia for generations,
and when they were pushed out of their settlement
areas their life work did not pass unnoticed.
But Germany was not done with Poland. The reprieve
ended in 1939 when Germany attacked Poland to re-establish
a land bridge with the cut-off area still known as
East Prussia. History was about to repeat itself.
Again, my family would feel the effects of a conflict
not of their making.
When we left Bessarabia in 1940 on the Trek back
to Europe, it was not Poland, nor Prussia, that lured
us but rather a united Germany. As “Auslandsdeutsche” -
Germans living in foreign lands - we were brought
to the area to again open up West Prussia for Germany.
My ancestor Konrad Link came to the area voluntarily,
not understanding the politics. My parents left Soviet-occupied
Bessarabia for what they thought was freedom to start
a new life, not knowing they were pawns of a Nationlistic
regime to "free Poland for Germany." In
1941 my parents were resettled in Poland, near a
small town in the new West Prussia called Suchenheim
- “Suchary.” The farm and house assigned
to us had a furnace covered in tiles that were decorated
with German-language slogans. Similar decorations
were found in other houses nearby. One day, my dad
was making repairs in the front room of our house
when he found some old news-print behind a wooden
frame - it was in the German language. My Mom later
told me that it was very old. Dad took the piece
of news-print and gave it to the local authorities.
We thought nothing of it - this was Germany in our
minds. As we would visit parks and cemeteries in
the area, we noticed cast iron benches and gates
that had German-language inscriptions and insignias
on them. At the time, we gave this no further thought
because our knowledge of the history of this area
Again the Polish people worked against the German
occupiers, Germany got beaten in the war, and Poland
got its land back. We got the boot and were sent
back to Germany - again we were unwanted. When we
later read about the history of the area, we wondered
if we had been where our ancestors might have previous
lived. Perhaps the Link family once settled in the
same district, the same town, perhaps even in the
same house we lived in! Who knows? My Link ancestors
did not know what they were getting into, neither
did my parents. Now we know. History has taught us
a valuable lesson.
The shadows of our history remain with us - and
we were the ones swinging the brush.
Alfred Opp Edited by Connie Dahlke
Poland's Time-line - assembled by Connie Dahlke
- 900's A Slavic tribe, the Polians, united other
tribes under it
- 1400 Poland and Lithuania formed
- 1600's Prussia won the area of East
Prussia and West Prussia from Poland - these
were lands bordering
on the Baltic Sea. German settlers from Brandenburg
were brought in to take the place of the population
that had been decimated by the war.
- 1740 Friedrich
the Great seized southern Poland from Austrian
- 1760's Friedrich annexed the Polish
area that stood
between East and West Prussia.
- 1772 Poland
lost about a third of its territory and half
- some to Russia, some to Austria and
some to Prussia
- 1793 Russia took over the eastern
half of what remained
of Poland, and Prussia took another
small chunk of western Poland.
- 1795 Half of the
Poland went to Russia, and the remainder
split between Prussia and Austria.
About 75% of what had
been Poland was now part of Russia.
Prussia controlled about 15% of what had been
- 1800's Most
of the northern half of modern Germany
rule, including the Danish provinces
of Schleswig and Holstein. This was an area
of the original Prussian area.
Germany became a united
confederation, led by Kaiser
Wilhelm of Prussia.
- 1919 The treaty that ended
corridor back to Poland, providing
Polish access to the Baltic
Sea, but dividing East Prussia
rest of Germany
- 1921 The Treaty of
Riga forced Russia
to give back
most of the Polish territory
it had taken in 1793. Poland was split politically
- 1930's Violence
Poles and ethnic Germans
living in Poland.
- March 1939
Germany demanded 1) control
Poland; 2) German
transport rights between
West and East Prussia (crossing the Polish
ethnic Germans living
1939 Germany annexed the Polish
Corridor and Russia invaded
- Sept 28,
1939 Russia and Germany divided Poland - Russia
gained control of
and Germany gained
of western Poland. June
- 1941 Germany expelled
Russia from Poland and thereby gained control
Germans (brought from
Bessarabia) into occupied
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945 before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).