Germans from Russia Heritage Society Convention
Presentation by Edwald Wutschke
Transcription by Joy Hass Stefan
Edited and Proofread by Linda M. Haag
EW: Greetings. I’m glad to be here, and to see all of these faces in front of me. Before I go into my little talk I’ve got written out here, I want to tell you something that’s happened to us in the past month or six weeks. I sent the Wandering Volhynians to the Archives in Volhynia and the Ukraine. I look at this crowd and I look at what they represent, and I suggested before that you are now really Germans from the Ukraine, because I think the majority of this group are within the boundaries of what is modern Ukraine. But anyway, I sent this to the archives, the magazine, and they were so enthused because Russia had taken and destroyed all evidence of German settlements in Volhynia. They even pulled the bodies and skeletons out of the German graves in Volhynia. It is totally destroyed. So when I sent them the copies of the Wandering Volhynians, it was for them a godsend, because they finally had a spark of the history of Volhynia and what role the Germans played in Volhynia. It’s being translated into Ukrainian, and it’s becoming a source of studies within the Ukrainian intellectual community, which makes me feel very, very proud of what happened, although we didn’t intend to start in this line at all. We just wanted a magazine to help each other. The same thing is happening in Germany. The history of Germany in Europe is going through revision at the moment, and the Wandering Volhynians has reached a number of the institutes there, and in this revision they are now beginning to include the fact that there was a German community in Volhynia, which was not in German history before. I just wanted to inform you of this because I just got these letters in the past weeks.
I’d also like to give you greetings from my former colleague on the Wandering Volhynians, who is a member of this organization, the Germans from Russia Heritage Society, Ilene Dalmrage Frye [? Sp?]. Ilene has been my help mate and has worked very hard in producing the Wandering Volhynians. But she has a debilitating illness which she is now at the point where she can no longer be of any help in this way because her health is so far gone. I would appreciate it if the people who know her would drop here a line of cheerfulness and give her some good cheer because I think she needs it. She has done a wonderful job. Now I’m leading into this… I would like to introduce or get you acquainted with my new US representative and possibly be the co-editor, Irmgarde Ellingson. Ilene was a minister’s wife and so Irmgarde also is a minister’s wife. Irmgarde has three children and she just passed her Master of Arts in Theology on May the 16th. So therefore, in both cases I’ve had ministers’ wives as my assistants here in the US. And I believe that comes because in their position as a minister’s wife, their activities are restricted because they have to watch what they do so it doesn’t reflect on their husband’s occupation. [laughter] Which is a good thing for us, because then they have time to work on genealogy and Wandering Volhynians and that. [more laughter] So I’m very happy for that. So I just thought I’d let you know that these changes have taken place. Irmgarde and I have met here because when Ilene said that she could not carry on anymore, Irmgarde offered to help, so we have somebody representing you here in the United States.
Getting down to the main talk why I’m here, talking about the Schwaben and the Kaschuben. Now everybody seems to know something about Schwaben and Kaschuben. For instance, as kids, we were teased, Kaschub, Kaschub, [? 058]. Then there were the [? 060] Schwab. Schwabs were loading eggs on the wagon for the market and found they wouldn’t all go onto the wagon, so they sent one to straighten out the wagon to get more eggs on. He got on and tramped them down. [laughter] So that’s how we came to be known as the [? 063] Schwab. The other joke is the farmer carpenter, standing looking at the board and wondering [? 066 – in German again] I’ve already cut it off twice and it’s still too short! So these are the things that we heard all the time, but the thing is … every kid recalls the story between the Schwaben and the Kaschuben from the time they started school until they died. The rivalry between the two was intense. The Schwab had a thousand years of culture to be proud of and preserve; the Kaschuben in turn was proud of his ability to adjust and turn wilderness into productive communities. Marriages between the Schwab and Kaschub generally turned into a living fire and brimstone affair. Each family considered their relatives dominant in the marriage and the new in-law was considered beneath the family’s social status. Only in the bedroom where the in-laws were excluded, it was not necessary to have verbal communication with their mutual understanding and affection, generally resulting in larger than usual families. [laughter]
So what was it between the Schwab and the Kaschub which created such tension and misunderstanding? Here we have to study the background of the two groups and what the composition was. The Kaschub originally applied a Slavic tribe which lived on the Netze and Warthe River valleys between Posen and Pomerania. This strip was claimed by Brandenburg around 1405, and called the Neumark. It’s southern border was Posen; its northern border Pomerania, and its eastern border was West Prussia. West Prussia, which was part of the territory Poland granted to the Teutonic Knights in 1229, returned the Polish state after the battle of Tannenberg in 1410. The Teutonic Knights, during their period of administration, had brought in German farmers and artisans and established some 10,000 villages in West Prussia. When the Neumark was established by Brandenburg in West Prussia, came under Polish administration, it is our belief that there was a certain amount of ethnic cleansing. The Kaschub were moved out of the Neumark into former West Prussia, and the Germans from West Prussia drifted west into the newly established Neumark. Our analysis of this event is based on the frequency of the same surnames which appear in the Neumark and with a group of Catholic Germans who had remained in West Prussia. The German settlements in Neumark were augmented by migration from the [? 103] area and other areas of northern Germany whose people were known as the Plattdeutsch of [? 104], the Low German people. Although officially this province was called the Neumark with the German administration, the name Kaschub remained to identify the community. It was the same as the Polish Pomorze becoming the German Pomeranian. The heathen Pruss became the German Prussian. The original peoples were either pushed out or assimilated with the Germans becoming the Bon Homme of the social structure.
As these German people now known as Kaschuben, pushed eastward into Posen and then Poland, they came into contact with Low German linguistic groups from Silesia, West Prussia, and emigrants from Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, etc. The German Kaschub continued to absorb these groups and eventually all the linguistic Low German groups were classified as Kaschubens by the Poles and the Schwabs.
The Schwabs started out as the Suebi, a Germanic tribe which conquered the Roman territory on the Rhine around 450 AD. According to historians they took over the former Roman inhabitants of the region, who outnumbered the Suebi by about 10 to 1. These inhabitants were gradually Germanized and took on the Schwabish dialect. The Germanic people in the surrounding communities such as the Bavarians, had a similar dialect and eventually all the dialects in southern Germany were classified as Schwaben. Although if you get together with a Bavarian, he will insist that he is not a Schwab. Still, the general classification is that he falls under the umbrella of the Schwaben dialect. So my studies have been not from the writers or the learned upper class, but from the peasantry, which I have been in contact. Before the above statements will be contradicted by learned professionals, I know this is going to happen, however, none can dispute the fact that amongst the German settlers in Poland, Bessarabia, Dobruja, and Romania, Siberia, etc., there were basically only two divisions, and that was the Schwaben and the Kaschuben. The Schwabs spoke a High German dialect and the Kaschubs spoke a Low German.
There was also a physical difference between the Schwaben and the Kaschuben. The Kaschuben were part of a Nordic race and had never been conquered by the Romans or other peoples. They were part of the original Nordic Scandinavian race known at various times as Anglos and Saxons, the Barbarians, Norsemen, Vikings, Goths, [? 139] and many other names. If you look on a map you’ll see all these different names. You’ll think well that’s a different group of people. It’s not. It’s from the same group of people. In the conquests they absorbed some of the Slavic peoples and brought slaves from the regions of France, Ireland, etc., establishing a bit of a mix. The features of blonde hair, blue eyes and light skin remained the dominant features.
The Suebi, meanwhile, began to absorb the conquered Romans into their communities. Gradually their Nordic look was diluted and the old Roman residents were in the majority, the fallen creatures became entrenched. The darker skin and hair, brown eyes and a somewhat smaller stature were some of the features which eventually became prominent. Oh yes, in comparison to the Kaschub, whose society was simple and forthright, the Schwabs drew from the 2000 years of culture which the Roman ancestors had established before the German rulers adapted to it in the 5th Century when they began to rule. Their communities were well established during Roman times and each generation carried on in homes and on the fields as their forefathers had done for dozens of generations.
The Kaschubs joined the Lutheran faith, as did some of the Schwabens. When these two groups moved into Poland the terms Protestant and German were the same and became interchangeable as were the terms Catholic and Polish. So very often you hear people talking “they were Catholic” meaning they were Polish. Or “they were German” when they meant they were Protestant. So these were terminologies that were totally interchanged when you talk with people from the area.
The Kaschubens started establishing their settlements in Poland as early as 1570. They had adapted the Mennonite form of village government called the [? 163 – holendry?]. This was the original democratic form of government whereby the villagers elected their officials. That’s another feature we have with our Kaschuben people was this idea of running their own villages. This system, they established some 1500 villages in Poland before 1800, where their officials were elected and not appointed. When Posen and Western Poland came under Prussian administration during the Second Partition, the Prussian government did a census and found these German villages with the prefix or suffix –holendria- attached to the title.
Prussia took over the control of the property belonging to the church and state in Poland in 1795 and 1792 when the Second and Third Partition of Poland occurred. This land had been… they took over the church and state properties which had been undeveloped. Prussia, wanting to increase production and efficiency in all its lands, found itself short of people and turned to Württemburg and the Protestants for help. It promised these people land, houses, wells, travel money, food and many other concessions if they would come into the former Polish territory to establish farms on the church and state lands. All in all, Prussia surveyed and established some 2775 farms. Most of these farms, but not all, were assigned to the Schwabens and some 13,000 Schwabens migrated to Poland during the period of 1795 and 1805. The Schwabens brought with them their 2000 years of culture and tremendous pride that they had been chosen by the Prussian King who paid their way and gave them special privileges in this new land.
What their 2000 years of culture and permanent settlements did not give was the ability to adjust to new and totally different circumstances, which was needed in opening new frontiers. They did not have the ability to clear the forests, build houses from logs, or even dig their own wells. Because of their culture and special privileges, they treated their local Kaschuben Polish neighbors with great disdain. This resulted in a lack of cooperation between the Kaschuben and Schwaben settlers. Only when the lack of development made the Schwabens realize that they would face starvation or freeze, did they grudgingly ask the Kaschubens for assistance. Within a short time, with the help of the Kaschubens, they had a roof over their head and a garden patch. Yet their superior attitude continued to cause a split with the local Polish and to a lesser extent, the Kaschuben population. Life was tough and many could not adjust to this new lower standard of living. Their money was spent and many had no food and some returned to Germany.
In 1805 Napoleon conquered Poland and turned the administration over to the local Polish people. The Kaschubens who had a good working relationship with the Polish population before the Schwabs arrived, were able to work with the Polish administration. But oh my, the Schwabens… did they ever get paid back. They had lost their protector, the Prussian State. The Polish administrators and the local Poles now treated the Kaschubs [he must mean Schwabs here] with the utmost contempt. In the Polish language to this day, the term schwol is the worst thing you can be labeled with. It is even worse than calling somebody a bastard. It’s the dirtiest word you can use in Polish when you’re running somebody down.
When the Russian army conquered Napoleon and Poland, the Schwabens appealed to the new administration for help. Russia realized that the rift between the Schwabs and the local Poles was extreme. A solution had to be found. Russia, while pushing Napoleon back into France was also pushing the Turks out of the Black Sea area. It had this vast de-populated frontier called Bessarabia and suggested to the Schwabens that they settle there. Many accepted the offer, but this time they had learned a lesson. They convinced a number of the Kaschubens to come with them. In 1814 to 1816, some 1200 families left Poland for Bessarabia. This group was made up of approximately 50% Schwabens and 50% Kaschubens. These two groups gradually assimilated, becoming more Schwaben than Kaschuben. The assimilation was difficult, very much like pouring a quart of oil into a bucket of water and trying to homogenize it. The oil continues to float on top. This was the Schwabish culture vs. the Kaschuben adaptability. The Schwaben culture prevailed and gradually their story became all pervasive at the expense of the Kaschuben contribution to their community.
In the 1860s some Bessarabians moved to Dobruja, a strip of land along the Black Sea, stretching through Rumania into Bulgaria. Here, according to the Dobruja yearbooks, the battle between the Schwabs and the Kaschubs continued. One story tells about a Kaschuben who was asked by the landlord to find water. He used a forked willow stick to witch for water. The Schwabens, who had been trying to find water, but only hit dry holes, came out and cast cat calls at this dumb Kaschub trying to find water with a willow stick. He discovered a spot which reacted to the stick and they dug, and lo and behold, the water was there. Again, at this time, the egg was on the face of the intellectual Schwab. These stories keep on coming over and over, the intellectuality vs. the practicability.
How often has this story been replayed in many communities? My father and cousin had the gift of witching for water. They continually confounded the engineers by finding water where the engineers and experts only found dry holes. The Schwaben-Kaschuben Germans each had special talents peculiar to their background. It has been almost 200 years that the two groups began to rub elbows with each other in Poland and only now in the younger generation are they beginning to accept one another. The homogenization is nearing completion and the Kaschuben group, which was water under the oil, is receiving public recognition as well as the oil, or the Schwaben history. The new lifestyle which recognizes the individuality and equality of each partner in a marriage rather than domination of one partner over the other, is also helping the two groups understand one another. They can now communicate verbally as well as sexually. As we pass the torch on to the younger generation, let us hope that they will record our history in the balanced forthright way giving and receiving recognition on the interplay of our forefathers, the Schwabens and the Kaschubens, as they helped shape the history and development of many nations of the world wherever they settled.
Thank you. [applause]
Emcee: Thank you very much. That thing about the interfaith marriages between the Schwabens and the Kaschubens, I’m sure that reminded a lot of us of us. I was raised in a Catholic community and aye-yi-yi, if I wouldn’t have married a Catholic girl! That would have been worse that if I’d have married someone who wasn’t from German-Russian heritage. It would have been. So I’m sure we all have those kind of things and we’re all proud of our heritage and our faith and our religion. Are we all done? Any other announcements? At 1:30 we’re supposed to have the meeting. I’ve got 1:25. Does 1:30 still sound right? It will be right around the corner this way. Oh, here in this room, right at the tables where we’re at? Shall we clear out of the room for a couple of minutes? At 1:35 the meeting starts right in here. Thank you very much.
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