The four previous blog posts have provided an overview of the historic events that most likely influenced ancestors who lived in Suwalki Province. The reader cannot help but notice the complexity of the history of this region, the shifting borders, wars, and allegiances. Throughout all these historic events, people tended to their daily activities as best they could, eking out a living.
The most significant historical events in Suwalki Province include:
• The gradual loss of power by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795) led to three external powers—the Prussians, the Austrians, and the Russians—to parcel out Poland and Lithuania for twenty-three years. This time period is commonly known as the Three Partitions of Poland—1772, 1792, and 1795.
• The land belonged to Prussia (later Germany) from 1795 to 1807. Prussia gained 15% of the land that had been the Polish Commonwealth. 1
• The rise and fall of Napoleon from 1803 to 1815 set the stage for the rest of the 19th and early 20th century domination of the area by first, the French Empire, and ultimately, the Russian Empire.
• The re-emergence of Poland and Lithuania as separate nations occurred after World War I in 1918.
Because the above-mentioned empires and nations had a stake in this land for 400 years, each culture has its own interpretation of events. An understanding of these influences on this group of German Lutherans provides an understanding of their lives and their sacrifices. Each language has its own spelling for this area: for example, the Polish spelling of one village is Wylkowiszki; the German spelling is Wilkowischen or Wilkowischken; the Lithuanian spelling is Vilkaviskis, the spelling seen on modern maps. “Wylkowiszki” was selected for consistency and the fact that it is the most common spelling in texts and on maps from the era many of the –at families lived there. The next several blog posts will examine the three perspectives; Russian-Polish, German, and Lithuanian. The ten posts on the Russian-Polish Perspective will include: this Introduction; Geography and History; People and Religions; The Russian Influence; Economics, Birth Rates, and Civilian and Military Population; Jewish Minority; Natural Increase of Population; Observations about the German Population; Final Conclusions; and Connecting Data and Family Stories.
The Russian-Polish Perspective
The Polish Encyclopaedia of 1923 was compiled to determine the homogeneity of the Poles in their desire to re establish their homeland after World War I. However, it also includes details on the many peoples that settled in this area, including the German Lutheran minority to which the –at families belonged. The Polish perspective is based on information from the Polish Encyclopaedia of 1923, published five years after Poland re-emerged as a nation in 1918. Because this encyclopedia is the most comprehensive analysis of the area, complete with statistics not available in other perspectives, only the information that has a bearing on the –at ancestors in Suwalki Province is presented here.
The editors used data from two sources: the First (and only) General Census of the Population of the Russian Empire in 1897, published in St. Petersburg in 1905, and data collected in 1913 by the Statistical Committee in Warsaw, another Russian institution. The 1897 data is considered more reliable because it was gathered in ways more in conformity with the rules of science. This encyclopedia refers to this region as the “Kingdom of Poland.” 2
In the 18th and 19th centuries the movement of German “colonists” into areas adjacent to the ever-expanding eastern territory, the “rim” areas, resulted in a substantial German- speaking population. These German rimlands included some major islands of Germanic settlers in the Baltic area. In the 19th century, this area, known as the Government of Suwalki, was one of ten governments in the Kingdom of Poland. An examination of Suwalki Province provides an overview from about 1795 to 1923.
1 Rosemary Chrorzempa, Polish Roots (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1993), 138.
2 Polish Encyclopaedia of 1923 (Geneva, Switzerland: Atar Limited, 1922-1926), 750.