From Days Gone By Part 2

The information that follows is a continuation of the previous post.

The pastors did not contribute anything to the German tradition and custom. Although they were German by birth, they were Polish by orientation because every citizen who believed in the right to education had to speak Polish and wanted to be regarded as a Pole. (Author’s Note: The authors of the 1923 Polish Encyclopaedia stated the exact opposite!) Now it is even worse in Poland. At least in the past, pastors did not do anything to turn Germans from their roots. But now the pastors, who are mostly the sons of farmers, are the most evil enemies of the Germans.

Until 1863, the year of the Polish insurrection, there were only church schools under the direction of cantors. (Author’s Note: Cantor was a term used in Polish lands for a Lutheran church school teacher who also served as a church leader such as a sacristan.) These cantors were actually only the leaders of congregational singing, could neither read nor write, nor could they do simple mathematical calculations, and were therefore very poor teachers.

Educated teachers were not to be found. One could have perhaps found some in Prussia but there was no one who would have taken care of that. There were quite a few German estate owners but they were not concerned with the farmers, all the more because they [the estate owners] sent their children to school in Prussia or hired governesses to teach them at home. That is the way that it was everywhere. The estate owners also did not contribute anything to the preservation of German culture or traditions. An exception was Baron von Keudell who as the estate owner in Schaki built a church, parsonage, and school and endowed it with a large piece of land. I must not forget to mention that the same was done by a Polish Catholic estate owner named Godlewski, who owned an estate near Kowno. He built a parsonage and a church in the little city of Godlewo, seven kilometers away from Kowno, and endowed it with land. He did that because he had many Germans upon his estates.

The aforementioned church schools could be attended by very few children from the countryside. Therefore itinerant village school teachers, who were called schoolmasters, were employed by the Germans of various communities who also each provided a week’s lodging at a time. Such teachers were usually old men who were too weak to work and for that reason, earned their keep by instructing children. In regard to their knowledge they were of course even more ignorant than the church school teachers.

Although the schools were very poor, these still had a large cultural significance for the Germans. The children did not remain illiterate, at least they learned a little reading, writing, and arithmetic in addition to Luther’s Small Catechism and also hymns. There were no instructional texts. One had only the so-called Hahnenfibel, a book which was identified by a large red rooster [Hahn] on the title page, as well as a Bible, book of sermons, Luther’s catechism, and hymnbooks.

Since farmers at that time had only the right to live, to multiply themselves, to work, and to allow themselves to be slaughtered as soldiers, their children had no entry to higher learning and therefore there was no reason to provide better instruction for the children. It only changed after the reforms of Tsar
Alexander II, when serfdom [in Russia] was abolished in 1863 and the farmers were placed on a more equal footing and therefore had the right to attend schools of higher education.

Naturally the flood of farm children to the schools was exceptionally large, and the Germans did not lag behind the Lithuanians but also attended schools of higher education and became engineers, doctors, pastors, teachers, officers, and more.

In regard to traditions and customs, they are probably the same as in East Prussia because the Germans probably did not adopt those of the Lithuanians. In my childhood memories remains the wedding tradition that bridesmaids sing Weber’s “Wir Winden dir den Jungfernkranz mit veilchenblauer Seide” (“We make for you the bridesmaid’s wreath with violet silk”) from Der Freischuetz as they place the wreath upon the bride’s head.”)1

This concludes Dr. Johann Lange’s eye-witness contribution to the history of the Germans in Lithuania in the Wilkowischen, Mariampol, Kalwaria, and Schaken Districts and provides the reader with, most likely, the only available account of a description of the daily lives of Germans in Lithuania, perhaps even of families like those who names end in -at.

1 Jaekel, Bilder aus der Geschichte des evangelischen Deutschtums in Litauen, 31-34.

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About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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