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The History of Pomerania
by Carol Gohsman Bowen

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MapThese World GenWeb pages include only West Pomerania-that part known as Vorpommern-that is west of the Oder-Neisse Rivers (shown on the map as East Germany 1945 and separated from Poland 1945 by a line along the Oder River). Genealogists with ancestors in Hinterpommern, those lands east of the Oder-Neisse Rivers, must look to the country of Poland for their genealogical records and help. In 1938 all of this territory was German Pomerania.


Pomerania was originally a land in northeast Germany. It stretched along the Baltic Sea from Mecklenburg on the west to almost Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) on the east. Pomerania was divided into two sections: Vorpommern which was west of the Oder River, and Hinterpommern which was east of the Oder River. At the end of World War II in 1945, the two sections of Pomerania, Vorpommern west of the Oder-Neisse Rivers, and Hinterpommern, the lands east of the Oder-Neisse Rivers, were divided by the powers who won the 2nd World War. Vorpommern became part of East Germany at the end of World War II and then, in 1990, part of the combined Germany. It was included in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Hinterpommern became part of Poland at the end of WW II and remains part of Poland today.

The Goth's, a Germanic tribe, were living in what was to be Pomerania during the time of Christ. Other Teutonic tribes also lived in the area. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the Slavic tribes of Pomerani and Kasubi moved westward into this sparsely populated area on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The name of this area became known as Pomerania from the Pomerani word "Ponorze" - land by the sea.

The history of Pomerania in the 11th and 12th centuries is quite complicated. The Bogislaw family ruled Pomerania at the time, but sometimes there were 2 or 3 dukes of the Bogislaw family ruling different parts of Pomerania as the land was divided by inheritance.

To the south of Pomerania were another Slavic people called Polini. The Polini tribes were consolidated under King Mieszko during the years 962 to 992, and they became known as Poland. During the reign of King Mieszko and his son, Poland attacked and captured part of Pomerania. Although by 1025, the Pomeranians were free of Polish control, Poland continued attacking Pomerania. Control of the land went back and forth between the tribes several times. By 1158 the Pomerani and Kashubi tribes defended themselves and they were free again.

Their land continued to be under attack, however. The main reason? Their territory contained Stettin, one of the great ports from the Baltic Sea to the lands of northern Europe. The port of Stettin was something both the Danes and Swedes and also the land- locked Polish empire really wanted. (The other two ports on the Baltic Sea were at Danzig and Koenigsberg, both farther to the east.) To the east were the Teutonic Knights. In 1147 Henry the Lion, the Duke of Saxony, mounted a crusade to fight the Wends to the east of Pomerania. Then the Teutonic Knights took over the area east of Danzig calling it East Prussia, and they were soon pushing westward for land. In addition, the Danes expanded and captured part of western Pomerania. The Pomeranians were besieged on all sides.

The Bogislaw family dukes were concerned that they would not be able to sustain themselves and their lands for much longer against these forces. Since 1108, Lothar, the duke of Saxony, had been sending some German settlers into their land. But at least the Germans were not aggressively pushing against them, threatening to destroy them for possession of the port and lands.

Emmisaries were sent to Germany and arrangements were made. In 1181, the German nations put Pomerania under their protection in exchange for allowing Germany to send more settlers into the sparsely settled land. What the Poles and others could not do with force, the Germans did by mutual agreement.

Tens of thousands of German people came to Pomerania. Most came from the northern part of Germany. At that time there was a lot of fighting between the tribes of northern Germany, and many settlers were willing to leave to get out of that situation. Also the population in Germany had increased and the farms had been subdivided to the point where it was getting difficult to survive.

The German immigration was welcomed by the Pomeranians because the German people had the iron plow and other tools while the Slavic people had only primitive tools. This meant the German farmers could cut down the forest and farm much more of the land which greatly increased the food supply. The Dutch and Frisians were skilled at building dikes and draining lands. The soil was good for grains, especially rye.

The Bogislaw family needed protection, so they gave German knights, called ritters, tracts of land where they and their tenants could live. The knights could be called into battle when the dukes needed them. Estates grew and control over the peasants increased. The Catholic church was also given land. It invited peasants from other parts of Germany to farm the land. The Catholic church founded cloisters in places such as Belbuck, Buchow, Kammin, Piritz, Stolp, Treptow, Kozlin, and Wollin.

While most of the population of Pomerania lived on the land, there were those who lived in the towns. These were the craftsmen who made articles for sale and the people involved in the trading association called the Hanseatic League. This was a league of northern European cities that banded together to promote and protect trade. Among the cities of Pomerania involved during the 1200's and 1300's were Stettin, Treptow , Demmin, Stargard, Griefenburg, Pyritz, Koslin, Kammin, Belgard, Stolp, and Buelow. German towns were built up beside the Slavic towns and farms owed their allegiance to the ruling Duke of the Bogislaw family. Grain was being exported to northern Germany, the Netherlands, and England as early as the 13th century.

There was something that was not forseen by the Pomeranian rulers when they made their agreement with Germany in 1181. The Germans coming in to build their villages next to the Pomeranian villages already in existence caused the melding of the nationalities. The German language and culture dominated the country within 200 years and the Pommern language died out in the 18th century.

The writings of Martin Luther started the Reformation, and in 1534 Pomerania became Lutheran. In 1618 a war broke out which pitted the Lutherans against the Catholics. The Catholics were more powerful until King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden joined the war in 1620. This produced a stalemate. The war lasted until 1648 and so became known as the Thirty Years' War. The armies at that time lived off the land, and for a time, Pomerania had to support a Catholic army and later a Swedish army. The friendly and the enemy armies both caused great damage. It has been estimated that two-thirds of the Pomeranian people were killed or moved out. Large areas were burned to the ground.

In 1637 the Duke of Pomerania died without heir. Pomerania then came under control of the Elector of Brandenburg through marriage to the Bogislaw family. The Elector of Brandenburg also inherited the lands of the Teutonic Knights (East Prussia). The Elector assumed the title of King of Prussia, and Pomerania becaue part of Prussia. Then Vorpommern went to Sweden by the Treaty of Westphalia. It was not until 1815 that Sweden finally gave up all of Vorpommern.

During the Thirty Years' War, more of the land fell into the hands of the upper class, and their control was solidified. The tenants were given housing, some garden space, and payment in kind. There were restrictions on emigration, and the tenants were serfs. They were required to work on the estates three to four days a week. The political rights of the landowners, later called Junkers, allowed exploitation of the peasants.

Agrarian reforms of 1808-16 changed life on the landed estates. Peasants could now marry without the permission of the landowner. Peasants could move to another Junker estate or work in town as day workers. However, life was no better than before. The estate owner no longer had to care for his tenants and could evict them. If the farm worker moved to town, the pay for his labor was small. The peasant could own land but only for as long as he lived. Then it would revert to the state. There were a few landowners who treated their tenants with respect, but there was mostly a tendency for the German upper class to be authoritarian and regard the peasants as their personal property.

In 1817 a consolidation of the Lutheran churches to a State church began. By 1837 Friedrich Wilhelm III had combined the Lutheran and Calvinist churches. Many of the Old Lutherans of Pomerania objected and emigrated to America and other countries in the years of 1837, 1839, and 1843.

There were many disasters in the 19th century in Pomerania. The great estates of Pomerania always produced an abundance of grain, especially rye. In the 1830s, England exacted a high tariff on this grain; the price of grain fell, and this hurt the estates and therefore the workers on the estates. There was a potato blight in the 1840s. The sandy soil of Pomerania was good for growing potatoes, and they were the main staple of the Pomeranian table. Many poor people went hungry. There were disastrous weather conditions in the years from 1853 until 1856. There was rapid industrialization from 1850 until 1857 and many workers left the farms and the price of land fell.

Many Pomeranians emigrated to the United States in the second half of the 19th century. This peaked around 1880. Most of these Pomeranians were Lutherans who lived in the Midwest. The largest percentage went to Wisconsin.

Pomerania was devasted by World War II. At the end of the war, Pomerania and other German lands were given to Poland. Russia took much of eastern Poland. The estate owners had to flee. All Pomeranians were evicted and most left with what they could carry. Most went to the British zone of Germany. Later they were absorbed into West Germany or emigrated to Brazil, Australia, the United States, and other places.

This history was compiled from the writings of LeRoy Boehlke, President of Pommerscher Verein Freistadt, from the writings of Myron Gruenwald, who wrote several books on Pomerania and from the writings of Larry Jensen in the "German Genealogical Digest."

Design & Production: Carol Goshman Bowen, Dieter G. H. Garling info@eMecklenburg.de