Elisabet Boehm and Village Women

The former East Prussia still amazes…

Some time ago I was captured by a marvelous portrait of Agnes von der Groeben, and now – I have “stumbled” upon another remarkable woman from this land.

And everything – as usual – by accident …

Well, during our short holiday in Galiny (Galingen) – we went to Kętrzyn (Rastenburg), as I wanted very much to see the tomb banner of Botho Zu Eulenburg. The tomb banners were popular in the 17th century and later. Not many of them survived – as the material is not resistant to time and… wars (and those were numerous here throughout the history).

En route we dropped to Łabędnik (Groß Schwansfeld) – well, not everything has to match our imagination… And then we drove through Garbno. Just drove… not even giving the place a bit of interest…

What a pity we did not stop there!


To answer this – I have to start from the beginning 😉

Once upon a time…

In the Prussian times Garbno had a different name… In the 14th century it was called Laumygarbis, and in the next – 15th century the place was called Lamegarben. The name of the settlement may derive from Prussian language. “Lamem”, “lama” – meant marshes, swamps, wet place, and “garbis” – meant the hill. And so it was a “Hill among the marshes.” Also it sometimes can be read that the name derives from the word “Lauma” – witch. And the translation of the name as “Hill of Witches.” Probably the will-o’-the-wisps were mistaken for witches. 😉

And then, a standard history of these areas swept through here.  Namely: the Teutonic Knights and their new orders. Castles, manors and firstly the fortified churches were built in these lands. The newly built churches were often placed on the former (pagan) worship sites.

And so it was with the church in Garbno. It was built on a hill, probably on an ancient place of Bartian worship. See the map of the Prussian tribes (clans) in the 13th century.

The castle is not preserved – as it was destroyed during the Thirteen Year’s War .

Of course the new propaganda wanted and had to tame the place, so they made a legend about the lamb appearing at the same time and in the same place. Whenever it was caught – it escaped miraculously just to appear again in harvest time… So the church was built in the place of the lamb’s appearance.

We must however remember that the place was give to the free Prussians. Contrary to the popular belief, the Prussians were not exterminated by the Teutons. The were assimilated probably more or less in the 16th or 17th century. In the 13th century a village was founded – today’s Garbno –  based on the Kulm Law. And then, as it often happened here – the history changed its course.

In the beginning of 1521 the then Teutonic Grand Master – Albert handed ca. 14 włóka (włóka means today’s 17,955 ha, or ca.44,4 acres) of land in Garbno to Heinrich von Egloffstein. And the village stayed in the hands of this family until 1832.

However – probably the village was leased to a von Buddenbrock family while the Egloffsteins lived in their palace in Arklity (Arklitten). Here at the beginning of 1810 Gustav von Buddenbrock was born. Later he became a Prussian army officer and a Knight of the Order Pour La Merite (for participation in the Franco-Prussian War).

In 1832 Garbno gets a new owner, a Christian Bierfreund. After a few years – the property goes into the hands of Lieutenant Konrad von Redecker, who in 1856 sold it to Edward Krause.

(The Redeckers are connected with the wonderful palace in Nakomiady – formerly Eichmedien. 

In 1880 the property was handed to Otto Boehm of Głowbity (d. Glaubitten). And this is where I “stumbled upon” the aforementioned remarkable woman. Otto received the property from his father on the occasion of his wedding with Miss Elisabet  Steppuhn of Łękajny (Landkeim).

Elisabet founded the first in Germany Village Women’s Union (22.02.1898r.). The main goal of this Union was primarily education of village women and enabling them to exchange experiences. This was not all, as the Union also dealt with distribution of preserves.

Elisabeth was the organizer of the school network for women throughout Germany. These schools were aimed at preparing women to conduct household.  The idea was adopted both in Europe and overseas. Polish Village Housewives’ Circles also rose from this movement.

In 1911 the Boehms were forced to sell the property and moved to Konigsberg. The reason for the decision was Otto’s illness. However, this did not slow Elisabet’s activity. With her own funds she set up a foundation, which opened a school for housewives and village women in one of the districts of Königsberg (Princess Cecilia School in Koenigsberg-Metgethen).

The times in which Mrs. Boehm worked were quite difficult for women. In the social sense they were in fact just an addition to the man. All that was expected from them (simplifying of course) was diligence, good manners and the ability to give birth to the successor/heir.

The Village Women’s Union made a bee their sign. It was not only that it was a symbol of what was required of a village woman to be like (work like a busy honey bee). Also because the Union systematically tried to change the mentality of women. So that from the docile and passive (not to say even mindless) robots working on farms, they would become conscious companions of their husbands.

From today’s point of view – nothing extraordinary. But then it was almost a revolution!

And this “revolution” was recognized in 1913. Elisabeth was awarded  silver medal by Her Imperial Majesty – Augusta Victoria during the imperial visit in Königsberg ( Her Imperial Majesty came to visit one of the Boehm schools).

The “work at the foundations” done by the former owner of Garbno was acknowledged and appreciated. In 1920 Departments for Practical Training of Village Women were established within the Governmental Boards of Agriculture .

In 1929 Elisabet Boehm received Honorary Doctorate from the University of Königsberg and an honorary citizenship of the city.

She died in 1943 in Halle.

At the end of the twentieth century – in 1993, Elisabet image was shown on one of the German post stamps in the series “Famous Women.”

In 1998 a plaque dedicated to his exceptional woman was placed on the wall of the Garbno manor.

Elisabet Boehm was not only clever and wise but also beautiful.

What about Garbno?

Well … In 1911, it was acquired by Erich Schultz-Fademrecht. He was a famous breeder of military and agriculture horses. He ran the farm until January 1945, being also the last mayor of the village.

And then in 1945 the Russian front came, or rather hailed down on this land,  and… again new times stroke. Is this the last curve of the history for this place?

And I would have never learned about this all, if I had not found a “Newspaper in Kętrzyn” from 2006 with an interesting article about this remarkable woman…

*  /   *  

And… I thought it was all, that I could not find anything more. I was wrong 🙂 Internet is a wonderful device – and a splendid way of contacting. Recently I received a note on this article. A VERY precious note, as it comes from a member of the Boehm Family… In fact there were two notes (they can be found in the comments to this article). I put them together – and here I am pasting them as one. A very interesting supplement enriching my notes on Elisabeth. Now, she became even more familiar to me. I like her (I also had a great grand mother wearing breeches, and smoking a pipe, helping the poor in her domain, riding a horse, and… gambling…) 🙂

Dear Madam,

Otto Boehm, was a brother of my grandfather (Julius Boehm), born May 14th, 1855 Glaubitten. He died April 1st 1921 Königsberg i. Pr.

Elisabet (his wife) died at Halle/river Saale May 5th, 1943. Her urn was burried at Glaubitten (Globitty/Poland)

Otto Boehm was a quiet retired military man and his wife Elisabet was an extremely active woman more interested in ruling and working for her women association than in family matters. (She did wear the breeches)

The mother of Elisabet Boehm (Steppuhn) was Emilie Dorothea Caroline Roggerath. She was born at Gardelegen, November 6th, 1826. She died at Liekeim , May 8th, 1896

Her Husband was (acc. my resources) Hermann Julius Steppuhn. He was born at Lackmedien, May 14th 1827 and died at Liekeim May 5th, 1907

I am a member of the Boehm family.

With best regards, Gerhard Boehm, Hamburg/Germany

At leisure…

How I long for Frombork!

The picture above shows a view of the town from the Cathedral Hill (from JS’ room). In the distance – the Vistula Lagoon – and far (very far! some 80 kilometers) to the right – there is Russia.

For several years – every now and then – whenever we feel we need a break in our work – we have been packing our belongings and going to his little town on the Vistula Lagoon.

We: means – me and my 4 friends. All of us are guides – so we have the same interests, and are equally crazy about bricks, Tutivillus, and splendid history of this land.

This land was historically first inhabited by the Balts; later it was conquered by the Teutonic Knights; then in the 15th century, after the victory of the Polish-Lithuanian troops – it became part of the Royal Prussia. The part of it was Holy Warmia Region. And yet another part was Ducal Prussia – owned as a fief – by Albrecht von Hohenzollern. All this was turned later into East Prussia. As a descendant of East Prussians – I simply had to become a guide here…

*     /     *

“I live now at the world’s end” – This is what Nicolaus Copernicus wrote, when he settled in Frauenburg (now Frombork).

Frombork’s Cathedral Hill

As we always travel in the same group – so it was this time too. We packed what we needed and went on Saturday morning. In fact we packed so many supplies, that we could have stayed there for a week or so…

On the way from Gdansk to Frombork – we stopped (as we always do) in Kadyny. It is a little village connected to the history of Wilhelm II – the emperor of Germany. It belonged to the emperor’s family till the end of the Second World War. I will have to write something about this beautiful place – as it is worth a mention…

In the village we always visit the hotel in Kadyny to have fine coffee and a fantastic in taste and huge in appearance chocolate cake. I always say it has no calories, as it is cut from the 4 sides, so the calories evaporated… (the words of Chef Bogdan Galazka from Gothic Restaurant in Malbork)

Unfortunately the palace itself is abandoned and still is under some renovation. It reminds me, that I have always heard it was being renovated.

Here – the stables where the hotel was organized, and below is the palace….

*     /     *

Well – finally we always reach Frombork… Sooner or later (rather later 😉 )

Published in: on 21/11/2010 at 14:16  Leave a Comment  

The Border

Always we are trying to spend all our leisure time or vacations THERE – it is in the former East Prussia. Unfortunately, after the last war, these areas have been cut by a boundary, and the post-war propaganda (still being strong despite the political changes in Poland) can not cope with the rich historical heritage of this land.

We however went to relax and search for historical gossip. And we found both. And moreover, we found a great place to get true relaxation. We stayed in Galiny. The place is not so far from civilization, yet still far enough – to allow forgetting about everyday busy life.  Moreover, a place is full of warmth and cordiality. I saw Galiny for the first time almost two years ago (the time is rushing so much, that it makes me fear) from the coach, when I traveled with my group to Bartoszyce. Then – again, when once more passing by, living a life in motion – without stopping for even a short breath.

I love my job, but I definitely do need a holiday from time to time, so… I ordered a room for us in the Palace.

(Galiny is a separate subject – so I shall write about is next time).

We packed and started off in rainy and gloomy autumn weather.

We drove on a part of the famous Berlin-Königsberg highway constructed partially before World War II.

Hitler’s demand for the exterritorial highway through Poland – was one of many causes of that dreadful military conflict. However parts of this highway (within East Prussia and Germany) were completed. Nowadays a great reconstruction and upgrade began.

Driving comfort and almost undisturbed emptiness on the road, fortunately did not make us bored when we turned off the main road to Pieniężno, and then to Górowo Iławeckie. I shall write about Górowo separately – and we definitely have to go back and visit the Gas Industry Museum there.

But it is not only for the museum… Despite the rain and the approaching dusk, I liked the town very much. It has in it a unique atmosphere of the border town, situated at the world’s end. .  Life near this specific border must not be the easiest one, and probably not very town-creative. Besides the tourists are not frequent visitors here… But it looks that unemployment is.

So far then, here I am giving only few notes from a wander along the border.

Szczurkowo – border with Russia.

Because it was this border between two worlds, that made the deepest impression on me. Never before have I seen this order so closely. I have never been so bold as to come so near it. And now I had an opportunity to see it as well as take photographs of it.

The border of Europe…

I must admit that, like nothing else, it fell in my memory.

I wrote that after the war the area of East Prussia was divided by the border – and not just with the land, the political one, but also much worse – the mentality border. The best proof of this is Szczurkowo, where I took the picture above.

Until 1945 it was part of a big property. After the war, the border divided the property… The manor was demolished – and on both sides of the border there remained only the wretched remnants of what had flourished for centuries.Szczurkowo (Schönbruch) first appeared in the history of this land as the property of knights in the 14th century. For a long time the property belonged to the knightly family of von Eulenburg-Wicken. Then since 1871 the property became the property of the family von Bolschwing. Their manor house was demolished in the 1960s on the Polish side of the border. The village was one of the largest in the area. According to statistics, in 1939, 1,139 people lived here. The area of the property was 642 ha (1 586,42 acres)After World War II the village was divided by the border. People were displaced, and the traces of village prosperity were erased, and the place was sentenced to oblivion.

Could it be because of the name of the past owners??? Here on Oct. 15, 1909, a man called Alfred Otto Albrecht von Bolschwing was born…  During the war he served Reichsführer SS Security Service in the rank of SS Hauptsturmführer. He was a very closely associated to Adolf Eichmann, bah! He was his mentor. After the war in the 1950s, he managed to get to the USA. He received the American citizenship in 1959, however, concealing his Nazi history (he joined the Nazi party at age of 23 in 1932).In the United States he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1981 – the decision was made for his deportation to Germany… He managed to avoid it, because… he was in hospital due to bad health. However, this did not prevent the case, resulting in depriving him of his U.S. citizenship. At the same time the court order said that he would be repatriated as soon as his health has improved. During the war von Bolschwing was always mentioned along with Eichmann. So now it was clear what turn would the judicial process take back in Europe. … But the Baron escaped justice – in the same year he died. So could it be that the village associated with such a name has been deliberately condemned to oblivion? Today this place is indeed at the end of the world. On the Polish side of the border – there are few isolated farm buildings and almost an illegible park as remnants of the former estate. Number of residents and visible negligence all around have nothing to do with the former prosperity and wealth, which had once reigned here. However the efforts to improve the image of the village can be seen.

Not everything is dirt and mess.

Moreover, people clearly are counting on the attractiveness of the village as one of the so-called stork villages. Indeed, there is one of the larger concentration of stork nests, and each was built on a special platform.

Certainly in the summer with so many storks and other birds, as well as with the splendid green of the leaves covering all the shortages – the village can be a great tourist attraction…

Especially with the barrier and a fence on the border.

Published in: on 20/11/2010 at 00:50  Leave a Comment  

Bäslack – former East Prussia (today Bezławki)

I insisted on going to Bezławki (Bäslack – former East Prussia).

We had to get back from Giżycko (Lötzen) to Galiny (Gallingen) anyhow and somehow. We could very well go through Bezławki then…

On our way we stopped in Ryn (Rhein) to have some lunch. However we did not eat in the castle, but in an inn “At Wallenrode’s” (of course they must have meant Frederick Wallenrode, the brother of the Grand Master).

Unfortunately they have their site in Polish only, but the food there is worth international attention! It is more than delicious! They serve a really juicy port steak there!!!!

And the food has all the best features of the Polish food so much desired by the foreign tourists.

Going back to Bezławki…

So as not to drive through Kętrzyn (Rastenburg), we chose a shortcut. However, quite a good asphalt road ended after a while. Now we drove a beautiful, but very bumpy cobblestone route, perhaps remembering the times before World War I, when it has been laid. Just as it was made, it never had been rearranged since.

I remembered my memorable ride across Żuławy (Werder) near Malbork, when first the asphalt ended, then the cobblestones remained only in memory, and finally even the country road ended. I also remembered one of our shortcuts to the Zubrzyca Górna when the road ended (literally) in the barn… The mere memory of the astonished cows – made me want to laugh.

But I strongly believed that our Holy Grail quest would not end in such a way. Because it is that story – or if you prefer – legend, that drove us to Bezławki.

But first – few historical facts.

Bezławki emerged into the history in the half of the 14th century. It was when Johann Schindekopf – the then Commander of Balga and mayor of Natangia bestowed land and mill to one of his subjects.

This particular commander also located Kętrzyn (meaning – granted civic rights to this settlement).

Schindekopf’s bestowal  still exists in a changed form…

Well, the Commander in his generosity, gave to a certain Henikin of Gerdauen (todayZheleznodorozhny in today’s Kaliningrad Oblast’) a water mill with one wheel on the river Dajna). That was not all – Henikin also got 6 morga (I couldn’t find its name in English) of land on the Kulmian Law. As far as I remember, Kulmian Morga is ca. 0,59 ha, which equals ca. 1,46 acres.

The said mill functioned till 1974, when it was turned into a small  hydroelectric power station.

This bestowal was connected with the colonization of this part of the monastic state. It was here – in the borderland that a number of settlements, villages and farms as well as castles were built to protect the settler from the incursions of the Lithuanians. And Bezławki  perfectly fitted in this borderland system of watchtowers. It was build replacing a former settlement. It was governed by a bailiff subject to the prosecutor in Kętrzyn. The location privilege the settlement called Bayselauke (i.e. Bayse’s field) received after Schindekopf’s death at one of the battles in 1470’s. Until today, no date is set for construction of the castle. As a photo of the information board I took is not very clear, so I am making use of sketches found on the web… And they are by – whose else if not Conrad Steinbrecht 🙂

The castle was built on a hill (even today quite difficult to access), probably in the early 15th century. It is known that in 1402 Wilhelm von Helfenstein (the Grand Commander in Malbork) stopped in Bezławki castle on his way back from the raid to Lithuania. It is said that he had with him 900 prisoners of war (I wonder where they were kept and how they were managed) Also Duke Švitrigaila stayed there. He was the youngest brother of Jagiello (the King of Poland) and he was fighting on the side of the Teutons. He dreamed of power in Lithuania – independent of his older royal brother… He stayed in Bezławki till 1404. I will not describe the castle, because this can be found both in books and in the net.  After the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War often called the Great War (1409 – 1411), the castle began to lose its importance, and in the 16th century was turned into a church. Even after World War II it served the Protestants (up to 1970s). After there was no more of this faith it was abandoned and deteriorating, falling prey to vandals and thieves (the nihil novi in these areas.) When finally in the 1980s the building was taken over by the Roman Catholic parish in nearby village of Wilki, it was renovated. But part of the equipment is gone forever, either stolen or destroyed earlier by the thieves.

Was it a Greek chalice that was sought-after by the thieves? It was mentioned in chronicles as given by Švitrigaila to the Knights. The inventories also mentioned the Greek (Ruthenian) altar frontal. Was there among the stolen things the famous Holy Grail?

We shall never know. But the legend of the castle mentions it…

Well – the whole story began in England, where from supposedly the Holy Grail was to be taken to Lithuania. I will not describe the whole legend of the Holy Grail – it can be found both in books and on the web. I will start almost from the end of history, from the Battle of Hastings. So, after the Battle of Hastings (1066) three of the children of King Harold Godwinson had to flee from England to save their lives.  As the legend says – they went through Lithuania, Kiev to Byzantium. Gytha of Wessex was married to Waldemar, the king of Ruthenia, known as Vladimir II Monomakh. He was one of the most famous rulers of Kievan Rus. The two sons of Harold – as the legend says – stayed in Lithuania.   And Godwin, the older of sons is said to have been the ancestor of Jogaila (king Władysław II Jagiełło)…

According to some legends and stories, the altar frontal as well as the chalice was Švitrigaila’s gift  to the Knights. In fact there were two chalices – the English one and a Greek one. The Greek chalice was given to the Teutons while the English one was taken away by Švitrigaila. Would it have been an heirloom then?

The treasure hunters claim that the Greek chalice was the famous and mysterious Holy Grail, referring to this part of the history, completely ignoring the logic… Well logic says that nobody would have given away SUCH a valuable item, and least of all people – Švitrigaila. Also it is very doubtful that he would have been in possession of such a family treasure, being the youngest of the family. But, as we know – we do not fight against legends – we tell them…

During the last Polish-Teutonic war in 1520s the chalice was mortared in the church, so as to save it from Tatars, plundering around. Was it this that was found in the wall, after what a significant hole was left??

But this place is not only the complicated legend of Holy Grail.

In the 16th century the ownership of this land goes to the von der Groeben family.  I would like to point that not far from there is  Św. Lipka. And these areas were the ones sold to Stefan Sadorski by Otto v.d. Groeben  to enable building of the today famous Marian sanctuary in Św. Lipka.

The Bezławki castle has a unique atmosphere. It is far from the main tourist routes. On one hand it is good, but on the other hand the lack of supervision does not do the place any good.

Anyway – this is definitely a place worth a visit and returning here in the season of the larks, when the place is filled with bird twittering. A gloomy autumn day after rain, no leaves on the trees, wind, and the voices of crows and jackdaws made a specific atmosphere of the place during our visit there. It is easier then to believe in legends, hear the voices 😉 and to find A Brick…

Published in: on 19/11/2010 at 14:41  Leave a Comment  

Juditten / Judyty

I have just returned from another trip to East Prussia … And once again I realized how much this land was harmed. First, by the “winners” in 1945, then by communist politics. New people were settled there. And they were settled against their will. The politics did everything to disable them to love the new land… The communist propaganda did that by spreading the shadows of the recent past….  So, the people still do not feel the land, they do not feel the history nor understand it…

As it often happens during our short holidays – this time also we were provided with not very accurate map. So we had to move a bit according to our senses, and according to our notes.

Reconciled with the fact that we will not get to the famous Juditten, we decided to visit a familiar-sounding … Judyty.

Judyty is a village situated about 6, maybe 7 kilometers (4,35 miles) from the border with the formation, known as Kaliningrad. After World War II the border interrupted the duration of this land’s old history and culture. Heartless policies condemned it to a place in class B, and maybe even C or D…

Judyty as a property belonged to the von Kunheim family since the 16th century. Among the more and less known of that name – a man called Georg appears to us in the 16th century (he was son of Georg and Margaretha von Truchsess Wetzhausen from Łankiejmy). He was born in Wehlau (known  for the treaties).

In later life he found himself among the courtiers of Duke Albert of Königsberg. He was among his favorite courtiers, a trusted and valuable one. So much so, that when he fell ill, the Duke brought him a famous doctor – “particularly dear” doctor Nicholas Copernicus from Frombork.

Georg was the son in law of Dr. Martin Luther. How he won the hand of his youngest daughter, I do not know (yet), but I sense the influence of Katharina von Bora.

When Margaretha died, Georg married Dorothea von der Oelsnitz.

The goods belonging to von Kunheim – also included Judyty.

The palace remained in the hands of the family until World War II. It was here that in 1928 the later famous Eberhard von Kunheim was born. Today we would say of him that he had a difficult childhood: his father was killed in a car accident in 1935. A quiet gossip spread that it might have been a political accident. As he was not among the supporters of the new politics. Mother – according to all encyclopedias – pershed in one of the Soviet camps after the war. Often it can be read that the fact that his father was against the Nazis – might have helped Eberhard in becoming a student in post-war Germany. After some experience after his studies he joined the BMW. For more than 20 years he was a director and president, and later chaired the board of the company. The times of his “reign” there were called the Kuenheim Era.

In Judyty there also was one of the oldest Trakehner horse breeding stables.

The Trakehner horses are still bred in the nearby Liski. By now it is officially allowed to call this race by its old name … And this happened only in 2005 when the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development finally authorized the opening of Trakehner herd book in Poland. It is astonishing how much the so called officials are still afraid of the tradition…

Today, Judyty is not half as great as it used to be…

And these words apply to all the old estates in East Prussia. One can only remember family stories, about how once it all looked.

By the way – one can “meet” the Kunheim family here and there, going around the former East Prussia … For example in Ketrzyn (Rastembork) in the castle there is a portrait of John Ernest von Kunheim. Like most of the family – he too rested after his death in the family tomb in Sępopol.

As for the descendants of Georg and Margaretha de domo Luther, one will meet them when reading the history or should I say History… Hunting for genealogy of the von Eulenburgs – one can meet residents of Judyty … Also tracing the ancestry of Paul von Hindenburg we find the Kunheims …

And one more thing – only after I stared at the picture of palace – gloomy and dark – I noticed that the famous lions are still there!!!!! Both were purchased in 1889 and finally returned to the place few years ago. After the new owner of the palace a few years ago gave them to the studs in Liski the locals protested so much, that the lions were brought back where they belong.