- Contributed by
- Audrey Lewis - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Barbara Fox-von Thadden and family.
- Location of story:
- Pomerania, formerly Prussia, now Poland.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 January 2006
Vahnerow House before WW2
The von Thadden family in Pomerania (part one)
This story, excerpts from a personal publication, ‘Finding a Way Home’ has been submitted to the site on behalf of Barbara Fox-von Thadden and added with her permission. She understands the site’s terms and conditions.
“If the Second World War had not happened, Pommern would still be on the map of Germany as the province which borders the Baltic Sea with its long coastline. If that war had not happened, the centre of local government in our district would still be called Greifenberg; and the villages where the Mellins and the Thaddens had lived for so many generations, would probably still belong to members of the family. If the war had not happened, we would still have a sense of belonging to the place of our roots, even long after we had moved to our grown-up lives somewhere else. We would continue to feel that the places of our childhood and youth, where we grew up in peace and rural tranquillity, would go on offering future generations a home and opportunities not unlike those that our ancestors had. And if the war had not happened, many millions of people would not have died in those cruel conflicts, including of course many of our own relatives and friends.”
“But the war did happen, and it brought with it the end of a way of life which had seemed clear and safe, and worthwhile for our family as well as for the people for whose lives we felt responsible.”
“Geographically, the setting for our story is quite small. Our villages are in the southern part of the district (Kreis) Greifenberg about 80 km east of Stettin, the capital of Pomerania and divided in the middle by the river Oder which has its source in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. At the end of the war the Oder provided a convenient line for the border between Poland in the East and East Germany in the West.”
“Historically, we can go back to the 12th C when Slavic, Wendish, Germanic and other tribes inhabited the area, which at that time was ruled by Duke Bolislav III. The last Herr von Mellin was called Kurt (born 1748) he died in 1800 leaving a wife and many daughters.”
“The Thaddens were landowners in the very east of Pomerania, in the Kreis Lauenburg, where they were first mentioned in 1334. There is even a village called Thadden in the area. Like many of the landowners, they were also officers in the Prussian army. Franz Ludwig, a direct ancestor going back six generations, was a captain who fought against the Swedes at Strasund in 1715. In the time of Frederic the Great there were two regiments named after their generals von Thadden.”
“My great-great-grandfather, Ernst Dietrich von Thadden (born1745) was a staff-officer, and became an aide-de-camps to King Fredrich Wilhelm II. Berlin was the capitol of Prussia, and the king had his court there. My great-grandfather, Adolph Ferdinand, was the youngest of the children, born 1796. He went to hear the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who preached the ‘return to true Christianity’, which made a deep impression on him. New thinking and pietism influenced similar movements elsewhere, including John Wesley.”
“Adolph fell in love with Henrietta, a well-educated girl. When he was away he wrote long letters to her. She died with no children. He married again to Laurettchen, a member of the Witte family. He died in 1882 having had much influence on many people on the thinking in the Lutheran church in Prussia.”
“Adolf, my father, unlike his father and uncle who had both fought in the war between Prussia and Austria did not have to go to war. He was a good shot, loved East Prussia with its vast forests and large estates, he was frequently invited to shoots in the neighbourhood.”
“He married again to my mother when his first wife died and had two families. My mother Anna Barbara Blank came from Hannover and her mother was English and came from Newcastle. Elizabeth, of the first marriage, (my step sister) had been ‘lady of the manor’ for 11 years, so took a job in Berlin at a boarding school in Salem, on Lake Constance. The school was founded and run by Kurt Hahn, the man who later founded Gordonstoun in Scotland. She liked the school and approved of the pedagogical ideals of self-reliance, responsibility for oneself and others, and a certain liberalism — all these ideas were still fairly new in German education. Elizabeth and some friends formed a trust for a new school. It became Elizabeth’s life’s work. When my sister and I arrived at the school there were about 130 girls boarding, as well as a large number of girls who came from Heidelberg and Mannheim.”
“Ours was a privileged childhood with space and beauty around us. We had important visitors. Ernst Wiechert was an anti-Nazi, and when he had published a pamphlet for students encouraging them to oppose the regime he was taken to a concentration camp by the Gestapo, the feared secret police.”
“From the very beginning of Hitler’s rise to power my mother realised what this might mean for Germany. There were her Jewish friends in Berlin, who were harassed by the Nazis and who left Germany, or tried to leave. There were shopkeepers in Greifenberg, like Herr Loewenberg, who supplied all the ladies in the neighbourhood with dresses and evening gowns, and others who had their shop windows covered in nasty slogans like, ‘he who buys from the Jews is a traitor to the people’. There were banners across the shopping area that carried similar slogans. My mother was aware of her English relatives. There were not many people who you could trust, the infiltration of Nazi propaganda was insidious, it was very skilfully managed and at first quite gradual.”
“At home several changes had taken place. My mother found a tutor for my brother, but her stay with us was fairly short. It was she who contacted the Gestapo to come to our house to ‘interview’ our mother who had dug out and pinned on her chest her silver ‘Mutterkreuz’, a medal given to mothers with several children. With personal acknowledgement from Hitler, no doubt?”
“We had a complaint that the family did not say ‘Heil Hitler’ in the shops.”
“Elizabeth’s school was to be taken over by the state, and a new director had been appointed. I still had two years at school. I admitted that I had never realised that there might be a danger for me if I stayed on.”
“On the last morning I called to say goodbye to Elizabeth. Seeing her cry made me cry too, and I kissed her hand. She usually came round the rooms when we were in bed at night, and this time she stopped to chat with us, sitting down on my bed (which she had never done before) and suddenly she took me in her arms and said, ‘I can embrace you, after all, I am your sister!’ Having admired her with awe and respect, I was completely overwhelmed by this spontaneous show of affection. I would have gone through fire for her after that.”
To follow in part two — Elizabeth —von Thadden story.
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