THE LAND OF POMERANIA was that land in northeast Germany along the Baltic Sea from Mecklenburg on the west to almost Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) on the east. Pomerania was divided into Vorpommern that was west of the Oder River, and Hinterpommern that was east of the Oder. Vorpommern became part of East Germany at the end of World War II and on October 3, 1990 part of the combined Germany as the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Hinterpommern became part of Poland.
The early Teutonic and Slavic tribes who settled Pomerania left no written records so we must look to the Romans and other sources of Pomerania's early history. They may have come out of an area south of the Caspian Sea that is now Iran. The Goths, a Germanic tribe, were living in what was to be Pomerania during the time of Christ. They moved south and west during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Other Teutonic tribes also lived in the area. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the Slavic tribes of Pomerani and Kashubi moved westward into this now sparsely populated area on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The name of this area became known as Pomerania from the Pomerani word Pomorze-land by the sea.
The history of Pomerania in the 11th and 12th centuries is quite complicated. The Bogislaw family ruled Pomerania at that time, but sometimes there were two or three 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 the 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, and between 1058 and 1079, Poland again had control of much of Pomerania. In 1120, the Poles were again attacking Pomerania and captured Stettin, the capital. The Duke of Pomerania had to pay tribute to the Poles for a time. The Pomerani and Kashubi tribes defended themselves, and after 1158 there were free again.
Their land continued to be under attack. In addition to the Polish armies, the Teutonic Knights to the east were threatening. In 1147 Henry the Lion, the Duke of Saxony mounted a crusade to fight the heathen Wends to the east of Pomerania. The Teutonic Knights took over the area east of Danzig and called it East Prussia, and they were pushing westward for land. In addition the Danes expanded and captured part of western Pomerani. The Pomeranians were besieged on all sides. In 1181 the Slavic Duke Bogislaw I of Pomerania decided to join the German empire.
Bogislaw I welcomed German immigration. The land was sparely populated and tens of thousands of German people came; most came from the northern part of Germany and especially Saxony. At that time there was much fighting between the German tribes of northern Germany, and many were willing to leave to get out of that situation. Also the population increased and the farms had been subdivided to the point where it was getting difficult to survive. The German people had the iron plow and other useful tools whereas the Slavic people had only primitive tools. This allowed the German farmers to cut down the forest and farm much more land and greatly increase the food supply. The Dutch and Frisians were skilled at building dikes and draining low- lying lands. The soil was good for grains and especially rye. Grain was exported to northern Germany, the Netherlands, and England as early as the 13th century.
It was to the Bogislaw family's advantage to have the protection. They needed soldiers 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 duke needed them. This decision worked fairly well but there was always some dissension when the individual knights wanted more land or other disputes arose in the crafts and trade in the towns.
Pomerania became Christian in 1128 when Bishop Otto von Bamberg came to the country. The Catholic church was also given land after 1181, and it invited peasants from other parts of Germany to farm the land. The church founded cloisters in places such as Belbuck, Buchow, Kammin, Piritz, Stolp, Treptow, Köslin and Wollin.
While most of the population of Pomerania lived on the land there were those who lived in towns. There were the craftsman who made articles for sale and the people involved in the trading association called the Hanseatic League. It was a league of northern European cities that banded together to promote and protect trade. Among the cities were Stettin in 1242, Treptow in 1245, Demmin in 1249, Stargard in 1253, Griefenburg in 1262, Pyritz in 1263, Köslin in 1266, Kammin in 1274, Belgard in 1299, and Stolp in 1310. German towns were built up beside the Slavic towns and farms owed their allegiance to the ruling Duke of the Bogislaw family.
Pomerania was quickly settled by German people. Their language and culture dominated the country within 200 years. For the most part the Pomerani people were blended into the German population; The dark hair and the brown eyes often found among Pomeranians probably testify to the mixing of these two peoples. The Kashubi people tended to stay separate and live together on the eastern border.
The writings of Martin Luther started the Reformation, and in 1534 Pomerania became Lutheran. In 1618 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. Friendly and enemy armies both caused great damage. It has been estimated that two-thirds of the Pomeranian people were killed or moved out. Large areas had been burned to the ground.
In 1637 during the war, Bogislaw XI, Elector of Pomerania, died without an heir. Pomerania came under the 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 became part of Prussia. Vorpommern went to Sweden by the Treaty of Westphalia. It was not until 1815 that Sweden gave up all of Vorpommern.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the tenants on the farms were reduced to serfdom. Previously the landowners were content to collect rents. However, a boom in the price of farm produce between 1550 and 1648 sparked interest in gaining more control. Laws favored the landowner and allowed exploitation of the peasants. 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 estrictions on emigration, and the tenants were serfs. They were required to work on the estate three to four days a week. The political rights of the landowners, later called Junkers, allowed exploitation of the peasants.
The 19th century were years of great change. Prussia was defeated at Jena by Napoleon, and huge reparations were required by the Treaty of Tilsit on July 9, 1807. This created a hardship for the Pomeranians as they were part of Prussia then.
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 meager. The peasant could own land but only for as long as he lived; then it would revert to the state. There were always some landowners who treated their tenants with care and respect, but there was always a tendency for the German upper class to be authoritarian and sometimes regard the peasants as personal roperty.
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 and many of the Old Lutherans of Pomerania objected and emigrated as a group to America and other countries in the years 1837, 1839 and 1843.
The great estates of Pomerania have always produced an abundance of grain, especially rye. In the 1830's 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 were many other disasters in the 19th century in Pomerania. There was the potato blight in the 1840's. The sandy soil of Pomerania was good for growing potatoes, and they were the main staple of the Pomeranian table. This caused great hardship, especially to the poor. There were disastrous weather conditions in the years from 1853 until 1856. There was rapid industrialization from 1850 until 1857; 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 in the 1880's. Most of these Pomeranians were Lutherans who lived in the Midwest. The largest percentage went to Wisconsin but also other midwest states.
Pomerania was devastated by World War II. At the end of the war, Russia took much of eastern Poland, and Pomerania and other German lands were given to Poland. The estate owners had to flee with meager possessions, losing everything else. All Pomeranians were evicted, and most left with what they could carry on their back. 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.
Pomerania has undergone many changes. The area was first a land of Germanic tribes, then a land of Slavic tribes, then a Duchy of the German Empire, then a province of the Kingdom of Prussia, then cleared of German people and now again a Slavic land under Poland. Myron Gruenwold of Die Pommerschen Leute wrote:
"In the year of 1181, there was no Poland and there was no Germany. There were a number of Slavic duchies and there was the Holy Roman Empire. The Slavic duchies consisted of a number of Polish dukes who controlled certain of the central plain areas and some Pommern, Wiltzen, Sorbe, Rugian, Litizen, and Ranen duchies in the Baltic area. No Polish dukes had ever received the fealty of these other Slav tribes, though the Poles did on occasion attempt to occupy and demand both fealty and an outlet to the Baltic Sea. The most recent of these times was around 1172."
The Holy Roman Empire consisted of a loose confederation of German and Italian dukes and kings, as far south as Sicily and north to the North Sea, held more or less together at this time by Frederick I, Barbarossa. The confederation itself dated from the first institution of it by Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) around 800.
In 1181, Frederick was in the Lubeck area of northern Germany securing the outposts of the Empire. The Pomeranians were tired of the Danes and Poles constantly harassing them, so Bogislaw I, then the duke of the ruling house of Greifen of Pomerania, sought and received membership, through fealty, as part of the Holy Roman Empires. The migrations of Germans to the east for their own economic expansion into Pommern soon eliminated the few Slavs still around by intermarriage with those who did not themselves emigrate out of the now German duchy.
From 1181 to 1637 the Greifen dukes ruled as part of the Holy Roman Empire. With the death of the last Greifen duke, the dukes of Brandenburg inherited the land and united all of these eastern territories as "Prussia". Hinter Pommern (that part beyond the Oder River) was totally German from 1181 to 1945, with no interruption.
At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, the Soviet government chose to take lands back from Poland's eastern border which had been part of Poland for a number of centuries. However, the Soviet wanted to keep the German border, with Poland as a buffer zone, as far from themselves as possible. therefore, at the Yalta conference and again at Potsdam, the Soviets negotiated to cross the Oder River and enter Berlin before any other allied troops would do so. Therefore, the allied troops were under orders for several months to hold back ending the war by entering Berlin.
The Soviets turned these German lands over to Poland, ostensibly as "compensation" for the lands she had acquired from Poland's east. All Germans remaining in these lands after the deliberate, assault by the Soviet troops northward, away from Berlin and the successful conclusion of the war, were forcibly expelled eastward to Siberia or westward into conquered Germany. In these few years at the end of the war, almost 12,000,0000 Germans were expelled with a loss of life to over 2,000,000 of them. The Baltic German lands from Stettin to Danzig and beyond were occupied by Poles who were themselves uprooted from their own historic lands in Poland's southeast and forcibly resettled.