Man's grandparents, the Gehrkes, were Germans. They had an unusual movement pattern from Germany to their final place of residence, Michigan. See, they went via Hawaii and California. This is the story of their village of their origins. But, first, I had to find the village, so the back story first.
In 1997, after a number of years of research, and 7 months of full time compiling, writing and oganizing, I published their family history, "The Gehrke's ; Descendants of Karl and Charlotte Gehrke, Emigrants from Germany 1888".
Man's great grandparents, Karl and Charlotte Gehrke lived in Germany. In 1888 they had 2 children, Man's grandfather, Fritz (Fred), and daughter Hedwig. In that year, the family boarded a ship and landed in Kauai Hawaii. Karl was to work on the sugar plantations. There were a number of other Germans living at that time in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii.
Early in the research, we knew the name of the town of Fred's birth, the family had it recorded as Hammerstein. I was disappointed to discover there was more than one village in Germany named Hammerstein.
1994-97 (the years that I was actively researching the Gehrke clan) was before you could find just about ANYTHING on the internet. So, my research consisted of letters, lots of letters to Germany. Help with these letters came from my soon to be daughter-in-law, a bright young lady from Germany.
The Lihue Lutheran Church records were a gold mine in the research of this family. Baptisms, confirmations, deaths, marriages, all duly recorded, in German, but recorded. It was in the confirmation records of Fritz (Fred) and Hedwig and Hedwig's marriage record that verified the village of their birth.
Above, the marriage record of August Braun and Hedwig Gehrke,
Lihue Lutheran Church records, the second column from the
right shows Hedwig's birth date and birthplace,
Hammerstein, West Prussia
Between the letters to Germany and the church records from the Lihue Lutheran Church, we eventually located the correct Hammerstein, now Czarne Poland.
Next I relied on the help of my co-workers at the Westland Michigan Family History Center, many of whom specialize in Polish research. These kind souls helped me write letters and translate the answers for me back into English. We eventually learned that civil and church records were non-existant, destroyed in World Wars. Since it seemed this was the end of the search, I turned my energies elsewhere. I did publish some maps in my work, but, never searched for any history of the town. I now realize, that was a stone left unturned.
I cannot explain my reaction to the huge surprise that was waiting for me when I did a Google search for Czarne. First I looked at the Wikipedia page, where I found a lot of history back to around 1300. Kingdom of Poland, Royal Prussia, West Prussia, etc. But here are the sentences that took my breath away and almost made my heart stop:
"In 1885 the Prussian Army built a large training ground (Übungsplatz) there. In World War I the German Army used it for a large Prisoner-of-war camp for Russian prisoners. In World War II it was the site of the notorious Stalag II-B in which tens of thousands, mainly Soviet prisoners, died from disease, mistreatment and malnutrition."
At http://stalagoflagpow.com/ I found the following information:
- A Stalag was the term used during the First and Second World War for prisoner-of-war camps in Germany.
- Stalag II-B just outside Hammerstein in Pomerania (now Czarne, Pomorskie, Poland), where treatment of prisoners was considered worse than at any other camp in Germany established for American POW
Above photo made available at Wikipedi by
Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
Photo taken 9 August 1941
(see full disclosure data here)
I am still processing this discovery of the known history of the birthplace of Man's grandfather, I probably would never have revisited the Gehrke research this way if it were not for this carnival. Each carnival I have participated in has had me reviewing what I thought I knew, searching out, verifying and learning something new. Sometimes these new searches end up providing a bit of a surprise, like this time.
Hammerstein Gemany, now Czarne Poland, surely had a known history, only it was not known to me. I would bet that Fred knew this history, he did not die until 1964. Now I wonder, how he felt about it.
* Yes, I know the limitations of Wikipedia. Further research and reading are always advised.
Copyright 2010, CABS for Reflections From the Fence.