Prussian Roots

ZIEMER'S TREE         *         HARDT FAMILY         *         OSTERWEIN         *         PASSENGER LISTS


HEINRICH     *     HARDT     *     ROLOFF     *     BAER


THE ROMANCE of Fritz HEINRICH and Theresa ROLOFF, along with Fritz's misadventures, are part of our family's lore. According to tradition, young Fritz Heinrich was set to leave his homeland in East Prussia for a new life in America. It was the 1880's, when Kaiser Wilhelm II and Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor," presided over the "Second Reich", a united Germany of which Prussian military might was the foundation, where every young man was expected to serve in the army. As young Fritz stood on the deck, Prussian soldiers boarded the vessel and forcibly removed him, to keep him in Germany for his upcoming service. The ship steamed away, with his mother Louise unaware of the events until they were far out from the shore. Fritz was apprenticed to a shoemaker or some craftsman, until such time as he would be called on to fulfill his military obligation. But Fritz had other plans. He would not forget his childhood sweetheart, Theresa Roloff, and their promises to each other. By some means, after a time, overcoming many obstacles, Fritz managed to leave Germany on his own. Reunited with Theresa in Chicago, the two were married -- and they all lived happily ever after.

That's pretty much the story the way we heard it from Fritz's eldest daughter, Bertha Heinrich . And there may be some truth to the tale, as some of the facts uncovered by research do support the traditions.

Fritz Heinrich FRIEDRICH ("Fritz") ROBERT HEINRICH, Jr. was born in Osterwein, East Prussia on March 13, 1864, and christened in the little stone church of Wittigwalde a few miles to the south. Osterwein was apparently at that time a Vorwerk , a settlement of workers and their families on the property of a Gut , or hereditary estate; it is situated in what was then Kreis Osterode, about a hundred miles SSE of Danzig (Gdansk) and Elbing (Elblag). Of his father, Friedrich Robert Heinrich , little is known, other than his birth date, given by Grandma Bertha as 1820, and his death in 1865, scarcely a year after Fritz's birth. No vital statistics have been found. We may surmise that Friedrich was Lutheran, and that he expected his son to be brought up in that faith.

That is because Louise Hardt Heinrich , Fritz's mother, was a Catholic all her life, identified as such even in the Parish Taufregister , Fritz's baptismal register in the Evangelical Church of Wittigwalde. In fact, according to Grandma Bertha, Louise had spent three years in a Catholic cloister. Her birthday has been given as May 4, 1822 or 1824, which would put her in her 40's at the time of Fritz's birth. There has never been any mention of other children.
    Louise must still have been living in Osterwein 19 years later when she and some neighbors, including the Brick Mason family of Daniel GERGOLLA, emigrated to the U.S. Her ship, the S.S. Australia left Hamburg on April 26, 1883, and arrived in New York May 14. Fritz was not aboard!

But where was he? It may be true that he was kept from emigrating by German officials. Yet we don't believe he ever served in the Prussian Army. As for the apprenticeship, it seems more likely that he learned the trade that he practiced in Chicago, that of stone and brick mason. It seems possible he learned the trade through his relationship with his future father-in-law, Carl Roloff. When and how did he emigrate? The name Fritz or Friedrich Heinrich was not found among later ship's passenger records. But we know he made it to Chicago by 1885 -- after all, he had a date to marry Theresa Roloff! The answer may be found among the records of the Roloff Family...

CARL ALBERT ROLOFF , according to Grandma Bertha, was born in 1826 in East Prussia. Around 1853 he married Augusta BAER (or BEHR - spellings vary), who had been born in 1834 in Marienwerder , West Prussia (Polish Kwidzyn). Marienwerder, Castle of Teutonic Knights Carl was said to have owned and operated a brick yard and general store in the city of Elbing . He and Augusta may have had as many as 11 children. The oldest to survive and eventually emigrate to America was Albert, born 18 Dec. 1855. Emilia was born in 1859; there also appears to have been a daughter named Bertha. Our great-grandmother Theresa Marie was born in 1864; Augusta in 1868; and Hermann, in 1879.

Big brother Albert led the way to the New World, landing in Philadelphia in December of 1880. He may have come to Chicago to work and to make preliminary arrangements for the others. The rest of the family followed in 1883, listing their home town as Osterwein -- the birthplace of Fritz Heinrich. On board the Polaria on April 4 when it steamed from Hamburg were 57-year old Carl Roloff with his 49-year old wife Augusta; and his children Theresa, 19 years old; Augusta, 9 years old; and Herman, 8. Also traveling with them from Osterwein were 24-year old Bertha with her husband Johann ZULEWSKY , 25. At least 15 others from Osterwein were on the same ship. But the most intriguing entry is that of "Franz" HEINRICH, 19 year old " Arbeiter ", or laborer. I have to believe this is none other than our Great Grandpa "Fritz" making his way to the USA with the family of his future bride. (In contradiction of the family lore, the Polaria was actually leaving Germany some weeks before Fritz's mother Louise Heinrich.) Nevertheless, Fritz and Theresa would marry and raise their family in Chicago, fulfilling the romance of the family legend. The other Roloffs would go on to the hardships of homesteading on the Great Plains of the Dakota Territory.

The GERGOLLA FAMILY has a lengthy history, going back to the 1700's in Osterwein. Daniel and Gottliebe Gergolla appear in Wittigwalde Evangelische Church records many times in the 1800's, as godparents to other children of Osterwein, and as parents of a stillborn child of their own. Our Heinrich/Roloff family's connection with the Gergollas is documented by the Hamburg ship's record of Louise Heinrich's trip aboard the S. S. Australia S. S. Australia to New York in 1883. With her on board were D. Gergolla, his wife Gottliebe, and son Adolph. (An older son, Gottfried Gergolla, emigrated separately and would eventually marry Emilia Roloff.) With Carl Roloff and his family on board the Polaria , leaving Hamburg on April 4, 1883 was Wilhelmine SCHUSTER, 19 years old, and her infant son Albert. Later information would indicate that Wilhelmine was a young widowed daughter of the Gergollas. Together, the Gergollas and Roloffs were about to set out on a pioneering adventure. Along the way they would find love, toil, and sorrow in the Dakota Territory.

CLICK HERE for a South Dakota Photo Essay and Album

CLICK HERE for a gallery of Photos of the Heinrich, Gergolla, and Zulewsky Families

CLICK HERE to view the Ship's Passenger Lists of the Polaria and Australia

CLICK HERE to read about the Heinrichs and Roloffs in America.


OSTPREUSSEN, the East Prussia homeland of the Heinrichs and Roloffs, is little known by Americans, and increasingly forgotten by many Germans as well. Yet this eastern land was once the most powerful German state, with a long history of bloody struggle, triumph -- and defeat.

The original Prussians were a pagan Baltic people (speaking a language related to Lithuanian and Estonian) who occupied the woodlands and marshes of that coastal area east of Pomerania, roughly between the Vistula and the Memel Rivers. From the tenth century, Polish rulers established dominion over much of the area, with Germans establishing trading posts, settlements, and monasteries in the 12th century. From 1226, the Order of the Teutonic Knights, a militant German monastic order, began a campaign to subjugate (and christianize) the native population, building forts and towns and claiming territory as they fought on. More and more German settlers established villages; Danzig (Gdansk) became a principal city of the Hanseatic League, along with Elbing, Koenigsburg and others. Clashes with the Poles grew in intensity and frequency. The Teutonic Knights suffered defeat at the hands of a joint Polish-Lithuanian force at the Battle of Tannenburg in 1410, but war and strife continued for many decades within and along Prussia's shifting borders.

The Reformation brought the Lutheran religion and more Protestants to the German-held lands, while much of West Prussia remained under Polish rule. In 1618 Prussia was united with the Northern German kingdom of Brandenburg by a royal marriage, and drawn increasingly into the political and military contests of the rest of Europe. The Thirty Years War between 1618 -1648 saw Swedish attacks on West Prussian territory. The Seven Years War 1756-1763 resulted in much destruction as Prussia under Frederick the Great fought Russia, Austria, Sweden, and France. However, by 1792 the partition of Poland led to Prussia's acquisition of West Prussia and more territory added to the Prussian Kingdom. The Invasion of Prussia by Napolean made East Prussia the scene of French and Russian occupation and bloody battles. When the conflict was over, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 established new boundaries of Prussia, with Koenigsburg emerging as the royal capital. East Prussian aristocrats, known as "Junkers", owned vast estates, and their dedication to military leadership was to many synonymous with the Prussian character.

In 1862 Otto von Bismarck was named chancellor of Prussia, and under his leadership many of the smaller scattered German kingdoms united with Prussia and Brandenburg. Prussian military might fueled a series of wars. In 1862 the war with Denmark won the provinces of Schleswig and Holstein. In 1866, Austria was defeated in the Battle of Koeniggratz. The Franco-Prussian War, beginning in 1870, resulted in the complete defeat of France. Germany was united as a great empire, with Wilhelm I of Prussia proclaimed emperor. This was the Prussia left behind by our immigrant forebears.

In the years following the emigration of Fritz Heinrich, the Roloffs and Gergollas, the ancestral lands would be torn by war Prussia ca. 1937 and defeat. Wilhelm II became emperor in 1888 and the country began its inexorable plunge toward the Great War. In 1914, most of East Prussia became a battlefield. The Battle of Tannenburg, in which Samsonov's invading Russian army was destroyed, swirled around the area of Osterwein and nearby towns. Germany was to win the battle yet lose the war, with a heavy price to pay: Not only were reparations and restrictions on Germany to cripple its economy -- the province of West Prussia, was turned over to the victors, creating a "Polish Corridor" to the Baltic Sea. Once again, East Prussia was geographically separated from the rest of Germany. As the borders were redrawn, cities such as Marienwerder just barely stayed Prussian.

The post-war period is infamous for the rampant inflation and economic hardships suffered by the Germans. It was during this time that the HARDT family, relatives of Louise Hardt Heinrich, emigrated to the U.S., sponsored by Grandma Bertha Heinrich. This was also a time of internal struggle that led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

WWII was the ultimate disaster for East Prussia. From Prussian airfields the first dive bombers took off in the blitzkrieg attacking Poland. Hitler's Wolf's Lair, the Wolfschantze , was hidden in the heart of Ostpreussen. After the collapse of the Eastern Front, East Prussia became a battlefield once more. As German troops retreated, the province was virtually abandoned; civilians were left to the depradations of the Red Army, and hundreds of thousands died. Prussia today no longer exists as a nation, its German population dispersed, its government dismantled, and its territory confiscated as a result of the Third Reich's destruction. Russia keeps Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) and the northern area to this day, and Poland maintains control over the rest.

CLICK HERE for the map of Osterwein and Wittigwalde

CLICK HERE for the Heinrich Photo Gallery, which includes maps and photos of the East Prussian homelands

Research into our family's East Prussian history is hindered by several problems


Crabwalk. Günter Grass. Harcourt, Inc./Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, 2002. (Novel's narrator sidesteps his way to an examination of the tragic WWII sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

The Vanished Kingdom. James Charles Roy.Westview Press,1999 (Mostly About East Prussia, Then and Now)

A Terrible Revenge - The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans 1944-1950 . Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, 1994.

From the Ruins of the Reich - Germany 1945-1949. Douglas Botting. New American Library, 1985.

The Flounder. Guenter Grass. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. (Crazy, ribald, fantastic novel with interesting tales of "Pomorshian" history).

The Tin Drum. Guenter Grass. (Novel - A Kashubian's - somewhat skewed - view of Danzig before and during WWII. Film is available on video.)

A Child of East Prussia. Hiltrud Maria Masuch Webber. HMW Publications, 1996. (Touching Personal Memoir).

Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia: Records, Sources, Publications, & Events . Edward R. Brandt and Adalbert Goertz. Edward R. Brandt, 2002. (Must be the definitive guide for genealogists, and quite up to date.)

August 1914 . Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (The revised version is weighed down by obscure Russian historical events, but the core is still great historical fiction describing the Battle of Tannenburg.)

GERMAN BOY: A Child in War. Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. Hodder and Stoughton. 2002. (Memoir of flight from the East in the last days of WWII, and growing up as a postwar refugee in the occupied territory.)


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