rederick II, often called Frederick the Great, used the treasury and disciplined army that his father had built up to make Prussia one of the great powers of Europe as he began his reign in 1740. In that same year, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,Charles VI of Austria, died. Maria Theresa, Charles VI's daughter, was left all the Hapsburg family properties. It was the seizing of Silesia, an Austrian province, that began the conquests of Frederick II. Maria Theresa formed an alliance between France, Sweden, Russia, Saxony, Austria and other countries in 1756, hoping to punish Frederick for his arrogance. The ultimate result of this punishment is known as the Seven Years' War, along with a decisive victory for Frederick II. It was at the same time, on June 7, 1777, Johann David Christoph Retzlaff was born in Doeringshagen near Path in the province of Promorania. He was later known as a teacher who ran his own private school in Bromberg. From his grandmother he inherited a large grainery that had been destroyed during the Seven Years' War. He married Charlotte Elizabeth Ebel whose father was a townsman and owner of a distillery in Greifenhagen. During the conquests of Napoleon, the French Revolution and the abolishment of the Holy Roman Empire, Johann David Christoph Retzlaff's first son was born April 4, 1811, in Strczelno, Bromberg.
Franz Ferdinand Retzlaff would become a great educator, the same as his father. After being educated for the profession of a teacher in the Lexonsberger High Schools as a youth, he later taught in those same schools for over fifty-five years. At twenty-three, his eventful life was greatly enhanced with his marriage to Emilie Josephine Helena Swirzynski on May 19, 1834. Franz Ferdinand, in his records, tells that his wife's parents, Stanislaus and Franziska, were foresters (of the Catholic faith) and her mother's parents lived and worked a lying farm (in the villages of Eastern Germany, the owners of farms were free from taxes if they had people live and work the farm for them). His marriage was blessed with happiness and many, many children -- fourteen to be exact. Of those fourteen children (the average difference in their birth dates being a little over two years), nine lived to maturity. Five of them ultimately moved to America; their descendants make up five of the nine major branches of the Retzlaff family.
At the age of sixty-nine, Franz Ferdinand's father died on August 11, 1846, in Gorzisnniowo, a suburb of Bromberg. A mere five years later, on April 11, 1851, his mother also died. Tragedy once again struck when his wife died on February 8, 1879 -- anevent that seemed to affect him deeply. His feelings of loss were vividly expressed in the following letter to his children in America, written in 1881, primarily to tell them of his impending, relatively unexpected marriage.God may give that you will receive these letters soon and properly!.
My tenderly beloved children!
Now I must write you again; since long I would have done that, but I have to confess that I find it hard, very hard, to answer to your letters; I would very much like to help but I can't. If I read your letters and I imagine the miseries of your life, my poor daughter, I surely feel as if my heart should come to a standstill, and I would so much like to help if possible. I am afraid you will not believe it; and I myself would not believe it if I couldn't see it indeed; but today it doesn't run better than in the past though I have more [income] then formerly, I think you will remember how it was in the past; I am still as short as in the past; I must sit still yet for there are happening facts which must be satisfied first, and then there is nothing left over for me. You will surely remember, and I have told that, at mother's death there were only 7 Mark left, i.e., 2 thalers and 10 silver groschen [1 groschen - 1D], I am not quite sure but I think so. For the funeral I had to run up debts of 60 thalers which I could not settle till the next year, while Reinhold was still in the training-college for teachers; when he left it he was to get a new suit as all the others; it costs more than 40 thalers. This I kept house with Gill and the girl (I don't know if I told you that) for Adline went after the death of mother to my brother Fritz where she stayed for some time before she married him; Gill got 20n thalers, the girl 10 ones, without clothes. My son Arnold was at home; he spent much; beside that I let case an enclosure for dear mother's grave, it cost 104 thalers. One year, that was from October 13th, 1880 till 26th of October, 1881 -- that is last autumn -- I lived together with my brother Fritz and Adline. They kept ahorse and on the whole they lived quite nobly, so the income did not last out. Moreover, my semi-centennial approached, which was celebrated on July 12th this year. It is true, I was very glad that our Lord sent me the mercy and let me be 50 years a teacher, but it was very expensive, too, for I had to expect very many guests, and indeed very many came: 20 teachers, the farmers from the neighborhood, men and women from our villages, the [vicar? pastor], the Councillor for the schools of the Government, and there were about 150 persons; they must be entertained, so that the day cost 50 thalers. Well, I got my presents: from the vilage an astrakhan-peltry fured with beaver fur; from the teachers a valuable armchair which can be shifted 31 times, for lying in, sitting in different manners, for writing and reading, and many other small things; from my sister-in-law Krause, now a widow, a nice memorial tablet, printed and put under glass and black framed, with a wreath of laurel and a long,broad, white satin ribbon; she spent for it 6 thalers. The Government sent the Order of the House of Hohenzollern which the Councillor brought and attached to me. You can surely imagine, dear children, even if I was very, very glad, I was so full of woe that I could have had a bath in my tears; for I was thinking of all my dear ones, scattered all over the world, unable to sympathize with my joy, but most of all I remembered dear mother who had looked forward to this feast with ardent desire since long and who is now not given to see it now. And it was heartbreaking for me when I thought of your miseries, my dear daughter. Please, add to these expenses those which Arnold made; at the 2nd of January he joined the army in Namslau in Schlesien in a regiment of Dragoons. First he made the journey twice, each of which cost 8 thalers for me, that is, 16 thalers before he joined the army; and when he was there, he needed always something, the common military effects wouldn't do if he wanted to be in some reputation with his comrades and superiors, so 25 thalers were hardly sufficient; besides that he gets 2 thalers a month as a help for his eatables and his other wants. When my semi-centennial approached, he wanted to take part, too, and then he didn't like to come in a shabby uniform, and so I was obliged to send him 25 thalers for a new one and for the journey. Last month he got 9 more thalers for a pair of pants made of stag's leather to prevent him from making sore on riding. So it always takes place, my dear children, and you can imagine that nothing remains for me; in the contrary, I'll never have enough money; and I can assure you that my heart bleeds if I think about you and your miseries, especially because I would like to help you but I cannot. I myself cut down my wishes whereever I can, I am still eating my piece of bread dry when having coffee as in the past, since you, my dear son-in-law, made me a coat in Fordon in the year 1868, I had only one which had become very shabby meanwhile; and if Reinhold and Adline hadn't clubbed up and bought one for the semi-centennial, well, I would have restrained my wishes and wouldn't have bought a new one up to now, for I had no money at all. My dear children -- after the dear mother's death I have tried to keep house in two ways, but nothing left in both the ways when I kept house with the Gill, 100 thalers must have been left for me which I would have given to you with all my heart if I hadn't had remained in my debts of 60 thalers for the funeral and if I hadn't had ordered the enclosure of the grave. When I kept house with my brother and Adline, I had food and drinking at the baker's, it is true, I took part in the drives, too, from Bromberg, Krone, etc., even for Fordon to the conferences (but alone), but I had to pay for me always; besides there was the equipment for Arnold as I described it above and then the semi-centennial and now there is nothing left again. As I didn't agree with my brotherwell and the housekeeping cost too much, I took care of being separated again; now they went back to Marienburg in the town, they were living now not in their own house, they rented a flat and pay 40 thalers for it. I myself will try to keep house for the third time; and this shall be the last time, if God wills it. And if that doesn't do, I shall give up housekeeping and I shall get retired. I would do that even now, but for Arnold's and your sake, I will not do it, because he and you two are so needy, and I want to help you. Since Fritz and Adline are off again, I have taken in my house Mathilde Retzlaff, the daughter of brother Georg from his second wife. She is 30 years old and has lost her health and her nerve strengths when serving as a maid and she needs now lighter burden further on, and I hope that in my olden days she will not only look for me and keep my house but she will also take care of me. And that she doesn't use her last youth on me, I have decided to compensate her for it by marrying her so she can get as a teacher's widow the widow pension as long as she lives, and her things will be settled, even if poorly.
We think now, as long as God donates us life and he will give me health and strength, to hold my position, to lead a frugal life that we may be able to help you, and I think my future wife will agree. Yesterday I began the holdays for the dear Christmas Days, today is Christmas Eve, and as I always felt much sadness in my heart so I feel especially today and when writing to you very much while thinking of your miseries, and there comes up the question: how may be my dear children in America, what's about the poor Graunkes, will their dear little children be pleased with a gift for Christmas? I would have liked to send them something if I had known on which way and if our bank-notes have full currency in America. The other day I let tax all my property; there are here all the old to you know things; their value, inclusive the two cows, the beds and the linen and the well known golden rings comes up to 106 thalers and 20 silver groschen; you all will get your share of it, and therefore you must send a full mandatory power attested before a notary and signed by the consul of Prussia, or you must resign your claims on the inheritance, but that must also be certified by a notar and the consul.
Our, or better, my circumstances I have told you quite exactly, but I have no time to write to you all, for Christmas Eve begins, and I want to finish this letter now. My sincerest prayer rises up to God that he may send you high spirits today and during the Christmas days as he sends it to thousands and thousands today. Of all of us I can send your our best regards and tell you that they are all safe and sound. If you will get this letter, please, write to us soon, or best, immediately, even if there are only a few lines, for I eagerly like to know if you get our letters. And don't forget to write to which value our 20-Mark-pieces will be accepted and if they are taken. A 20-Mark-piece is 3 thalers and 20 silver groschen.
To Christmas the dear New Year will follow. May our Lord send you his rich blessing on each day that no good may be missed! These are the sincerest wishes of your father for you and yours, for the children, mother, sons-in-law and daughters-inlaw. When greeting you many thousand times, and your dear mother, too (for I hope that our Lord has saved her for you) and all the dear relatives I am yours sincerely father
(signed) Franz Ferdinand Retzlaff
Goldmark / Klarheim December 24, 1881
Note (written along the edge as a side note):
As I have misplaced your address and I cannot find it at all, I am not able to send you this letter directly; I must send it to Adolph and ask him that he may send it to you; but I shall write him a letter, too, and so he must wait also some more days. My dear Son,
Inasmuch as you are about to undertake a long journey as you leave to go into a foreign land, it is deemed right and proper that I give you my profound blessing to accompany you on your way.
But what more could I give you than the blessings found in the Holy Scriptures, which the pious Tobias gave his son as he was about to ready to leave home. Tobias 5:23 - "Go, therfore, and may God be with you and may his angels accompany you." Or, the blessings which the pious Isaac gave his son Jacob - Genesis 27:28 - "Therefore, God give thee of the dew of Heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine." At the same time, I would give you the vigorous teachings and exhortations, which the pious Tobias gave his son, and to which I have already referred, and add thatportion of the Holy Scriptures, which is found in Psalm 37:37 - "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." As the Apostle Peter once said: "Silver and gold have I none, but what I have (the Bible, the Songbook and the Prayerbook) I give you in the name of Jesus of Nazareth."
If I were to give you lots of riches consisting of worldly goods, I still could not feel assured that all will be well with you in time and eternity; but if you will take the gifts I have given you and use them diligently, and if you will direct your life in accordance with their admonitions; then, I can feel assured it will go well with you in time and eternity. Accordingly, never lose sight of God, nor permit him to leave your heart. Whatever you do, in words or in deeds, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, and thank God and the Father through him. Sing and pray and go along God’s way; do what is expected of you in loyalty, and have faith in the Heavenly blessing, for he who puts his faith in God will not be forsaken by Him. We know from the stories of old, like Jacob; also men of later years, like Paul and Gerhard and others. "Pray without ceasing," we are admonished in I Thessalonians 5:17. In a devotional song we sing "Come prayerfully and often with a joyful heart before the Lord;let no indifference overcome you to share with him a word." This is your duty. Fulfill it to the honor of God and for your salvation. Remember the many things I have been trying to each you, and do not ignore the many opportunities that will be given you to do good.
Preserve these gifts as the only heritage from your father and regard them as the highest gifts he could give you, and if you do preserve them, you may say as did Jacob of old - Genesis 32:10 - "Lord I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou has shown unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands."
And should you in accordance with God's wise plan, find yourself in difficult circumstances, and should the future hold experiences which cause you concern, you will find greatest comfort in remembering the goodness of God in days gone by.
Just a few more days and you will leave our Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters. However, if you, and all of us, will fear God, keep from sinning, and practice love and himility before the Lord our God, then we will be constantly together in spirit; and when we gather together here in prayer in the morning and evening, we shall see you in the flesh; likewise, our spirit will be with you constantly, especially the spirit of your loving father. Oh, how happy He will be to hear that you are going along the pathway of piety and virtue. To that end may God give you strength through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Go, therfore, in the name of God, go. God be with you, not only on your way to America, but also along the way through life. May His Angels accompany you. This is the wish of your loving Father.
(signed) Franz Ferdinand Retzlaff
Goldmark / Klarheim
November 10, 1855
After an extremely full life -- a life that would be remembered by many people -- Franz Ferdinand Retzlaff died at the age of ninety-three years, two months and twelve days, on June 16, 1904. His coffin was carried by six old men (the last of his first class) to the grave sight in the cemetery at Goldfeld, West Prussia. The parsons of both confessions and the Jewish rabbi spoke at the grave. On this and the following page are several of the notices of his death. As one of them relates, his memory shall surely reach beyond the grave.
For the numerous expressions of sympathy which were offered us at the death of our loyal husband and father, and for the many floral offerings, we wish to take these means of expressing our
Special thanks go to Reverend Mr. Kriele for his conforting words at the service, and to Reverend Mr. Botticher-Prinzenthal for his words of comfort at the grave of our beloved in Goldmark; to the association of retired teachers in Bromberg and vicinity; to the 'Kaisertrue' Choral Club for their inspiring songs; to the Teachers Association of Klahrheim and vicinity for their beautiful songs; to Mr. Professor Kringel of Goldmark for his untiring efforts in behalf of the family; and to the former students of the deceased for expressions of their friendship and for their attendance.
Mathilde Retzlaff, nee Retzlaff, and Children