From: Matthias C. Teichert

History of the Neumark

Special Thanks: Jürgen Fritsche, Jim Eggert, Charles Gohlke, & Erwin Fettchenhauer.

Early History

The region of the former Prussian province of Brandenburg, east of the Oder river, was referred to as the Neumark (New Borderland).  Its history is inseparable from that of the rest of Brandenburg.

Originally the Neumark was inhabited by several different Germanic tribes, the Burgunder, Rugians, Semnonen, and Vandals.  During the 3rd and 4th centuries many of the "Elbe-Oder-Vistula" tribes moved south, leaving sparse groups behind. This allowed several small Slavic tribes (collectively referred to as the Wends) to penetrate the region which occurred around 500 AD. The remaining Germanic tribes intermarried with the Wends (Leubuzzi, Lusizzi, Pomeranians, and Redarii). As a result many of the original Germanic names of rivers and other topographical features remained and as well as some aspects of the culture.


In the early 1200's, the Neumark belonged to the Duke von Glogau of the famous Polish Piasten family. The Piastens encouraged settlement by selling pieces of land to German knights and monasteries. Most of this land passed to the German Markgraf von Brandenburg who began settling the Neumark. The Markgraf von Brandenburg sent out messengers (similar to Helmold's chronicle),

"... into all the regions ... to Flanders and Holland, to Utrecht, Westphalia and Frisia, proclaiming that all who were oppressed by want of land should go thither with their families; there they would receive the best of soils, rich in fruits and abounding in fish and flesh, and blessed with fine pastures ...".

At the time it was largely uninhabited forest except for a few Wendisch settlements. The area was then settled by Dutch, Flemish, Frisian, and German settlers in the mid-1200's. In 1242, the Neumark was formally founded. The Wends in the area were "Germanized" and absorbed into the local German culture. The dialects of the Neumark were influenced by the settlers, primarily from northwestern Germany - Westphalia (although some came from Hessen and Thüringen) and the Netherlands. As a result the dialects had a certain "Platt" German or Dutch characteristic.

Settlement occurred by building a series of towns surrounded by villages. Each city and village was planned using then current civic design that could be duplicated. The towns offered a source of commerce and safety for the outlying villages in the dense forest of the Neumark. The capital required for settlement was substantial. An undertaker or locator ("Unternehmer") would personally undertake the founding of a town or village. Often these Unternehmer were wealthy bürger but not uncommonly knights or Ministeriales (bureaucrats) of the Markgraf. In return they would receive large portions of land and the position of village magistrate or "Schultheiss". Settlers usually received 1 Hufen (hide) which was equivalent to 42-60 acres to farm. Their holdings were freely alienable and heritable and they farmed the land as they saw fit. To help colonists get on their feet, they were granted a number of tax free years and often clergy remitted tithe in whole or part for a number of years. A extensive series of castles were also built to defend the Neumark from the Poles.

Villages in the Neumark were planned along the Waldhufen design. This design was ideal for the dense Neumark forests. Usually the founding of a Waldhufen began in a forest clearing. The Waldhufen village consisted of 50-60 Hufen (1 Hufe = 42-60 acres). Homes were arranged in a row along the village street, separated about a Hufe apart from each other. The fields were arranged in long narrow strips side by side that ended at the edge of the dwellings. Another more traditional village design occasionally used was the Gewanndorf. This was used in open fields.  Each Gewann encompassed 1 Hufen in furlong fashion. However the Neumarks dense forests hindered the establishment of the traditional Gewanndorf, instead favoring the Waldhufen. In some areas swamps and marshes were drained or diked to provide more arable land, utilizing the settlers skills from their original homelands. The Wendisch settlements already in existence developed over time in similar manner to the German village design.

The primary motivation for settlers was the feudal system and the lack of land in the West.  The East represented an abundance of land, self determination, and freedom from feudal control. Local nobility did not interfere with civil matters and exercised no jurisdiction over the cities or villages. Often the noble was a peasants neighbor rather than a landlord. The people and towns were directly responsible to the Markgraf von Brandenburg. To the Marksgraf von Brandenburg, the Neumark represented a new land free of cumbersome feudal aristocracy.

As a result of being unhindered by old traditions and constraints, the progressive society of the Neumark quickly prospered. Already by the late 1200s and early 1300s, corn from the Neumark was being sold in the markets of Flanders, Frisia, Netherlands, and western Germany.


The terror of the Bubonic Plague or Black Death reached the forests, villages, and towns of the Neumark in 1351 from the west (although it originated in the Russian Steppes). The population identified the plague as the "Pest Jungfrau" who flew through the air as a blue flame, who only had to raise her hand to infect a victim, and was often seen emerging from dead victims mouths in this guise.

With the arrival of the Plague in the Neumark came the Brethren of the Cross or the Flagellant Movement. The Flagellants were a European religious movement that believed in placating "God's wrath" (the Plague) with self inflicted whippings of penance. Marching from city to city in a somber procession, carrying a whip with metal studs, each trying to outdo his neighbor in pious suffering with self-inflicted whippings. Most of the populace just watched in amazement as the Brethren chanted hymns and went about their display before moving onto the next city. Often locals would celebrate the arrival with fiddle and drink. People were not eager to join but hoped the Brethren's efforts would stop the Plague. Occasionally the arrival of the Brethren even stirred a spiritual reawakening in the locals. Local clergy wisely avoided confrontation with the Brethren. The Flagellants also became infamous for slaughtering Jews (who supposedly were agents of the Pest Jungfrau, poisoning wells with a powder from the Orient). Many of the few Jews in Brandenburg and the Neumark fled for safety in Poland. Rather quickly local clergy, church officials, and nobility became alarmed at the Flagellants practices and numbers. The movement was often not allowed entrance into cities or the use of churches. After being condemned by Pope Clement VI, various other church officials and nobility, the Flagellant Movement was violently extinguished in the Neumark and the rest of Europe.

The Pest Jungfrau appeared again in 1356 exacting a particularly high toll among children. The population began to slowly recover in the 15th century, albeit hard hit areas took 100 years to recover. Despite the terror and drastic population decline, the period after the Plague was quite prosperous in the Neumark, as vacant positions needed to be filled and people inherited dead relatives fortunes and land.

In 1402 King Sigismund (who was also the Elector of Brandenburg) sold the Neumark along with the Driesen region (1408) to the Deutsche Orden (Teutonic Knights). In February of 1454 the Teutonic Knights defeated Poland at the Battle of Könitz and sold the Neumark to the Marksgraf and Elector of Brandenburg, Friedrich II der Eiserne (The Iron) von Hohenzollern.


Under Joachim I the Renaissance blossomed in Brandenburg and the Neumark. He encouraged and supported it financially, attracting many great lawyers, theologians, architects, smiths, and artisans from Meissen and Saxony. The designs and work of the great Italian masters could be seen in cities of the Neumark and in particular the Bürgerhäuse (wealthy citizens homes) of Küstrin. The University of Frankfurt an der Oder was established in 1506 by Joachim II, who fulfilled his fathers dream of creating a university. The university quickly became renowned under the direction of the Dominican Order.

In 1535 Markgraf Joachim I died. His sons, Joachim II and Hans, divided his land between them. The youngest, Hans, received all of the land east of the Oder River (the smaller portion), the Neumark. The Neumark was now a seperate state, standing on its own. Hans became known as Markgraf Hans von Küstrin and went about building up Küstrin as his capital city of the Neumark. In order to finance his building projects he raised taxes and created a beer tax or Biersteuer (very unpopular). Hans enjoyed traveling throughout the Neumark and getting to know his subjects. On one particular occasion he disguised himself as a Danish soldier. In his travels he encountered a innkeeper's wife in Ziebingen (Kreis Weststernberg). Upon entering the inn he proceeded to question the woman about her views of the Markgraf's government. She told him that she knew only what others were saying, that the greedy Markgraf, his building projects, and taxes, in particular the Biersteuer, were very unpopular. The Danish soldier then called for the Lords von Löben and von Ziebingen into the room, both of whom greeted the Markgraf. The innkeeper's wife realized immediately who the Danish soldier really was and she fell prostrate to the floor before him. Hans laughed and gave her a friendly hand, saying that he rarely hears such truth as hers from his council. The Markgraf then halted his building projects and he proved to be a popular, benevolent ruler. Stories about his interaction with common people abound.The Neumark remained a seperate entity until 1571, when it rejoined the rest of Brandenburg.

The Holy Roman Empire became engulfed in religious and social turmoil during the Reformation of the 1500s. The Neumark, like the rest of Brandenburg, readily accepted "Wittenbergisch Christentum" (Lutheranism) over "Römisch Christentum" (Catholicism). Luther's teachings were officially recognized by the Holy Roman Empire at the Augsburg Conference of 1530 although Calvinism was not. However problems and animosity existed between Catholics and Protestants; problems which the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 failed to solve. By 1608 Protestant lands had formed the Evangelical Union and this was soon followed by the Catholics Holy League in 1609. In 1618, the von Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg inherited the Duchy of Prussia, linking Brandenburg, the Neumark, and Prussia politically, a bond that would not be broken for 329 years, until 1947 (when Prussia was abolished).

In that same year events in Prague ignited perhaps the most devastating and shaping event of German history, the Thirty Years War (1618-48). Imperial and Protestant armies engulfed the empire with warfare and chaos. Brandenburg and her allies represented Protestant interests against Imperial Catholic interests. By 1625 the war had reached the Neumark as the desperate Protestant and Danish armies battled unsuccessfully against Imperial armies. At the same time the Neumark was menaced once again by the Bubonic Plague. Imperial armies, 50,000 strong, under General von Wallenstein trampled across the Neumark. Often on the heels of Imperial armies came equal numbers of followers bent on looting and plunder. Later that year Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus (The Lion of the North) came to the defense of the Protestant armies and chased the Imperial armies out of the Neumark, freeing Landsberg, and Küstrin. No village, no family, noble or peasant was spared the absolute destruction of the war in the Neumark. Some historians believe that the Neumark and many other parts of Germany never fully recovered for well over 100 years. An estimated one third of the population was killed. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 brought a end to the bloodshed and the destruction.


In 1701 Friedrich I (originally the III until he became King) ruler of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia united the two into the Kingdom of Prussia. From then on, Brandenburg remained the seat of Prussian power, and the Neumark became part of Prussia.

In 1722 poet Anna Louisa Dürbach "Die Karschin" was born in Hammer near Schwiebus. Anna became known as the "German Sappho" because of her antiquated style and criticism of the time in which she lived.

"... So grün der Wald, so bunt die Wiesen, so klar und silberschön der Bach, die Lerche sang für Belloisen und Belloise sang ihr nach."

After winning the Austrian War of Succession (1740-6), King Friedrich der Grossen (The Great) embarked on ambitious land reclamation projects in the Neumark along the Netze, Oder, and Warthe Rivers. Efforts began near Stettin an der Warthe, utilizing soldiers and military engineers (due to a labor shortage,) to build dikes and drain marshes to obtain land for agriculture. Already by 1753 some 4,000 colonists had been settled on reclaimed land. The marshes near Küstrin were drained and a canal was dug shortening the run of the Oder River by 18 miles and linking Küstrin with Friedewalde. The canals around Küstrin (today Kostryn, Poland) can be seen today on maps. Similar projects were undertaken along the Netze River, under the direction of Franz von Brenkenhoff, draining swamps and creating a route to the Baltic sea via a series of canals linking the Bromberg canal to the Vistula River. Amt Driesen attracted many Mennonites who settled on the reclaimed land. In total, the land reclamation projects in the Neumark could support 11,200 settlers. Friedrich der Grossen took great pride that his projects had established 122 new villages.

Austria still smarting from its loss to Prussia, began lining up allies sympathetic to its cause and began planning for action. Friedrich upon learning of their plans made the first move by invading Saxony. This began the Seven Years War (1756-63), which had ruinous effects on Brandenburg and the Neumark, as the four greatest armies of Europe, Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden converged devastatingly on the Neumark. Friedrich did a remarkable job holding off the 4 armies. The famous Rococo poet and physicist Ewald von Kleist (great uncle of Heinrich v. Kleist), mortally wounded, died on the battlefield at Kunersdorf in 1759. His exploits and poems were remembered in Lessings 1767 love play entitled "Minna von Barnhelm". On February 14, 1763, the Seven Years War came to a end with the signing of the Peace of Hubertsberg leaving things as they had been prior to the war.

Once again the Neumark lay in utter confusion and desolation. Whole regions were depopulated. It is estimated that a quarter of the population died. Küstrin was burned to the ground, as well as many other cities, and thousands of homes. The Neumark had not seen such devastation since the Thirty Years War. Friedrich der Grossen spent the rest of his life and huge sums of money rebuilding Prussia and especially the Neumark.  He not only financed thousands of homes but supplied food, seed, building materials, and horse and wagon teams to the Neumark. Küstrin alone was rebuilt at a staggering cost of 700,000 Thalers.


In 1815 a portion of the province Schlesien (Kreis Sorau) was incorporated into the Neumark. When the Kingdom of Prussia united with other German states (except Prussia's competitor Austria) to form the German Reich in 1871, the Neumark and Brandenburg became part of the new German nation. Berlin was the capital of Brandenburg until 1920, when it became a province itself and Potsdam became the capital of Brandenburg.  The Neumark was part of the Brandenburg district (Regierungsbezirk) Frankfurt an der Oder (see Civil Organization section).

In August of 1928 the famous poet Gottfried Benn died in Crossen (born in Sellin). In his last words he quoted Alfred Henschke's (another Neumark poet known as Klabund) "Ode an Crossen":

"Oft/ Gedenk ich deiner/ Kleinen Stadt am blauen/ Rauhen Oderstrom,/ Nebelhaft in Tau und Au gebettet/ An der Grenze Schlesiens und der Mark,/ Wo der Bober in die Oder,/ Wo die Zeit/ Mündet in die Ewigkeit-".

"Often/ I think of your/ Small city on the blue/ Rough Oder flow / Foggy in the dew / On the border of Schlesien and the Mark/ Where the Bober flows into the Oder/ Where the time/ Flows into eternity-."

In 1938 Kreis Meseritz and Kreis Schwerin-Warthe became part of Brandenburg, both had been part of the province of Grenzmark and prior to 1920 part of Posen. In a similar move, Kreis Arnswalde and Kreis Friedeberg were incorporated into the province of Pommern.

In 1945 in the closing days of the Nazi Third Reich, the Neumark and Brandenburg were the sites of extremely fierce fighting as the Red Army advanced from the east and southeast toward Berlin. Millions of refugees attempted to flee the Red Army and the following atrocities.

As of Jan. 11, 1945 the fighting along the Eastern Front was established deep in Poland along the Vistula River, just east of Warsaw, and north near the East Prussian-Lithuanian border.  On Jan. 12, 1945 the Red Army launched a massive attack of 1,000,000 men and 7000 tanks against 400,000 Germans and 1000 tanks. Strong points which were able to withstand the attack were bypassed as the Red Army headed for Berlin. By the end of the month the Soviets were deep into the Neumark. At this time the Neumark and other areas were subjected to a spree of unparalleled savagery, ethnic cleansing, and (as Stalin ordered) the deliberate, "systematic terrorization of German women" (including young girls).

Structurally, the city of Landsberg survived largely unscathed due to the Mayor surrendering the city on Jan. 30, 1945. To the north several battles were fought near Königsberg Nm. By Jan. 31, 1945 the Red Army had reached the eastern edge of Küstrin. In most places they had reached the shores of the Oder River. However in their path lay the heavily defended cities of Frankfurt an der Oder and Küstrin. The Red Army needed to take both in order to establish bridgeheads across the Oder for a final drive towards Berlin. Küstrin was tenaciously defended under General Busch as wave after wave of Red Army attackers were slaughtered attempting to cross the drainage ditches and canals. Spring flooding also helped to hamper Red Army efforts to take Küstrin. After months of having turned back overwhelming Soviet armies the defenders finally succumbed on March 28, 1945 and Küstrin surrendered. Soviet Marshall Georgi Zhukov made Küstrin his headquarters for the final drive for Berlin. Across the Oder River in the Seelow Heights German troops began to dig in and wait for the onslaught.

In 1945, as the result of the July Potsdam Conference, the Neumark, Silesia, most of Pomerania, West and East Prussia, were given to Poland by the Soviet Union, after the inhabitants had fled, been removed, or killed during the so called "Silent Genocide". The regions were then settled with Poles from the land lost by Poland to the Soviet Union in the east. In many cases the beds were still warm. The Poles did their best to remove any traces of the Neumark's former inhabitants.

The descendants of settlers who had cultivated the soil, built prosperous towns and idyllic villages now found themselves refugees without a home. Many Neumark refugees could identify with what the poet Andreas Gryphius from Glogau wrote about Schlesien after the Thirty Years War:

"Betrübtes (Neumark)! Bestürztes Vaterland! Was hast du, das der Grimm der Seuchen nicht verheeret? Das der geschwinde Blitz der Schwerter nicht verheeret? Was findet man bei Dir als Leichen, Stank, und Brand ... Nur eines hat dir nicht der rauche Sturm genommen: Recht unverfälschte Treu, die einen Sitz bekommen da, wo der traute Geist von meinem Freunde lebt. Ich irre: nein, wo ich! Er lebt in meinem Herzen und seine Seel in mir; ich fühle seine Schmerzen, er meine. (Neumark)! Dies ist, was dich erhebt."
"Grieving (Neumark)! Stunned Fatherland! What is left that has not been devastated by the grim epidemic? That the lightening swift sword has not destroyed? What man can you find that is not a stinking, burned corpse? ... Is there anything left that the smoke of the storm has not consumed? Justice is a place, unadulterated by the truth, where the intimate ghost of my friend lives. Am I going mad? Am I mistaken and in error? I am nowhere. My friend lives inside of my heart, and his soul in me. I feel his pain, it is mine. (Neumark)! this is how you now lift up our spirits."

After the war, the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik - Communist East Germany) insisted the new Oder-Neisse line/border was provisional. But on a bridge over the Neisse River in July of 1950, in the divided former city of Gorlitz, the prime ministers of both the DDR and Poland recognized "perpetual borders of peace." The West German government did not recognize the new German-Polish border until Dec. 7, 1970 but not legally. After the reunification of East and West Germany, the new German-Polish border was legally confirmed on Nov. 14, 1990 in Warsaw, Poland. This officially ended the history of the Neumark and a chapter of German history was closed. Today the Neumark is divided among 2 Polish provinces.

"Ade, Ade, mein liebe Heimatland" (Good Bye, good bye, my beloved homeland).

For those interested in the expulsions and "Silent Genocide" in eastern Europe and former parts of Germany, please see Gabriele Titze Burgess page for personal stories and suggested reading listed under the bibliography.

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