Sunday, February 06, 2005

Freiheitskaempfer und Dichter

I mention on my webpage that my great great grandfather's unit in the Civil War, the 27th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, was commanded by a German immigrant, Colonel Conrad Krez. In addition to being a colonel (and during the siege of Mobile a brevet brigadier general), Krez was also a well established lawyer and a fairly renowned poet. He was described by Wolfgang Diehl, his most recent biographer, as a "freiheitskaempfer" or freedom fighter, as well, mostly on account of his participation in the failed 1848 Revolution and for inciting a war between Prussia and Denmark over Schleswig Holstein, which resulted in his imprisonment, exile and emigration to America in 1851.

Diehl's biography of Krez was published in 1988, just as a former host of the television series 'Death Valley Days' was exhorting the then leader of the now defunct "evil empire" to "tear down that wall". The wall came down shortly thereafter, but it's still not clear that the Soviet Union really did much to bring it about. A previous biography of Krez by Ludwig Finckh was published fifty years earlier, shortly prior to the attack on Poland which plunged Europe into WWII. A bookseller's son and a noted writer of historical romances, Finckh's reputation now rests largely on his "relationship" with Herman Hesse, a contemporary whose works were translated into English and have enjoyed worldwide popularity and literary acclaim.

Neither of the biographies of Conrad Krez have, to my knowledge, yet been translated into English. Finckh's book, 'Ein Starkes Leben'; was published in Germany a year or two after the publication of 'An Mein Vaterland', a volume of the collected poems of Conrad Krez. Finckh's biography of Krez may have been written chiefly to promote sales in Germany of the Krez poems.

My German really isn't very good, but it's all I have and both of the biographies are written in German, so in the absence of a published translation, I've decided to offer my own. The opening chapter of the Diehl biography begins as follows:

Origins and Youth in Landau

"John Baptist Krez, my father, was born in Unterfranken in Wolfsmuenster, in the same village as his
schoolteacher father. He died in Athens of pneumonia far from his family, which he left in poverty.

My mother, Louise Henrietta Krez nee Naas, is from Landau on the Queich. Through long hours of
work, both day and night, a son was allowed to study and this son am I, her first born. I first saw the light of the world on April 27, 1828, in my grandparent's house in Landau. From her other four children only my brother, Paul, survived, who made his living as a salesman. I attended the Latin school in Landau until Class 3 and at age 12 I began writing poems, which at first barely rhymed, then afterward came counted syllables and finally measured lines of varied length and shortness, which I learned from a book that came to hand by accident.

In the last month of 1841 I found an opening at the religious seminary of Speyer where I attended the gymnasium. After a residence of two and a half years I was dismissed, despite my exemplary comportment. Apparently my audacious defense of Schiller's poetry offended some of my superiors."

Diehl notes in German that the last paragraph of this excerpt, quoted from a short Krez autobiography, was originally written in Greek. Conrad's father, John Krez, was conscripted from his schoolteaching duties to serve in a European army that took part in a war to liberate Greece from Turkey, a conflict that is now remembered chiefly through Lord Byron's scathing satire of it in 'Don Juan', certainly the longest if not the best poem in that corpus.


melinama said...

Craig! Thanks for visiting Pratie Place and leaving your comment, which I have forwarded to melina (of whom I am the ma) - she is a history major at Yale and I expect her to find the answers to your pressing questions within the suitable timeframe. Also I whisper to you that I, too, am a genealogist, though I haven't considered mixing my two furtive hobbies (blogging and genealogy) yet. I'm half Pennsylvania Dutch and have quite a few Civil War (and Rev War) ancestors. Don't tell anybody.

Craig said...


Thanks for stopping by to comment on my blog. I'll look forward to hearing what your daughter can find at the Yale library. My mother was Pennsylvania Dutch, but I don't work that side on my blog because that tree is already laid out on PA State Genealogy. Your post on Jean Lafitte is quite useful information for me as the focus for my blog is buried in St. Louis. It helps to explain why at war's end his unit was tidying up in the Gulf of Mexico.

spydrz said...

The "Richmond Rifles" was a mainly-German company in the First Virginia back during "the late unpleasantness." Commanded by a German, they fought in all the major battles of the first year of the war.

Craig said...

Hi Spydrz

I know there were Germans who signed on with the Confederacy as some of them immigrated to southern states with established German communities, though not in large numbers. Thomas Wolfe comes to mind as one example of a southerner with German heritage. I guess the skirmishes in Missouri during the first year of the war really didn't count as major battles. I'll take a look at the rosters for the 1st Virginia. Thanks for visiting.

Tom Carter said...

Fascinating to learn where Americans came from, why they came here, and what they accomplished. Much of the greatness of our country is owed to those European immigrants who often left their home countries under pressure.

Craig said...

Colonel Carter
I like to imagine that Colonel Krez appreciates your stopping by to salute his presence in the blogosphere as much as I do. I'll keep working on my German and perhaps he'll be featured as an ongoing attraction on my blog on a regular or at least an occasional basis. I'll alert you the next time he makes an appearance.