Saturday, July 6, 2013
Funeral Customs in Pommern
In Vor Pommern, death was not something to fear, but it was seen as something inevitable. So to assist the dying to bridge the path to the other world, the Pastor was called to administer the last sacrament. When the final hour was near, the members of the immediate family would gather around the deathbed. All the windows were opened so there would be no obstacle to prevent the soul from going directly to heaven. A prayer was said and an appropriate song was sung. When death came, all the clocks in the house were stopped and the mirrors were covered. A mirror was an object of earthly vanity and was no longer needed. Covering the mirrors with a black cloth was believed to ban satanic powers.
At the following day, the church bell would ring at three different intervals. The gravediggers, usually the neighbors, had already left for the cemetery to prepare the grave. As soon as the sod was cleared the bells would ring for the first time. When half the digging was done, the bells would ring a second time. As soon as the work was done, the bells would ring the third and last time. Work stopped at each of the ringing of the bells.
The deceased was always laid out in the living room of the house in the morning. The coffin had to be placed so that the foot end was towards the door. It also had to be carried out that way, feet first, so that the deceased could not drag any of the mourners with him. The deceased shoes many times were laid outside near the entrance of the house. Often a hymnal was laid in the coffin so that the dead could immediately sing the praises of the Lord at judgment day.
A fishing net was placed in the coffin of a fisherman. A toy was placed in the coffin of a child. A candle was placed in the hands of an older person so that their souls would find their way to heaven. When an estate owner or farmer died, it was the custom that all the livestock is taken to the barnyard as soon as the body was taken out of the house. This was the way that the animals would know that their owner had passed away. The coffin was transported to the cemetery on a horse drawn wagon.
Everybody watched the horses. If the horses turned their heads in the direction of the farmstead, they believed this was a sign that someone in that house would be the next to die. If the horses stopped for a short time to rest in front of a house, death would come soon to someone living there.
After the burial, everyone went to church, where the Pastor would hold a service. The type of service held depended upon how much money the
Pastor received. The cost of a simple sermon was about a Taler. A sermon with what was called a Ruhmeszettel cost five Taler. In the Ruhmeszettel the pastor would mention all the good things the deceased had done.
There was a funeral repast at the house of the mourning after the church service. A meal was served usually chicken soup, roast beef, and some kind of sweet dessert. Later, coffee and cakes would be served in great quantities. At first the mourners wore solemn expressions on their faces, but after several servings of brandy, they soon loosened their expressions. Little by little, a cheerfulness replaced the sadness. In Vor Pommern funerals were always reasons for families to get together.
The Pomeranian culture and traditions lasted several generations but were lost during World War II when animosity toward Germans kept the culture in the closet for fear of persecution. Today some families are bringing these traditions back to their children. Harry Claussen (See:58 ii. 43) the grandfather of Annette Perrone (See: i. 59) always sang "O Tannenbaum" to his children and grandchildren at Christmas. These were special times and fondly remembered by all of us. It is hoped the older generations in the Claussen family will teach some of these traditions to their children and their grandchildren.
Martha and Les Riggle, Witchita, Kansas
Elaine Kraft, Cedarburg Wisconsin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper December 11, 2002
The Christmas Keeping Germans by Neita Oviatt Friend, Eagles Nest Publications Hartland Wisconsin 53029