Zatom village sign

A Visit to Zatten

In the summer of 2005 I was able to make a visit to the little farming village from whence my great grandfather emigrated in 1882. Then it was German, now it is Polish. It was, and is, still very rural. There is only one road, 19th century cobble-stone, along side which the houses are arranged. Most of the homes are one or one & a half story buildings, generally in red brick. Several had very lovely streetside flower gardens. My visit was early July, and it was a beautiful sunny day.

I can't recall when I first heard the words Zatten, or Kreis Arnswalde. These words had something to do with where grandpa Petrich came from, the grandpa that I was named to bear the initials of. What little 6 year-old Reinhold Theodore recalled was not traveling by train half-way across the country, New York City to Dakota Territory. But it was how wonderful the ocean ride was for him, while all the rest of the family suffered from sea-sickness!

By the time I was born, grandpa Petrich had long since died of bone cancer. I only heard the words Zatten, Kreis Arnswalde from my father. Probably he knew where these were, but he never showed me on any map. Like many other parts of my childhood, I figured that eventually I would learn more about this.

In 2005, our parish choir was planning a musical tour of Italy: Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice. And having gotten that far, the idea of tacking on a few extra days seemed not just reasonable, but impossible to ignore. I would take a flight from Venice to Berlin. Once there I would stay [again] at the Evangelisches Johannestift, where I had lived for an academic year forty years earlier. There I would meet a third-cousin-once-removed, Jan, the great-great-grandson of my great-grandfather's sister. His line of the family had stayed in Germany all along, and he himself lived in {east} Berlin. The wall was long gone, and the unified city was now the Capital city of a unified Germany.

I arrived in Berlin Sunday evening, made a phone contact with Jan, then found my way to my hotel. At the first casual glance little at the Johannestift had changed in forty years, but a short walk around the campus revealed many changes.The church interior was now in post-modern style, and there was no longer a music school as part of the Johannestift. Still there was an aspect of "homecoming."

Monday, with my relative as guide, we made an extensive walking tour of the old Berlin City Center, now revitalized. In the late afternoon, he made a number of cell phone calls, to his brother, to his parents, exploring how I might actually get to visit Zatten, now that I was this close.

Eventually it was worked out that I should take the earliest train out of Berlin towards Frankfurt on the Oder - about an hour's ride. There I would be met by Joachim and Sabina, Sabina was a cousin of Jan's mother. But relatives all the same!! Then in their auto we would cross the German/Polish border and drive to Zatten. As we got to conversing - mostly in German, but with pieces of English - it turned out that he had never been to Zatten before, and thus this was a new excursion for him also. His wife from the back seat commented on the landscape, and also was enthusiastic about finding Zatten. The drive itself took several hours.

At the village border, we pulled over long enough for me to have my picture taken standing next to the highway marker for "Zatom" [the Polish name of the village]. Then we drove through the village in a matter of minutes before turning around to park somewhere near the center. I did have a 1945 map of the village which documented the condition of the village at the war's end.

view of empty lot
I went looking for the space on the map where the "Petrich" house had been, but the most I could find was a vacant lot. Grass and trees. If there was ever a house here, it had long since been removed, and not replaced. I photographed the space anyway. I also took photos of several of the gardens, and then walking behind a few houses to photograph the farmland with trees in the distance.

view of landscape
Zatten is/was a "Hufendorf" which is the term used for hundreds of years for what we might call "strip farming". The village is basically a collection of family farms, with the farm houses lined up on either side of the road, and then with the adjoining farmland stretching out behind each farm. People were close neighbors.

Some of this closeness was transplanted to Dakota territory. As I study my family roots, I am discovering a tightly related set of families, who traveled together and then homesteaded together. Theodor Petrich with his wife and children traveled with his wife's sister's families - the Ferdinand Kraft family and the Heinrich Bleese family. The wives were all sisters from the Krueger family, and the husbands were all brothers-in-law to each other. Theodore also had a married sister, which tied him to the Lindemann family. All the children were first cousins. This is the world into which my father was born, and a world where I, too, am rooted.

farmpond in Zatom Return to bio

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In 1945 this part of Germany, beyond the Oder-Neisse line, was given over to Poland; Polish farmers took the place of German farmers. I was told that most of the current inhabitants of Zatom came from the Ukraine, having lost their land to Soviet Russian expansion. Millions of people were moved about, but the area remained rural, and untouched by heavy industry. War damaged houses were either repaired or removed. The modern touch I noticed? Satellite dishes. Zatten is not so cut off from the world as it once was. But farming is very much the focus of people here. The soil is very sandy.

I did get to see a bit of the Drage river as it bends around the village of Zatten. This is the river where Pope John Paul II in his earlier years enjoyed coming for canoeing. Even today canoeing is part of the eco-tourism that is fostered by the administrators of the Nature Park. The water was sparkling clear - this reminded me of my childhood visits to State Parks in northern Minnesota. - perhaps the similarity of a wooded landscape partially cleared, and dotted with small lakes, the similar result of ice-age glaciers.

In any case, my time in Zatten [Zatom] was incredibly brief- only a matter of a few hours. It had taken most of the day merely to get here, and we still had to face the reality of returning to Germany, and [for me] returning to Berlin that evening, and to the USA the following day.

[written 26 May 2006, revised 31 March 2008, copyright Roger Petrich, all rights reserved]