By Sandra (Krombholz) Stetzel
Prague , Czech Republic June, 1995
From January through June of 1995, my husband, Gary, and I were living in Prague , Czech Republic . Gary had been given an assignment to work for the Czech Republic in the privatization of their national industries. Under Communism, all businesses are owned by the government. (The Czechs successfully declared their independence from Russia in 1989 with their Velvet Revolution.)
During our stay in Prague , we were provided with an apartment and living expenses, including a car. Since we were to be in the Czech Republic for six months, it seemed an excellent opportunity to find the town where my grandfather, Joseph Krombholz, was born. We had been told that he had been born in Petrowitz , Austria , but that Petrowitz was probably now part of modern day Czech Republic (or even the Republic of Slovakia , which is the other half of what had been Czechoslovakia ).
Gary worked at one of the Ministry Offices downtown. There, he worked closely with Petr Tischler. Petr was born in Prague and lived there until 1968 when he and his wife, Lia, decided to escape the Communist oppression. The Tischlers eventually made their way to the United States where Petr worked as an investment banker for Mellon Bank. In 1993, the Tischlers returned to Prague to help with the privatization process. We became very good friends with the Tischlers and one evening while visiting them at their home, we mentioned our search for Petrowitz. They immediately told us that the names of all towns in the Czech Republic with German names would have long ago been changed to reflect the Czech spelling. And that the Czech spelling for a town with the German name of Petrowitz would now be Petrovice (pronounced Pet row vits ah). They got out the map they had in their apartment and we counted a total of forty-seven towns with this name!
Finding my grandfather's birthplace looked pretty hopeless, but we did not want to give up entirely and kept studying all the maps we could find. Since we now believed we would never know for sure which town it was, we finally selected one near the current Czech/ Austrian border, thinking the town would most likely be close to Austria . The town we selected was southwest of Brno , and near Moravsky Krumlov in the southeastern part of the Czech Republic . This is in the part of the Czech Republic that had been the Kingdom of Moravia . We drove there from Prague in April.
This town of Petrovice was quite small, having one church at its center with a monument to World War I veterans. It was quite typical of smaller Czech towns. The houses were mostly stone or brick (or a combination) covered with stucco, and with orange tile roofs. Many had adjacent "root cellars" that are dug into a hillside, and only the doors are visible. It is difficult to tell when Czech buildings were constructed because their basic architectural style has not changed much over the past 500-600 years. Still, we wondered if some of the walls or buildings might not have been constructed by my great grandfather, who was a brick-layer/stone mason (as was my grandfather).
We finally located a cemetery at the edge of town and carefully looked for family names. There did not appear to be any markers with German names. Some of the older headstones seemed to have had the names scratched off. Could it be the markers had been defaced by the Czechs after they expelled the Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II? We saw this as a real possibility and, after taking a lot of photographs, went away believing that this Petrovice was as likely as any other Petrovice to have been my grandfather's birthplace.
By this time, we had learned enough history of the area to understand that what became Czechoslovakia at the end of World War I had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for many hundreds of years. The entire area was under the domination of the Hapsburg monarchs, who ruled from Vienna . At the end of World War I, with the defeat of the Germans and Austrians, the nation of Czechoslovakia was created, with its capitol in Prague . An area called the Sudetan (basically the mountainous area shaped like a half moon on the northern, western, and southern boundaries of what it now the Czech Republic) continued to be inhabited by people of German or Austrian ancestry. The Czechs and the Slavs that came out of the East in the 6th century A.D. (probably from what is now the Ukraine ) were mostly located in the central plains of the country. At the outset of World War II, the Sudetan Germans welcomed Nazi Germany's occupation of their area. This quite soon led to the German takeover of all of Czechoslovakia . The Czechs and the Slavs never forgave the Germanic people for this, and expelled all of them to Germany (primarily Bavaria ) at the end of the war. So, we knew it was extremely unlikely that we would find any Krombholz' or other German people, for that matter, still living within the Czech borders.
At this point we abandoned any further search. It seemed the little town of Petrovice in the southeast corner of the Czech Republic was as close as we would ever get.
Later, in mid-May, my mother provided me with some additional information. It seems that my great grandparents had also emigrated in 1906 from Europe to Merrill , Wisconsin . I was told that my great grandfather, August, was living in Petrowitz, Austria, when he met and married my great grandmother, Johanna Ihme, who was from Munker, Austria. We also learned that prior to leaving for the States, a family photograph had been taken in Wernstadt , Austria .
Armed with the names of these two additional towns, we resumed our search. First, we visited with Marta Nalevkova, the supervisory librarian at the American Cultural Center in Prague , which is sponsored by the U. S. Embassy. She immediately suggested that that best way to find out if these German-named towns were, indeed, located in the Czech Republic was to visit the Czech Postal Museum located in Prague .
A day or two later, I visited the Postal Museum and eventually found someone who could speak enough English to provide some assistance. This clerk looked through a directory going back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire that matched the old German names with their Czech equivalents. For the 1900 period, it turns out there was only one Munker (now known as Mukařov) and one Wernstadt (now known as Verneřice), and that they are very close to each other in the District of Dĕčin. This area is almost straight north of Prague , south of Dĕčin, and east of Usti nad Labem . The area is part of old Bohemia and definitely part of the Sudetan.
The only problem was that the postal records did not turn up a Petrowitz near by. Later, when we studied our maps at home, the nearest Petrovice we saw is north of Usti nad Labem on the German border. However, it is between 35 and 40 kilometers away from Munker. Could August and Johanna have met if they had lived that far apart? Perhaps half way in Dĕčin, at a fair, or on a family shopping trip? That did not seem too likely for a time when people relied primarily on their legs or horses to get from one place to another, but it was certainly possible. So we made plans to visit all three towns. By now it was early June and our time in the Czech Republic was rapidly coming to an end.
The night before we were to leave on our trip to visit this area, Gary was looking over the road map and happened to notice a town called Levinské Petrovice very near Mukařov and Verneřice. This town, in turn, is just north of a larger town called Levin. (We later learned that "Levinské Petrovice" is just the Czech way of saying "the town of Petrovice near the town of Levin ".) We now had what we believed to be the area we were looking for. Levinské Petrovice (Petrowitz), Mukarrov (Munker), and Vernerrice (Wernstadt) are within two kilometers of each other!
We left Prague early the next morning, June 10, in very heavy fog. It only took a couple of hours to get to Levinské Petrovice and it was still quite misty and foggy when we arrived.
Levinské Petrovice itself is quite small and very quiet. It does not have a post office or any other municipal buildings of its own. (There is one mail box that lists Levin as the post office.) There is no church and no cemetery. There are a number of homes built of a combination of stone and brick. We took a number of photographs of these buildings, now believing that my great grandfather and my grandfather might well have done some of this work as stone masons, and may well have even lived in one of those homes. I picked out one I especially liked, hoping it was the one where they had lived.
Mukarrov (Munker) is about twice as large as Levinské Petrovice. Still, it has no municipal buildings and no church. It is at the top of a hill and has a view south toward Levinské Petrovice (Petrowitz) and north to Vernerrice (Wernstadt). It was here in Munker that we made our most important discovery! At the very edge of town we found an ancient three-story bell tower surrounded by an old German cemetery. It looked pretty much abandoned and overgrown, and we entered the graveyard prepared for a lengthy search through weeds and toppled headstones. However, within the first ten yards, a large marble marker with a cross at its top loomed out of the mist with the golden sunlit words:
A number of individual names of Krombholz' and dates are at the bottom on the left and a number of individual names of Halcheks and dates are at the bottom on the right. These were carved into the granite portion of the stone, are much more weathered, and not very, readable. The dates appear to be mostly in the late 1800's, and one of the Krombholz names is Franz. Unfortunately, we did not have the materials with us to do any "rubbings".
I have never heard of the name Halchek and do not know how or when the families were related in Bohemia .
At the back of the graveyard, we also found a gravestone for a Franziska Krombholz who died in 1937. This marker is also in excellent shape, merely overgrown with weeds.
The entire graveyard is very overgrown with weeds and most of the other markers have either fallen down or been tipped over. Again, this could have been the work of the local Czechs after World War II. There are a few fairly recent Czech family graves near the entrance and close to the Krombholz family marker. Perhaps this helped to save our family gravestone from being knocked down.
Although the bell tower is clearly no longer used for religious ceremonies, the scaffolding to the bell is in fairly good shape. It may be the Czechs still use it for some purpose.
The one and only church of all three towns is the Catholic Church located in Verneřice (Wernstadt) at the center of town. Even it had been closed to services at some point. (Apart from the discouragement of church services by the Communists, the Czechs do not seem to be very religious, at least at present.) It seemed to us very probable that this is the church used by my great grandparents, August and Johanna, for their marriage ceremony. After all, it was only two kilometers away.
Verneřice (Wernstadt) is the largest of all three towns. It has a town square with official buildings, a post office, a hotel, and a movie theater. It is easy to see why my great grandparents would have come here in 1906 to find a photographer for their family portrait.
There is a small river meandering through Verneřice (Wernstadt). There are many attractive ancient houses, as well as relatively modern houses, all along the river. All in all, we found this area of Northern Bohemia to be very attractive. It is hilly and green, not unlike Merrill , Wisconsin .
We later purchased a reprint of a 1626 map of Bohemia and found Dĕčin (then called Dietzen), Wernstadt (then called Werneritz), and Munker (then called Munkate). Levin also appears as Lewin. Petrowitz was obviously too small to make it on this rather compact ancient map.
I am definitely convinced that we did, indeed, locate my Krombholz/Ihme roots in Northern Bohemia . The area was certainly part of Austria at the turn of the century. It is a wonderful feeling to walk the same roads in the same ancient towns where many Krombholz families have lived, very likely over hundreds of years. It was a very exciting conclusion to our stay in the Czech Republic to finally find the Petrowitz for which we had searched so long.