Presentation
Who we are History Commemorative publication Organization
INTRODUCTION
During the first half of the 13th century, the German Order of Knights (Teutonic Knights) entered the area of today's Baltic states in order to christianize the region. Following feudal practice, much of the Order's land was divided among the German noble families. Meanwhile in the towns a German mercantile class developed. This German-speaking segment constituted a small minority of the total population. As a result of the suppression of the Order and its lands during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, this area fell under the sovereignty of Sweden and Poland, which at that time dominated the Baltic Sea. Despite these changes, local self-government remained in the hands of the four aristocratic corporations of Livland, Estonia, Courland and Oesel.
With the growth of Russian power in the 18th century, Livland, Estonia (with the island of Oesel) and Courland became Russian provinces. The Russian sovereigns recognized the four aristocratic corporations' traditional privileges - German language, Lutheran religion and self-government.
Defeat of Tsarist Russia in WWI and the growth of Latvian and Estonian nationalism led to the founding in 1920 of Latvia and Estonia as independent Baltic states. The traditional aristocratic corporations lost their legal-political status and were reduced to charitable organizations. Most of the property belonging to German-speaking Balts, especially the estates, was confiscated. Many of these families emigrated, the majority to Germany but also overseas.
Two decades later in 1939, following agreement between Hitler and Stalin to divide up Poland and the Baltic states through the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, the remaining German-speaking Balts were forced to leave their homeland and were evacuated to German-occupied Poland.
At the end of WW II, those Balts settled in 1939 in the East fled to what was to become West Germany. In 1949 some of their representatives came together to form the Association of Baltic Noble Corporations (Verband der Baltischen Ritterschaften e.V.) as a public and charitable organization. Its aims to foster an appreciation for aristocratic Baltic traditions and history, which are in many ways shared with the current Baltic states, and to support these states internationally. The Association deems it of utmost importance to link Baltic noble families, the historical backbone of the four aristocratic corporations, and to encourage their organizations, meetings, and youth activities.
An additional reason for the foundation of the Association was to develop official affiliation with the German noblity. This relationship permitted the Association to push for recognition under German law of Baltic titles, which had until then been regulated by Estonian or Latvian law. Finally, the Association cultivates contacts with other European nobles and their organizations, especially as regards youth activities.

ORGANIZATION

The Association's over 2200 members organized into four noble corporations (Livonia, Estonia, Courland, and Oesel) and regionally into eight German groups as well as one in Sweden and another in Canada.

AIMS

As mentioned above, with the foundation of the Latvian and Estonian states in 1920, the Baltic nobility's dominant political/legal status ended. Today the Association concentrates mainly on fostering and passing on to the coming generation inherited aristocratic spiritual and moral values including notions of personal probity, Christian morality and charity. It also encourages its members to support and assume responsibility for general Association activities.

FAMILY ROLLS

The Association sustains its historic roots through administration of the four aristocratic corporative (Livonia, Estonia, Courland and Oesel) and individual family rolls (Matrikel der Einzelritterschaften und der Geschlechtsregister). This work remains vital as only family members on these rolls may join the Association. Family ties and reunions are further encouraged in several ways including through publications relating to aristocratic Baltic families in the Geneological Handbook of Nobility (Geneologisches Handbuch des Adels). In addition, the Association supports research into the general history of the Baltic area, its nobility, and individual noble families.

ARCHIVES

The Association has insisted from the beginning on professional administration of its archives. As a result, since 1955 its papers have been deposited in the Hessian State Archives in Marburg. There they are divided into five collections, which contain not only records of the Association and its four aristocratic corporations, but also other individual and family papers and books. Included in this depository is the Transehe Library (Transehe'sche Bibliothek) with over 600 books belonging to the Livonian Noble Corporation. About 35,000 photos were donated to the Association by Georg von Krusenstjern and are listed there under his name (Bildarchiv Georg von Kusenstjern). This collection is subdivided into the Baltic Portrait Archive ((Baltisches Portraetarchiv) and the Baltic Picture Archive (Baltisches Bildarchiv) with its depictions of aristocratic estates, churches, glebe houses, cities etc., and is lent out to the Art History Research Institute of Philipps University in Marburg. Approximately 2,000 volumes concerning Baltic genealogical, historical, geographical and cultural subjects, which the Association acquired from Georg von Krusenstjern, has since 1990 been available for viewing and research in the German Noblity's Archive (Deutsches Adelsarchiv) in Marburg.

PUBLICATIONS

The Association published its own history on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Its four noble corporations put out their own useful histories between 1963 and 1971. The Association's Newsletter (Nachrichtenblatt), now in its 42nd year, is sent quarterly to all members in order to encourage communication among members living both within and outside Germany. The Youth Newsletter (Jugendblatt), an insert of the Newsletter, is put together by the youth members. The Association's Homepage (www.baltische-ritterschaften.de) serves the same purpose, but also represents the Association to others. From time to time, the United Courland Foundation (Vereinigten Kurlaendischen Stiftungen) publishes reports entitled Courland (Kurland) about its charitable activities or special items dealing with Courland's historical and cultural riches.

FOSTERING COMMUNITY SPIRIT

Stimulating community spirit and ties between the generations is considered to be one of the Association's most important roles. Those spiritual and moral values, which in the past have been held up as aristocratic ideals, must be passed on to the youth, if in a more contemporary form. The Association has always emphasized the traditional aristocratic Baltic virtue of strong social contacts between it members and with similar circles elsewhere.

ASSOCIATION CENTRE

Since 1995 the Association's centre has been in Hoehnscheid Castle near Kassel, which belongs to the Waldeck Estate administration and is now co-administered by the Association and a management company. At Hohenscheid Castle the Association, its corporations and families can organize their annual meetings, conferences and reunions. In this way, personal contacts and knowledge can be expanded and deepened in a spot devoted to the Baltic nobility's concerns.

FOUNDATIONS

Two separate charitable foundations have been formed under the aegis of the Association. The first is the Charitable Foundation for Academic Studies and Impoverished Association Members (Mildtaetige Stiftung zur Foerderung des Hochschulstudiums und zur Unterstuetzung beduerftiger Verbandsmitglieder), which was established in 1957 to support Association members, whether youth in their studies or older persons in need. Three decades later in 1989 the Baltic Corporations Foundation (Stiftung der Baltischen Ritterschaften) was formed to deal with matters both within and exterior to the Association itself. The major part of its financial resources is devoted to assistance for needy Association members. At the same time, it concerns itself with other topics such as religious and social institutions or poverty in the present Baltic states. The Foundation supports continuing education, local Baltic culture, and the search for, conservation and use of historical documents. Both foundations are financially supported through Association members' wills and gifts.

CURRENT ACTIVITIES

The Association encourages its members not only to cooperate on projects within Germany, Sweden or Canada, but also in the Baltic states. Such activities help to keep alive historical traditions shared with these states. In this regard, the Association's charities are covered above. As well, members of the Estonian Noble Corporation have taken the initiative of restoring aristocratic family crests in the Reval cathedral and organizing seminars for German and Estonian students. The United Courland Foundation devotes some of its efforts to charitable and other activities in the ex-Courland area including publications in Latvia concerning historical and cultural topics, and restoration of valuable cultural buildings and churches. Similar tasks are carried out on the island Oesel by the Oesel Noble Corporation. Various individual Association members and families also take part in assistance to the Baltic area.

YOUTH

The Association is intensely interested in encouraging its youth activities including social events, working holidays, and conferences on various political and general themes. In accord with tradition, youth members are active at every level of the various aristocratic Baltic organizations, often in leading positions.

 

 

Authors: D. Baron v. Haaren/ H.-A. v Hehn/ B.v. Brevern
Translator: R. Graf v. Keyserlingk

Spring 2002

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