On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Real Dracula

Vlad Drăculea III
When I tell friends or new acquaintances that my grandparents hailed from Transylvania, the Dracula jokes start flying (“Well, I guess I’ll watch my neck” or “Good Bloodlines,” and so on).

For those who don’t know how the Dracula legend got started, I thought I’d give you a thumbnail sketch. The real Dracula (upon whom it is believed that Bram Stoker derived at least the moniker for his novel’s main character) was a fearsome leader who literally made people’s blood run--and whose name alone made the blood run cold. He became "Prince of Wallachia," so a bit about that centuries' old principality is in order.
Wallachia (in yellow)  around 1390.
Note "Kingdom of Hungary" to the north. Ottoman Empire directly south.

Wallachia was originally founded in about 1290, but taken over by the Ottoman Empire in the early 15th century. Wallachia was just south of present day Romania.

Vlad Drăculea III (sometimes spelled Drakulye, meaning “son of the dragon”) was born in 1431 in Sighişoara (SIG ee SHWOR uh), called Schässburg by the Germans. It is one of the seven walled cities in Transylvania that give the area its German name, Siebenbürgen (seven fortresses).

In 1436 Vlad III’s dad, Vlad II, was made ruler of Wallachia, but was ousted just six years later in 1442 by rivals with Hungarian backing. Vlad II persuaded the Ottoman Empire to support him in getting back his throne, but they agreed only on the condition he give them two sons, including Vlad II, as hostages to ensure he would stay loyal. Vlad II was imprisoned, beaten, and whipped, and God knows what else by the Ottomans, ensuring his enduring hatred of them.

Vlad, the dad, was killed in 1447, and in 1456, Vlad, the lad (now age 25), reconquered his native land of Wallachia, which he found in economic ruin. He created laws to renew trade, help merchants and peasants, and imposed harsh punishments for thieves and robbers (the adjective “Draconian” might be used, but “Vladian” seems more appropriate).

My ancestors had not yet arrived in Transylvania when Vlad was ruler, and a good thing too. Because Vlad thought the Transylvanian Germans had helped to bring about Wallachia’s ruin, he raided their cities and impaled several Saxons in Kronstadt.

Impaling is what Vlad became most famous for, and his adorable nickname became Vlad Tepeş (TSEP-esh), meaning “Vlad, the Impaler.”

Vlad "The Impaler"
His sculpture near the town center of
Sighisoara, Romania, his birthplace.
 Western Europeans thought Vlad was a
monster, but in  Eastern Europe he was
admired for fighting off the Turks.
Vlad was a “take no prisoners” sort of ruler. If anyone broke his laws--men, women, children--punishment was the same. He instigated war with the Ottomans by nailing the turbans of some Turkish envoys to their heads because they wouldn’t “remove their hats” in his presence. That got their attention. Sure enough, the Ottomans invaded, but Vlad ambushed them and skewered all that didn’t die in the fighting.

He was superb at psychological warfare, once staking 20,000 people of all ages around his home town to freak out invading Ottoman forces. It worked. They turned back. A woodcut from the era shows Vlad dining while surrounded by his impaled victims. I want this to be a family friendly site, so this post won’t get into the grisly details. If you want to learn more, click on one of the links.

Needless to say, the real “Dracula” was a far more fearsome creature than the one Bram Stoker devised, and I’m just glad my forebears waited a couple of centuries before emigrating from Germany to Transylvania. Part of the fun of genealogy is imagining what our ancestors’ lives were like. I wouldn’t want to imagine them living under the rule of Vlad Tepeş.


NickMGombash said...

Great post, Linda! You really captured the 'true' Dracula, and not many people know there really was a man the myth was based off of! I actually have a connection to Vlad Tepeş. His wife of the Szilágyi de Horogszeg family, was my 2nd cousin.. 21 times removed, of course! :-p

Kathy Reed said...

I am always so happy when you post a comment on my blog -- especially since you have such wonderful credentials as a writer. I've noticed that you belong to writing organizations such as "She Writes." I'm a little intimidated. I love to write and have had a couple of articles published in genealogy journals, but I would never claim to be a writer. It's fun to lurk in "your world."


Anonymous said...

I too am shaking the family tree(s). I love it and have found a counterfeiter in the batch. It makes history come alive. I also loved your submission to the 2KoP contest. Nicely done.