Carl Fredrick Heinrich Von Dietrich
Is it environmental or genetic? Either way, I’m hoping that some of my 2 Greats Grandpa Carl is now a part of me. Though the details are a little sketchy, his life seems so incredible that I wouldn’t dare make up fiction like this. If I did, my critics would call the story too far fetched, to be believable. But since it’s a true story, I feel the obligation to tell the story. As I have studied his life, I have envied his strong character. His strong will to stay true to his personal convictions and beliefs regardless of consequences. Just as I hope that part of Carl is in me, I hope he’s in my children too.
In the Prussia of 1813, five year old Carl was placed in a Cloister to be raised as a Monk. I can only speculate two possible reasons for his parents to send their small boy away like that, never to see him again. Perhaps it was considered a great honor and opportunity for their son to become a Monk. Or maybe family circumstances were dire, and it was a matter of survival.
What ever the reason for being there, Carl was now living with and taught by the monks of this Prussian Cloister. Undoubtedly, his growing years were spent doing the many remedial tasks of living life in the early 1800’s. But besides the cooking and cleaning, along with gardening and tending flocks, came the tutoring and teaching. Carl likely learned to read and write in more than his native German tongue as he was taught the doctrines of the church from their Latin documents. Carl was artistic, and this talent was likely nurtured in his early years.
Problem was, somewhere along the way, as Carl was taught the church doctrine, he found conflict inside with what he was being taught. Ultimately, he did not believe the teachings. Because of how he felt, he chose not to become a monk, and he tried to leave the Cloister. But the Monks would not let him leave.
Carl then lived for many years in this Cloister as a prisoner and slave. Because he now refused to go against his conscience, he was now relegated strictly to a role of servitude. No more teaching and training in Latin. Gone were the opportunities to further develop his artistic and other talents. Now life consisted of doing the heaviest and dirtiest labor of the monastery.
Carl exchanged his imprisoned thoughts for physical chains around his hands and feet. Carl felt it was a good trade. For many years, he continued in this condition. His mind and integrity were free as the birds which thoughtlessly flew over the high stone wall of the monastery. But he body was physically chained down as a retaliation from his captors for not believing as they did. If they couldn’t blind his mind, they’d at least bind his body.
Now it wasn’t that Carl didn’t believe in God. On the contrary, he was very religious. Today, I don’t view the religious denomination that held Carl prisoner, bad or evil. I’ve seen enough ungodly behavior from people in my own denomination. So I know not to blame the church what the people in the church are doing wrong.
Carl was in this Cloister/Monastery for about 37 years before he finally managed to escape. He later told of hearing the bullets flying past him as he ran. He then made his way to Berlin just when there was a revolt against the Kaiser. Carl now suddenly found himself facing another choice. Should he follow his conscience and help the Kaiser, or would he think of his own personal safety first. Carl immediately did what he felt was right, placing himself in great danger once again. He was in the right place at the right time to help the Kaiser escape the mob. So in this way, Carl met William I, the Emperor of Germany.
Showing gratitude for his help, William made him the artist to the Imperial Palace. So in a matter of a few days or weeks, Carl went from the life of a dungeon slave to a revered hero living in the palace and mixing and mingling with royalty. Here in the palace, Carl painted many of the royal family portraits. He was also present for the many state and social events. Back then, the royal artist would have been present to record all such things with his brush and paint.
It was in this environment where Carl found love. Caroline Gustone Friedericke Ludwige Lisette Junnius De Junge was a baroness. She was 39 years younger than him. They were married and had 5 children. But this part of Carl’s life didn’t begin until he was in his old age. His children were all still small when he became ill. He was now 75 years old. My Great Grandmother, Freida, was 7 years old. She remembers how sick he was and the sadness when he called his two girls to him to tell them goodbye before he died.
So as I have researched Carl’s life, as I learn of the political climate he was thrust into soon after he found his freedom from the monastery, I wonder what I would have done in the same situation. Would I have helped save the Kiser from the mob? Or would I go along with the crowd just because that’s what the crowd was doing? And what of the first half of his life living as a prisoner only because he wasn’t afraid to disagree with the establishment? The man had integrity. In face of all most certain annihilation he stuck to his guns.
Like I said, I hope a piece of Carl came though to me. I hope that regardless of what the establishment believes, I can think for myself. I hope that even if my personal safety were threatened, I would follow my conscience and do the right thing. I hope these same things for my children. So I don’t know if it would be environmental or genetics, but I hope a little bit of Carl is in us.