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Amalia von Dyhrn
Baroness Amalia Frederica Wilhelmina von Dyhrn-Czettritz-Neuhaus n?e Baroness
von Rabenau (30 July 1790 in Breslau ? 14 June 1866 in Herzogswaldau) was a
well-known German multi-millionaire heiress and a philanthropist.
Baroness Amalia von Dyhrn was born into the Prussian noble family of
Rabenau. Her father Baron Friedrich George von Rabenau, a tax officer and a
former major in the army, was an impoverished aristocrat, who owned a bankrupted
estate in Schwiebus. Her mother Johanna ?Jeanette? von Schlichting was an
illegitimate daughter of the Prussian general Baron Samuel von Schlichting;
because of her opportunistic and promiscuous nature she had a quite bad
reputation in the society. Amalia?s parents were divorced in 1791. She moved
with her mother and her older sister Henrietta to Breslau, where they lived very
modestly in a small apartment at a monastery. In 1794 her father Friedrich
committed suicide and Amalia never got to know him.
Amalia was known as a beautiful, dark-haired and black-eyed young lady,
whose origin is actually still not quite clear. Especially because of her looks,
the rumors were circling around, that she was a product of her mother?s affair
with a Gipsy from a South-European country. These rumors were however never
confirmed as truth.
As an impecunious divorc?e Jeanette von Schlichting, who was a close
relative of the Lichnowsky princely family, had to take care of herself and her
two daughters. She established a small private tailor school for noble ladies in
Breslau and her older daughter Henrietta, who was old enough to work, was sent
to the estate of the Counts von Schweinitz-Krain in Niebusch (county of
Freystadt in Schlesien), where she worked as a governess of the young Countess
Johanna von Schweinitz-Krain, who was a granddaughter of Baroness Helene von
Dyhrn (n?e Countess von Schweinitz). Henrietta stayed unmarried. In 1810 Amalia
and her mother attended a high society ball at the family von Berge-Herrndorf?s
house in Breslau. There she met the young Baron Julius von Dyhrn, with whom she
was officially engaged two years later. The Dyhrn family strongly disapproved of
this union, because of the bride?s trivial background and her low economic
status, but Julius was determined to marry the woman he fell in love with. They
married in April 1814 in Freystadt. Her mother Jeanette was overjoyed,
especially because this marriage meant the end of her family?s financial
After the marriage Amalia, now a Baroness von Dyhrn moved to the Dyhrn
family?s mansion in Herzogswaldau together with her mother and her older sister.
Amalia?s mother-in-law Baroness Caroline von Dyhrn (n?e Baroness von Berge), who
was actually a stepmother of Julius, was so disappointed with her stepson?s
choice, that she decided to leave the family residence and move alone to her
house in Freystadt. In 1825 Julius took the name von Dyhrn-Czettritz und Neuhaus
of his uncle Ernest Carl von Dyhrn-Czettritz-Neuhaus, who had no children, and
inherited his fortune and his large properties in Waldenburg. Amalia and Julius
moved to their manor house in Neuhaus (county of Waldenburg), leaving
Herzogswaldau to Julius? younger brother Heinrich von Dyhrn. The couple had no
children, but their marriage was said to be a very happy one. It was only a few
years before Julius? death, when the things got bad. The Baron lost his reason
and was transmitted to a psychiatric institution. A few years earlier Amalia,
born and married into Protestant families, converted in Catholicism and began a
close friendship with a catholic priest from Herzogswaldau, named Franz Gyrdt.
After her husband Julius died in 1841, the priest moved to the new-build mansion
of the Dyhrn family in Hermsdorf. Amalia inherited this mansion and all the
properties and buildings, that previously belonged to her husband. She was also
very successful in leading the Dyhrn family mining business. The estate, which
Amalia von Dyhrn inherited, was enormous; estimated to be 10 million Prussian
thalers (nowadays approx. 165 million US dollars). It was because of this
princely wealth that people very often referred to her as ?Princess? instead of
Although she had no children, Amalia and Julius took care of two of their
closest relatives. Since 1822 their nephew Alfred von Dyhrn was living at their
mansion in Hermsdorf, and later Amalia also took care of her niece Baroness
Anette von Dyhrn.
Dyhrn family versus Catholic Church
The priest Franz Gyrdt became the closest friend of the Baroness and was
also the administrator of her finances. He was encouraging her to make several
donations for Catholic Church and for catholic institutions in the province of
Silesia. Amalia, as a humanitarian person, made numerous donations also for poor
and less fortunate people during her life. Franz Gyrdt had a very big influence
on the Baroness; it was probably because of him that the Baroness von Dyhrn
converted to Catholicism. In the middle of the 1860s she got very ill and in
June 1866 she died. Surprisingly, the principal heir of her fortune was her
longtime friend and advisor Gyrdt. Her closest relatives ?the Dyhrns from
Herzogswaldau, were extremely unpleasantly surprised by the content of Amalia?s
testament. The part of the Dyhrn family fortune, estimated to something more
than 12 million thaler (nowadays approx. 200 million US dollars), which at the
time was in Amalia?s hands, was being inherited by a person who was not even a
member of the family and who was actually catholic. She left more than 9 million
thaler (nowadays approx. 149 million US dollars) to Gyrdt, only 1,5 million
thaler to her niece Anette (married to Count Heinrich Wilhelm von Dyhrn from the
Dolzig estate), half of a million thaler to her nephew Alfred and the rest to
charities in Breslau and for rebuilding of her mansion in Hermsdorf into an
orphanage. She also left some of her money to her loyal longtime servants ?
especially appreciated was her personal maid and companion Clara J?schke.
The Dyhrn family was not prepared to give up the fortune. But after more
than 10 years of lawsuits between the family and Gyrdt nothing could be done in
favor of the family, because the will was constructed perfectly, allowing
neither a refutation nor the right for jurisdiction of the government. The Dyhrn
family, who was always convinced, that the priest either forged the testament or
forced Amalia to appoint him the main heir of the family fortune, was powerless.
Even the Emperor Wilhelm himself could not help them. After Franz Gyrdt received
his share of the assets, his lifestyle changed dramatically. He bought new
properties, traveled a lot and he also gave up working as a priest. After
Gyrdt?s death the fortune of this Protestant family was inherited by the Diocese
of Breslau (elevated to Archdiocese in 1930) and was being administrated by the
Prince-Bishop of Breslau dr. Heinrich F?rster, who already in 1866 also directly
inherited a share from Amalia von Dyhrn?s estate, and by dr. Adolph Franz. When
dr. Franz was leading the German Catholic newspaper Germania, this was also
being, among many other Catholic institutions, financially supported by the
Protestant Dyhrn family?s fortune.
The story was mentioned in several European newspapers, being one of the
biggest scandals in the German Catholic Church in the 19th Century.
The Dyhrn palace in Hermsdorf was later in fact rebuilt and modernized,
and named after the Baroness as Amalia von Dyhrn-Czettritz Waisenhaus in
Several hospitals were established in Lower Silesia under the Baroness von
Dyhrn?s supervision and financial support.
Archiv f?r schlesische Kirchengeschichte, Bands 8-9. A. Lax
F. Petermann: Das Priestererbe. Selbstverlag, 1890.
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