Allenstein in East Prussia

Allenstein - until 1945 a town in the prussian province of East Prussia - has baltic origins. Situated on the river called "Alle", the town belongs to the historical region of Warmia. After the "Deutsche Orden" had taken possession of Baltic Prussia after 1226 with the blessing of the Roman-German Emperor and the Holy See, it created a dynamic state within a few years. Within a short period of time, castles, towns and four dioceses were established, including the diocese of Warmia. On the initiative of the Warmian cathedral chapter, a settlement was founded on the banks of the river Alle as part of the medieval expansion of the country. Its first inhabitants were German settlers who had set out for the East in the hope of a better future. In 1353 the settlement was granted city rights according to "kulmic law". On the oldest town seal, "Sigillum Civitatis Allenstein", you can recognise St. Jakobus with a pilgrim's staff in his right hand and a pilgrim's shell - which has also become a symbol of the Way of St. Jakobus - in his left hand. St. Jakobus still adorns the city's coat of arms and the former parish church, now the cathedral basilica, is dedicated to the city's patron saint.

Allenstein was built under the protection of the castle of the order, which still dominates the townscape today with its large keep. The castle served the bishop for the administration of the Warmia monastery as secular territory. From 1516 onwards, Nicolaus Copernicus lived in the Allenstein Castle for several years in the function of a cathedral capitular. His main astronomical work "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" (Nuremberg 1543) was to change the medieval world view forever.

After the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466, the diocese of Warmia was placed under the crown of Poland-Lithuania. The bishop thus secured a special status, which meant that, unlike the Duchy of Prussia founded in 1525, Warmia remained Catholic after the Reformation. After the prussian elevation of the status in 1701, the Catholic Allenstein with the entire Warmia finally fell to the Kingdom of Prussia under Friedrich the II. A few years later, the Napoleonic Wars left a trail of devastation from which the province had difficulty recovering. It was only after the foundation of the German Empire in 1871 that the town was to experience a new flourishing, which was also supported by the railway connection that was built a little later. Finally, in 1905 Allenstein became the seat of the regional council for the district of the same name. The positive development was abruptly interrupted by the first World War, when East Prussia became the only German province to become a theatre of war. Hundreds of thousands fled from the russian armies and large parts of the province sank into rubble. Finally, the german military succeeded in reconquering the province, for which especially "Generalfeldmarschall" Hindenburg became mythically revered as the "saviour of East Prussia"


Kaiserstrasse in 1914

After the end of the first World War, the resurrected Poland formulated territorial claims on East Prussia. Thereupon, the Versailles-Peace-Treaty determined a referendum for July 11, 1920, on the future fate of southern East Prussia, which became known as the Allenstein Voting Region. The town of Allenstein voted by a majority of 16,740 votes to remain at Germany, 340 voted for Poland.

In 1933 the Nazi terror began in Allenstein. The Jewish community, one of the largest in the province of East Prussia, faced persecution, expulsion and finally extermination. In 1942 the last Jews of Allenstein were deported to their deaths. A testimony to the once flourishing Jewish life is symbolized by the chapel Bet Tahara at the Allensteiner Jewish cemetery. It was built in 1913 according to a design by the world-famous architect Erich Mendelsohn, who thereby expressed his attachment to his home town of Allenstein. Today it has been lovingly restored and is a cultural centre of the city, supported by the Borussia cultural community.


Schillerstrasse in 1907

After the Soviet offensive in mid-January 1945, Allenstein became a theatre of war. The East Prussian civilian population tried to escape by fleeing, but after the conquest of the town on 22 January 1945 the remaining German population owns persecution and violence. Although Allenstein fell almost undamaged into Soviet hands, large parts of the old town burnt down until March 1945. Eventually the town - which now officially bore the Polish name Olsztyn - was placed under Polish administration together with the southern part of East Prussia. The remaining German population was expelled or could remain in their homeland as so-called autochthones. At the same time Polish new settlers arrived, among them many displaced persons from the Polish eastern territories ceded to the Soviet Union.

After the end of communist rule, Allenstein experienced a new flourishing. The town became the centre of the Warmia-Masuria region, newly created in 1999. At the same time the University of Warmia and Mazury was founded. Today the greater Allenstein area is a dynamic regional centre with about 250,000 inhabitants and is by far the largest town in the Polish part of the former East Prussia.


© Findeisen Uhren


St. Jakobikirche