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Remembering Königsberg, East Prussia
Königsberg's historic city centre with the Dom cathedral on Kneiphof Island at centre in 1937. (Photo M. Popov Collection)
This site is about the tragic fate of the City of Königsberg, the capital of the former German province of East Prussia. As a result of WWII, neither Königsberg nor East Prussia exists anymore.
Nearly incinerated by the RAF in 1944, overrun by the Soviet Red Army in early 1945 - and essentially given by the Allied Forces to the Soviet Union because Stalin wanted a year-round ice-free harbour – Königsberg was renamed to Kaliningrad, its 300,000 plus German citizens discarded and repopulated with people from all over the Soviet Union. It is located within a small section of Russian territory known as the Oblast or region of Kaliningrad, lying on the coast of the Baltic Sea, disconnected from the main bulk of the Russian land mass by Poland in the south, and by Lithuania to its North and East.
Prior to 1945 Königsberg was the cultural and economic centre in the German province of East Prussia, a region that was then cut off from the main part of Germany by a narrow strip of Polish territory and the city state of Danzig (now the Polish port of Gdansk). It was the dispute over this narrow piece of Polish land that gave Hitler the excuse to invade Poland in 1939, sparking off WWII.
Out of Königsberg’s prewar population of approximately 350,000 Germans 42,000 died during the war while many had fled elsewhere to escape the fighting. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but perhaps as many as 100,000 survived the aerial onslaught of 1944, only to be held as virtual prisoners within their own city by the Red Army while enduring tremendous suffering until they were expelled 500 km westward across Poland to Germany between 1949 and 1950 as part of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing project to remove every ethnic German from former Nazi territory that was now part of the Soviet communist empire.
The City of Königsberg is part of history now, its fate largely forgotten if not outright ignored. Yet today, and every year since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, many German expellees originally from that ill-fated city and surrounding area undertake a trek back to their former homeland to look for that which was forever taken from them: their place of birth and the communities they grew up in. These are the things by which most of us are able to define ourselves, e.g., "where are you from?". Often referred to as “homesickness-tourism”, it finds now mostly aging people or their decendants looking for their cultural and ancestral roots so cruelly ripped out from underneath them after hundreds of years of settlement in East Prussia. Here, the worst kind nostalgia reigns: to find yourself in a present with little or no continuity with the past to latch on to, and putting into question the very memories you have of it and yourself being nurtured by it.