Königsberg, East Prussia - Remembered

Königsberg's historic city centre with the Dom cathedral on Kneiphof Island at centre in 1937.  Synagogue (destroyed in 1938) at top left.

 

  About this site ...

-- Click Here for larger map of East Prussia before WWII --

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. After being fire-bombed into near oblivion by the RAF in 1944, Königsberg was renamed to "Kaliningrad" in 1946 by the  Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after the German province of East Prussia was given to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 by the Allied Forces.   As well, Truman and Churchill allowed the Soviets to keep that part of Poland that Stalin had stolen earlier via the secret "non-aggression"  Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with the German Dictator Adolf Hitler and that divided Poland between them. To compensate Poland for this loss - a criminal act by any other name - the German provinces of Silesia and Pomerania and the southern part of East Prussia were incorporated into Poland. These lands were to be cleansed of Germans, with the result that  around 13 million Germans were expelled from their former homelands between 1945 and 1949, including three million Germans from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. In addition, Stalin was allowed to expel around two million Poles from their homelands after the Soviets took formal possession of them behind the so-called Curzon line.



In light of the role played by the Allied Forces in the destruction of Königsberg and subsequent give-away to the Soviets it is no surprise that modern European history remains largely silent about the fate of this once great Eastern European city. In addition,  the West stood by and facilitated  with the ethnic cleansing of this city as part of the 13 million Germans that were to be expelled from their homes and lands they had inhabited for centuries. While an agreement had been reached to allow for an "orderly and humane repatriation" of Germans from their former homelands, this didn’t quite work out that way!

Around 5 million people were forced to flee almost immediately when the Soviet red army advanced into East Prussia in October 1944 in the manner of a viscous barbaric horde bent on revenging the  millions of  Russians casualties of WWII,  including the nearly two million dead from the battle of Stalingrad. And this appeared to be also a particularly good time if you were a sex-starved, uneducated, illiterate soldier-slave of a brutal communist regime. Rape, in particular, was the highlight on the pillager’s menu.  Russian author and Noble Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn, then a young captain in the Red Army, described the entry of his regiment into East Prussia in January 1945 as follows: “For three weeks the war had been going on inside Germany, and all of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction.” Of the remaining 8 million Germans forced to repatriate in an “orderly and humane” fashion, roughly 1.2 million did not survive the forced but unassisted trek west across their now former homelands and through Polish territory to the relative safety of Allied-occupied German territory on the other side of the Neisse river. The survivors - typically not the very old or the very young - and mostly ordinary farm folk who had done nothing more than toil ceaselessly for a living from dusk to dawn their entire lives - told of months and weeks of incredible suffering along the way during which time they were habitually beaten, robbed of the few possessions they had, the women raped repeatedly. Thousands of expellees committed suicide, not able to take any more of it.

 

A Brief History of Königsberg

The castle of Königsberg was founded in 1255 by the knights of the Teutonic order in the course of their expansion in the Baltic region. During the 1286-1327 period the three settlements which had formed round the castle of Königsberg (Altstadt, Lobenicht and Kneiphof) were granted the status of towns. In 1724, they officially merged into the city of Königsberg.

The historical center of the city with an architecture characteristic of the period was formed in the late Middle Ages. Its symbols were the King’s Castle (mid-13th century), and the Cathedral Church (14th century). Altogether, there are some 730 historical and cultural monuments in the city which up to 1939 had a population of around 350,000.

For centuries, Königsberg was the metropolis of eastern Germany. The city played an important role in Europe’s international relations and became a meeting point of diverse historical and cultural traditions, as well as the home for people of various nationalities and religious beliefs. Thus, the Huguenot settlers (French Protestants) set up many enterprises and whole industries there. Poles, Lithuanians, English and Dutch; merchants from every European country; artisans and learned men of every nationality not only coexisted peacefully: they also respected each other and together they built up their city. They helped form the world’s first Protestant state (1525) – the Duchy of Prussia with Königsberg as its capital.

On several occasions Königsberg found itself in the epicenter of major European conflicts: the Seven-Year War (1756-1763), the Napoleonic wars (1805-1807 and 1812-1814), the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945). Founded in 1544, the University of Königsberg became the center of attraction for men of science and culture from Poland and Lithuania. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the great philosopher, lived and worked here. It was in that city that the first-ever books were printed in Lithuanian.

Arts and commerce flourished here. Grand merchant houses, banking offices, palaces and opera houses were erected in the city center, around the reddish Gothic Cathedral on Kneiphof Island.

 

Königsberg Before WWII

-- Click Here for Slide Show of 150 pre-WWII Images of Königsberg --

All images courtesy of the Max Popov Collection (NB: site is in Russian)

 
     
 

The RAF Bombing of Königsberg - August 1944

" The aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive...should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany."

"It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories."

Arthur "Bomber" Harris,  October, 1938

Königsberg was just one of many German cities targeted by the RAF for indiscriminate firebombing of its civilian population. Many other German cities suffered similar fates in WWII, being nearly bombed into extinction and thousands of its citizens killed - Dresden and Hamburg come to mind – but the situation at Königsberg deserves special mention, for the following reasons: what happened to its people, and what happened to its bombed-out remains. In 1944 Königsberg suffered heavy damage from British air attacks under the leadership of  Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Arthur Harris.  Occasionally bombed by the Soviet Air Forces, No. 5 Group of the Royal Air Force first attacked the city on the night of 26/27 August 1944. The raid was in the extreme range for the 174 Avro Lancasters that flew 950 miles from their bases to bomb the city.  Fortunately for the Königsbergers, this first raid was not successful, most bombs falling on the eastern side of the town. (Four of the attacking aircraft were lost.)

Three nights later on the 29/30 August, a further 189 Lancasters of No. 5 Group tried the target again dropping 480 tons of bombs on the centre of the city. Bomber Command estimated that 20% of all the industry and 41% of all the housing in Königsberg was destroyed in the attack. A heavy German night fighter defense downed fifteen of the attacking bombers (7.9% of the force).

Following this final air attack, the city burned for several days. The results were devastating, and in addition to the horrible death that befell thousands of its citizens primarily through incineration, the historic city center, consisting of the quarters Altstadt, Löbenicht and Kneiphof was in fact completely destroyed, among it the Dom cathedral, the castle, all churches of the city, the old and the new university and the entire warehouse district.

 
       
   
       
   
     
 

 
 
     
 

 
 
     
     
     
     
     
 

 
     
 

 

 
 
     
     
     
 

 
     
 

 
     
 

Königsberg as Kaliningrad - Post 1945

 
     
 

All that remained of Königsberg's  historic City Centre and Kneiphof Island in 1949 - Only the ruins of the Dom Cathedral are left standing.

 
     
 

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 German from former Nazi territory that was now under his control.
 
And while many other German cities suffered similar fates in WWII, by being nearly bombed into oblivion and thousands of its citizens killed - Dresden and Hamburg come to mind -the situation at Königsberg deserves special mention. Over the years much of Hamburg and Dresden has been rebuilt, with many of the destroyed significant landmarks being restored to their prewar condition. 

But when the Allied Forces gave the essentially destroyed City of Königsberg to the Soviets in 1945 they took a different approach. They simply bulldozed the remains of most bombed-out structures away after going through the rubble for still-usable building materials which were shipped back to Mother Russia. Thus, the possibility of their eventual restoration was essentially eliminated, while some buildings were left standing in their bombed-out condition until as recent as today. Given that all of the areas original German inhabitants had been expelled, there was no local opposition to this as Stalin had repopulated the city with people from all over the Soviet Union, including from as far away as Siberia. As well, the city was now Soviet territory and - behind the Iron Curtain - essentially closed to all foreign eyes because Stalin was turning it in to a naval base, taking advantage of a newly acquired year-round ice free harbour with access to the Baltic sea.

 
     
 
 
 

1950 - Living Amongst the Ruins - The remains of Königsberg's 13th Century Castle

 
 
 
 

1968 - Living Amongst the Ruins - Demolition Day  - (Photo M. Popov Collection - Moscow)

 
 
 
 

1950 - Living Amongst the Ruins - Street Car along Soviet Prospect - (Photo M. Popov Collection - Moscow)

 
     
 

Königsberg as Kaliningrad in 2005

 
 

Today Kaliningrad is the administrative center of Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. As of the 2002 Census, its population was 430,003.

Königsberg - East Prussia

 
   
 

These sets of pictures compare the same location, with roughly 65 years in between ... find many more at:  http://www.kng750.kanet.ru/

 
 

... in 1939

 

... in 2005

 

     
 

   
 
 
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
     
 
 

Königsberg: Finding the past ...

 
 

 
 

2004 - The Past revealed ...

 
 

 
 

2004 - This bombed out building has stood like this for 60 years.  There are plans to restore it.

 
 

 
 

2004 -  Kreuz Pharmacy signs still readable!

 
 

 
 

2004 -  Zoo Pavilion untouched since 1944

 
 

 
 

2005 -  University Medical Clinic sign still decipherable.

 
 

 
 

2005 -  The Dom cathedral being rebuilt - the funding for this included financial support from Germany.

 
   
 

2005 - Kaliningrad, with Dom Cathedral on Kneiphof island just right of centre.

 
     
 

There are some who will say that Germany and its people got its just rewards - the destruction of the City of Königsberg and its citizenry being one example - in return for the incredible evil inflicted by its Nazi leadership for causing the death of countless millions of innocent people across the European continent.

But, surely, it has and will always be wrong to kill or otherwise destroy the livelihood and homes of innocent people simple because of where they live or who they are governed by. The great 20th century humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, in his speech accepting the Noble Peace Prize in Oslo in 1954, said:

”The most grievous violation of the right based on historical evolution and of any human right in general is to deprive populations of the right to occupy the country where they live by compelling them to settle elsewhere. The fact that the victorious powers decided at the end of WWII to impose this fate on hundreds of thousands of human beings and, what is more, in a most cruel manner, show how little they were aware of the challenge facing them, namely, to re-establish prosperity and, as far as possible, the rule of law”.

 
 
 
   "Verloren sei die Heimat erst dann,
wenn sie verschwiegen werde
oder wenn sich niemand mehr ihrer erinnere"
Siegfried Lenz
"A homeland is truly lost when one keeps silent about it, or when no one remembers it anymore"
Siegfried Lenz
 
 


 
 

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