top of page

Allenstein in East Prussia

Allenstein - until 1945 a town in the Prussian province of East Prussia - goes back to Baltic origins.
Located on the river Alle, the city is part of the historical Warmia region.

After the Teutonic Order took 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. Castles, towns and four dioceses, including the Diocese of Warmia, were built in a short time. At the initiative of the Warmia Cathedral Chapter, a settlement was founded on the Alley River as part of the medieval country development. Its first inhabitants were German settlers who had set out east in the hope of a better future. In 1353 the settlement was granted town charter according to kulm law. On the oldest town seal, Sigillum Civitatis Allenstein, you can see St. James 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. James - in his left hand. Even today, St. James adorns the city's coat of arms and the former city parish church and today's cathedral basilica is also consecrated to its city patron Saint James.

Allenstein was created under the protection of the Ordensburg, which still shapes the cityscape with its large keep. The castle served the bishop for the administration of the bishopric of Warmia as secular territory. From 1516 onwards , Nicolaus Copernicus lived in the Allenstein Castle for several years in the function of a cathedral capitular. His major astronomical work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Nuremberg 1543) was to change the medieval worldview permanently.

After the Second Peace of Thorne in 1466, the Diocese of Warmia placed itself under the crown of Poland-Lithuania. With this, the bishop secured a special status, whereby the Warmia, unlike the Duchy of Prussia founded in 1525, remained Catholic even after the Reformation. After the Prussian elevation of status in 1701, the Catholic Allenstein and the entire Warmia finally fell to the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederick II. A few years later the Napoleonic Wars left a trail of devastation from the consequences of which the province found it difficult to recover. Only after the founding of the empire in 1871 was the city to experience a new boom, which was also promoted by the railway connection that followed 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 suddenly interrupted by the First World War, when East Prussia became the only German province to be a theater of war. Hundreds of thousands fled the Russian armies, and large parts of the province sank in ruins. Finally, the German military managed to recapture, for which General Field Marshal Hindenburg in particular received mythical veneration as the “savior of East Prussia”.


Kaiserstrasse in 1914

After the end of the First World War, the resurrected Poland formulated territorial claims on East Prussia. As a result, the Versailles Peace Treaty determined a referendum on July 11, 1920 on the future fate of southern East Prussia, which became known as the Allenstein voting area. The city of Allenstein voted with a majority of 16,740 votes to remain with Germany, 340 voted for Poland.

In 1933 the Nazi terror began in Allenstein. The Jewish community, one of the largest in the East Prussian province, faced persecution, displacement and, ultimately, extermination. In 1942 the last Jews of Olsztyn were deported to death. The Bet Tahara chapel in the Olsztyn Jewish cemetery is a testimony to the once flourishing Jewish life. It was created in 1913 based on a design by the world-famous architect Erich Mendelsohn , who thereby expressed his connection to his hometown Allenstein. Today it has been lovingly renovated and is a cultural center of the city, supported by the Borussia cultural community.


Schillerstrasse in 1907

After the Soviet offensive in mid-January 1945, Allenstein became a theater of war. The East Prussian civilian population tried to escape by fleeing, but after the city was conquered on January 22, 1945, the remaining German population experienced persecution and violence. Although Olsztyn fell almost undamaged into Soviet hands, large parts of the old town burned down by March 1945. Finally the city - 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 autochthons. At the same time, new Polish settlers came, including many expellees from the eastern Polish territories that had been ceded to the Soviet Union.

After the end of communist rule, Allenstein experienced a new bloom. The city became the center of the Warmia-Masuria region that was created in 1999. At the same time the University of Warmia-Masuria was founded. The Olsztyn metropolitan area is now a dynamic
regional center with around 250,000 inhabitants and is by far the largest city in the Polish part of what was once East Prussia.

© Findeisen watches


St. Jakobikirche


bottom of page