At the end of the
war 2,307,000 people were driven out of
East Prussia, of which 295,000 lost their lives on
In this province
once lived 2,719,000 Germans in 4778 settlements.
Allenstein, Braunsberg, Elbing, Goldap, Gumbinnen,
Neidenburg, Osterode, Rosenberg, Tilsit and Treuburg
East Prussia during peace time
East Prussia in a
Area: 36,993 km²
Population: 2,025,741 (1905)
Previously: Duchy of
With Königsberg and
the Memel country the province of East Prussia was
larger than the Netherlands.
The narrow strip of
the Memel country always belonged to the province of
East Prussia. In 1923 the Memel country was annexed by
Lithuania and in 1939 was returned to the German Reich.
The larger southern
part of East Prussia is now Polish territory, the
northern portion around Königsberg came to Russia. Such
way the former Soviet Union has secured an access to the
Baltic Sea, together with the adherent port.
However, this area
has become an exclave since Lithuania came away from
Russia and turned to the West.
of East Prussia
around 16000 B.C.
First traces of
settlement after the end of the Ice Age on the southern
coast of the Baltic Sea.
Mention by Tacitus
in his work Germania.
Germanic tribes from the 10th
Attempt by the
Teutonic Order of Knights and the Polish princes to take
this area of the Baltic tribes for themselves.
Emperor Frederick II
confirmed in the Golden Bull of Rimini that the land
rights of this region belong to the Teutonic Order of
Pope Gregory IX
formally confirmed this right again in the Golden Bull
After the defeat of
Tannenberg the Teutonic Order of Knights lost West
Prussia and had to recognize the Polish suzerainty over
At the Diet of
Augsburg the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order of
Knights obtained the fiefdom of Prussia.
The Prussian Duchy
of Brandenburg went to the Brandenburg line of the House
Elector Friedrich III was crowned in Königsberg as King
After the western
parts of Poland have fallen to Prussia, Frederick II of
Prussia named the new territories West Prussia and the
former Duchy of Prussia East Prussia.
As part of the
Versailles dictate parts of East Prussia were
transferred to Poland. The land connection between the
German Reich and East Prussia was separated by a Polish
By flight and
expulsion more than 2,000,000 Germans lost their East
Königsberg, the then
German city (now Kaliningrad, Russia)
The advance of the
Between 12 and 14
January 1945 the Red Army launched the most powerful
offensive of the Second World War. The German lines in
the province of East Prussia were broken by the 2. and
3. Belorussian Fronts. The Soviet armored at a rate of
70 km per day. Because of this pace no closed line of
defence could be organized. On 27 January 1945 the red
attack formations reached the Baltic Sea at Elbing from
the south and on 31 January the Oder at Küstrin. This
way East Prussia was completely cut off by land from the
German Reich. But with fierce resistance the towns
Königsberg, Heiligenbeil and Danzig could be held. As a
result, thousands of refugees could reach the ports of
the Baltic Sea through the River Haff.
The small village of
Nemmersdorf on the border of East Prussia, between Insterburg
and Gumbinnen gained tragic notoriety.
On 21 October 1944
Soviet troops entered there first time on German soil.
The Soviet tanks
rolled over the fleeing families with horses and carts,
human and animal bodies crushed to a pulp.
The next day German
troops recaptured the village. They found about 20
bodies of women, children and the elderly. The victims
were raped, mutiliated, slain.
Witnesses of the
event said that people were even nailed naked to a barn
door by the Soviets.
In many settlements
south of Gumbinnen bodies of civilians lay en masse on
the roadside and in the ports who had been murdered
Killed children and
women in the village of Metgethen
Escape to the west
On 12 January 1945
the Soviet army marched into East Prussia opening a
The attack began
with a massive artillery fire on the German positions.
With a tenfold superiority the Red Army broke through
the relatively sparse positions of the German Wehrmacht.
There were no
natural obstacles and the Russian tanks moved with a
high pace, followed by motorized infantry.
People fled in panic
to the west. The trains that left from Königsberg were
Front page of U.S.
newspaper on the fall of Königsberg
They were mostly
women and children who fled. All able-bodied men served
as soldiers or as members of the Volkssturm.
The people had to
leave everything they owned. The animals froze to death
in the cold stables, died of thirst because the water
was frozen, starved or perished in frenzied pain because
there was no one who to milk them.
Icy death on the
Within a few days,
all roads to the bridges over the Vistula leading to
Marienburg and Dirschau were hopelessly clogged with
The roads were full
of snow and ice. The horses slipped out in front of the
overloaded carts and could not be passed by because
beside the road they immediately sank up to their
bellies in the snow.
The old people froze
to death in the first few nights. The wet diapers of the
infants froze rock-hard and they had no chance of
The dead could not
be buried in the stone-hard earth. They had to be placed
on the roadside. Many remains were dragged away and
eaten by wild animals.
Escape over the Haff
On 26 January 1945
the Soviet army pressed forward at Elbing, near Danzig,
as far as the Baltic Sea. By this, most of East Prussia
was cut off from the rest of the German Reich.
The flight on the
country roads to the west became impossible. What
remained was the way across the Baltic Sea. In order to
achieve a saving port the refugees had to reach Pillau
through Königsberg or the Frische Haff through the
frozen Frische Haff.
At Heiligenbeil the
German troops defended a cauldron open to the sea as
well as the Haff. Out of this cauldron that was
compressed more and more by the Soviets, thousands of
refugees started a dangerous escape over the ice.
trek on the ice was marked with small trees by German
soldiers so that the refugees not lost the direction on
the huge sheet of ice. Soon, this marker was no longer
necessary: frozen bodies, frozen animal carcasses,
destroyed carts and lost belongings marked the path. In
the afternoon, the bodies were recovered and buried in
the cemetery of Heiligenbeil. Each day there were about
50 victims who were put in paper bags because coffins
were no longer there.
Frosty death on the
The flight over the
ice of the Haff was a race with death. The endless white
surface offered an ideal target for the Allied war
planes to machine-gun the refugees.
Often, the ice was
dyed red with the blood of the wounded and dying.
The thickness of the
ice was irregular and through fire and bombs also
brittle and cracked. Many wagons sank with all families
in the icy water, with horses and carts.
The refugees were
easy target for the low-flying Soviet planes. The dark
bodies stood out sharply from the white ground. On the
giant ice there was no cover and no escape. In the
spring, after the melting, thousands of shattered bodies
were drifted to the shore.
At night, the
journey was no less dangerous. Although there was no
more low-flying aircraft, it lurked the danger of coming
off the road and the thinner ice broke under many
Who finally reached
the ships lulled themselves into a false sense of
security. Many died by bombs and torpedo attacks.
Famous names; who
knows their East Prussian roots?
- Königsberg, 1877-1945, writer
Dach - Memel, 1605-1659, poet, professor
von Dönhoff - Castle Friedrichstein, 1909-2002, journalist
Gottsched - Juditten, 1700-1766, scientist, writer
Hamann - Königsberg, 1730-1788, philosopher
Herder - Mohrungen, 1744-1803, poet
E.T.A. Hoffmann - Königsberg,
1776-1822, jurist, poet, conductor
Kant - Königsberg, 1724-1804, philosopher
Kollwitz - Königsberg, 1867-1945, painter and
Lenz - Lyck, 1929-, writer
Lieven - Hohenstein,
Schenkendorf - Tilsit,
- Matzicken (Heidekrug), 1857-1928, writer
East Prussia and its
capital, Königsberg, emitted for centuries significant
spiritual and cultural impulses.