Tannenberg monument

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Tannenberg Memorial June 1940
Tannenberg Monument (German Empire)
Castle.svg Location of the Tannenberg monument

The Tannenberg Monument (officially Tannenberg National Monument , from 1935: Reichsehrenmal Tannenberg ) was erected from 1924 to 1927 near Hohenstein in East Prussia , today's Polish Olsztynek . It was reminiscent of the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410 during the Lithuanian Wars of the Teutonic Order , the Tannenberg Battle in August 1914 and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes in September 1914. The facility was blown up by Wehrmacht pioneers in January 1945 before the advancing Red Army.

From 1934 to 1945 the coffins of Paul von Hindenburg and his wife Gertrud were kept in a crypt in the main tower of the monument.

Name and place

Memorial service for President Paul von Hindenburg on August 7, 1934

The First Battle of Tannenberg , known in Polish as the Battle of Grunwald , was fought in East Prussia in 1410 near the village of Grünstelde (now Grunwald ) between Tannenberg ( Stębark ) and Ludwigsdorf ( Łodwigowo ). The closest town was Gilgenburg ( Dąbrówno ). The historiography of the order called the battle simply "great streyth", the great dispute. In Banderia Prutenorum and the Annales , written several decades later by Jan Długosz , the battle is not referred to in Latin as the Battle of Green Fields, but rather the Battle of Grunwald. The misnomer Grunwald was widely used by Poland in the 19th century. It was also Długosz who referred to the knights of the order as "Prussia" and thus facilitated the building of historical bridges between the order state and the Prussian kingdom for Polish nationalism . The Lithuanian name Žalgiris , from the Lithuanian žalia giria , is a simple translation of Grunwald. After the end of the Second World War , Green Field came to Poland and was renamed Grunwald, thus adjusting the reality of the legend. Internationally, the flawed Polish view was widespread. Standard works mostly use Tannenberg, when translating into Slavic languages ​​Grunwald comes into play, or three names are listed.

The Second Battle of Tannenberg was a World War I battle that took place in the area south of Allenstein ( Olsztyn ) in East Prussia. It was an all-encompassing battle that ultimately involved a vast territory. Shortly before the surrender of the Russian 2nd Army , the ring of the boiler passed over the villages of Hohenstein ( Olsztynek ), Neidenburg ( Nidzica ), Willenberg ( Wielbark ), Ortelsburg ( Szczytno ) and Passenheim ( Pasym ). The site of the historic Tannenberg battle, about 14 kilometers from Hohenstein, was in the final phase outside of the action, but was initially included. In his address to the 8th Army, Hindenburg himself spoke of the skirmishes between Allenstein and Neidenburg, and the imperial telegram of congratulations referred to it as the battle of Allenstein . Subsequently, Hindenburg wanted the name "Battle of Tannenberg". This naming ignores the problem of applying the term battle - a local, one-day event - to the fighting of modern industrial warfare. Traditionally, however, the winner of a battle has the right to be named. Hindenburg therefore made use of this right; the naming is not wrong and has been adopted in all other languages. Erich Ludendorff and Hindenburg later claimed to have had the idea of ​​naming the battle after the town of Tannenberg; however, it must have been General Max Hoffmann's idea . The naming shows the effort to connect it with the medieval battle.

Grunwald or Tannenberg myth

The Battle of Grunwald (historical painting by Jan Matejko )

The Grunwald myth, which gained enormous importance after the founding of the empire in 1871, became a popular subject in Polish painting and literature. In Germany, the Tannenberg myth was linked to the battle of 1410 as a counter-movement in the victory over the Russian troops near Tannenberg in August 1914. The victory of 1914 played an important role in the Hindenburg cult and the Tannenberg National Monument became the site of great German national and National Socialist celebrations.

The first time Grunwald was used in literature like Adam Mickiewicz 's verse epic Konrad Wallenrod as a historical subject to dress criticism of current Russian politics in an unsuspicious historical guise. Mickiewicz relocated the current Polish-Russian conflict to the Middle Ages, turned the Russians into German knights and thus circumvented Russian censorship.

Karol Szajnocha's story 'Jadwiga i Jagiełło', based on Jan Długosz 's annals, as well as the first book about the "Krzyżacy" (Crusaders) by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski from 1874 demonized the knights of the order. When the pressure on the Catholic Church and the Polish language increased during the Bismarckian culture war , the return to Grunwald was obvious. The painter Jan Matejko and the writer Henryk Sienkiewicz decisively shaped the political myth . Matejko draws the viewer into the fighting. According to his own admission, Matejko had painted the painting “with anger” on German politics in Poland. The population accepted the painting, while professional art critics criticized the composition. The painting inspired Henryk Sienkiewicz, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, to write his patriotic novel “ Krzyżacy ”. Sienkiewicz described the conflict between the Polish crown and the knights of the order as a struggle between good and evil and drew a direct line to the Polish-German culture war in the province of Posen . The novel was a great international success and has been translated into many languages.

The anniversary of the Grunwald Battle was celebrated as a national festival in 1902 for the first time. The organizers in Galicia reacted to the intensification of the Polish-German conflict, the Wreschen school strike of 1901, the subsequent trials and the anti-Polish speech by Kaiser Wilhelm II at the Johanniter Festival at Marienburg in 1902. However, the peak of Grunwald's enthusiasm was the five hundredth anniversary of the Battle in 1910, committed in Krakow on behalf of all areas of division. 150,000 visitors took part in the three-day celebrations.

In Protestant Prussia, on the other hand, the German Order of Knights was viewed critically well into the 19th century. But then Heinrich von Treitschke integrated him into the Prussian tradition as the embodiment of the German "mission in the east" and as evidence of a "German cultural carrier role". The Polish celebrations were closely watched in the German Reich. German historians then interpreted Tannenberg as an honorable and tragic defeat against an insidious enemy. Characteristic of this was the inscription on the Jungingenstein , which was placed on the battlefield for Ulrich von Jungingen in 1901 : "In the struggle for German beings, German law, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen died a heroic death here on July 15, 1410".


The ten-ton memorial stone bearing the name of the then fallen Grand Master of the Teutonic Order is still there today. However, after 1945 it was overturned face down by Poland, so that the German inscription is no longer legible.

On the fifth anniversary of the battle, the Association of Veterans of the Province of East Prussia proposed building a memorial at the site of the battle and honoring the fallen there. After all, the battlefield was the only one of the World War that was within the Reich territory. For the East Prussian population, this was always the place where the Russian advance, which caused huge flows of refugees and which caused sensitive collateral damage, was stopped. So this was the place of salvation of the fatherland. On August 31, 1924, the laying of the foundation stone took place in Hohenstein, in which, in addition to Hindenburg and Ludendorff, a total of 60,000 people took part, most of them veterans of the battle that was exactly ten years ago. Hindenburg accompanied his ceremonial hammer blows on the foundation stone with the "hammer saying"

"The fallen as an honorable memory, the living as a serious warning, the coming generations to emulate"

which essentially corresponds to the inscription of the national monument on Berlin's Kreuzberg from 1821.

The design (title: "Gode Wind") of this largest German war memorial came from the Berlin architects Walter and Johannes Krüger , who won first prize from 385 entries in a competition in 1925. The architecture should be reminiscent of the Neolithic Stonehenge and the medieval , octagonal Castel del Monte . The layout is octagonal, with a 20 meter high rectangular tower made of red bricks in the middle of each of the eight circular wall sections.

These towers, numbered counterclockwise from 1 to 8, were given various heroic functions: 1st entrance tower, 2nd World War Tower (the tower never had this function; Hindenburg's coffin was in it until the Hindenburg crypt was completed), 3rd East Prussian Tower, 4th Flag Tower, 5th Hindenburg Tower (in this tower, which had no false ceilings, there was a 4 meter high Hindenburg statue and later also the Hindenburg crypt), 6th Soldier Tower (with viewing platform), 7th Weiheturm, 8. General tower. Colored granite was used for the fourteen city stones that showed the coats of arms of the East Prussian cities damaged in the First World War . A 7.5 hectare monument park was laid out between the monument and the town of Hohenstein  . The actual memorial site originally consisted of the resting place for twenty unknown soldiers inside the memorial under a burial mound with a high cross. It partially compensated for the lack of a central tomb of the unknown soldier in Germany.

Tannenberg National Monument

On September 18, 1927, Paul von Hindenburg , who was almost eighty and had been President of the Reich since May 1925, inaugurated the monument. It was designed as a collection point. Mass events should be able to be held in the memorial, with everything gathering around the cross that had been erected in the middle of the courtyard above the soldiers' graves. Taking this idea of ​​the assembly into account, towers 1, 3, 5 and 7 also had large archways.

The monument was aligned with the cardinal points. The entrance gate Gate 1 was in the north, the others accordingly in the west, south and east. The four paths - coming from the cardinal points of the gates - crossed in the middle of the inner courtyard on which the aforementioned cross was erected. But other events should now take place in the spirit of Tannenberg. The youth in particular should be brought up in this spirit. For this purpose, a sports field was laid out in the south at the same time as the monument was built. In the monumental monument complex, financed exclusively by donations, Hindenburg gave a speech that was attached in excerpts in brass to the right entrance gate:

“We reject the charge that Germany is to blame for this war, and the German people in all their classes unanimously rejects them! It was not envy, hatred, or the desire to conquer that gave us arms. Rather, war was for us the ultimate means of self-assertion against a world of enemies, combined with the heaviest sacrifice. With a pure heart we went out to defend the fatherland and the German army wielded the sword with clean hands. Germany is always ready to prove this to impartial judges. In the countless graves, which are signs of German heroism, men of all party colors rest without distinction. At that time they were united in love and loyalty to their common fatherland. Therefore, at this memorial mark, inner strife should always be shattered; it is a place where everyone shakes hands, which inspires love for the fatherland and to whom German honor is paramount! "

Tannenberg Imperial Memorial

The Reich memorial after the redesign (status in 1944)
The Reich memorial after the redesign (as in 1944, side view)

The Tannenberg memorial was a patriotic place and a national rallying point against the consequences of the Versailles Treaty, which affected East Prussia particularly hard. With the establishment of the Polish corridor , the province was cut off from the rest of the empire, and Polish border and customs officials did their best to make the new situation clear through particularly meticulous controls. Contrary to the will of its people, Danzig had been made a “ Free City ” under Polish sovereignty and the border between East Prussia and Poland did not run in the middle of the river on the Vistula, as is otherwise international practice, but on the right bank, so that the residents living there did not have access to the river Flow that was generally perceived as intolerable.

A reinterpretation and further interpretation developed during National Socialism. The central cross has been removed. The national highway 130 of Hohenstein to Osterode, of yet convenient access was possible from that was interrupted in the area of the monument, replaced by a bypass around Hohenstein around and the access path to new to this road extended, so that the visitors were forced to take a long to walk a dead straight path to the monument, which went through the entrance gate directly to the Hindenburg crypt - to the neolithic cult of the dead of the Third Reich. Hindenburg became part of the sacrificial cult of the dead and the fatalistic loyalty to the Nibelungs. The general Hindenburg was raised from the "hero of Tannenberg" to a National Socialist myth, which reached its culmination point on August 7, 1934 in the act of mourning for him . Hindenburg's coffin was laid out in the second tower for the time being - against his own express will and that of his relatives - after the funeral ceremonies. In the meantime, Walter and Johannes Krüger worked out the plans to transform the monument into a realm of honor, in the course of which the Hindenburg crypt was built from mid-1934 to mid-1935. For this purpose, the grave mound of the unknown soldiers in the middle of the courtyard was removed, the cross was attached to the Hindenburg tower, the dead were reburied in the side chambers of the crypt and the courtyard was placed two and a half meters lower. The towers received a new roof, which gave the monument more of a fortress character. On October 2, 1935, Hindenburg's birthday, Reich President Hindenburg was finally buried together with his wife Gertrud, who died in 1921, in the new crypt. On that day the monument was at the direction of Adolf Hitler officially from Tannenberg National Monument to Reichsehrenmal Tannenberg levied. The Hindenburg Hall of Honor was located above the crypt room. The hall was dominated by a four-meter-high porphyry statue of the marshal, created by the sculptor Friedrich Bagdons . The church window pictures increased the sacred effect. The eternal guard of honor in front of the crypt may have served the same purpose. The epitaph on the entrance door to the Hindenburg Tower was indicative of the new interpretation , a quote from Hindenburg: “The decisive factor in my life and activities was not the applause of the world, but my own conviction, duty and conscience right up to my last breath The rebirth of Germany will be my only concern, the content of my anxiety and prayer. ”The quote is torn from its context and misleadingly put together in the combination. The original was a justification: “As a person I thought, acted and made mistakes. The decisive factor in my life and actions was not the applause of the world, but my own conviction, duty and conscience. ”His religious commitment to the faithful fulfillment of duty was alienatingly misused by contemporaries in the National Socialist sense:“ This is how the life sentences of the great Germans from the huge bronze door of the Memorial Hall in the Hindenburg Tower. And there now stands the figure of the general, captured by the artist's hands in a huge monument made of matt porphyry. Just as it has always lived in the soul of the people since this unique battle: mighty, high, towering over everything human, mythical. He is the calm force that stands like a rock in the vortex of time, who overcame the crisis that the Tannenberg Battle also had with this deep inner calm, just as he has overcome all crises. "

Tannenberg trip

In the twenties and thirties of the 20th century, a visit to the Tannenberg monument - combined with a visit to the voting monument , the Feldherrnhügel, the Samsonow stone and at least one of the many scattered cemeteries of honor - was an obligatory part of any trip to East Prussia. The largest cemetery of honor was Waplitz with 426 German and 206 Russian dead.

The end

The lion monument in Olsztynek / Hohenstein
A building in Warsaw made from the stones of the monument
Remains of the monument on the site of the former location in Olsztynek / Hohenstein

In January 1945 the memorial was partially blown up when the German troops withdrew on Hitler's orders. The order for the demolition reached the commander of the 299th Infantry Division , Colonel Göbel , on the morning of January 21, 1945. Since there were no pioneer explosives available, the Hindenburg crypt was blown up on the same day with plate mines . The main tower and the entrance tower were blown up in the evening with newly brought in pioneer explosives. The destruction continued on January 22nd with another 30 tons of ammunition. A complete demolition was no longer carried out due to the further war and fighting. The removed coffins from Hindenburg and his wife were brought to safety via Königsberg in a Thuringian salt mine. The Americans, who conquered Thuringia and large parts of Saxony, transferred them - together with the coffins of the Prussian kings and other works of art - to West Germany. They rest today in the Elisabeth Church in Marburg . The memorial was completely demolished in 1952/53 by Polish pioneer troops. Only the lion monument remained . It stood outside, about 300 meters from the Tannenberg monument, and was made by Michelangelo Pietrobelli . The lion originally sat on an 8 meter high pyramid made of field stones. The memorial was dedicated to the fallen of Hindenburg's body regiment, the 2nd Masurian Infantry Regiment No. 147. The regiment was given the honorary name of the Marshal after the winter battle in Masuria . On May 20, 1993, the lion, which had been on a Soviet barracks site for almost fifty years, was placed on a pedestal in front of the town hall of the former Hohenstein, now Olsztynek.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sven Ekdahl: The battle near Tannenberg 1410: Introduction and sources. Duncker & Humblot, 1982, ISBN 3-428-05243-9 , (online) pp. 13ff.
  2. Stephen R. Turnbull, Richard Hook: Tannenberg 1410: Disaster for the Teutonic Knights. Osprey Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-84176-561-9 , (reading sample online)
  3. Stephen Turnbull: Grunwald / Tannenberg 1410. Grada Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-80-247-2376-1 . First published in 1965. (Excerpt in Polish online)
  4. ^ Sven Ekdahl: The Battle of Tannenberg-Grunwald-Žalgiris (1410) as reflected in Twentieth-Century monuments. in Victor Mallia-Milanes, Malcolm Barber: The Military Orders Volume 3: History and Heritage. Ashgate Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7546-6290-7 , pp. 175ff. (on-line)
  5. Holger Afflerbach (edit.): Kaiser Wilhelm II. As supreme warlord in the First World War. Sources from the military environment of the emperor 1914–1918. Verlag Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-57581-3 , p. 148.
  6. ^ Board of Trustees for the Tannenberg Imperial Memorial (ed.): Tannenberg . Gerhard Stalling, Oldenburg 1939, p. 203.
  7. Map image from 1944 on the topographic map 1: 100,000 on landkartenarchiv.de
  8. quoted from Gustav Stresemann: legacy. Ullstein 1932, p. 473.
  9. Copy of the brochure: Reichsehrenmal Tannenberg. Text design: Hansgeorg Buchholz, Lötzen - pictures after etchings by Georg Fritz, Berlin - printed by Otto Eisner, Berlin SW 68
  10. Cf. from the report of the 299th Infantry Division to the VII Panzer Corps on the "Defense and Destruction of the Tannenberg Reich Memorial" of January 25, 1945, in: Knafla, Alfred: Flucht und expulsion from the Osterode Ostpreußen district 1945. Osterode am Harz 2005. p. 33.


  • Friedrich Meyer: The public competition for the Tannenberg National Monument near Hohenstein i. Ostpr. Zentralblatt der Bauverwaltung, No. 24, 1925, pp. 289–292.
  • Walter, Johannes Krüger: The Tannenberg National Monument. An explanation from the builders. South-East Prussian Tourist Office, Allenstein approx. 1928.
  • Otto Ewert: Tannenberg. Monument city Hohenstein, battlefield and heroes' cemeteries, Tannenberg national monument, graves directory. E. Grünberger, Hohenstein approx. 1935.
  • Jürgen Tietz: The Tannenberg National Monument. Architecture, history, context. Dissertation . Verlag Bauwesen, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-345-00673-1 .
  • Wolfgang Wippermann : The history of the "Tannenberg Imperial Memorial": A historical lesson. In: No man's land: magazine between cultures , volume 1, issue 2/1987, pp. 58–69, ISBN 3-88940-701-3 .

Web links

Commons : Tannenberg Memorial  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Coordinates: 53 ° 34 ′ 53 ″  N , 20 ° 15 ′ 39 ″  E