The resistance operation of July 20 1944 was one such topic. In left-liberal circles, the conspirators were considered reactionaries – arrogant, nationalistic, anti-democratic, and totally unsuitable as a model for the Federal Republic. Real heroes were Hans and Sophie Scholl, the communists of the "Red Orchestra" or Georg Elser. Such value judgments also shaped Antje Vollmer’s thinking, but her involvement with Heinrich and Gottliebe von Lehndorff changed all this.
The village of Sztynort is located in the north of the Masurian Lake District on the Jez Peninsula between Jezioro Mamry, Jezioro Dargin and Jezioro Dobskie. Until 1928 the village was called Groß Steinort, then Steinort.
Warsaw is the capital of Poland and with almost 1.8 million inhabitants also the largest city in the country. It is located in the Mazovian Voivodeship on Poland's longest river, the Vistula. Warsaw first became the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian noble republic at the end of the 16th century, replacing Krakow, which had previously been the Polish capital. During the partitions of Poland-Lithuania, Warsaw was occupied several times and finally became part of the Prussian province of South Prussia for eleven years. From 1807 to 1815 the city was the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a short-lived Napoleonic satellite state; in the annexation of the Kingdom of Poland under Russian suzerainty (the so-called Congress Poland). It was not until the establishment of the Second Polish Republic after the end of World War I that Warsaw was again the capital of an independent Polish state.
At the beginning of World War II, Warsaw was conquered and occupied by the Wehrmacht only after intense fighting and a siege lasting several weeks. Even then, a five-digit number of inhabitants were killed and parts of the city, known not least for its numerous baroque palaces and parks, were already severely damaged. In the course of the subsequent oppression, persecution and murder of the Polish and Jewish population, by far the largest Jewish ghetto under German occupation was established in the form of the Warsaw Ghetto, which served as a collection camp for several hundred thousand people from the city, the surrounding area and even occupied foreign countries, and was also the starting point for deportation to labor and extermination camps.
As a result of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from April 18, 1943 and its suppression in early May 1943, the ghetto area was systematically destroyed and its last inhabitants deported and murdered. This was followed in the summer of 1944 by the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation, which lasted two months and resulted in the deaths of almost two hundred thousand Poles, and after its suppression the rest of Warsaw was also systematically destroyed by German units.
In the post-war period, many historic buildings and downtown areas, including the Warsaw Royal Castle and the Old Town, were rebuilt - a process that continues to this day.
The Baltic States is a region in the north-east of Europe and is composed of the three states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic States are inhabited by almost 6 million people.
At that time, the biographer writes, he is "just 27 years old. He loves this landscape, he loves this forest, he is where he always wanted to be."
Kaliningrad is a city in today's Russia. It is located in the Kaliningrad oblast, a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg, belonged to Prussia for several centuries and was the northeasternmost major city.
They were a whole clique. During the vacations, cousins came to Preyl, including Marion Gräfin Dönhoff. The girls also enjoyed a free and happy life. When Heinrich was sent to boarding school at the age of thirteen, to the traditional Roßleben convent school, he felt like he was in a prison.
"A strange place full of restraints," Antje Vollmer quotes the young student. And the class teacher's verdict on him: "He is full of good intentions, but weak in keeping them. He lives each day full of life, carefree, and unconcerned."
Clearly, the convent school had an amazing effect on its students. Antje Vollmer notes that no other school produced so many resistance fighters. She counts twelve, almost all of whom were executed.
After graduating from high school in 1928, von Lehndorff spent two years travelling and pursuing an apprenticeship: training in agriculture, military service, and two years in Frankfurt, where he attended lectures in law and business administration and became acquainted with liberal ideas. He met up with Marion Dönhoff again, and they both discovered a passion for fast cars.
Gottliebe was fragile, stubborn, and desperate to graduate from high school. As a high school student in Dresden, she met Bogislav Krahmer, her first great love. He was a veterinarian – and Jewish, a mesalliance in the eyes of her class. Without further ado, her mother put Gottliebe on a ship to Colombia.
In Bogotà, where her stepfather owned a coffee company, she fell into despondency. In 1934, she managed to fight her way to freedom, moved to Berlin and took a job as a librarian. Finally she was able to live as an emancipated woman.
During a visit to East Prussia in 1935, she met Heinrich von Lehndorff at the Königsberg racecourse. On a whim, Heinrich invited her to Preyl. In August 1936, during the Olympic Games in Berlin, where Gottliebe was working as a hostess for the Spanish athletes, he literally caught her and put her in his convertible. Destination Steinort. In February 1937, they celebrated their wedding in Graditz. The pastor friend who married them was Martin Niemöller, a leading representative of the Confessing Church.
Shortly afterwards, on May 1, 1937, Heinrich von Lehndorff was admitted to the NSDAP. His biographer Antje Vollmer provides detailed reflections on this. After all, parts of the nobility, such as one branch of the Dohna family, were supporters of Hitler. Perhaps the young landowner from Steinort – like his brother-in-law Dietrich Dönhoff – joined the party because it seemed "useful and opportune" for the future of the estate? "We simply don't know," Vollmer concludes.
Marie Eleonore (nicknamed "Nona") was born in November 1937, and Vera in May 1939. Heinrich's younger brother Ahasverus was the first to see the disaster coming; he was already in contact with Hitler's opponents. After the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Heinrich von Lehndorff was ordered into action. "Without military ambitions," Antje Vollmer states, he served temporarily as an ordinance officer with General Fedor von Bock. Because the Steinort estate was extremely important for supplying the army and the population, he would spend most of the war here.
And so the estate moved, suddenly and fatefully, from the sidelines to the center of military power.
The Soviet Union (SU or USSR, Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР) was a state in Eastern Europe, Central and Northern Asia existing from 1922 to 1991. The USSR was inhabited by about 290 million people and formed the largest territorial state in the world, with about 22.5 million square km. The Soviet Union was a socialist soviet republic with a one-party system.
In June 1941, a week after the invasion, two Mercedes limousines pulled up in front of Steinort Castle. "I recognized Ribbentrop. I had seen his face in the newspapers," Gottliebe later recalled. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, was looking for quarters befitting his status near the Führer and the OKH. He requisitioned the left wing of the palace and had it converted for himself and his entourage – Gestapo officials, a cook, secretary, and a valet.
Thus the family found themselves literally living inside the "lion's den".
The fun-loving daredevil Heinrich von Lehndorff became a serious man. There was the pain of the death of his brother Ahasverus, who fell in
Estonia is a historical landscape in northeastern Europe and includes the northern part of the present Estonian state. Until 1918, Estonia was one of the three Baltic Sea governorates of the Russian Empire, along with Livonia and Courland.
Back in Steinort, he acquainted his wife with his cause. And so a "double life" began, one outwardly, for camouflage, and a secret one in the resistance, in the inner circle around Henning von Tresckow.
Little was known about Heinrich von Lehndorff's role. His task was to recruit additional supporters, as well as to oversee courier services between the two headquarters of the resistance, Stauffenberg in Berlin and Tresckow on the Eastern Front. The assassination of Hitler, the coup that would overthrow the regime and end the war, required many allies.
Only the military still had a chance to approach Hitler, who was holed up in the "Wolf's Lair." It was Lehndorff who delivered to Stauffenberg von Tresckow's famous message, "The assassination must take place, coute que coute."
It was then that their "great love" was born. In a letter to Ricarda Huch, shortly after the war, Gottliebe von Lehndorff told of it. Thanks to later transcripts and a conversation that her daughter Vera recorded on tape, we are able to relive the family's perilous private life: He's dying for it to finally happen. She is anxious, pregnant again. Both are aware of what is at stake.
On July 20, 1944, Heinrich von Lehndorff makes his way to Königsberg to organize the coup there if the assassination succeeds.
The couple manage to hear from each other now and then through indeirect means. On July 23, Gottliebe is driven out of Steinort Castle and flees to Graditz, to her father, where Nona, Vera and Gabriele have been brought as a precaution.2 There she is arrested and taken to Torgau prison, and gives birth to her fourth child, Catharina, on August 15. While the three older daughters are taken to a secret children's camp in Bad Sachsa. Heinrich and Gottliebe’s actions have now led to the whole family being imprisoned!
Heinrich von Lehndorff is hanged in Plötzensee on September 4, 1944, one day after the verdict of the "People's Court". On the eve of his execution, he writes a farewell letter; it is published in full for the first time in Antje Vollmer's book. "My most beloved in all the world!" it begins. Ten densely written pages – it is an entirely unheroic, personal retrospective.
The moving letter is now available online as part of the extensive collection of sources "Lebenswelten Lehndorff" (the life and times of the Lehndorff family).
Through a series of brief sketches, Antje Vollmer decsribes how the family story continued. Vera Lehndorff told it in more detail: recalling her mother's suffering and her own, the search for redemption and a fulfilled life.
The Lehndorff castle is one of the very few East Prussian manor houses that has survived. It was able to be saved from falling into disrepair with the help of many enthusiasts, including the descendants of Heinrich and Gottliebe.