The East Prussian noble Lehndorff family can be traced back to the 13th century. The history and culture of remembrance around the family are exemplary for many other noble families in Eastern Europe. Our author Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg explains the role of commemorating the nobility and calls for a new approach to regional history.
Nobility, as an elite built to last, has been striving for centuries to stay on top in historical and contemporary societies. The cultivation of memory through an appropriate culture of commemoration plays a central role in this. All great noble families have written down their own memories, outstanding deeds and events to be commemorated, while discreetly turning a blind eye to the less honorable episodes and erasing them from memory. Outstanding individuals serve as evidence of the high status of the nobility as a whole. Remembering is always a process of selecting; for the nobility, it is mostly only concerned with distinguishing a special kind of prowess.
So what about not-remembering or forgetting? That is not practicable for several reasons. In rural, agrarian societies, especially in the communities of Eastern Europe centered around large manor houses and estates, historical memory often revolves around the noble patrons. From earlier epochs, it is often only the memories of the nobility or texts written by servants such as court masters and secretaries that have been preserved. If one were to omit these texts, literally nothing would remain. The goal can therefore only be to recognize the limitations of these memories and to read them carefully, against the grain so to speak.
The Lehndorffs are an outstanding example of East Prussian nobility, because they embody basic features common to the commemorative tradition of the nobility, namely a long-established bloodline, an agrarian custom appropriate to their class (horse breeding), military lifestyles, but also a long history of producing literary works, which can be verified again and again over centuries. Finally, they stand for a certain aristocratic resistance, which in certain situations defied monarchs and the authorities. It would be possible to write a history of rural eastern Prussia since the 16th century based on the history of the nobility. Hans von Lehndorff (1910-1987) attempted this in his memoirs through a form of essay-writing.
What do we know about the Lehndorffs? Rare and important in terms of Prussian tradition is the fact that the family, as far as back as memory reaches, resided in Prussia. Like the Kalneins, it traced itself back to Prussian ancestors, which gave the bearers of the name a special reputation, especially in the history-obsessed 19th century, when a Prussian cult was also en vogue. Unfortunately, due to the destruction of the family archives, many materials have been scattered, which at the same time has facilitated a process of mythologization. Current digitization projects are, however, providing new insights.1 
The Lehndorffs of Steinort have lived in the region since the 16th century, when the family obtained larger feudal estates in the then still sparsely populated "Steinort Wilderness with Lake Wargapiwa."2   Their rise paralleled that of other families such as the Dohnas and the Dönhoffs and was based on the acquisition of former estates of the Teutonic Order, which now became secularized. This gave the families income at the expense of the dependent peasants who had revolted in the Samland peasant revolt in the 16th century. In the records we find repeated reports of runaway peasants who wanted to build a new life elsewhere, especially in cities, and were sometimes brought back by force.
In terms of their religious faith, the family proved to be adaptable: Initially converting to Lutheranism, around 1600 the family, like other East Prussian nobles, developed an inclination toward the more rational Reformed (Calvinist) tradition, which brought them into close proximity with the Reformed Hohenzollern dynasty. At the same time, however, and this has been forgotten in the family history, several family members converted to Catholicism and held offices in the Jesuit order. For example, Bogusław Albrecht (1655-1711) was superior of the Jesuit residences in Tarnowitz and Deutsch-Piekar in Silesia.
Such confessional adaptability was important because it allowed the family to pursue a range of different careers: Gerhard Ahasverus von Lehndorff (1637-1688) attended Jesuit colleges in Braunsberg and Thorn, was chamberlain to the Polish King John Casimir after an eight-year educational journey, and then became Prussian chamberlain and colonel in Dutch and Danish service. In 1687, through the intercession of the (Reformed) electoral prince Georg Wilhelm, he and his family were raised to the rank of Imperial Counts by the (Catholic) Emperor Leopold. This promotion secured the family, which had already belonged to the gentry and was thus more prominent than the general Prussian nobility, a corresponding position in the title and rank-conscious aristocratic society of the 18th and 19th centuries.   
Ernst Ahasverus (1727-1811), who was incapable of military service due to a disability, became chamberlain to Frederick II's unloved wife, also because of his title; his extensive diaries, written in French and unfortunately rather inadequately redacted in abbreviated German translations, are an important source of 18th-century aristocratic thought. Lehndorff also maintained broader relations with the Polish nobility; personally, he was friends with the bishop of Warmia and Enlightenment writer Ignacy Krasicki. Both visited each other repeatedly, reported on their daily lives and ironized the constraints they both experienced under their respective monarchs.
However, this very sense of openness, especially towards the Polish nobility, was hardly remembered after the partitions of Poland-Lithuania. Poles and Lithuanians appear frequently in commemorative texts, but they are consistently portrayed paternalistically as "loyal workers" or exotic members of the estate workforce. This phenomenon continues seamlessly into the 20th century: the Polish, Belarusian, and Ukrainian forced laborers of World War II are recorded in aristocratic memory at best as benign workers, in the worse cases as brutal opponents. The concatenation of violence, which frequently originated from the German military and authorities, is not reflected in these sources.
Military careers also became more important in the Lehndorff family in the 19th century. Ahasverus Heinrich (1829-1904) pursued a career up to the rank of full general. He participated in all Prussian wars of the 19th century and was made a personal member of the Prussian “Herrenhaus”, the higher chamber of the parliament. For the sons born after him, horse breeding provided an occupation befitting the nobility, including horse racing. It would be worth discussing whether this milieu of stud farms, stud books, and racetracks, which was cultivated by the Lehndorffs until 1945, preserved a specifically conservative agrarian world or encouraged risky decision-making. How close were the mental ties to arch-conservative and autocratic relatives like Elard von Oldenburg-Januschau, who publicly spoke of the Social Democrats as a "gang of pigs" and wanted to give the emperor the option "to say to a lieutenant: take ten men and close the Reichstag"?3   
Or did the "horses' backs" offer wayward freedoms as Marion Gräfin Dönhoff repeatedly invoked? Gottliebe von Lehndorff seemed to be of this opinion when she wrote in 1947 "that I have heard from a Polish friend of ours, a Count Krachiki [Krasicki? H.-J.B.], that Steinort has become a Polish state stud farm, probably for Arabian horses, and that there is also supposed to be a quite reasonable manager there. If it is really true, which I assume after this news from this gentleman, it is still not the worst thing, since the estate will at least remain in its entirety and not be completely broken up. It is also a pleasant thought to me to know there are noble horses there – better than dreadful people in masses.”4 
Without question, the agricultural base of the families suffered as a result. Although the estates were large – the Steinort estates alone encompassed 5,500 ha (equal to the territory of around 10 villages) – the agricultural conditions changed after 1918. Until 1918, East Lubian agrarian functionaries such as Oldenburg-Januschau had offered considerable influence on agricultural policy, and in East Prussia, which was remote from the wider German territory, agricultural prices were low. It can be assumed that this initially resulted in an identity of interests with Nazi agricultural policy, which from 1933 onward sought to protect the "Reichsnährstand" (a government body set up to regulate food production) through "hereditary farms." This may have been the motivation of the young landowner Heinrich von Lehndorff to join the NSDAP in 1937, when this was possible again after a ban on membership.
Without question, Steinort's proximity to Hitler's "Wolf's Lair" "Wolf's Lair" The "Wolf's Lair" was built during the Second World War and was one of the "Führer headquarters". The facility, including bunkers and numerous buildings, was above ground but camouflaged in a wooded area near the town of Rastenburg (now Kętrzyn). Hitler stayed there mainly from 1941 to 1944.  Today, the ruins of the Wolf's Lair, which was demolished by the Wehrmacht during its retreat, are a tourist attraction. and the temporary billeting of Nazi elites headed by Ribbentrop shaped the region during the war. Six kilometers north of Steinort, the Army High Command had built its "Mauerwald" bunker system, eleven kilometers east was Himmler's "Hegewald" field command post, and 25 kilometers southwest was the "Führer's Wolfsschanze" headquarters. Heinrich von Lehndorff's courageous participation in the resistance, which ended with his execution and the arrest of his wife and family, resulted in all family members who had memories of Steinort being forced to leave the area.
What did people in Sztynort know about this complex past after 1945? Certainly, the older Prussian, but especially the recent German National Socialist past possessed a certain fascination. Knights of the Teutonic Order, Prussian Junkers and National Socialists populated the past, but in the countryside the few remaining inhabitants had to live and work closely with the newly arrived Polish refugees and displaced people in order to cope with everyday life. Hans von Lehndorff described this in 1976 after a visit to Sztynort: "The original inhabitants were all able to flee at that time, and the few Germans still living there, who moved in from the surrounding district – some of them are married to Poles. But you feel so connected to them all, simply because they are there. We should have much more time for them and their manifold hardships. Their lives are a chapter in themselves, revolving around the most primitive things of existence and making them gradually resign themselves. The landscape is a great festive costume, too large to wear. This is true for the Poles as well as for the Germans who are still there – with few exceptions. Hardly anything keeps the Germans there anymore."5 
Today there are opportunities for Germans, Poles and others who are interested in this area, to research regional history in a new and unbiased way. Pioneering projects, like the initiative to gradually make the family archive digitally available and the work being done to rescue the manor house continue to inspire these new possibilities. The aim behind all these efforts should be to bring the distant (Prussian-German) and the more recent (Polish) history closer together.
English translation: William Connor

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