For several years now, Masuria has been the place he most enjoys spending the summer. Yet this part of the world has not always been on his agenda. As a boy, he barely knew of it;
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.
"Especially my grandmother probably suffered a lot in the first years after July 20, ’44." Gottliebe von Lehndorff opened up to her grandson only once, in the mid-1980s, when he visited her at the Peterskirchen artists' colony. "She told me of life before the assassination attempt, how beautiful it was in Steinort. She also spoke of the fear – how life completely changed from one minute to the next. To lose a husband, with the announcement: in ten days the execution will take place. She was heavily pregnant at the time. She gave birth to her fourth daughter in prison." He will never forget that day with his grandmother; he was fifteen at the time.
In the Federal Republic, the men who were involved with the events of July 20 were long considered traitors to the fatherland. "And the generation of 68 saw them as reactionaries, feudal lords and military men who only acted at the last moment." All the interest, says Verus von Plotho, was fixated on Stauffenberg, as it still is today. "On him and a few others. The fun-loving Heinrich von Lehndorff, who was actually quite apolitical, didn't fit the pattern."
Neither did his widow Gottliebe. She did not want to be one of the "women of July 20" after 1945, like Freya von Moltke or Nina Schenk von Stauffenberg.2
"My grandmother had enough to do in just dealing with her grief. She wanted to go her own way. She was an independent woman, interested in the arts." It was clearly a conscious decision to leave the past behind her – the world of aristocracy, that lifestyle, East Prussia, and any notion of heroism. "Likewise, the daughters, my mother and the three aunts, always lived more in the present than in memory."
The famous publicist, Dönhoff, and his grandfather Heinrich were of the same generation; they were cousins and had a very close relationship, culminating in their resistance against Hitler. As a student, Verus was particularly impressed by Marion Dönhoff's clear political stance: her public renunciation of her beloved former homeland in the 1960s had paved the way for reconciliation with
Poland is a state in Central Eastern Europe and is home to approximately 38 million people. The country is the sixth largest member state of the European Union. The capital and biggest city of Poland is Warsaw. Poland is made up of 16 voivodships. The largest river in the country is the Vistula (Polish: Wisła).
With her Leica camera she photographed the vast expanse of Mauersee and the castle, which at that time was still relatively intact.
Antje Vollmer’s project "Doppelleben" (double life) provided an important impulse for Verus. During her research on Heinrich and Gottliebe von Lehndorff, she had also interviewed him. "It became clear to me, as well as to others in the family, how little we actually knew." The book, published in 2010, was a gift. A rich trove of sources. Family history, circumstances of the times, astutely and empathically told.
"There's so much in that letter. A deep love for his family. Joy and hope. Courage to follow his conscience and give up everything for it." It's an attitude Verus von Plotho admires, and he's proud of his grandfather today. But to call him a "hero" would be an exaggeration; it would be more accurate to say: "a man who can be an example to us.”
Verus von Plotho has now heard many Sztynort stories, the most amazing of which was told to him by Jurek Dacko. His father was deported here from Ukraine in 1941. He worked as a forced laborer for the Lehndorffs in the horse stable and stayed after the end of the war.
More important than the past is the question of what is needed and makes sense here and now: catering for the tourists who come here to sail, restaurants, cafés, a hotel, co-working offices for digital natives, perhaps a forest academy. Vocational training for the economically impoverished region and jobs for the village youth – that’s especially important.
Again, his grandfather comes to mind: it was through this park that Heinrich von Lehndorff fled from the Gestapo on July 20, 1944. After jumping out of a palace window, he ran toward the forest. Here he knew his way around and "could move freely and safely, almost like an animal."