Malbork (German: Marienburg; Lithuanian: Marienburgas; Latin: Civitas Beatae Virginis) is a town in northern Poland in the Zulawy region (Vistula delta), with 38,478 inhabitants (2006). Situated in the Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999, it was previously assigned to Elblag Voivodeship (1975–1998). It is the capital of Malbork County.
Founded in the 13th century by the Teutonic Knights, the town is noted for its Gothic Malbork Castle.
History of the castle
The town was built in Prussia around the fortress Ordensburg Marienburg which was founded in 1274 on the east bank of the river Nogat by the Teutonic Knights. Both the castle and the town (named Marienburg in German and in Polish as Malborg or Malbork) were named for their patron saint, the Virgin Mary. This fortified castle became the seat of the Teutonic Order and Europe’s largest Gothic fortress. During the Thirteen Years War, the castle of Marienburg was pawned by the Teutonic Order to their imperial soldiers from Bohemia. They sold the castle in 1457 to King Casimir IV of Poland in lieu of their pay. This separated the castle from the city in political terms, as the citizens resisted take-over by Poland.
Under continuous construction for nearly 230 years, the castle complex is actually three castles nested in one another. A classic example of a medieval fortress, it is the world’s largest brick castle and one of the most impressive of its kind in Europe. The castle was in the process of being restored when World War II broke out. During the war, the castle was over 50% destroyed. Restoration has been ongoing since the war. However, the main cathedral in the castle, fully restored just prior to the war and destroyed during the war, remains in its ruined state. The castle and its museum are listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
History of the town
The town of Marienburg grew in the vicinity of the castle. The river Nogat and flat terrain allowed easy access for barges a hundred kilometers from the sea. During Prussia’s government by the Teutonic Knights, they collected tolls on river traffic and imposed a monopoly on the amber trade. The town later became a member of the Hnseatic League, and many Hanseatic meetings were held there.
When during the Thirteen Year’s War the castle was pawned to imperial Bohemian soldiers, who sold it to the King of Poland in 1457. Then the Teutonic Knights left the castle. The town of Marienburg under Mayor Bartholomaus Blume and others resisted the Poles for three further years. When the Poles finally took control, Blume was hanged and quartered, and fourteen officers and three knights with retainers were thrown into dungeons, where they met a miserable end.A monument to Blume was erected in 1864.
The town became part of the Polish province Royal Prussia after the Second Peace of Thotn (1466). It was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the First Partition of Poland in 1772 and made part of the Province of West Prussia the following year. Marienburg became part of the German Empire in 1871.
Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, the inhabitants were asked whether they wanted to remain in Germany or join the Second Polish Republic by the East Prussian plebiscite on July 11, 1920. In the town of Marienburg, 9.641 votes were given to "East Prussia", 165 votes for Poland. Based on that result, Marienburg was included in the Regierungsbezirk Marienwerder within the German Province of East Prussia.
The town was hit by an economic crisis following the end of the WW1. After a brief recovery, the Great depression was particularly severe in East Prussia. In 1933, the Nazi Party gained power in Germany and persecutions of Jews started (54% of voting for Nazi party in elections 1933). After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, leaders of the Polish minority were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
During World War II a Focke-Wulf aviation factory was set up at the airfield to the east of Malbork. It was bombed twice by the USAAF in 1943 and 1944. Today the airfield belongs to the 22nd Air Base of the Polish Air Force.
Near the end of the war, the city was declared a Festung and most of the civilian population fled or was evacuated fled, except some 4,000 people. In early 1945, the town was the scene of fierce battles and almost completely destroyed. The battle lasted until March 9, 1945, and following the military capture by the Red Army, the remaining civilian population disappeared and 1,840 people remained missing. In June, 1945, the town was passed to Polish authorities who had arrived in the town in April.
After 178 corpses had been found in a mass grave in 1996 and another 123 in 2005,in October 2008 a grave containing the remains of 2,116 people, which sparked numerous media reports and attention as well as speculations After forensic scientists have completed their study, the mortal remains were buried at the German War Cemetery of Stare Czarnowo. Investigation concluded that there was no evidence of any crime and the corpses were most likely buried to prevent epidemic of typhus from spreading. The bodies found also included remains of dead animals; most belonged to women and probably of German descent who died most likely due to numerous various causes such as disease, cold, hunger and war conditions. They were buried nude and without metal dental fillings.While some initial reports talked about up to 10 percent of the bodies being shot in the head the investigation found out that ony a very few bones had signs of gunshot wounds. The investigation was thus closed on 1 October 2010 as no justifiable suspicions of any crime were found.
In Malbork one can also find a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery with 240 graves, mostly of POWs who died in the area during both wars, especially in the World War II Stalag XX-B camp.
After World War Two, the town was repopulated by Poles,many expelled from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. In February, 1946, the population of the town reached 10,017 people, then by 1965 it grew to 28,292 and by 1994 to 40,347.
Following the war, the Old Town in Malbork was not rebuilt, instead the bricks from its ruins were used to rebuild the oldest sections of Warsaw and Gdansk. As a result, with the exception of St. John's church, no medieval buildings remain in the town. In the place of the old town, a housing estate was built in the 1960s.