Wielbark, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship
Wielbark [ˈvjɛlbark] (German: Willenberg (help·info)) is a town in Szczytno County, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, in northern Poland. It is the seat of the gmina (administrative district) called Gmina Wielbark. It lies approximately 19 kilometres (12 mi) south of Szczytno and 52 km (32 mi) south-east of the regional capital Olsztyn.
The official site of the county of Wielbark gmina states that the first signs of human settlement date before the arrival of the Teutonic Knights, and that the first named settlement mentioned in the area is called Bartniki. This location along with the settlement located near castle-called Karczmarska Wioska, gave birth to Wielbark according to the county's site. The German name of the settlement, “Wildhaus” ("wild game house"), is first mentioned in 1361 of the Teutonic Order at the southern border of the Teutonic Order State Willenberg (Wildenberg) consisted only of a few buildings when it was founded by komtur Frederic von Willenberg. It remained within the Teutonic Order state after the Second Peace of Thorn (1466) and became a part of the Crown of Poland fief of Ducal Prussia with the adoption of the Lutheran faith by Albert of Prussia in 1525. A Protestant church was mentioned in 1557 and the settlement was called a small town in 1647. In 1656, throughout the Second Northern War, Willenberg, like many towns in Masuria, was destroyed by Polish Lipka Tatars.
In the 18th century the town was a center of cloth manufacturing and benefited from its location at the main road from Warsaw to Königsberg (Królewiec), with the main trade focused on Russian held Poland, according to the webpage of the Wielbark gmina. The settlement was granted town rights on 21 July 1723. Fires destroyed the town in 1743 and 1763.
In January 1807 70,000 Napoleonic soldiers traversed the town and had to be supplied. Napoleon headquartered here from 21 January to 2 February prior to the Battle of Eylau. The French troops caused a fire which damaged the town furthermore. In 1813 Tsar Alexander I of Russia received the official message of the Prussian accession to the struggle against Napoleon by General von Kleist at Willenberg.
The Prussian administration reform of 1818 made the town part of Landkreis Ortelsburg. On 23 September 1819 and on 9 June 1834 the town was again damaged by fire and in 1831 and 1852 the Cholera caused many casualties. The gmina’s webpage states that in 1823 a crisis happener when the authorities of Congress Poland introduced high custom tariffs on imports, reaching 60% to 80%, which brought large losses to the population in the town, mainly engaged in cloths trade. Despite this, the local fairs, attracted large attendance of merchants from Mazury area and Russian-controlled Poland, the Wielbark webpage claims those were the largest fairs at the time in Mazury region. A new Protestant Church was built in 1827, based on plans of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The area played a role in Polish preparations for uprising against Russian Empire. Hoping to gain assistance from the population of Warmia, uprising plans from 1845-1846 hoped to establish seven main camps on border between Prussia and Russia, with one of them located near Wielbark, to which two Polish units, including one from Olsztyn(Allenstein) and one from Szczytno(Ortelsburg), would be directed, to attack Myszniec later on; During January Uprising Polish units operated in the area, and in January 1864 a unit of Olszański-Ostrorog numbering 300 soldiers established a camp near the town Local population itself engaged in smuggling of weapons to Polish resistance across the border
In the years 1872-1887 the cleric in charge of a parish was the priest Jan Szadowski- a religious and social activist, involved in defense of Polish language. At that time the German Empire engaged in policy of Kulturkampf which combined anti-Catholicism with anti-Polish actions in areas inhabited by Poles. Thanks to his efforts a petition was made to Prussian authorities demanding that Polish language should remain in rural schools. He also initiated the construction of local catholic church and was engaged in popularizing Polish religious singing and wrote several collections of religious songs. Szadowski complained about the teaching system imposed on the Polish population "No child can read in Polish. The new teaching system strips poverty stricken Poles of their books for prayer and their beautiful songs" He also complained about expulsions of Poles by German authorities in the so-called Rugi Pruskie During this time around 60 Poles were expelled by German authorities from the area of the town
Szadowski’s work in Wielbark was continued by Walenty Barczewski, priest, notable activist in the Polish national movement, author of numerous books about Warmia, its geography, history and folk culture who arrived in Wielbark on 11 April 1889. Already in 1890 he managed to open up a Polish school in the town for young clerics A catholic church was built in 1878 - 1880. Willenberg was attached to the railroad line Ortelsburg - Willenberg - Neidenburg on 1 July 1900.
In the beginning of World War I Willenberg was occupied by Russian troops in the Battle of Tannenberg (1914). On 30 August 1914 16,100 Russian soldiers were captured in a battle near Willenberg and the Russian First Army commander General Samsonov committed suicide in a forest just south of Willenberg.
During the Polish-Soviet war, a plebiscite was organized to determine if the town should remain in Germany or be attached to Poland, on 11 July 1920 1,581 citizens voted to remain in Weimar Germany’s East Prussia and 24 to join the Second Polish Republic in the East Prussian plebiscite. Afterwards posters were hanged out in Willenberg demanding that “traitors who voted for Poland” leave the town within three days with their belongings Due to the Nazi Party's significant success in Masuria in the 1932 elections Hitler visited the area in April 1932 and held a speech in Willenberg.
In January 1945 Willenberg was taken over by the Red Army from Nazi Germany. Due to the fast Soviet advance large parts of the populace remained in the town or were overrun on their flight. After World War II the remaining populace was expelled, the area was "restored" to Poland and given the Polish name of Wielbark by which it was known before the war.
- Bernhard Fisch (born 1926) is a German writer.
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- Wielbark official site history section
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