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The History of Lekow

by Gotthard Sinapius

Preliminary Remark

The history of Lekow was, until the beginning of the period of absolutism, an immediate reflection of the history of the Margravate of Brandenburg as determined by the feudal obligations of mutual allegiance between lord and vassal. Owner of all ground and land was, by God’s grace, the King who granted the right to enjoy the land (the so called usufruct) to certain of his followers including those who were or who became margraves. The margrave (in this case the Margrave of Brandenburg) would in turn grant the right to enjoy the usufruct to his own vassals. Amongst those vassals who had sworn an oath of fealty to their lord were all members of the Lekow family (the v. Lekows).

Lekow’s transformation to an agricultural concern without military obligations within the Prussian nation state took place around 1700. After that time the state provided a living for the younger sons of landowners as professional officers in the Prussian army. The handed down term “Rittergut” (i.e. a Knight’s estate) was merely an indication of a former political significance, which had become subsumed within the concept of honour in the service of the Prussian state.

In 1808 the reforms of Stein and Hardenberg abolished not only the feudal obligations of the peasantry which had bound them to the land, but also abolished corresponding obligations that had bound landowners to their land in the same way. The result was that the great estates became commercially realisable property in a bourgeois laissez-faire sense. On this basis the estate of Lekow would twice in its history be sold.

The bourgeois concept of property, which had been guaranteed under the nation state of the German Reich, did not survive 1945. Lekow was expropriated by the Polish administration, the former landowners were expelled and the great estates collectivised.

In 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany, as the successor to the German Reich, finally ceded its claim to sovereignty over what were the former eastern territories of Germany to the Polish state. Poland thereupon began the process of privatising nationalised property. Although former German property owners are not treated differently from other foreigners, they show almost no desire to return.

Lekow during the medieval period (until 1500)

Details from the sources paint the following picture:

The Lords of Lekow who were of ancient Pomeranian nobility and whose power base was centred on the frontier lands of the Neumark were, from the earliest Hohenzollern times, immediate vassals of the Margrave of Brandenburg. However, they were already in possession of their family seat long before. Contemporary sources suggest that in those early times the Lekows followed the Ascanian margraves or the Pomeranian margraves depending on whatever was personally advantageous to them.

The first documented reference to the Lekows, to which I am aware of, is from the year 1321. This is about the end of the period when Pomerania was under the feudal dependency of the Margravate of Brandenburg: The death of Margrave Waldemar the Great in 1319 and the death, during his minority, of his heir in 1320 extinguished the Brandenburg line of the Ascanians. Given that feudal obligations were always very personal duties, the Dukes of Pomerania saw in the ensuing situation scope for a war against Brandenburg, a war that was to become a bone of contention in numerous dynastic disputes. Also the Poles took the opportunity to invade the Neumark. The Lekows supported Pomerania and in return they were rewarded – the above mentioned document is a schedule of military expenses of the Dukes of Pomerania of which the Lords Rutze and Conrad de Lekow received twenty three talents with a value of thirty six silver marks.

From 1324 the Wittelsbachs made gains in the territorially reduced Margravate, but they managed only to restore peace partially. The eventual transfer (which was enforced by King Charles IV) of the Margravate in 1373 to the Luxembourg dynasty resulted in the sale of the Neumark to the Teutonic Knights in 1402. Of interest is the fact that the territory around the township of Schivelbein was already sold by the Wedel family to the Teutonic Knights as an exclave and gateway to the west, though the sale was certainly not made with the approbation of the Lekows who regarded themselves as independent lords.

Nevertheless the Lekows sought to come to various arrangements after the whole of the Neumark was sold to the Teutonic Knights by King Sigismund. For example in the “Tressler” Book of the Teutonic Knights (the main ledger of the Teutonic Knights, recording all income and expenses, kept in the fortress at Marienburg, preserved only for ten years) the following entry for 29th April 1404 is to be found: “Item: 4½ M[ark] Jacob Lekow in the Lands of Schibelbeyn assistance given on Wednesday before Walpurgis. Item: 5 M[ark] Ludtken v. Klemencz [= Klemzow] in the Lands of Schibelbeyn”. In other words the Lekows and their neighbours had made peace with the Teutonic Knights for the time being.

Although King Sigismund successfully installed Burgrave Frederick of Nuremberg of the House of Hohenzollern in the Margravate of Brandenburg in order to put a stop to the feuding and plundering activities of the infamous Quitzow family, Gans v. Pulitz etc., the weakening of the Teutonic Order following the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410 meant that the goal of enforcing law and order within the territory of the Margravate remained unachieved:

Still in the year 1410, the Stolper Duke Bogislav VIII took the township of Schivelbein from the Polish king as a feudal tenure, though a year later he was obliged to return Schievelbein to the Teutonic Knights as a result of the treaty of Thorn. In the years that followed, the Lekow family distinguished itself by feuding and plundering as well as by alliances with the Duke of Pomerania, the Margrave and the Dutch – as archives of the Teutonic Knights (now contained in the Secret State Archives in Berlin) illustrate in a mass of documents. The Lekows even resorted to litigation by issuing writs against the Order’s Governor for Schievelbein. These writs were served on the Commander of the Order in Danzig and we can still read them today.

The Lekow feud of 1443 became a byword (c.f. van Niessen: Geschichte der Stadt Dramburg 1896 p.95 et.seq.) which was finally resolved in 1455 when the Elector Frederick II repurchased the Neumark from the Teutonic Knights and they withdrew from the area.

Lekow in the Early Modern Period (1500 – 1650)

Unfortunately the family archive of the Lekows was destroyed in a fire around 1500. For the period afterwards until 1804 the most important documents were accurately listed in a genealogical catalogue compiled by the Schievelbeiner Landrat (the equivalent of a district mayor) Johann Georg Friedrich v. Lekow. So at the beginning of the 16th century we see that the cousins Peter and Jacob v. Lekow were vassals of the Elector Joachim I Nestor, the very same Elector who once and for all put an end to the problem of endemic robbery and feuding in the Margravate.

A tightly regulated law of succession by way of primogeniture (that is to say a rule whereby the first born inherited the estate outright) hardly existed in Lekow at all – a situation which also prevailed in other German princely houses at that time. All the sons of a margrave held themselves out to inherit in common and so would assume the title of margrave, although only one of them, the eldest, held the honour of representing the principality before the Emperor and Reich. In that way the territorial integrity of the Margravate was thereby preserved, though the prospect of partition remained open where there were major disagreements amongst the heirs.

Similarly at that time in Lekow, when the head of the family died, the oath of fealty was taken by all the male heirs of generation and then once again when the Overlord (in other words the Elector) died. The process of joint infeudation by all the heirs meant that under certain circumstances up to ten vassals would have to share the estate.

Whereas Elector Joachim I was the last ruler who supported the Pope and Emperor and who called for the banning of Luther at the meeting of the imperial diet at Worms and personally in the presence of Emperor Charles V, some of the v. Lekows remained loyal to the old church for rather longer: Johann v. Lekow (1581-1642) was a Catholic ordained priest who in 1603 received a “Mutung” that is to say his putative feudal rights were recognised by the staunchly Lutheran Elector Joachim Frederick and again in 1615 from the Elector Johann Sigismund (a convert to Calvinism) and who eventually in 1637 was sworn as a vassal of the Calvinistic Elector George William.

The Lekow family and their estate therefore played a special role in Brandenburg. It was hardly surprising that during the Thirty Years War Johann v. Lekow acted as an agent of the Holy See in the Margravate with no less a mission to lead the Elector back to the arms of the mother church. Indeed Cardinal Melchior Khlesl, who as Rector of the University of Vienna and Minister under the Emperor Mathias and one of the strongest supporter of the catholic restoration, placed great hope in the political abilities of Johann v. Lekow [c.f. Khlesl’s note of 16th September 1628 to the papal propaganda in Rome]. During this period Lekow even received the support of the Polish King Wladisław IV Sigismund, as Antonio Santa Croce, the papal nuncio in Warsaw, wrote in a dispatch to Rome dated 3rd April 1637. Johann v. Lekow’s decade long efforts are recorded in the documents of the propaganda in the Vatican (reprinted in part in Preussen und die Römische Kurie Vol. 1: die vorfriederizianische Zeit (1625-1740), Berlin 1910). V. Lekow’s missionary activities in the Margravate were transferred to the papal nuncio in Cologne after 18th July 1639.

Johann v. Lekow was Lord of a fifth and then later a quarter of Lekow – as two brothers and two feuding cousins held the estate in common. The cousins hived off some of the estate in 1622 and received a separate feudal grant. Johann lived as a celibate. His brother also died without issue so that his share of the estate reverted to the whole.

Lekow in the period of the absolutist Prussian state (1650 – 1815)

The ascent of the Great Elector also witnessed Lekow’s rise in prosperity: Eustachius v. Lekow (1640-1701) could afford to have himself build the renaissance manor building that still survives today and whose splendour was only exceeded by the Baroque manor that the v. Borckes built on their estate in neighbouring Stargordt forty years later. Eustachius v. Lekow most certainly did not reckon with the fact that none of his five sons would leave an heir. Four sons were produced out of the union of his cousin Eustachius Adrian v. Lekow with Elsa Catharina v. Kleist, but from this time forth the nine brothers and cousins who held the estate in common only managed to produce two offspring at all.

The last Margrave who bequeathed his estate to his offspring in common was Frederick-William, also known as the Great Elector. Frederick III (later King) contested his father’s will in 1688 and had it declared invalid in order to inherit solely. He mollified one of his brothers by creating him a Margrave and allowing him to rule as the Margrave of Küstrin. However, with the death of that brother, the law of primogeniture was incontestable in Brandenburg.

Around this time the old feudal relationships between natural persons gave way to the modern military and administrative structures. The status of the aforementioned nine Lekow vassals as liegemen of the Elector Fredrick III continued to be confirmed only in the Neumark Chancellery for Feudal Titles. In the main they discharged their services as officers in the Prussian Army where most of them fell in the Northern Wars. The two brothers who had produced heirs agreed that Georg Adrian should buy out Eustachius Friedrich. Thus in 1713 King Frederick William I personally confirmed Georg Adrian v. Lekow as his sole Lekow vassal. From henceforth the law of primogeniture applied to Lekow as it did in the rest of the Margravate.

In future sons that would not inherit were expected to serve in the Prussian army as officers. Christian Reinhardt v. Lekow (1705-1755) as the first sole beneficiary concerned himself with agricultural issues. Johann Georg v. Lekow, at one time a page at the court of King Frederick I and later the commandant of Fort “Preußen” near Stettin, was taken prisoner as a Lieutenant Colonel by the Austrians at the fall of Glatz in 1760. His brother Joachim Friedrich v. Lekow served Frederick the Great in the Seven Years War. As a Major General he was seriously injured on 25th August 1758 at the battle of Zorndorf, nevertheless he saw further action at the battle of Meißen where on 21st November 1759 he was also taken prisoner by the Austrians. A further brother Friedrich Wilhelm v. Lekow was a Lieutenant Colonel also and a Knight of the Order Pour le Merite, though during the war he resigned his commission in 1758 to take control of his wife’s Silesian estate at Pfaffedorf near Schmiedeberg.

The Lekows married into the great families of Pomerania and Brandenburg such as the Hohenzollerns, the Lettows, the Manteufels, the Ostens, the Kleists the Flemmings, the Goltz, the Wedells and many others.

Lekow and the Prussia of the German Confederation and the German Empire (1815 – 1945)

The last Lord v. Lekow in Lekow was the Landrat Johann Georg v. Lekow who died on the 7th September 1823 without issue. As a result of the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna Lekow had been incorporated into the Prussian province of Pomerania, it was however still administered by the provincial diet of Brandenburg. It was only with the coming into force of the New Provincial Adminstration in Prussia Ordinance on 1st January 1876 that Lekow, along with the district of Schievelbein, was assigned administratively to Pomerania.

The eldest of the four sons of the Landrat’s nephew Carl Christian and his wife the Countess Antoinette v. Mostowska, namely Julius Leopold v. Lekow inherited the estate. However thanks to his stepfather Baron Michael v. Stosch he was already in possession of an estate in Silesia so that in 1828 he came to the decision to sell Lekow and all its associated estates.

In addition Baron v. Stosch also bestowed large estates in Silesia and East Prussia on the other brothers.1)

As a result of the sale, the estate of Lekow, which thanks to an adept marriage policy had grown to around 6000 hectares, was divided into smaller parcels. In close proximity to the manor house there remained only Kunow, Teschenbusch and Boltenhagen which the buyer in 1845 later sold to Konrad Karl Gerhardt Cleve.

His son Anton Cleve (1851-1911) followed the sign of the times by investing in the industrial sector. Brickworks were erected and a mere 50 metres away from the manor the chimney of a steam starch factory towered over the manor. (Both structures were torn down in 1976.) Various outhouses that still remain today, including a rather decorative granary, were also erected in the second half of the 19th century.

After the so call Preußenschlag (the dissolution in 1932 of the left wing administration of Prussia’s Prime Minister Braun by Reich Chancellor Franz v. Papen) the Reich Government decided, as cost saving measure, to dissolve the administrative district of Schievelbein and reconstitute it as the new district of Belgard-Schievelbein.

1) Bartholomew Stosch, militant Calvinistic court preacher to the Great Elector, who in 1666 saw to it that the Lutheran poet and hymn writer Paul Gerhardt was removed from his living as minister at the Nikolai Church in Berlin. He laid the foundations of a highly influential family in Prussian Brandenburg. After Saxony’s forced entry into the North German Confederation, a General v. Stosch campaigned for greater military autonomy for Saxony and thereby for a reduction in tension between the German member states and the Reich government. Later, in the German Kaiserreich, General v. Stosch became Minister for the German Navy.

Lekow since 1945

The Second World War touched on Lekow for a short while only. The v. Tettau Regiment with a deployment over 10,000 men was surrounded by Russian forces in the area of Schievelbein Bad-Polzin. A command was given for the regiment to break out and on the evening of 4th March 1945 the regiment carried out that order. During severe snow storms the “Pommernland” and “Holstein” divisions as well as the 15th (Latvian) SS division passed through Lekow on the 5th March on their way to the Dievenow Oder bridgehead. Meanwhile, further south the Russians were in control of the road towards Regenwalde, thereby blocking the shortest route to the River Oder. As of 20th March 1945 the River Oder finally became the new frontline.

On 3rd March the then Lord of Lekow, Justus Cleve, took what he could and made a late attempt to flee Lekow, but returned on 14th March. In the meantime the manor house was occupied by the headquarters of the Polish National Army (the Armia Krajowa) and most of the rooms were used, to begin with, as hospital wards. The Russians themselves preferred to move into estates which had distilleries.

The Polish military administration immediately installed Justus Cleve as an estate manager and he was as a result protected from intervention by the Soviets.

A contemporary witness to the events at that time was Stefan Kuchta (born in 1926). From 1943 Kuchta was active as a member of what was, at first, the entirely underground Armia Krajowa. He arrived in Lekow as a non commissioned officer and orderly to Captain Czaja in Easter 1945. He reported that on one occasion the young Miss Cecilie Cleve was abducted by Russian soldiers and he had managed to discover her whereabouts in nearby Meseritz. Captain Czaja was then able to insist that the Russians release her. When the order came on 30th June 1945 to deport the Cleves, Stefan Kuchta drove the couple in their finest covered carriage to Schievelbein and thence to the station.

The manor house and estate remained in the possession of the Polish military administration until 1948, after which the first civilian estate manager, by the name of Langer, took up his post. Lekow’s forests were incorporated into the state run forestry commission.

Antoni Siwiński, the new manager who arrived in 1954, was able to run the estate in a more disciplined fashion – not only the agricultural concerns or the steam starch factory and the brickworks, but also by beautifying the park with pretty little pathways and flower borders. Where the new blocks on the Boltenhagener Strasse now stand, vegetable allotments were laid out and the produce was sold at the market in Schievelbein. The German cemetery with its graves also remained undisturbed.

In 1964 Siwiński was replaced by the diehard communist Józef Kępka. Kępka intentionally allowed the historic buildings and park to deteriorate. The factory works, which deliberately were no longer maintained, fell into ruin and eventually were torn down. The drying out building in the brickworks also burnt down so that production ceased and works fell into disrepair. Under Kępka modern milking stalls made out of prefabricated concrete units were erected on the Boltenhagener Strasse. It was Kępka who also allowed one of the villagers in Lekow to build a coal shed using German grave stones. Nothing ever came of the coal shed however: the coal kept disappearing, so that eventually the stones were sold.

As long as Eastern Pomerania remained technically German territory under Polish administration, no one dared to risk any kind of major investment in the area. It was only with the signing of the German Polish Treaty of the 14th November 1990 that Lekow became, as a matter of international law, part of the Polish state. However, the transformation at the same time from a planned economy to a free market economy brought with it new challenges.

The last state appointed manager Zygmunt Lachoski struggled in vain to adapt the Lekow estate to the new circumstance. In 1992 the estate was privatised and taken over by the Norwegian Company Polrol, nowadays Polfarm. The new management rationalised the cattle production on the estate, dismissed 95% of the agricultural work force and had neither use nor interest in any of the agricultural and administrative buildings. The rapid destruction of the manor house and the surrounding buildings by the local inhabitants, who had suddenly become unemployed, began soon after. By 1995 most of the buildings were in ruins and the park was reduced to a rubbish tip.

In that year the author, who has many years of experience in the field of restoration and conservation of historic buildings, was alerted (on the Polish side) to the restoration potential of the manor of Lekow. The Polish authorities in turn were helpful in offering administrative, if not financial, assistance. Since then the Sinapius family of Königswinter and the privately financed German charitable foundation Philocultura have endeavoured to restore and preserve the manor house and park, which today survives as a monument to German cultural history in the frontier district of the Neumark and Pomerania, without the estate fulfilling any kind of economic role. Where Brandenburg and Prussian politics was once shaped, today there shall be a place of remembrance, which in its pre-national greatness may also contribute to supranational understanding.