Saint Bruno’s Church in Giżycko – the first church commemorating German World War I heroes in East Prussia

Rev. Marek Jodkowski

University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn

Abstract:

The article presents the historical outline and ideological circumstances concerning the construction of Saint Bruno’s Church in Giżycko as well as the novel form (in liturgical context) of the altar design.

In the inter-war period (1918–1939) various initiatives were undertaken in Germany to commemorate the soldiers fallen during World War I. A very important role in this respect was played by the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge). Starting from 1922 National Mourning Day was commemorated in the Weimar Republic, which 12 years later was renamed Heldengedenktag (Memory of Heroes Day) and it was declared an official national holiday. In Giżycko, where Catholics were in a diaspora, a decision was taken to build a church which would function as a church-cum-monument to the fallen soldiers, the first of its kind in East Prussia. The initiator of the plan to erect the church was Father Severin Quint whereas Martin Weber was responsible for the architectural design of the building. The blessing of the cornerstone took place on 23 August 1936 and the church was opened on 8 August 1937. On 23 August 1938 the church was adorned with decorations. This modern place of worship, which also performed the function of a garrison church, was full of military references and military symbolism. The middle section of the facade was decorated with a sgraffito image of Saint Bruno of Querfurt accompanied by a Teutonic Knight on one side and a contemporary German soldier on the other. This figurative image was supposed to symbolise the heroic conduct of the German army, rooted in history and supported by the blessings of the Apostle of the Prussians. As far as the interior is concerned, the positioning of the altar enabling the priest to celebrate the mass versus populum was a truly novel solution on the territory of the Warmia Diocese at the time and, in a way, heralded the changes in Catholic liturgy which were to take place some years later after the Second Vatican Council.

Keywords: German architecture, Diocese of Warmia, Giżycko, Martin Weber, St Bruno, soldiers memorial

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Saint Bruno’s Church in Giżycko has been at the centre of interest of historians for a long time. Its significance was related to the religious life of the Catholic inhabitants of the city and its vicinities. In his monograph Giżycko. Święty Brunon wpisany w historię miasta[1] (Giżycko. St Bruno Being Part of its History) Rev. Zdzisław Mazur highlighted the role of this church as the place of conducting parochial liturgical celebrations. The commemorative function of the church, as a monument commemorating German World War I heroes, was barely mentioned. The issue of commemorating German soldiers fallen on the territory of East Prussia has been discussed at length by Robert Traba in his most interesting publication Wschodniopruskość. Tożsamość regionalna i narodowa w kulturze politycznej Niemiec (Being East Prussian. Regional and National Identity in Germany’s Cultural Policy).[2] In his book the author attempts to interpret the “political cult” of the war heroes as well as its accompanying symbols and rituals. However, he does not reflect in any way on the origins of the church. Hence this attempt to complement the research by presenting more profound historical and ideological aspects relating to this church-cum-monument seems to be fully justified, and perhaps especially so due to the relative abundance of relevant written records. They include documents kept in the General Archives of the Boniface Association (Bonifatiuswerk in German) based in Paderborn as well as publications and newspaper articles from the first half of the 20th century.

            European countries fighting in World War I had undertaken actions to commemorate victims of the war even before it ended. Symbols and commemorative rituals constituted a certain way of dealing with the painful past. Glorification of the defenders of the country served as the way of creating the topos of the fallen, who shed blood fighting for their beloved mother country.[3] Such a policy was conducted on a large scale especially in Germany. It is worth mentioning that around 2 million German soldiers lost their lives and another 4 million were wounded in the course of World War I. The society was confronted with the problem of invalids, orphans and widows on a truly unprecedented scale.[4]

            Commemorating the heroes and victims of war took various forms. In 1919 the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) was set up. On 5 March 1922 it initiated in the German Parliament, the Reichstag, commemorative celebrations to honour the fallen soldiers in the form of celebrating Volkstrauertag (National Mourning Day).[5] The idea was widely popular thanks to the clever stylisation of the victims of war as heroes of “the glorious fight”. When inaugurating the celebrations, Paul Löbe, the President of the Parliament, proclaimed that the dead had become the companions of the living generation in way to gain the new life.[6] From 1924 National Mourning Day was celebrated during Lent. Ten years later it was renamed as Heldengedenktag (Memory of Heroes Day) and it was declared an official national holiday. It is worth noting that the decision regarding the way of celebrating this day and accompanying events rested with the Reichministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda).[7] On 22 February 1935 the Reich Minister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick, issued a circular letter regulating the forms of remembrance for dead heroes in which the Nazi authorities clearly dissociated themselves from celebrating All Saints’ Day in the Catholic Church and the Sunday of the Dead in Lutheran churches in the belief that remembering individual people means limiting the commemorative celebrations to family only. The Heldengedenktag, which falls on 17 March, was to be observed in all places where army units were stationed. The celebrations were organised by garrison commanders, and local people, local administration authorities as well as NSDAP members[8] were encouraged to actively participate. In places where there was no army garrison, the NSDAP and German War Graves Commission[9] were responsible for organising the celebrations.

For the families of the soldiers who perished during the war, cemeteries and graves were an important place for mourning. In time, however, it was noticed that a necropolis could take on yet another important function, one which complied with the political and ideological instrumentalisation of remembering the victims of war.



[1] Z. Mazur, Giżycko. Święty Brunon wpisany w historię miasta, Giżycko 2001.

[2] R. Traba, “Wschodniopruskość”. Tożsamość regionalna i narodowa w kulturze politycznej Niemiec, Poznań–Warszawa 2006.

[3] See also A. Kaiser, Von Helden und Opfern. Eine Geschichte des Volkstrauertag, Frankfurt am Main–New York 2010, p. 13.

[4] Ibidem, p. 24.

[5] Ibidem, p. 10; Traba 2006 (fn. 2), p. 300.

[6] F. Schellack, Nationalfeiertage in Deutschland von 1871 bis 1945, Frankfurt am Main 1990, p. 192.

[7] Kaiser 2010 (fn. 3), pp. 10, 45; cf. Schellack 1990 (fn. 6), pp. 279–282; Traba 2006 (fn. 2), p. 305.

[8] Kaiser 2010 (fn. 3), pp. 182–183; cf. Traba 2006 (fn. 2), p. 301.

[9] Schellack 1990 (fn. 6), p. 297.

[10] Kaiser 2010 (fn. 3), p. 153.

[11] Schellack 1990 (fn. 6), pp. 297–304.

[12] S. Quint, Geschichte der DiasporagemeindeLötzen, “ErmländischesKirchenblatt”, 1936, no 29, p. 475; A. Kopiczko, Obchody 900-lecia męczeńskiej śmierci św. Brunona z Kwerfurtu w diecezji warmińskiej, in: Święty Brunon. Patron lokalny czy symbol jedności Europy i powszechności Kościoła, ed. A. Kopiczko, Olsztyn 2009, p. 384; see also: “Sonntagsblatt”, 1909, no 51, p. 204; W. Barczewski, Nowe kościoły katolickie na Mazurach, 2nd edition, Olsztyn 1925, p. 89; Ł.P. Fafiński, Skok cywilizacyjny 1806–1914, in: Giżycko. Miasto i ludzie, ed. G. Białuński, Giżycko 2012, p. 206; W. Guzewicz, Sanktuaria diecezji ełckiej, Ełk 2011, p. 33; P. Romahn, Die Diaspora der Diözese Ermland, Braunsberg 1927, p. 106.

[13] “Adalbertusblatt“, 1910, no 31, p. 123; “Pastoralblatt für die Diözese Ermland“, 1926, no 12, pp. 204–205; Quint 1936 (fn. 12), pp. 475–476; see also: Barczewski 1925 (fn. 12), pp. 89–90; G. Dehio, E. Gall, Handbuch der deutschen Kunstdenkmäler. Deutschordensland Preussen, München–Berlin 1952, p. 275–276; Guzewicz 2011 (fn. 12), p. 33; M. Jodkowski, Budownictwo sakralne diecezji warmińskiej w latach 1821–1945, Olsztyn 2011, p. 358; A. Kopiczko, Duchowieństwo katolickie diecezji warmińskiej w latach 1821–1945, part 2: Słownik, Olsztyn 2003, pp. 78, 228; Romahn 1927 (fn. 12), p. 106.

[14] Archives of The Boniface Society in Paderborn (hereafter: Arch. Paderborn), file: Lötzen, an official letter from 9 November 1935.

[15] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from  11 September 1935; C. Lange, Die erste Heldengedenkkirche in Ostpreußen, “Ostdeutsche Monatshefte” 18, 1937, no 8, p. 452; cf. Kopiczko 2003 (fn. 13), p. 226.

[16] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from 9 September 1935; Kopiczko 2003 (fn. 13), p. 226.

[17] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 451.

[18] Kaiser 2010 (fn. 3), p. 177.

[19] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from 8 February 1936.

[20] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from 25 March 1936.

[21] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from 2 June 1936.

[22] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letters from 29 April 1936 and 15 June 1936.

[23] Arch. Paderborn, file: Lötzen, official letter from 7 May 1936.

[24] Jodkowski 2011 (fn. 13), pp. 56–57; R. Kempa, W cieniu dwóch światowych wojen 1914–1945, in: Giżycko. Miasto i ludzie, ed. G. Białuński, Giżycko 2012, s. 294; Mazur 2001 (fn. 1), p. 8; A. Seib, Der Kirchenbaumeister Martin Weber (1890–1941). Leben und Werk eines Architekten für die liturgische Erneuerung, Trier 1999, pp. 253–260; M. Weber, Heldengedächtniskirche “St. Bruno” Lötzen Ostpreußen, “Ostdeutsche Monatshefte” 18, 1937, no. 8, p. 459.

[25] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 255.

[26] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 456; cf. Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 257.

[27] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 457.

[28] Ibidem, p. 458.

[29] “Ermländisches Kirchenblatt“, 1938, no 28, p. 398; Rocznik Diecezji Warmińskiej 1985, Olsztyn 1985, p. 198; Guzewicz 2011 (fn. 12), p. 33.

[30] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 255.

[31] Ibidem, p. 254.

[32] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), pp. 451–452.

[33] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 256.

[34] G. Białuński, Legenda o śmierci św. Brunona w Giżycku, in: Święty Brunon. Patron lokalny czy symbol jedności Europy i powszechności Kościoła, ed. A. Kopiczko, Olsztyn 2009, p. 324.

[35] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 454.

[36] Freude in der Diasporagemeinde Lötzen, “Ermländisches Kirchenblatt“, 1938, no 26, p. 376; Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 454; Mazur 2001 (fn. 1), p. 36; Seib 1999 (fn. 24), pp. 256–257; Weber 1937 (fn. 24), p. 463; W. Nowak, Św. Bruno z Kwerfurtu i jego kult w diecezji warmińskiej, “Studia Warmińskie” 19, 1982, p. 86; Białuński 2009 (fn. 34), p. 324. In the first original design of the facade there was an inscription with the following words:  “DEN IM WELTKRIEG 1914–1918 GEFALLENEN HELDEN”; cf. “Ermländisches Kirchenblatt“ 1936, no 49, p. 797.

[37] Nowak 1982 (fn. 36), p. 80.

[38] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 258; Weber 1937 (fn. 24), p. 463.

[39] Mazur 2001 (fn. 1), pp. 36–37; A. Seib, Der Kirchenbaumeister Martin Weber, “Architektur Jahrbuch” 1992, p. 191; Seib 1999 (fn. 24), pp. 258–260.

[40] Weber 1937 (fn. 24), p. 463.

[41] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 454; see also: Weber 1937 (fn. 24), p. 462.

[42] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), p. 260; Weber 1937 (fn. 24), pp. 462–463; Freude… 1938 (fn. 36), p. 376.

[43] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), pp. 454–456.

[44] Ibidem, p. 451.

[45] Nowak 1982 (fn. 36), p. 86.

[46] Seib 1999 (fn. 24), s. 255.

[47] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), pp. 452–453; Traba 2006 (fn. 2), pp. 316–321, 356.

[48] Lange 1937 (fn. 15), p. 452.

[49] Por. Kopiczko 2009 (fn. 12), p. 381; Nowak 1982 (fn. 36), p. 82; idem, Kult świętego Brunona-Bonifacego z Kwerfurtu w świetle ksiąg liturgicznych diecezji warmińskiej, in: Święty Brunon. Patron lokalny czy symbol jedności Europy i powszechności Kościoła, ed. A. Kopiczko, Olsztyn 2009, pp. 265–266.

[50] Kopiczko 2009 (fn. 12), p. 386; see also: Nowak 2009 (fn. 49), p. 266.

[51] Quote from: Kopiczko 2009 (fn. 12), pp. 384–385; cf. Quint 1936 (fn. 12), p. 474.

[52] Guzewicz 2011 (fn. 12), pp. 34–35, 37.

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