Exhibition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main exhibition is located on the 1st floor and divided into five halls.

The first one displays the history of the Teutonic Order State foundation and expansion, the second depicts daily life in those times. The third hall is dedicated to military techniques: an atmosphere of a medieval room was reconstructed by exposing brick walls and barrel vault. Kaiser-Panoramas have been installed in the same room. The fourth is fully devoted to the Battle of Grunwald and the decline of the Teutonic Order. The fifth hall's exhibition deals mainly with audiovisual materials, whereas on the attic practical stations related to experimental archaeology for children can be found: "treasure" hunting, recognising copies of arms, touch panel cartoons, costumes from the era, medieval music, animations of battle scenes and showing films in a projection "helmet" presenting virtual world and interactive photographs of that period - castle drawers, jigsaw puzzles, etc.

 

It cannot be described in detail, it must be seen alive. 

 

You are more than welcome to visit our exhibition!

 

THE GOOD AND THE BAD IN THE STORY OF THE TEUTONIC ORDER

In the XIX and XX centuries the Teutonic Order began its second, ideological life. It became a tool of political propaganda used by two nationalisms: German and Polish. In this way, successive generations have glorified and condemned the activities of the Order. It is on these partial interpretations that stories of the good and the bad about the Order have been constructed.

Mixed feelings concerning the activities of the Teutonic order were already in evidence in the Mediaeval tradition. Public opinion in Poland, which at the beginning had been generally well disposed towards the Order in Prussia, changed utterly following the knights’ seizure of Pomorze-Gdańskie in 1309. The military and diplomatic conflicts with the Order provided the fuel for the fire of charges of rape, murder, cruelty and faithlessness that were levelled at those who wore the black cross of the Order on their cloaks. 

On the other hand, the Teutonic tradition strongly supported the justice of the Order’s actions in responding to the call for assistance from Konrad I Mazowiecki to do God's will in the Holy War against the pagan Prussians and Lithuanians. This outlook is evident in the chronicles of Piotr of Dusburg, Johann von Posilge and Mikołaj Jeroschin. In presenting its activities as a mission of God it was the Order itself that created the positive story. This story of good is most fully developed in the chronicles written by the Teutonic priest, Piotr of Dusburg, in the first half of the XIV century. According to Dusburg, the wars pursued by the Order in Prussia were of a new kind and different from those that had come before them. They were not aimed at conquering territory or at plundering and were not driven by anger or greed. Instead they were pursued in the name of God as an extension of the earthly mission of Jesus, as a struggle with evil and against the enemies of the Church. 

Every action taken against the brothers in white cloaks marked with black crosses was thus an action taken against the Creator. The power of the Order and its earthly mission had their origin in heaven. In this way the Order justified conquering the territories inhabited by the pagan Prussian tribes and the numerous atrocities it committed – the end was to justify the means.  So it was that the conquest of the already-Christianised Pomorze-Gdańskie was passed over in silence. 

 The Teutonic Order did not enjoy a very good reputation in early-modern Prussia either. Its tyranny with regard to its subjects, its abuse of power and the moral decay of the brothers were all emphasised. That the great majority of the population of Prussia declared itself for Protestantism, which meant that there was no need as such for the Order to exist, was another significant aspect of the situation. In 1701 Frederick I proclaimed himself King of Prussia. There was as yet no attempt made to justify his power in terms of the Mediaeval past of the territory he ruled. 

Teutonic Priest Baptising a Pagan

This changed in the XIX century following the disappearance of the Kingdom of Poland (1795) and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – Protector of the Order (1806). Furthermore, the ideals of Romanticism ignited a new interest in the Middle Ages and in knightly ideals. The ideological framework for the unification of Germany (divided at that time into numerous independent statelets) that was under construction alongside this was often coloured by nationalistic tendencies. In 1813 the iron cross, a German military medal awarded until 1945, was founded. Its designer, the accomplished architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, took the cross of the Teutonic Order as his template but introduced one small and almost unnoticed difference: the iron cross was equal-armed. This forged an enduring symbolic association between the Teutonic Order, German militarism and fascism, and aggression towards Poland. The Teutonic cross was used in many other German decorations. The glorified past of the Teutonic state became the ideological template for the German state governed by the Hohenzollerns and the Teutonic knights exemplars of German virtues. German historians, such as Johannes Voigt and Heinrich von Treitschke, celebrated the civilizational benefits brought by the conquest of the south-east coast of the Baltic by the Germans or even stated directly that the conquest of Prussia by the Order was an example to be followed in Germany’s relationship with its eastern neighbours. The unifying idea of the knightly brotherhood was widely and persistently deployed in the policy known as Kulturkampf [culture war] and in exhortations to defend the Germanness of the eastern territories of the Reich. A visual reflection of the positive legend of the Teutonic knights, whose message is very clear, is the statue that was erected before the gates at Malbork on the anniversary of the first partition of Poland. It presented Frederick the Great atop a column and, standing at its base, his historical and ideological forbears – the great masters. 

The castle at Malbork was restored and rebuilt in the same spirit. It was meant to serve not only as the residence of Emperor Wilhelm II and the backdrop for the nationalistic festivals and celebrations he organised, but also as a monument exalting the German spirit in the east. The inconvenient or uncomfortable elements of the Order’s history were either concealed or passed over in silence. The victory of Paul von Hindenburg over the Russian armies at Tannenburg in 1914 was celebrated in propaganda terms as revenge for the defeat of the Order at Grunwald in 1410. This was also commemorated with a suitable monument. 

Guard at the castle in Malbork, 5 June 1902 

German infantry regiment 152, which was stationed in Sztum and Malbork, was known as the German Order. The soldiers of this regiment were often deployed to add splendour to public celebrations. They turned out in outfits and armour that recalled the Order’s magnificent heyday.

A similarly ideological mode of thinking was dominant on the Polish side, for whom the Teutonic knight – invader, oppressor and ancestor of today’s German-Prussian – became the embodiment and synonym of all manner of evil and of the German drive to the east (Drang nach Osten). Prussia’s Kulturkampf policy on the territories it had annexed aggravated the animosity, whose source was sought in history. The arrival of the Teutonic Knights in Poland, their conquest of Prussia, their insidious and deceitful acquisition of Gdańsk-Pomorskie and their creation of a state hostile to Poland served as a perfect historical illustration of resistance to an invader. More than this, the magnificent victory of King Władysław Jagiełło and Duke Vytautas at Grunwald in 1410 was an example of how a cruel, powerful and cunning enemy could be defeated. This was the spirit in which the poets Juliusz Słowacki, Adam Mickiewicz and Maria Konopnicka, and the writers, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski and Henryk Sienkiewicz, composed their work.

The negative image of the Order was also dominant in painting, such as in Wojciech Gerson’s celebrated work of 1875, Branka krzyżacka [Woman Captured by Teutonic Knights]. Tadeusz Popiel and Zygmunt Rozwadowski’s huge and evocative Battle of Grunwald (1910) and Matejko’s canvas of the same name (1875-1878) have become staples of Polish history painting. The same is true by analogy of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel Krzyżacy (Teutonic Knights; 1897-1900), which was and remains enormously popular and which is among the works that have most powerfully influenced the Polish nation’s knowledge of the German Order. It was, however, a book written from a definite standpoint adopted in advance, which gives a false view of reality. The influence of this remains evident today.

Placard of the German National People’s Party (Deutschnationale Volkspartei) for the elections of 6 June 1920.

It shows a Teutonic knight as a symbol of German civilisation in the East being set upon by a socialist and a Pole. The socialist character is associated with the accusations made by the right in Germany that socialists and communists were responsible for the country’s defeat in World War I. Turning to the Pole, this character represents the territories to the east lost by Germany after World War I.  In July 1921 a plebiscite was planned concerning a part of the territories of East Prussia, while in 1921 a similar vote was meant to decide which state Upper Silesia would belong to.

Election placard, ‘Save the East!’, 1920

The ideological tradition of the Order in Germany reached its zenith during the governments of Adolf Hitler, though there is a certain ironic twist of fate in that it was a German government led by Hitler that dissolved the German Order in 1938 following the Anschluss. In 1940 the scores were evened up in a sense, when copies of Teutonic banners captured at Grunwald were transferred from Wawel to Malbork. This was accompanied by the appropriate ceremony and fanfare. 

Labour Service Badge (Gau and Ostpreussen, circa 1935)

The Soviet Union also resorted to the symbolism of the Order for propaganda purposes. The film Alexander Nevsky (Siergiej Eisenstein, 1938), which was shot on Stalin’s orders, was about the victory of the Prince of Novgorod, Alexander, over the armies of the Livonian order of knights, which included Teutonic knights, in 1242. It presents the Teutonic Knights as cruel, murdering aggressors. Once again, there was an ironic twist of fate in that the film was soon withdrawn from cinemas following the conclusion of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact on 23 August 1939. It returned to the screens following the attack by Hitler’s Germany on the USSR in 1941. The tendency to employ symbolism associated with the Order for political goals was also in evidence following World War II, but this time more on the Polish side.

Teutonic knights murdering civilians in Pskov

Alexander Nevsky (Siergiej Eisenstein, USSR, 1938).

In Polish propaganda, and especially in that of the 1950s, the symbol of the aggressive, invading Teutonic knight was used as a warning against West-German revisionism. The victory over Hitler’s Germany was a new victory over the Teutonic Knights, while the seizing of Berlin was identified with the victory at Grunwald. The award of the title of honorary Teutonic knight to the Chancellor of the German Federal Republic, Konrad Adenauer, in 1957 was presented by Polish propaganda as a conscious reference to the policies of the Order in the distant past. Something more threatening to Poland was also pointed out by the propaganda: that the German Federal Republic had not yet recognised Poland’s western border on the Oder and Neisse (this came only in 1970-1972). Care was also taken to ensure that the celebrations for the five-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald (1960) had a current political message. It was in this spirit that successive commemorations of the anniversary of the battle, which juxtaposed the brotherhood of Slavic nations with the aggression of the Germans, were organised on the field at Grunwald. There was also no shortage of ideological accents in Alexander Ford’s screen version of Krzyżacy [Teutonic Knights; 1960], which was given its premier that year. The film broke all box-office records for a long period.

          The political changes in Poland after 1989 and the normalisation of political relations with the united Germany led to a departure from using the symbolism of the Order for current political aims. Though a variety of aspects of the life and times of the Teutonic Order still provoke argument and controversy, and will continue to do so for a long time, they remain confined to debate and consideration in historical scholarship. 

          The good and bad sides of the story of the Teutonic Order are therefore slowly becoming a thing of the past. Those old moods and nationalisms are no longer so urgent or pressing and the history of the Teutonic state in Prussia can finally be studied without the encumbrance of ideological influences and subtexts.