Kołobrzeg [kɔˈwɔbʐɛk] ( listen) (German: Kolberg ( listen)) is a city in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in north-western Poland with some 50,000 inhabitants (as of 2000). Kołobrzeg is located on the Parsęta River on the south coast of the Baltic Sea (in the middle of the section divided by the Oder and Vistula Rivers). It has been the capital of Kołobrzeg County in West Pomeranian Voivodship since 1999, and previously was in Koszalin Voivodship (1950–1998).
During the Early Middle Ages, Slavic Pomeranians founded a settlement at the site of modern Budzistowo. Thietmar of Merseburg first mentioned the site as Salsa Cholbergiensis. Around the year 1000, when the area was under Polish rule, the stronghold became seat of the Diocese of Kołobrzeg. During High Middle Ages, the town was expanded with an additional settlement a few kilometers north of the stronghold and chartered with Lübeck law. The city later joined the Hanseatic League. Within the Duchy of Pomerania, the town was the urban center of the secular reign of the Cammin bishops and their residence throughout the High and Late Middle Ages. When it was part of Brandenburgian Pomerania during the Early Modern Age, it withstood Polish and Napoleon’s troops in the Siege of Kolberg. From 1815, it was part of the Prussian province of Pomerania. In 1945 Polish and Soviet troops seized the town and it was subsequently attached to Poland, while the remaining German population which had not fled the advancing Red Army was expelled. The town, devastated in the preceding Battle of Kolberg, was rebuilt but lost its status as the regional center to the nearby Koszalin.
According to Piskorski (1999) and Kempke (2001), Slavic immigration reached Farther Pomerania in the 7th century. First Slavic settlements in the vicinity of Kołobrzeg were centered around nearby deposits of salt and date to 6th and 7th century.
In the late 9th century, a Slavic Pomeranian fortified settlement was built at the site of modern part of Kołobrzeg county called Budzistowo near modern Kołobrzeg, replacing nearby Bardy-Świelubie, a multi-ethnic emporium, as the center of the region. The Parseta valley, where both the emporium and the stronghold were located, was one of the Slavic Pomeranians’ core settlement areas. The stronghold consisted of a fortified burgh with a suburbium.
The Pomeranians mined salt in salt pans located in two downstream hills. They also engaged in fishing, and used the salt to conserve foodstuffs, primarily herring, for trade. Other important occupations were metallurgy and smithery, based on local iron ore reserves, other crafts like the production of combs from horn, and in the surrounding areas, agriculture. Important sites in the settlement were a place for periodical markets and a tavern, mentioned as forum et taberna in 1140.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Budzistowo stronghold was the largest of several smaller ones in the Persante area, and as such is thought to have functioned as the center of the local Slavic Pomeranian subtribe. By the turn from the 10th to the 11th century, the smaller burghs in the Parseta area were given up. With the area coming under control of the Polish Duke Mieszko I, only two strongholds remained and underwent an enlargement, the one at Budzistowo and a predecessor of later Białogard (Belgard). These developments were most likely associated with the establishment of Polish power over this part of the Baltic coast. In 10th century the trade of salt and fish led to the development of the settlement into a town.
St John’s, a remains of the early medieval settlement in modern Budzistowo
During Polish rule of the area in the late 10th century, the chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg (975-1018) mentions salsa Cholbergiensis as the see of the Diocese of Kołobrzeg, set up during the Congress of Gniezno in 1000 and placed under the Archdiocese of Gniezno. The congress was organized by Polish king Bolesław Chrobry and Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and also led to the establishment of bishoprics in Kraków and Wrocław, connecting the territories of the Polish state. The city mentions this as an important event not only in religious, but also political dimension as it unified Polish territories.
The missionary efforts of bishop Reinbern were not successful, the Pomeranians revolted in 1005 and regained political and spiritual independence. In 1013 Bolesław Chrobry removed his troops from Pomerania in face of war with Holy Roman Emperor Henry III. The Polish — German war ended with Polish victory, which was confirmed by the 1018 Peace of Bautzen.
During his campaigns in the early 12th century, Bolesław III Wrymouth reacquired Pomerania for Poland, and made the local «Griffin» dynasty his vassals. The stronghold was captured by the Polish army in the winter of 1107/08, when the inhabitants (cives et oppidani) including a duke (dux Pomeranorum) surrendered without resistance. A previous Polish siege of the burgh had been unsuccessful; although the duke had fled the burgh, the Polish army was unable to break through the fortifications and the two gates. The army had however looted and burned the suburbium, which was not or only lightly fortified. The descriptions given by the contemporary chroniclers make it possible that a second, purely militarily used castle existed near the settlement, yet neither is this certain nor have archaeological efforts been able to locate traces thereof.
During the subsequent Christianization of the area by Otto of Bamberg at the behest of Boleslaw, a St. Mary’s church was built. This marked the first beginnings of German influence in the area. After Boleslaw’s death, the Duchy of Pomerania regained independence, before the dukes became vassals of Denmark and the Holy Roman Empire in the late 12th century.
During the Ostsiedlung, a settlement was founded by German settlers some kilometers off the site of the Slavic one. The official city website mentions that it was located within the boundary of today’s downtown of Kołobrzeg and that certain part of inhabitants of the Polish town moved to the new settlement. On May 23, 1255 it was chartered under Lübeck law by Wartislaw III, Duke of Pomerania, and more settlers from the arrived, attracted by the duke.Hermann von Gleichen, German bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kammin also supported the German colonisation of the region. The settlers received several privileges such as exemption from certain taxes and several benefits, making it difficult for the Slavic population to compete with Germans, and as result Slavs impoverished.
Henceforth, the nearby former stronghold was turned into a village and renamed «Old Town» (Latin: antiqua civitatae Colbergensis, German: Altstadt, Polish: Stare Miasto), first documented in 1277 and used until 1945 when it was renamed «Budzistowo». A new St. Mary’s church was built within the new town before the 1260s, while St. Mary’s in the former Pomeranian stronghold was turned into a nuns’ abbey. In 1277 St. Benedict’s monastery for nuns was founded, which in the framework of the Pomeranian Reformation in 1545 was then changed into an educational institution for noble protestantic ladies.
Already in 1248, the Kammin bishops and the Pomeranian dukes had interchanged the terrae Stargard and Kolberg, leaving the bishops in charge of the latter. When in 1276 they became the souvereign of the town also, they moved their residence there, while the administration of the diocese was done from nearby Köslin (Koszalin). In 1345, the bishops became Imperial immediate dukes in their secular reign.
When the property of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kammin was secularized during the Protestant Reformation in 1534, their secular reign including the Kolberg area became intermediately ruled by a Lutheran titular bishop, before it was turned into a Sekundogenitur of the House of Pomerania.
In the 15th century the city traded with Scotland, Amsterdam and Scandinavia.Beer, salt, honey, wool and flour were exported, while merchants imported textiles from England, southern fruits, and cod liver oil. In the 16th century, the city reached 5,000 inhabitants. According to the city’s website, the Slavs in the city were discriminated, and their rights in trade and crafts were limited, with bans on performing certain types of professions and taking certain positions in the city
During the Thirty Years’ War, Kolberg was occupied by imperial forces from 1627 to 1630, and thereafter by Swedish forces.
Kolberg, with most of Farther Pomerania, was granted to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalia and, after the signing of the Treaty of Stettin (1653), was part of the Province of Pomerania. It became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. In 1761, during the Seven Years’ War, the town was captured after three subsequent sieges by the Russian commander Peter Rumyantsev. At the end of the war, however, Kolberg was returned to Prussia.
During Napoleon’s invasion of Prussia during the War of the Fourth Coalition, the town was besieged from mid-March to July 2, 1807, by the Grande Armée and by Polish forces drawn from insurgents against Prussian rule (a street named for the commander leading Polish soldiers is located within the present-day city). The city’s defense, led by then Lieutenant-Colonel August von Gneisenau, held out until the war was ended by the Treaty of Tilsit. Kolberg became part of the Prussian province of Pomerania in 1815, after the final defeat of Napoleon; until 1872, it was administered within the Fürstenthum District («Principality District», recalling the area’s former special status), then it was within Landkreis Kolberg-Körlin. Marcin Dunin, archbishop of Poznań and Gniezno and Roman Catholic primate of Poland, was imprisoned by Prussian authorities for ten months in 1839-1840 in the city and after his release, he tried to organise a chaplaincy for the many Polish soldiers stationed in Kolberg.
In the Nineteenth century the city had a small but active Polish population that increased during the century to account for 1.5% of the population by 1905. The Polish community funded a Catholic school and the Church of Saint Marcin where masses in Polish were held (initially throughout the season, after about 1890 all the year), were established. Dating back to 1261 Kolberg’s Jewish population amounted to 528 people in 1887, rising to 580 two years later it was 580, and although many moved to Berlin after that date they numbered around 500 by the end of the Nineteenth century
When the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, the Jewish community in Kolberg comprised 200 people, and the antisemitic repression by Germany’s ruling party led several of them to flee the country. A Nazi newspaper, the Kolberger Beobachter, listed Jewish shops and business that were to be boycotted. Nazis also engaged in hate propaganda against Jewish lawyers, doctors, and craftsmen. At the end of 1935, Jews were banned from working in the city’s health spas. During Kristallnacht, the Jewish synagogue and homes were destroyed, and in 1938 the local Jewish cemetery was vandalised, while a cemetery shrine was turned to stable by German soldiers. In 1938, all Jews in Kolberg, as all over Germany, were renamed in official German documents as «Israel» (for males) or «Sarah» (for females). In the beginning of 1939, Jews were banned from attending German schools and the entire adult population had its driving licenses revoked. After years of discrimination and harassment, local Jews were deported by the German authorities to concentration camps in 1940.
The city website mentions that during the Second World War the German state brought in forced labour workers, among them Poles. The city’s economy was changed to military production-especially after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The forced labourers were threatened with everyday harassment and repression; they were forbidden from using phones, holding cultural events and sports events, they could not visit restaurants or swimming pools, or have contact with the local German population. Poles only allowed to attend a church mass once a month — and only in the German language. They also had smaller food rations than Germans, and had to wear a sign with the letter P on their clothes indicationg their ethnic background. Additionally, medical help for Polish workers was limited by the authorities. Arrests and imprisonment for various offences such as «slow pace of work» or leaving the work space were everyday occurrences
In 1944, the city was designated a «stronghold» (Festung) — Festung Kolberg. The 1807 siege was used for the last Nazi propaganda film, Kolberg shortly before the end of the war by Joseph Goebbels . It was meant to inspire the Germans with its depiction of the heroic Prussian defence during the Napoleonic Wars. Tremendous resources were devoted to filming this epic, even diverting tens of thousands of troops from the front lines to have them serve as extras in battle scenes. Ironically, the film was released in the final few weeks of Nazi Germany’s existence, when most of the country’s cinemas were already destroyed.
On 10 February 1945, the German torpedo-boat T-196 brought about 300 survivors of the General von Steuben, which had been sunk by Soviet submarine S-13 to Kolberg. As the Red Army advanced on Kolberg, most of the inhabitants and tens of thousands of refugees from surrounding areas (about 70,000 were trapped in the Kolberg Pocket), as well as 40,000 German soldiers, were evacuated from the besieged city by German naval forces in Operation Hannibal. Only about two thousand soldiers were left on 17 March to cover the last sea transports.
Between 4 March and 18 March 1945, there were major battles between the Soviet and Polish forces and the German army. Because of a lack of anti-tank weapons, German battleships used their guns to support the defenders of Kolberg until nearly all of the soldiers and civilians had been evacuated. During the fights, Polish soldiers’ losses were 1013 dead, 142 MIA and 2652 wounded. On 18 March, the Polish Army re-enacted Poland’s Wedding to the Sea ceremony, which had been celebrated for the first time in 1920 by General Józef Haller..