1841, Village of Marthentin, Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia
“It was Sunday, the 18th of April in God’s Year 1841, precisely one week after the traditional Easter celebration. The most important members of the Lutheran congregation of the village of Tribsow gathered together this afternoon for a meeting with the most admirable prelate von Berg to discuss a matter of a great importance. The villages were all old Lutherans, opposing to the new religious laws and regulations issued by the Prussian Chancellor, and the meeting was about the villager’s wish to leave the Vaterland and emigrate to Wisconsin to join their fellow congregates and countrymen who left their homes two years earlier. The financial difficulties they got into, when a certain Lebrecht Krause disappeared with all their savings, without leaving a trail, meant that their journey to the New World had to be postponed for a very long time. They thus met at the prelate’s palace, in the village of Gross Weckow, close to the ruins of a medieval chapel and an old graveyard, awaiting the prelate’s guidance. One could not see a single smile on anybody’s face and an atmosphere of resignation, despair and hopelessness matched flawlessly with the view from the large window over the old cemetery and the ruined chapel. The sun was going down and none of those present in the room suspected that they would soon become witnesses to an extraordinary turn of events. I was also standing there and while I was looking at those poor men’s faces I could clearly recognize a vanishing dream of a better life in a new world. They suffered so much that the Lord must have heard their prayers and devotions coz what happened next was not only highly unexpected, it was just an incredible sign of divine mercy upon those wounded by greed. Apparently, Lord had his own plan for justice when he chose to lead an orphan boy into a small hole in the ruins of the chapel and let him discover an entrance to a crypt where an ancient king’s gold treasure was once buried and hidden away from the conscience of men.” (Lutheran congregation of the village of Marthentin, a local priest’s diary from 1850’s)
In 1841, on the east bank of the river Dievenow (pol. Dziwna), some kilometers east of Wolin in northen part of the Kingdom of Prussia, the ruins of the medieval chapel were demolished.
During the foundations of a new church, a medieval cellar crypt was unearthed and a large number of objects have been found. Among the findings there were a large number of medieval coins, some gold objects, at least two swords and other items characterized as “silver and gold scrap”. The entrance to the cellar crypt was discovered by an accident by a young boy named Heinrich Boldt who played with some younger children at the construction site. Heinrich was nephew of the wife of one of the men invited by a pastor to a place near the construction site. The pastor, who served in churches in the Cammin-area, was somehow involved in the construction project. After the discovery the pastor took the responsibility to take care of the items. He decided that he would keep all silver objects and 1/3 of the gold. He also secured 1/3 for Heinrich while the rest was taken by men whose children had been present at the site at the moment of the discovery. The men and their families had apparently some religious difficulties with the Prussian authorities and decided that they would sell the gold and use the money to leave for America. The pastor’s almost entire share and half of Heinrich’s share was left in the cellar crypt and placed under the water to be invisible from the entrance. When the new building was finished the old crypt and the new basement was separated by a massive door. Within a year or two after the discovery Heinrich chose to emigrate to America. His decision had to do which his aversion to the Prussian Chancellor and his unwillingness to join the Prussian army. In 1869 a letter arrived from Henry “Heinrich” Boldt [or Bold] of New York and he wrote that he and his wife Elisa had five children and lost two of them but they were lucky because she was now pregnant again. He also mentioned that he got naturalized and this happened some months after the end of the rebellion. Henry also devotes a lot of pages to describe an escape when he and another man, a former slave Charles of Colored Troops (ger. Charles, der farbige Soldat), saved each other’s lives more than once and managed to get back to their respective units. A research conducted by Swedish archeologiest Sven Rosborn says that Henry Boldt was the maternal great great grandfather of Hollywood actors and producers Ben Affleck-Boldt and Casey Affleck-Boldt.
In the letter dating from 1869, Henry Boldt seems to refer to his share of the gold found in 1841. He writes that “he would need the pastor to dig up what they once had hidden”. He also asks if the pastor still has some of the Boldt’s family memorabilia in his possession. Among these a 17th century Bible (war booty from 17th century wars between Kingdoom of Poland and Sweden) and some pages of Quran (war booty from 17th or 18th century wars against Ottoman Empire) and some older books and handwritten documents.
Swedish Bible, dated 1655
Pages of Quran, dated 17th/18th century
The pastor did never read the letter as he probably passed away before the letter arrived. This letter together with a number of other letters were placed in the pastor´s 5 journals (approximately 5000 pages), the last journal covers the beginning of 1864.
The land where the noble family resided changed hands through marriage when the current owner’s daughter Alexandra married the new owner. The family continued to own the land and the knowledge of the crypt and its content fell into oblivion until the spring of 1945.
The church in Wiejkowo
Photo: Radosław Drożdżewski, Wikimedia Commons
Köslin, May 1945
Approximately 100 years later in May 1945 three Polish brothers were reunited in Köslin, a little town in West Pomerania. The brothers had been separated in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. Köslin had been German for centuries but would now belong to Poland when the Allies decided that the new border between Poland and Germany would be drawn along the Oder River.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The eldest of the reunited brothers was Michael Sielski and he was just about getting 30 years old. During the war he had been a member of the Polish resistance movement, and in 1943 he ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp after being captured by Gestapo.
Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of German Nazi concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It consisted of Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II–Birkenau (a combination concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp to staff a chemical factory), and 45 satellite camps.
Auschwitz I was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners, who began to arrive in May 1940. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi “Final Solution to the Jewish question”.
Michael ended up in the horrifying Auschwitz II-Birkenau where 75.000 poles were exterminated but Michael managed to survive captivity in the camp and after a brief hospital stay in Prague he went to Köslin to meet the rest of the family.
Source: Bundesarchiv, B 285 Bild-04413 / Stanislaw Mucha / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The second brother’s name was Theodor Sielski and he had during the war taken care of the brothers’ mother, Maria Sielska b. Henger, and a younger sister, Janina Sielska, after his father’s death. The family had been among the first Polish settlers in Köslin. The third brother was Stefan Sielski and he was major in the Polish army. Stefan Sielski had participated in the fighting against the Nazis. After Germany had surrendered he was transferred to Köslin and was appointed commander of the local forces having the responsibility for the safety of the new settlers. Keeping law and order was not an easy task as organized bandit gangs and demoralized Russian army units ravaged, robbed and killed on a daily basis. Despite the difficult conditions the brothers managed to establish themselves in Köslin and saw a bright future ahead of them.
Wolin, August 1945
In August 1945, Stefan Sielski was appointed to lead a military unit escorting Polish authorities from Köslin to Swinemunde on the German island Wolin which was administered by the Russian army. The Allies’ decision to draw the borderline between Poland and Germany west of the island of Wolin at the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 was unexpected for both Poles and Germans.
Potsdam conference: Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin Source: Wikimedia Commons
As a result of that decision Wolin was annexed to Poland. Hundreds of German-Pomeranian families had been evacuated to Wolin at the end of the war. In the belief that the island would remain in Germany, the refugees brought all their belongings with them. However, the new circumstances meant that they soon would be forced out again without being allowed to bring anything except some clothes.
Stefan Sielski (second from the left) preparing for his first journey to Wolin in 1945.
Photo: Sielski family archive
During Stefan Sielski´s first mission to Wolin he and his brother Micheal had several encounters with desperate Germans. Under unclear circumstances they met a German pastor who in turn led them to a man namned Otto Wegner, a former member of SS, who was hiding himself away from Red Army. Otto had helped two noble German families to hide a number of coffins in a crypt of a local church a few months earlier when the German defense lines broke apart and Russian army units began to approach to the noble familie’s estates. He also knew the location of a underground shelter used by some top-ranked SS members to store looted art and secret documents on the transactions between German companies and their counterparts in neutral countires. Otto agreed to lead the brothers to the crypt and the shelter in exchange for helping him get trough the Red Army checkpoint and escape from the island.
The pastor was scheduled to be sent to Russia as forced labor (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_of_Germans_in_the_Soviet_Union) and to avoid it he needed help to find some documents that could prove that he collaborated with German resistance and made several efforts to help POWs, Jews and Nazi opposition to hide or escape from the Nazis. He also told that he helped to set up a meeting between a Swedish pastor named Erich from Berlin and a person named Kurt von Pleten and that the subject of this meeting was a to organize an evacuation for one of the Nazi leaders in exchange for the release of prisons from Nazi concentration camps. Only days after this meeting pastor Erich got killed.
The German pastor was desperate to avoid to be sent to Russia but he said that he could not reveal that he was a member of the resistance movement. The reason was that certain facts of his work with the resistance movement could have an opposite effect on the Russians. Therefore his only hope was Stefan who obviously didn’t had much in common with the Red Army.
Otto, on the other hand, was wounded during the hiding of the coffins and was later transported to Wolin without any knowledge of his wife’s and young daughter’s whereabouts. He agreed to lead Stefan to the place where the coffins were hidden if he promised to take him back to the farmhouse on the noble families’ estates where he had left his family months earlier.
To be continued….