Sonnenburg Collection - A Heraldic Treasure Recovered after World War II




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In the early morning hours of February 2nd 1945, the advancing Russian 8th Army, headed for Berlin, enters the small Prussian town of Sonnenburg. What they find in the Castle and Church of Sonnenburg, and later take with them, is a unique cultural treasure, today known as the Sonnenburg Collection; 1140 wooden panels representing the Coats of Arms of Royal and Noble individuals, mostly of German families, but several Noblemen from other European countries are represented as well.

The Johanitter Order, a Protestantic branch of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is the World's oldest existing spiritual Order. It is rooted in the Pilgrimage, and dates back to A.D. 1080.

An archive of historic importance

Since 1426, the town of Sonnenburg had been the Order's main European stronghold. Numerous historically important persons like the Princes of Nassau, Paul von Hindenburg, the Princes of Prussia, the Land Counts of Brandenburg, von Zeppelin to mention but a few, donated their families' Coats of Arms, as they became accepted Knights of the Order.

A Picture of the Coat of Arms of the Markgraf zu Brandenburg

For many years the Collection was regarded as lost. Then, in the Eighties, all panels were found in the cellars of the Royal Castle of Warsaw during restoration work. They were packed in heavy wooden crates and had obviously been stored here since the end of World War II. Most of them were in remarkably good shape.

As the conferences of Jalta and Teheran had reshaped the boarders of Europe, the town of Sonnenburg no longer was German territory. It was Polish, and bore the name of Slonsk. Thus the Sonnenburg Collection was considered Polish property and confiscated.

In 1989, the Polish Government decided to sell the Collection, and it is presently owned by a private Swedish corporation.



Panels for sale...

After being presented at an enormously popular exhibition at the Historical Museum of Stockholm in 1991, the Collection was aimed to be sold back to the German branch of the Order of S:t John. For various reasons, this transaction was never fulfilled, which has resulted in the panels being sold back to, primarily, relatives and descendants of the individual Knights of Sonnenburg.


Download the list of knights here...

Please feel free to download the complete list .DOC-format ( .ZIP-file; 62 kb) of Knights of the Order of S:t John in Sonnenburg, represented with Coats of Arms in the Collection if you wish. All Coats-of Arms are documented with photographs. If you have inquiries, or if you wish to take a closer look at a certain panel, do mail me at colbiornsen@sonnenburg.se.


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A Maltese Cross, symbol of the Order

Look at som of the panels...

(Please observe that each of these photographs is approximately 80kB...the same photographs in a smaller format are shown in the Java-slide show!)

  
» Friedrich Ludwig Carl Printz von Preussen
» Gustav Prinz zu Ysenburg und Buedingen
» Fuerst von Pless Hans Heinrich X Graf von Hochberg=Fuerstenstein
» Carl Otto Graf Finck v. Finckenstein
» Adolf Burggraf und Graf zu Dohna-Schlodien
» Hans Friedrich Graf von Carmer
» Otto Gottfried Ludwig Emanuel Graf von Schwerin
» Freiherr Heinrich von Puttkamer
» Friedrich Alexander Graf von Bismarck-Bohlen
» George Elfried von Clausewitz


Copyright André Colbiørnsen 1996