Martha Senftleben and Deutsche Gotterkenntnis (Society for the Knowledge of God) in the Karkonosze Mountains

On the tombstones of two individuals buried in the forest cemetery in Michałowice, there are inscribed runes and a triskelion. One of them will be our focus today, although you’ll soon see that her story is about to be eclipsed by a certain couple. But let’s start from the beginning.

Tombstone of Martha Senftleben at the cemetery between Michałowice and Piechowice / Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

Martha Binner was born in Niemcza (Nimtsch) on October 1st, 1859, as the daughter of Herman Oswald Binner, a master painter, and Ernestine Dorothy née Burgstadt, both Evangelicals. She married Bruno Senftleben, a technician from Świdnica (Schweidnitz). The couple settled in his hometown and had one son, Herbert, and one daughter, Margarethe. The years 1916 and 1917 proved tragic for Martha – first her husband passed away, followed shortly by her 22-year-old son, who died on August 8th, 1917, on the front in Bukovina. Interestingly, Herbert’s death was registered in Piechowice, where he was said to reside before his death, while according to the record, his mother still lived in Świdnica. I suspect he might have been staying with his sister, who married Alfred Georg Poludniok, a writer, in Piechowice in 1915.

Gravestones at the cemetery between Michałowice and Piechowice / Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

Going back to Martha – we know she passed away on December 25th, 1939. According to her death certificate, she passed away in her apartment in Piechowice (Petersdorf) 96, and her religion was listed as… Deutsche Gotterkenntnis, which literally translates to German Knowledge of God. And now the most intriguing part begins.

Death certificate of Martha Senftleben / Source: The State Archive in Wrocław, Jelenia Góra branch

The religious movement Deutsche Gotterkenntnis was established by the controversial General Erich Ludendorff and his wife Mathilde von Kemnitz (Spiess). In the early 1920s, Erich was dubbed “the most dangerous man in Germany” and by others – the forefather of Nazism. He was the author of the controversial book “The Total War”, wherein he asserted that Germany’s fundamental objective was perpetual war and conquest.

In 1924, Erich established the Tannenbergbund association, which focused on political activities and “promoted a mystical pantheism with a Germanic-racist flavor.” In 1926, he married his second wife, Mathilde, a psychiatrist, who took charge of the religious aspect of Tannenbergbund – Deutschvolk, founded in 1930. Mathilde formulated its ideological principles, which were pantheistic, anthropocentric, and nationalist. The movement was extremely right-wing, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian, to the point that even the NSDAP was considered too soft on this faith for them. Despite her involvement in the volkist movement, Mathilde opposed occultism and astrology, labeling them as a “Jewish distortion of astronomy,” and criticized theories suggesting the Indo-European origin of Germans. She aimed to create a new, genuine German religion.

Erich and Mathilde Lundendorff

Because some of her views were extremely radical and bordering on conspiracy theories, the movement wasn’t universally regarded as credible. Mathilde Ludendorff asserted, among other things, that the Dalai Lama was guiding Jews in their supposed efforts to undermine Germany through Marxism, Catholicism, capitalism, and Freemasonry. She argued that Christian beliefs were incompatible with the Aryan ideal and that the Bible and Christianity themselves were fraudulent.

Despite this, in the early 1930s, the community boasted 320 local groups comprising approximately 15,000 members across the Reich. In 1933, the movement was outlawed by the authorities, but just 4 years later, in 1937, Erich gained approval to revive the religious movement, this time under the name Deutsche Gotterkenntnis, which continued the legacy of Deutschvolk. Consequently, German Knowledge of God became a state-sanctioned belief.

Erich passed away at the end of that same year. Meanwhile, in 1951, Mathilde established the Association for Gotterkenntnis, which had 12,000 members, and in 1955, she also founded a school. The association faced another ban from 1961 to 1977. It continues to operate today; as of 2010, it reportedly had around 240 members.

Erich and Mathilde Lundendorff

And circling back to the Karkonosze Mountains – new findings raise new questions. How did Martha become involved with Deutsche Gotterkenntnis? Could it be linked to her son-in-law’s artistic profession? Where did the community meetings take place? Did all those buried in Michałowice belong to the same movement, or perhaps different ones? Hopefully, we’ll uncover the answers soon!

Źródła:

Old Protestant cemetery in Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poręba)

I visited the Protestant cemetery in Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poręba) for the first time a few years ago, and despite serious damages, I felt its uniqueness right away. Beautifully situated on a hill, quiet and forgotten. 

brama do cmentarza ewangelickiego w Szklarskiej Porębie

Old Protestant cemetery at Waryńskiego 3 in Szklarska Poręba (Schreiberhau) / Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

I remember that it was difficult to walk through the overgrown alleys, the tombstones were unreadable, and the larger crypts were damaged and unsecured (I even saw a tibia in one of them). What a pleasant surprise was to learn about the social initiative Mogiłę Ocal od Zawalenia (Save the Tomb from Collapse). A group of German volunteers and the inhabitants of Szklarska Poręba organised themselves and decided to clean the cemetery and take care of the headstones. On October 23, 2021 at 4:00 p.m., I had a chance to attend the ceremony of replacing the tombstone of Carl Hauptmann, writer, playwright, philosopher and older brother of the Nobel Prize winner, Gerhart Hauptmann. Carl was an author of, among other things, The Book of the Mountain Spirit (Rübezahl), a significant character in this region.

Carl’s original tombstone, designed by his friends Hans and Marlene Poelzig, was unveiled on June 23, 1925. The following quote from a Silesian song was written on it:

“I rest here under a rose and a clover,

I will never be lost under them.

And every tear of mourning

which will drip from your eye, 

will fill my grave with memory.

Every time when you are happy,

My grave is full of fragrant roses. “

Sadly the tombstone was destroyed, then reconstructed and now it is safe in the museum – the Hauptmann House in Szklarska Poręba.

On the left – unveiling the new tombstone of Carl Hauptmann / Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

On the right – Carl’s original tombstone / Source: The Hauptmann House

The necropolis was established in 1844 as a separate Protestant cemetery, but eventually people of other religions began to be buried here as well. The last burials took place around 1946 and since then it is abandoned. The cemetery is unique not only because of its location and mysterious aura – we can find here the graves of many painters, writers and outstanding people associated with the world of science in the 19th and 20th centuries. Before World War II, the Giant Mountains (German: Riesengebirge, Polish: Karkonosze) attracted crowds of artists who created an artistic colony in Szklarska Poręba which was a social phenomenon.

For example, the tombstones of Wilhelm Bölsche, his wife Joanna née Walther and their daughter, also called Johanna, have been preserved here.

William was a man of many talents – he was a writer, biologist, and literary critic. In the 1930s, he created a small, no longer existing, geological and natural museum at 5 Muzealna Street (ul. Muzealna 5).

Nagrobek Wilhelma Bolsche

The headstones of Wilhelm Bölsche, his wife Johanna Bolsche Walther and their daughter, Johanna / Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

In the central part of cemetery, there are romantic ruins of the Preussler family chapel, the first owners of the glass factory in Schreiberhau (Szklarska Poręba). 

Nagrobek Preussler

Photo by Marta Maćkowiak

I also noticed several tombstones with bees on them. According to the cemetery symbols dictionary this motif was quite rare and was associated with dilligence, virginity and innocence. A bee was considered to be a sacred being.

Photos by Marta Maćkowiak

I am so glad to see such a change. It seems that the cemetery will be no longer forgotten. I have heard that the historical walks will be organized soon and participants will have an opportunity to learn about the outstanding people who rest there and to restore the memory of all the pre-war inhabitants of Schreiberhau.

Photos by Marta Maćkowiak

Sources:

  • Muzeum Dom Hauptmannów www.muzeumdomhauptmannow.pl
  • Zabytkowy cmentarz ewangelicki w Szklarskiej Porębie Dolnej, Przemysław Wiater
  • Zauroczeni Karkonoszami, Przemysław Wiater
  • Symbolika pszczół i mrówek w polskiej kulturze ludowej, Elwira Wilczyńska
  • Cmentarium

Końcowy raport składa się z kopi odnalezionych dokumentów, tłumaczeń, zdjęć oraz podsumowania. Wyjaśniam pokrewieństwo odnalezionych osób, opisuję sprawdzone źródła i kontekst historyczny. Najczęściej poszukiwania dzielone są na parę etapów i opisuję możliwości kontynuacji.

Czasem konkretny dokument może zostać nie odnaleziony z różnych przyczyn – migracji do innych wiosek/miast w dalszych pokoleniach, ochrzczenia w innej parafii, lukach w księgach, zniszczeń dokumentów w pożarach lub w czasie wojen.  Cena końcowa w takiej sytuacji nie ulega zmienia, ponieważ wysiłek włożony w poszukiwania jest taki sam bez względu na rezultat.

Raporty mogą się od siebie mniej lub bardziej różnić w zależności od miejsca, z którego rodzina pochodziła (np. dokumenty z zaboru pruskiego, austriackiego i rosyjskiego różnią się od siebie formą i treścią).

 

Na podstawie zebranych informacji (Twoich i moich) przygotuję plan i wycenę – jeśli ją zaakceptujesz, po otrzymaniu zaliczki rozpoczynam pracę i informuję o przewidywanym czasie ukończenia usługi. Standardowe poszukiwania trwają około 1 miesiąca, a o wszelkich zmianach będę informować Cię na bieżąco.

Na Twoje zapytanie odpiszę w ciągu 3 dni roboczych i jest to etap bezpłatny. Być może zadam parę dodatkowych pytań, dopytam o cele albo od razu przedstawię propozycję kolejnych kroków.

Warto pamiętać, że im więcej szczegółów podasz, tym więcej rzeczy mogę odkryć.

Podziel się ze mną:

  • Imionami i nazwiskami przodków (wszystkich, o których wiesz)
  • Miejscami urodzenia i zamieszkania (jeśli jest inne np. wojnie)
  • Datami urodzenia, ślubów i zgonu (mogą być orientacyjne)
  • Informacjami o rodzeństwie, kuzynach, emigracjach.
  • Legendami i historiami rodzinnymi

I najważniejsze – jeśli masz niewiele informacji, zupełnie się tym nie martw, w takich sytuacjach także znajdę rozwiązanie.