A teenage boy was on vacation in Poland with his family when he came across an unexpected find. Two milk cans buried for more than 70 years contained World War II relics and heirlooms from one of the area’s most influential aristocratic families.
Most of the objects – which included family jewelry, a previous diary from WWI, and a Wehrmacht officer uniform – were family heirlooms belonging to the former estate owner, Count Hans Joachim von Finckenstein.
Just how the milk tins were buried remains a bit of a mystery, but archaeologists have a working theory.
Before the Red Army arrived at the estate in what is now northern Poland, the count and his wife sent their two daughters to live with family in the area that divided Poland with Germany, formerly known as Pomerania. In March 1945, the count was arrested by Soviet soldiers and died in a camp. His wife Hildegarda remained in the state for several months working for the Russians before leaving for Germany. Researchers believe it was probably her who buried the family heirlooms.
"You can guess that these were things that could be used again after being retrieved, most of them had a sentimental value, so in a sense they were a family treasure, although we call it a deposit,” said researcher Michal Młotek in a statement. Other items included glasses, toiletries, pieces of clothing, hunting accessories, military decorations and a Wehrmacht officer uniform and equipment, along with more personal items such as banknotes, jewelry, a pocket watch, silver spoon, letters, postcards, notes, and family photo albums.
Two letters issued by Soviet officers were also found in the tin cans, including issuing the safe passage of the household owners, reading: “comrades and soldiers, please do not harm the inhabitants of this house. They welcomed us." Another letter appropriated cattle and other livestock “by order of the front commander”. It’s not clear whether the Nazi uniform belonged to the count, but East Prussia was a German province during the WWII and many residents fled at the time.
According to Science in Poland, the von Finckensteins were one of the most influential aristocratic families in Prussia, likely coming to the area in the 14th century with other knights of the Teutonic Order. For centuries the family held important offices and military functions on their estimated 14,000 hectares of land, which today includes a Gothic castle now in ruins.
After his discovery,14-year-old Patryk Lessman reported the milk tins to local scientists. For the last year research teams have been documenting, archiving, and surveying the property for other relics before making the announcement in early May.
Pursuant to local law, the personal items were returned to the Count’s 81-year-old daughter, who came from Germany to retrieve them. The museum plans to translate the count’s diary and use it for archival information.