‘Unique time capsule’ containing German officer’s full uniform found buried in milk churn to hide his past
A full military uniform along with maps, documents and an Iron Cross belonging to a German soldier fleeing from the Russians at the end of WWII have been discovered in a milk churn buried in a forest.
The find in the village of Ratajki in northwest Poland is now being hailed as unique by the foresters who made the discovery because of the uniform’s completeness.
Personal documents found in the rusty container suggest that they belonged to a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht named Gerhard Alfred Liedtke.
“Fleeing to the west, he buried everything that could indicate his identity,” Tadeusz Lewandowski from the Karnieszewice Forest District told PAP.
The find was made during forest planting work carried out by forestry workers near Ratajki in the Western-Pomeranian voivodship.
“It is extremely rare to find a cap, tunic and trousers in such good condition,” Lewandowski said.
“Usually, grey trousers with a single stripe are missing because they were comfortable and warm and wore out faster," he added.
The churn contained a lot of documents that related to the soldier’s pre-war occupation of forester and to his military service in the Wehrmacht.
They include a military booklet, a handwritten letter, a map and a certificate acknowledging the award of an Iron Cross 2nd Class for bravery in battle and a Black Wound Badge.
“The uniform, thanks to the documents, can be attributed to a specific person. Moreover,
According to the documents, Gerhard Liedtke was born in March 1915, he was a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht, and lived in East Prussia, which is now the region of Ełk in the Warmian-Mazurian voivodship. He had a wife and two children.
He worked as a forester in what is now the village of Mleczkowo in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodship and was 24 years old when the Second World War broke out.
Lewandowski said: “He had quite a long combat trail because he was in Belgium, Holland, he went through the Western Front, from there he went to the Eastern Front. In July 1944 he was seriously wounded.”
Lewandowski believes that the shooting permits found in the churn suggest that Liedtke had returned to his former occupation of forester after being wounded.
“The one from March 1945 he did not manage to use. There is an inventory book of the property he had at his disposal and a map of his forest district,” he said.
A clue to why he buried his uniform and equipment in Ratajki, around 500 kilometres from Elk, is contained in a summons also found in the churn.
Dated March 1945, it required Liedtke to present himself to the new Polish forestry authorities in Szczecin.
It is known that at that time 620 German foresters were slated for deportation to Germany.
However, according to Lewandowski, it is possible that Liedtke was summoned to Szczecin to join a labour gang to help rebuild forestry in Poland.
Lewandowski said: “Everything points to the fact that Liedtke was on his way, reached the vicinity of Sianów, where the Russians were already there, and decided that everything connected with his past had to be hidden, he changed into civilian clothes and moved on.”
A map hidden in the churn shows the route Liedtke took from Ełk.
Last Thursday, the Karnieszewice Forest Inspectorate handed over the find to the Forest Culture Centre in Gołuchów in the Wielkopolskie voivodship.
After cleaning and conservation, the uniform and Liedtke’s other personal belongings are to go on display.
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