Pirna, Germany

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Pirna Town Hall, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Town Hall towers, the Church of Our Lady, and the Schloss Sonnenstein, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Coats of arms of the Electorate of Saxony and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on a postal milestone, 1722, image by Norbert Kaiser.

Pirna is a town of about 40,000 people, very close to the border with the Czech Republic and on the Elbe River. Evidence of settlement has been found as far back as 12,000 BCE. One of the town’s landmarks is the Schloss Sonnenstein, which was built in the 15th century on the site of an older, Medieval castle. In 1811, the castle was converted into an insane asylum. Unlike many other asylums of the era, the Schloss Sonnenstein was praised worldwide for its sensitive, modern methods of treating the mentally ill.

The Nazis took over the castle in 1940 and cruelly used it to murder the residents. From June 1940-September 1942, about 15,000 mentally ill people were gassed there, residents as well as people bussed in from nearby institutions. About a third of the hundred staff were forced to go to the camps in Poland, due to their experience with mass murder and deception. After the gas chambers and Kremchies were destroyed to hide the evidence, the castle was converted into a military hospital in October 1942.

Stadtbrücke, image by ProfessorX.

Part of my hiatused WIP Lazarus Lost and Found is set in Pirna. After 13-year-old Lazarus escapes from Oswiecim in February 1944, he slowly makes his way back to Amsterdam, mostly on foot, but sometimes from sneaking onto trains. In April 1944, after he crosses into Germany from Góra, Poland by hiding under a train, he’s observed by a woman who realises who he is and invites him to her home.

Frau Magdalena Müller is involved in the resistance, and has a Jewish husband and two teenage sons who were taken away in 1943. Her house is a safe house, and she frequently hides people. A few days later, Frau Müller smuggles him over to a hidden family to celebrate Pesach, but when they come home, the house is in complete disarray. Lazarus goes on the road again, and Frau Müller joins the partisans in the woods.

After the liberation, Lazarus returns to Pirna to find her, and stays with her again. Her husband and sons have survived and returned as well. When he’s living in Jerusalem in 1947, he finds the Müllers and is lovingly taken in. Later on, in 1952, he names his firstborn daughter, his second child, Magdalena in her honour. (I created Magdalena in 1995 and Frau Müller in 2006, and felt it would be a really nice touch to create a deeper meaning behind the name.)

View of Pirna from the Sonnenstein Castle, painted circa 1750 by Bernardo Bellotto.

Other town landmarks include the Löwen-Apotheke (a pharmacy built in 1578), the Church of Our Lady (aka Stadtkirche St. Marien), the old Town Hall, a building used as a girls’ school between 1551-1824, a Renaissance-style public library, many old houses, and the city museum, which is housed in the yard of a former Dominican monastery.

Altar of the Church of Our Lady, image by Norbert Kaiser.

More information:

http://en.stsg.de/cms/node/789/ (Schloss Sonnenstein Memorial)

http://www.pirna-altstadt.de/ (historical maps)

http://en.pirna.de/Citizens/History/4134l1/

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11 comments on “Pirna, Germany

  1. Beautiful! I love the story as well – I am enthralled by the stories from the WWII era (both fiction and non-fiction). I hope the WIP becomes published!

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  2. What a horrible use of the castle! That was a lot of people.

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  3. It amazes me the cruelty of the Nazis every time I stumble across another tid bit. There are definitely dark periods in our history that are more horrifying than anything a creative mind could cook up.

    True Heroes from A to Z

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  4. Chrys Fey says:

    Someone once told me I should go to Germany, because I’m part German and also because it’s so beautiful. These pictures prove that. And the altar at the Church of Our Lady is amazing!

    It’s terrible what the Nazis did at Schloss Sonnenstein. It’s terrible what they did in general.

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  5. Beauty and sadness go hand in hand in that part of the world, but the spirit of the people withstood, and that’s the real beauty. Thanks for sharing.
    Silvia @
    SilviaWrites

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  6. Terrible,terrible things to happen in such picturesque place.
    Sophie
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic

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  7. What a beautiful place with a dark history. I live in an area that has majority German ancestry. I wonder if they came from near this place. Our little town is called “Saxonburg”. The first settlers came and laid out the town in very typical German fashion. A main street with houses on either side, and long narrow lots with room for gardens, chickens, a small barn and a cow behind each home.

    I cannot wait to read your books, Carrie. 🙂 You have a release coming up, no?

    I recently read a book by a woman who lived in Prussia, as a child, She was forced to flee with her parents and younger sister. She’s a very nice person. If you’d like firsthand stories of what it was like to run from the Germans or die, its a good little read. Childhood Memories And the author is very approachable, if you have questions.

    Another great post!

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  8. Jocelyn Rish says:

    Thinking about a castle converted into an insane asylum… the horror movie almost writes itself. So it was refreshing to hear they used sensitive methods for treating the mentally ill. So that makes it even more tragic that the Nazis took it over and killed so many people there.

    Hope you’re having fun with the A to Z challenge,
    Jocelyn

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  9. Trisha says:

    I’d never heard of Pirna before. Thanks for the overview.

    It has a pretty horrific history, though.

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  10. Terrific tie ins to your story. Love the picture and the history lesson.

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