According to the local legend Olecko (Margrabowa) was founded by duke Albrecht Hohenzollern, as a way of thanking an eremite from the forest who had saved his life during hunting. By founding the town in 1560 among forests the duke hoped to revive the borderland of Prussia and Lithuania. At the same time Augustów was founded on the other side of the border. The latter town derived its name from Polish king Zygmunt August and the Masurian town – from the title of duke Albrecht, also known as margrave, hence Margrabowa, Marggrabowa. The symbol of his plans was the Olecko market square deemed as the largest in the state of Prussia and later – in Germany.

Dreams of rapid development of the border town were not fulfilled. For ages the seat of the staroste was located in Straduny and neighbouring towns of Gołdap and Ełk expanded more quickly than Olecko. The development of the town was hampered by natural disasters, fires, epidemics and war damage. Great damage was a consequence of fires at the turn of the 17th and 18th century, the Tartar raid of 1656–1657 and the black plague, which in 1709–1711 took 11 thousand lives in the territory of Oleckie starosty. The immediate vicinity of Poland contributed to the Polish character of the town. The Polish Masurian pastors, who opposed against growing Germanisation, for example: Jan Moneta (1659–1735), Krystyn Lach (Szyrma) (1790–1866), August Fryderyk Czygan (1789–1837) and Karol Sembrzycki (1823–1886), came from Olecko. In the town the following Polish magazines for Masurians appeared: Nowiny o Rozszerzaniu Wiary Chrześcijańskiej (News on Spreading Christian Faith) and Mazur Wschodnio-Pruski (East-Prussian Mazur), as well as widely popular calendars. Still in 1912 37.9% of the population of Olecki district used Polish language.

In 1818 Olecko became the seat of the district. The second half of the 19th century brought about more rapid development of the town with construction of new roads and setting up new railway connections. In 1879, the town received a new railroad line from Ełk to Wystruć. In 1908, due to a new connection with Giżycko, a railway nod was set up and in 1915 railway tracks leading to Suwałki via Raczki were constructed. Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century a network of narrow-gauge trains for commuting was set up. Convenient communication engendered economic expansion and development of infrastructure. Since the 1870s a number of buildings were erected, such as: gas-works, power plant, water supply, sewage, butchery and cold store.

The vicinity of the border was the reason why the town was destroyed during bloody fights between the Russians and the Germans fought in the east of Eastern Prussia in 1914–1915. Olecko was occupied by the Soviet troops for some time. However, as early as 1915, after pushing back the attacker, rebuilding of the town due to contributions made from the entire territory of Germany, especially from Bergisch Gladbach district of Rhineland, commenced. Despite large Polish-speaking community, the referendum of 1920 ended with complete victory of the German option.

The interwar period brought about intensified Germanisation. In 1928 both historical names of Oletzko and Marggrabowa were replaced with a new name – Treuburg ("Loyal Burg"). On 9th February 1929 the town recorded the lowest temperature in the current territory of Poland of minus 42.2 Celsius. Olecko was a local administration, trade and craft centre of the Masurian borderland, belonging to Gąbin administrative region. Olecko district was also one of the bastions of NSDAP. During elections to Reichstag, held on 5th March 1933, the Nazis received as many as 74.5% votes. In 1939 Olecko had 7118 residents.

In January 1945 Olecko was seized by the Soviet Army. As a result of military actions and arson 80% of the town's buildings were ruined. Due to the fact that it was one of the first parts of Germany located on the route to Berlin, the Soviets traversing the area were particularly cruel. In 1940–1945 the population of the district plummeted from 40 thousand to only 1 thousand. On 3rd June 1945 the Soviet commandant transferred the town to Polish administration. The German population was dislocated. Settlers and repatriates from Kresy Wschodnie (East Borderlands) settled in the area. From 1946 Olecko belonged to Białostockie Province and from 1975 – to Suwalskie Province. Since 1999 the town is the capital of the district in Warmińsko-Mazurskie Province.

 

Bibliographic note

  • Auchremczyk S. i in., Dzieje Olecka 1560–2010, Olecko – Radom 2010.

 

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