Olsztyn (UK: /ˈɒlʃtɪn/ OL-shtin,[2] Polish: [ˈɔlʂtɨn] (listen); German: Allenstein [ˈʔalənʃtaɪn] (listen); Old Polish: Holstin; Old Prussian: Alnāsteini or Alnestabs; Lithuanian: Olštynas) is a city on the Łyna River in northeastern Poland. Olsztyn is the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, and is a city with county rights. The population of the city was estimated at 172,362 residents in 2018.[1]


  • Left to right: Castle
  • Market Square
  • House at Okopowa Street
  • Old Town Hall

Coat of arms
Olsztyn – Miasto Młode Duchem…
(Olsztyn – a city young in spirit…)
Coordinates: 53°46′40″N 20°28′45″E
Country Poland
Voivodeship Warmian-Masurian
Countycity county
Established14th century
Town rights1353
  MayorPiotr Grzymowicz
  City88.328 km2 (34.104 sq mi)
Highest elevation
154 m (505 ft)
Lowest elevation
88 m (289 ft)
 (31 December 2018)
  City172,362 (21st)[1]
  Density1,965,3/km2 (50,900/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
  Summer (DST)UTC+2 (CEST)
Postal code
10-001 to 11–041
Area code(s)+48 89
Car platesNO

Founded as Allenstein in the 14th century, Olsztyn was under the control and influence of the Teutonic Order until 1454, when it was incorporated into the Polish Crown.[3] For centuries the city was an important centre of trade, crafts, science and administration in the Warmia region linking Warsaw with Königsberg.[4] Following the First Partition of Poland in 1772 Warmia was annexed by Prussia and ceased to be the property of the clergy. In the 19th century the city changed its status completely, becoming the most prominent economic hub of the southern part of Eastern Prussia. The construction of a railway and early industrialization greatly contributed to Olsztyn's significance. Following World War II, the city returned to Poland in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement.

Since 1999 Olsztyn has been the capital city of the Warmia-Masuria. In the same year, the University of Warmia and Masuria was founded from the fusion of three other local universities. Today, the Castle of Warmian Bishops houses a museum and is a venue for concerts, art exhibitions, film shows and other cultural events, which make Olsztyn a popular tourist destination.[5][6]

The most important sights of the city include the medieval Old Town and the Olsztyn Cathedral, which dates back more than 600 years. The picturesque market square is part of the European Route of Brick Gothic and the cathedral is regarded as one of the greatest monuments of Gothic architecture in Poland.[7]

Olsztyn, for a number of years, has been ranked very highly in quality of life, income, employment and safety. It currently is one of the best places in Poland to live and work.[8][9] It is also one of the happiest cities in the country.[9]


Historical affiliations
Teutonic Order 1353–1454

Kingdom of Poland 1454–1455
Teutonic Order 1455–1463
Kingdom of Poland 1463–1569
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1569–1772
Kingdom of Prussia 1772–1871
German Empire 1871–1918
Weimar Germany 1918–1933
Nazi Germany 1933–1945
People's Republic of Poland 1945–1989

 Republic of Poland 1989–present

In 1346, the forest was cleared at a location on the Alle River (now Łyna River) for a new settlement in Prussian Warmia (former German Ermland). The following year, Teutonic Knights began the construction of an Ordensburg castle as a stronghold against the Old Prussians.[10] The German name "Allenstein" refers to a stronghold on the Alle River – which became known in Polish transliteration as Olsztyn. Allenstein received municipal rights in October 1353,[11] and the castle was completed in 1397.[12] The town was captured by the Kingdom of Poland during the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War in 1410, and again in 1414 during the Hunger War, but it was returned to the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights after hostilities ended.

Allenstein joined the Prussian Confederation in 1440 and rebelled against the Teutonic Knights in 1454 upon the outbreak of the Thirteen Years' War to join Poland under King Casimir IV Jagiellon. Although the Teutonic Knights recaptured the town the following year, it was retaken by Polish troops in 1463. The Second Peace of Thorn in 1466 designated Olsztyn and the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia as part of the province of Royal Prussia under the sovereignty of the Polish Crown.[13]

From 1516 to 1521, Nicolaus Copernicus lived at the castle as administrator of both Olsztyn and Melzak (now Pieniężno). Copernicus was in charge of the Polish defense of Olsztyn during the Polish-Teutonic War of 1519–21.[14]

Olsztyn was sacked by Swedish troops in both 1655 and 1708 during the Polish-Swedish wars, and the town's population was nearly wiped out in 1710 by epidemics of bubonic plague and cholera.

The town became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1772 after the First Partition of Poland. Poles became subject to extensive Germanisation policies. A Prussian census recorded a population of 1,770 people, predominantly farmers, and Allenstein was administered within the newly created Province of East Prussia. It was visited by Napoleon Bonaparte[15] in 1807 after his victories over the Prussian Army at Jena and Auerstedt. By 1825, the town was inhabited by 1341 Germans and 1266 Poles.[16] The first German-language newspaper, the Allensteiner Zeitung, began publishing in 1841. The town hospital was founded in 1867.

In 1871, with the unification of Germany under Prussian hegemony, Allenstein became part of the German Empire. Two years later, the city was connected by railway to Toruń. Its first Polish language newspaper, the Gazeta Olsztyńska, was founded in 1886. Allenstein's infrastructure developed[17] rapidly: gas was installed in 1890, telephones in 1892, public water supply in 1898, and electricity in 1907. In 1905, the city became the capital of Regierungsbezirk Allenstein, a government administrative region in East Prussia. From 1818 to 1910, the city was administered within the East Prussia Allenstein District, after which it became an independent city.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Russian troops captured Allenstein, but it was recovered by the Imperial German Army in the Battle of Tannenberg. The battle took place closer to Allenstein than to Tannenberg (now Stębark), but the Germans, recalling their defeat in the 1410 Battle of Grunwald (German: Battle of Tannenberg), named it "Tannenberg II" for nationalistic reasons.

After the defeat of Germany in World War I, the East Prussian plebiscite was held in 1920 to determine whether the populace of the region, including Allenstein, wished to remain in German East Prussia or become part of Poland. In order to advertise the plebiscite, special postage stamps were produced by overprinting German stamps and sold on 3 April of that year. One kind of overprint read PLÉBISCITE / OLSZTYN / ALLENSTEIN, while the other read TRAITÉ / DE / VERSAILLES / ART. 94 et 95 inside an oval whose border gave the full name of the plebiscite commission. Each overprint was applied to 14 denominations ranging from 5 Pfennigs to 3 Marks. The plebiscite was held on 11 July, and produced 362,209 votes (97.8%) for Germany and 7,980 votes (2.2%) for Poland.

The football club SV Hindenburg Allenstein played in Allenstein from 1921 to 1945. After the January 1933 Nazi seizure of power in Germany, Jews in Allenstein were increasingly persecuted. Also anti-Polish sentiment became more visible. The Gazeta Olsztyńska was abolished by the German authorities, the newspaper's headquarters was demolished and the editor-in-chief Seweryn Pieniężny was arrested and executed in the Hohenbruch German concentration camp. In 1935, the German Wehrmacht made the city the seat of the Allenstein Militärische Bereich. It was then home of the 11th and 217th infantry divisions and 11th Artillery Regiment.

On 12 October 1939, after the German invasion of Poland that began World War II, the Wehrmacht established an Area Headquarters for a military district that controlled the environs of Allenstein, including Lötzen (now Giżycko), and Ciechanów in occupied Poland. Beginning in 1939, members of the Polish-speaking minority, especially members of the Union of Poles in Germany, were persecuted or deported back to Poland.

On 22 January 1945, near the end of the war, Allenstein was plundered and burned by the conquering Soviet Red Army, and much of its German population fled.[18] On 2 August 1945, the city, even though having had a German-speaking majority, became part of Poland under border changes promulgated at the Potsdam Conference, and former "Allenstein" officially became Polish "Olsztyn". In October 1945, the remaining German population was forcibly expelled, to replace the former majority town's population with new Polish settlers [19]

A tyre factory was founded in Olsztyn in 1967. Its subsequent names included OZOS, Stomil and Michelin.[20]

In 1989 the former Gazeta Olsztyńska headquarters was rebuilt and re-opened as a museum.

Olsztyn became the capital of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in 1999. It was previously in the Olsztyn Voivodeship.

Olsztyn Castle

The castle was built between 1346–1353 and by then it had one wing on the north-east side of the rectangular courtyard. Access to the castle lead from the drawbridge over the river Łyna (Alle), surrounded by a belt of defensive walls and a moat. The south-west wing of the castle was built in the 15th century, the tower situated in the west corner of the courtyard, from the middle of the 14th century, was rebuilt in the early 16th century and had a round shape on a square base and was 40 meters high. At the same time the castle walls were raised to a height of 12 meters and a second belt of the lower walls was built. The castle walls were partly combined with city walls, which made the castle look like it had been a powerful bastion defending access to the city. The castle was owned by Warmia Chapter, which until 1454, together with the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia, was under military protection of the Teutonic Knights and their Monastic State of Prussia.

The castle had played a huge role in the Polish-Teutonic wars by then. After the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, the Poles took it after a few days siege. In the Thirteen Years' War (1454–66) it was jumping from rule to rule. The Knights threatened the castle and the town in 1521, but the defence was very effective. They contained one failed assault. There is a connection between the history of the castle, the city of Olsztyn, and Nicolaus Copernicus. He prepared the defense of Olsztyn against the invasion of the Teutonic Knights.

In the sixteenth century, there were two prince-bishops of Warmia that stayed there: Johannes Dantiscus – "the first sarmatian poet, endowed with the imperial laurel wreath for "Latin Songs" (1538, 1541) and Marcin Kromer, who wrote with equal ease in Latin and Polish scientific and literary works (1580). Kromer consecrated the chapel of St. Anna, which was built in the south-west wing of the castle. In the course of time both wings of the castle lost military importance, which for residential purposes has become very convenient. In 1779 Prince-Bishop Ignacy Krasicki stopped here as well.

After the Royal Prussian annexation of Warmia in 1772, the castle became the property of the state board of estates (War and Domain Chamber, Kriegs- und Domänenkammer). In 1845 the bridge over the moat was replaced by a dam better connecting the castle with the city. In 1901–1911 a general renovation of the castle was performed, however several sections of the building were violated at the same time where they changed the original look of the castle e.g. putting on window frames in a cloister. The tower was crowned in 1921 and again in 1926 in the halls of the castle, became a museum.

In 1945 the whole castle became home to the Masurian Museum, which today is called the Museum of Warmia and Masuria. In addition there are also popular events held within the frameworks of the Olsztyn Artistic Summer and so called "evenings of the castle" and "Sundays in the Museum".

Historical population

Perhaps the earliest data about ethnic structure of the county of Olsztyn (including the towns of Olsztyn and Barczewo) comes from censuses of 1825 and 1837:

Ethnic structure of the Olsztyn county (including the towns of Olsztyn and Barczewo) in 1825 and 1837 according to German data[21]
In year 1825: Poles % Germans % Lithuanians % Total In year 1837: Poles % Germans % Lithuanians % Total
City Olsztyn 1,266 48% 1,371 52% - - 2,637 City Olsztyn 1,511 51% 1,461 49% - - 2,962
City Barczewo 1,500 72% 590 28% - - 2,090 City Barczewo 1,794 70% 756 30% - - 2,550
Rural areas 22,764 88% 2,966 12% - - 25,730 Rural areas 22,762 86% 3,762 14% - - 26,524
Whole county 25,530 84% 4,927 16% - - 30,457 Whole county 26,067 81% 5,979 19% - - 32,046

Jewish community

Though Jews did trade in the city fairs during medieval times, they were not allowed to trade freely in the villages surrounding the city.[22] In 1718, Bishop Teodor Andrzej Potocki imposed a ban on Jewish trade.[23] Other bishops after him continued the ban, which apparently wasn't successful since the city population complained about Jews dealing with animal leather and other products in 1742. Permanent Jews were found in the city in 1780, and they were allowed to settle outside the city walls.[24] In 1814, the Simonson brothers opened the first Jewish store in town. In 1850, the city official authority announced that any citizen that hosted a wandering Jew in his house, would be fined and imprisoned.[25]

The Jewish community of the city as a congregation was established in 1820. Shortly after, a prayer room was established on Richterstrasse. In 1877, the congregation bought a plot of land on Liebstädterstrasse and built a synagogue there.[26] A Jewish cemetery was built on Seestrasse (present-day Grundwalzka). While at its peak, the town's Jewish population was 448 Jews in 1933.

On Kristallnacht, the town synagogue was destroyed and later used as a bomb shelter.[27] Now, a sports club sits on the site of the synagogue.[28]

By 1939, 135 Jews were left in the city, after most others fled from the country. Those who lived in town in 1940 were deported to Nazi concentration camps.[29] In June 1946, 16 Holocaust survivors settled in the city and in 1948, the congregation had 190 worshipers. Most of them emigrated to Israel throughout the next few decades. There is no current trace of the Jewish cemetery.[30]

The city was the birthplace of world-famous Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn. In town, Mendelsohn planned the mourners' chapel (called the Mendelsohn house) next to the cemetery.[31] The building is currently restored.[32] In addition, it was the birthplace of German Socialist and SPD leader Hugo Haase. Frieda Strohmberg, an Impressionist, lived and worked in the city from 1910 to 1927. Documentation of the Jewish owned shops in town exists.[33]


Olsztyn is located in the north-east part of Poland in the region known as the "Thousand Lakes".


More than half of the forests occupying 21.2% of the city area form a single complex of the Municipal Forest (1050 ha) used mainly for recreation and tourism purposes. Within the Municipal Forest area are situated two peat-land flora sanctuaries, Mszar and Redykajny. Municipal greenery (560 ha, 6.5% of the town area) developed in the form of numerous parks, green spots and three cemeteries over a century-old. The greenery includes 910 monuments of nature and groups of protected trees in the form of beech, oak, maple and lime-lined avenues.


The city is situated in a lake region of forests and plains. There are 15 lakes inside the administrative bounds of the city (13 with areas greater than 1 ha). The overall area of lakes in Olsztyn is about 725 ha, which constitutes 8.25% of the total city area.

Lake Area (ha) Maximum depth (m)
Lake Ukiel (a.k.a. Jezioro Krzywe)41243
Lake Kortowskie89.717.2
Lake Track (a.k.a. Trackie)52.84.6
Lake Skanda51.512
Lake Redykajny29.920.6
Lake Długie26.817.2
Lake Sukiel20.825
Lake Tyrsko18.630.6
Lake Stary Dwór6.023.3
Lake Siginek6.0insufficient data
Lake Czarne approximately 1.3insufficient data
Lake Żbik approximately 1.2insufficient data
Lake Pereszkowo approximately 1.2insufficient data
Lake Mummel approximately 0.3insufficient data
Lake Modrzewiowe0.25insufficient data


Olsztyn's population includes 3280 Germans and 1283 Ukrainians.

Administrative division

Olsztyn is divided into 23 districts:

District Population Area Density
Brzeziny1,4562.25 km2 (0.87 sq mi)647.1/km²
Dajtki (German: Deuthen)5,8637.5 km2 (2.9 sq mi)781.7/km²
Generałów6,500no datano data
Grunwaldzkie6,0271.46 km2 (0.56 sq mi)4,128.1/km²
Gutkowo (German: Göttkendorf)2,2567.2 km2 (2.8 sq mi)313.3/km²
Jaroty29,0464.82 km2 (1.86 sq mi)6,026.1/km²
Kętrzyńskiego7,6214.83 km2 (1.86 sq mi)1,577.8/km²
Kormoran16,1661.1 km2 (0.4 sq mi)14,696.4/km²
Kortowo (German: Kortau)1,1314.22 km2 (1.63 sq mi)268/km²
Kościuszki6,7041.18 km2 (0.46 sq mi)5,681.4/km²
Likusy (German: Likusen)2,2862.1 km2 (0.8 sq mi)1,088.6/km²
Mazurskie4,6155.98 km2 (2.31 sq mi)771.7/km²
Nad Jeziorem Długim2,4084.23 km2 (2 sq mi)569.3/km²
Nagórki (German: Bergenthal)12,5381.69 km2 (0.65 sq mi)7,418.9/km²
Pieczewo (German: Stolzenberg)10,9182.24 km2 (0.86 sq mi)4,874.1/km²
Podgrodzie11,0801.35 km2 (0.52 sq mi)8,207.4/km²
Podleśna10,4149.93 km2 (3.83 sq mi)1,048.7/km²
Pojezierze13,0012.39 km2 (0.92 sq mi)5,439.7/km²
Redykajny (German: Redigkainen)1,5556.1 km2 (2.36 sq mi)254.9/km²
Śródmieście3,4480.58 km2 (0.22 sq mi)5,944.8/km²
Wojska Polskiego6,7595.03 km2 (2 sq mi)1,343.7/km²
Zatorze6,9880.45 km2 (0.17 sq mi)15,528.9/km²
Zielona Górka1,0156.44 km2 (2.49 sq mi)157.6/km²

There are many smaller districts: Jakubowo (German: Jakobsberg), Karolin, Kolonia Jaroty, Kortowo II, Łupstych (German: Abstich), Niedźwiedź (German: Bärenbruch), Piękna Góra, Podlesie, Pozorty (German: Posorten), Skarbówka Poszmanówka, Słoneczny Stok, Stare Kieźliny, Stare Miasto, Stare Zalbki, Stary Dwór (German: Althof), Track. These do not have council representative assemblies.





  • Museum of Warmia and Mazury (Muzeum Warmii i Mazur) – Olsztyn's largest museum.
    • Gazeta Olsztyńska House (Dom „Gazety Olsztyńskiej”)
    • Museum of Nature (Muzeum Przyrody)
  • Museum of Sports (Muzeum Sportu)
  • Muzeum Nowoczesności


  • The Old Town
  • The Gothic castle of the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia built during the 14th century.
  • St. James's Cathedral (Polish: św. Jakuba, German: St. Jacob or St. Jakob).
  • Old Town Hall on the Market Square – built in the mid-14th century.
  • Gazeta Olsztyńska House at Fish Market.
  • The town walls and the Upper Gate (since the mid-19th century known as the High Gate).
  • Neogothic church of the Holy Heart of Jesus, built during the years 1901–1902
  • The New City Hall
  • The Railway Bridge over the River Łyna gorge near Artyleryjska and Wyzwolenia streets, built during the years 1872–1873
  • The Jerusalem Chapel, built in 1565
  • Church of St. Lawrence, built during the late 14th century
  • FM- and TV-mast Olsztyn-Pieczewo – 360 metres high, since the collapse of the Warsaw radio mast the tallest structure in Poland


Death metal act Vader, regarded as one of the first and most successful death metal bands from Poland.


The Michelin tyre company (former Stomil Olsztyn) is the largest employer in the region of Warmia and Masuria.[34] Other important industries are food processing and furniture manufacturing.



There is a bus network with 36 bus lines, including 6 suburban lines and 2 night-time lines.[35]


In 1939, due to poor economic situation throughout the interwar period and city's growing population, a trolleybus line began operation, partially replacing the original tram network. Olsztyn was a third city in Poland having this method of transportation. During the Second World War the cars were mainly driven by women.

The trolleybus network consisting of 4 lines was liquidated on 31st of July 1971.[36]


Historically, city's first tram line was built in 1907 and gradually expanded over the years. It ceased operation in 1965.[37]

In 2006 authorities considered reintroduction of trams in the city to address transport problems and subsequently concluded feasibility studies on the matter in 2009.[38] An 11 kilometres (7 miles) tram network was built between 2011–2015. The contract was signed in 2011 and construction commenced in 2012.[37] It was a first new tram system built in Poland in 55 years; 15 low-floor Tramino trams were ordered from Solaris in September 2012.[39] There are currently 3 tram lines in operation.[35]

A 6 kilometres (4 miles) extension is planned and Turkish manufacturer Durmazlar had been selected to supply 24 trams for the network.[40]


Olsztyn has train connections to Warsaw, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Iława, Działdowo and Ełk. Olsztyn Główny is the main railway station in the city. Plans exist to demolish current building and replace it with new infrastructure[41], contrary to previous information about current building being renovated.[42]


The region and city is served by Olsztyn-Mazury Airport with scheduled international passenger flights. It is located in Szymany, 10 km off Szczytno and 58 km south of the city of Olsztyn. The airport operates flights to London, Dortmund, Lviv, Cracow and Burgas.[43]




Members of the Sejm elected from Olsztyn constituency in 2005:

Members of Senate elected from Olsztyn constituency in 2005:

Notable residents

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Olsztyn is twinned with:

Olsztyn belongs to the Federation of Copernicus Cities, an association of cities where Copernicus lived and worked, such as Bologna, Frombork, Kraków, and Toruń. The main office of the federation is situated at Olsztyn Planetarium and Astronomical Observatory, located on St. Andrew's Hill (143 m) in a former water tower erected in 1897.


  1. "Local Data Bank". Statistics Poland. Retrieved 2 June 2019. Data for territorial unit 2862000.
  2. "Olsztyn". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  3. "Olsztyn History". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  4. "Local history – Information about the town – Olsztyn – Virtual Shtetl". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  5. o.o., StayPoland Sp. z. "Olsztyn – Tourism – Tourist Information – Olsztyn, Poland -". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  6. "Presentation of castle and museum trail, cultural – historical attractions of the Baltic Sea region". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  7. Budziłło, Elzbieta. "Olsztyn – Copernicus city with 15 lakes". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  8. "W Olsztynie żyje się (prawie) najlepiej. W rankingu miast awansowaliśmy na czwarte miejsce". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  9. "Ranking jakości miejskiego życia. W Olsztynie żyje się bardzo dobrze". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  10. "Miasto Olsztyn – perła Warmii, największe miasto województwa warmińsko-mazurskiego". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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  13. "Historia Olsztyna". Retrieved 29 March 2017.
  14. Höhne, Manfred. "Historia Olsztyna – Prusy Wschodnie". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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  16. Historia Pomorza: (1815–1850), Gerard Labuda, Poznańskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauk, page 157, 1993
  17. "Olsztyn – Gołębnik w środku miasta. Atrakcje turystyczne Olsztyna. Ciekawe miejsca Olsztyna". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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  19. joanna. "Historia lokalna – Olsztyn rok 1945 i pierwsze lata powojenne". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
  20. e.V., Christoph Pienkoss, DV – Deutscher Verband für Städtebau und Wohnungswesen. "EuRoB – Europäische Route der Backsteingotik – Strona internetowa – Miasta nad Szlaku – Polska – Olsztyn – Historia miasta". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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  25. J. Jasiński, Olsztyn w latach 1772 – 1918, in: Olsztyn 1353 – 2003, ed. S. Achremczyk, W. Ogrodziński, Olsztyn 2003, p. 229.
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  27. "Archive – east-prussia – Allenstein". Retrieved 17 November 2016.
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  29. https://www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html#frmResults (matches for "Allenstein", with marked: "Wohnort" and "Geburtsort"; (as of 25 March 2009); http://www.yadvashem.org/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_2KE?next_form=advanced_search (people living in Olsztyn before the war – matches for "Allenstein", with marked: "Before the War", (as of 25 March 2009); http://www.yadvashem.org/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_2KE?next_form=advanced_search (people born in Olsztyn – matches for "Allenstein", with marked: "Birth"; (as of 25 March 2009).
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