In February of 2012 I received a phone call from an elderly gentleman in Bavaria. He told me that he hoped I would be able to assist him, and that he had in his possession something that might be of interest to me. He related a story told to him by a cousin of his, who has since passed away.
On May 3, 1945 this cousin, who lived in the region of Bavaria close to Salzburg, Austria, observed a uniformed man, presumably an officer, leave the road and climb up a hill to the forest. This was toward the end of the Second World War and the American troops were advancing. The cousin figured that the officer went into the forest to commit suicide so as not to be captured by the enemy troops.
This is not what happened, however. The officer came out of the forest and continued fleeing from his enemies. Out of curiosity the cousin went into the forest himself. He discovered a saber with the following inscription: “To Lieutenant Colonel Wyneken with thanks, welcome back from China”. (The gentleman on the phone read the inscription to me but I unfortunately didn’t write it down so that what I’ve written is only an approximation based on what I remember.) It seems obvious that this person must have served in the German forces that helped quell the Boxer Rebellion in the years 1899-1901.
The man’s cousin was never able to find the man or the man’s family to return the sword so he just kept it. When the cousin died, the man I was talking to on the phone inherited the saber. He decided to search some more for the family of the original owner. He asked an acquaintance of his to search the internet to see if anything could be found, and this acquaintance reported back that he had found my Wyneken genealogy web site.
The gentleman asked me if I would be willing to help him try to track down the family of whomever this officer might be. I told him on the phone that from memory I was aware of only three Wynekens who served in the German army during WW II so the search shouldn’t be too difficult. The lead about the lieutenant colonel in the Boxer Rebellion would certainly make it easier to identify the original owner of the sword. I told the gentleman I would be glad to see what I can find out and call him back.
A quick search of my family database showed that the lieutenant colonel I was looking for could only have been Otto Gustav Felix Wyneken (1854 – 1922 or 1924). It seems that he later also served in WW I. But who might the officer in 1945 have been?
It seems plausible that the sword would have been passed down within the family. Otto and his English wife, Frieda, had two sons. One of them my database lists as a police commissioner in Dortmund. The other one, Wulff Joachim Wyneken, was born in 1898 and is listed in my database as a retired lieutenant. He would have been about 47 in 1945 and could very well have still been in active duty, especially at the end of the war.
Otto and Frieda also had two daughters, both of whom married husbands with military careers. Only one of these daughters had a son: Hugo Eberhard Rudolf Maximilian von Fischer-Treuenfeld was born in 1910 in Freiburg im Breisgau. He would have been 35 in 1945 when the sword was deposited in the Bavarian woods.
My task now is to try to find out whether any of the sons or this grandson of Lieutenant Colonel Wyneken were indeed officers in WW II and whether it is plausible for any of them to have been in Bavaria in the summer of 1945.
It’s stories like this that make genealogical research very worthwhile for me!