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Germanisation of Poles during the Partitions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

After partitioning Poland at the end of the 18th century, the Kingdom of Prussia and later the German Empire imposed a number of Germanisation policies and measures in the newly gained territories, aimed at limiting the Polish ethnic presence and culture in these areas. This process continued through its various stages until the end of World War I, when most of the territories became part of the Second Polish Republic, which largely limited the capacity of further Germanisation efforts of the Weimar Republic until the later Nazi occupation. The genocidal policies of Nazi-Germany against ethnic Poles between 1939 and 1945 can be understood as a continuation of previous Germanization processes.

Until the Unification of Germany

Following the partitions, the previous Germanisation attempts pursued by Frederick the Great in largely Roman Catholic and formerly Austrian Silesia were naturally extended to encompass the newly gained Polish territories. The Prussian authorities started the policy of settling German speaking ethnic groups in these areas. Frederick the Great settled around 300,000 colonists in the eastern provinces of Prussia and aimed at a removal of the Polish nobility, which he treated with contempt and described Poles as 'slovenly Polish trash'[1] in newly reconquered West Prussia, similar to the Iroquois.[2] From the beginnings of Prussian rule Poles were subject to a series of measures aimed against them and their culture; Polish was replaced by German as the official language,[3] and most administration was made German as well; the Prussian ruler Frederick the Great despised Poles and hoped to replace them with Germans. Poles were portrayed as 'backward Slavs' by Prussian officials who wanted to spread German language and culture.[3] The land of Polish nobility was confiscated and given to German nobles.[1][3] Another colonization attempt aimed at Germanization was pursued by Prussia after 1832,[4] and while Poles constituted 73% of the population in 1815, they were reduced to 60% in 1848, while at the same time the German presence grew from 25% to 30%.[5]


The Prussian hold on Polish areas was somewhat weakened after 1807, where parts of its partition were restored to Duchy of Warsaw.[3] The power status of Prussia was dependent on hindering any form of Polish statehood, due to crucial position of Wielkopolska, Silesia and Pomeranian-all areas inhabited either by Polish majority or substantial Polish population; it didn't support Polish attempts at restoration of Poland during Congress of Vienna, where Prussia tried to gain Duchy of Warsaw or at least its western provinces.[3] In 1815 the Prussian king made several guarantees in his speech to Poles in the newly formed Grand Duchy of Posen (created out of the territories of Duchy of Warsaw) in regards to rights of Polish language and cultural institutions.[3] In order to ensure loyalty of the newly re-conquered territories, the Prussians engaged in several propaganda gestures hoping they would be enough to gain land-owners and aristocracy support.[6]

The base support of Prussian rule was from the influx of German colonists, officials and tradesmen, whose immigration started in 1772 due to Partitions of Poland, and while it was halted in 1806, it soon was reinstated after 1815 as planned systemic action of Prussian government.[6] The Prussians knew exactly that Polish aspirations were involved with independence; however they were considering at the time two different methods to subdue Polish resistance.[6] One advocated ruthless Germanization of the Polish provinces, the other pursued by Chancellor Hardenberg, wanted to gain support of Polish higher classes, while turning them away from Russian Tsar Alexander I.[6]

Initially, the position of the Chancellor prevailed. At the same time, Prussians and Russians, through secret police, worked together against Polish movements that would seek independence either from Russia or Prussia, and Prussian representative in Warsaw helped to create political climate that would abolish constitutional freedoms in Congress Poland.[6] The situation in Polish areas of Prussia was calmed down after a series of proclamations and assuring the Polish right to their education, religion and traditions. In the end, the Polish rights were defined very narrowly, and Prussia started to abolish Polish in administration, schooling, and courts.[6] In 1819 the gradual elimination of Polish in schools began, with German being introduced in its place.[6] This procedure was briefly stopped in 1822, but restarted in 1824.

In 1825 August Jacob, a politician hostile to Poles, gained power over newly created Provincial Educational Collegium in Posen (Poznań).[6] Across the Polish territories, Polish teachers were being removed from work, German educational programs were being introduced, and primary schooling was being replaced by German one that aimed at the creation of loyal Prussian citizens.[6] Already in 1816 the Polish gymnasium in Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) was turned into a German school and Polish was removed from classes.

In 1825 the Teacher's Seminary in Bromberg was Germanized as well.[6] While in 1824 a Provincial Parliament was invoked in Greater Poland, the representation was based on a wealth census, meaning that the end result gave most of the power to German minority in the area.[6] Even when Poles managed to issue calls asking for enforcing of the guarantees formulated in treaties of Congress of Vienna and proclamations of Prussian King in 1815 they were rejected by Prussia.[6] Thus, neither the attempt to create Polish University in Posen nor Polish Society of Friends of Agriculture, Industry and Education were accepted by authorities.[6] Nevertheless, Poles continued to ask for Polish representation in administration of the area, representing the separate character of the Duchy, keeping the Polish character of schools.[6]

From 1825, the increase in anti-Polish policies became more visible and intense.[6] Prussian political circles demanded an end to the tolerance of Polishness. Among the Poles, two groups emerged, one still hoping for respect of separate status of the Duchy and insisting on working with Prussian authorities, hoping that in time they would grant some freedoms. The other faction still hoped for independence of Poland. As a consequence, many Polish activists were imprisoned.[6] A joint operation of Russian and Prussian secret police managed to discover Polish organizations working in Breslau (Wrocław) and Berlin, whose members were arrested and detained in Prussian jails.[6]


Intensification of anti-Polish policies started from 1830 onwards.[6] As the November Uprising in Russian-held Congress Poland began, Prussians closely worked with Russia in regards to stopping any Polish independence drive. A state of emergency was introduced in the Duchy, police surveillance started on a large scale and 80,000 soldiers were moved into the area.[6] The Prussian Foreign Minister openly declared that Prussia would oppose independence of Poland as it would mean territories taken in the Partitions of Poland could be claimed by it.[6] Russians soldiers fighting Poles received food supplies, equipment, and intelligence from Prussia. While Prussian generals even wanted to march into Congress Poland, the threat of French intervention stopped those plans.[6] The administrator of the region became Eduard Heinrich Flotwell, a self-declared enemy of Poles, who openly called for Germanization and superiority of German culture over Polish people. Supported by Karl Grolman, a Prussian general, a program was presented that envisioned removing Poles from all offices, courts, judiciary system, and local administration, controlling the clergy, and making peasants loyal through enforced military service. Schools were to be Germanized as well.[6] Those plans were supported by such prominent public figures such as Carl von Clausewitz, August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, Theodor von Schon, Wilhelm von Humboldt.[6]

By 1830 the right to use Polish in courts and institutions was no longer respected.[3] While the Poles constituted the majority of population in the area, they held only 4 out of 21 official posts of higher level.[3] From 1832 they could no longer hold higher posts at the local administrative level (Landrat).[3] At the same time the Prussian government and Prussian King pursued Germanization of administration and judicial system, while local officials enforced Germanization of educational system and tried to eradicate the economic position of Polish nobility.[3] In Bromberg the mayors were all Germans. In Posen, out of 700 officials, only 30 were Poles.

Flotwell also initiated programs of German colonization and tried to reduce Polish landownership in favor of Germans.[6] In the time period of 1832–1842 the number of Polish holdings was reduced from 1020 to 950 and the German ones increased from 280 to 400.[6] Jewish minority in the Province was exploited by Prussians to gain support for its policies, by granting Jews rights and abolishing old limitations the Prussians hoped they could integrate Jewish population into German society, and gain a counterweight to Polish presence. As a result, many Jewish saw in Prussia a free, liberal state and were opposed to Polish independence movement.[6]

When Frederick William IV's ascended to the throne in 1840, certain concessions were again granted.,[7] the German colonization was halted, some schools were able to teach Polish again, and promises were made to create Polish departments in universities in Breslau and Berlin, there were also vague promises about creation of University in Posen.[6] This was all that Poles were granted.[6] In reality only the methods changed, while the overall goal of Germanization remained the same, only this time with lighter methods, and by concessions Prussians hoped to assure identification of Poles with Prussian state and eventual change of their identity.[6] The concession also were connected to freezing of relations between Prussia and Russian Empire, with Prussian politicians hoping that Poles could be used to fight Russia on Prussia's behalf.[6]

At this time the majority of Poles were not yet engaged in political activity. At most only the landowners, the intelligentsia and the upper urban classes possessed a developed national consciousness. The peasantry and the working class had yet to experience their own "Polish national awakening". Through military service and school education, and in the case of "regulated" peasants also in the wake of the benefits wrought by the final emancipation decree introduced in 1823, some segments of these social groups had begun to identify with the Prussian state. However, as German colonization grew in strength and policies against Polish religion and traditions were introduced the local population begun to feel hostility towards Prussia and German presence.[6] Economic factors also began to influence Polish-German relations. Colonization policies in particular created a fear of German competition among Poles. The greatest difference remained the religious segregation. The local Germans displayed rather politically apathy and refrained from creating an organized form of social life. Prior to 1848, the provincial diet remained the only forum of German political activity. In general relations of the local Germans with the Polish population were good.[7]

Kreis Karthaus Westpreussen Prussia - Rural area 1905 - population -66,000: 46,000 Polish, 20,000 German Prussian provinces were subdivided into districts called "Kreise" (singular "Kreis", abbreviated "Kr.")

1871 until the Treaty of Versailles

Linguistic map of eastern Germany in 1910.
Linguistic map of eastern Germany in 1910.

Within Bismarck's Kulturkampf policy, the Poles were purposefully presented as "foes of the empire" (German: Reichsfeinde).[8] Bismarck himself privately believed that the only solution to Polish Question was extermination of Poles[9] As the Prussian authorities suppressed Catholic services in Polish by Polish priests, the Poles had to rely on German Catholic priests. Later, in 1885, the Prussian Settlement Commission was set up from the national government's funds with a mission to buy land from Polish owners and distribute it among German colonists.[10] In reaction to this the Poles also founded a commission of their own to buy farmland and distribute it to Poles.[citation needed] Eventually 150,000 were settled on Polish territories. In 1888, the mass deportations of Poles from Prussia were organized by German authorities. This was further strengthened by the ban on building of houses by Poles (see Drzymała's van).[11] Another means of the policy was the elimination of non-German languages from public life, schools and from academic settings. At its extremes, the Germanisation policies in schools took the form of abuse of Polish children by Prussian officials (see Września children strike). The harsh policies had the reverse effect of stimulating resistance, usually in the form of home schooling and tighter unity in the minority groups. In 1890 the Germanisation of Poles was slightly eased for a couple of years but the activities intensified again since 1894 and continued until the end of the World War I. This led to international condemnation, e.g., an international meeting of socialists held in Brussels in 1902 called the Germanisation of Poles in Prussia "barbarous".[12] Nevertheless, the Settlement Commission was empowered with new more powerful rights, which entitled it to force Poles to sell the land since 1908.

Germanisation of Poles in Ruhr area

Another form of Germanisation of Poles was the relation between the German state and Polish coal miners in the Ruhr Area. Due to migration within the German Empire, an enormous stream of Polish nationals (as many as 350,000) made their way to the Ruhr in the late 19th century, where they worked in the coal and iron industries. Because of the various uprisings in occupied Poland during the previous century, German authorities viewed them as potential danger and a threat and as a "suspected political and national" element. All Polish workers had special identity cards and were under constant observation by German authorities. In addition, anti-Polish stereotypes were promoted, such as postcards with jokes about Poles, presenting them as irresponsible people, similar to the treatment of the Irish in New England around the same time. The vilification was mutual, with Polish rhymes often characterizing the Germans as dogs or less than human. Many Polish traditional and religious songs were forbidden by Prussian authorities [1]. Their citizens' rights were also limited by the German state.[13] In response to these policies, the Polish formed their own organizations to defend their interests and ethnic identity. The Sokół sports clubs and the workers' union Zjednoczenie Zawodowe Polskie (ZZP), Wiarus Polski (press) and Bank Robotników were among the best known such organizations in the area. At first the Polish workers, ostracised by their German counterparts, had supported the Catholic Centre Party. Since the beginning of the 20th century their support more and more shifted towards the social democrats. In 1905 Polish and German workers organized their first common strike. Under the German law of changing surnames (German: Namensänderungsgesetz)[clarification needed] a significant number of "Ruhr-Poles" had to change their surnames and Christian names to Germanised forms, in order to evade ethnic discrimination. Increasing intermarriage between Germans and Poles also contributed much to the Germanisation of ethnic Poles in the Ruhr area.

Germanization plans during First World War

During the First World War, the German Empire planned to annex up to 35,000 square kilometers of pre-war Congress Poland and ethnically cleanse between 2 and 3 million Poles and Jews out of these territories to make room for German settlers.[14][15][16][17][18][19]

Reversal of Germanization after end of German rule over Polish territories

After World War I ended, the Germanization of those Polish territories which were restored to Poland was largely reversed, although significant German minorities continued to exist.

The American historian of German descent[20] Richard Blanke in his book Orphans of Versailles names several reasons for the exodus of the German population. The author has been criticised by Christian Raitz von Frentz and his book classified by him as part of a series on the subject that have an anti-Polish bias.[21] Polish professor A. Cienciala says that Blanke's views in the book are sympathetic to Germany.[22]

  • A number of former settlers from the Prussian Settlement Commission who settled in the area after 1886 in order to Germanise it were in some cases given a month to leave, in other cases they were told to leave at once.[23]
  • Poland found itself under threat during the Polish-Bolshevik war,[23] and the German population feared that Bolshevik forces would control Poland. Migration to Germany was a way to avoid conscription and participation in the war.
  • State-employed Germans such as judges, prosecutors, teachers and officials left as Poland did not renew their employment contracts. German industrial workers also left due to fear of lower-wage competition. Many Germans became economically dependent on Prussian state aid as it fought the "Polish problem" in its provinces.[23]
  • Germans refused to accept living in a Polish state.[23] As Lewis Bernstein Namier said: "Some Germans undoubtedly left because they would not live under the dominion of a race which they had previously oppressed and despised."[24]
  • Germans feared that the Poles would seek reprisals after over a century of harassment and discrimination by the Prussian and German state against the Polish population.[23]
  • Social and linguistic isolation: While the population was mixed, only Poles were required to be bilingual. The Germans usually did not learn Polish. When Polish became the only official language in Polish-majority provinces, their situation became difficult. The Poles shunned Germans which contributed to their isolation.[23]
  • Lower standards of living. Poland was a much poorer country than Germany.[23]
  • Former Nazi politician and later opponent Hermann Rauschning wrote that 10% of Germans were unwilling to remain in Poland regardless of their treatment, and another 10% were workers from other parts of the German Empire with no roots in the region.[23]

Official encouragement by the Polish state played a secondary role in the exodus.[23] While there were demonstrations and protests and occasional violence against Germans, they were at a local level, and officials were quick to point out that they were a backlash against former discrimination against Poles.[23] There were other demonstrations when Germans showed disloyalty during the Polish-Bolshevik war[23] as the Red Army announced the return to the prewar borders of 1914.[25] As many as 80% of Germans emigrated more or less voluntarily.[23]

Reversal of Germanization in Poznan

(German name in brackets)[26]
ethnic German population (1910) ethnic German population (1926) ethnic German population (1934) decline
(absolute numbers)
decline (percent)
Odolanów (Adelnau) 17,148 10,038 9,442 −7,706 −44.9
Międzychód (Birnbaum) 16,012 4,655 4,377 −11,635 −72.7
 Bydgoszcz (Bromberg, town) 74,292 11,016 10,021 −64,271 −86.5
 Bydgoszcz (Bromberg, district) 31,212 13,281 12,211 −19,001 −60.9
Czarnków (Czarnikau) 17,273 5,511 4,773 −6,500 −57.7
 Gniezno (Gnesen) 26,275 8,616 7,876 −18,399 −70.0
 Gostyń (Gostyn) 6,528 2,395 2,162 −4,366 −66.9
Grodzisk Wielkopolski (Grätz) / Nowy Tomyśl (Neutomischel) 33,244 16,576 16,555 −16,689 −50.2
Inowrocław (Hohensalza) 28,394 8,455 8,096 −20,298 −71.5
 Jarocin (Jarotschin) / Pleszew (Pleschen) 15,436 4,667 4,019 −11,417 −74.0
 Kępno (Kempen) / Ostrzeszów (Schildberg) 16,631 9,310 10,889 −5,742 −34.5
Chodzież (Kolmar) 34,004 14,246 12,348 −21,656 −63.7
Koźmin (Koschmin) / Krotoszyn (Krotoschin) 21,542 6,542 5,807 −15,735 −73.0
Leszno (Lissa) 31,033 9,917 8,371 −22,662 −73.0
Mogilno (Mogilno) / Strzelno (Strelno) 21,711 8,727 7,770 −13,941 −64.2
Oborniki (Obornik) 22,450 9,417 8,410 −14,040 −62.5
Poznań (Posen, town) 65,321 5,980 4,387 −60,934 −93.3
Poznań (Posen, district) 21,486 4,687 4,252 −17,234 −80.2
Rawicz (Rawitsch) 21,842 6,184 5,038 −16,804 −76.9
Szamotuły (Samter) 17,071 5,029 4,841 −12,230 −71.6
Śmigiel (Schmiegel) /  Kościan (Kosten) 11,775 3,636 3,488 −8,287 −70.4
Śrem (Schrimm) 10,017 2,802 3,574 −6,443 −64.3
 Środa Wielkopolska (Schroda) 6,201 2,269 2,029 −4,172 −67.3
Szubin (Schubin) 21,035 10,193 8,879 −12,156 −57.8
Wyrzysk (Wirsitz) 34,235 13,495 12,410 −21,825 −63.8
Wolsztyn (Wollstein) 22,236 10,369 9,313 −12,923 −58.1
Wągrowiec (Wongrowitz) 16,309 8,401 7,143 −9,166 −56.2
Września (Wreschen) 7,720 2,436 2,115 −6,505 −72.6
 Żnin (Znin) 10,906 5,404 4,539 −6,367 −58.4
Poznań Voivodship (total) 679,339 224,254 203,135 −468,204 −68.9

Reversal of Germanization in Pomerania

(German name in brackets)[27]
ethnic German population (1910) ethnic German population (1926) ethnic German population (1934) decline
(absolute numbers)
decline (percent)
Kościerzyna (Berent) 20,804 6,884 5,974 −14,830 −71.3
Wąbrzeźno (Briesen) 24,007 7,615 7,344 −16,663 −69.4
Chełmno (Kulm) 23,345 7,905 7,673 −15,672 −67.1
Tczew (Dirschau)/ Gniew (Mewe)/ Świecie (Schwetz) 70,279 20,446 17,571 −52,708 −75.0
Grudziądz (Graudenz, town) 34,194 3,542 3,875 −30,319 −88.7
Grudziądz (Graudenz, district) 28,698 9,317 8,190 −20,508 −71.5
Kartuzy (Karthaus) 14,170 4,800 3,927 −10,243 −72.3
Chojnice (Konitz) 30,326 9,022 8,070 −22,256 −73.4
Lubawa (Löbau) 12,122 2,078 1,689 −10,433 −86.1
Wejherowo (Neustadt)/ Puck (Putzig) 24,528 6,556 6,305 −18,223 −74,3
Starogard Gdański (Pr. Stargard) 17,165 2,909 3,418 −13,747 −80.1
Toruń (Thorn, town) 30,509 2,255 2,057 −28,452 −93.3
Toruń (Thorn, district) 27,757 7,107 6,738 −21,019 −75.7
Tuchola (Tuchel) 11,268 3,170 2,861 −8,407 −74.6
Sępólno Krajeńskie (Zempelburg) 21,554 10,866 11,130 −10,424 −48.4
Pomeranian Voivodship (total) 421,033 117,251 107,555 −313,347 −74.5

See also


  1. ^ a b "In fact from Hitler to Hans we find frequent references and Jews as Indians. This, too, was a long standing trope. It can be traced back to Frederick the Great, who likened the 'slovenly Polish trash' in newly' reconquered West Prussia to Iroquois". Localism, Landscape, and the Ambiguities of Place: German-speaking Central Europe, 1860–1930 David Blackbourn, James N. Retallack University of Toronto 2007
  2. ^ Ritter, Gerhard (1974). Frederick the Great: A Historical Profile. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 0-520-02775-2. It has been estimated that during his reign 300,000 individuals settled in Prussia. ... While the commission for colonization established in the Bismarck era could in the course of two decades bring no more than 11,957 families to the eastern territories, Frederick settled a total of 57,475. ... It increased the German character of the population in the monarchy's provinces to a very significant degree. ... in West Prussia where he wished to drive out the Polish nobility and bring as many of their large estates as possible into German hands.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Andrzej Chwalba, Historia Polski 1795–1918 Wydawnictwo Literackie 2000 Kraków pages 175–184, 307–312
  4. ^ Wielka historia Polski t. 4 Polska w czasach walk o niepodległość (1815–1864). Od niewoli do niepodległości (1864–1918) Marian Zagórniak, Józef Buszko 2003 page 186
  5. ^ Historia 1789–1871 Page 224. Anna Radziwiłł and Wojciech Roszkowski
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Jerzy Zdrada, Historia Polski 1795–1918 Warsaw Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN 2007; pages 268, 273–291, 359–370
  7. ^ a b Makowski, Krzysztof (Fall 1999). East European Quarterly (ed.). Poles, Germans And Jews In The Grand Duchy Of Posen in 1848: From Coexistence To Conflict.
  8. ^ Abrams, p. 24.
  9. ^ National Identity and Foreign Policy: Nationalism and Leadership in Poland, Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies) Ilya Prizel page 113,Cambridge University Press 1998
  10. ^ "Encyklopedia PWN". Archived from the original on 2006-05-22. Retrieved 2006-10-18.
  11. ^ Jerzy Kwiatek: Polska – Urokliwy świat małych miasteczek. Wyd. 3. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka MUZA SA, 2006, s. 452. ISBN 83-7319-993-4.
  12. ^ "All items for this edition of World News are taken from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), January-February 1902". Archived from the original on 2005-12-08. Retrieved 2005-10-31.
  13. ^ Bade, Weiner, p. 11.
  14. ^ Truth or conjecture?: German civilian war losses in the East, page 366 Stanisław Schimitzek Zachodnia Agencia Prasowa, 1966
  15. ^ To the Threshold of Power, 1922/33: Origins and Dynamics of the Fascist and Nationalist Socialist Dictatorships, page 151–152
  16. ^ Shatterzone of Empires: Coexistence and Violence in the German, Habsburg, Russian, and Ottoman Borderlands by Omer Bartov and Eric D. Weitz page 55 Indiana University Press 2013
  17. ^ Immanuel Geiss "Tzw. polski pas graniczny 1914-1918". Warszawa 1964
  18. ^ The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke By Timothy Snyder "On the annexations and ethnic cleansing, see Geiss, Der Polnische Grenzstreifen"
  19. ^ Absolute Destruction: Military Culture And The Practices Of War In Imperial Germany Isabel V. Hull page 233
  20. ^ "Part I: to 1914". Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  21. ^ A Lesson Forgotten: Minority Protection Under the League of Nations the Case of the German Minority in Poland, 1920-1934 Christian Raitz Von Frentz page 8
  22. ^ "Anna M". Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Orphans of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland, 1918-1939 pages 32-48 Richard Blanke University Press of Kentucky, 1993
  24. ^ In the Margin of History, page 45 Lewis Bernstein Namier - (pub. 1969)
  25. ^ NY Times report
  26. ^ Kotowski, Albert S. (1998). Polens Politik gegenüber seiner deutschen Minderheit 1919-1939 (in German). Forschungsstelle Ostmitteleuropa, University of Dortmund. p. 56. ISBN 3-447-03997-3.
  27. ^ Kotowski, Albert S. (1998). Polens Politik gegenüber seiner deutschen Minderheit 1919-1939 (in German). Forschungsstelle Ostmitteleuropa, University of Dortmund. p. 55. ISBN 3-447-03997-3.


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