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German minority in Poland

The registered German minority in Poland at the 2011 national census consisted of 148,000 people, of whom 64,000 declared both German and Polish ethnicities and 45,000 solely German ethnicity.[1] At a 2002 census there were 152,900 people declaring German ethnicity.[2][3][4] In 2013 Poland's German community was estimated to be around 350,000.[5] Due to complications arising from multi-ethnic identities and previous concealment during the communist period, many people of German descent are not accounted for and some estimates number Poles of German ancestry from 400,000 to 500,000.[6]

The German language is used in certain areas in Opole Voivodeship (German: Woiwodschaft Oppeln), where most of the minority resides and Silesian Voivodeship (German: Woiwodschaft Schlesien). The German Minority electoral list currently has one seat in the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (there were four from 1993 to 1997), benefiting from the current provision in Polish election law which exempts national minorities from the 5% national threshold.

There are 325 Polish schools that use the German language as the first language of instruction, with over 37,000 students. Most members of the German minority are Roman Catholic, and some are Protestants (the Evangelical-Augsburg Church). A number of German language newspapers and magazines are published in Poland.

Statistical data

File:German Minority Upper Silesia.png
German minority in Upper Silesia: Opole Voivodeship (west) and Silesian Voivodeship (east).

According to the 2002 census, most of the Germans in Poland (92.9%) live in Silesia: 104,399 in the Opole Voivodeship, i.e. 71.0% of all Germans in Poland and a share of 9.9% of the local population; 30,531 in the Silesian Voivodeship, i.e. 20.8% of all Germans in Poland and 0.6% of the local population; plus 1,792 in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, i.e. 1.2% of all Germans in Poland, though only 0.06% of the local population. A second region with a notable German minority is Masuria, with 4,311 living in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, corresponding to 2.9% of all Germans in Poland, and 0.3% of the local population.

Towns with particularly high concentrations of German speakers in Opole Voivodeship include: Strzelce Opolskie; Dobrodzien; Prudnik; Glogowek; and Gogolin.[7]

In the remaining 12 voivodeships of Poland, the percentage of Germans in the population lies between just 0.007-0.092%:

Region Population German  % German
Poland 38,557,984 147,094 0.381
Opole Voivodeship 1,055,667 104,399 9.889
Silesian Voivodeship 4,830,000 30,531 0.632
Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship 1,428,552 4,311 0.302
Pomeranian Voivodeship 2,192,000 2,016 0.092
Lower Silesian Voivodeship 2,898,000 1,792 0.062
West Pomeranian Voivodeship 1,694,865 1,014 0.060
Greater Poland Voivodeship 3,365,283 820 0.024
Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship 2,068,142 636 0.031
Lubusz Voivodeship 1,009,005 513 0.051
Masovian Voivodeship 5,136,000 351 0.007
Łódź Voivodeship 2,597,000 263 0.010

History of Germans in Poland

File:German language frequency in Poland based on Polish census of 1931.PNG
German language frequency in Poland based on Polish census of 1931
File:MniejszoscNiemiecka2007 Barry Kent.png
Votes for the German Minority in the 2007 elections in the Opole Vovoidship
File:Inspection of Selbstschutz unit in Bydgoszcz.jpg
Inspection of Selbstschutz unit in Bydgoszcz. Josef Meier ("Bloody Meier") - leader of Selbstschutz in Bydgoszcz, Werner Kampe - mayor of Bydgoszcz and Ludolf von Alvensleben - leader of Selbstschutz in Pomerania
Example of bilingual labeling in German and Polish on the town hall of the Polish village Cisek.

German migration into the area of modern Poland began with the medieval Ostsiedlung (see also Walddeutsche in the Subcarpathian region). The historical regions of Lower Silesia, East Brandenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia were almost completely German-settled by the High Middle Ages, while in the other areas there were substantial German populations, most notably in the historical regions of Pomerelia, Upper Silesia, and Posen or Greater Poland. Lutheran Germans settled numerous "Olęder" villages along the Vistula River and its tributaries during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century, Germans were actively involved in developing the clothmaking industry in what is now central Poland. Over 3,000 villages and towns within Russian Poland are recorded as having German residents. Many of these Germans remained east of the Curzon line after World War I, including a significant number in Volhynia. In the late 19th century, some Germans moved westward during the Ostflucht, while others were settled in Central Poland by a Prussian Settlement Commission. After the creation of the Second Polish Republic, large numbers of ethnic Germans were forced to leave, especially in the Polish Corridor area.

According to the 1931 census there were around 740,000 German speakers living in Poland (2.3% of the population). Their minority rights were protected by the Little Treaty of Versailles. The right to appeal to the League of Nations however was renounced in 1934, officially due to Germany's withdrawal from the League after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.

File:Gminy z dodatkowymi nazwami.png
Communes in Poland in which the additional minority names were introduced (as of 1 December 2009), color: blue - German names in Opole and Silesian Voivodeship (total of 238 German names in Silesia)

After the Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, many members of the German minority (around 25%[8]) joined the ethnic German paramilitary organisation Volksdeutscher Selbstschutz. When the German occupation of Poland began, the Selbstschutz took an active part in Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles. Due to their pre-war interactions with the Polish majority, they were able to prepare lists of Polish intellectuals and civil servants whom the Nazis selected for extermination. The organisation actively participated and was responsible for the deaths of about 50,000 Poles.[9]

During the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, ethnic Germans from other areas of Central Europe were settled in the pre-war territory of Poland by the Nazis, who at the same time expelled, enslaved and killed Poles and Jews.

With the Nazis' defeat and Poland's shift west between the Oder-Neisse and Curzon lines, the ethnic Germans who had not fled were expelled or even killed. In the areas annexed from Germany, Germans had formed the vast majority of the population. However, after the forced expulsions from 1945 onward, they were reduced to a small minority. A different situation occurred in Upper Silesia, where the population was more mixed and some Germans were allowed to stay. A possible demonstration of the ambiguity of the Polish German minority position[clarification needed] can be seen in the life and career of Waldemar Kraft, a Minister without Portfolio in the West German Bundestag during the 1950s. However, most of the German minority had not been as involved in the Nazi system as Kraft was.[10]

The vast majority of the Germans east of the Oder-Neisse line were Protestants and were forced out, but a significant minority in Silesia were Roman Catholic, speaking a Slavic dialect with some German influence and thus sometimes called Wasserpolnisch or Wasserpolak. Many of them chose to remain, but later would emigrate to West Germany, fleeing the harsh Communist rule. With the downfall of the Communist regime, the German minorities' political situation improved. German citizens are now allowed to buy land and property in the areas where they or their ancestors used to live, and can return there if they wish.

There is no clear-cut division between the Germans and some other minorities, whose heritage is similar in some respects due to centuries of assimilation, Germanisation and intermarriage, but differs in other respects due to either ancient regional West Slavic roots or Polonisation. Examples of these minorities are the so-called Slovincians (Lebakaschuben), the Masurians and the Silesians of Upper Silesia. While in the past these people have been claimed for both Polish and German ethnicity, it really depends on their self-perception which they choose to belong to.

German Poles

German Poles (German: Deutsche Polen, Polish: Polacy pochodzenia niemieckiego) may refer to either Poles of German descent or sometimes to Polish citizens whose ancestors held German citizenship before World War II, regardless of their ethnicity.

After the flight and expulsion of Germans from Poland, the largest of a series of flights and expulsions of Germans in Europe during and after World War II, approximately 1,000,000 former citizens of Germany were naturalized and granted Polish citizenship. Some of them were forced to stay in Poland and some wanted to stay there, as it was their native territory. The lowest estimate by West German Schieder commission of 1953, is that 910,000 former German citizens were granted Polish citizenship by 1950.[11] The highest estimate is that 1,043,550 were naturalized as Polish citizens by 1950.[12]

However the vast majority of those people were the so-called "autochthons" who were allowed to stay in post-war Poland after declaring Polish ethnicity in a special verification process.[13] Therefore most of them were inhabitants of Polish descent of the pre-war border regions of Upper Silesia and Warmia-Masuria. Sometimes they were called Wasserpolnisch or Wasserpolak. Despite their ethnic background, they were allowed to reclaim their former German citizenship on application and under German Basic Law were "considered as not having been deprived of their German citizenship if they have established their domicile in Germany after May 8, 1945 and have not expressed a contrary intention."[14] Because of this fact many of them left People's Republic of Poland due to its undemocratic political system and constant economic problems.

It is estimated that, in the Cold War era, hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens decided to emigrate to West Germany and, to a lesser extent, to East Germany.[15][16][17] Despite that, hundreds or tens of thousands of former German citizens remained in Poland. Some of them created a family with other Poles, who, in the vast majority, were settlers from central Poland or were resettled from the former eastern territories of Poland by the Soviets to the Recovered Territories.

Notable Poles of German descent

File:Jan Henryk Dąbrowski 1.PNG
Jan Henryk Dąbrowski, the Polish national hero of German ancestry (mother of German descent).

Germans in Poland today

There are several bilingual communities in Poland.

Poland is the third most frequent destination for migrant Germans searching for work, after the US and Switzerland.[18]

German media in Poland

See also


  1. ^ Przynależność narodowo-etniczna ludności – wyniki spisu ludności i mieszkań 2011. GUS. Materiał na konferencję prasową w dniu 29. 01. 2013. p. 3. Retrieved on 2013-03-06.
  2. ^ As of 2002, according to Polish National Census.
  3. ^ Marta Moskal in "Language minorities in Poland at the moment of accession to the EU" notes that 2% (704,000) did not state any ethnicity in the 2002 census. She assumes that some members of the German national minority who have inhabited the Silesia region for numerous generations might define their ethnicity as Silesian (173,200 defined their ethnicity as Silesian). Representatives of ethnic minorities presume that the figures for their groups are underestimated because, after their exclusion in the communist period, members of the minority groups prefer not to state their real ethnicity.
  4. ^ Tomasz Kamusella in "Dual Citizenship ..." estimates the number of ethnic Germans to be 400-500 thousand.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Tomasz Kamusella in "Dual Citizenship ..." estimates the number of ethnic Germans to be 400-500 thousand
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Kampania Wrześniowa
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ Helga Hirsch in "Die Rache der Opfer". The author mentions the indiscriminate expulsions of most Germans from 1945 until the mid-50s, regardless of their personal involvement or non-involvement in the Nazi dictatorship.
  11. ^ Dokumentation der Vertreibung der Deutschen aus Ost-Mitteleuropa, Theodor Schieder (compilator) in collaboration with A. Diestelkamp [et al.], Bonn, Bundesministerium für Vertriebene (ed.), 1953, pp. 78 and 155.
  12. ^ Gawryszewski, Andrzej (2005). Ludność Polski w XX wieku [Population of Poland in the 20th century]. Monografie / Instytut Geografii i Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania im. Stanisława Leszczyckiego PAN (in Polish) 5. Warsaw: Instytut Geografii i Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania im. Stanisława Leszczyckiego PAN. ISBN 978-83-87954-66-6. OCLC 66381296. Retrieved 11 June 2012.  PDFs by chapter (see contents)
  13. ^ Invalid language code. The Expulsion of 'German' Communities from Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, European University Institute, Florense. HEC No. 2004/1. p.28
  14. ^ Invalid language code. Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
  15. ^ Gerhard Reichling, Die deutschen Vertriebenen in Zahlen, part 1, Bonn: 1995, p. 53.
  16. ^ Manfred Görtemaker, Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Von der Gründung bis zur Gegenwart, Munich: C.H.Beck, 1999, p. 169, ISBN 3-406-44554-3
  17. ^ Michael Levitin, Germany provokes anger over museum to refugees who fled Poland during WWII,, Feb 26, 2009,
  18. ^,1518,802337,00.html


  • Dual Citizenship in Opole Silesia in the Context of European Integration, Tomasz Kamusella, Opole University, in Facta Universitatis, series Philosophy, Sociology and Psychology, Vol 2, No 10, 2003, pp. 699–716
  • Scholtz-Knobloch, Till (2002). Die deutsche Minderheit in Oberschlesien - Selbstreflexion und politisch-soziale Situation unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des so genannten "Oppelner Schlesiens (Westoberschlesien)" (in German). Goerlitz: Senfkorn-Verlag. ISBN 3-935330-02-2. 
  • Zybura, Marek (2004). Niemcy w Polsce (in Polish). Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie. ISBN 83-7384-171-7. 
  • Rabagliati, Alastair (2001). A Minority Vote. Participation of the German and Belarusian Minorities within the Polish Political System 1989-1999. Kraków: Zakład Wydawniczy NOMOS. ISBN 83-88508-18-0. 

Further reading

  • de Zayas, Alfred M.: Die deutschen Vertriebenen. Graz, 2006. ISBN 3-902475-15-3.
  • de Zayas, Alfred M.: Heimatrecht ist Menschenrecht. München, 2001.ISBN 3-8004-1416-3.
  • de Zayas, Alfred M.: A terrible Revenge. New York, 1994. ISBN 1-4039-7308-3.
  • de Zayas, Alfred M.: Nemesis at Potsdam. London, 1977. ISBN 0-8032-4910-1.
  • de Zayas, Alfred M.: 50 Thesen zur Vertreibung. München, 2008. ISBN 978-3-9812110-0-9.
  • Douglas, R.M.: Orderly and Humane. The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-30016-660-6.
  • Kleineberg A., Marx, Ch., Knobloch E., Lelgemann D.: Germania und die Insel Thule. Die Entschlüsselung vo Ptolemaios: "Atlas der Oikumene". Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2010.
  • Naimark, Norman: Fires of Hatred. Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge Harvard Press, 2001.
  • Prauser, Steffen and Rees, Arfon: The Expulsion of the "German" Communities from Eastern Europe at the End of the Second World War. Florence,Italy, European University Institute, 2004.
  • Cordell, Karl (June 1996). "Politics and society in Upper Silesia today: The German minority since 1945". Nationalities Papers 24 (2): 269–285. doi:10.1080/00905999608408441.