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History of the Germans in Poland

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Title: History of the Germans in Poland  
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Collection: German Diaspora in Europe, History of Poland, Polish People of German Descent
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History of the Germans in Poland

German language frequency in Poland based on Polish census of 1931

The history of the Germans in Poland dates back over a millennium. Poland was at one point the largest kingdom in Europe; it was also Europe's most multi-ethnic state during the medieval period. It covered an immense plain with no natural boundaries and had a thinly scattered population including many different ethnic groups—besides the Poles themselves, there were Germans in the cities of West Prussia and Ruthenians in Lithuania (and others). The immigrants were largely German settlers. The Polish princes granted the Germans in the cities complete autonomy according to the "Teutonic right" (later, "Magdeburg right"), and in that way in Poland there emerged cities of the German medieval type. Before the 13th century was over, around one hundred Polish towns had Magdeburg-style municipal institutions. The governing classes in these towns were increasingly German and German-speaking. At the synod of Łęczyca in 1285, Archbishop Jakub Świnka of Gniezno warned that Poland might become a "new Saxony" if German negligence for Polish language, customs, clergy and ordinary people went unchecked. Toward the end of the Middle Ages the population in a number of Polish cities was mostly German-speaking and even municipal documents were partly written in German (until the transition to Latin and later to Polish[1]).


  • History 1
    • Eastward settlement 1.1
      • Silesia 1.1.1
      • Lesser Poland 1.1.2
      • Pomerelia 1.1.3
    • Teutonic Knights 1.2
  • Cultural heritage 2
    • Literature 2.1
  • References 3


The 13th century brought fundamental changes to the structure of Polish society and its political system. Because of the fragmentation and constant internal conflicts, the Piast dukes were unable to stabilize Poland's external borders of the early Piast rulers. Western Farther Pomerania broke its political ties with Poland in the second half of the 12th century and from 1231 became a fief of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which in 1307 extended its Pomeranian possessions even further east, taking over the Sławno and Słupsk areas. Pomerelia or Gdańsk Pomerania had been independent of the Polish dukes since 1227. In the mid-13th century, Bolesław II the Bald granted Lubusz Land to the Margraviate, which made possible the creation of the Neumark and had far reaching negative consequences for the integrity of the western border. In the south-east, Leszek the White was unable to preserve Poland's supremacy over the Halych area of Rus', a territory that had changed hands on a number of occasions.[2]

Social status was becoming increasingly based on the size of feudal land possessions. Those included the lands controlled by the Piast princes, their rivals the great lay landowners and church entities, all the way down to the knightly class; the workforce ranged from hired "free" people, through serfs attached to the land, to slaves (purchased or war and other prisoners). The upper layer of the feudal lords, first the Church and then others, acquired economic and legal immunity, which made them exempt to a significant degree from court jurisdiction and economic obligations (including taxation), that had previously been imposed by the ruling dukes.[2]

The civil strife and foreign invasions, such as the Mongol invasions in 1241, 1259 and 1287, weakened and depopulated the many small Polish principalities, as the country was becoming progressively more subdivided. The depopulation and the increasing demand for labor in the developing economy caused a massive immigration of West European peasants, mostly German settlers, into Poland (early waves from Germany and Flanders in the 1220s).[3] The German, Polish and other new rural settlements were a form of feudal tenancy with immunity, and German town laws were often used as its legal basis. German immigrants were also important in the rise of the cities and the establishment of the Polish burgher (city-dwelling merchant) class; they brought with them West European laws (Magdeburg rights) and customs which the Poles adopted. From that time the Germans, who created early strong establishments (led by patriciates) especially in the urban centers of Silesia and other regions of western Poland, had been an increasingly influential minority in Poland.[2][4][5]

In 1228, the Acts of Cienia were signed into law by Władysław III Laskonogi. The titular Duke of Poland promised to provide a "just and noble law according to the council of bishops and barons". Such legal guarantees and privileges included the lower level landowners—knights, who were evolving into the class of lower and middle nobility known later as szlachta. The fragmentation period weakened the rulers and established a permanent trend in Polish history, whereby the rights and role of the nobility were expanded at the monarch's expense.[2]

Statue of Martin Luther in Bielsko-Biała (left) and St. Mary's Basilica (Kraków); in 1537, the church was added to the Polish community.[6] (right)

Eastward settlement

This involved internal colonization, associated with rural-urban migration by natives, and many of the Polish cities adopted laws based on those of the German towns of Lübeck and Magdeburg. Some economic methods were likewise imported from Germany.

Since the beginning of the 14/15th centuries, the Polish-Silesian Piast dynasty reinforced German settlers on the land, who in decades founded towns and villages under German town law, particularly under the law of the town of Magdeburg (Magdeburg law).

The 1257 foundation decree issued by Bolesław V the Chaste for Kraków was unusual insofar as it explicitly separated the local Polish population who already lived in the city,[7] in order to avoid depopulation of already existing settlements, leading to loss of taxes.[8] Often, the Ostsiedlung settlement was founded near a pre-existing fortress that was within the existing town, as for example with Poznań (Posen) and Kraków.[9]

Examples for the typical - Umgebindehaus - houses from Zgorzelec (Görlitz)(left) and Markowa (Markhof) (right) built in the style of ancient mountain Saxon atmosphere.[10]


The Ostsiedlung in Silesia was initiated by Bolesław I and especially by his son Henry I and his wife Hedwig in the late 12th century. They became the first Slavic sovereigns outside the Holy Roman Empire to promote German settlements on a wide base. Both began to invite German settlers in order to develop their realm economically and to extend their rule. As early as 1175 Bolesław I founded Lubensis Abbey and staffed the monastery with German monks from Pforta Abbey in Saxony. Before 1163, the abbey had been occupied by German Benedictines. The Cistercian abbey, its domain and the German settlers were excluded from local legislation, and subsequently the monks founded several German villages on their soil. During Henry I's reign, systematic settlement began. In a complex system a network of towns was founded in the western and southwestern parts of Silesia. These towns, economic and judicial centers, were surrounded by standardized built villages which were often constructed in a clearing in the forest. The earliest German land clearing area in Silesia appeared from 1147 until 1200 in the area of Goldberg and Löwenberg, two settlements founded by German miners. Goldberg and Löwenberg were also the first Silesian cities to receive German town law, in 1211 and 1217. This pattern of colonization was soon adopted in all other, already populated, parts of Silesia, were cities with German town law were often founded beside Slavic settlements.

In the early 14th century Silesia had about 150 towns, and the population more than quintupled. The townspeople were Germans, who now formed the majority of the overall population, while the Slavs usually lived outside the cities. In a process of peaceful Oder. Upper Silesia retained a Slavic majority, but even there German villages and towns were established and there wasincreasing German agricultural cultivation of barren lands.

Kaczyce, Śląsk
(1447) c. 1620)
Dębno, (Spisz)
(c. 1450)
Blizne, Podkarpacie (Red Ruthenia)
(c. 1450)
Haczów, Podkarpacie (Red Ruthenia)
(1388) c. 1624
Binarowa, Podkarpacie
(1400) c. 1500

Examples of German "Bauerkulture" church architecture in the Subcarpathian region, same like the wooden churches in Silesia and North Moravia.

Lesser Poland

As late as the end of the Middle Ages, the original forest areas, especially the northern ones, lying in the fork of the Vistula, Wisłoka, and San were barely accessible for settlement due to the land's marshy nature. The area was intensively settled during the 13th to 15th centuries. The settlements were located according to the German Law within an area flanked by the Wisłok and Wisłoka rivers. On the northern and southern edges of the Carpathians German colonization had reached the Dunajec before 1300; by about 1350 it had crossed the San and entered Red Ruthenia, whilst it filled wide mountain regions in upper Hungary. Mostly after the region returned to Polish sphere of influence in 1340, when Casimir III of Poland took the Czerwień towns. There were probably some isolated settlers in the area of Krosno, Sanok, Łańcut, Biecz and Rzeszów earlier. The Germans were usually attracted by kings seeking specialists in various trades, such as craftsmen and miners. They usually settled in newer market and mining settlements. The main settlement areas were in the vicinity of Krosno and some language islands in the Pits and Rzeszów regions. The settlers in the Pits region were known as Uplander Saxons. Until about the 15th century, the ruling classes of most cities in present-day Beskidian Piedmont consisted almost exclusively of Germans. The term Walddeutsche was coined by the Polish historians Marcin Bielski, 1531,[11] Szymon Starowolski 1632, bp. Ignacy Krasicki[12] and Wincenty Pol, and is also sometimes used to refer to Germans between Wisłoka and San River part of West Carpathians Plateau and Central Beskidian Piedmont in Poland.

German settlement in the Galician times (end of the 18th century), forced by the invading Austrian Habsburg.

Thorn (Toruń), established by the Teutonic Knights, like Danzig (Gdańsk) became a member of the Hanseatic League (left) and Henry IV of Wrocław, Codex Manesse, about 1300. (right)


In Pomerelia, Ostsiedlung was started by the Pomerelian dukes[13] and focussed on the towns, whereas much of the countryside remained Slavic (Kashubians).An exception was the German settled Vistula delta(Vistula Germans), the coastal regions, and the Vistula valley.

Mestwin II in 1271 referred to the inhabitants of the "civitas" (town) of Danzig (Gdansk) as "burgensibus theutonicis fidelibus" (to the faithful German burghers).[14]

The settlers came from Low German areas like Holstein, the Low Countries, Flandres, Lower Saxony, Westphalia and Mecklenburg, but a few also from the Middle German Thuringia region.

Teutonic Knights

In 1226 Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the pagan Baltic Prussian people, who lived in a territory adjacent to his lands; substantial border warfare was taking place and Konrad's province was suffering from Prussian invasions. On the other hand, the Old Prussians themselves were at that time being subjected to increasingly forced (including papacy-sponsored crusades), but largely ineffective Christianization efforts. The Teutonic Order soon overstepped the authority and moved beyond the area granted them by Konrad (Chełmno Land or Kulmerland). In the following decades they conquered large areas along the Baltic Sea coast and established their monastic state. As virtually all of the Western Baltic pagans became converted or exterminated (the Prussian conquests were completed by 1283), the Knights confronted Poland and Lithuani, then the last pagan state in Europe. Teutonic wars with Poland and Lithuania continued for most of the 14th and 15th centuries. The Teutonic state in Prussia, populated by German settlers beginning in the 13th century, had been claimed as a fief and protected by the popes and Holy Roman Emperors.;[2][15]

Vilamovians (West Germans), Wilamowice (left) and Golonka/Eisbein traditional Silesian cooking, with dishes from both the Polish and German traditions. (right)

Cultural heritage

German heritage in Poland sometimes find that the territory in which their ancestors lived and which they had thought to be strictly Poland, was at times German, or

  1. ^ "Dopiero w połowie XVI wieku zaczęto pisać po polsku, Górnicki, Bielscy, Cyprian Bazylik, Budny, Wujek i Skarga, a przyczynił się do tego znany pisarz – Mikołaj Rey z Nagłowic, który w 1562 r. w utworze „Zwierzyniec” napisał: „A niechaj narodowie wżdy postronni znają, iż Polacy nie gęsi, iż swój język mają!”, [in:] Urbańczyk. Dwieście lat polskiego językoznawstwa: 1751-1950. 1993; "dopiero w roku 1600, zniosła rada miejska zagajanie sądów ławniczych po niemiecku; tak uporczywa była tradycja tu, w Poznaniu, Bieczu, i in. [in] Aleksander Brückner. Encyklopedia staropolska.
  2. ^ a b c d e Wyrozumski Historia Polski. 116-128
  3. ^ John Radzilowski, A Traveller's History of Poland; Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books, 2007, ISBN 1-56656-655-X, p. 260
  4. ^ Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, p. 14-16
  5. ^ Norman Davies, Europe: A History , p. 366
  6. ^ Aleksander Brückner. Encyklopedia staropolska, tom II. str. 12, Niemcy.
  7. ^ Kancelaria miasta Krakowa w średniowieczu Uniwersytet Jagielloński, 1995, page 15
  8. ^ The Historiography of the So-called "East Colonisation" and the Current State of Research, w: B. Nagy, M. Sebők (red.), The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered Full Many Ways... Festschrift in Honour of Janos Bak, Budapest 1999, s. 654-667
  9. ^ Brather, Sebastian (2001). Archäologie der westlichen Slawen. Siedlung, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im früh- und hochmittelalterlichen Ostmitteleuropa. Ergänzungsbände zum  
  10. ^ Franciszek Kotula. Pochodzenie domów przysłupowych w Rzeszowskiem. "Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej" Jahr. V., Nr. 3/4, 1957, S. 557
  11. ^ Marcin Bielski or Martin Bielski; "Kronika wszystkiego swiata" (1551; "Chronicle of the Whole World"), the first general history in Polish of both Poland and the rest of the world.
  12. ^ Ignacy Krasicki [in:] Kasper Niesiecki Herbarz [...] (1839-1846) tom. IX, page. 11.
  13. ^ Hartmut Boockmann, Ostpreussen und Westpreussen, Siedler 2002, p. 161,ISBN 3-88680-212-4
  14. ^ Howard B. Clarke, Anngret Simms, The Comparative History of Urban Origins in Non-Roman Europe: Ireland, Wales, Denmark, Germany, Poland, and Russia from the Ninth to the Thirteenth Century B.A.R., p.690, 1985
  15. ^ John Radzilowski, A Traveller's History of Poland, p. 39-41
  16. ^ Anna Czekanowska. Polish Folk Music: Slavonic Heritage - Polish Tradition 2006. p. 73
  17. ^ Concise Encyclopaedia of World History, 2007
  18. ^ "Przełom polityczny w Polsce w 1989 r. i zjednoczenie Niemiec otworzyły okres wzmożonych deklaracji konwersji narodowych na Śląsku oraz na Warmii i Mazurach. [...] Wielu ludzi, wcześniej jednoznacznie przyznających się do polskości i walczących o nią, doznawało głębokiego rozczarowania, wielu na skutek doznanych represji zostało wręcz od polskości odepchniętych. Presja polonizacyjna, niosąc faktycznie wzorce obce kulturze Ślązaków czy Mazurów i atakując ważne elementy ich systemu identyfikacji kulturowej, wywoływała w nich często poczucie obcości wobec kultury polskiej" [w:] Wojciech Wrzesiński: Uniwersytet Wrocławski. Instytut Historyczny. Wrocławskie studia z historii najnowszej. t. 7, 1997. p. 98.
  19. ^ Norman Naimark. Fires of hatred: ethnic cleansing in twentieth-century Europe, 2001
  20. ^ Daily report: East Europe: United States. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, edit. 94, 1994


The remaining German minority in Poland (152,897 people were registered in the 2002 census) enjoys minority rights according to Polish minority law. There are German speakers throughout Poland, and most of the Germans live in the Opole Voivodship in Silesia. Bilingual signs are posted in some towns of the region. In addition, there are bilingual schools and German can be used instead of Polish in dealings with officials in several towns.

    • Manfred Raether: Polens deutsche Vergangenheit (Poland's German Past), 2004 – ISBN 3-00-012451-9. – Followed by a revised e-book edition (2009).
    • Prof. Kazimierz Tymieniecki - "Niemcy w Polsce", Poznań 1934
    • Prof. Barbara Czopek-Kopciuch - "Adaptacje niemieckich nazw miejscowych w języku polskim", Kraków 1995, ISBN 83-85579-33-8
    • Prof. Aleksandra Cieślikowa (Cieślik) - "Nazwy osobowe pochodzenia niemieckiego", Kraków 1997, ISBN 83-85579-63-X
  • Link
    • Map collection covering German-Polish History


Marklowice dolne, Moravia
(1360 - 1739)
Hrabova, Moravia
(14th - 1564)
Hervartov (Bardiów)
(c. 1500)
Chlastawa (north. Śląsk)
c. 1637)
Zamarski, Śląsk
(c. 1731)

Examples of German "Bauerkulture" church architecture in the Subcarpathian region, same like the wooden churches in Silesia and North Moravia.

[20] Today, force behind is the Polish-German good-neighbor treaty, which, among other things, obliges Poles and Germans to assume joint responsibility for goods representing cultural heritage.[19], and other autochthons with their special heritages and culture.Kashubians, Mazurians, Silesians by the continued cultural identification of the [18] Silesia and other formerly German parts of Poland were often frustrated[17] became and remains Gdańsk.Danzig, the principal Silesian city, became Wrocław, just as Breslau Silesia remained German until after the Second World War, when the Soviets awarded it to Poland. [16]

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