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, where most of the minority resides and Silesian Voivodeship. However, there is not a single locality or even a village neighborhood in today's Upper Silesia or Poland, where German would be a (not even the) language of everyday communication.[7] The predominant home or family language of Poland's German minority in Upper Silesia is the Silesian language[8] 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.

In the school year of 2014/15 there were 387 elementary schools in Poland (all in Upper Silesia), with over 37,000 students, in which German was taught as a minority language (that is, at least for three school hours of 45 minutes in a week), hence de facto as a subject.[9] There were no minority schools with German as the language of instruction, though there were three asymmetrically bilingual (Polish-German) schools, where most subjects were taught through the medium of Polish.[10] Most members of the German minority are Roman Catholic, while some are Lutheran Protestants (the Evangelical-Augsburg Church). A number of German-language newspapers and magazines are published in Poland.

Germans in Poland today

German minority in Upper Silesia: Opole Voivodeship (west) and Silesian Voivodeship (east).
German minority in Warmia and Masuria.

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; Głogówek; and Gogolin.[11]

In the remaining 12 voivodeships of Poland, the percentage of Germans in the population does not exceed 0.09%:

Region Population German % German
Poland38,557,984147,094 0.38
Opole Voivodeship 1,055,667104,3999.89
Silesian Voivodeship 4,830,00030,531 0.63
Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship 1,428,5524,311 0.30
Pomeranian Voivodeship2,192,0002,016 0.09
Lower Silesian Voivodeship2,898,0001,792 0.06
West Pomeranian Voivodeship1,694,8651,014 0.06
Greater Poland Voivodeship3,365,283820 0.02
Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship2,068,142636 0.03
Lubusz Voivodeship1,009,005513 0.05
Masovian Voivodeship5,136,000351 0.01
Łódź Voivodeship2,597,000263 0.01

Poland is also the third most frequent destination for migrant Germans searching for work, after the United States and Switzerland.[12]

History of Germans in Poland

German language frequency in Poland based on Polish census of 1931
Votes for the German Minority in the 2007 elections in the Opole Vovoidship
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 that is part of modern Poland began with the medieval Ostsiedlung (see also Walddeutsche in the Subcarpathian region). The historically Prussian regions of Lower Silesia, East Brandenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia were almost completely German by the High Middle Ages. In other areas of modern-day Poland 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.

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 the Second Polish Republic in 1939, many members of the German minority (around 25%[13]) 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.[14]

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

Before the Nazis' defeat, the Soviets annexed a massive portion of the eastern part of Poland as part of an agreement between the two powers. However, after the Nazis defeat, Poland was not given back its Soviet annexed territory,[15] so instead Germans from the historically Prussian areas of Lower Silesia, Upper Silesia, Pommerania, East Brandenburg and East Prussia were ethnically cleansed from their homelands and sent to refugee camps west of the new border in order to give Poles who were expelled from Sovet occupied Poland living space. In the areas annexed from Germany, Germans had formed the vast majority of the population.

Of the Germans who were expelled, the vast majority were Protestants, and came from all the annexed Germans regions, but many were from Pommerania or East Prussia in particular. Only a fraction of the Germans of Poland were not ethnically cleansed, and therefore were reduced to a small minority. Germans who were allowed to stay were only allowed to for certain reasons. For example, in Silesia, the population was more mixed, as in they had intermarried with other ethnicities or were half Germans themselves. Many were also Roman Catholic, and spoke a Slavic dialect with only some German influence known as Wasserpolnisch. Many of them chose to remain, but would later emigrate to West Germany in order to flee the Communist government.

With the downfall of the Communist regime, the German minorities' political situation in modern-day Poland has improved, and 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. However, none of their properties have been returned after being confiscated.

A possible demonstration of the ambiguity of the Polish German minority position 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.[16]

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 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.[17] The highest estimate is that 1,043,550 were naturalized as Polish citizens by 1950.[18]

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.[19] 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."[20] 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.[21][22][23] 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 (Former eastern territories of Germany).


There is one German international school in Poland, Willy-Brandt-Schule in Warsaw.

Notable Poles of German descent

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

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 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. "Poland's German minority". The Economist. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  6. Tomasz Kamusella in "Dual Citizenship ..." estimates the number of ethnic Germans to be 400-500 thousand
  7. Tomasz Kamusella. 2014. A Language That Forgot Itself (pp 129-138). 2014. Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe. Vol 13, No 4.
  8. Niemcy w województwie opolskim w 2010 roku. Pytania i odpowiedzi. Badania socjologiczne członków Towarzystwa Społeczno-Kulturalnego Niemców na Śląsku Opolskim. Projekt zrealizowano na zlecenie Uniwersytetu Osaka w Japonii [Germans in Opole Province in 2010: Questions and Answers: The Sociological Poll Research on the Members of the Social-Cultural Society of Germans in Opole Silesia: The Project Was Carried Out on Behalf of Osaka University, Japan]. Opole and Gliwice: Dom Współpracy Polsko-Niemieckiej, 2011.
  9. See p 101 in: Oświata i wychowanie w roku szkolnym 2014/2015 / Education in 2014/2015 School Year. 2015. Warsaw: GUS.
  10. See p 136 in Tomasz Kamusella. 2014. A Language That Forgot Itself (pp 129-138). Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe. Vol 13, No 4.
  11. "Klimczak.PolishAndGermanSilesia". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  12. SPIEGEL ONLINE, Hamburg, Germany (11 January 2012). "Arbeiten in Polen: Die deutschen Teuerlöhner kommen". SPIEGEL ONLINE. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  13. Kampania Wrześniowa
  14. "Portal". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  15. Watson p. 695–722
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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)
  19. (English) 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
  20. (English) Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
  21. Gerhard Reichling, Die deutschen Vertriebenen in Zahlen, part 1, Bonn: 1995, p. 53.
  22. Manfred Görtemaker, Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: Von der Gründung bis zur Gegenwart, Munich: C.H.Beck, 1999, p. 169, ISBN 3-406-44554-3
  23. Michael Levitin, Germany provokes anger over museum to refugees who fled Poland during WWII,, Feb 26, 2009,


Further reading

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