Ethnic Cleansing in Silesia 1950-89 and the Ennationalizing Policies of Poland and Germany

Tomasz D.I. Kamusella*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The rise of nationalism in Central Europe in the nineteenth century had dire consequences for Silesia, the far-flung, multi-ethnic frontier region of Prussia/Germany, bordering on Austria-Hungary and Russia. The dividing up in 1921 of Upper Silesia between Germany and the newly established Polish nation-state, and the ensuing ennationalization of both regions, triggered off population movements of 300,000 persons before 1939, when Berlin seized the whole of Upper Silesia and embarked on a policy of thorough Germanization. After 1945 this was succeeded by Polonization as Moscow granted most of the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line (including almost the whole of Silesia) to Poland. In consequence, almost the entire Lower Silesian population either fled, was evacuated in 1944-5 or expelled by 1948, and the region was repopulated by Poles. The same was true in Upper Silesia but to a more limited degree as Warsaw decided to retain most of the local population: As 'Poles', they would 'justify' incorporation of the region into Poland, and they would continue to run the Upper Silesian industries so badly needed for the country's reconstruction. Although officially recognized as Poles, Upper Silesians were treated as second-class citizens. Whereas, by 1960, almost all of the remaining Lower Silesian Germans had been allowed to leave, this option was not available to Upper Silesians who, as a result, became more alienated, more German-orientated and even more deeply identified with their specific ethnic groups. Consequently, although Warsaw could not recognize them as non-Poles as it would contradict the offical myth of the state's ethnic homogeneity, an increasing number were allowed to leave for West Germany, especially after Bonn's major concessions to the Polish Communist regime in 1970 which had the dual effect of making hard-to-come-by goods more available for 'real' Poles, and of replenishing the conservative electorate in West Germany. On the other hand, those who stayed successfully defied Poland's ennationalizing policies by the establishment of various German organizations. The emigration of 1950-89 was in fact an 'ethnic cleansing' as it was originally set off by discrimination on ethnic grounds; the growing disparity in living standards between West Germany and Poland was accompanied of a similar gap in the granting of civil and human rights.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-73
Number of pages23
JournalPatterns of Prejudice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 1999


  • Deutsche Ostgebiete
  • Ethnic cleansing
  • Ethnicity
  • German minority
  • Germany
  • Homogenization
  • Moravec
  • Nationalism
  • Poland
  • Silesia
  • Szlonzok


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