Recovered Territories (Polish: Ziemie Odzyskane, literally "Regained Lands") was an official term used by the People's Republic of Poland to describe the territory of the former Free City of Danzig and the parts of pre-war Germany that became part of Poland after World War II. The rationale for the term "Recovered" was the Piast Concept that these territories were once part of the traditional Polish homeland. They had been part of, or fiefs of, a Polish state during the medieval Piast dynasty. Over the centuries, however, they had become Germanized through the processes of German eastward settlement (Ostsiedlung) and political expansion (Drang nach Osten) and for the most part did not even contain a Polish-speaking minority. Nowadays the term Western Territories (Polish: Ziemie Zachodnie) is more popular because of its ideological neutrality.
The great majority of the German inhabitants either fled or were expelled from the territories during the later stages of the war and after the war ended, although a small German minority remains in some places. The territories were resettled with Poles who moved voluntarily from Central Poland, with Polish repatriates forced to leave areas of former eastern Poland that had been annexed by the Soviet Union, and with Ukrainians, Rusyns and other minorities forcibly resettled under "Operation Vistula". The communist authorities that conducted the resettlement also made efforts to remove many traces of German culture, such as place names and historic inscriptions on buildings, from gained territories.
The post-war border between Germany and Poland (the Oder-Neisse line) was recognized by East Germany in 1950 and by West Germany in 1970, and was affirmed by the re-united Germany in the German-Polish Border Treaty of 1990.
Several different West Slavic tribes inhabited most of the area of present-day Poland from the 6th century. Duke Mieszko I of the Polans, from his stronghold in the Gniezno area, united various neighboring tribes in the second half of the 10th century, forming the first Polish state and becoming the first historically recorded Piast duke. His realm roughly included all of the area of what would later be named the "Recovered Territories", except for the Warmian-Masurian part of Old Prussia and eastern Lusatia.
Mieszko's son and successor, Duke Bolesław I Chrobry, upon the 1018 Peace of Bautzen expanded the southern part of the realm, but lost control over the lands of Western Pomerania on the Baltic coast. After fragmentation, pagan revolts and a Bohemian invasion in the 1030s, Duke Casimir I the Restorer (reigned 1040-1058) again united most of the former Piast realm, including Silesia and Lubusz Land on both sides of the middle Oder River, but without Western Pomerania, which became part of the Polish state again under Bolesław III Wrymouth from 1116 until 1121, when the noble House of Griffins established the Duchy of Pomerania. On Bolesław's death in 1138, Poland for almost 200 years was subjected to fragmentation, being ruled by Bolesław's sons and by their successors, who were often in conflict with each other. Władysław I the Elbow-high, crowned king of Poland in 1320, achieved partial reunification, although the Silesian and Masovian duchies remained independent Piast holdings.
In the course of the 12th to 14th centuries, Germanic, Dutch and Flemish settlers moved into East Central and Eastern Europe in a migration process known as the Ostsiedlung. In Pomerania, Brandenburg, East Prussia and Silesia, the former West Slav (Polabian Slavs and Poles) or Balt population became minorities in the course of the following centuries, although substantial numbers of the original inhabitants remained in areas such as Upper Silesia. In Greater Poland and in Eastern Pomerania (Pomerelia), German settlers formed a minority.
Despite the loss of several provinces, medieval lawyers of the Kingdom of Poland created a specific claim to all formerly Polish provinces that were not reunited with the rest of the country in 1320. They built on the theory of the Corona Regni Poloniae, according to which the state (the Crown) and its interests were no longer strictly connected with the person of the monarch. Because of that no monarch could effectively renounce Crown claims to any of the territories that were historically and/or ethnically Polish. Those claims were reserved for the state (the Crown), which in theory still covered all of the territories that were part of, or dependent on, the Polish Crown upon the death of Bolesław III in 1138. Some of the territories (such as Pomerelia and Masovia) reunited with Poland during the 15th and 16th centuries. However all Polish monarchs until the end of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795 had to promise to do everything possible to reunite the rest of those territories with the Crown.
The areas of the Recovered Territories fall into three categories:
The Pomeranian parts of the Recovered Territories came under Polish rule several times from the late 10th century on, when Mieszko I acquired at least significant parts of them. Mieszko's son Bolesław I established a bishopric in the Kołobrzeg area in 1000–1005/07, before the area was lost again. Despite further attempts by Polish dukes to again control the Pomeranian tribes, this was only partly achieved by Bolesław III in several campaigns lasting from 1116 to 1121. Successful Christian missions ensued in 1124 and 1128; however, by the time of Bolesław's death in 1138, most of West Pomerania (the Griffin-ruled areas) was no longer controlled by Poland. Over the following centuries the area was largely Germanized, although a small Slavic or Polish minority remained. At the turn of the 20th century there lived about 14,200 persons of Polish mother-tongue in the Province of Pomerania (in the east of Farther Pomerania in the vicinity of the border with West Prussia), and 300 persons using the Kashubian language (at the Leba Lake and the Garde Lake), the total population of the province consisting of almost 1.7 million inhabitants.
The region of Pomerelia at the eastern end of Pomerania, including Gdańsk (Danzig), was ruled in the 12th and 13th centuries by the Samborides, who were (at least initially) more closely tied to the Kingdom of Poland than were the Griffins. After the death of the last Samboride in 1294, the region was ruled by kings of Poland for a short period, although also claimed by Brandenburg. After the Teutonic takeover in 1308 the region became part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights. In the Second Peace of Thorn (1466) most of the region became part of Royal Prussia within the Kingdom of Poland, as it remained until being acquired by the Kingdom of Prussia in the partitions of 1772 and 1793. A small area in the west of Pomerelia, the Lauenburg and Bütow Land (the region of Lębork and Bytów) was granted to the rulers of Pomerania, although it remained a Polish fief until the First Partition. (A large part of Pomerelia formed the Polish Corridor between the World Wars, and so was not part of the post-war Recovered Territories.)
The medieval Lubusz Land on both sides of the Oder River up to the Spree in the west, including Lubusz (Lebus) itself, also formed part of Mieszko's realm. Poland lost Lubusz when the Silesian duke Bolesław II Rogatka sold it to the Ascanian margraves of Brandenburg in 1248. Brandenburg also acquired the castellany of Santok from Duke Przemysł I of Greater Poland and made it the nucleus of their Neumark ("New March") region. The Bishopric of Lebus remained a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Gniezno until 1424, when it passed under the jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. The present-day Polish Lubusz Voivodeship comprises most of the former Brandenburgian Neumark territory east of the Oder.
A portion of the Recovered Territories east of the Lubusz Land had previously formed the western parts of the Polish provinces of Pomerelia and Greater Poland (Polonia Maior), being lost to Prussia in the First Partition (the Pomerelian parts) and the Second Partition (the remainder). During Napoleonic times the Greater Poland territories formed part of the Duchy of Warsaw, but after the Congress of Vienna Prussia reclaimed them as part of the Grand Duchy of Posen (Poznań), later Province of Posen. After World War I, those parts of the former Province of Posen and of West Prussia that were not restored as part of the Poland were administered as Grenzmark Posen-Westpreußen (the German Province of Posen–West Prussia) until 1939.
Piast dukes continued to rule Silesia following the 12th-century fragmentation of Poland. The Silesian Piasts retained power in most of the region until the early 16th century, the last (George William, duke of Legnica) dying in 1675. The first German colonists arrived in the late 12th century, and large-scale German settlement started in the early 13th century during the reign of Henry I (Duke of Silesia from 1201 to 1238). After the era of German colonisation, the Polish language still predominted in Upper Silesia and in parts of Lower and Middle Silesia north of the Odra river. Here the Germans who arrived during the Middle Ages became mostly Polonized; Germans dominated in large cities and Poles mostly in rural areas. The Polish-speaking territories of Lower and Middle Silesia, commonly described until the end of the 19th century as the Polish side, were mostly Germanized in the 18th and 19th centuries, except for some areas along the northeastern frontier. The province came under the control of Kingdom of Bohemia, in the 14th century. Silesia passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526, and Prussia's Frederick the Great conquered most of it in 1742. A part of Upper Silesia became part of Poland after World War I, but the bulk of Silesia formed part of the post-1945 Recovered Territories.
History of Brandenburg and Prussia
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The northern territories of Warmia and Masuria form the areas of the Recovered Territories that had been Polish fiefs. Originally inhabited by pagan Old Prussians, these regions became incorporated into the state of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th and 14th centuries. By the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), an area of Warmia around Lidzbark was awarded to the Polish crown as part of Royal Prussia, though with considerable autonomy. The remainder of today's Warmia-Masuria region became part of Ducal Prussia, formally a Polish fief. Prussia took direct control of the region in the First Partition of Poland (1772). It formed the southern part of East Prussia after World War I, becoming part of Poland after World War II, with northern East Prussia going to the Soviet Union to form the Kaliningrad Oblast.
The term "Recovered Territories" was officially used for the first time in the Decree of the President of the Republic of 11 October 1938 after the annexation of Zaolzie by the Polish army. It became the official propaganda term coined in the aftermath of World War II to denote the former eastern territories of Germany that were being handed over to Poland. The underlying concept was to define post-war Poland as heir to the medieval Piasts' realm, which was simplified into a picture of an ethnically homogeneous state that matched post-war borders, as opposed to the later Jagiellon Poland, which was multi-ethnic and located further east. The argument that this territory in fact constituted "old Polish lands" seized on a pre-war concept developed by Polish right-wing circles attached to the SN.
One reason for post-war Poland's favoring a Piast rather than a Jagiellon tradition was Joseph Stalin's refusal to withdraw from the Curzon line and the Allies' readiness to satisfy Poland with German territory instead. The original argument for awarding formerly German territory to Poland – compensation – was complemented by the argument that this territory in fact constituted former areas of Poland. Dmitrow says that "in official justifications for the border shift, the decisive argument that it presented a compensation for the loss of the eastern half of the pre-war Polish territory to the USSR, was viewed as obnoxious and concealed. Instead, a historical argumentation was foregrounded with the dogma, Poland had just returned to 'ancient Piast lands.'" Objections to the Allies' decisions and criticism of the Polish politicians' role at Potsdam were censored.
Also, the Piasts were perceived to have defended Poland against the Germans, while the Jagiellons' main rival had been the growing Duchy of Moscow, making them a less suitable basis for post-war Poland's Soviet-dominated situation. The People's Republic of Poland under the Polish Workers' Party thus supported the idea of Poland based on old Piast lands. The question of the Recovered Territories was one of the few issues that did not divide the Polish Communists and their opposition, and there was unanimity regarding the western border. Even the underground anti-Communist press called for the Piast borders, that would end Germanisation and Drang nach Osten.
Great efforts were made to propagate the view of the Piast Concept. It was actively supported by the Catholic Church. The sciences were responsible for the development of this perception of history. In 1945 the Western Institute (Polish: Instytut Zachodni) was founded to coordinate the scientific activities. Its director, Zygmunt Wojciechowski, characterized his mission as an effort to present the Polish history of the region, and project current Polish reality of these countries upon a historical background. Historical scientists, archaeologists, linguists, art historians and ethnologists worked in an interdisciplinary effort to legitimize the new borders. Their findings were popularised in monographs, periodicals, schoolbooks, travel guides, broadcasts and exhibitions. Official maps were drawn showing that the Polish frontiers under the first known Piast princes matched the new ones. According to Norman Davies, the young post-war generation received education informing them that the boundaries of the People's Republic were the same as those on which the Polish nation had developed for centuries. Furthermore, they were instructed that the Polish "Motherland" has always been in the same location, even when occupied for long periods of time by foreigners or as political boundaries shifted. The official view was that the Poles had always had the inalienable and inevitable right to inhabit the Recovered Territories, even if prevented from doing so by foreign powers. Furthermore, the Piast concept was used to persuade the Allied Powers, who found it difficult to define a Polish "ethnographic territory," to assume that it would be an intolerable injustice to not "give the territories back."
Because the Recovered Territories had been under German and Prussian rule for many centuries, many events of this history were perceived as part of "foreign" rather than "local" history in post-war Poland. Polish scholars thus concentrated on the Polish aspects of the territories: mediaeval Piast history of the region, the cultural, political and economic bonds to Poland, the history of the Polish-speaking population in Prussia and the "Drang nach Osten" as a historical constant since the Middle Ages.
By 1949, the term "Recovered Territories" had been dropped from Polish communist propaganda, but it is still used occasionally in common language. On the grounds that those areas should not be regarded as unique territories within the Polish state, the authorities began to refer to them instead as the "Western and Northern Territories". Wolff and Cordell say that along with the debunking of communist historiography, "the 'recovered territories' thesis [...] has been discarded", and that "it is freely admitted in some circles that on the whole 'the recovered territories' had a wholly German character", but that this view has not necessarily been transmitted to the whole of Polish society. The term was also used outside Poland. In 1962, pope John XXIII referred to those territories as the western lands after centuries recovered, and did not revise his statement, even under pressure of the German embassy. The term is still sometimes considered useful, due to the Polish existence in those lands that was still visible in 1945, by some prominent scholars, such as Krzysztof Kwaśniewski.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed the Polish territories in the east, and encouraged or forced the Polish population from the region to move west. In the framework of the campaign, the Soviets put up posters in public places with messages that promised a better life in the West.
Since the time of the Piast Dynasty, which unified many of the western Slavic tribes and ruled Poland from the 10th to the 14th centuries, ethnic Poles continued to live inside Germany's pre-war borders, this despite the Germanization process (Ostsiedlung), which began in the 13th century with the arrival of German, Dutch and Flemish colonists to Silesia and Pomerania at the behest of the feudal Silesian Piasts and the House of Griffins. Likewise, in the 16th century many Polish settlers from Mazovia migrated into the southern portions of the Duchy of Prussia.
Before the outbreak of war, regions of Masuria, Warmia and Upper Silesia contained significant ethnic Polish populations, and in many areas the Poles constituted a majority of the inhabitants. Under German rule, these communities faced discrimination and oppression. In 1938, the Nazi government changed thousands of toponyms (especially names of cities and villages) of Polish origin to the newly invented German place-names; about 50% of the existing names were changed in that year alone. Also, undercover operatives were sent to spy on Polish communities. Information was gathered on who sent their children to Polish schools, or bought Polish books and newspapers. Polish schools, printing presses, headquarters of Polish institutions as well as private homes and shops owned by Poles were routinely attacked by members of the Schutzstaffel (SS).
Also, small isolated enclaves of ethnic Poles could be found in Pomerania, Lubusz Land and Lower Silesia. These included scattered villages which remained ethnically Polish and large cities such as Wrocław (Breslau), Szczecin (Stettin) and Zielona Góra (Grünberg in Schlesien) which contained small Polish communities.
The People's Republic had to locate its population inside the new frontiers. With its eastern territories (the Kresy) annexed by the Soviet Union, Poland was effectively moved westwards and its area reduced by almost 20% (from 389,000 to 312,000 km2 (150,194 to 120,464 sq mi)). Millions of non-Poles – mainly Germans from the Recovered Territories, as well as some Ukrainians in the east – were to be expelled from the new Poland, while large numbers of Poles needed to be resettled having been expelled from the Kresy. The expellees were termed "repatriates". The result was the largest exchange of population in European history. The picture of the new western and northern territories being recovered Piast territory was used to forge Polish settlers and "repatriates" arriving there into a coherent community loyal to the new regime, and to justify the removal of the German inhabitants. Largely excepted from the expulsions of Germans were the "autochthons", close to three million ethnically Slavic inhabitants of Masuria (Masurs), Pomerania (Kashubians, Slovincians) and Upper Silesia (Silesians). The Polish government aimed to retain as many autochthons as possible for propaganda purposes, as their presence on former German soil was used to indicate the intrinsic "Polishness" of the area and justify its incorporation into the Polish state as "recovered" territories. "Verification" and "national rehabilitation" processes were set up to reveal a "dormant Polishness" and determine who was redeemable as a Polish citizen. Few were actually expelled. The "autochthons" not only disliked the subjective and often arbitrary verification process, but they also faced discrimination even after completing it, such as the Polonization of their names. In the Lubusz region (former East Brandenburg), the local authorities conceded already in 1948 that what the PZZ claimed to be a recovered "autochton" Polish population were in fact Germanized migrant workers, who had settled in the region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – with the exception of one village, Babimost, just across the pre-war border.
Pre-1945 administrative division (yellow)
Integration into the Voivodeships of Poland as of June, 1946
Present-day administrative division of Poland, Western and Northern Territories in dark green
After the brutal experiences of German rule, some Poles wanted to erase traces of German history and culture which reminded them of the atrocities The "Recovered Territories" after the transfer still contained a substantial German population. The Polish administration set up a "Ministry for the Recovered Territories", headed by the then deputy prime minister Władysław Gomułka. A "Bureau for Repatriation" was to supervise and organize the expulsions and resettlements. According to the national census of 14 February 1946, the population of Poland still included 2,288,000 Germans, of which 2,075,000—nearly 91 per cent—lived in the Recovered Territories. By this stage Germans still constituted more than 41 per cent of the inhabitants of these regions. However, by 1950 there were only 200,000 Germans remaining in Poland, and by 1957 that number fell to 65,000.
More than 30,000 German placenames were replaced with Polish or Polonized medieval Slavic ones. Previous Slavic and Polish names before Germanisation were used; in the cases when one was absent either the German name was translated or new names were invented. In January 1946, a Committee for Settling of Place Names was set up to assign new official toponyms. The German language was banned from public schools, government media and church services. Many German monuments, graveyards, buildings or entire ensembles of buildings were demolished. Objects of art were moved to other parts of the country. German inscriptions were erased, including those on religious objects, in churches and in cemeteries. In Ziemia Lubuska "Socialist competitions" were organized to search and destroy final German traces.
Historian John Kulczycki argues that the Communist authorities discovered that forging an ethnically homogenous Poland in the Recovered Territories was quite complicated, for it was difficult to differentiate German speakers who were "really" Polish and those who were not. The government used criteria that involved explicit links to Polish ethnicity, as well the person's conduct. Local verification commissions had wide latitude in determining who was or was not Polish and should remain. Their decisions were based on the nationalist assumption that an individual's national identity is a lifetime "ascriptive" characteristic acquired at birth and not easily changed. However people who "betrayed" their Polish heritage by their political words or actions were excluded from the Polish nation. Everyone else was labelled as "Polish" and had to remain in their "native" land - even if they wanted to emigrate to Germany.
According to the 1939 Nazi German census, the territories were inhabited by 8,855,000 people, including a Polish minority in the territories' easternmost parts. However these data, concerning ethnic minorities, that came from the census conducted during the reign of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) is usually not considered by historians and demographers as trustworthy but as drastically falsified. Therefore, while this German census placed the number of Polish-speakers and bilinguals below 700,000 people, Polish demographers have estimated that the actual number of Poles in the former German East was between 1.2 and 1.3 million. In the 1.2 million figure, approximately 850,000 were estimated for the Upper Silesian regions, 350,000 for southern East Prussia and 50,000 for the rest of the territories.
People from all over Poland quickly moved in to replace the former German population in a process parallel to the expulsions, with the first settlers arriving in March 1945. These settlers took over farms and villages close to the pre-war frontier while the Red Army was still advancing. In addition to the settlers, other Poles went for "szaber" or looting expeditions, soon affecting all former eastern territories of Germany. On 30 March 1945, the Gdansk Voivodeship was established as the first administrative Polish unit in the "recovered" territories. While the Germans were interned and expelled, close to 5 million settlers were either attracted or forced to settle the areas between 1945 and 1950. An additional 1,104,000 people had declared Polish nationality and were allowed to stay (851,000 of those in Upper Silesia), bringing up the number of Poles to 5,894,600 as of 1950. The settlers can be grouped according to their background:
Polish and Soviet newspapers and officials encouraged Poles to relocate to the west – "the land of opportunity". These new territories were described as a place where opulent villas abandoned by fleeing Germans waited for the brave; fully furnished houses and businesses were available for the taking. In fact, the areas were devastated by the war, the infrastructure largely destroyed, suffering high crime rates and looting by gangs. It took years for civil order to be established.
In 1970, the Polish population of the Northern and Western territories for the first time caught up to the pre-war population level (8,711,900 in 1970 vs 8,855,000 in 1939). In the same year, the population of the other Polish areas also reached its pre-war level (23,930,100 in 1970 vs 23,483,000 in 1939).
While the estimates of how many Germans remained vary, a constant German exodus took place even after the expulsions. Between 1956 and 1985, 407,000 people from Silesia and about 100,000 from Warmia-Masuria declared German nationality and left for Germany. In the early 1990s, after the Polish Communist regime had collapsed 300,000-350,000 people declared themselves German.
Today the population of the territories is predominantly Polish, although a small German minority still exists in a few places, including Olsztyn (German: Allenstein), Masuria, and Upper Silesia, particularly in Opole Voivodeship.
The Communist government, not democratically legitimized, sought to legitimize itself through anti-German propaganda. The German "revanchism" was played up as a permanent German threat, with the Communists being the only guarantors and defenders of Poland's continued possession of the "Recovered Territories". Gomułka asserted that:
"The western territories are one of the reasons the government has the support of the people. This neutralizes various elements and brings people together. Westward expansion and agricultural reform will bind the nation with the state. Any retreat would weaken our domestic position."
The redistribution of "ownerless property" among the people by the regime brought it broad-based popular sympathy.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union annexed the Polish territory of the Kresy—located east of the Curzon line—and encouraged or forced ethnic minorities in these parts of Poland, including ethnic Poles, to move west. In the framework of the campaign, Soviets exhibited posters in public places with messages such as,
|“||Western territories. Eldorado. In bloody battles, the Polish soldier has liberated very old Polish territories. Polish territory for Poland. 5,000 lorries are available to bring settlers to the west.||”|
During the Cold War the official position in the First World was that the concluding document of the Potsdam Conference was not an international treaty, but a mere memorandum. It regulated the issue of the German eastern border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final status of the German state and therefore its territories were subject to a separate peace treaty between Germany and the Allies of World War II. During the period from 1945 to 1990 two treaties between Poland and both East and West Germany were signed concerning the German-Polish border. In 1950 the German Democratic Republic and the People's Republic of Poland signed the Treaty of Zgorzelec, recognizing the Oder-Neisse line, officially designated by the Communists as the "Border of Peace and Friendship". On 7 December 1970 the Treaty of Warsaw between the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland was signed concerning the Polish western border. Both sides committed themselves to nonviolence and accepted the existing de facto border - the Oder-Neisse line. However a final treaty was not signed until 1990 as the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany".
Until the Treaty on the Final Settlement, the West German government regarded the status of the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse rivers as that of areas "temporarily under Polish or Soviet administration". To facilitate wide international acceptance of German reunification in 1990, the German political establishment recognized the "facts on the ground" and accepted the clauses in the Treaty on the Final Settlement whereby Germany renounced all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse line. This allowed the treaty to be negotiated quickly and for unification of democratic West Germany and socialist East Germany to go ahead quickly.
In accordance with a duty imposed on Germany by the Treaty on the Final Settlement, in the same year, 1990, Germany signed a separate treaty with Poland, the German-Polish Border Treaty, confirming the two countries' present borders.
The signature and ratification of the border treaty between Germany and Poland formalized in international law the recognition of the existing border and put an end to all qualified German claims.