The Province of Upper Silesia (German: Provinz Oberschlesien; Silesian German: Provinz Oberschläsing; Silesian: Prowincyjŏ Gōrny Ślōnsk; Polish: Prowincja Górny Śląsk) was a province of the Free State of Prussia from 1919 to 1945. It comprised much of the region of Upper Silesia and was eventually divided into two administrative regions (Regierungsbezirke) called Bezirk Kattowitz, and Oppeln. The provincial capital was Oppeln (1919–1938) and Kattowitz (1941–1945), while other major towns included Beuthen, Gleiwitz, Hindenburg O.S., Neiße, Ratibor and Auschwitz (the place of future extermination of Jews in World War II). Between 1938 and 1941 it was reunited with Lower Silesia as the Province of Silesia.
In 1819 Regierungsbezirk Oppeln had 561,203 inhabitants, including the following "Nationalverschiedenheit":
The population more than doubled during the next five decades, reaching over 1,2 million inhabitants by year 1867, including around 742 thousand Poles and around 457 thousand Germans.
From 1919-1921 three Silesian Uprisings occurred among the Polish-speaking populace of Upper Silesia; the Battle of Annaberg was fought in the region in 1921. In the Upper Silesia plebiscite of March 1921, a majority of 59,4% voted against merging with Poland and a minority of 40,6% voted for, with clear lines dividing Polish and German communities. The exact border, the maintenance of cross-border railway traffic and other necessary co-operations, as well as equal rights for all inhabitants in both parts of Upper Silesia, were all fixed by the German-Polish Accord on East Silesia, signed in Geneva on May 15, 1922. On June 20, the Weimar Republic ceded, de facto, the eastern parts of Upper Silesia, becoming part of Silesian Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic. Within Weimar Germany, the Prussian Province of Silesia was so divided into the provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia The territory remaining in Prussian Upper Silesia was administered within Regierungsbezirk Oppeln and — according to Polish sources — had 530,000 Poles within it.
After the Nazis' takeover in Germany, the German-Polish Accord on East Silesia was signed. Among other stipulations, according to the treaty each contractual party guaranteed in its respective part of Upper Silesia equal civil rights for all the inhabitants. The German Upper Silesian Franz Bernheim succeeded in convincing the League of Nations to force Nazi Germany to abide by the Accord, by filing the Bernheim Petition. Accordingly, in September 1933 the Reich's Nazi government suspended in Upper Silesia all anti-Semitic discrimination laws already imposed and excepted the province from all new such future decrees, until the Accord expired in May 1937.
The Province of Upper Silesia was joined to Lower Silesia to form the Province of Silesia in 1938.
After the invasion of Poland in 1939, Polish Upper Silesia, including the Polish industrial city of Kattowitz, was directly annexed into the Province of Silesia. This annexed territory, also known as East Upper Silesia (Ostoberschlesien), became part of the new Regierungsbezirk Kattowitz.
German occupation forces began a policy of repression against the Polish population of eastern Upper Silesia, which started as early as September 1939 based on lists made before the war that pointed out Poles active in social and political life. A second wave of arrests happened during October and November in Intelligenzaktion Schlesien, aimed against Polish intellectuals, many of whom perished in prison camps. A third wave of arrests came in April and May 1940 during the AB Aktion.
In Katowice, according to the historian Czesław Madajczyk, one of the harshests centres of oppression was the prison on Mikołowska street where people were reported to be murdered by Germans through the use of guillotine. A prison and penal camp were also established in the region in which Polish activists from Upper Silesia were held.
At the same time, the Polish population was expelled from eastern Upper Silesia; from 1939 until 1942, 40,000 Poles were expelled. In their place, ethnic Germans from Volhynia and the Baltic countries were settled in Upper Silesia's urban areas. Until 1943, about 230,000 ethnic Germans were located on the Polish territories of eastern Upper Silesia and the Wartheland. The death toll of the Polish population in Upper Silesia at the hands of Germans is about 25,000 victims, with 20,000 of them being from urban population.
In 1941, the Province of Silesia was again divided into the Provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia; Kattowitz (Katowice, in the former Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship of pre-war Poland) was made the capital of Upper Silesia instead of the smaller town of Oppeln.
The German province of Upper Silesia was conquered by the Soviet Red Army from February until the end of March 1945 during World War II's Lower and Upper Silesian Offensives. The post-war Potsdam Agreement granted the entire province's territory to the People's Republic of Poland; the territory is now in the Polish Opole and Silesian Voivodeships. Most Germans remaining in the territory were expelled westward. The Landsmannschaft Schlesien represents German Silesians from Upper and Lower Silesia. Near and in Opole, a German minority remains.
Upper Silesia was known to be a poor, but heavily industrialised and polluted area. This was one of the Areas that P. G. Wodehouse was sent to after he was captured in the South of France as an Enemy Alien. He was said to have commented on the state of the area "If this is Upper Silesia, one has to wonder what Lower Silesia is like."
(As of January 1, 1945)