Upper Silesia

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Map of Upper Silesia (ref. Hutchison)

Upper Silesia (German: Oberschlesien) is an ancient German province in eastern Europe currently illegally occupied by Poland.


Coat of arms from 1926 to 1945
Coat of arms of Upper Silesian towns and communities

Upper Silesia's frontiers as an ethnic German province from 1136 until 1920 are claimed to be the oldest in Europe, with the single exception of the frontier between France and Spain.[1]

Poland has never claimed Upper Silesia, because of the conviction that it would be wrong to have a completely Germanized province. ~ Florian Stablewski, Archbishop of Posen and Gnesen, addressing the Upper House of the Prussian Parliament in 1893.[2]
Upper Silesia is an ancient German colony ~ General Józef Pilsudksi.[3]
Upper Silesia has belonged to Germany since 1163 ~ Count von Brockdorff-Rantzau to the Paris Peace Conference, 29 May 1919.[4]
Poland has no legal claim to the cession of Upper Silesia ~ Reply of the Allied Powers to the German Delegation at Paris, 16 June 1919.
Poland certainly has no right to Silesia historically. ~ David Lloyd George in the House of Commons, Westminster, 13 May 1921.[5]
The unjustifiable Polish claims......are flagrant and notorious. ~ J.W.Headlam-Morley, Historical Advisor to the British Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs from March 1920.[6]
The Polish population in Upper Silesia is an immigrant population. ~ René Martel in The Eastern Frontiers of Germany, London, 1930, p.114.


Steel mills in Upper Silesia

Prior to The Great War Upper Silesia lay at the junction of the three great European empires, Russian, Austrian and German. Its principal frontiers were in the north and east rivers and morasses, in the south the mountain spurs of the Sudeten range separating it from Bohemia and Moravia. The most important river is the Oder, which flows through the provinces of Silesia and Brandenburg and enters the Baltic at Stettin.[7]


At no time was it possible to speak of Upper Silesia as Polish. From the dawn of history it was inhabited by Germanic tribes. In the era of the great migrations when populations were nomadic some of these tribes trekked elsewhere, and some scattered Slavs arrived, at a time when Poland did not exist.[8] From the 1100s there was a return movement of Germans.[9] resulting in their permanent settlement and the systematic organisation of the territory began.[10] In the 13th century during Poland’s expansion into all their neighbour’s territories, a minor Polish duke laid claim over Upper Silesia. German peasants and artisans, however, continued to be introduced into the land, and as a result agriculture and horticulture reached a comparatively high level. Even vine-growing had been introduced by monks from the Rhineland. The oldest of Upper Silesian towns, dating from these ancient times, were German and almost all ecclesiastical parishes adopted German canonical law.[11]

Whatever Polish influence, which had become a mere shadow, had existed, was thrown off when in 1335 King Casimir ‘the Great’ renounced all claims over Upper Silesia.[12] in favour of the German King of Bohemia, John of Luxemburg, ‘The Blind’, who is well-known for having died while fighting in the Battle of Crécy. In his home country of Luxemburg he is considered a national hero. Since then Upper Silesia had been in uninterrupted German possession – first as an appanage of Bohemia until 1526, then under Austria until 1742 when Frederick The Great wrested it from the Empress Maria Theresa and thereafter until 1920 as part of Prussia. Thus, while for the better part of one thousand years Upper Silesia had been culturally German, and for some six centuries it had been uninterruptedly under a German sovereignty.[13]

At Versailles, the ostensibly illegal Polish delegation, supported by the French, stated that all the territories Poland held before the first Partition in 1772 should be in the new Poland. Apart from the fact that the British firmly objected to this “fantasy”, had that been the case it would not have included Upper Silesia.

Economic development

More than to any earlier ruler Upper Silesia owes its economic development to Frederick The Great. He introduced trades and handicrafts in the towns, established new domestic industries like spinning and weaving, opened coal and iron mines, introduced “high” or intensive farming – first sending skilled agriculturalists to England to study it, and covered the province with schools, and disciplined the nation at large in habits of industry, order, and frugality. In Upper Silesia in particular he caused coal to be coked for the first time, the earliest coking machine and the steam engine brought from England being installed at Gleiwitz. Without exaggeration it may be said that all of this industrial region had been a crucial factor to the national economy and had been achieved by German skill, enterprise, and capital.[14]

With the introduction of free enterprise mining to Prussia in 1865, industrialisation generally in Upper Silesia increased. The Upper Silesian industrial region was largely situated in the counties of Tarnowitz, Tost-Gleiwitz, Rybnik, Pless, Zabrz, Beuthen, Kattowitz, Konigshutte, all in the south east of the province. By 1914 it was Germany’s second largest industrial region after the Ruhr.[15]

Polish immigration

Due to the potential employment offered in the ever-growing industries etc., Poles in particular, and even Czechs, immigrated into the province; a large and constant inflow of Polish families, many from the extremely poor and over-populated Russian 'Congress Poland', were attracted by the higher wages and superior conditions of life generally prevalent there. By 1885 the vast numbers of immigrant Poles were such that the Prussian government attempted to close the border and began to expel all non-Prussian Poles. This was only partially successful.[16] An example of how immigration inflated the population are the Beuthen, Kattowitz, Hindenburg, Konigshutte, and Tarnowitz areas, which only had 12,300 inhabitants in total in 1781. In 1804 not a single town of the region had more than 4,000 inhabitants in total, and some towns today important did not exist. By the 1910 Census the above-mentioned areas had 835,000 inhabitants, largely due to immigration.[17]

Further still, until the end of World War I there had not been in Upper Silesia any Polish nationalist movement corresponding to those in the Prussian province of Posen, the Austrian Kingdom of Galicia (which Poland had conquered in the 14th century but which was taken back from them during the Partitions) or in Congress Poland. Upper Silesia was, with very few exceptions, regarded by Poles living there as excluded from the sphere of active nationalist agitation. It is significant that the Upper Silesian Poles again took part in the elections to the Weimar National Assembly in 1919 and that 70 per cent of all electors who polled voted for German party candidates.[18]

End of World War One

With the collapse of the Central Powers in November 1918 a Peace Conference was established by the victorious Western Allies at Paris. Despite not being a sovereign country since the 18th century, the French and Americans insisted a Polish Delegation be permitted to take part in the talks and to stake their claims to German territory. (A bit like sticking a knife into a corpse and turning it.) The Poles put forward a demand that the entire industrial area of Upper Silesia, with contiguous districts, should be added to the new Polish State then being established, without the formality of a plebiscite – the decision of the population. Their outrageous argument was that in these counties the majority of ‘’the population was indisputably Polish’’.[19] Britain in particular opposed the Polish arguments[20][21], and it was agreed a plebiscite would take place.[22] Germany declared from 1919 to 1939 that they would never accept the loss of Upper Silesia.[23]

Plebiscite 1921: Germania (personification) trying to rescue Schlesien from the fangs of the ravenous Polish wolf (left); appeal to vote (right).


Memorial stone for the expelled Upper Silesians after WWI and WWII at the Cross of the German East (Kreuz des deutschen Ostens) near Bad Harzburg, which itself commemorates the millions of German expellees from the east (Ostdeutschland).

The Treaty of Versailles stated that in January 1920 an International Commission should take over the administration of the plebiscite area of the province which would be occupied by troops belonging to the Allied Powers. The Commissioners were: the outspoken and very pro-Polish French General le Rond, Britain’s Colonel Sir Harold Percival, and Italy’s General de Marinis, and it was established at Oppeln early in February 1920. France immediately sent 8000 troops and Italy 2000. Britain, at this point, sent none. Francesco Nitti wrote “France sent such a large delegation to Upper Silesia that it took control of everything”. In every department of the administration le Rond took care to secure for France a preponderant influence. Of the seven “ministries” four were French, two British, and one Italian; of the twenty-one District Controllers, eleven were French, five British, and five Italian. The new police force was mostly French, and the secret police entirely so. Having packed the administrative services the French continually harassed, obstructed, and outweighed the British and Italian representatives in any honest and equal-handed justice. General le Rond made it absolutely clear that it was his and France’s intention that the entire province would be transferred to the new Poland. He even permitted Polish workers’ unions to regularly escort French troops to their quarters flying Polish national flags. Throughout the Allied occupation the Poles were favoured in every possible way, the Germans treated as though they were aliens in their own country.[24][25]

The Allied powers had assured the German Delegation at Versailles in their letter of 16 June 1919 that the Commission was to be instituted “in order to secure the full impartiality of the vote”, yet they took no steps whatever to make a free and impartial vote possible. In fact the French did the opposite.

"What you take will be yours!" With these words, the world-famous pianist Ignaz Paderewski heated up the mood in Poland in December 1918. Returning from western exile to the newly proclaimed Polish republic, this was his answer to the question of whether the victorious western powers would recognize Polish conquests in eastern Germany. So they would do it, according to the promise, promptly followed by numerous successful raids by Polish armed units in the German provinces of Posen and West Prussia. The Polish attempts to conquer Upper Silesia were less successful. Since 1919, the attacks by non-local Polish troops, disguised as so-called “uprisings”, met with vigorous and at least partially successful German resistance. There could be no talk of the intended conquest of the entire province. Since nothing had been conquered on the Polish side, the victorious powers meeting in the Paris suburb of Versailles could not recognize any new demarcations in this case. So they decided on another way to take another piece of land from Germany: the referendum. Of course, Polish politicians fought this plan with all their might, because they had no illusions about the expected results. Like the referendums in southern East Prussia, which had shown 92 and 97 percent approval for Germany, there would also be a majority for Germany in Upper Silesia. In political Poland, however, this in no way led to doubts about the justification of their own claims, since the existing ethnic relationships were flatly denied the right to exist. German influence and German life in Upper Silesia, southern East Prussia, and elsewhere were seen as collateral damage to the partitions of Poland since 1772, and thus wrong. So even against the 97 percent defeat in East Prussia, an objection had been lodged with the Allies, since everything there was in principle Polish, but the ballot paper was faulty, the people were currently mentally confused and were under the thumb of the Prussian administration. If the victorious states and the newly-born Poland had been interested in this, they could have read the results of the elections to the German Reichstag over the past few decades as to what could and could not be considered Polish territory according to democratic principles. The liberal conditions in the German Reich had made it possible to organize an active Polish party, which was always able to place around 20 of the 397 deputies in the German Reichstag. They came chiefly from the province of Posen, where in the countryside occasionally more than ninety per cent of the electorate voted Polish, and from parts of West Prussia. In Silesia, on the other hand, the Polish party was unable to assert itself, certainly not in Danzig or East Prussia and only occasionally in Upper Silesia - as a result of electoral alliances. Many residents who were claimed there for Poland, considered themselves part of their own Upper Silesian regional identity, insofar as they did not support Germany. When in doubt, voters tended to vote for the Catholic Center Party. [...] Finally, in the fall of 1921, the Allies proceeded to divide the province, and not only on the basis of ethnic dividing lines, which could have been deduced from the results of the vote. It was divided according to economic aspects and cities with large German majorities were also annexed to Poland. This fitted into a pattern that had become familiar in the meantime. Since the Versailles Treaty, democratic as well as strategic, economic and historical criteria have been used to come to a decision with regard to Germany. Always those that could be used against Germany. Thus Poland finally got a part of Upper Silesia in 1921, even despite largely unsuccessful attempts to take it. Ignaz Paderewski correctly assessed the mentality of the western powers.[26]

End of World War II

Without any attempt at consulting their Allies, the Soviet Union which had occupied Upper Silesia, illegally handed over to their puppet Communist Polish Government the administration of the entire area. At the Potsdam Conference this was presented by the Soviets as their fait accompli.[27] Poland still claims today that this was agreed at the Potsdam Conference. This is untrue.

Notable people from Upper Silesia

Further reading

  • Bulow, Prince Bernhard von, Imperial Germany, Cassell & Co., London & New York, 1914, "The Eastern Marches" p.239-269.
  • Hutchison, Lt.-Col. Graham Seton, D.S.O., M.C., F.R.G.S., Silesia Revisited, Simpkin Marshall Ltd., London, 1929.
  • Glombowski, Friedrich, Frontiers of Terror (trans. by Kenneth Kirkness), Hurst & Blackett Ltd., London, 1935.
  • Williamson, David, G., The British in Germany 1918-1930, Berg Publishers Ltd., Oxford U.K. & New York, 1991, ISBN: 0-85496-584-X

External links


  1. Dawson, William Harbutt, Germany Under The Treaty, Longmans, New York & London, 1933, p.178.
  2. Dawson, 1933, p.182.
  3. cited in Dawson, 1933, p.177.
  4. Martel, 1930, p.50.
  5. ’’Hansard’’, Westminster, London.
  6. Medlicott, M.A.,D.Lit., Professor W.N., Dakin, M.A., PhD., Douglas, & Lambert, M.E., M.A., Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, First series, vol.xvi, HMSO, London, 1968, p.9.
  7. Dawson, 1933, p.175.
  8. Dawson, 1933, p.178.
  9. Martel, René, The Eastern Frontiers of Germany London, 1930, p.131.
  10. Dawson, 1933, p.178.
  11. Dawson, 1933, 177-8.
  12. Martel, London, 1930, p.131.
  13. Dawson, 1933, p.178.
  14. Dawson, 1933, p.180.
  15. Lengyel, Emil, The Cauldron Boils, New York, 1932, chapter ix, 'The Blast Furnace', pps:207-240.
  16. Schofer, Lawrence, The Formation of a Modern Labor Force – Upper Silesia 1865-1914, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1975, ISBN: 0-520-02651-9
  17. Dawson, 1933, p.180.
  18. Dawson, 1933, p.181-2.
  19. Looking at London in 2022, where the ethnic population has dropped below 50% due to immigration and those immigrants’ continually producing children, this could be an argument for independence for Greater London from the UK, becoming a sort of Monaco.
  20. Fisher, H.A.L., Warden of New College, Oxford, A History of Europe, Edward Arnold & Co., London, 1936/1949 reprint, p.1164.
  21. Kitchem, 1988, p.102.
  22. Dawson, 1933, p.184-5.
  23. Kimmich, Professor Christoph M., Germany and the League of Nations. University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 1976, p.64, ISBN: 0-226-43534-2
  24. Dawson, 1933, p.185-6.
  25. Carr, Professor E. H., International Relations since the Peace Treaties, Macmillan & Co., London, 1945, p.8-9.
  26. Stefan Scheil: Trotz Sieg an der Wahlurne ging Oberschlesien verloren, Junge Freiheit, 22 March 2021
  27. Balfour, Michael, Four-Power Control in Germany and Austria 1945-1946, Oxford University Press, U.K., 1956, p.78.