Poland Table of Contents

The German population of Poland is centered in the southern industrial region of Silesia, but a small population remains in the northeastern region that had been East Prussia in the nineteenth century. As was the case with other ethnic minorities, only approximate estimates of numbers were available in 1991. Definition and quantification of the German population of Polish Silesia vary greatly according to the time and the source of statistics. The communist regimes of Poland counted only 2,500 Germans through 1989. In 1992 German minority organizations, whose activities increased markedly after 1990, claimed that over 300,000 Silesians, concentrated in Opole District, were ethnic Germans. The official Polish estimate at that time, however, was 100,000 ethnic Germans.

The constant shifting of Silesia between Polish and German control during several centuries created a unique ethnic amalgam and regional self-consciousness. Whatever the original ethnic composition of the region, the Silesians themselves developed a separate culture that borrowed liberally from both Polish and German. The predominant spoken language is a heavily Germanized dialect of Polish.

Although the Silesians retained close traditional ties with their locality and their own group, in the early 1990s they could not ignore the difference between their standard of living and that of nearby Germany. Many non-German Silesians very likely declared themselves ethnic Germans to receive preferential treatment from the German government; this practice played a major role in the diversity of minority population estimates.

Some Silesians were bitter over the resettlement policy of the postwar communist governments and other forms of anti-German discrimination. Immediately following the end of Polish communist rule, a well-organized German faction in Silesia demanded that dual citizenship and other privileges be guaranteed the German minority in Poland by the forthcoming Polish-German friendship treaty. In this demand they were joined by German citizens who had been expelled from the German territory awarded Poland after World War II. Ratification of the Polish-German treaty of friendship and cooperation in 1991 blunted the impact of radicals, however, and promoted pragmatic local cooperation rather than confrontation between Poles and Germans in Silesia.

Postcommunist Polish governments established no firm criteria for proving German nationality; in most cases, oral declarations were accepted as sufficient proof. Beginning in 1989, the Social Cultural Association began propagating German culture in Silesia. By 1992 the group had initiated German instruction in 260 schools, stocked libraries with German materials, and arranged technical instruction in Germany for Silesian health and education workers. The special ties with Germany make Opole one of the most prosperous regions in Poland; the Silesian Germans provide important resources to the local economy, and the lifestyle of many Silesian communities resembles that of Germany more than that of Poland. Although many non-German Silesians feared that the spread of German economic and cultural influences would erase the unique ethnic qualities of their region and the idea of German dominance retained some negative historical associations, in the early 1990s postcommunist aspirations for the prosperity promised by German connections remained an important factor in public opinion on the German ethnic issue.

A smaller concentration of Germans became active and visible for the first time in 1990 in Olsztyn District in northeastern Poland, although the resettlement of the 1950s and ongoing emigration had reduced the German population there substantially between 1956 and 1980. In 1992 estimates of the group's size ranged from 5,000 to 12,000. Beginning in 1990, several German cultural associations appeared in the region with the aims of preventing discrimination and preserving German culture. Association members received transportation to and employment opportunities in Germany, and the German government contributed money to support association activities in the early 1990s.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress