Germanisation (also spelled Germanization) is either the spread of the German language, people and culture either by force or assimilation, or the adaptation of a foreign word to the German language in linguistics, much like the Romanisation of many languages which do not use the Latin alphabet. It was a central plank of German liberal thinking in the early nineteenth century, at a period when liberalism and nationalism went hand in hand.

Forms of Germanisation

There are historically very different forms and degrees of expansion of German language and elements of German culture. Besides eclectic adoptions, there are also examples of complete "melting" into the German cultureFact|date=May 2008, as it happened with the pagan Slavs in the diocese of Bamberg in the 11th century. A perfect exampleFact|date=May 2008 of eclectic adoption of German culture is the field of law in Imperial and present day Japan, which is organised very much to the model of the German Empire. Germanisation took place by cultural contact, by political decision of the adopting side (e.g. in the case of Japan) or (especially in the case of Imperial and Nazi Germany) by force.

In Slavic countries, the term Germanisation often is understoodFact|date=May 2008 solely as the process of acculturation of Slavic and Baltic speakers, after the conquests or by cultural contact in the early dark ages, areas of the modern Eastern Germany to the line of Elbe. In East Prussia forced resettlement of the Prussian people by the Teutonic Order and the Prussian state, as well as acculturation from immigrants of various European countries (Poles, French, Germans) contributed to the eventual extinction of the Prussian language in the 17th century.

Another form of Germanisation is the forceful expansion of German culture, language and people upon non-German people. This was the practice of Prussia, Austria, German Empire, Weimar Republic and German Empire. Non-Germans were often banned from use of their language, the state discriminated their traditions and culture, when those measures were not successful in eradicating non-Germans, colonists and settlers were used to upset the population balance. As even those stepts proved insufficient, the orientiation turned into policy of ethnic cleansing and later into genocide.

Historical Germanisation


Early Germanisation went along with the Ostsiedlung during the Middle Ages, e.g. in Hanoverian Wendland, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Lusatia and other areas, formerly inhabited by Slavic tribes - Polabian Slavs such as Obotrites, Veleti and Sorbs.

Lüchow-Dannenberg is better known as the Wendland, a designation referring to the Slavic people of the Wends from Slavic tribe Drevani — the Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony. [ [ Polabian language] ]

A complex process of Germanisation took place in Bohemia after the 1620 Battle of White Mountain defeat of Bohemian Protestants. The Protestant Bohemian king elected against the Habsburgs by the Bohemian estates in 1619, the German prince Frederick V, Elector Palatine, was defeated in 1620 by Catholic forces loyal to the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand II. Among the Bohemian lords being punished and expropriated after Frederick's defeat in 1620 were German- and Czech-speaking landowners as well. Thus this conflict was by far an internal conflict resulting from the feudal system than a clash of different nations. Although the Czech language lost its significance (as a written language) in the aftermath of the events, it is questionable whether this was primarily intended by the Habsburg rulers, whose intentions were in religious and feudal categories.


The rise of nationalism that occurred in the late 18th and 19th centuries in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Pomerania, Lusatia and Slovenia led to an increased sense of "pride" in national cultures during this time. However, centuries of cultural dominance of the Germans left a German mark on those societies, for instance the first modern grammar of the Czech language by Josef Dobrovský (1753-1829) – "Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache" (1809) – was published in German because the Czech language was not used in academic scholarship.

In the German colonies, the policy of having German as an official language led to the forming of German-based pidgins and German-based creole languages, such as Unserdeutsch.

In Prussia

Germanisation in Prussia occurred in several stages:
* Germanisation attempts pursued by Frederick the Great in Silesia, later extended to territories of Partitioned Poland
* Easing of Germanisation policy in the period 1815–1830
* Intensification of Germanisation and persecution of Poles in the Grand Duchy of Posen by E.Flotwell in 1830-1841
* The process of Germanisation ceases during the period of 1841-1849
* Restarted during years of 1849-1870
* Intensified by Bismarck during his Kulturkampf against Catholicism and Polish people
* Slight easing of the persecution of Poles during 1890-1894
* Continuation and intensification of activity restarted in 1894 and pursued till the end of World War I

State legislation and government policies of Germanisation in the Kingdom of Prussia, Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany aimed to expand the German language and culture in areas populated by non-Germans, the eradication of their national identity, and the integration of conquered territories into German states. [ [ Encyklopedia PWN ] ]

Of Prussian Minorities

ituation in the 18th century

When judging on Germanisation one has to differentiate whether this was seen as an act of ameliorating the economy of the country or whether it had the aim of repressing or eliminating Polish language and culture. Settlers from all over Europe (Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Scotland) were invited to settle in Prussia under the kings Frederick I, Frederick William I. and Frederick the Great. The settlements were planned either in sparsely populated areas or in areas which had been reclaimed (e. g. after drying up the Oderbruch swamp under Frederick the Great), or in areas that had been depopulated by war or plague (e. g. the settlement of the Protestants expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg in East Prussia 1731/32 under king Frederick William I.). Additionally several 10.000 French protestant refugees granted asylum in Prussia after the renouncement of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Around 1700 about half of the people of Berlin actually spoke French and the French community in Berlin used the French language in their services until 1807 when they decided to give it up and use German instead to protest against the occupation of Prussia by Napoléon. These settlements were not intended as a means of Germanisation but rather an instrument of bringing the economy of Prussia to a more advanced stage, just in the same intention as slawonian rulers invited German settlers in their countries in the Middle Ages. Nationality was no important aspect for Frederick the Great. He once stated also to underline his religious tolerance or indifference: "if Turks want to come and settle here we will build mosques for them". So Germanisation was not the primary intention of these settlements. It may however sometimes have been a side effect.

Prussia introduced as one of the first countries in Europe compulsory primary school attendance under Frederick William I. People should be able to read the Bible by themselves to make "good Christians" out of them. Education in primary school was done in the mother language and thus primary school was no means of Germanisation in the 18th century.

Prussia and Austria actively participated in the partitions of Poland, a fact that would later on severely stress German-Polish relations which had been uncomplicated until then.

ituation in the 19th century

After the Napoleonic Wars Prussia obtained the Grand Duchy of Posen and Austria remained in possession of Galicia. In May 1815 king Frederick William III. issued a manifest to the Poles in Posen:

You also have a Fatherland. [...] You will be incorporated into my monarchy without having to renounce your nationality. [...] You will receive a constitution like the other provinces of my kingdom. Your religion will be upheld. [...] Your language shall be used like the German language in all public affairs and everyone of you with suitable capabilities shall get the opportunity to get an appointment to a public office. [...]

and the minister for Education Altenstein stated in 1823: [cited in: Richard Cromer: "Die Sprachenrechte der Polen in Preußen in der ersten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts." Journal Nation und Staat, Vol 6, 1932/33, p. 614, also cited in: Martin Broszat Zweihundert Jahre deutsche Polenpolitik (Two-hundred years or German Poles politics). Suhrkamp 1972, p. 90, ISBN. 3-518-36574-6. During the discussions in the Reichstag in January 1875 Altensteins statement was cited by the opponents of Bismarcks politics]

Concerning the spread of the German language it is most important to get a clear understanding of the aims. Whether it should be the aim to promote the understanding of German among Polish-speaking subjects or whether it should be the aim to gradually and slowly Germanise the Poles. According to the judgement of the minister only the first is necessary, advisable and possible, the second is not advisable and not accomplishable. To be good subjects it is desirable for the Poles to understand the language of government. However, it is not necessary for them to give up or postpone their mother language. The possession of two language shall not be seen as a disadvantage but as an benefit instead because it is usually associated with a higher flexibility of the mind. [..] Religion and language are the highest sanctuaries of a nation and all attitudes and perceptions are founded on them. A government that [...] is indifferent or even hostile against them creates bitterness, debases the nation and generates disloyal subjects.

In the first half of the 19th century Prussian language policy remained largely tolerant. But this tolerance gradually changed in the second half of the 19th century after the foundation of the German Emprire in 1871.Later, the means of the policy was the elimination of non-German languages from public life and from academic settings (such as schools). Later in the German Empire, Poles were (together with Danes, Alsatians, German Catholics and Socialists) portrayed as "Reichsfeinde" ("foes to the empire"). [ [ Bismarck and the German Empire, 1871-1918] ] In addition, in 1885, the Prussian Settlement Commission financed from the national government's budget was set up to buy land from non-German hands and distribute it among German farmers. [ [ Encyklopedia PWN ] ] From 1908 the committee was entitled to force the landowners to sell the land. Other means included Prussian deportations 1885-1890: deportation of non-Prussian nationals who had lived in Prussia for substantial time periods (mostly Poles and Jews) and the ban on the building of houses by non-Germans (see Drzymała's van). Germanisation policy in schools also took the form of abuse of Polish children by Prussian officials (see Września). Germanisation unintentionally stimulated resistance, usually in the form of home schooling and tighter unity in the minority groups.

In 1910, Maria Konopnicka responded to the increasing persecution of Polish people by Germans by writing her famous song called Rota, that instantly became a national symbol for Poles, with its sentence known to many Poles:"The German will not spit in our face, nor will he Germanise our children". Thus, the German efforts to eradicate Polish culture, language and people met not only with failure, but managed to reinforce the Polish national identity and strengthened efforts of Poles to re-establish a Polish state.

An international meeting of socialists held in Brussels in 1902 condemned the Germanisation of Poles in Prussia, calling it "barbarous". []

Of Prussian Lithuanians

Similar Germanisation also happened for Prussian Lithuanians living in East Prussia, numbers of whom, since 15th century making up a majority of population in vast areas of East Prussia (since early 16th century often referred to as Lithuania Minor), had shrunk considerably during the 18h-20th centuries because of Plague and following immigration from Germany, notably from Salzburg in 18th century - local population was thrown out of their homes to make a place for newcomers. Policy of Germanisation was tightened during the 19th century; in the early 20th century Lithuanian majority remained north of Neman River and areas south and south-west of the river).

Similar development happened with Kursenieki, but this ethnic group never had a large population.

Of Polish Coal Miners

Another form of Germanisation was the relation between the German state and Polish coal miners in the Ruhr area. Due to migration within the German Empire, an enormous stream of Polish nationals (as many as 350,000) made their way to the Ruhr in the late 19th century, where they worked in the coal and iron industries. German authorities viewed them as potential danger and a threat and as a "suspected political and national" element. All Polish workers had special cards and were under constant observation by German authorities. In addition, anti-Polish stereotypes were promoted, such as postcards with jokes about Poles, presenting them as irresponsible people, similar to the treatment of the Irish in New England around the same time. Many Polish traditional and religious songs were forbidden by Prussian authorities. [ [,34239,2978729.html : Error 404 ] ] Their citizens' rights were also limited by German state. [ [ Migration Past, Migration Future: Germany and the United States] ] .

Polish Response

In response to these policies, the Polish formed their own organisations to defend their interests and ethnic identity. The Sokól sports clubs and the workers' union Zjednoczenie Zawodowe Polskie (ZZP), Wiarus Polski (press) and Bank Robotnikow were among the best known such organisations near the Ruhr. At first the Polish workers, ostracised by their German counterparts, had supported the Catholic centre party. [] Since the beginning of the 20th century their support more and more shifted towards the social democrats. [ 1880, Polen im Ruhrgebiet ] ] In 1905 Polish and German workers organised their first common strike. Under the "Namensänderungsgesetz" (law of changing surnames) a significant number of "Ruhr-Poles" change their surnames and Christian names to "Germanised" forms, in order to evade ethnic discrimination. As the Prussian authorities during the Kulturkampf suppressed Catholic services in Polish language by Polish priests, the Poles had to rely on German Catholic priests. Increasing intermarriage between Germans and Poles contributed much to the Germanisation of ethnic Poles in the Ruhr area.

During the Weimar Republic Poles first were recognised as minority only in Upper Silesia. The peace treaties after the First World War did contain an obligation for Poland to protect her national minorities (Germans, Ukrainians and other), whereas no such clause was introduced by the victors in the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. In 1928 the "Minderheitenschulgesetz" (minorities school act) regulated education of minority children in their native tongue. [ [ "Polen im Ruhrgebiet 1870 - 1945" - Deutsch-polnische Tagung - H-Soz-u-Kult / Tagungsberichte ] ] From 1930 on Poland and Germany agreed to treat their minorities vice versa. [ [ Johann Ziesch ] ]

Germanisation during the Second World War

"See also Generalplan Ost"

In the Nazi era, the days of certain minorities in Germany were numbered. "Racially acceptable" children were taken from their families, in order to be brought up as Germans. [ [ Lebensraum, Aryanization, Germanization and Judenrein, Judenfrei: concepts in the holocaust or shoah ] ]

Heinrich Himmler explicitly warned against regarding this as the same Germanisation as had occurred prior. [ "Nazi Conspiracy & Aggression Volume I Chapter XIII Germanization & Spoliation"]

It is not our task to Germanise the East in the old sense, that is, to teach the people there the German language and German law, but to see to it that only people of purely German, Germanic blood live in the East.

This did not mean total extermination of all people there, as Eastern Europe was regarded as having people of Aryan/Nordic descent, particularly among their leaders. [ HITLER'S PLANS FOR EASTERN EUROPE] ] This leadership itself was the Nazi argument for claiming they were Germans, as they were active, as opposed to "Slavonic" fatalism.

Germanisation began with the classification of the people suitable on the Volksliste, and treated according to their categorization. Adults who were selected for but resisted Germanisation were executed, on the grounds that German blood should not support non-German nations, and that killing them would deprive foreign nations of superior leaders. Even with those who did not resist, Germanisation proceeded slowly, if at all; younger people spoke German poorly if at all, and older people were found to be completely denationalized, requiring to be Germanised in Germany before they could be restored to the East where they would increase the German population. [ Lukas, Richard C. "Did the Children Cry?"] ]

Under "Generalplan Ost", a percentage of Slavs in the conquered territories were to be Germanised. Those found fit were to be enrolled in several categories in the Deutsche Volksliste. Those unfit for Germanisation were to be expelled from the areas marked out for German settlement. In considering the fate of the individual nations, the architects of the Plan decided that it would be possible to Germanise about 50 percent of the Czechs, 35 percent of the Ukrainians and 25 percent of the Belorussians. The remainder would be deported to western Siberia and other regions.In 1941 it was decided to destroy the Polish nation completely; the German leadership decided that, in 10 to 20 years, the Polish state under German occupation was to be fully cleared of any ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists. Volker R. Berghahn "Germans and Poles 1871–1945" in "Germany and Eastern Europe: Cultural Identities and Cultural Differences", Rodopi 1999]


Children were selected for "racially valuable traits" before being shipped to Germany. Many Nazis were astounded at the number of Polish children found to exhibit "Nordic" traits, but assumed that all such children were genuinely German children, who had been Polonized; Hans Frank summoned up such views when he declared, "When we see a blue-eyed child we are surprised that she is speaking Polish." These might, indeed, include the children of people executed for resisting Germanisation. If attempts to Germanise them failed, or they were determined to be unfit, they would be killed, to eliminate their value to the opponents of the Reich.

In German occupied Poland it is estimated that a number ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 children were removed from their families to be Germanised. [ [ Hitler's War; Hitler's Plans for Eastern Europe ] ] It is estimated that at least 10,000 of them were murdered in the process as they were determined unfit and sent to concentration camps and faced brutal treatment or perished in the harsh conditions during their transport in cattle wagons, and only 10-15% returned to their families after the war. [ [ Dzieciñstwo zabra³a wojna > Newsroom - Roztocze Online - informacje regionalne - Zamo¶æ, Bi³goraj, Hrubieszów, Lubaczów,Tomaszów Lubelski, Lubaczów - Roztocze OnLine ] ] Obligatory Hitlerjugend membership made dialogue between old and young next to impossible, as use of languages other than German was discouraged by officials. Members of minority organisations were sent to concentration camps by German authorities or executed.

pecific examples

Oletzko County was a historic East Prussian county with its capital at Oletzko.The county was populated by Mazurs, a Polish ethnic group. In the process of Germanisation, the proportion of Polish-speaking people declined steadily:
* 1818 - over 90% of population
* 1852 - 65%
* 1861 - 58%
* 1890 - 46%
* 1900 - 33.5% (German census)

In the Warmia and Masuria plebiscite on 11 July 1920 inside Oletzko only 2 votes were cast to join the Second Polish Republic; 28% of the inhabitants voted to remain in East Prussia. The town was renamed Treuburg (loyalty castle) after that plebiscite.

Current state

In modern Germany, Danes, Frisians and the Slavic Sorbs are classified as traditional ethnic minorities and are guaranteed cultural autonomy. Concerning the Danes, there is a treaty between Denmark and Germany from 1955 regulating the status of the German minority in Denmark and vice versa. Concerning the Frisians, Schleswig-Holstein passed a special law for preserving the language. [] The cultural autonomy of the Sorbs is a matter of the constitutions of Saxony and Brandenburg. Nevertheless, most of the Sorbs are bilingual and the Lower Sorbian language is regarded as endangered, as the number of native speakers is dwindling.

Descendants of Polish migrant workers and miners have intermarried with the local population and are thus culturally mixed. It is different with modern and present day immigration from Poland to Germany after the fall of the iron curtain. These immigrants usually are Polish citizens and live as foreigners in Germany. For many immigrant Poles, Polish ethnicity is not the prime category through which they wish to characterise themselves or want to be evaluated by others [ [ Polonia in Germany ] ] as it could impact their lives in a negative way.

Linguistic Germanisation

In linguistics, Germanisation usually means the change in spelling of loanwords to the rules of the German language — for example the change from the imported word "bureau" to "Büro".

The local dialect of the Ruhr Area, for example, contains many words borrowed from the Polish language.

ee also

*Cultural imperialism
*German Eastern Marches Society
*Carinthian Slovenes
*Potulice concentration camp
*Settlement Commission


External links

* [ Germanisation of the land between the Elbe-Saale and the Oder rivers: Colonisation or assimilation?]

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