Emigration of Germans from Poland in the 20th century

Emigration of Germans from Poland in the 20th century


Ethnic deportation was used as a tool to create a homogenous nation within the new borders of Postwar Communist Poland after 1945, which contains a large part of German territory and ceded Ukraine territory, conquered by Poland in the 1920s to Soviet Russia. Masses of people were forced to move: ethnic Germans and Germans from eastern Germany, (now newly acquired Polish western region) to Post WW II German Occupation Zones; ethnic Ukrainians from eastern regions to the USSR or to former Germany.

The most important emigration flows were related to the Aussiedlung policy of West Germany. After 1945, relations between Polish government and the inhabitants of the Western Territories were regulated by Article 13 of the Potsdam Agreement. It provided for expulsion of 3.5 million of German citizens and their deportation to the Russian, British and American occupation zones. In effect, the treaty legitimized deportations which were already in progress at the time.

The deportation of individuals considered German citizens stopped in 1950 (in 1945-1950 almost 3.2 million Germans were ousted). From that time on, the authorities officially conceded that there were at most few thousand Germans (holders of German citizenship) living in Poland. These numbers included the ethnic Germans among the Mazurians, Silesians and Kashubs. Practically all those years until Postwar Communist Poland's regime was ousted, Germans, who remained in their homeland, were denied. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, in office 1989-91, was the first to recognize German minority officially.

Family reunification process

In the ensuing decades, emigration of German citizens continued under the family reunification process. From 1949 to 1959 almost 354,000 people emigrated from Poland to East Germany of which only around 17% were German citizens, the rest being ethnic Germans.

Between 1960 and 1970 almost 18,000 inhabitants of Mazuria left the country and between 1956 and 1969 almost 400,000 Polish citizens of German origin (including inhabitants of Mazuria, Silesia and Kashubia) immigrated to West Germany. The most striking characteristic of the emigration of this stage was automatic loss of Polish citizenship and granting of German citizenship at the border, if the emigrant or deportee was not a German citizen.

Warsaw Treaty

The breakthrough came in December 1970, when the Warsaw Treaty was signed. It became the basis for further negotiations concerning ethnic Germans still living in Poland. The agreement was not signed until 1975, when Polish government was forced by difficult financial situation to agree to cooperate in family reunification in exchange for financial aid. On October 9, 1975 Polish government signed agreements with the West Germany on family reunification. Almost 250,000 people left Poland in the years 1975 – 1980.

Given the very limited options for leaving the country, the family reunification agreement was often the only practical means of doing so. It is alleged that some people wished to emigrate for economic and political reasons would claim German roots for the sole purpose of getting permission to immigrate to the West. It is claimed that this phenomenon occurred most often in Upper Silesia. In the 1980s this type of emigration changed into mass migration. Between 1980-1989 ca. 630,000 people considered to be ethnic Germans left Poland.

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