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Former eastern territories of Germany


Former eastern territories of Germany

German territories lost in both World Wars are shown in black, present-day Germany is marked dark grey on this 1914 map.

The former eastern territories of Germany (German: Ehemalige deutsche Ostgebiete) are those provinces or regions east of the current eastern border of Germany (the Oder–Neisse line) which were lost by Germany after World War I and then World War II. The territories lost following World War I include most of the Province of Posen and West Prussia, and further territories lost after World War II include East Prussia, Farther Pomerania, East Brandenburg, Upper Silesia, and almost all of Lower Silesia. All territories lost in both World Wars account for 33% of the former German Empire, while land ceded by Germany after World War II constituted roughly 25% of its pre-war Weimar territory.[1] In present-day Germany, the term usually refers only to the territories lost in World War II,[2] while in Poland the territories acquired from Germany after World War II were dubbed the "Recovered Territories" by the Soviet-installed Polish government.

The post-war border between Germany and Poland along the Oder–Neisse line was formally recognized by East Germany in 1950 by the Treaty of Zgorzelec, under pressure from Stalin. In 1952, recognition of the Oder–Neisse line as a permanent boundary was one of Stalin's conditions for the Soviet Union to agree to a reunification of Germany (see Stalin Note). The offer was rejected by West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The official German government position on the status of former eastern territories of Germany vacated by settled German communities east of the Oder and Neisse rivers was that the areas were "temporarily under Polish [or Soviet] administration." In 1970, West Germany recognised the line as a de facto boundary in the Treaty of Warsaw.

In 1990, as part of the reunification of Germany, West Germany recognised the "facts on the ground" and accepted clauses in the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany whereby Germany renounced all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse line.[3] Germany's recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as the border was formalised by the re-united Germany in the German-Polish Border Treaty on November 14, 1990.


  • Usage 1
  • History 2
    • Foundation of German Empire, 1871 2.1
    • Treaty of Versailles, 1919 2.2
    • German annexation of Hultschin Area and the Memel Territory 2.3
    • German occupation of Poland in World War II, 1939–1945 2.4
    • Potsdam Agreement, 1945 2.5
  • Post World War II 3
    • Expulsion of Germans and resettlement 3.1
    • Ostpolitik 3.2
  • Present status 4
  • Former eastern territories in German history 5
    • Politicians, statesmen and national leaders 5.1
    • Military figures 5.2
    • Scientists and mathematicians 5.3
    • Philosophers and theologians 5.4
    • Historians and archaeologists 5.5
    • Musicians 5.6
    • Poets, writers, dramatists, and other cultural figures 5.7
    • Painters 5.8
    • Architects 5.9
    • Actors and actresses 5.10
    • Miscellaneous 5.11
  • See also 6
  • Notes and references 7
  • Further reading 8


In the Potsdam Agreement the description of the territories transferred is "The former German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line", and permutations on this description are the most commonly used to describe any former territories of Germany east of the Oder-Neisse line.

The name East Germany, a political term, used to be the common colloquial English name for the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and mirrored the common colloquial English term for the other German state of West Germany. When focusing on the period before World War II, "eastern Germany" is used to describe all the territories east of the Elbe (East Elbia), as reflected in the works of sociologist Max Weber and political theorist Carl Schmitt,[4][5][6][7][8] but because of the border changes in the 20th century, after World War II the term "east Germany" and eastern Germany in English has meant the territory of the German Democratic Republic.

In German there is only one usual term Ostdeutschland, meaning East Germany or Eastern Germany, the German rather ambiguous term never gained prevailing use for the GDR as did the English term. Since the Ostdeutschland has been used to denote the post-war and the respective five states of the reunited Germany. However, because people and institutions in the states, traditionally considered as Middle Germany, like the three southern new states Saxony-Anhalt, the Free State of Saxony and the Free State of Thuringia, still use the term Middle Germany when referring to their area and its institutions the term Ostdeutschland is still ambiguous.[9]


Foundation of German Empire, 1871

Growth of Brandenburg-Prussia (1600–1795).

At the time of the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, Kingdom of Prussia was the largest and dominant part of the empire. Prussian territories included territories taken by Prussia in the three Partitions of Poland in the 18th century: East Brandenburg, Silesia, Pomerania and the provinces of Prussia and Poznań (Posen). Later, these territories would come to be called in Germany "Ostgebiete des deutschen Reiches" (Eastern territories of the German Empire).

Treaty of Versailles, 1919

Border changes in history of Poland
German atlas from 1880 showing the spread of languages.
Polish atlas showing ethnic groups in 1918.

The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 that ended World War I restored the independence of Poland, known as the Second Polish Republic, and Germany was compelled to cede territories to it, most of which were taken by Prussia in the three Partitions of Poland, and had been part of the Kingdom of Prussia and later the German Empire for over 100 years. The territories ceded to Poland in 1919 were those with an apparent Polish majority, such as the Province of Posen, the east-southern part of Upper Silesia and the Polish Corridor.

Land transfers in Central Europe as a result of Versailles included:

German annexation of Hultschin Area and the Memel Territory

Weimar Germany in 1925

In October 1938 Hlučín Area (Hlučínsko in Czech, Hultschiner Ländchen in German) of Moravian-Silesian Region which had been ceded to Czechoslovakia under the Treaty of Versailles was annexed by the Third Reich as a part of areas lost by Czechoslovakia in accordance with the Munich agreement. However, as distinct from other lost Czechoslovakian domains, it was not attached to Sudetengau (administrative region covering Sudetenland) but to Prussia (Upper Silesia).

By late 1938, Lithuania had lost control over the situation in the Memel Territory. In the early hours of 23 March 1939, after a political ultimatum caused a Lithuanian delegation to travel to Berlin, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Juozas Urbšys and his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Treaty of the Cession of the Memel Territory to Germany in exchange for a Lithuanian Free Zone in the port of Memel, using the facilities erected in previous years.

German occupation of Poland in World War II, 1939–1945

Map of Reichsgaue in 1941

Between the two world wars, many in Germany claimed that the territory ceded to Poland in 1919–1922 should be returned to Germany. This claim was one of the justifications for the German invasion of Poland in 1939, heralding the start of the Second World War. The Third Reich annexed the former German lands, comprising the "Polish Corridor", West Prussia, the Province of Posen, and parts of eastern Upper Silesia. The council of the Free City of Danzig voted to become a part of Germany again, although Poles and Jews were deprived of their voting rights and all non-Nazi political parties were banned. In addition to taking territories lost in 1919, Germany also took additional land that had never been German.

Two decrees by Adolf Hitler (October 8 and October 12, 1939) divided the annexed areas of Poland into administrative units:

These territories had an area of 94,000 km² and a population of 10,000,000 people.

The remainder of Polish territory was annexed by the Soviet Union (see Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) or made into the German-controlled General Government occupation zone.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the district of Białystok, which included the Białystok, Bielsk Podlaski, Grajewo, Łomża, Sokółka, Volkovysk, and Grodno Counties, was "attached to" (not incorporated into) East Prussia, whilst East Galicia (Distrikt Galizien), which included the cities of Lwów, Stanislawów and Tarnopol, was made part of the General Government.

Potsdam Agreement, 1945

Germany subsequently lost territories east of the Oder-Neisse Line at the end of the War in 1945, when international recognition of its right to jurisdiction over any of these territories was conditionally withdrawn. The "condition" mentioned was the Final German Peace Treaty, which was to set the actual border line, which may or may not have been the Oder-Neisse line. At Potsdam, the assumption by many was that a Final German Peace Treaty was imminent, but this turned out to be incorrect.

After World War II, as agreed at the Potsdam Conference (which met from 17 July until 2 August 1945), all of the areas east of the Oder-Neisse line, whether recognised by the international community as part of Germany until 1939 or occupied by Germany during World War II, were placed under the jurisdiction of other countries.The relevant paragraphs in the Potsdam Agreement are:[11][12][13]

The Allies also agreed that:

because in the words of Winston Churchill

Expulsion is the method which, in so far as we have been able to see, will be the most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble. A clean sweep will be made.[14]

The problem with the status of these territories was that the Potsdam Agreement was not a legally binding treaty, but a memorandum between the USSR, the USA and the UK. It regulated the issue of the eastern German border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final decisions concerning Germany were subject to a separate peace treaty. This treaty was signed in 1990 as the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany.[15][16]

Post World War II

After the War, the so-called "German question" was an important factor of post-war German and European history and politics. The debate affected Cold War politics and diplomacy and played an important role in the negotiations leading up to the reunification of Germany in 1990. In 1990 Germany officially recognized its present eastern border at the time of its reunification in the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, ending any residual claims to sovereignty that Germany may have had over any territory east of the Oder-Neisse line.

Between 1945 and 1990 the government of West Germany referred to these territories as "former German territories temporarily under Polish and Soviet administration". This terminology was used in relation to territories of eastern Germany within the 1937 Germany border, and was based on the terminology used in the Potsdam Agreement. It was used only by the Federal Republic of Germany; but the Polish and Soviet governments objected to the obvious implication that these territories should someday revert to Germany. The Polish government preferred to use the phrase "Recovered Territories", asserting a sort of continuity because parts of these territories had centuries previously been ruled by ethnic Poles.

Expulsion of Germans and resettlement

Marking the new Polish-German border in 1945.

With the rapid advance of the Red Army in the winter of 1944–1945, German authorities desperately evacuated many Germans to west of the Oder–Neisse line. The majority of the remaining German-speaking population east of the Oder–Neisse line (roughly 10 million in the ostgebiete alone) that had not already been evacuated was expelled. Although in the post-war period earlier German sources often cited the number of evacuated and expelled Germans at 16 million and the death toll at between 1.7[17] and 2.5 million,[18] today, the numbers are considered by some historians to be exaggerated and more likely in the range between 400,000 to 600,000.[19] Some present-day estimates place the numbers of German refugees at 14 million of which about half a million died during the evacuations and expulsions.[19][20]

At the same time, Poles from central Poland, expelled Poles from former eastern Poland, Polish returnees from internment and forced labour, Ukrainians were forcibly resettled in Operation Vistula and Jewish Holocaust survivors were settled in German territories gained by Poland, whereas the north of former East Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast gained by the USSR) was turned into a military zone and subsequently became settled with Russians.


In the 1970s, West Germany adopted Ostpolitik in foreign relations, which strove to normalise relations with its neighbours by recognising the realities of the European order of the time,[21] and abandoning elements of the Hallstein Doctrine. West Germany "abandoned, at least for the time being, its claims with respect to German self-determination and reunification, recognising de facto the existence of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Oder-Neisse line."[21] As part of this new approach, West Germany concluded friendship treaties with the Soviet Union (Treaty of Moscow (1970)), Poland (Treaty of Warsaw (1970)), East Germany (Basic Treaty (1972)) and Czechoslovakia (Treaty of Prague (1973)).

Present status

Over the last 20 years, the "German question" has been muted by a number of related phenomena:

  • The passage of time resulted in fewer people being left who have firsthand experience of living in these regions under German jurisdiction.
  • In the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, Germany renounced all claims to territory east the Oder-Neisse line. Germany's recognition of the border was repeated in the German-Polish Border Treaty on November 14, 1990. The treaties were made by both German states and ratified in 1991 by a united Germany.
  • The expansion of the European Union to Central Europe in 2004 enabled any German wishing to live and work in Poland, and thus east of the Oder-Neisse line, to do so without requiring a permit. German expellees and refugees became free to visit their former homes and set up residence, though some restrictions remained on the purchase of land and buildings.
  • Poland entered the Schengen Area on December 21, 2007, removing all border controls on its border with Germany.

In the course of the German reunification, Chancellor Helmut Kohl accepted the territorial changes made after World War II, creating some outrage among the Federation of Expellees, while some Poles were concerned about a possible revival of their 1939 trauma through a "second German invasion", this time with the Germans buying back their land, which was cheaply available at the time. This happened on a smaller scale than many Poles expected, and the Baltic Sea coast of Poland has become a popular German tourist destination. The so-called "homesickness-tourism" which was often perceived as quite aggressive well into the 1990s now tends to be viewed as a good-natured nostalgia tour rather than an expression of anger and desire for the return of the lost territories.

Some organisations in Germany continue to claim the territories for Germany or property there for German citizens. The Prussian Trust (or the Prussian Claims Society), that probably has less than a hundred members,[22] re-opened the old dispute when in December 2006, it submitted 23 individual claims against the Polish government to the European Court of Human Rights asking for compensation or return of property appropriated from its members at the end of World War II. An expert report jointly commissioned by the German and Polish governments from specialists in international law have confirmed that the proposed complaints by the Prussian Trust had little hope of success. But the German government cannot prevent such requests being made and the Polish government has felt that the submissions warranted a comment by Anna Fotyga, the Polish Minister of the Foreign Affairs to "express [her] deepest concern upon receiving the information about a claim against Poland submitted by the Prussian Trust to the European Court of Human Rights".[23] On 9 October 2008 the European Court of Human Rights declared the case of Preussische Treuhand v. Poland inadmissible, because the European Convention on Human Rights does not impose any obligations on the Contracting States to return property which was transferred to them before they ratified the Convention.[24]

After the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in September 2006, the leader of the party, Udo Voigt, declared that his party demands Germany in "historical borders" and questioned the current border treaties.[25]

Former eastern territories in German history

The former eastern territories were the scene of numerous notable events in German history, but generally viewed in modern-day Poland as being of 'foreign' rather than local interest.[26]

These include battles such as Frederick the Great’s victories at Mollwitz in 1741, Hohenfriedeberg in 1745, Leuthen (1757) and Zorndorf (1758), and his defeats at Gross-Jägersdorf in 1757 and Kunersdorf in 1759. Historian Norman Davies describes Kunersdorf as "Prussia's greatest disaster" and the inspiration for Christian Tiedge's Elegy to "Humanity butchered by Delusion on the Altar of Blood".[26] In the Napoleonic Wars the Pomeranian town of Kolberg was besieged in 1807 (inspiring a Second World War Nazi propaganda film) while the French Grande Armée was victorious at Eylau in East Prussia in the same year. The Treaties of Tilsit were separately signed in the selfsame town in July 1807 between Napoleon and the Russians and Prussians. The Iron Cross, Germany's highest military honour, was established (though not awarded) by King Frederick William III at Breslau on 17 March 1813.[27] In World War I, Hindenburg won critical victories at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, ejecting Russian forces from East Prussia.[26]

Numerous figures in German culture and history (some still living) were either born or resident in the former eastern territories. An inexhaustive list is as follows:[26]

Politicians, statesmen and national leaders

Military figures

Scientists and mathematicians

Philosophers and theologians

Historians and archaeologists


Poets, writers, dramatists, and other cultural figures



Actors and actresses


See also

  • Former eastern territories of Germany annexed by the Soviet Union:

Notes and references

  1. ^ "The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945-1970" by Andrew Demshuk, page 52
  2. ^ see for example msn encarta: "diejenigen Gebiete des Deutschen Reiches innerhalb der deutschen Grenzen von 1937", Meyers Lexikon online: "die Teile des ehemaligen deutschen Reichsgebietes zwischen der Oder-Neiße-Linie im Westen und der Reichsgrenze von 1937 im Osten". Archived 2009-10-31.
  3. ^ The problem with the status of these territories was that in 1945 the concluding document of the Potsdam Conference was not a legally binding treaty, but a memorandum between the USSR, the USA and the UK. It regulated the issue of the eastern German border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final decisions concerning Germany were subject to a separate peace treaty. This treaty was signed in 1990 under the name of Treaty on the Final Settlement by both the German states and ratified in 1991 by the united Germany. This ended the legal limbo state which meant that for 45 years, people on both sides of the border could not be sure whether the settlement reached in 1945 might be changed at some future date.
  4. ^ Cornfield, Daniel B. and Hodson, Randy (2002). Worlds of Work: Building an International Sociology of Work. Springer, p. 223. ISBN 0306466058
  5. ^ Östereichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie, by Michael Pollock. Zeitschrift für Soziologie; ZfS, Jg. 8, Heft 1 (1979); 50-62. 01/1979 (German)
  6. ^ Baranowsky, Shelley (1995). The Sanctity of Rural Life: Nobility, Protestantism, and Nazism in Weimar Prussia. Oxford University Press, pp. 187-188. ISBN 0195361660
  7. ^ Schmitt, Carl (1928). Political Romanticism. Transaction Publishers, Preface, p. 11. ISBN 1412844304
  8. ^ Each spring, millions of workmen from all parts of western Russia arrived in eastern Germany, which, in political language, is called East Elbia. from The Stronghold of Junkerdom, by The public broadcaster run by the German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia is named Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (lit. in English: Middle German broadcast), a regional newspaper, issued in Halle upon Saale, is called "Mitteldeutsche Zeitung" and a Protestant regional church body in the area, just recently founded by a merger, is named Evangelische Kirche in Mitteldeutschland (English: Protestant Church in Middle Germany). ^
  9. ^ The German population in those areas in 1921 was 16.7% in the Poznań region (1910: 27.1%), and 18.8% in the area of Polish Pomorze (1910: 42.5%). [2]
  10. ^ Osmańczyk, Edmund Jan (2003). "Potsdam Agreement, 1945". In Mango, Anthony. Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements: A to F 1. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1829–1830.  
  11. ^ Krickus, Richard J. (202). The Kaliningrad Question (illustrated ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 34–35.  
  12. ^ Piotrowicz, Ryszard W.; Blay, Sam; Schuster, Gunnar; Zimmermann, Andreas (1997). "The Unification of Germany in International and Domestic Law". German monitor (Rodopi) (39): 48–49.  
  13. ^ Murphy, Clare (2004-08-02). "WWII expulsions spectre lives on".  
  14. ^ Junker, Detlef; Gassert, Philipp; Mausbach, Wilfried; et al., eds. (2004). The United States and Germany in the Era of the Cold War, 1945-1990: A Handbook. Publications of the German Historical Institute Volume 1 of The United States and Germany in the Era of the Cold War 2 Volume Set (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 105.  
  15. ^ Piotrowicz et al. 1997, p. 66.
  16. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler (2003). Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte Band 4: Vom Beginn des Ersten Weltkrieges bis zur Gründung der beiden deutschen Staaten 1914–1949 (in Deutsch). Munich: C.H. Beck Verlag.  
  17. ^ Dagmar Barnouw (2005). The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans. Bloomington:  
  18. ^ a b  
  19. ^  
  20. ^ a b OstpolitikThe Federal Republic of Germany’s , the European Navigator
  21. ^ Klaus Ziemer. What Past, What Future? Social Science in Eastern Europe: News letter: Special Issue German-Polish Year 2005/2006, 2005 Issue 4, ISSN 1615-5459 pp. 4–11 (See page 4). Published by the Social Science Information Centre (see Archive)
  22. ^ Anna Fotyga, the Polish Minister of the Foreign Affairs "I express my deepest concern upon receiving the information about a claim against Poland submitted by the Prussian Trust to the European Court of Human Rights. ...". 21 December 2006
  23. ^ Preussische Treuhand GMBH & CO. KG A. A. against PolandDecision as to the admissibility Application no. 47550/06 by , by the European Court of Human Rights, 7 October 2008
  24. ^ (Polish)Szef NPD: chcemy Niemiec w historycznych granicach, 22 września 2006,
  25. ^ a b c d Davies, N. (2005) God's Playground. A History of Poland. Volume II: 1795 to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  26. ^ Michael Nungesser. Das Denkmal auf dem Kreuzberg von Karl Friedrich Schinkel, ed. on behalf of the Bezirksamt Kreuzberg von Berlin as catalogue of the exhibition „Das Denkmal auf dem Kreuzberg von Karl Friedrich Schinkel“ in the Kunstamt Kreuzberg / Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, between 25 April and 7 June 1987, Berlin: Arenhövel, 1987, p. 29. ISBN 3-922912-19-2.

Further reading

  • Emotions prevail in relations between Germans, Czechs, Poles – poll, Czech Happenings, 21 December 2005
  • Jose Ayala Lasso. Speech to the German expellees, Day of the Homeland, Berlin 6 August 2005 Lasso was the first United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1994–1997)
  • Ryszard W. Piotrowicz. The Status of Germany in International Law: Deutschland uber Deutschland? The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 609–635 "The purpose of this article is to consider the legal status of Germany from 1945 to [1989]"
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