|German Silesia was once bounded by the old kingdoms and countries of Brandenburg, Posen,
Russian Poland, Galicia, Austrian Silesia, Moravia, Bohemia and Saxony. Full of rivers, streams,
hills and low mountains, Silesia was also comprised of fertile pastures and meadows and forests
abundant with deer and game, tremendous fisheries and mineral wealth. About a third of the land
was in the hands of large estates. The original population of Silesia was probably Celtic and other
mixed ethnic groups, and the wild region did not come under the rule of a Polish King until the 10th
century. Bohemian rulers actively recruited Germans to settle in the very sparsely populated area,
and the entire region was soon distinctly German. Poland renounced all claim to the region and the
King of Bohemia assumed sovereignty about the year 1138, and Silesia was first transferred to the
Germans at that time. The independent dynasty was drawn up under the influence of Barbarossa
and two princes, who in 1163 divided the sovereignty among themselves as dukes of Upper and
Lower Silesia. All of rural Silesia was covered with German settlements and German castles by
the late 12th century.
|Silesia became part of the Holy Roman Empire and subsequently the Austrian Empire from 1526
until 1742 when it was annexed by Prussia. Despite the Seven Years War, Friedrich the Great
brilliantly managed to bring sparsely populated. poor Silesia back to normalcy. He made yearly visits
to the country and kept himself in touch with it, enacting numerous political reforms including the
strict Prussian enforcement of religious toleration, bringing peace at last. By judicious regulations he
brought about a dramatic increase of Silesian industries and he revived the mining and weaving
operations. He introduced Merino sheep and the Prussians also gave Silesia its first public schools
and a new, viable future. The province, the largest in Prussia, was divided into three governmental
areas: Liegnitz, Breslau comprising lower Silesia, and Oppeln taking in the greater part of hilly Silesia.
As late as 1905, three-fourths of the inhabitants were German, but to the east of the Oder, Poles
formed the bulk of the population, with 15,500 Czechs in the southern part of the province and
25,000 Wends near Liegnitz. The capital was Breslau, the largest and most important town which
was refounded about 1250 as a German town. By the end of the 13th century, Silesia had virtually
become a German land and Breslau grew to be a leading center of trade.
|The rich Silesian duchies partitioned their territories with each new succession and by the end of the
14th century the country had been split up into 18 small, bickering principalities. In 1290, the Silesian
princes sought the protection of the German dynasty then ruling in Bohemia. The intervention of
these kings resulted in the appropriation of several petty states as crown domains. The earliest of
these Bohemian overlords, King Johann and the emperor Karl IV restored order vigorously. Later,
however, the Bohemians involved Silesia in the destructive Hussite wars and then in a series of
invasions from 1425 to 1435 which devastated the country and put the German element of
population in Upper Silesia in a weaker position, and a complete restitution of the Slavonic nationality
seemed imminent on the appointment of the Hussite, George Podiebrad, to the Bohemian kingship in
1457. The burghers of Breslau fiercely repudiated the new suzerain, and before he could enforce his
claims he was ousted by Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus around 1469.
|Corvinus asserted his dominance and instituted a permanent diet of Silesian princes and tried to
establish an effective central government. But the Silesians, who experienced financial discomfort at
his hands, began to resent the control of the Bohemian crown, and under his successor Vladislav,
they secured semi-autonomy which was theirs until the outset of the Reformation which the
predominantly Catholic Silesians accepted. German king Ferdinand I reimposed the Bohemian crown
upon them, and the Silesians lost power completely. From 1550, Silesia passed almost completely
under foreign administration, first under the Habsburgs, which united the kingship of Bohemia with
Austria and the imperial crown.
|The Thirty Years War, however, brought most of Silesia to almost total ruin. It was estimated that
75% of the population perished, and commerce and industry were at a standstill. A greater measure
of religious liberty was secured for the Silesians by representatives of King Karl XII of Sweden, and
effective measures were taken by the emperor Karl VI to stimulate trafe between Silesia and Austria,
but the country remained very poor in the earlier part of the 18th century.
|Silesia was occupied by French troops during the Napoleonic wars, and in 1815, it was enlarged by
receiving back a portion of Lusatia which, until then, had become detached from Silesia in the 11th
century and annexed to Saxony.
|All that was left of Austria's part of the country after the Seven Years War was "Austrian Silesia", a
duchy and the smallest province of Austria. In 1900, the population included 44.69% Germans,
33.21% Poles and 22.05% Czechs and Slavs. It formed, with Moravia, a single province until 1849,
when it was created into a separate duchy.
|Silesia was German and only 25% Polish when the victorious Allies hacked it up at the Treaty of
Versailles and parcelled it out between hungry nationalists from the newly endowed Poland and the
newly hatched country of Czechoslovakia. Austrian Silesia suffered the same fate. Centuries of
German presence, culture and history were immediately in jeopardy. Encouraged by the Allies'
desire to weaken any future strength of Germany and Austria, Poles and Czechs were trucked into
the German cities and towns to create a new voting majority. Even though they had been there for
centuries, ethnic Germans here and in all of their former homeland began to experience violent
attacks and discrimination* once German protection was removed. Protests were lodged with
international organizations but ignored. Germany took back possession of these traditionally and
historically German regions of Silesia in 1939, and this marked the beginning of new hostilities.
|*Approximately 58,000 ethnic Germans in Poland were reported as dead or missing by 1940. When
the first edition of government documents went to press on November 17,1939, 5,437 cases of
murder against men, women and children of the German minority in Poland had been reported.
Between that date and February 1, 1940, the number of identified victims mounted to 12,857 and in
addition to these victims, more than 45,000 persons were missing without a trace. The atrocities
included murder, beatings, rape, robbery and arson.
|Old German Silesia