|Some Old German Lands: Silesia and Sudetenland
|German Silesia, part of the German Empire, was bounded by Brandenburg, Posen, Russian Poland,
Galicia, Austrian Silesia, Moravia, Bohemia and Saxony. Besides the bulk of the old duchy of Silesia,
it comprised Glatz, a fragment of the Neumark and. later, part of Upper Lusatia. The province was
the largest in Prussia, was divided into three governmental districts, those of Liegnitz and Breslau
comprising lower Silesia, and of Oppeln taking in the greater part of mountainous Silesia. 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 German estates and German castles
The original population of Silesia was probably Celtic and about the year 1138 Silesia was first
transferred to the Germans. 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. The whole of sparsely populated rural Silesia was covered with German
settlements by the 12th century. 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 with Breslau, above, growing into 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 brought no benefit, but 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 repudiated the new suzerain, and before he
could enforce his claims he was ousted by Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus.
Through confiscations of the nobles' lands, 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 Corninus' 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. 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, who had 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 trade between Silesia and Austria,
but the country remained very poor in the earlier part of the 18th century.
In 1740, after Silesia went under Prussian rule, and despite the Seven Years War, Friedrich the Great
brilliantly managed to bring Silesia back to normalcy. He made yearly visits to the country and kept
himself in touch with it, enacting numerous political reforms including strict Prussian enforcement of
religious toleration, bringing peace. By judicious regulations he brought about a dramatic increase of
Silesia's growth. He revived the mining industry and introduced Merino sheep to boost weaving
operations. Under Prussia, Silesia also acquired its first public schools. Most notably, he introduced
the staple foods of potatoes and turnips so that people would no longer starve.
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 the kingdom of Saxony. "Austrian Silesia" was a duchy and the smallest
province of Austria and all that was left of Austria's part of the country after the Seven Years War. It
formed, with Moravia, a single province until 1849, when it was created into a separate duchy.
Silesia was German and only 25% Polish at the time of World War One.
|"Sudeten" refers to a mountain range 200 miles long and 20 to 40 miles wide, covering the north of
Bohemia and Moravia as well as part of Sudeten Silesia. Major German settlement in the Sudeten
began during the reign of King Premysl Otakar II in the 13th century when the area was largely
uninhabited and heavily forested, but Germans had lived in modern day "Czech" territory well
before Slavic tribes arrived around 500 AD.
Bohemia itself owed its name to the Celtic "Boii", a people which occupied the country in prehistoric
times. About 78 B.C. the land was occupied by Germanic tribes, and some years after the birth of
Christ, the Marcomanni King Marbod united the German tribes as far as the North Sea and the Baltic
to form a great confederation which menaced the Roman Empire. When these tribes left Bohemia
and Moravia in the sixth century, a Slavonic people came in from the northeast which was soon to
appear in history under the general name of Cechen (Czechs).
Bohemia went back and forth between Celts, Germans, Hungarians and various Slavs, but German
and Latin remained the prevalent language of the aristocracy in south Bohemia and Moravia, as well
as in parts of north Moravia and northeast Bohemia from the 11th century, even among the Royal
house of the Přemyslid dynasty. Around 1306, Bohemia came under the sway of John of
Luxembourg (1310-46). The Bohemian rulers of the Luxembourg line, from Karl I, of Bohemia
(Emperor, Karl IV) until the extinction of the dynasty at the death of Sigismund (1437), were all
German emperors. Bohemia reached the height of its prosperity under the Emperor Karl IV who
conquered Silesia and also occupied the Mark of Brandenburg and the Upper Palatinate for a time .
In 1348, Karl founded the University of Prague, the first university on German soil.
By his Golden Bull, Karl IV gave Bohemia the highest secular electoral dignity of the Holy Roman
Empire.After 1437, Bohemia was ruled by kings of various lines until the death of King Ludwig II of
Bohemia and Hungary who fell in the battle of Mohácz (1526). After this battle, both Bohemia and
Hungary came into the possession of Ferdinand I of Habsburg who had married the sister of Ludwig
II. and the land became part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
When the Czech protestant aristocracy was defeated in the Thirty Years War, German language and
culture remained dominant for three centuries under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were large
German speaking populations in Prague, Brünn and other areas. Towns with German majorities
included Karlsbad, Krumau, Znaim and Reichenberg. The Germans maintained their language and
culture for centuries, becoming a third of the population of Bohemia and Moravia.
In 1860 Prague lost its German majority which remained since the middle ages. Bohemia had a
population of 6,318,697 in December of 1900. It was one of the most thickly settled provinces of the
Empire, with Czechs forming 63 percent of the population and Germans 36 per cent.
The Germans lived chiefly near the boundaries of the country especially near the northern and
northwestern boundaries. Today there is barely a trace of their existence. They once spoke in
dialects which are now extinct, Saxon in north Bohemia, Frankish-Egerlandish in west Bohemia,
Silesian German in Silesia and north Moravia, and Bavarian-Austrian in south Bohemia and Moravia.
Czech and German-speaking inhabitants generally lived peacefully together for centuries.