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Oder-Neisse line

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This article is part
of the series:
Territorial changes of Poland
in the 20th century
History of Poland
Curzon Line
Oder-Neisse line
Kresy Wschodnie
Kresy Zachodnie
Recovered Territories
Historical Eastern Germany
See also
History of Poland

The Oder-Neisse line (German: Oder-Neiße-Linie, Polish: Granica na Odrze i Nysie Łużyckiej) marked the border between German Democratic Republic and Poland between 1950 and 1990. Since 1990, it has marked the border between re-unified Germany and Poland.

The line is comprised primarily of the rivers Oder and Lusatian Neisse, but it deviates west of the Oder to include the seaport cities of Szczecin and Świnoujście within Poland.


[edit] History of the line

Before World War II, Poland's western border with Germany had been fixed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. It generally ran along the historic borders of Great Poland, but with certain adjustments that were intended to reasonably reflect the ethnic compositions of small areas beyond the traditional provincial borders. However, eastern Pomerania, Upper Silesia and Masuria had been divided, leaving large areas populated by rural Slavic population (often Germanized) on the German side and large German urban populations on the Polish side[citation needed]. Moreover, the border was one of the longest possible borders and it left Germany divided into two portions by the Polish Corridor and the independent Free City of Danzig.

At the end of World War II in 1945, under the territorial changes demanded by the Soviet Union, the border was moved westward deep into territory formerly part of the German state, to the so-called Oder-Neisse line, which placed almost all of Silesia, more than half of Pomerania, the eastern portion Brandenburg and a small area of Saxony within Poland (See: Historical eastern Germany). Polish territory included also the area of Danzig/Gdańsk and the southern two-thirds of East Prussia, Masuria and Warmia. The territorial changes were followed by large-scale population transfers, including the expulsion of nearly all the ethnic Germans from the now Polish and Soviet Kaliningrad territory and the return to Poland of the Polish displaced persons then inside Allied occupied Germany. In addition to this, the Polish population from the eastern half of the former Poland, now annexed by the Soviet Union, was mostly expelled and resettled in the former German territories that now constituted western Poland. Poles and Germans were not the only ethnic groups to be expelled from their traditional homelands by Joseph Stalin's territorial demands.

Resentment and the difficulty accepting the arbitrarily defined post-war Polish-German borders were exacerbated by: the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 that enlarged the country beyond even the 1918 German frontiers; the Soviet insistence on retaining Polish areas seized by Stalin early in the war east of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Line and the Curzon Line, which had been agreed to at the Yalta Conference, and the brutal evacuation of the 800,000 people remaining in the ruins of Warsaw after the Warsaw Uprising. Among the Poles, there were not many who opposed Poland's territorial gains from Germany on a humanitarian basis, since they were perceived as justice for starting the war, genocide conducted by the German state and territorial losses of Poland as well as support that some of the German minority had given to the German Reich during its invasion and occupation of Poland, and the active role these individuals played in persecution and mass murder of Poles [1]. But several groups[citation needed] did consider the territorial changes and the associated German expulsions to be excessive and a humanitarian disaster.

[edit] Allies decide Polish border

The final decision to move Poland's boundary westward was made by the US, Britain and the Soviet Union at the Yalta Conference, shortly before the end of the war. The precise location of the border was left open; the western Allies also accepted in general the principle of the Oder River as the future western border of Poland and of population transfer as the way to prevent future border disputes. The open question was whether the border should follow the eastern or western Neisse rivers, and whether Stettin, the traditional seaport of Berlin, should remain German or be included in Poland. The western Allies sought to place the border on the eastern Neisse, but Stalin refused to budge. Suggestions of the Bóbr/ Bober river were also brushed aside by the Soviets.

Germany originally was to retain Szczecin/Stettin, while the Poles were to annex East Prussia with Königsberg, as the Polish government had in fact demanded at the start of World War II in 1939, due to East Prussia's strategic position that undermined defence of Poland. Other territorial changes proposed by Polish government were the inclusion of Silesian region of Opole/Oppeln, Gdańsk/Danzig, straightening the border in Western Pomerania and areas near Bytów/Bütow and Lębork/Lauenburg [1]. Most of those areas had large Polish population [2] Eventually, however, Stalin decided that he wanted Königsberg in East Prussia as a year-round warm water port for the Soviet Navy and argued that the Poles should receive Stettin instead. The pre-war Polish government in exile had little to say in these decisions, but insisted on retaining the historic Polish city of Lwów (now L'viv) in Galicia. Stalin refused to give it up and instead offered Lower Silesia with Breslau/Wrocław). (Incidentally many people from Lwów would later, after 1947, be moved to populate Wrocław/Breslau and Gdańsk/Danzig). It should be also noted that the border isn't the most far reaching territorial change that was proposed. There were plans to include many more areas of medieval Slavic settlement that were settled by German colonists in medieval German east colonisation, which would put the Polish border further West, quite near to the German capital city of Berlin, so that the Polish state could, as the Slavic nationalists wanted to see it[citation needed], include the small minority population of Slavic Sorbs, who lived near Cottbus and Bautzen.[3]

The Oder-Neisse Line (click to enlarge)
The Oder-Neisse Line (click to enlarge)

At the Potsdam Conference the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union placed the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line as formally under Polish administrative control. The Poles came to refer to those territories as the Regained Territories, due to fact that these areas had once been in the possession of the Piast dynasty of Polish kings. It was anticipated that a final peace treaty would follow shortly and either confirm this border or determine whatever alterations might be agreed upon. It was also decided that all Germans remaining in the new and old Polish territory should be expelled, to prevent any claims of German minority rights. The final agreements in effect compensated Poland for 187,000 km² located east of the Curzon line lost to the Soviets with 112,000 km² of former German territories. Although of lower soil quality, the land Poland gained had been generally well developed before 1939 and often rich in natural resources. However, the areas in 1945 were devastated and subsequently became deindustrialized as the result of Soviet policy of removing industrial machinery to the USSR. The former German territories put under Polish control were also more urbanized than the 1920-1939 eastern Poland; it must also be noted, that the eastern Polish pre-1939 territories enjoyed cultural, religious and language pluralism while Germans succeeded to suppress local cultures of mostly Slavic background in their Eastern provinces. Much of that assimilation process happened during Nazi rule through Hitlerjugend and other Nazi organizations. The northeastern third of East Prussia, later renamed the Kaliningrad Oblast, was directly annexed by the Soviet Union and remains part of the Russian Federation to this day.

One of the reasons for the final version of the border was the fact that it was the shortest possible border between Poland and Germany. It is only 472 km in length, because it stretches from the northernmost point of the Czech Republic to one of the southernmost points of the Baltic Sea in the Oder river estuary. The rights of the inhabitants of the formerly German territories, some of the people themselves originally of Slavic origin, were completely disregarded by the victorious powers and the Polish authorities, who sometimes also expelled Masurians, Slovincians, some Kashubians and Slavic Upper Silesians as "Germans".

It was Stalin who first insisted that Poland's western frontier be extended to the Oder at the Tehran Conference in late 1943. The Americans, however, were not interested in discussing any border changes at that time. [2] British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden wrote in his diary that "A difficulty is that the Americans are terrified of the subject which [Roosevelt advisor] Harry [Hopkins] called 'political dynamite' for their elections. But, as I told him, if we cannot get a solution, Polish-Russian relations six months from now, with Russian armies in Poland, will be infinitely worse and elections nearer." [3]

At the Yalta Conference, Poland was again discussed. President Roosevelt said that it would "make it easier for me at home" if Stalin were generous to Poland with respect to Poland's eastern frontiers. [4]. Winston Churchill said a Soviet concession on that point would be admired as "a gesture of magnanimity" and declared that, with respect to Poland's post-war government, the British would "never be content with a solution which did not leave Poland a free and independent state." [5] With respect to Poland's western frontiers, Stalin noted that the Polish Prime Minister in exile, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, had been pleased when Stalin had already told him Poland would be granted Szczecin/Stettin and the German territories east of the Western Neisse River. [6] Churchill objected to the Western Neisse frontier saying that "it would be a pity to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that it got indigestion." ([4]) He added that many British would be shocked if such large numbers of Germans (more than 11 million) were driven out of these areas, to which Stalin responded that "many Germans" had "already fled before the Red Army."([5]) Poland's western frontier was ultimately left to be decided at the final Potsdam Conference.

At Potsdam, Stalin argued for the Oder-Neisse line on the grounds that the Polish Government demanded this frontier and that there were no longer any Germans left east of this line, a claim which prompted Admiral William D. Leahy, US President Truman's Chief of Staff, to whisper "The Bolshies have killed them all," into US President Truman's ear. [7]. Later the Russians admitted that at least "a million Germans" (a number far too low) still remained in the area at that time. On July 24, 1945, several Polish leaders appeared at the conference to advance arguments for an Oder-Western Neisse frontier. Szczecin/Stettin's port was demanded for Eastern European exports. If Stettin were Polish, then "in view of the fact that the supply of water is found between the Oder and the Lausitzer Neisse, if the Oder's tributaries were controlled by someone else the river could be blocked." [8]

On July 25 both the US President and British Prime Minister stated that they could not tolerate Polish administration of part of one of the occupation zones (effectively making Poland a fifth occupying power after the UK, USA, France, and the USSR) and the expulsion of millions of German people from it into other areas. [9]Stalin responded that the Poles "were taking revenge for the injuries which the Germans had caused them in the course of centuries" [10].

On July 29, however, James Byrnes – who had become US Secretary of State earlier that month – advised the Soviets that the US was prepared to concede the area east of the Oder and the Nysa Kłodzka/Eastern (Glatzer) Neisse to Polish administration and not consider it part of the Soviet occupation zone, in return for a moderation of Soviet demands for reparations from the Western occupation zones. [11]. A Nysa Kłodzka/Glatzer Neiße boundary would have left the remaining Germany with roughly half of Silesia, excluding the city of Brzeg/Brieg. The Soviets insisted that the Poles would not accept this. The Polish representatives (and Stalin) were willing to concede a line following the Oder-Bober-Queiss (Kwisa) rivers through what is now Zagan and Luban, however even this small concession ultimately proved unnecessary since the next day US Secretary of State Byrnes told Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that the Americans would reluctantly concede the Western Neisse (Ibid., p. 480). Mr Byrnes's concession undermined the British position, and although British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin raised objections [12], the British eventually agreed with the American concession.

Winston Churchill was not present at the end of the Conference as the results of the British election had made it clear he had been defeated. Churchill later claimed that he would never have agreed to the Oder-Western Neisse line, and in his famous Iron Curtain speech declared that "The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place." [13]

[edit] Recognition of the border by Germany

The governments of communist German Democratic Republic and Poland signed the Treaty of Zgorzelec in 1950, recognizing the Oder-Neisse line, officially designated the "Border of Peace and Friendship" [6] In another treaty signed in 1989 between Poland and East Germany, the sea border was set and a dispute from 1985 came to an end.

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 reunified Germany. The offer was rejected by West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (Christian Democrat) for several reasons. In 1950 already, France declared the eastern borders of 1937 as applying and relevant to Germany, while the UK and the United States also condemned the Treaty of Zgorzelec between the GDR and Poland. Many believed that the GDR was not authorised to represent Germany as a whole.

In West Germany, where the majority of the 12 million displaced refugees from the countries of Eastern bloc had settled, the recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line as permanent was long regarded as unacceptable. In fact, West Germany as part of the Hallstein Doctrine did not recognize either communist Poland or Soviet-dominated East Germany. (Nevertheless, West Germany recognised Soviet Union and the annexation of the northern part of East Prussia by Soviets.)

Yet in 1963 Willy Brandt proclaimed "abnegation is betrayal". With the Evangelical Church in Germany in 1965, a major Organisation in West Germany discussed a possible recognition openly for the first time. The West German attitude changed with the policy of Ostpolitik led by Chancellor Willy Brandt (Social Democrat). In 1970 West Germany signed treaties with the Soviet Union (Treaty of Moscow) and Poland (Treaty of Warsaw) recognizing the Oder-Neisse line as a factual border of Poland. This had the effect of making family visits by the displaced eastern Germans to their lost homelands now more or less possible. Visits however were still very difficult and permanent re-settling in Poland remained unthinkable.

On November 14, 1990, after German reunification, the (extended) Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland signed a treaty confirming the border between them, as requested by the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany. Earlier, Germany had amended its constitution and abolished Article 23 of West Germany's Basic Law, the one used for reunification, which could have been used to claim the former German eastern territories as well. During this period Helmut Kohl the Chancellor of Germany refused initially to recognise the Polish Oder-Neiße border and serious diplomatic attempts had to be made in order to secure German agreement towards final settlement.[14] The 1990 Polish-German border agreement finalizing the Oder-Neisse line as the Polish-German border[15] came into force on January 16, 1992 together with a second one, a Treaty of Good Neighbourhood, signed on June 17, 1991, where the two countries among other things recognized basic political and cultural rights for both German and Polish minorities living on either side of the border. Approximately 150,000 ethnic Germans still reside in Poland, mainly in the Opole (Oppeln) Voivodship, with smaller presence in regions such as Lower Silesia and Masuria, and one and a half million Poles in Germany, both from recent migration as well as families living in Germany for centuries. Big number of these "Polish" immigrants were accepted as "legal" Germans who were descended from citizens of Germany according to the 1913 "blood-citizenship" law.

Despite the Treaty of Good Neighbourhood, and while Poland recognise many minority cultural and political rights of German minority, the German authorities claim that there is no Polish minority in Germany at all. But it must be recongnized that the German minority in Poland is a autochthon minority while the Polish minority in Germany is not (they mostly emigrated to Germany for economic or other reasons and settled all over the country — such different groups are nearly nowhere in the western world recognized in the same way). Autochthon minorities in Germany (like the Sorbs and the Danish people) have at least the same minority rights like such groups have in Poland. The German minority in Opole (Oppeln) region has been economically secured because of their German passports, which have allowed them for the last ten years to work freely in the European Union's Western European member states.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^
  2. ^ US State Department, Foreign Relations of the US: The Conference at Cairo and Tehran 1943, "Tripartite Dinner Meeting, 28 Nov 1943" pp. 509-14
  3. ^ Anthony Eden, The Reckoning (London, 1965) p. 427.
  4. ^ US Dept. of State, Foreign Relations of the US, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, Third Plenary Meeting 6 Feb 1945, Matthews Minutes, p. 77
  5. ^ Ibid., Bohlen Minutes, p. 669.
  6. ^ Llewellyn Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, (London, 1962) p. 299
  7. ^ Harry Truman, Year of Decisions, (New York, 1955) p. 296
  8. ^ US Dept of State, Foreign Relations of the US, The Conference of Berlin (Potsdam) 1945, vol. II pp. 1522-1524.
  9. ^ Ibid., pp. 381ff
  10. ^ Ibid., p. 384
  11. ^ Ibid., p. 1150
  12. ^ Ibid., p. 519
  13. ^ Churchill's Iron Curtain, On expulsion of ethnic Germans -
  14. ^ Peter H Merkl German Unification Sample Page 340
  15. ^ Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Poland on the confirmation of the frontier between them, 14 November 1990(PDF)
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