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Language(s): Silesian, Polish,
German, Czech
Time zone: CET (UTC+1)

Silesia (Czech: Slezsko; German: ; Latin: Silesia; Polish: Śląsk; Silesian: Ślonsk / Ślůnsk) is a historical region in central Europe. Most of it is now within the borders of Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic and Germany. Silesia is located along the upper and middle Oder River, upper Vistula River, and along the Sudetes, Carpathian (Silesian Beskids) mountain range. The largest cities of Silesia are Wrocław and Katowice.

Silesia is situated entirely in territory named by Tacitus in A.D. 98 Magna Germania. Slavic people arrived to this territory around the 6th century. It became the territory of Greater Moravia and Bohemia. Rulers of Bohemia received ducal authority by pledging allegiance to Emperor Otto I in 950 AD. With the establishment of the Piasts shortly thereafter, Boleslaw I Chrobry conquered Silesia among many other territories.

In the Middle Ages, Silesia was divided between many independent duchies ruled by a cadet branch of the Piast dynasty. It subsequently became a possession of the Bohemian crown under the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century, and passed with that crown to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. The Duchy of Crossen was inherited by Brandenburg in 1476 and, with the renouncement by Emperor Ferdinand I in 1538, it became an integral part of Brandenburg.

In 1742, most of Silesia was seized by King Frederick the Great of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. This part of Silesia constituted the Province of Silesia (later the Prussian provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia) until 1945, when most of the German part of Silesia was seized by the Soviets and transferred to Poland after World War II. Austrian Silesia, the small portion of Silesia retained by Austria after the Silesian Wars, is now within the borders of the Czech Republic.


[edit] Administration

Most of Silesia lies within modern Poland, whose part is divided within the following voivodeships (provinces):

The Opole and Silesian Voivodeships are called Upper Silesia. The small portion in the Czech Republic known as Czech Silesia forms, with the northern part of Moravia, the Moravian-Silesian Region of that country, while the remainder forms a small part of the Olomouc Region.

Traditionally, Silesia was bounded by the Kwisa and Bobr rivers, while the territory west of the Kwisa was Upper Lusatia (earlier Milsko). However, because part of it was included in the Prussian Province of Lower Silesia, in Germany the Niederschlesischer Oberlausitzkreis and Hoyerswerda are considered parts of Silesia. Those districts, along with the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, make up the geographic region of Lower Silesia.

[edit] Etymology

One theory claims that the name Silesia is derived from the Silingi, who were most likely a Vandalic (East Germanic) people who claimedly lived south of the Baltic Sea along the Elbe, Oder, and Vistula Rivers in the 2nd century. When the Silingi moved from the area during the Migration Period, they left remnants of their society behind.

The most evident remnants are in the names of places, which were imposed (in Slavic form) by the new inhabitants, who were in fact Slavic (Polish: Śląsk; Old Polish: Śląžsk [-o]; Old Slavic: *Sьlьąžьskъ [<*sǐlęgǐskǔ], from Old Vandalic *Siling-isk [land]). These people became associated with the place, and were thenceforth known as Silesians (using a Latinized form of the Polish name, Ślężanie), even though they had little in common with the original Silingi. Archeological finds from the 7th and 8th centuries have also uncovered former largely populated areas, protected by a dense system of fortifications from the west and south; the lack of such systems from the north or east supports the notion that Silesia was populated by early Slavic tribes from the 5th to 13th centuries. Because Goths, another East Germanic group, settled in eastern Silesia while Slavic Wends lived in western Silesia during that time, the fortifications do not support any nationalistic theory.

The other theory claims, that the name Silesia cames from the name of the river Ślęza. The name has old roots.

[edit] History

[edit] Early people

Silesia was inhabited by various people that belonged to changing archeological cultures in the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages.

The first written sources about Silesia came down from the Egyptian Claudius Ptolemaeus (Magna Germania) and the Roman Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (Germania). According to Tacitus, the 1st century Silesia was inhabited by a multi-ethnic league dominated by the Lugii, an East Germanic tribe. The Silingi were also part of this federation, and most likely a Vandalic people (Germanic) that lived south of the Baltic Sea in the Elbe, Oder, and Vistula river areas. Also, other East Germanic tribes inhabited the scarcely populated region.

[edit] Middle Ages

After 500 the Great Migration had induced the bulk of the original East Germanic tribes to leave Silesia and wander through Southern Europe, while from Asia for centuries groups of people came into eastern Germania and Slavic tribes began to appear and spread including the Silesian lands.

Early documents mention a couple of mostly (postulated) Slavic tribes most probably living in Silesia. The Bavarian Geographer (ca. 845) specifies the following peoples: the Slenzanie, Dzhadoshanie, Opolanie, Lupiglaa, and Golenshitse. A document of the Bishopric of Prague (1086) also mentions the Zlasane, Trebovyane, Poborane, and Dedositze.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the territory later called Silesia was part of Great Moravia, Moravia, and then Bohemia in the neighbouring area within today's Czech Republic to the south. Ca. 990, some parts of Silesia were conquered and annexed into the newly-created Polish state by Duke Mieszko I (see map), although some historians give this date as 999 and the rule of Duke Boleslaus I. During Poland's fragmentation (1138–1320) into duchies ruled by different branches of the Piast dynasty, Silesia was ruled by descendants of the former royal family.

In 1146, High Duke Władysław II acknowledged the overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire over Poland, but was driven into exile. In 1163 his two sons took possession of Silesia with Imperial backing, dividing the land between them as dukes of Lower and Upper Silesia. They created two main Piast lines in Silesia, Wrocławska (of Wrocław, formerly Breslau, Germany) and Opolsko-Raciborska (of Opole and Racibórz (formerly Oppeln and Ratibor, respectively). The policy of subdivision continued under their successors, with Silesia being divided into 16 principalities by the 1390s.

In 1241 after raiding Lesser Poland, the Mongols invaded Silesia and caused widespread panic and mass flight. They looted much of the region, but abandoned their siege of the castle of Wrocław, supposedly after being fended off by Blessed Cheslav's "miraculous fireball." They then annihilated the combined Polish and German forces at the Battle of Legnica, which took place at Legnickie Pole (Wahlstatt) near modern Legnica (formerly Liegnitz, Germany). Upon the death of Ögedei Khan, the Mongols chose not to press forward further into Europe, but returned east to participate in the election of a new Grand Khan.

The ruling Silesian lords decided to rebuild their cities according to the latest administrative ideas. They founded or rebuilt some 160 cities and 1,500 towns and introduced the codified German city law (Magdeburg law and Środa Śląska law) in place of the older, customary Slavic and Polish laws. They also made up for the recent population loss by inviting new settlers, mostly German and Dutch colonists from the Holy Roman Empire. Since the end of the 13th century or beginning of the 14th, Silesian dukes invited many German settlers to improve their duchies. Germans settled mostly in cities, as did Jews and some Czechs. In the countryside, especially in Upper Silesia, people of Polish origins still predominated. This policy of inviting Germans to colonize and cultivate the barren lands, and the assimilation of the ruling classes and the German and Slavic inhabitants, gave reason to Polish and German nationalists for ideological tensions between both nations in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

In the second half of the 13th century, various knightly orders settled in Silesia — the Knights of the Red Star were the first, soon followed by the Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights.

[edit] Silesian duchies

Many Piast dukes tried to reincorporate Silesia into the Polish kingdom and reunite Poland during the time of divisions. The first significant attempts were made by Duke Henryk IV Probus of Silesia, but he died in 1290 before realizing his goal. Duke Przemysł II of Greater Poland united two of the original provinces and was crowned in 1295, but was murdered in 1296. According to his will Greater Poland was supposed to be inherited by Duke Henryk Głogowski (of Głogów)who also aspired to unite Poland and even claimed the title Duke of Poland. However, most nobles of Greater Poland supported another candidate from the Kuyavian line of Piasts, Duke Władysław I the Elbow-high. Władysław eventually won the struggle because of his broader support. In the meantime, King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia decided to extend his rule and crowned himself King of Poland in 1302. The next half century was rife with wars between Władysław (later his son Casimir III the Great) and a coalition of Bohemians, Brandenburgers and Teutonic Knights trying to divide Poland. During this time most Silesian dukes, despite their ties with Poland, ruled small realms that were unable to unite with Poland and thus fell under the influence of neighboring Bohemia.

In 1335 Duke Henry VI of Breslau and the Upper Silesian dukes recognized the overlordship of King John I of Bohemia, while in 1348 King Casimir III of Poland was forced to accept Bohemian control of most of Silesia. Over the following centuries the lines of the Piast dukes of Silesia died out and were inherited by the Bohemian crown:

Although Fryderyk Wilhelm, the last male Piast Duke of Cieszyn died in 1625, rule of the duchy passed to his sister Elżbieta Lukrecja until her death in 1653.

The inheritance of the Silesian duchies by Bohemia incorporated the region into the Holy Roman Empire. Under Emperor Charles IV, Silesia and especially Breslau gained greatly in importance, as many great buildings and large Gothic churches were built. The region became increasingly Germanized through the arrival of more German settlers and the assimilation of local rulers and peasants.

Between 1425 and 1435, devastation was caused by the Hussite Wars in Bohemia. The Hussites turned against the German population, and some regions, especially Upper Silesia, became partly Slavic-speaking again. Despite the widespread nature of the conflagration, Silesia remained largely Catholic, excluding Cieszyn Silesia where Hussite ideas became popular.

Although part of the Holy Roman Empire, Silesia continued to have strong economic ties, especially through the Jewish merchants in the cities, with neighbouring Poland during the Renaissance period and beyond.

[edit] Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century took an early hold in Silesia, and most inhabitants became Lutheran. Many Reformation pastors contributed to developing and reemphasizing Slavic culture and language in Silesia.

After the death of King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia in 1526, Ferdinand I of the Habsburg dynasty was elected King of Bohemia. In the same year he made the formerly elected Bohemian crown an inherited possession of the Habsburg dynasty. In 1537 the Piast Duke Frederick II of Brzeg/Brieg concluded a treaty with Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, whereby the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg would inherit the duchy upon the extinction of the Piasts, but the treaty was rejected by Ferdinand.

The religious conflicts and wars of the Reformation and Counter Reformation in the 17th century led many Silesian Protestants to seek refuge in the then-tolerant Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Thousands settled in the province of Greater Poland, under the protection of powerful Protestant magnates like Rafał Leszczyński. Silesian members of the Czech Brethren, under the leadership of Comenius, settled in Leszno. Protestant Silesians often circumvented restrictive laws by building their churches on the Polish side of the border.

[edit] Thirty Years' War

The second "Defenestration of Prague" in 1618 sparked the Thirty Years' War, caused by King Ferdinand II's attempts to restore Catholicism and stamp out Protestantism with Bohemia.

Although Ferdinand requested assistance from the mostly Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Polish szlachta sympathized with the Bohemian and Hungarian nobility despite their religious differences and refused King Sigismund III Vasa's attempt to assist the Habsburgs. Finally, Sigismund decided to help the Habsburgs by sending an unemployed mercenary group called the Lisowczycy in late 1619, hoping to regain parts of Silesia in exchange. The Lisowczycy's support would prove decisive during the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. However, as the Habsburgs' situation improved, Emperor Ferdinand II did not agree to any concessions in Silesia, nor did he help in Poland's war against the Ottoman Empire, and the Polish kings never received anything except a vague set of promises and several brides to keep them favourably inclined to the Habsburg dynasty.

After the end of the Thirty Years' War with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the Habsburgs greatly encouraged Catholicism and succeeded in reconverting to Catholicism about 60% of the population of Silesia. By 1675 the last Silesian Piast rulers had died out.

[edit] Kingdom of Prussia

In 1740, the annexation of Silesia by King Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia was welcomed by many Silesians, not only by Protestants or Germans. Frederick based his claims on the Treaty of Brieg and began the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). By war's end, the Kingdom of Prussia had conquered almost all of Silesia, while some parts of Silesia in the extreme southeast, like the Duchy of Cieszyn and Duchy of Opava, remained possessions of the Habsburg Monarchy. The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) confirmed Prussian control over most of Silesia, and the Prussian Province of Silesia became one of the most loyal provinces of Prussia. In 1815 the area around Görlitz, formerly part of Saxony, was incorporated into the province after the Napoleonic Wars. By this time German had become the predominant language in Lower Silesia, while German-influenced Polish and Czech were used in most of the countryside. German was the most common language in most Silesian cities.

[edit] Silesia in Germany and Austria

Imperial German Silesia 1905
Imperial German Silesia 1905

As a Prussian province, Silesia became part of the German Empire during the unification of Germany in 1871. There was considerable industrialization in Upper Silesia, and many people moved there at that time. The overwhelming majority of the population of Lower Silesia was by then German-speaking and many were Lutheran, including the capital Breslau. There were areas such as the District of Oppeln (then Regierungsbezirk Oppeln) and rural parts of Upper Silesia, however, where a larger portion or even majority of the population was Slavic-speaking and Roman Catholic. In Silesia as a whole, ethnic Poles comprised about 30% of the population, but most of them lived around Katowice in the southeast of Upper Silesia. Many people from Poland moved into Germany, coming through Silesia, often going to Berlin during Industrialisation. and particularly to get away from Russian Polish territory. The installation of trains made mass movements possible and there were times, that trains would not stop in the eastern parts of Germany in order to curb the massive onslaught of people moving in from the east. The Kulturkampf set Catholics in opposition to the government and sparked a Polish revival, much of it fostered by Poles from outside of Germany, in the Upper Silesian parts of the province. The first conference of Hovevei Zion groups took place in Katowice in 1884.

At the same time, the areas of Ostrava and Karvina in Austrian Silesia became increasingly industrialized. Most of the Polish-speaking people there, however, were Slavic Lutherans in contrast to the German-speaking Catholic Habsburg dynasty ruling Austria-Hungary.

In the Treaty of Versailles after the defeat of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, it was decided that the population of Upper Silesia should hold a plebiscite in order to determine the future of the province, with the exception of a 333 km² area around Hlučín (Hultschiner Ländchen), which was granted to Czechoslovakia in 1920 despite having a German majority. The plebiscite, organised by the League of Nations, was held in 1921. In Cieszyn Silesia firstly was a deal between Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego and Národním Výborem pro Slezsko about partition past lands of the Duchy of Cieszyn according to ethnic lines. However, that deal was not approved by the Czechoslovak government in Prague. On 23 January 1919, Czechoslovakia attacked the lands of Cieszyn Silesia and stopped on 30 January 1919 on the Vistula River near Skoczów. The planned plebiscite was not organised and the division of Cieszyn Silesia was decided on 28 July 1920 by the Ambassadors' Council at the Treaty of Versailles, which instituted the present-day border between Poland and the Czech Republic.

[edit] Interwar period

After the referendum, there were three Silesian Insurrections instigated by Polish nationalists, as a result of which the League of Nations decided that the province should be split again and that the eastern-most Upper Silesian areas, even though a majority there had voted to remain inside Germany, should become an autonomous area within Poland organised as the Silesian Voivodeship (wojewodztwo Śląskie). One of the central political figures that drive for these changes was Wojciech Korfanty.

The Silesian Uprisings 1919-1921:

The major part of Silesia, remaining in Germany, was reorganised into the two provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. In Silesia the synagogues in Breslau and in many other cities were destroyed during the Kristallnacht. In October 1938, Cieszyn Silesia (the disputed area west of the Olza river, also called Zaolzie - 906 km² with 258,000 inhabitants), was retaken by Poland from Czechoslovakia, in accord with the Munich Agreement that surrendered Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany.

[edit] World War II

Nazi Germany retook possession of these parts of Silesia along with Sosnowiec (Sosnowitz), Będzin (Bendzin, Bendsburg), Chrzanów (Krenau), and Zawiercie (Warthenau) counties and parts of Olkusz (Ilkenau) and Zywiec (Saybusch) counties in 1939, when the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II. The local German populations frequently welcomed the Wehrmacht. In 1940 the Germans started to construct the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was later used as a death camp during the Holocaust. The Groß-Rosen concentration camp, which had subcamps in many Silesian cities, was also constructed in 1940. The Riese Project was later implemented, during which thousands of prisoners died.

[edit] Silesia after WWII

In 1945, all of Silesia was occupied by the Soviet Red Army and Polish-Communist Army. By then a large portion of the German population had fled or were evacuated from Silesia out of fear of revenge by Soviet soldiers, but many returned after the German capitulation. Under the terms of the agreements at the Yalta Conference of 1944 and the Potsdam Agreement of 1945, German Silesia east of the rivers Oder and Lusatian Neisse Rivers was transferred to Poland (see Oder-Neisse line). Most of the remaining Silesian Germans, who before World War II amounted to about four million, were forcibly expelled, some of them imprisoned in labour camps, eg. Łambinowice and Zgoda labour camp. More than 30,000 Silesian men (of both German and Polish roots) were deported to Soviet mines, the majority of whom never returned. Others emigrated from Silesia in the years after the war (see German exodus from Eastern Europe).

The industry of Silesia was rebuilt after the war and the region was repopulated by Poles, many of whom had themselves been expelled from eastern Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union. Today, more than 20% of the entire population of Poland lives in Silesia, but many families do not have Silesian ancestry.

A small German speaking remnant exists in the region around Opole (Oppeln), as well as some Slavic speaking and bilingual remnants of the pre-1945 population of Upper Silesia.

[edit] Natural resources

Silesia is a resource-rich and populous region. Coal and iron are both abundant, and a substantial manufacturing industry is present. In post-communist times, however, the outdated nature of many of the facilites has led to environmental problems. The region also has a thriving agricultural sector, which produces mainly grains, potatoes, and sugar beets.

[edit] Demographics

Modern Silesia is inhabited mostly by Poles and Silesians, but also by minorities of Germans, Czechs, and Moravians. The last Polish census of 2002 showed that the Slavic Silesians are the largest ethnic minority in Poland, Germans being the second — both groups are located mostly in Upper Silesia. The Czech part of Silesia is inhabited by Czechs, Moravians, and Poles.

Before the Second World War, Silesia was inhabited by Germans, Poles, and Czechs. In 1905, a census showed that 75% of the population was German and 25% Polish. The vast majority of German Silesians fled or were expelled from Silesia during and after World War II. Most ethnic German Silesians today live in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, many of them working as miners in the Ruhr area, like their ancestors did in the Silesian mines. In order to smooth their integration into West German society after 1945, they were organized into officially recognized organisations, like the Landsmannschaft Schlesien, financed from the federal German budget. One of its most notable but controversial spokesmen was the CDU politician Herbert Hupka. The prevailing public opinion in Germany is that these organisations will achieve reconciliation with the Polish Silesians, which is gradually occurring. Many of the pre-war Germanised Slavic Silesians living in Upper Silesia have remained culturally bound to and have sought work in the Federal Republic of Germany after 1990, along with their ethnic German Silesian countrymen. Examples of mixed Polish-German Silesians include Miroslav Klose; fellow teammate Lukas Podolski is also Silesian. Both are stars of the German national football team.

[edit] Cities in Silesia

The following table lists cities in Silesia with a population greater than 100,000 (2006):

Local name German name Population Area Administrative Nation
Wrocław Breslau 635 932 293 km² Lower Silesian V.
Katowice Kattowitz 317 220 165 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Ostrava Ostrau 309 531 214 km² Moravian-Silesian R.
Gliwice Gleiwitz 199 451 134 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Bytom Beuthen 187 943 69 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Zabrze Hindenburg 191 247 80 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Bielsko-Biała Bielitz 176 864 125 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Ruda Śląska Ruda 146 658 78 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Rybnik Rybnik 141 580 148 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Tychy Tichau 131 153 82 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Opole Oppeln 128 268 97 km² Opole Voivodeship
Wałbrzych Waldenburg 126 465 85 km² Lower Silesian V.
Zielona Góra Grünberg 118 221 58 km² Lubusz Voivodeship
Chorzów Königshütte 114 686 33 km² Silesian Voivodeship
Legnica Liegnitz 105 750 56 km² Lower Silesian V.

[edit] See also

[edit] Other essential reading

  • Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st Series, volume XI, Upper Silesia, Poland, and the Baltic States, January 1920-March 1921, edited by Rohan Butler, MA, J.P.T.Bury, MA, & M.E.Lambert, MA, Her Majesty's Stationary Office (HMSO), London, 1961 (amended edition 1974), ISBN 0-11-591511-7*
  • Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st Series, volume XVI, Upper Silesia, March 1921 - November 1922, edited by W.N.Medlicott, MA, D.Lit., Douglas Dakin, MA, PhD, & M.E.Lambert, MA, HMSO, London, 1968.

[edit] External links

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