Upper Silesia

(Oberschlesien)
   Settled in the sixth century by Slavic tribes, the region of central Europe known as Silesia was an integral part of Poland* by the eleventh century. In the early thirteenth century, when the Polish duchy of Silesia (Slask) was dissolving into tiny principalities, colonization was invited into the area. Although it was nominally under Polish rule, the region was thoroughly Germanized when it became part of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourteenth century. In 1742 it was ceded to Frederick the Great of Prussia.*
   At the southeastern corner of Silesia—that is, in the province of Upper Si-lesia—the Versailles Treaty* spawned a border dispute that inflamed Polish-German relations in the interwar era. Although most of Silesia, both Upper and Lower, was agricultural and forested lowland, textile and glass industries marked the Sudetes mountain range of the south (on the Czechoslovak border). But the southeastern part of Upper Silesia, centered on Kattowitz, was densely indus-trialized and comparable in significance to the Ruhr. Originally resolved to award all of Upper Silesia to Poland, the Allies, in deference to national self-determination, ordered a plebiscite in the province in the final treaty. Bitterly disappointed, Polish irregulars tried to seize the entire province in August 1919; their effort was defeated by Freikorps* units. Yet when the treaty took effect on 10 January 1920, Germany relinquished the province as a plebiscite zone.
   Held on 20 March 1921, the plebiscite aimed to determine if part or all of Upper Silesia should be given to Poland. With 707,122 votes cast for Germany and 433,514 for Poland, it was another painful defeat for the Poles; only a far eastern piece of Upper Silesia voted for transfer. Ignoring the result, Polish Commissioner Wojciech Korfanty reorganized Polish irregulars and crossed into Upper Silesia on 3 May 1921. But upon orders from Hans von Seeckt,* Frei-korps* units regrouped. On 23 May 1921 the Germans won a victory at a Franciscan monastery in Annaberg,* thereby ending the Polish incursion. Chan-cellor Joseph Wirth,* who took office amidst the crisis, approved Seeckt's ac-tion. However, to the dismay of the Germans, the Allies used the plebiscite to separate a major portion of the province from Germany. Upper Silesia's impor-tant industrial region—including fifty of sixty-four coal mines and twenty-two of thirty-seven blast furnaces—was given to Poland. The province's complicated division was sanctioned by the equally complex German-Polish Convention of 15 May 1922.
   Throughout the remainder of the Weimar era the Germans in Polish Silesia focused international attention on Polish repression. Represented by the Deutscher Volksbund, they deluged the League of Nations with petitions about largely trivial complaints. From 1930, however, Jozef Pilsudski's government periodically persecuted Silesia's Germans; the period 19-26 October 1930, for example, was declared "Anti-German Week." Although Polish Silesia was an-nexed to Germany in 1939, both Lower and Upper Silesia were awarded to Poland by the 1945 Potsdam Conference.
   REFERENCES:Bessel, "Eastern Germany," Political Violence; Campbell, "Struggle for Upper Silesia"; Harold Gordon, Reichswehr; Tooley, "German Political Violence"; Von Riekhoff, German-Polish Relations.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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