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Map of Upper Silesia, 1746

Upper Silesia (Czech: Horní Slezsko; German: Oberschlesien; Latin: Silesia Superior; Polish: Górny Śląsk; Silesian: Gůrny Ślůnsk[1]) is the southeastern part of the historical and geographical region of Silesia; Lower Silesia is to the northwest. Since the 9th century, Upper Silesia has been part of (chronologically) Greater Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Prussia, and later of unified German Reich. It is currently split between Poland (Opole and Silesian Voivodeships) and the Czech Republic (Czech Silesia, or the Silesian-Moravian Region).

Upper Silesia is situated in the Silesian highlands, between the upper Oder and upper Vistula rivers. The total population of the Upper Silesian Industry Area is 3,487,000.

Opole Silesia, Cieszyn Silesia, and Austrian Silesia are historical parts of Upper Silesia. The territory of Opole Silesia composes much of Opole Voivodeship.



19th century coat of arms of Upper Silesia.

At the time of Svatopluk I and King Arnulf of Carinthia in the ninth century, Silesia was a part of Greater Moravia and after its destruction in the early tenth century it was conquered by Bohemia. A number of earlier inhabitants of Silesia, the Silingi, remained throughout and they concentrated around the Zobten mountain and in a settlement named Niempsch (derived from a Slavic name for Germans).

Upper Silesia was soon conquered by the newly installed dukes of the Polans and for several hundred years was part of Poland. This fell apart and at the renewal of Poland under Casimir the Great, all of Silesia was specifically excluded as non-Polish land. In 1335 it came back under the rule of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Many towns were destroyed by the Mongols at the Battle of Legnica but rebuilt. By the 1300s influx of settlers to Upper Silesia stopped, because of the plague. Latin, Czech and German language were used for towns and cities and only in the 1550s with the Protestant Reformation did records with Polish names also appear. A large number of Silesians became Protestants, when all of Upper Silesia belonged to the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg-Ansbach. The Roman Catholic Holy Roman Emperors of the Habsburg dynasty forcibly reintroduced Catholicism, led by the Jesuits.

Lower Silesia and most of Upper Silesia became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1742 during the First Silesian War. A small part remained within the Habsburg-ruled Bohemian Crown as the Duchy of Upper and Lower Silesia, colloquially called Austrian Silesia.

In the 19th century Upper Silesia became an industrial area using its plentiful coal and iron ore.

In 1919 after World War I, the eastern part, which had majority of ethnic Poles, came under Polish rule as the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship, while the mostly German-speaking western part remained part of the German Reich as the Province of Upper Silesia. From 1919-1921 three Silesian Uprisings occurred among the Polish-speaking populace of Upper Silesia; the Battle of Annaberg occurred within the region in 1921. In the Upper Silesia plebiscite a vote of 60 to 40 percent voted against joining to Poland, with clear lines dividing Polish and German communities. The exact border, the maintenance of cross-border railway traffic and other necessary co-operations as well as equal rights for all inhabitants in both parts of Upper Silesia were fixed by the German-Polish Accord on East Silesia,[2] signed in Geneva on May 15, 1922. On June 20 Germany de facto ceded the eastern parts of Upper Silesia, becoming part of the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship of Poland.

After 1945 almost all of Upper Silesia the was not ceded to Poland in 1922 was transfered to this state. A majority of the German-speaking population was expelled in accordance with the decision of the victorious Allied powers at their 1945 meeting at Potsdam. This expulsion program also included German speaking inhabitants of Lower Silesia, eastern Pomerania, Gdańsk (Danzig), and East Prussia. These German expellees were transported to the present day Germany (including the former East Germany), and they were replaced with Poles, many from former Polish provinces taken over by the USSR in the east. A good many German-speaking Upper Silesians ended up being relocated in Bavaria. A small part of Upper Silesia stayed as part of Czechoslovakia as Czech Silesia.

The expulsions of German-speakers did not totally eliminate the presence of a population that considered itself German. Upper Silesia in 1945 had a considerable number of Roman Catholic mixed bilingual inhabitants that spoke both German and Polish dialects, and their Polish linguistic skills were solid enough for them to be allowed to remain in the area. With the fall of communism and Poland joining the European Union, there were enough of these remaining in Upper Silesia to allow for the recognition of a German minority by the Polish government.

Major cities and towns

(All in Poland unless otherwise indicated; population figures are for 1995)


  • H. Förster, B. Kortus (1989) "Social-Geographical Problems of the Cracow and Upper Silesia Agglomerations", Paderborn. (Bochumer Geographische Arbeiten No. 51)
  • Krzysztof Gwozdz (2000) "The Image of Upper Silesia in geography textbooks 1921-1998", in: Boleslaw Domanski (Ed.), Prace Geograficzne, No. 106, Institute of Geography of the Jagiellonian University Kraków. pp. 55-68
  • Rudolf Carl Virchow. "Report on the Typhus Epidemic in Upper Silesia." (1848) Am J Public Health 2006;96 2102-2105.

Excerpted from: Virchow RC. Collected Essays on Public Health and Epidemiology. Vol 1. Rather LJ, ed. Boston, Mass: Science History Publications; 1985:204–319.


  1. ^ This name is used on Silesian Wikipedia [1] and various Silesian websites:,,,
  2. ^ Cf. Deutsch-polnisches Abkommen über Ostschlesien (Genfer Abkommen)

See also

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

"UPPER. SILESIA - It was provided in 1919 by the Peace of Versailles (Art. 88) that the inhabitants of Upper Silesia (pop. in 1919, 2,280,902) should be called upon to decide by a plebiscite whether they would belong to Germany or Poland (see Peace Conference). It should be noted that for the purpose of the plebiscite the purely German districts of Falkenberg (pop. 37,526), Grotthau (pop. 40,610), Neisse (pop. 7,781), part of Neustadt (pop. 25,000) and Hultschin (pop. 45,552), situated in the northern and western parts of Upper Silesia and representing a total population of about 156,469, were excluded. Up to the day of the plebiscite the supreme authority in the plebiscitary area was to be vested in an Inter-Allied Commission, consisting of one representative of France, Great Britain and Italy respectively. In this commission France was represented by Gen. Lerond, England by Col. Percival, and Italy by Gen. de Marini. On Feb. 1 1920 Allied troops occupied the plebiscitary district. The local German officials were then subordinated to the Inter-Allied authorities. The German police (Sicherheitspolizei) was replaced by a special polling police (Abstimmungspolizei), which was composed half of German-speaking, half of Polish-speaking, Upper Silesians.

On the whole the collaboration of the Inter-Allied control and the German officials proved satisfactory; but various differences arose, such as that which led to a strike of judges in May 1920. Both the Poles (under Korfanty) and the Germans opened an active canvassing campaign; and under Polish pressure the Germans in the southern and eastern districts were subjected to oppressive treatment. On Aug. 19 1920 the Poles felt strong enough, indeed, to make an attempt to seize the country by force. On all sides bands of Poles, chiefly recruited from Congress Poland, usurped authority. A number of Germans were forcibly carried across the frontier into Poland, and many were killed. Several weeks elapsed before it was possible to quell this rising and restore order. In the autumn of 1920 there was an exchange of notes between Germany and the Entente relating to the manner in which the plebiscite should be taken. It had been suggested by the Entente that the non-resident Upper Silesians of the German Reich should vote outside Upper Silesia, at Cologne. Germany protested against this, and her protest was recognized as valid by the Entente. In Jan. 1921 the date of the plebiscite was fixed for March 20 1921. An immediate revival took place in the use of terrorism by the Poles, especially in the districts of Rybnik, Pless, Kattowitz and Beuthen. It reached its climax in the days preceding the plebiscite. Voters from other parts of the German Reich were frequently refused admission to 2 In comparing the strength of these organizations with those of other armies, it must be remembered that the United States army division was much stronger than the corresponding unit of other armies. It comprised two infantry brigades each of two 3-battalion regiments and one artillery brigade of two field and one medium artillery regiments besides other divisional troops.

the polls; sometimes they were maltreated and even in some instances murdered; and houses where outvoters were staying were set on fire. The day of the plebiscite passed, however, without disturbance except at a few places, such as Rybnik and Pless.

The day after the plebiscite the Polish excesses recommenced, and from that date onwards continued without interruption; nor was the Inter-Allied Commission able as a rule to prevent them. The poll showed 717,122 votes for Germany and 483,514 for Poland. In 664 districts there was a German, in 597 a Polish majority. Practically all the towns voted for Germany. There was, a Polish majority in the following administrative districtsRybnik, Pless, Beuthen, Tarnowitz and Gross-Strehlitz. The decision of the InterAllied Commission as to the allocation of the disputed regions to Germany or to Poland was delayed on account of differences which arose within the commission itself; the French representative, Lerond, who had from the first been accused of tacitly supporting the Poles, wished to allot the whole of southern and eastern Upper Silesia to them, while the English and Italian representatives wished to apportion the industrial region to Germany. Protracted diplomatic negotiations between Paris, London and Rome did not lead to any result. At the end of April a report became current that the Council of Ambassadors at Paris had determined to give only the districts of Rybnik and Pless to Poland. In consequence of this rumour the first days of May witnessed a new Polish insurrection which assumed far greater proportions than the former one. Korfanty had secretly raised a well-organized Polish force which was provided with arms and munition from across the frontier, and was reinforced by large bodies of men from Poland. With these troops he occupied the whole south-eastern part of Upper Silesia, on a line extending from the S. of the district of Kreuzburg through GrossStrehlitz to the Oder in the south. He nominated himself dictator of the districts under Polish occupation, took over the administration, and treated even the Allied officials with such scant consideration that they were obliged to withdraw to Oppeln and the regions that were not occupied by the Poles. It was only in the larger towns, where there was a German majority, that the Allied troops, supported by the German population were able to maintain themselves. A further advance on the part of the Poles was prevented by the German Defence Force (Selbstsclautz) under Gen. Hofer, which was composed of Upper Silesians and Germans who poured in from other parts of the Reich. There was severe fighting between the German Defence Force and the Poles, especially in the districts of Ratibor and Gross-Strehlitz. Colonel Percival, the British representative, was obliged to resign owing to ill-health, and was succeeded by Sir Harold Stuart. Attempts on the part of the Inter-Allied Commission to put an end to the insurrection by negotiations with Korfanty were unsuccessful, and the Allies were compelled to despatch reinforcements of French and British troops, under the command of Gen. Heneker, to Upper Silesia. After lengthy negotiations with the German Defence Force, which refused to withdraw unless guarantees were secured that the Poles would first quit the field, an agreement was ultimately effected with regard to the evacuation. By June 20 the British troops had again occupied the larger towns, while the Poles had the upper hand in the rural districts. As a result of the difficulties in paying his men and providing them with food Korfanty now lost control over his followers. Independent bands were formed which plundered the villages, ill-treated the Germans, and murdered many of them. In the industrial districts work in many of the mines and iron works came to a standstill, because imports of raw material and exports of coal had become impossible. By the end of June the loss suffered by the industrial region was estimated at 3 milliard marks; and there seemed to be no prospect of the restoration of tranquillity.

The French adhered to their contention that the greater part of the industrial region should be assigned to Poland. Great Britain, on the other hand, firmly maintained the view that such a partition would, as Mr. Lloyd George publicly expressed it, be " unfair " to Germany on the basis of the Treaty of Versailles and the result of the plebiscite. There were at one time three rival proposals for partition: (a) the Korfanty line, the extreme Polish demand; (b) the Sforza line, a proposal put forward by the then Italian Foreign Minister; (c) and the British proposal giving Poland only the south-eastern corner with the towns and districts of Pless and Rybnik. France was ultimately left in a minority of one on the Supreme Council, Italy and Japan having adhered to the British view. After prolonged debates and open differences among the principal Allied Powers on the subject of the partition, it was at last arranged, at a Paris conference in Aug. 1921, that the solution should be entrusted to a Commission of the Council of the League of Nations. This commission was ultimately constituted by the representatives of Japan, Brazil, China, Spain and Belgium, with the Japanese representative, Baron Iishi, as chairman. (C. K.*) On Oct. 1921, the text was published of the documents containing the award of the League of Nations on the partition Upper Silesia Frontier, 1921 of Upper Silesia. The proposed new frontier line between Germany and Poland was as shown by the appended Map. The division here made in the industrial area, previously German, was such that the Council of the League of Nations declared it to be desirable, however, that measures should be taken to guarantee the continuity of the economic life of the region during a provisional period of readjustment, and to provide for the protection of minorities. It was recommended, therefore, that a general convention for this purpose should be concluded between Germany and Poland, so as to place Upper Silesia under a special regime during the transitional period, and that an " Upper Silesian Mixed Commission " should be set up as an advisory' body, composed of an equal number of Germans and Poles, with a president of some other nationality to be designated by the Council of the League, together with an arbitral tribunal for settling private disputes occasioned by the temporary measures.


The provisional or transitional period was to be 15 years, and certain stipulations were laid down by the League of Nations for the economic arrangements during that period in the " plebiscite area." (I) Railway and tramway systems, privately owned or municipal, were to continue under the terms of their concessions, and the German State railways were to be put under a joint system of operation. Railway rates were to be uniform. The State insurance of employees in the Silesian railway system was to be undertaken by that system. A single Accounts Office was to be set up for the whole system. Expenses of new construction to be charged to a separate account, and borne by the State in whose territory it was carried out; the working capital for operation to be A C Territory assigned p77Tm to Germany Boundary of Plebiscite Area___ - NMyslowitz zezinka L Oderberg O Scale 1 f o K I A A lent by the German State, and interest charged to the account of this system; profits or deficits to be divided between the two countries in proportion to the length of line and amount of traffic belonging to each. (2) The German mark was to be the only legal unit of currency, and Poland was to recognize the rights of the Reichsbank, for a period not exceeding 15 years, but by agreement the two Governments might modify this arrangement earlier. (3) While the German monetary system was maintained in the Polish zone, the postal telegraph and telephone charges should be in German currency. (4) The customs frontier would coincide with the political frontier, and the German and Polish customs law would apply, with certain exceptions. For 6 months, incoming goods from other countries, on which German or Polish duties had been paid previously to the partition, should cross the frontier without duty. For 15 years, natural products originating or coming from one of the two zones of the plebiscite area and destined for consumption in the other should cross the frontier free of duty. For six months, raw, half-manufactured and unfinished products of industrial establishments in one zone, destined for industrial establishments in the other, should cross free of duty; and this should continue for 15 years when the products, as finished, were intended for free importation into the country of origin. Natural or manufactured products originating in the Polish zone should, on importation into the German customs territory, be exempt from duty for three years from the date of the frontier-delineation. As regards export, the two countries should facilitate for 15 years the export of such products as were indispensable for industry in either zone. (5) Poland was to permit, for 15 years, the exportation to Germany of the products of the coal mines in the Polish zone, and Germany similarly to Poland in respect of the mines in the German zone. (6) For the 15 years, any inhabitant regularly domiciled or occupied in the plebiscite area should receive a " circulation permit " free of payment, enabling him to cross the frontier without other formalities. (7) Generally, the two countries should respect private rights.

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