Grudziądz (or ) is a city of 96 042 inhabitants (2010) on the Vistula River in northern Poland. Situated in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship (since 1999), the city was previously in the Toruń Voivodeship (1975–1998).
Initially a defensive gród founded by Polish ruler Bolesław Chrobry, the settlement adopted Kulm law in 1291 while under the rule of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights and became a city. In 1440, Grudziądz joined the Prussian Confederation and formally asked the King of Poland, Casimir IV Jagiellon to join Poland. Between 1466 and 1772 the city belonged to the Polish province of Royal Prussia.
Prussia and Germany
Following the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the city was annexed by the German Kingdom of Prussia and in 1871 became part of the unified German Empire. The city was the site of a military prison for Polish activists - those released, who left Europe, formed the Gromada Grudziądz in Portsmouth, England, in 1835, as part of the Great Emigration movement.
After the construction of a railroad bridge across the Vistula in 1878, Graudenz became a rapidly growing industrialized city as well as a district centre in 1900. A light cruiser of the German Imperial Navy, built in 1912-1914, was named after the city.
Prussian rule and Germanization
In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was part of the area affected by the Prussian Partition of Poland where Germanisation was enforced, beginning in 1772. Frederick had nourished a particular hatred and contempt for Polish people. He brought in German and Frisian workers and peasants there, who in his opinion were more suitable for building up his new civilization. Frederick settled around 300,000 colonists in the eastern provinces of Prussia. Using state funds for colonization, German craftsmen were placed in all local Polish cities. A second colonization wave of ethnic Germans was pursued by Prussia after 1832. Laws were passed aimed at Germanisation of the Polish inhabited areas and 154,000 colonists were settled by the Prussian Settlement Commission before World War I. Professor Martin Kitchen writes that in areas where the Polish population lived alongside Germans a virtual apartheid existed, with bans on the Polish language and religious discrimination, besides attempts to colonize the areas with Germans.
To resist Germanisation, Polish activists started to publish the newspaper "Gazeta Grudziądzka" in 1894. It advocated the social and economical emancipation of rural society and opposed Germanization – publishing articles critical of Germany. The German attempts to repress its editor Wiktor Kulerski only helped to increase its circulation. From 1898 to 1901, a secret society of Polish students seeking to restore Polish independence operated in the city, but the activists were tried by German courts in 1901, frustrating their efforts.
In Grudziądz, German soldiers were stationed in the local fortress as part of the Germanization measures, and the authorities placed soldiers with the most chauvinistic attitude towards the Poles there. The German government brought in more stationed military, merchants and state officials to influence population figures, and in the 1910 census 84% of the population of the town and 58% of the county was recorded as German.
Census figures published by the German Empire have been criticised as unreliable. Historians believe they have a high degree of falsification; formal pressure on census takers (predominantly school-teachers) was possible, and a new bilingual category was created to further complicate the results. Some analysts have asserted that all people registering as bilingual were classified as Germans. The Polish population in this heavily Germanised city has been officially estimated at around 12-15% during this period.
In 1913, the Polish Gazeta Grudziądzka reached a circulation of 128,000, making it the third largest Polish newspaper in the world.
On January 23, 1920, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, Grudziądz became part of the Polish state. At that time Josef Włodek, the newly appointed Polish mayor, described his impression of the town as "modern but unfortunately completely German"
Between 1926 and 1934 the number of Germans (34,194 in 1910) rose from 3,542 to 3,875. Some Polish authors emphasize a wider emigration pattern motivated chiefly by economic conditions and the unwillingess of the German minority to live in the Polish state.
The German author Christian Raitz von Frentz writes that after the First World War ended, the Polish government tried to reverse the systematic Germanization of the past decades
Prejudices, stereotypes and conflicts dating back to German rule influenced Polish policies towards minorities in the new independent Polish state.
The Polish authorities, supported by the public (e.g. the “explicitly anti-German” Związek Obrony Kresów Zachodnich), initiated a number of measures to further Polonization. The local press was also hostile towards the Germans.
Fearful of a re-Germanization of the city, the Polish paper Słowo Pomorskie (23.19.1923) criticized the authorities of Grudziądz for tolerating the local German amateur theatre "Deutsche Bühne". The theatre was funded by money from Berlin Created before the war, its actors were mostly German officers stationed with the local garrison The mayor responded by pointing out that the theatre was being monitored because of suspected “anti-state activities”. According to Kotowski, this episode indicates that even the most minor activities of the German minority were closely scrutinized by the Polish authorities beginning with the earliest phase of Polish policy towards the German minority. The German theatre was re-opened by the Nazis in 1943, while the last director of the Polish theatre in the city in the years 1922-24 was murdered by them
In the 20 years between the world wars, Grudziądz served as an important centre of culture and education with one of the biggest Polish military garrisons and several military schools located both in and around the city. A large economic potential and the existence of important institutions like the Pomeranian Tax Office and the Pomeranian Chamber of Industry and Trade, helped Grudziądz become the economic capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship in the interwar period. Grudziądz's economic potential was featured at the First Pomeranian Exhibition of Agriculture and Industry in 1925, officially opened by Stanisław Wojciechowski, President of the Second Polish Republic.
In 1920 a German-language school was founded. In 1931 the Polish government decreed a reduction in the number of German classes in the school and requested lists of Catholic children and those pupils with Polish-sounding names which they viewed as victims of Germanization, from the German school. Although the list was not prepered, some of the children were transferred, which led to a school-strike. The German school followed ideas and customs as those in Nazi Reich. It was headed by a Nazi sympathiser Hilgendorf who praised Nazi ideology The Polish authorities were alarmed when a notebook of one female student was discovered by them, which contained the Nazi party anthem, the Horst Wessel Lied and revisionistic text. The discovery caused outrage and calls to dismiss Hilgendorf due to his irredentist beliefs In November 1933 two German craftsmen were killed by a Polish mob during a local election campaign.
World War II
On September 3, 1939 military troops of Nazi Germany entered Grudziądz and, as Graudenz, annexed the city into the Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia, starting a five-year long occupation lasting till the end of World War II.
Poles and Jews were classified by the German state as Untermenschen and subjected to repressions and murder, with their ultimate fate as enslavement and extermination; Grudziądz was the location of the German concentration camp Graudenz, a subcamp of Stutthof concentration camp.
In early September, 25 Polish citizens were detained as hostages - priests, teachers and other members that enjoyed the respect of local society. They were threatened with execution if any harm came to the Ethnic Germans from the city who were detained and held by the Polish authorities during the invasion of Poland. After their initial release on the return of the members of the German minority, they were re-arrested and most of them were shot. On 9 September a further 85 people were imprisoned by the Germans The German authorities destroyed the city's monuments to Polish independence and banned Polish priests from speaking Polish during church masses
On 4 September the Einsatzgruppe V demanded a list of names of all members of the 600-strong Jewish community within 14 hours, as well as a list of all their possessions. They were also fined 20.000 zlotych
On 6 September the whole city was covered with posters demanding that Jews and "mixed races" of category I and IInd degree (so-called 'Mischlinge, i.e. persons of mixed race) gather at the headquarters of the Einsatzgruppe V (established in the local school). Around 100 people responded to the demand and were immediately arrested and robbed. After this they were transported to an unknown destination and disappeared - it is believed that they were most likely executed by the Germans in the Mniszek-Grupa forests.
On 19 October occupied Grudziądz was visited by the NSDAP Gauleiter (regional chief) Albert Forster. In a public speech to the Volksdeutsche, he declared that the area was to become "one hundred percent" German, and that Poles "have nothing to do here, and should be evicted"
Selbstschutz participation in mass murder
Alongside the military and Einsatgruppen administration, the first structures of Selbstschutz were established - a paramilitary formation of members of the German minority in the region. The head of Selbstschutz in Grudziądz was Doctor Joachim Gramse. In October 1939, Selbstschutz created an interment camp for Poles seeking to restore Polish independence, whose commandant was a local German Kurt Gotze.
Teachers, officials, social workers, doctors, merchants, members of patriotic organisations, lawyers, policemen, farmers and 150 Polish priests were held in this camp. It is estimated that around 4000 to 5000 people went through it. Other arrested Poles were held in the cellars of Grudziądz fortress. The local Germans who ran the camp established their own "court" which decided the fate of the prisoners. The "court" comprised: Kurt Gotze, Helmut Domke, Horst Kriedte, Hans Abromeit (owner of a drugstore), Paul Neuman (barber). Based on their decisions, some of the prisoners were sent to concentration camps, 300 were murdered en masse; only a few were released. Those sentenced to death were mostly executed through shooting by the Selbstschutz in Księże Góry near Grudziądz; in October and November 1939 several hundred people were murdered there and their bodies buried in five mass graves. The victims were usually shot at the edges of already dig out graves
Further executions were carried out in desolate areas of Grudziądz: on 11 November 1939 near Grudziądz Fortress, the Selbstschutz executed 10 Polish teachers, 4 Polish priests and 4 women. Additionally, 37 people were murdered in Grudziądz city park. On 29 October 1939 a unit of Selbstschutz mass-murdered 10 Polish hostages as revenge for posters that had appeared in the city calling for resistance against Nazi rule.
End of German occupation
As the result of heavy fighting in 1945, over 60% of the city was destroyed. Soviet Major Lev Kopelev covered those battles and the final surrender of the German garrison in his book "To Be Preserved Forever". He describes the joint psychological warfare of March 1945 in the city by the Red Army and members of the NKFD. As the war ended, the German-speaking population of the city fled or was expelled to Germany. The city became home to Poles moved from the Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union.