Masuria is a natural region in northeastern Poland famous for its 2,000 lakes. Geographically, Masuria is part of two adjacent lakeland districts, the Masurian Lake District and the Iława Lake District. Administratively, it belongs to Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship.
The landscape of the region was formed by the last ice age around 14,000 - 15,000 years ago in Pleistocene. The terrain is mostly hilly, with connecting lakes, rivers and streams. Forests account for about 30% of the area. The northern part of Masuria is covered mostly by the broadleaved forest, while the southern part is dominated by pine and mixed forests.
The region's economy relies largely on eco-tourism and agriculture. The lakes for which the region is best known offer varieties of water sports, recreation and vacation activities.
In the 11th–13th centuries, the territory was inhabited by the Old Prussians also called Baltic Prussians, a Baltic ethnic group that inhabited Prussia in the lands of Pomesania, Pogesania, Galindia, Bartia and Sudovia, and in the lands of the southeastern coastal region of the Baltic Sea around the Vistula Lagoon and the Curonian Lagoon. They spoke a language now known as Old Prussian and followed pagan Prussian mythology. Although a 19th-century German political entity bore their name, they were not "Germans." They were converted to Catholicism in the late 13th and 14th centuries, after conquest by the Knights of the Teutonic Order, and then to Protestantism in the early 16th century.
It is estimated that around 220,000 Old Prussians lived in this territory in 1200. The wilderness was their natural barrier against the attacks by would-be invaders. During the Northern Crusades of the early 13th century, the Old Prussians used this thick forest as a line of defence. They did it again against the Knights of the Teutonic Order invited to Poland by Konrad Mazowiecki in 1226. The order's goal was to convert the native population to Christianity and baptise it by force if necessary. In the subsequent conquest which lasted over 50 years, the original population was nearly exterminated especially during the major Prussian rebellion of 1261–83. By the years 1278–1283 the eradication of the local culture was complete, even though its remnants survived in the forest for decades to come.
After the Order's acquisition of the area, Poles began to settle in the south-east part of the conquered region. German, French, Flemish, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian colonists entered the area shortly afterward. The number of Polish settlers grew significantly again in the beginning of 15th century, especially after the first and the second treaties of Thorn, in 1411 and 1466 respectively, following the Thirteen Years' War and the final defeat of the order. Later assimilation of the German settlers as well as the Polish immigrants and all others created the new Prussian identity. The grand master became a vassal of the Polish crown and was obliged to welcome ethnically Polish members to the congregation.
With the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466, the Teutonic Order came under the rule of the Polish crown. The conversion of Albert of Prussia to Lutheranism in 1525 brought all of ducal Prussia and Masuria to Protestantism. The Polish language predominated due to the many settlers from Masovia. While much of the countryside was populated by Polish-speakers, the cities constituted German mixed with Polish population. The ancient Old Prussian language survived in parts of the countryside until the early 18th century. Areas that had many Polish language speakers were known as the Polish departments.
Kingdom of Prussia
After the death of Albert Frederick, Duke of Prussia in 1618, his son-in-law John Sigismund, Margrave of Brandenburg, inherited the duchy, including the lake-region (later Masuria), combining the two territories under a single dynasty and forming Brandenburg-Prussia. The Treaty of Wehlau revoked the nominal sovereignty of the King of Poland in 1657. The region became part of the Kingdom of Prussia with the coronation of King Frederick I of Prussia in 1701. The lake-region (Masuria) became part of the newly created administrative province of East Prussia upon its creation in 1773. The name Masuria began to be used officially after new administrative reforms in the Kingdom after 1818. Masurians referred to themselves during that period as "Polish Prussians" or as "Staroprusaki" (Old Prussians) Masurians showed considerable support for the Polish uprising in 1831, and maintained many contacts with Russian-held areas of Poland beyond the border of Prussia, the areas being connected by common culture and language; before the uprising people visited each other's country fairs and much trade took place, with smuggling also widespread Some early writers about Masurians - like Max Toeppen - postulated them as mediators between German and Slav cultures. Germanisation policies in Masuria included various strategies, first and foremost they included attempts to propagate the German language and to eradicate the Polish language as much as possible; German became the obligatory language in schools in 1834.
After the Unification of Germany into the German Empire in 1871, the Polish language was removed from schools in 1872, as part of Otto von Bismarck's Culture War. He also sought to eradicate the use of the Polish language and culture in the German Empire. After 1871 Masurians who expressed sympathy for Poland were deemed "national traitors" by German nationalists (this increased especially after 1918) According to Stefan Berger after 1871 the Masurians in the German Empire were seen in a view that while acknowledging their "objective" Polishness (in terms of culture and language) they felt "subjectively" German and thus should be tightly integrated into German nation-state; to Berger this argument went directly against the German nationalist demands in Alsace where Alsatians were declared German despite their "subjective" choice. Berger concludes that such the arguments of German nationalists were simply aimed at gaining as much territory as possible into German Reich. During the period of German Empire the Germanisation policies in Masuria became more effective; children using Polish in playgrounds and classrooms were widely punished by corporal punishment, authorities tried to appoint Protestant pastors who would use German instead of Polish which resulted in protests of local population. According to Jerzy Mazurek the native Polish-speaking population, like in other areas with Polish inhabitants, faced severe discrimination from Germanised local administration, in this climate first resistance defending the rights of rural population was formed; according to Jerzy Mazurek usually teachers engaged in publishing Polish language newspapers.
Despite anti-Polish policies, such Polish language newspapers as the Pruski Przyjaciel Ludu (Prussian People's Friend) or the Kalendarz Królewsko-Pruski Ewangelicki (Royal Prussian Evangelical Calendar) or bilingual journals like the Oletzkoer Kreisblatt - Tygodnik Obwodu Oleckiego continued to be published in Masuria. In contrast to the Prussian-oriented periodicals, in the late 19th century such newspapers as Przyjaciel Ludu Łecki and Mazur were founded by members of the Warsaw-based Komitet Centralny dla Slaska, Kaszub i Mazur (Central Committee for Silesia, Kashubia and Masuria), influenced by Polish politicians like Antoni Osuchowski or Juliusz Bursche, to strengthen a Polish identity in Masuria. The Gazeta Ludowa was published in Lyck in 1896–1902, with 2,500 copies in 1897 and the Mazur in Ortelsburg after 1906 with 500 copies in 1908 and 2,000 prior to World War I.
Polish activists started to regard Masurians as "Polish brothers" after Wojciech Kętrzyński had published his pamphlet "O Mazurach" in 1872 and Polish activists engaged in active self-help against repressions by German state Kętrzyński fought against attempts to Germanise Masuria The attempts to create a Masurian Polish national consciousness, largely originating from nationalist circles of Greater Poland, however faced the resistance of the Masurians, who, despite having similar folk traditions and linguistics to Poles, regarded themselves Prussians and later Germans. and were loyal to the Hohenzollern dynasty, the Prussian and German state. After World War I the editor of the Polish language Mazur described the Masurians as "not nationally conscious, on the contrary, the most loyal subjects of the Prussian king". A minority of Masurians did exist which expressed Polish identity After 1871 there appeared resistance among the Masurians towards Germanisation efforts, the so-called Gromadki movement was formed which supported use of Polish language and came into conflict with German authorities;while most of its members viewed themselves as loyal to Prussian state, a part of them joined the Pro-Polish faction of Masurians. German actions like Kulturkampf, the programme of Germanisation started to unite and mobilise Polish people in Polish inhabited territories held by Germany including Masuria A Polish-oriented party, the Mazurska Partia Ludowa ("Mazur People's Party"), was founded in 1897. The eastern area of German Empire was systematically Germanised with changing of names and public signs, and the German state fostered cultural imperialism, in addition to giving financial and other support to German farmers, officials and teachers to settle in the east.
The German authorities in their efforts of Germanisation tried somewhat artificially to separate Masurian language from Polish by classifying it as non-Slavic language different from Polish one, this was reflected in official census Thus the Masurian population in 1890, 143,397 were reported by German officials as having German as their language (either primary or secondary), 152,186 Polish and 94,961 Masurian. In 1910, the German language was reported by German authorities as used by 197,060, Polish by 30,121 and Masurian by 171,413. In 1925, German authorities reported 40,869 as giving Masurian as their native tongue and 2,297 as Polish. However, the last result may have been a result of politics at the time and a desire to present the province as purely German; in reality the Masurian dialect was still in use.
Throughout industrialisation in the late 19th century about 10 percent of the Masurian populace emigrated to the Ruhr Area, where about 180,000 Masurians lived in 1914. Wattenscheid, Wanne and Gelsenkirchen were the centres of Masurian emigration and Gelsenkirchen-Schalke was even called Klein (little)-Ortelsburg before 1914. Masurian newspapers like the Przyjaciel Ewangeliczny and the Gazeta Polska dla Ludu staropruskiego w Westfalii i na Mazurach but also the German language Altpreußische Zeitung were published.
During World War I, the Battle of Tannenberg and the First and Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes between Imperial Germany and the Russian Empire took place within the borders of Masuria in 1914. After the war, the League of Nations held the East Prussian plebiscite on 11 July 1920 to determine if the people of the southern districts of East Prussia wanted to remain within East Prussia or to join the Second Polish Republic. The German side terrorised the local population before the plebiscite using violence, Polish organisations and activists were harassed by German militias, and those actions included attacks and murder of Polish activists; Masurs who supported voting for Poland were singled out and subjected to terror and repressions Names of those Masurs supporting the Polish side were published in German newspapers, and their photos presented in German shops; afterwards a regular hunts were organised after them by German militias which terrorized Polish population At least 3,000 Warmian and Masurian activists who were engaged for Polish side had to flee the region out of fear of their lives At the same time German police engaged in active surveillance of the Polish minority and attacks against Polish activists Before the plebiscite Poles started to flee the region to escape the German harassment and terror
The results determined that 99.32% of the voters in Masuria proper chose to remain with East Prussia. However, the contemporary Polish ethnographer Adam Chętnik accused the German authorities of abuses and falsifications during the plebiscite. Moreover, the plebiscite took place during the time when Polish-Soviet War threatened to erase the Polish state. As a result, even many Poles of the region voted for Germany out of fear that if the area was allocated to Poland it would fall under Soviet rule. After the plebiscite in German areas of Masuria attacks on Polish population commenced by German mobs and Polish priests and politicians were driven from their homes After the plebiscite at least 10,000 Poles had to flee German held Masuria to Poland
Polish Masuria - the Działdowo county
The region of Działdowo (Soldau), where according to the official German census of 1910 ethnic Germans formed a minority of 37.3%, was excluded from the plebiscite and became part of Poland. This was reasoned with placing the railway connection between Warsaw and Danzig (Gdańsk), of vital importance to Poland as it connected central Poland with its seacoast, completely under Polish sovereignty. Działdowo itself counted about 24,000 people of which 18,000 were Masurians
According to the municipal administration of Rybno, after World War I Poles in Działdowo believed that they will be quickly joined with Poland, they organised secret gatherings during which the issue of rejoining Polish state with help of Polish military was discussed. According to the Rybno administration most active Poles during that region included Jóżwiakowscy, Wojnowscy, Grzeszczowscy families working under the guidance of politician Leon Wojnowski who protested German attempts to remain Działdowo a part of Germany after the war; other local pro-Polish activists were Alfred Wellenger, Paczyński, Tadeusz Bogdański, Jóźwiakowski.
The historian Andreas Kossert describes that the incorporation happened despite protests of the local populace, the municipal authorities and the German Government, According to Kossert 6,000 inhabitants of the region soon left the area.
In 1920 the candidate of the German Party, Ernst Barczewski, was elected to the Sejm with 74.6 percent of votes and to the Polish Senate with 34.6% of votes for the Bloc of National Minorities in 1928. During the Polish-Soviet War Działdowo was briefly occupied by the Red Army which was cheered as liberators by the local German populace, which hoisted the German flag, but it was soon recovered by the Polish Army.
With the start of the German war against Poland on 1 September 1939, the German minority in the parts of Masuria attached to Poland after World War I, organised in paramilitary formation called Selbstschutz begun to engage in massacres of local Polish population; Poles were imprisoned, tortured and murdered while Masurians were sometimes forcefully placed on Volksliste The Soldau concentration camp was established in winter 1939, where 13,000 people were murdered by the Nazi German state during the war. Notable victims included the Polish bishops Antoni Julian Nowowiejski and Leon Wetmański, as well as the nun Mieczysława Kowalska. Additionally, almost 1,900 mentally ill patients from East Prussia and annexed areas of Poland were murdered there as well, in what was known as Action T4. Polish resistance in Masuria was organised by Paweł Nowakowski "Leśnik" commander of the Home Army's Działdowo district
Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany
Masuria was the only region of Germany directly affected by the battles of World War I. Damaged towns and villages were reconstructed with the aid of several twin towns from western Germany like Cologne to Neidenburg, Frankfurt to Lötzen and even Vienna to Ortelsburg. However Masuria was still largely agrarian-oriented and suffered from the economic decline after World War I, additionally badly affected by the creation of the Polish Corridor, which raised freight costs to the traditional markets in Germany. The later implemented Osthilfe had only a minor influence on Masuria as it privileged larger estates, while Masurian farms were generally small.
The interwar period was characterised by ongoing Germanisation policies, intensified especially under the Nazis
In the 1920s Masuria remained a heartland of conservatism with the German National People's Party as strongest party. The Nazi Party became the strongest party in the Masurian constituencies in the elections of 1930 and received its best results in the poorest areas of Masuria with the highest rate of Polish speakers. Especially in the elections of 1932 and 1933 they reached up to 81 percent of votes in the district of Neidenburg and 80 percent in the district of Lyck. The Nazis used the economic crisis, which had significant effects in far-off Masuria, as well as traditional anti-Polish sentiments while at the same time Nazi political rallies were organized in the Masurian dialect during the campaigning.
In 1938, the Nazi government (1933–1945) changed thousands of toponyms (especially names of cities and villages) of Old Prussian and Polish origin to newly created German names; about 50% of the existing names were changed in 1938 alone, despite resistance by the Prussian people, who continued to use their traditional place names.
According to German author Andreas Kossert, Polish parties were financed and aided by the Polish government in Warsaw, and remained splintergroups without any political influence, e.g. in the 1932 elections the Polish Party received 147 votes in Masuria proper. According to Wojciech Wrzesiński (1963), the Polish organisations in Masuria had decided to lower their activity in order to escape acts of terror performed against Polish minority activists and organisations by Nazi activists. Jerzy Lanc, a teacher and Polish national who had moved to Masuria in 1931 to establish a Polish school in Piassutten (Piasutno), died in his home of carbon monoxide poisoning, most likely murdered by local German nationalists.
Before the war the Nazi German state sent undercover operatives to spy on Polish organisations and created lists of people that were to be executed and sent to concentration camps. Information was gathered on who sent children to Polish schools, bought Polish press or took part in Polish ceremonies and organised repressions against these people were executed by Nazi militias. Polish schools, printing presses and headquarters of Polish institutions were attacked as well as homes of the most active Poles; shops owned by Poles were demolished. Polish masses were dispersed, and Polish teachers were intimidated as members of the SS gathered under their locals performing songs like "Wenn das Polenblut vom Messer spritzt, dann geht’s noch mal so gut"("When Polish blood spurts from the knife, everything will be better").
The anti-Polish activities intensified in 1939. Those Poles were most active in politics were evicted from their own homes, while Polish newspapers and cultural houses were closed down in the region. Polish masses were banned between June and July in Warmia and Mazury.
In the final moments of August 1939 all remains of political and cultural life of Polish minority was eradicated by the Nazis, with imprisonment of Polish activists and liquidation of Polish institutions. Seweryn Pieniężny, the chief editor of "Gazeta Olsztyńska", who opposed Germanisation of Masuria, was interned. Others included Juliusz Malewski (director of Bank Ludowy of Olsztyn), Stefan Różycki, Leon Włodarczyk (activist of Polonia Warmińsko-Mazurska).
Directors of Polish schools and teachers were imprisoned, as was the staff of Polish pre-schools in the Masuria region. They were often forced to destroy Polish signs, emblems and symbols of Polish institutions.
World War II
The Nazis believed that in future, the Masurs, as a separate non-German entity, would disappear, while those who would cling to their "foreigness" as one Nazi report mentioned, would be deported. Poles and Jews were considered by the Nazis to be "untermenschen", subject to slavery and extermination, and Nazi authorities murdered Polish activists in Masuria, those who were not killed were arrested and sent to concentration camps, In August 1943 the Uderzeniowe Bataliony Kadrowe attacked the village of Mittenheide (Turośl) in southern Masuria
In 1943 "Związek Mazurski" was reactivated secretly by Masurian activists of the Polish Underground State in Warsaw and led by Karol Małłek. Związek Mazurski opposed Nazi Germany and asked Polish authorities during the war to liquidate German property after victory over Nazi Germany to help in agricultural reform and settlement of Masurian population, Masurians opposed to Nazi Germany requested to remove German heritage sites "regardless of their cultural value". Additionally a Masurian Institute was founded by Masurian activists in Radość near Warsaw in 1943
In the final stages of World War II, Masuria was partially devastated by the retreating German and advancing Soviet armies during the Vistula-Oder Offensive. The region came under Polish rule at the war's end in the Potsdam Conference. Most of the population fled to Germany or was killed during or after the war, while the rest was subject to a "nationality verification", organised by the communist government of Poland. As a result, the number of native Masurians remaining in Masuria was initially relatively high, while most of the population was subsequently expelled. Poles from central Poland and the Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union as well as Ukrainians expelled from southern Poland throughout the Operation Vistula, were resettled in Masuria.
Masuria after World War II
According to the Masurian Institute the Masurian members of resistance against Nazi Germany who survived the war, became active in 1945 in the region, working in Olsztyn in cooperation with new state authorities in administration, education and cultural affairs
German author Andreas Kossert describes the post-war process of "national verification" as based on an ethnic racism which categorised the local populace according to their alleged ethnic background. A Polish-sounding last name or a Polish-speaking ancestor was sufficient to be regarded as "autochthonous" Polish. In October 1946 37,736 persons were "verified" as Polish citizens while 30,804 remained "unverified". A centre of such "unverified" Masurians was the district of Mragowo (Sensburg), where in early 1946 out of 28,280 persons, 20,580 were "unverified", while in October, 16,385 still refused to adopt Polish citizenship. However even those who complied with the often used pressure by Polish authorities were in fact treated as Germans because of their Lutheran faith and their often rudimentary knowledge of Polish. Names were "Polonised" and the usage of the German language in public was forbidden. In the late 1940s the pressure to sign the "verification documents" grew and in February 1949 the former chief of the stalinist secret Police (UB) of Lodz, Mieczyslaw Moczar, started the "Great verification" campaign. Many unverified Masurians were imprisoned and accused of pro-Nazi or pro-American propaganda, even former pro-Polish activists and inmates of Nazi concentration camps were jailed and tortured. After the end of this campaign in the district of Mragowo (Sensburg) only 166 Masurians were still "unverified".
In 1950 1,600 Masurians left the country and in 1951, 35,000 people from Masuria and Warmia managed to obtain a declaration of their German nationality by the embassies of the USA and Great Britain in Warsaw. Sixty-three percent of the Masurians in the district of Mragowo (Sensburg) received such a document. In December 1956 Masurian pro-Polish activists signed a memorandum to the Communist Party leadership:
"The history of the people of Warmia and Masuria is full of tragedy and suffering. Injustice, hardship and pain often pressed on the shoulders of Warmians and Masurians... Dislike, injustice and violence surrounds us...They (Warmians and Masurians) demand respect for their differentness, grown in the course of seven centuries and for freedom to maintain their traditions".
Soon after the political reforms of 1956, Masurians were given the opportunity to join their families in West Germany. The majority (over 100 thousand) gradually left and after the improvement of Germano-Polish relations by the German Ostpolitik of the 1970s, 55,227 persons from Warmia and Masuria moved to West Germany in between 1971 and 1988, today approximately between 5,000 and 6,000 Masurians still live in the area, about 50 percent of them members of the German minority in Poland, the remaining half is ethnic Polish. As the Polish journalist Andrzej K. Wróblewski stated, the Polish post-war policy succeeded in what the Prussian state never managed: the creation of a German national consciousness among the Masurians.
Most of the originally Protestant churches in Masuria are now used by the Polish Roman Catholic Church as the number of Lutherans in Masuria declined from 68,500 in 1950 to 21,174 in 1961 and further to 3,536 in 1981. Sometimes, like on 23 September 1979 in the village of Spychowo (Puppen), the Lutheran Parish was even forcefully driven out of their church while liturgy was held.
In modern Masuria the native population has virtually disappeared. Masuria was incorporated into the [[Wikipedia:Voivodeships of Poland#Polish voivodeships 1945-1975 (14+2/17+5)|voivodeship system]] of administration in 1945. In 1999 Masuria was constituted with neighbouring Warmia as a single administrative province through the creation of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship.
The Masurian Szczytno-Szymany International Airport gained international attention as press reports alleged the airport to be a so-called "black site" involved in the CIA's network of extraordinary renditions.