Germanisation (also spelled Germanization) is either the spread of the German language, people and culture either by force or assimilation, or the adaptation of a foreign word to the German language in linguistics, much like the Romanisation of many languages which do not use the Latin alphabet. It was a central plank of German liberal thinking in the early nineteenth century, at a period when liberalism and nationalism went hand in hand.
In Slavic countries, the term Germanisation often is understood solely as the process of acculturation of Slavic and Baltic speakers, after the conquests or by cultural contact in the early dark ages, areas of the modern Eastern Germany to the line of Elbe. In East Prussia forced resettlement of the Prussian people by the Teutonic Order and the Prussian state, as well as acculturation from immigrants of various European countries (Poles, French, Germans) contributed to the eventual extinction of the Prussian language in the 17th century.
Another form of Germanisation is the forceful expansion of German culture, language and people upon non-German people. This was the practice of Prussia, Austria, German Empire, Weimar Republic and German Empire. Non-Germans were often banned from use of their language, the state discriminated their traditions and culture, when those measures were not successful in eradicating non-Germans, colonists and settlers were used to upset the population balance. As even those stepts proved insufficient, the orientiation turned into policy of ethnic cleansing and later into genocide.
Lüchow-Dannenberg is better known as the Wendland, a designation referring to the Slavic people of the Wends from Slavic tribe Drevani — the Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in what is now the German state of Lower Saxony.
A complex process of Germanisation took place in Bohemia after the 1620 Battle of White Mountain defeat of Bohemian Protestants. The Protestant Bohemian king elected against the Habsburgs by the Bohemian estates in 1619, the German prince Frederick V, Elector Palatine, was defeated in 1620 by Catholic forces loyal to the Habsburg Emperor, Ferdinand II. Among the Bohemian lords being punished and expropriated after Frederick's defeat in 1620 were German- and Czech-speaking landowners as well. Thus this conflict was by far an internal conflict resulting from the feudal system than a clash of different nations. Although the Czech language lost its significance (as a written language) in the aftermath of the events, it is questionable whether this was primarily intended by the Habsburg rulers, whose intentions were in religious and feudal categories.
State legislation and government policies of Germanisation in the Kingdom of Prussia, Imperial Germany and Nazi Germany aimed to expand the German language and culture in areas populated by non-Germans, the eradication of their national identity, and the integration of conquered territories into German states.
Prussia introduced as one of the first countries in Europe compulsory primary school attendance under Frederick William I. People should be able to read the Bible by themselves to make "good Christians" out of them. Education in primary school was done in the mother language and thus primary school was no means of Germanisation in the 18th century.
Prussia and Austria actively participated in the partitions of Poland, a fact that would later on severely stress German-Polish relations which had been uncomplicated until then.
You also have a Fatherland. [...] You will be incorporated into my monarchy without having to renounce your nationality. [...] You will receive a constitution like the other provinces of my kingdom. Your religion will be upheld. [...] Your language shall be used like the German language in all public affairs and everyone of you with suitable capabilities shall get the opportunity to get an appointment to a public office. [...]
and the minister for Education Altenstein stated in 1823:
Concerning the spread of the German language it is most important to get a clear understanding of the aims. Whether it should be the aim to promote the understanding of German among Polish-speaking subjects or whether it should be the aim to gradually and slowly Germanise the Poles. According to the judgement of the minister only the first is necessary, advisable and possible, the second is not advisable and not accomplishable. To be good subjects it is desirable for the Poles to understand the language of government. However, it is not necessary for them to give up or postpone their mother language. The possession of two language shall not be seen as a disadvantage but as an benefit instead because it is usually associated with a higher flexibility of the mind. [..] Religion and language are the highest sanctuaries of a nation and all attitudes and perceptions are founded on them. A government that [...] is indifferent or even hostile against them creates bitterness, debases the nation and generates disloyal subjects.
In the first half of the 19th century Prussian language policy remained largely tolerant. But this tolerance gradually changed in the second half of the 19th century after the foundation of the German Emprire in 1871. Later, the means of the policy was the elimination of non-German languages from public life and from academic settings (such as schools). Later in the German Empire, Poles were (together with Danes, Alsatians, German Catholics and Socialists) portrayed as "Reichsfeinde" ("foes to the empire"). In addition, in 1885, the Prussian Settlement Commission financed from the national government's budget was set up to buy land from non-German hands and distribute it among German farmers. From 1908 the committee was entitled to force the landowners to sell the land. Other means included Prussian deportations 1885-1890: deportation of non-Prussian nationals who had lived in Prussia for substantial time periods (mostly Poles and Jews) and the ban on the building of houses by non-Germans (see Drzymała's van). Germanisation policy in schools also took the form of abuse of Polish children by Prussian officials (see Września). Germanisation unintentionally stimulated resistance, usually in the form of home schooling and tighter unity in the minority groups.
In 1910, Maria Konopnicka responded to the increasing persecution of Polish people by Germans by writing her famous song called Rota, that instantly became a national symbol for Poles, with its sentence known to many Poles:The German will not spit in our face, nor will he Germanise our children. Thus, the German efforts to eradicate Polish culture, language and people met not only with failure, but managed to reinforce the Polish national identity and strengthened efforts of Poles to re-establish a Polish state.
An international meeting of socialists held in Brussels in 1902 condemned the Germanisation of Poles in Prussia, calling it "barbarous".
Similar development happened with Kursenieki, but this ethnic group never had a large population.
During the Weimar Republic Poles first were recognised as minority only in Upper Silesia. The peace treaties after the First World War did contain an obligation for Poland to protect her national minorities (Germans, Ukrainians and other), whereas no such clause was introduced by the victors in the Treaty of Versailles with Germany. In 1928 the "Minderheitenschulgesetz" (minorities school act) regulated education of minority children in their native tongue. From 1930 on Poland and Germany agreed to treat their minorities vice versa.
In the Nazi era, the days of certain minorities in Germany were numbered. "Racially acceptable" children were taken from their families, in order to be brought up as Germans.
Heinrich Himmler explicitly warned against regarding this as the same Germanisation as had occurred prior.
It is not our task to Germanise the East in the old sense, that is, to teach the people there the German language and German law, but to see to it that only people of purely German, Germanic blood live in the East.
This did not mean total extermination of all people there, as Eastern Europe was regarded as having people of Aryan/Nordic descent, particularly among their leaders. This leadership itself was the Nazi argument for claiming they were Germans, as they were active, as opposed to "Slavonic" fatalism.
Germanisation began with the classification of the people suitable on the Volksliste, and treated according to their categorization. Adults who were selected for but resisted Germanisation were executed, on the grounds that German blood should not support non-German nations, and that killing them would deprive foreign nations of superior leaders. Even with those who did not resist, Germanisation proceeded slowly, if at all; younger people spoke German poorly if at all, and older people were found to be completely denationalized, requiring to be Germanised in Germany before they could be restored to the East where they would increase the German population.
Under Generalplan Ost, a percentage of Slavs in the conquered territories were to be Germanised. Those found fit were to be enrolled in several categories in the Deutsche Volksliste. Those unfit for Germanisation were to be expelled from the areas marked out for German settlement. In considering the fate of the individual nations, the architects of the Plan decided that it would be possible to Germanise about 50 percent of the Czechs, 35 percent of the Ukrainians and 25 percent of the Belorussians. The remainder would be deported to western Siberia and other regions. In 1941 it was decided to destroy the Polish nation completely; the German leadership decided that, in 10 to 20 years, the Polish state under German occupation was to be fully cleared of any ethnic Poles and resettled by German colonists.
In German occupied Poland it is estimated that a number ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 children were removed from their families to be Germanised. It is estimated that at least 10,000 of them were murdered in the process as they were determined unfit and sent to concentration camps and faced brutal treatment or perished in the harsh conditions during their transport in cattle wagons, and only 10-15% returned to their families after the war. Obligatory Hitlerjugend membership made dialogue between old and young next to impossible, as use of languages other than German was discouraged by officials. Members of minority organisations were sent to concentration camps by German authorities or executed.
In the Warmia and Masuria plebiscite on 11 July 1920 inside Oletzko only 2 votes were cast to join the Second Polish Republic; 28% of the inhabitants voted to remain in East Prussia. The town was renamed Treuburg (loyalty castle) after that plebiscite.
Descendants of Polish migrant workers and miners have intermarried with the local population and are thus culturally mixed. It is different with modern and present day immigration from Poland to Germany after the fall of the iron curtain. These immigrants usually are Polish citizens and live as foreigners in Germany. For many immigrant Poles, Polish ethnicity is not the prime category through which they wish to characterise themselves or want to be evaluated by others as it could impact their lives in a negative way.
The local dialect of the Ruhr Area, for example, contains many words borrowed from the Polish language.