Recovered Territories

Recovered or Regained Territories (Ziemie Odzyskane) was the official term used by the Polish post-war authorities to denote those territories which were transferred from Germany to Poland after the Second World War. Since the drop from official use, the alternative term "Western and Northern Territories" (Ziemie Zachodnie i Północne) is preferred, the "Western Territories" being the regions of Pomorze Zachodnie (the former Farther Pomerania and Stettin area), Lubusz Land (the former Neumark) and Lower Silesia, and the "Northern Territories" being the Gdańsk area (the former Free City of Danzig) and the regions of Warmia (formerly Ermland) and Masuria (both formerly parts of East Prussia).

The phrase "recovered" was used to propagate a picture of the Western and Northern Territories having been an integral part of Poland since medieval Piast times, of which the People's Republic of Poland was the legitimate heir.

Along with the so-called recovery, the territories were Polonized by replacing most of the former German population with Poles and removing much of the German cultural heritage. The centuries of German presence were presented as a mere result of Germany's continuous aggression towards her eastern neighbors ("Drang nach Osten"). The post-war forced population movements were officially termed "repatriations".

The Oder-Neisse frontier was formally recognized by East Germany in the Treaty of Zgorzelec (1950) and by West Germany in the Treaty of Warsaw (1970), and was affirmed by the re-united Germany in the German-Polish Border Treaty (1990).


The Western Territories comprise the regions of:

The Northern Territories comprise:

Origin and use of the term

The term "Recovered Territories" was the official propaganda term coined in the aftermath of World War II to denote the former eastern territories of Germany that were being handed over to Poland. The underlying concept was to define post-war Poland as the heir of the medieval Piasts' realm, which was simplified into a picture of an ethnically homogeneous state matching the post-war borders, as opposed to the later Jagiellon Poland, which was multi-ethnic and located further east. One reason for post-war Poland's favoring a "Piast" rather than a "Jagiellon" tradition was Stalin's refusal to withdraw from the Curzon line and the Allies' readiness to satisfy Poland with German territory instead. However the original argument for awarding fomerly German territory to Poland – compensation – was changed to the argument that this territory in fact constituted "old Polish lands". Another reason for the emphasis on the Piast era was the Polish desire to create an ethnically homogeneous rather than a multi-ethnic state. Also, the Piasts were perceived to have defended Poland against German peoples, while the Jagiellons' rival had been the growing Duchy of Moscow, making them a less suitable basis for post-war Poland's Soviet-dominated situation. Thus, with Soviet backing, the PRL and PPR adopted this fundamentally "Piast concept against their pre-war peasant and nationalist opponents. In fact, the question of the "Recovered Territories" was one of the few issues that did not divide the Polish Communists and their opposition, and there was unanimity regarding the western border. Even the underground anti-Communist press called for the Piast borders, "ending Germanisation and Drang nach Osten once and for all". Post-war propagandists told the myth of the thousand-year struggle between Teuton and Slav while the centuries of German history in the "recovered territories" remained untold.

Great efforts were made to propagate the view of "recovered Piast territory", which were actively supported by the Catholic church. The sciences were responsible for the development of this perception of history. In 1945 the Western Institute (Instytut Zachodni) was founded to coordinate the scientific activities. Its director, Zygmunt Wojciechowski, characterized his mission as follows: "We don't try for the so called objective historiography. It was our mission to present the Polish history of these countries and to project the current Polish reality of these countries upon their historical background.". Historical scientists, archaeologists, linguists, art historians and ethnologists worked in an interdisciplinary effort to legitimize the new borders. Their findings were popularised in countless monographs, periodicals, schoolbooks, travel guides, broadcasts and exhibitions. Official maps were drawn up to show that the Polish frontiers under the first known Piast princes matched the new ones, and the post-war generation was instructed to assume the Polish nation had evolved on that territory since time immemorial. They were encouraged to believe the People's Republic's territory was indeed the "Polish motherland" (macierz), fixed over time even if occupied by "aliens" and regardless of multiple border and population changes in history. The official view was that the Poles had always had the inalienable and inevitable right to inhabit the "recovered" territories, even if prevented from doing so by higher powers. As a consequence, the Piast concept was accepted by millions of Poles and is still believed by many. Furthermore, the Piast concept was used to persuade the Allied Powers, who found it difficult to define a Polish "ethnographic territory", to assume that it would be an untolerable injustice to not "give the territories back".

Even though most of the "Recovered Territories" had been under German and Prussian rule for many centuries, many events of this history were perceived as part of "foreign" rather than "local" history in post-war Poland. Polish scholars instead concentrated on the mediaeval Piast history of the region, the cultural, political and economic bonds to Poland, the history of the Polish-speaking population in Prussia and the "Drang nach Osten" as a historical constant since the Middle Ages.

By 1949 the term "Recovered Territories" had been dropped from Polish communist propaganda, but it is still used occasionally in common language. On the grounds that those areas should not be regarded as unique territories within the Polish state, the authorities began to refer to them instead as the "Western and Northern Territories".

Polonization of the "Recovered Territories"

Along with the establishment of the People's Republic as the heir of the Piasts, the population had to be made to fit the new frontiers. With its eastern territories (the Kresy) annexed by the Soviet Union, Poland was effectively moved westwards and its area reduced by almost 20% (from 389,000 km² to 312,000 km²). Millions of "non-Poles" (mainly Germans and Ukrainians) had to be expelled from the new Poland, while the Poles east of the Curzon line had to be expelled from the Kresy. The expellees were termed "repatriates". The result was the largest exchange of population in European history. The picture of the new western and northern territories being recovered Piast territory was used to forge Polish settlers and "repatriates" arriving there into a coherent community loyal to the new regime, and to justify the previous ethnic cleansing of the area. Largely excepted from the expulsions of Germans were the "autochthons", close to three million ethnically Slavic inhabitants of Masuria (Masurs), Pomerania (Kashubians, Slovincians) and Upper Silesia (Silesians), of whom many did not identify with Polish nationality. The Polish government aimed to retain as many autochthons as possible for propaganda purposes, as their presence on former German soil was used to indicate the intrinsic "Polishness" of the area and justify its incorporation into the Polish state as "recovered" territories. "Verification" and "national rehabilitation" processes were set up to reveal a "dormant Polishness" and to determine which were redeemable as Polish citizens; few were actually expelled The "autochthons" not only disliked the subjective and often arbitrary verification process, but they also faced discrimination even after completing it, such as the Polonization of their names.

Removal of German population and heritage

Despite the propagandist picture of an ancient Polish territory, the "Recovered Territories" after the take-over still hosted a substantial German population, and the centuries of German presence had marked the area a German one. This had to be changed quickly, as the territories' legal status was uncertain at the end of the war, and left room for different interpretations even after the Potsdam Agreement. The Polish administration set up a "Ministry for the Recovered Territories", headed by the then deputy prime minister Władysław Gomułka. A "Bureau for Repatriation" was to supervise and organize the expulsions and resettlements.

The expulsion of the remaining Germans in the first post-war years presaged a broader campaign to remove the footprints of centuries of German history and culture from public view. All German placenames were replaced with Polish or Polonized medieval Slavic ones. If no Slavic name existed, then either the German name was translated or new names were invented. The German language was banned, and many German monuments, graveyards, buildings etc. were demolished. Objects of art were moved to other parts of the country. Protestant churches were either converted into Catholic ones or used for other purposes. Official propaganda spread all-round anti-German sentiment, which was shared by many of the opposition as well as many in the Catholic church.


People from all over Poland quickly moved in to replace the former German population in a process parallel to the expulsions. While the Germans were interned and expelled, up to 5 million settlers were either attracted or forced to settle the areas. The settlers can be grouped according to their background:

  • settlers from Central Poland moving voluntarily (the majority)
  • Poles that had been freed from forced labor in Nazi Germany (up to two million)
  • so-called "repatriants": Poles expelled from the areas east of the new Polish-Soviet border were preferably settled in the new western territories, where they made up 26% of the population (up to two million)
  • non-Poles forceably resettled during Operation Wisła in 1947. Large numbers of Ukrainians were forced to move from south-eastern Poland under a 1947 Polish government operation aimed at dispersing, and therefore assimilating, those Ukrainians who had not been expelled eastward already, throughout the newly acquired territories. Belarusians living around the area around Białystok were also pressured into relocating to the formerly German areas for the same reasons. This scattering of members of non-Polish ethnic groups throughout the country was an attempt by the Polish authorities to dissolve the unique ethnic identity of groups like the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Lemkos, and broke the proximity and communication necessary for strong communities to form.
  • Tens of thousands of Jewish Holocaust-survivors, most of them "repatriates" from the East, settled mostly in Lower Silesia, creating Jewish cooperatives and institutions – the largest communities were founded in Wroclaw (Breslau, Lower Silesia), Szczecin (Stettin, Pomerania) and Wałbrzych (Waldenburg, Lower Silesia). However most of them had left Poland by 1968 due to Polish antisemitism and antisemitic governmental campaigns, with the first mass flight of Jews from Poland taking place as a consequence of postwar anti-Jewish violence culminating in the Kielce pogrom in 1946.

Polish and Soviet newspapers and officials encouraged Poles to relocate to the west – "the land of opportunity".. These new territories were described as a place where opulent villas abandoned by fleeing Germans waited for the brave; fully furnished houses and businesses were available for the taking. In fact, the areas were devastated by the war, the infrastructure largely destroyed, suffering high crime rates and looting by gangs. It took years for civil order to be established.

Today the population of the territories is predominantly Polish, although a small German minority still exists in many places, including Olsztyn (Allenstein), Masuria, and Upper Silesia, particularly in Opole Voivodeship.

Role of the Recovered Territories in the Communists' rise to power

The Communist government, not democratically legitimized but supported only by the Red Army, the UB secret service, terror and propaganda, sought to legitimize itself through anti-German propaganda. The German "revanchism" was played up as a permanent German threat, with the Communists being the only guarantors and defenders of Poland's continued possession of the "Recovered Territories". Gomułka asserted that "the western territories are one of the reasons the government has the support of the people. This neutralizes various elements and brings people together. Westward expansion and agricultural reform will bind the nation with the state. Any retreat would weaken our domestic position. The redistribution of "ownerless property" among the people by the regime brought it broad-based popular sympathy.

Legal status of the territories

During the Cold War the official position in the First World was that the concluding document of the Potsdam Conference was not an international treaty, but a mere memorandum. It regulated the issue of the German eastern border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final status of the German state and therefore its territories were subject to a separate peace treaty between Germany and the Allies of World War II. During the period from 1945 to 1990 two treaties between Poland and both East and West Germany were signed concerning the German-Polish border. In 1950 the German Democratic Republic and the People's Republic of Poland signed the Treaty of Zgorzelec, recognizing the Oder-Neisse line, officially designated by the Communists as the "Border of Peace and Friendship". On 7 December 1970 the Treaty of Warsaw between the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland was signed concerning the Polish western border. Both sides committed themselves to nonviolence and accepted the existing de facto border - the Oder-Neisse line. However a final treaty was not signed until 1990 as the "Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany". This meant that for 45 years, people on both sides of the border (and of the issue) could not be sure that the settlement reached in 1945 would not be changed at some future date.

Until the Treaty on the Final Settlement, the West German government regarded the status of the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse rivers as that of areas "temporarily under Polish or Soviet administration". To facilitate wide international acceptance of German reunification in 1990, the German political establishment recognized the "facts on the ground" and accepted the clauses in the Treaty on the Final Settlement whereby Germany renounced all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse line. This allowed the treaty to be negotiated quickly and for unification of democratic West Germany and communist East Germany to go ahead quickly. In the same year as the Final Settlement came into effect, 1990, Germany signed a separate treaty with Poland, the German-Polish Border Treaty, confirming the two countries’ present borders.

History of the "Recovered Territories" before 1945

Piast realm

Numerous West Slavic tribes had inhabited most of the area of present-day Poland since the 6th century. Mieszko I of the Polans from his stronghold in the Gniezno area subdued various neighboring tribes in the second half of the 10th century, creating the first Polish state and becoming the first historically recorded Piast duke. His realm roughly included all of the area of the "Recovered Territories" except for Warmia-Masuria. His son and successor, Bolesław I, expanded the southern part of the realm, but lost control over Pomerania. After fragmentation, pagan revolts and a Bohemian invasion in the 1030s, Casimir I the Restorer again united most of the former Piast realm, including Silesia and the Lubusz Land, but without Pomerania. Pomerania was subdued again temporarily by Bolesław III in 1116-1121. On his death in 1138, Poland was divided into several semi-independent duchies, ruled by Bolesław's sons and later their succesors, who were often in conflict with each other. Partial reunification was achieved by Władysław I, crowned king of Poland in 1320, although the Silesian and Masovian duchies remained independent.

In the course of the 12th to 14th centuries, large numbers of German, Dutch and Flemish settlers moved into East Central and Eastern Europe (a process known as the Ostsiedlung). In Pomerania, Brandenburg, East Prussia and Silesia, the former West Slav (Polabian Slavs and Poles) or Balt population became extinguished or dissimilated except for small minorities. In Poland and Pomerelia (West Prussia), German settlers formed a minority.


The Pomeranian parts of the Recovered Territories were subject to continuous Piast expeditions from the late 10th century. Mieszko I had conquered at least significant parts of the area, and a bishopric was established in the Kołobrzeg area by his son Bolesław I in 1000–1005/07, before the area was lost again. Despite attempts to again subdue the Pomeranian tribes, this was only managed by Bolesław III in several campaigns lasting from 1116 to 1121. There were successful Christian missions in 1124 and 1128, but by the time of Bolesław's death in 1138, most of Pomerania (the Griffin-ruled areas) had again regained independence. The Griffin duchy joined the Duchy of Saxony after the 1164 Battle of Verchen, and became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1181. This period also marks the onset of the Ostsiedlung in Pomerania: the first village recorded as German was Hohenkrug in 1170. Except for a period of Danish rule from the 1180s to 1227, the Duchy of Pomerania remained with the Holy Roman Empire until the last Griffin duke died in 1648. At that time the area had been under Swedish control since 1630. From 1648 to 1720 Sweden kept the western part including Stettin, while Farther Pomerania was made a province of Brandenburg (later Brandenburg-Prussia, Prussia). In 1720 the Stettin area was transferred from Swedish Pomerania to the Prussian Province of Pomerania. In 1815, the Dramburg area of the Neumark was attached to the province, as was the Schneidemühl (Piła) area of the former Grenzmark Posen-Westpreußen in 1938.

Gdańsk (Danzig) and the Lauenburg and Bütow Land

The history of the Eastern Pomeranian areas around Gdańsk (Danzig) and Lauenburg-Bütow (Lębork and Bytów), which are also within the "Recovered Territories", differs somewhat from the history of the bulk of Pomerania. They are situated in the former region of Pomerelia, which was ruled by the Samborides dynasty who, unlike the Griffins, did not join the Holy Roman Empire and remained under Piast control, loosening in the course of the 13th century. After the death of the last Samboride in 1294, the Polish kings Przemysł II of Poland and Wenceslaus II and Władysław I for a short period ruled Pomerelia in conflict with Brandenburg, who also claimed the region. The Teutonic takeover of Gdańsk (Danzig) followed in 1308, and after that Danzig and Lauenburg-Bütow became part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights until the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), when Danzig as a part of Royal Prussia became subject to the Polish Crown (though with substantial autonomy). Lauenburg-Bütow was handed over to the Griffin dukes and was a Polish fief for most of the time until the First Partition of Poland (1772). Danzig became a part of West Prussia in the Second Partition (1793), and was made the Free City of Danzig after World War I.

Lubusz Land

The medieval Lubusz Land, including Lubusz (Lebus) itself, was also part of Mieszko's realm. Poland lost the bishopric of Lebus to Ascanian Brandenburg in 1252, who made it part of their Neumark. During this period, Ostsiedlung had already begun in the area. The Ascanian margraves expanded their territory east by marriage politics: The Zantoch region with the future town of Landsberg an der Warthe was added to Neumark in 1254 after a marriage of margrave Konrad I with a daughter of Przemysl I, and further northeastern areas were added after the 1277 Treaty of Arnswalde with the Pomerelian duke Mestwin II in return for financing this duke's marriage. Neumark was a pawn of the Teutonic Knights from 1402 to 1429, when it became the knights' possession. In 1454 however, the knights pawned the area to Brandenburg again until it was finally sold to the margraves in 1463. From 1535 to 1571, the area was ruled independently by Hans von Küstrin, thereafter it remained with Brandenburg until 1945. In the 18th century, the area saw a new colonisation effort by Germans and Hugenots. In 1815, some smaller northeastern areas around the town of Dramburg were integrated into the Province of Pomerania, and in 1938, a small area around the town of Schwerin/Warthe was made part of the province. The present-day Polish Lubusz Land comprises most of the former Neumark territory east of the Oder River.

Former Province of Posen-West Prussia

A small portion of the Recovered Territories east of the Lubusz Land had previously formed the western parts of the Polish provinces of Pomerelia and Greater Poland (Polonia Maior), being lost to Prussia in the First Partition (the Pomerelian parts) and the Second Partition (the remainder). During Napoleonic times the Greater Poland territories were part of the Duchy of Warsaw, but after the Congress of Vienna they were returned to Prussia as part of the Grand Duchy of Posen (Poznań), later Province of Posen. After World War I those parts of the former Province of Posen and of West Prussia which were not made part of the Second Polish Republic were administered as Grenzmark Posen-Westpreußen (Province of Posen–West Prussia) until 1938.


Silesia continued to be ruled by Piast dukes following the 12th-century fragmentation of Poland. The Silesian Piasts retained power in most of the region until the early 16th century, the last (George William, duke of Legnica) dying in 1675. The first German colonists arrived in the late 12th century, and large-scale German settlement started in the early 13th century with the reign of Henry I. While Lower and Middle Silesia in the late Middle Ages became German-speaking except for some areas along the northeastern frontier, Upper Silesia retained a Polish character. Here, the Germans who arrived during the Middle Ages were mostly Polonized; Germans dominated in large cities and Poles mostly in rural areas. The province came under the control of Bohemia, a state of the Holy Roman Empire, in the 14th century. Silesia passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526, and was mostly conquered by Prussia's Frederick the Great in 1742. A small part of Upper Silesia became part of Poland after World War I, but the bulk of Silesia formed part of the post-1945 Recovered Territories.

Warmia and Masuria

Unlike the remainder of the Recovered Territories, the northern territories of Warmia and Masuria did not form part of the Piasts' kingdom. Originally inhabited by pagan Old Prussians, these regions were incorporated into the state of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th and 14th centuries. By the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), an area of Warmia around Lidzbark was awarded to the Polish crown as part of Royal Prussia, though with considerable autonomy. The remainder of today's Warmia-Masuria region became part of Ducal Prussia, formally a Polish fief. The region was taken by Prussia in the First Partition of Poland (1772). It formed the southern part of East Prussia after World War I, becoming part of Poland after World War II, with northern East Prussia going to the Soviet Union to form the Kaliningrad Oblast.

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