AskDefine | Define silesia

Dictionary Definition



1 a region of central Europe rich in deposits of coal and iron ore; annexed by Prussia in 1742 but now largely in Poland [syn: Slask, Slezsko, Schlesien]
2 a sturdy twill-weave cotton fabric; used for pockets and linings

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Proper noun

  1. A region of central Europe, spanning parts of present-day Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Derived terms



Extensive Definition

Silesia (in English, , lang-cs Slezsko; ; lang-la Silesia; ; Silesian: Ślůnsk) is a historical region of Central Europe located in contemporary Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. It is rich in mineral and natural resources and home to large amounts of industry. The largest cities are Wrocław, Katowice, and Ostrava.
Geographically, the area is very accessible but terminates within several mountain ranges making it historically a border region when incorporated amongst larger nation-states. It is primarily located in a swath flanking along both banks of the upper and middle Oder River, but extends to the upper Vistula River, and into and along the Sudetes, and arms of the Carpathian (both the Silesian Beskids, Silesian-Moravian Beskids) mountain ranges.
As a region, "national" ownership and borders have changed radically over the past millennium both as a heredity possession of noble houses or after the rise of modern nation-states — but, at present, most of the area is now within the borders of Poland where it is administered by the following sub-divisions: Silesian Voivodeship, Opole Voivodeship, Lower Silesian Voivodeship and Lubusz Voivodeship. Additional parts of the region are now in the Czech Republic (Czech Silesia) and Germany (Silesian-Lusatian Region or Silesian Lusatia: Ger: Niederschlesien-Oberlausitz/Schlesische Oberlausitz).
Silesia has been inhabited from time immemorial by people of multiple ethnic groups. Germanic tribes were first recorded within Silesia in the 1st century. Slavic peoples arrived in this territory around the 6th century. The first known states in Silesia were those of Greater Moravia and Bohemia. In the 10th century, Mieszko I incorporated Silesia into the Polish state.
In the Middle Ages, Silesia was divided among many independent duchies ruled by various Silesian dukes of the Piast dynasty. During this time, cultural and ethnic German influence increased due to immigrants from the German-speaking components of the Holy Roman Empire. Between the years 12891292 Bohemian king Wenceslaus II became suzerain of some Upper Silesian duchies. Silesia subsequently became a possession of the Bohemian crown under the Holy Roman Empire in the 14th century, and passed with that crown to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. The Duchy of Crossen was inherited by Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1476 and, with the renunciation by King Ferdinand I and estates of Bohemia in 1538, it became an integral part of Brandenburg.
In 1742, most of Silesia was seized by King Frederick the Great of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession and subsequently made the Prussian Province of Silesia.
After World War I, parts of Silesia were transferred to the Second Polish Republic and administered as the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship. A plebecite recorded the majority of the population of all of Upper Silesia wished to remain part of Germany. However, the easternmost portion of Upper Silesia, with a majority ethnic Polish population, was transferred to Poland. The Prussian Province of Silesia within Germany was divided into the Provinces of Lower Silesia and Upper Silesia. Austrian Silesia (now Czech Silesia), the small portion of Silesia retained by Austria after the Silesian Wars, became part of the new Czechoslovakia.
In 1945 following World War II, all of Silesia was seized by the Soviet Union and most of it transferred to Poland. As a result a vast majority of the native ethnic German population was expelled by force and replaced by Polish settlers.


Traditionally, Silesia was bounded to the west by the Kwisa and Bóbr rivers, while the territory west of the Kwisa was in Upper Lusatia (earlier Milsko). However, because part of Upper Lusatia was included in the Province of Silesia in 1815, in Germany Görlitz, Niederschlesischer Oberlausitzkreis and neighbouring areas are considered parts of Silesia. Those districts, along with Poland's Lower Silesian Voivodeship and parts of Lubusz Voivodeship, make up the geographic region of Lower Silesia.
Silesia has undergone a similar notional extension at its eastern extreme. Traditionally it extended only as far as the Brynica river, which separates it from Zagłębie Dąbrowskie. However to most Poles today (excluding those from the area in question), Silesia (Śląsk) is understood to cover all of the area around Katowice, including Zagłębie. This interpretation is given official sanction in the use of the name Silesian Voivodeship (województwo śląskie) for the province covering this area. In fact the word Śląsk in Polish (when used without qualification) now commonly refers exclusively to this area (also called Upper Silesia), to the exclusion of Lower Silesia.
Apart from Silesian Voivodeship, Upper Silesia in a broader sense also includes Opole Voivodeship in Poland and Czech Silesia in the Czech Republic. Czech Silesia consists of the Moravian-Silesian Region and Jeseník District in the Olomouc Region.


One theory claims that the name Silesia is derived from the Silingi, who were most likely a Vandalic (East Germanic) people migrated towards south of the Baltic Sea along the Elbe, Oder, and Vistula Rivers in the 2nd century. When the Silingi moved from the area during the Migration Period, they left remnants of their society behind.
The most evident remnants are in the names of places, which were imposed (in Slavic form) by the new inhabitants, who were in fact Slavic (; Old Polish: Śląžsk [-o]; Old Slavic: *Sьlęžьskъ [<*sǐlęgǐskǔ], from Old Vandalic *Siling-isk [land]). These people became associated with the place, and were thenceforth known as Silesians (using a Latinized form of the Polish name, Ślężanie), even though they may have had little in common with the original Silingi. The critics claim that neither the Polish name Śląsk nor German Schlesien show resemblance to the alleged tribe of "Silingi", and that the Latin name Silesia originated in 11th century.
The other theory (supported by archaeological finds) claims that the original name of the region Śląsk, is derived from the West Slavic word ślągwa meaning high humidity (to this day the region of Mountain Ślęża, the original Polish settlement, has a coastal climate).


Early people

The first signs of genus Homo in Silesia date to between 230,000 and 100,000 years ago. The Silesian region between the upper Vistula and upper Oder was the northern extreme of the human penetration at the time of the last glaciation. The anatomically-modern human is estimated to have arrived in Silesia about 35,000 years ago . Subsequently, Silesia was inhabited by people who belonged to changing archaeological cultures in the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and the ethnic identity of whose cannot currently be determined. The civilization of Old Europe undoubtedly included Silesia. In the late Bronze Age, the Lusatian culture (in the past, variously speculated to be either 'pre-Germanic', Proto-Slavic, Thracian, Karpo-Dacian, or Illyrian) covered Silesia. Later, the Scythians and Celts are known to have played a role within the Silesian territory. Still later Germanic tribes migrated to Silesia, possibly from Northern Germany or Scandinavia.
In ancient times, the main route of the Amber Road passed through Silesia.
The first written sources about Silesia came down from the Egyptian Claudius Ptolemaeus (Magna Germania) and the Roman Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (Germania). According to Tacitus, the 1st century Silesia was inhabited by a multi-ethnic league dominated by the Lugii, an East Germanic tribe. The Silingi were also part of this federation, and most likely a Vandalic people (Germanic) that lived south of the Baltic Sea in the Laba, later Elbe, Oder, and Vistula river areas. Also, other East Germanic tribes inhabited the scarcely populated region.

Middle Ages

After about 500 AD, the migration period had induced the bulk of the East Germanic tribes to continue their migration and leave Silesia towards Southern Europe, while Slavic tribes began to appear and spread including into the Silesian lands.
Early documents mention a few mostly Slavic tribes probably living in Silesia (Silesian tribes). The Bavarian Geographer (around 845 AD) specifies the following peoples: the Slenzanie, Dzhadoshanie, Opolanie, Lupiglaa, and Golenshitse. A document of the Bishopric of Prague (1086) also mentions the Zlasane, Trebovyane, Poborane, and Dedositze.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Silesia territory came under the political power of the first historically-attested states in the region called Great Moravia, Moravia, and then Bohemia, with the centers in the neighbouring area within today's Czech Republic to the south. Around year 990 AD, some parts of Silesia were conquered and annexed into the newly-created Polish state by Duke Mieszko I, (see map), although some historians give this date as 999 and the rule of Duke Boleslaus I. During Poland's fragmentation (1138–1320) into duchies ruled by different branches of the Piast dynasty. Silesia was ruled by descendants of the former royal family.
In 1146, High Duke Władysław II acknowledged the overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire over his realms, but was driven into exile by Polish nobles who opposed him. In 1163, his two sons took possession of Silesia with Imperial backing, dividing the land between them as dukes of Lower and Upper Silesia. They created two main Piast lines in Silesia, Wrocławska (of Wrocław)) and Opolsko-Raciborska (of Opole and Racibórz. The policy of subdivision continued under their successors, with Silesia being divided into 16 principalities by the 1390s.
In 1241, after raiding Lesser Poland, the Mongols invaded Silesia and caused widespread panic and mass flight. They looted much of the region, but abandoned their siege of the castle of Wrocław, supposedly after being fended off by Blessed Czeslaw's "miraculous fireball." They then annihilated the combined Polish and German forces at the Battle of Legnica, which took place at Legnickie Pole near Legnica. Upon the death of Ögedei Khan, the Mongols chose not to press forward further into Europe, but returned east to participate in the election of a new Grand Khan.
The ruling Silesian lords decided to rebuild their cities according to the latest administrative ideas. They founded or rebuilt some 160 cities and 1,500 towns and introduced the codified German city law (Magdeburg law and Środa Śląska law) in place of the older, customary Slavic and Polish laws. They also made up for the recent population loss by inviting new settlers, mostly German and Dutch colonists from the Holy Roman Empire. Since the end of the 13th century or beginning of the 14th, Silesian dukes invited many German settlers to improve their duchies. Germans settled mostly in cities, as did Jews and some Czechs. In the countryside, especially in Upper Silesia, people of Polish origins still predominated. This policy of inviting Germans to colonize and cultivate the barren lands, and the assimilation of the ruling classes and the German and Slavic inhabitants, gave reason to Polish and German nationalists for ideological tensions between both nations in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
In the second half of the 13th century, various knightly orders settled in Silesia — the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star were the first, soon followed by the Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights.

Silesian duchies

Many Piast dukes tried to reincorporate Silesia into the Polish kingdom and reunite Poland during the time of divisions. The first significant attempts were made by Duke Henryk IV Probus of Silesia, but he died in 1290 before realizing his goal. Duke Przemysł II of Greater Poland united two of the original provinces and was crowned in 1295, but was murdered in 1296. According to his will, Greater Poland was supposed to be inherited by Duke Henryk Głogowski (of Głogów) who also aspired to unite Poland and even claimed the title Duke of Poland. However, most nobles of Greater Poland supported another candidate from the Kuyavian line of Piasts, Duke Władysław I the Elbow-high. Władysław eventually won the struggle because of his broader support. In the meantime, King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia decided to extend his rule and was crowned as King of Poland in 1300. The next half century was rife with wars between Władysław (later his son Casimir III the Great) and a coalition of Bohemians, Brandenburgers and Teutonic Knights trying to divide Poland. During this time, most Silesian dukes, despite their ties with Poland, ruled small realms that were unable to unite with Poland and thus fell under the influence of neighboring Bohemia.
In 1327, Duke Henry VI of Breslau and the Upper Silesian dukes recognized the overlordship of King John I of Bohemia, while in 1335 King Casimir III of Poland accepted Bohemian incorporation of most of Silesia (Treaties of Trenčín and Visegrád). Over the following centuries, the lines of the Piast dukes of Silesia died out and were inherited by the Bohemian crown:
Although Friedrich Wilhelm, the last male Silesian Piast Duke of Teschen (Cieszyn) died in 1625, rule of the duchy passed to his sister Elisabeth Lucretia, wife of the duke of Liechtenstein, until her death in 1653 after which it reverted to the Bohemian crown under the Habsburg rulers.
By the end of the 14th century, the country had been split up into 18 principalities: Wrocław, Brzeg, Głogów, Jawor, Legnica, Ziębice, Oleśnica, Świdnica and Ścinawa in Lower Silesia; Bytom, Niemodlin, Koźle, Nysa, Opole, Racibórz, Strzelce Opolskie, Cieszyn and Opava in the upper district. The petty rulers of these sections wasted their strength with internecine quarrels and proved quite incompetent to check the lawlessness of their feudal vassals. Save under the vigorous rule of some dukes of Lower Silesia, such as Henry I and Bolko I, and the above-named Henry II and IV, who succeeded in reuniting most of the principalities under their sway, the country fell into a state of growing anarchy.
The inheritance of the Silesian duchies by Bohemia incorporated the region into the Holy Roman Empire. Under Emperor Charles IV, Silesia and especially Wrocław (Vratislav, Breslau) gained greatly in importance, as many great buildings and large Gothic churches were built. From the 13th century onward the population of the region became increasingly Germanized through the arrival of more German settlers and the assimilation of local rulers and peasants within this new German majority.
Between 1425 and 1435, devastation was caused by the Hussite Wars in Bohemia. The Hussites turned against the German population, and some regions, especially Upper Silesia, became partly Slavic-speaking again. Despite the widespread nature of the conflagration, Silesia remained largely Catholic, excluding Cieszyn Silesia where Hussite ideas became popular.
Under later rulers, the connection with Bohemia brought the Silesians no benefit, but involved them in the destructive Hussite wars. At the outbreak of this conflict in 1420, they gave ready support to their king Sigismund against the Bohemian Hussites, whom they regarded as dangerous to their German nationality, but by this act they exposed themselves to a series of invasions (1425-1435) by which the country was severely devastated. In consequence of these raids, the German element of population in Upper Silesia permanently lost ground; a complete restitution of the Slavonic nationality seemed imminent on the appointment of the Hussite, George Podiebrad, to the Bohemian kingship in 1457. Though most of the Silesian dynasts seemed ready to acquiesce, the burghers of Breslau fiercely repudiated the new suzerain, and before he could enforce his claims to homage he was ousted by the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus, who was readily recognized as overlord (1469).
Matthias enforced his authority by the vigorous use of his mercenaries and by wholesale confiscations of the lands of turbulent nobles. By instituting a permanent diet of Silesian princes and estates to co-operate with his vicegerent, he took an important step towards the abolition of particularism and the establishment of an effective central government. In spite of these reforms the Silesians, who felt severely the financial exactions of Matthias, began to resent the control of the Bohemian crown. Profiting by the weakness of Matthias' successor Vladislaus II, they extorted concessions which secured them a practical autonomy. They still retained these privileges at the outset of the religious Reformation, which the Silesians, in spite of their Catholic zeal during the Hussite wars, accepted readily and carried out with singularly little opposition from within or without.
But a drastic change in their government was imposed upon them by the Bohemian king, Ferdinand I, who had been prevented from interference during his early reign by his wars with the Turks, and who showed little disposition to check the Reformation in Silesia by forcible means, but subsequently reasserted the control of the Bohemian crown by a series of important enactments. He abolished all privileges which were not secured by charter and imposed a more rigidly centralized scheme of government in which the activities of the provincial diet were restricted to some judicial and financial functions, and their freedom in matters of foreign policy was withdrawn altogether. Henceforth, too, annexations of territory were frequently carried out by the Bohemian crown on the extinction of Silesian dynasties, and the surviving princes showed an increasing reluctance to exercise their authority. Accordingly the Silesian estates never again chose to exercise initiative save on rare occasions, and from 1550 Silesia passed almost completely under foreign administration.

Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century took an early hold in Silesia, and 9/10 of all inhabitants became Lutheran. Thus large parts of Silesia became closer attached to the center of the Protestant Reformation, Brandenburg and Saxony, whereas the ties to the Catholic regions of Bohemia and Southern Germany waned.
After the death of King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia in 1526, Ferdinand I of the Habsburg dynasty was elected King of Bohemia. In the same year, he made the formerly elected Bohemian crown an inherited possession of the Habsburg dynasty. In 1537, the Piast Duke Frederick II of Brzeg concluded a treaty with Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, whereby the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg would inherit the duchy upon the extinction of the Piasts, but the treaty was rejected by Ferdinand.
The religious conflicts and wars of the Reformation and Counter Reformation in the 17th century led many Silesian Protestants to seek refuge in the neighbouring countries of Brandenburg, Saxony and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Protestant Silesians often also circumvented restrictive laws by building their churches on the soil of these countries, the so called "border churches" (German: Grenzkirchen).

Thirty Years' War

The second "Defenestration of Prague" in 1618 sparked the Thirty Years' War, caused by King Ferdinand II's attempts to restore Catholicism and stamp out Protestantism within Bohemia, carried out with the help of the Jesuits.
Although Ferdinand requested assistance from the mostly Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Polish szlachta sympathized with the Bohemian and Hungarian nobility despite their religious differences and refused King Sigismund III Vasa's attempt to assist the Habsburgs. Finally, Sigismund decided to help the Habsburgs by sending an unemployed mercenary group called the Lisowczycy in late 1619, hoping to regain parts of Silesia in exchange. The Lisowczycy's support would prove decisive during the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. However, as the Habsburgs' situation improved, Emperor Ferdinand II did not agree to any concessions in Silesia, nor did he help in Poland's war against the Ottoman Empire, and the Polish kings never received anything except a vague set of promises and several brides to keep them favourably inclined to the Habsburg dynasty.
After the end of the Thirty Years' War with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the Habsburgs greatly encouraged Catholicism and succeeded in reconverting to Catholicism about 60% of the population of Silesia. By 1675 the last Silesian Piast rulers had died out.

Kingdom of Prussia

In 1740, the annexation of Silesia by King Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia was welcomed by many Silesians, not only by Protestants or Germans. Frederick based his claims on the Treaty of Brieg and began the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). By war's end, the Kingdom of Prussia had conquered almost all of Silesia, while some parts of Silesia in the extreme southeast, like the Duchy of Cieszyn and Duchy of Opava, remained possessions of the Crown of Bohemia and Habsburg Monarchy. The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) confirmed Prussian control over most of Silesia, and the Prussian Province of Silesia became one of the most loyal provinces of Prussia. In 1815, the area around Görlitz, formerly part of Saxony, was incorporated into the province after the Napoleonic Wars. By this time, German had become the only popular language in Lower Silesia, while dialects of Polish and Czech were used in most of the countryside of Upper Silesia. German was the most common language in most Silesian cities.

Silesia in Germany and Austria

As a Prussian province, Silesia became part of the German Empire during the unification of Germany in 1871. There was considerable industrialization in Upper Silesia, and many people moved there at that time. The overwhelming majority of the population of Lower Silesia was by then German-speaking and many were Lutheran, including the capital Breslau. There were areas such as the District of Oppeln (then Regierungsbezirk Oppeln) and rural parts of Upper Silesia, however, where a larger portion or even majority of the population was Slavic-speaking and Roman Catholic. In Silesia as a whole, ethnic Poles comprised about 30% of the population, and most of them lived around Katowice in the southeast of Upper Silesia. In whole Upper Silesia Poles made 61,1 % of population in 1829, but due to state's policy of forced germanization their numbers decreased to 58,6 % of population 1849 . The Kulturkampf set Catholics in opposition to the government and sparked a Polish revival, much of it fostered by Poles from outside of Germany, in the Upper Silesian parts of the province. The first conference of Hovevei Zion groups took place in Kattowitz (Katowice), German Empire in 1884.
At the same time, the areas of Ostrava and Karviná in Austrian Silesia became increasingly industrialized. Significant portion of the Polish-speaking people there, however, were Lutherans in contrast to the German-speaking Catholic Habsburg dynasty ruling Austria-Hungary.
In 1900, the population of Austrian Silesia numbered 680,422, which corresponds to 342 inhabitants per square mile (132/km²). The Germans formed 44.69% of the population, 33.21% were Poles and 22.05% Czechs and Slavs. According to religion, 84% were Roman Catholics, 14% Protestants and the remainder were Jews. The local diet was composed of 31 members, and Silesia sent 12 deputies to the Reichsrat at Vienna. For administrative purposes Silesia was divided into 9 districts and 3 towns with autonomous municipalities: Opava (Troppau), the capital, Bielsko-Biała (Bielitz) and Frýdek-Místek (Friedeck). Other principal towns were: Cieszyn/Těšín (Teschen), Slezská Ostrava (Polnisch-Ostrau) – the eastern part of Ostrava, Krnov (Jagerndorf), Karviná (Karwin), Bruntál (Freudenthal), Jeseník (Freiwaldau) and Horní Benešov (Bennisch).
In the Treaty of Versailles after the defeat of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I, it was decided that the population of Upper Silesia should hold a plebiscite in order to determine the future of the province, with the exception of a 333 km² area around Hlučín (Hultschiner Ländchen), which was granted to Czechoslovakia in 1920 despite having a German majority. The plebiscite, organised by the League of Nations, was held in 1921. In Cieszyn Silesia firstly there was an interim deal between Polish Rada Narodowa Księstwa Cieszyńskiego and Czech Národní výbor pro Slezsko about partition of past lands of the Duchy of Cieszyn according to ethnic lines. However, that deal was not approved by the Czechoslovak government in Prague. Poland held general elections in the entire disputed area, and on 23 January 1919, Czech troops invaded the lands of Cieszyn Silesia and stopped on 30 January 1919 on the Vistula River near Skoczów. The planned plebiscite was not organised and the division of Cieszyn Silesia was decided on 28 July 1920 by the Spa Conference, which instituted the present-day border between Poland and the Czech Republic.

Interwar period

After the referendum, there were three Silesian Insurrections instigated by Polish inhabitants of the area, as a result of which the League of Nations decided that the province should be split with areas where majority voted for Poland going to Poland and areas where majority voted for Germany going to Germany. The League decided that the eastern-most Upper Silesian areas where majority voted for Poland, should become an autonomous area within Poland organised as the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship (Autonomiczne Województwo Śląskie) and with Silesian Parliament as a constituency and Silesian Voivodship Council as the executive body. One of the central political figures that stirred these changes was Wojciech Korfanty.
The major part of Silesia, remaining in Germany, was reorganised into the two provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. In Silesia the synagogues in modern day Wrocław (German:Breslau) and in many other cities were destroyed during the Kristallnacht of 1938. In October 1938, Zaolzie (part of Cieszyn Silesia, the disputed area west of the Olza River - 876 km² with 258,000 inhabitants), was taken by Poland from Czechoslovakia following the Munich Agreement that surrendered border areas of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Czech Silesia with Slezská Ostrava was incorporated into the Sudetenland Gau, while Hultschin was incorporated into Upper Silesia province.

World War II

The German Reich retook possession of these mostly Polish parts of Upper Silesia (lost as a result of WWI) along with Sosnowiec (Sosnowitz), Będzin (Bendzin, Bendsburg), Chrzanów (Krenau), and Zawiercie (Warthenau) counties and parts of Olkusz (Ilkenau) and Zywiec (Saybusch) counties in 1939, when the invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II. The local German populations frequently welcomed the Wehrmacht and saw it as a liberation much like in the Sudetenland. Later, many thousands of Silesians were conscripted to the Wehrmacht.
In 1940, the Germans started to construct the Auschwitz concentration camp, which was later used as a death camp during the Holocaust. The Groß-Rosen concentration camp, which had subcamps in many Silesian cities, was also constructed in 1940. The Riese Project was later implemented, during which thousands of prisoners died.

Silesia after World War II

In 1945, all of Silesia was occupied by the Soviet Red Army and Polish People's Army, in the course of the Silesian Offensives as part of the invasion of Eastern Germany. By then a large portion of the German population had fled or were evacuated from Silesia out of fear of revenge by Soviet soldiers, but many returned after the German capitulation. Under the terms of the agreements at the Yalta Conference and the Potsdam Agreement, both in 1945, German Silesia east of the rivers Oder and Lusatian Neisse was transferred to Poland (see Oder-Neisse line). Most of the remaining Silesian Germans, who before World War II amounted to more than four million inhabitants, were forcibly expelled, some of them imprisoned in labour camps, e.g. Lamsdorf (Łambinowice) and Zgoda labour camp. Many perished in those camps and many more during the flight towards the Soviet Occuapation Zone across the Oder(future East Germany). More than 30,000 Silesian men (majority of German roots, some having partially Polish roots) were deported to Soviet mines and Siberia, the majority of whom never returned. Others were driven out in the years after the war by the Polish government who took on a very nationalistic anti-German policy in what they deemed the Regained Territories, (see German exodus from Eastern Europe).
The industry of Silesia, in particular the substantial industry of Upper Silesia, suffered comparatively little damage during World War II due to its relative inaccessibility to Allied bombing, a Soviet Army enveloping maneuver in January 1945, and perhaps Albert Speer's slowness or refusal to implement the scorched earth policy. This generally intact industry now played a critical role in the post-war reconstruction and industrialization of Poland. That industry that was damaged or destroyed (mostly in Opole and Lower Silesia) was rebuilt after the war. After the war, businesses (large and small alike) were nationalized and operated, with relatively minor changes or investments, till 1989. At the fall of communism in 1989, the most industrialized parts of Silesia were in decline. Since 1989, Silesia has been transitioning to a more diverse, service-based economy.
After the World War II, the region was substantially repopulated by Poles, many of whom had themselves been expelled from eastern Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union and transferred to the Soviet Ukraine. Today, a small German-speaking remnant indigenous population exists in the region around Opole (Oppeln), as well as some Slavic speaking and bilingual remnants of the pre-1945 population of Upper Silesia. In the official Polish census, 153,000 people declared German nationality, though up to 500,000 or more are of German ancestry. The German-Polish silesian minority is active in politics and has pressed for the right to again freely use the German language in public which has been largely successful.
In 1945 following World War II, the communist parliament of Poland took control of the German Silesian territory, as well as the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship. After the fall of communism in 1989, the parliament of Poland did not return autonomy to Polish Silesia. Since 1991, the Silesian Autonomy Movement has tried peaceful dialogue to convince the Polish parliament to return autonomy, though so far their efforts have been unsuccessful.

Natural resources

Silesia is a resource-rich and populous region. Bituminous and lignite coal is abundant, and a substantial manufacturing industry is present, particularly in Upper Silesia. Lower Silesia features large copper mining and processing between the cities of Legnica, Głogów, Lubin and Polkowice. Recently, the estimate of lignite reserves near Legnica has been upgraded to about 35 billion tonnes, making them some of the largest in the world.
The following minerals have also been mined in Silesia: zinc, silver, cadmium, lead, gold, methane, iron ore, limestone, marl, marble, and basalt. Historically, also uranium used to be mined.
In post-communist times, however, the outdated nature of many facilities has led to environmental problems and substantial transition away from the resource-based to service-based economy.
The region also has a thriving agricultural sector, which produces cereals (wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn), potatoes, rapeseed, sugar beets and others. Milk production is well developed. The Opole Silesia has for decades occupied the top spot in Poland for their indices of effectiveness of agricultural land use.
Mountainous parts of southern Silesia feature many significant and attractive tourism destinations (e.g., Karpacz, Szczyrk, Wisła).
Silesia is generally well forested. This is because greenness is generally highly desirable by the local population, particularly in the highly industrialized parts of Silesia.


Modern Silesia is inhabited by Poles, Germans, Czechs and slavic Silesians. The last Polish census of 2002 showed that the Silesians are the largest national minority in Poland, Germans being the second; both groups are located mostly in Upper Silesia. The Czech part of Silesia is inhabited by Czechs, Moravians, and Poles.
Before the Second World War, Silesia was inhabited mostly by Germans and Poles, in addition to German and Polish Jews and Czechs. In 1905, a census showed (in Upper Silesia) that 75% of the population was German and 25% Polish. Most Jews were murdered in the Holocaust in the German concentration camps. The vast majority of German Silesians fled or were expelled from Silesia during and after World War II. Most ethnic German Silesians today live in the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, many of them working as miners in the Ruhr area, like their ancestors did in the Silesian mines. In order to smooth their integration into West German society after 1945, they were organized into officially recognized organisations, like the Landsmannschaft Schlesien, financed from the federal German budget. One of its most notable but controversial spokesmen was the CDU politician Herbert Hupka. The prevailing public opinion in Germany is that these organisations will achieve reconciliation with the Polish Silesians, which is gradually occurring. Many of the pre-war Germanised Slavic Silesians living in Upper Silesia have remained culturally bound to and have sought work in the Federal Republic of Germany after 1990, along with their ethnic German Silesian countrymen. Examples of mixed Polish-German Silesians include Miroslav Klose; fellow teammate Lukas Podolski who is also Silesian. Both are stars of the German national football team.
Silesia has always been different than ruling it countries. Also stereotyping of Silesians and by Silesians has been common. The Silesian people are perceived to traditionally exhibit exceptional working ethics, high technical aptitude, dedication to family, team-work orientation, and skepticism to politics and media. The stereotypical way for Silesian men to spend their free time would include pigeon keeping, bee keeping, soccer, gardening, home upgrades, beer drinking, or magazine reading, while stereotypical housewife would prefer to play with kids, chat with a neighbour, or bake elaborate pastry (possibly a poppy-seed cake).

Cities in Silesia

By far, the largest urban center in Silesia (and in Poland) is the Upper Silesian Metropolitan Union, which is a voluntary union of a 14 neighbouring cities. However, it struggling to gain recognition in Poland, and is sometimes not even shown on Polish maps.



Further reading

  • Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st Series, volume XI, Upper Silesia, Poland, and the Baltic States, January 1920-March 1921, edited by Rohan Butler, MA, J.P.T.Bury, MA, & M.E.Lambert, MA, Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), London, 1961 (amended edition 1974), ISBN 0-11-591511-7*
  • Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st Series, volume XVI, Upper Silesia, March 1921 - November 1922, edited by W.N.Medlicott, MA, D.Lit., Douglas Dakin, MA, PhD, & M.E.Lambert, MA, HMSO, London, 1968.
  • Dehio - Handbuch der Kunstdenkmäler in Polen: Schlesien, Herder-Institut Marburg and Krajowy Osrodek Badan i Dokumentacji Zabytkow Warszawa, Deutscher Kunstverlag 2005, ISBN 342203109X*

External links

silesia in Afrikaans: Silesië
silesia in Arabic: سيليزيا
silesia in Breton: Silezia
silesia in Bulgarian: Силезия
silesia in Czech: Slezsko
silesia in Danish: Schlesien
silesia in German: Schlesien
silesia in Modern Greek (1453-): Σιλεσία
silesia in Spanish: Silesia
silesia in Esperanto: Silezio
silesia in French: Silésie
silesia in Western Frisian: Sileezje
silesia in Galician: Silesia
silesia in Korean: 실레지아
silesia in Upper Sorbian: Šleska
silesia in Indonesian: Silesia
silesia in Italian: Slesia
silesia in Hebrew: שלזיה
silesia in Latin: Silesia
silesia in Lithuanian: Silezija
silesia in Hungarian: Szilézia
silesia in Dutch: Silezië
silesia in Japanese: シレジア
silesia in Norwegian: Schlesien
silesia in Occitan (post 1500): Silèsia
silesia in Polish: Śląsk
silesia in Portuguese: Silésia
silesia in Romanian: Silezia
silesia in Russian: Силезия
silesia in Simple English: Silesia
silesia in Slovak: Sliezsko
silesia in Slovenian: Šlezija
silesia in Serbian: Шлеска
silesia in Finnish: Sleesia
silesia in Silesian: Ślůnsk
silesia in Swedish: Schlesien
silesia in Vietnamese: Silesia
silesia in Ukrainian: Сілезія
silesia in Chinese: 西里西亞
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