First posted on August 30th 2008

Demographic History of Silesia

Note : this page is conceived telegram-style and selective (lists of wars deemed destructive, lists of epidemic diseases, years of famine etc.)
The data given below refer to Silesia (Prussian Silesia) in her 1742-1918 borders, including historical events pertaining to the territory further back in history / after 1918.

Deportation & Genocide
Ethnic Groups : Speakers of Polish and German
Ethnic Minorities : Roma (Gypsies)
Religious Minorities : Catholics, Lutherans, Jews
Metropolis Breslau
Epidemic, Pandemic Diseases
Labour Migration : Immigration, Emigration
Political Refugees : Emigrants, Immigrants
Rural Population
Population Figures
Wartime Destruction : Battleground Silesia

Deportation & Genocide
1315 Pogrom against Waldensians
1349 Anti-Jewish Pogrom in Breslau
1360 Anti-Jewish Pogrom in Breslau
1429-1435 Persecution of Hussites
1453 Anti-Jewish Pogrom in Breslau
1557 Jews evicted from Silesia, except for Zülz and Glogau; confirmed 1582
1938-1945 Jews, Gypsies from Silesia deported; many fell victim to the Holocaust
1945-1946 The bulk of Silesia's ethnic German population (as far as they had not fled advancing Soviet forces) were expelled

Ethnic Groups : Speakers of Polish and German
It is believed that Slavs settled Silesia in the 5th century A.D. In the 10th century, Silesia became part of the Kingdom of Poland. Silesia was made a separate Duchy, which in the 13th century separated from Poland and became a sideland of the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The (Slavic) Dukes of Silesia called ethnic German settlers into the country; Silesia thus became a country in which ethnic Germans and ethnic Poles, for centuries, cohabited peacefully. In Lower Silesia and the Sudeten mountains region, the ethnic German population dominated, in much of Upper Silesia the ethnic Polish population element (Conrads p.156).
The Protestant Reformation elevated the status of the German language (until then, Latin was the prefered language of the church and of state administration); by and large German and Lutheran, Pole and Catholic were regarded synonymous. The Reformation contributed to a standardized German, in education, the church and literature, replacing regional dialects of German. The Polish population of Silesia spoke a dialect called Silsian or Water Polish.
The 19th century saw a rise of nationalism, with many of Silesia's ethnic Germans becoming German patriots, many of Silesia's Poles becoming Polish patriots. Bismarck's policy aiming at reducing the power of the Catholic Church (Kulturkampf) alienated Silesia's (mostly Polish-speaking) Catholics. Following Germany's defeat in World War I, a plebiscite was held in Upper Silesia, an area with a majority of Polish-speakers. Yet two thirds of the population opted for Germany (this figure including a considerable number of speakers of Polish as their first language); the plebiscite area was partitioned, the larger part remaining with Germany, the smaller part annexed into Poland.
The plebiscite may serve as an indicator showing that national identity was not only determined by the first language of the individual, but that family and friends, loyalty to the state were also factors. Marriages united families across ethnic lines; a good number of Silesians was bilingual.
Nazi Germany discriminated against Polish-speaking Silesians. During the German administration of occupied Poland 1939-1944/45, the Polish population suffered atrocities on a scale hitherto unknown in European history. When Germany was defeated, Soviet forces handed over the administration of Silesia (except for Silesian Lusatia) to Poland; the bulk of the ethnic German population of Silesia was expelled, while ethnic Poles from Western Belarus and Western Ukraine moved in. From 1956 onward, Silesians could emigrate from Poland to the FRG.

Ethnic Minorities : Sinti and Roma (Gypsies)
Present in the region from the 15th century. In 1935-1945 exposed to deportation and genocide.

Religious Minorities : Lutherans
From the early 15th century onward there had been followers of Jan Hus in Silesia. Yet Hussite raids into Silesia 1429-1435 had resulted in devastation of significant parts of the country and in the persecution of local Hussites; those who escaped chose not to advertise their belief. Their descendants welcomed Luther's reformation in the early 16th century. In the course of the 16th century, most of Silesia's ethnic Germans converted to Lutheranism.
In 1945-1946 the vast majority of Silesia's Lutherans, as ethnic Germans, were expelled.

Religious Minorities : Catholics
The bulk of the ethnic Polish population of Silesia remained Catholic. The Counterreformation, implemented since c.1620, resulted in a steady growth of Catholicism (Conrads p.295).

Religious Minorities : Jews
Pogroms and expulsions in the 14th and 15th century were followed by privileges which permitted individual Silesian cities the right 'not to have to tolerate Jews'. In the 16th century, Jews were denied to permanently settle anywhere in Silesia except for two places, Zülz and Glogau. The Prussian annexation of Silesia introduced religious toleration and a policy of attracting immigrants of any faith; Silesia, and escpecially the provincial capital of Breslau, attracted Jewish residents.
In 1935-1945 the Jewish population of Silesia was exposed to the Holocaust.

Metropolis Breslau / Wroclaw
The population of Breslau in 1500 was 18.000 to 20.000, in 1618 30,000, in 1633 15,000, in 1670 28,000, in 1749 49,986 (Conrads p.284), 1756 56,774, in 1763 42,114, in 1790 51,219, in 1811 62,504, in 1840 92,305, in 1852 116,235, in 1867 167,229, in 1880 268,310 (Meyers). Until 1945 Breslau, for most of its history, was regarded the second largest city of Germany. Seat of a bishop since 1000. In 1811 the Viadrina (University of Frankfurt/Oder) was relocated to Breslau, named University of Breslau

Epidemic, Pandemic Diseases
1348-1349 Bubonic Plague
1360 Plague in Brieg
1412 Plague in Herrnstadt
1413 Plague in Schweidnitz
1464 Plague in Herrnstadt
1483 Plague
1552-1553 Pandemic in Herrnstadt
1571 Plague in Herrnstadt
1585-1586 Plague in Herrnstadt
1588 Plague in Herrnstadt
1599 Plague in Herrnstadt
1613 Plague in Herrnstadt
1625 Plague in Bögendorf
1631 Plague in Herrnstadt
1656 Plague in Herrnstadt
1708 Plague in Herrnstadt
1848 Typhus
1866 Cholera in Herrnstadt

1314-1317 Great Famine
1338-1355 Great Famine
1615-1616 Famine
1625 Famine
1736 Famine in Herrnstadt
1749 Famine
1756 Famine
1846-1847 Potato Famine in Silesia

Labour Migration : Immigration 1742-1786 during the rule of Frederick II., settlers (farmers, craftsmen) were called into the country
1840-1939 the coal mines attracted immigrant labour

Labour Migration : Emigration
1848-1939 industrial centers such as Berlin, Saxony and the Ruhr Basin attracted Silisian workers

Political Refugees : Emigrants
1625-1630 In the Principalities of Glogau, Sagan, Schweidnitz-Jauer, Münsterberg Counterreformation caused emigration of Lutherans
1738 Not privileged Jews were expelled from Silesia
1871 Polish Silesians emigrated to Brazil
1956-1990 Silesians of German identity, to the FRG

Political Refugees : Immigrants
1656-1660 Poles fleeing the invading Swedes
1831 Poles from Congress Poland
1945-1946 Poles expelled from Western Belarus, Western Ukraine

Rural Population
In the 12th century, Silesia was thinly populated. From the 13th to 15th century, a significant number of mostly ethnic German immigrants settled in Silesia, bringing with them ploughing techniques which permitted them to turn heavy clay soil into arable land. Silesia has large stretches of fertile soil. Occasional draught or inundations caused misharvests.
Among the cultivated products, wheat dominated. The potato was introduced early in the 18th century. In the 19th and early 20th century, Silesia because of the ongoing Industrialization experienced a migration from the villages into the cities.

Population Figures
Silesia 1600 1,000,000, 1670 833,684, 1736 999,236, 1748 1,135,801 (Conrads p.284), 1756 1.162.000, 1763 1.116.000, 1787 1.716.000 (ibid. p.384). in 1816 1,942,063, in 1848 3,059,407 (HGIS), 1885 4,112,219, of whom 825,000 Poles and 55,000 Czechs (Meyers), in 1914 5,429,000 (HGIS).

Wroclaw (Breslau) was established in the 19th century, became the seat of the Silesian bishopric in 1000, capital of the Duchy of Silesia in 1163, German city law introduced in 1226.
Legnica (Liegnitz) 1004 ?, Glogow (Glogau) 1010, Glatz (Klodzko) 1114, Goldberg 1216, Löwenberg 1217, Ratibor (Raciborz) 1217, Oppeln (Opole) 1217, Schweidnitz (Svidnica) 1250, Brieg (Brzeg) 1250, Kreuzburg (Kluczbork) 1252, Beuthen (Bytom) 1254, Oels (Olesnica) 1256, Lauban (Luban) 1268, Wohlau (Wolow) c.1285, Jauer (Jawor) before 1300, Grünberg (Zielona Gora) 1323, Cosel (Kozle) before 1342
Kattowitz (Katowice) 1865, Waldenburg (Walbrzych) 19th C., Zabrze (Hindenburg) 1922
There were a few urban settlements (with administrative & defensive military function) when Poland was christianized around 1000; in the 13th and early 14th century, city status was granted to a host of places (centers of trade and production, mining cities, defensive strongholds). During Industrialization, mainly in the coal mining regions, further cities emerged.

Wartime Destruction : Battlefield Silesia
1241 Battle of Legnica/Liegnitz
1429-1435 Silesia raided by invading Hussites
1639-1646 Silesia battleground during the 30 Years War
1700-1721 Great Northern War
1740-1742 First Silesian War
1744-1745 Second Silesian War
1756-1763 Seven Years War (Third Silesian War)
1793 Journeymen's Rebellion in Breslau
1844 Weaver Riots
1848 Peasant revolts in Silesia
1918-1920 Struggle for Upper Silesia
1939-1945 World War II; 1945 Silesia battleground

Geschichte Schlesiens, from Private Homepage der Familie Hennek, in German
Zur Geschichte von Zirkwitz und Senditz im Kreis Trebnitz in Schlesien, by Heinz Wember, in German
Herrnstadt - Die Chronik, by Dirk Steindorf
Wetter. Die Hungersnöte 1315-1317, from
Die Grafschaft Glatz
Eine knappe Zahlenübersicht zur polnischen und schlesischen Geschichte, by Christian Heinze
Chronologische Abfolge, from
Articles Brzeg : History, Bytom : History, Gliwice : History, Glogow : History, Görlitz : History, History of Katowice, Klodzko : History, Kluczbork : History, Legnica : History, Lwowek Slaski : History, Nysa : History, Olesnica : History, Opole : History, Raciborz, Swidnica : History, Walbrzych : History, Wolow, Wroclaw : History, Zabrze : History, Zagan : History, Zielona Gora : History Zlotorya : History, from Wikipedia
Articles Breslau : Geschichte (Wroclaw), Brzeg : Geschichte (Brieg), Bytom : Geschichte (Beuthen), Gliwice : Geschichte (Gleiwitz), Glogow : Geschichte (Glogau), Geschichte von Görlitz, Jawor : Geschichte (Jauer), Kattowitz : Geschichte (Katowice), Klodzko : Geschichte (Glatz), Kozle : Geschichte (Cosel), Kluczbork : Geschichte (Kreuzburg), Legnica : Geschichte (Liegnitz), Lwowek Slaski : Geschichte (Löwenberg), Nysa : Geschichte (Neisse), Olesnica : Geschichte (Oels), Oppeln : Geschichte (Opole), Raciborz : Geschichte (Ratibor), Swidnica : History (Schweidnitz), Walbrzych : Geschichte (Waldenburg), Wolow : Geschichte (Wohlau), Zabrze : Geschichte (Hindenburg), Zagan : Geschichte (Sagan), Ziebice : Geschichte (Münsterberg), Zielona Gora : Geschichte (Grünberg) Zlotoryja : Geschichte (Goldberg), from Wikipedia German edition
DOCUMENTS Articles Breslau, Schlesien, from Meyers Konversationslexikon 1885-1892, in German
Population of Silesia 1816-1914 from HGIS
REFERENCE B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics 1750-1988 [G]
Norbert Conrads, Schlesien, Berlin : Siedler 1994, in German [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted om August 30th 2008

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