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Map of East Prussia in 1881.

East Prussia ( , pronounced ; or Rytprūsiai; ; or Vostochnaya Prussiya) is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coastmarker from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussiamarker was part of the Germanmarker state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsbergmarker.

East Prussia enclosed the bulk of the ancestral lands of the Baltic Old Prussians. During the 13th century, the native Prussians were conquered by the crusading Teutonic Knights. The indigenous Balts who survived the conquest were gradually converted to Christianity. Because of Germanization and colonisation over the following centuries, Germans became the dominant ethnic group, while Poles and Lithuanians formed minorities. From the 13th century, East Prussia was part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knightsmarker, which became the Duchy of Prussiamarker in 1525. The Old Prussian language had become extinct by the 17th or early 18th century.

Following the death of Hohenzollern Albert of Brandenburg Prussia, Duke of Prussia (1525-1568), Joachim II, the prince-elector Kurfürst of Brandenburg, became co-inheritor of Ducal Prussia. In 1577, House of Hohenzollern co-regents took over administration from Albert's only son, Albert Friedrich. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia again passed by inheritance and in personal union with the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg and the territory was called Brandenburg-Prussia. The territories of the House of Hohenzollern were scattered in Franconia, Brandenburgmarker, eastern Prussia and elsewhere.

Because the duchy was outside of the core Holy Roman Empire (Prussia was under HRE administration by the Teutonic Order grandmasters), the prince-electors of Brandenburg were able to proclaim themselves kings in Prussia beginning in 1701. After the annexation of most of western Royal Prussia in the 1772 First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, East Prussia was connected by land with the rest of the Prussian state and was reorganized as the Province of East Prussiamarker the following year. Between 1829 and 1878, the Province of East Prussia was joined with West Prussia to form the Province of Prussiamarker.

The Kingdom of Prussia became the leading state of the German Empiremarker after its creation in 1871. However, the Treaty of Versailles following World War I restored West Prussia to Poland and made East Prussia an exclave of Weimar Germanymarker, while the Memel Territory was detached and was annexed by Lithuaniamarker in 1923. Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, war-torn East Prussia was divided at Stalin's insistence between the Soviet Unionmarker (the Kaliningrad Oblastmarker), the People's Republic of Poland (the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeshipmarker), and the Lithuanian SSR (the constituent counties of the Klaipėda Region). The capital city Königsberg was renamed Kaliningradmarker in 1946. The German population of the province was largely evacuated during the war or expelled shortly thereafter in the expulsion of Germans after World War II. An estimated 300,000 (around one fifth of the population) died either in war time bombings raids or the battles to defend the province.


From Catholic monastic state to Protestant duchy

Ethnic settlement in East Prussia by the 14th century.

Upon the invitation of Duke Konrad I of Masovia, the Teutonic Knights took possession of Prussia in the 13th century and created a monastic statemarker to administer the conquered Old Prussians. The Knights' expansionist policies brought them into conflict with the Kingdom of Poland and embroiled them in several wars, culminating in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War, whereby the united armies of Poland and Lithuania, defeated the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald marker in 1410. Its defeat was formalised in the Second Treaty of Thorn in 1466 ending the Thirteen Years' War, and leaving the former Polish region Pomerelia and under Polish control. Together with Warmia it formed the province of Royal Prussia. Eastern Prussia remained under the Knights, but as a fief of Poland. 1466 and 1525 arrangements by kings of Poland were not verified by the Holy Roman Empire as well as the previous gains of the Teutonic Knights were not verified.

The Teutonic Order lost eastern Prussia when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg-Ansbach converted to Lutheranism and secularized the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order in 1525. Albert established himself as the first duke of the Duchy of Prussiamarker and a vassal of the Polish crown by the Prussian Homage. Walter von Cronberg, the next Grand Master, was enfeoffed with the title to Prussia after the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, but the Order never regained possession of the territory. In 1569 the Hohenzollern prince-electors of the Margraviate of Brandenburg became co-regents with Albert's son, the feeble-minded Albert Frederick.

The Administrator of Prussia, the grandmaster of the Teutonic Order Maximilian III, son of emperor Maximilian II died in 1618. Albert's line died out in 1618, and the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Electors of Brandenburg, forming Brandenburg-Prussia. Through the treaties of Wehlau, Labiau, and Oliva, Elector and Duke Frederick William succeeded in revoking king of Poland's sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia in 1660. The absolutist elector also subdued the noble estates of Prussia.

Kingdom of Prussia

Although Brandenburg was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Prussian lands were not within the core Holy Roman Empire and were with the administration by the Teutonic Order grandmasters under jurisdiction of the Emperor. In return for supporting Emperor Leopold I in the War of the Spanish Succession, Elector Frederick III was allowed to crown himself "King in Prussia" in 1701. The new kingdom ruled by the Hohenzollern dynasty became known as the Kingdom of Prussiamarker. The designation "Kingdom of Prussiamarker" was gradually applied to the various lands of Brandenburg-Prussia. To differentiate from the larger entity, the former Duchy of Prussia became known as Altpreußen ("Old Prussia"), the province of Prussia, or "East Prussia".

Approximately one-third of East Prussia's population died in the plague and famine of 1709–1711, including the last speakers of Old Prussian. The plague, probably brought by foreign troops during the Great Northern War, killed 250,000 East Prussians, especially in the province's eastern regions. Crown Prince Frederick William I led the rebuilding of East Prussia, founding numerous towns. Thousands of Protestants expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg were allowed to settle in depleted East Prussia. The province was overrun by Imperial Russianmarker troops during the Seven Years' War.

After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Warmia, part of western Royal Prussia, was merged with the former Duchy of Prussia. On 31 January 1773, King Frederick II announced that the newly annexed lands were to be known as the Province of West Prussia, while the former Duchy of Prussia and Warmia became the Province of East Prussiamarker.

From 1824–1878, East Prussia was combined with West Prussia to form the Province of Prussiamarker, after which they were reestablished as separate provinces.

German Empire

Along with the rest of the Kingdom of Prussia, East Prussia became part of the German Empiremarker during the unification of Germany in 1871.

In 1875 the ethnic make-up of East Prussia was 72.48% German-speaking, 17.39% Polish-speaking Masurians, and 8.11% Lithuanian-speaking (according to Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego) . 2,189 people of 1,958,663 living in East Prussia in 1890 were not German citizens. From 1885 to 1890 Berlinmarker's population grew by 20%, Brandenburgmarker and the Rhineland gained 8.5%, Westphalia 10%, while East Prussia lost 0.07% and West Prussia 0.86%. This stagnancy in population despite a high birth surplus in eastern Germany was because many people from the East Prussian countryside moved westward to seek work in the expanding industrial centres of the Ruhr Area and Berlin (see Ostflucht).

The population of the province in 1900 was 1,996,626 people, with a religious make up of 1,698,465 Protestants, 269,196 Roman Catholics, and 13,877 Jews. The Low Prussian dialect predominated in East Prussia, although High Prussian was spoken in Warmia. The numbers of Masurians and Prussian Lithuanians decreased over time due to the process of Germanization. The Polish-speaking population concentrated in the south of the province (Masuria and Warmia), while Lithuanian-speaking Prussians concentrated in the northeast (Lithuania Minor). The Old Prussian ethnic group became completely Germanized over time and the Old Prussian language died out in the 18th century.

World War I

At the beginning of World War I, East Prussia became a theatre of war when the Russian Empiremarker invaded the country. The Russian Army encountered at first little resistance because the bulk of the German Army had been directed towards the Western Front according to the Schlieffen Plan. In the Battle of Tannenbergmarker in 1914 and the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1915, however, the Russians were decisively defeated and forced to retreat, followed by the German Army advancing into Russian territory. The majority of the civilian population fled before the invading Russian Army, while several thousand remaining civilians were deported to Russia. Treatment of civilians by both armies was mostly disciplined, although 74 civilians were killed by Russian troops in the Abschwangen massacre. The region had to be rebuilt because of damage caused by the war.

Weimar Republic

East Prussia from 1923 to 1939 between the wars
With the forced abdication of Emperor William II in 1918, Germany became a republicmarker. Most of West Prussia and the former Prussian Province of Posenmarker, territories annexed by Prussia in the 18th century Partitions of Poland, were ceded to the Second Polish Republicmarker according to the Treaty of Versailles. East Prussia became an exclave, being separated from mainland Germany. The Seedienst Ostpreußen was established to provide an independent transport service to East Prussia.

On 11 July 1920, amidst the backdrop of the Polish-Soviet War, the East Prussian plebiscite in eastern West Prussia and southern East Prussia was held under Allied supervision to determine if the areas should join the Second Polish Republicmarker or remain in Weimar Germanymarker Province of East Prussia. 96.7% of the people voted to remain within Germany (97.89% in the East Prussian plebiscite district).

The Memel Territory, a League of Nations mandate since 1920, was occupied by Lithuanianmarker troops in 1923 and was annexed without giving the inhabitants a choice by the ballot.

Nazi Germany

In 1938 the Nazis altered about one-third of the toponyms of the area, eliminating, Germanizing, or simplifying a number of linguistically Baltic, Old Prussian names, as well as those Polish or Lithuanian names originating from refugees to Prussia during and after the Protestant Reformation. Many who would not co-operate with the rulers of Nazi Germany, including activist members of minorities with Slavic roots (Masurians and Kashubians), were sent to concentration camps and held there prisoner until their death or liberation.

World War II

In 1939 East Prussia had 2.49 million inhabitants, 85% of them ethnic Germans, the others Poles in the south, or Lietuvininkai speaking Lithuanian in the northeast. Most German East Prussians, Masurians, and Lietuvininkai were Lutheran, while the population of Ermland was maintly Roman Catholic due to the history of its bishopric. The East Prussian Jewish Congregation declined from about 9,000 in 1933 to 3,000 in 1939, as most fled from Nazi rule. Those who remained were later deported and killed in the Holocaust.

In 1939 the Regierungsbezirk Zichenau was annexed by Germany and incorporated into East Prussia. Despite Nazi propaganda presenting all of the regions annexed as possessing significant German populations that wanted reunification with Germany, the Reich's statistics of late 1939 show that only 31,000 out of 994,092 people in the annexed Polish western territories were ethnic Germans.

East Prussia was only slightly affected by the war until January 1945, when it was devastated during the East Prussian Offensive. Most of its inhabitants became refugees in bitterly cold weather during the Evacuation of East Prussia.

Evacuation of East Prussia

In 1944 the medieval city of Königsbergmarker, which had never been severely damaged by warfare in its 700 years of existence, was almost completely destroyed by two Allied air raids on the night of 26/27 August 1944 and three nights later on the 29/30 August 1944. Winston Churchill (The Second World War, Book XII) had erroneously believed it to be "a modernised heavily defended fortress" and ordered its destruction.

Gauleiter Erich Koch protracted the evacuation of the German civilian population until the Eastern Front approached the East Prussian border in 1944. The population had been systematically misinformed by Endsieg Nazi propaganda about the real military state of affairs. As a result many civilians fleeing westward were overtaken by retreating Wehrmacht units and the rapidly advancing Red Army.

Reports of Soviet atrocities in the Nemmersdorf massacremarker of October 1944 and organised rape spread fear and desperation among the civilians. Thousands lost their lives during the sinkings by Soviet submarine of the refugee ships Wilhelm Gustloffmarker, the Goyamarker, and the General von Steuben. Königsberg surrendered on 9 April 1945, following the desperate four-day Battle of Königsberg. The number of civilians killed is estimated to be at least 300,000 with most dying under horrible conditions.

However, most of the German inhabitants, which then consisted principally of women, children, and old men, did manage to escape the Red Army as part of the largest exodus of people in human history. "A population which had stood at 2.2 million in 1940 was reduced to 193,000 at the end of May 1945."

Expulsion of Germans from East Prussia after World War II

Shortly after the end of the war in May 1945, Germans who had fled in early 1945 tried to return to their homes in East Prussia. An estimated number of 800,000 Germans were living in East Prussia during the summer of 1945. Many more were prevented from returning, and the German population of East Prussia was almost completely expelled by the communist regimes. During the war and for some time thereafter forty-five camps for about 200 to 250 thousand forced labourers were established, the vast majority of them were deported to the Soviet Union, including the Gulag camp system. The largest camp with about 48,000 inmates was established at Deutsch Eylau (Ilawa).

Southern part to Poland

Representatives of the Polish government officially took over the civilian administration of the Southern part of East Prussia on 23 May 1945.Subsequently Polish expatriates from Polish lands annexed by the Soviet Union as well as Ukrainians from Southern Poland, expelled throughout the Operation Wisla in 1947, were settled in the southern part of East Prussia, now the Polish Warmian-Masurian Voivodeshipmarker. In 1950 the Olsztyn Voivodeship counted 689,000 inhabitants, 22.6% of them coming from areas annexed by the Soviet Union, 10% Ukrainians, and 18.5% of them pre-war inhabitants. The remaining pre-war population was treated as Germanized Poles and a policy of re-Polonization was pursued throughout the country Most of these "Autochthones" chose to emigrate to West Germanymarker from the 1950s through 1970s (between 1970 and 1988 55,227 persons from Warmia and Masuria moved to Western Germany).Local toponyms were polonized by the Polish Commission for the Determination of Place Names.

Northern East Prussia to the Soviet Union

"House of the Soviets", built on the site of the former Königsberg Castle
Russian "Königsberg" licence plate, 2009

In April 1946, northern East Prussia became an official province of the Russian SFSR as "Kenigsbergskaya Oblast", with the Memel Territory becoming part of the Lithuanian SSR. In June 1946 114,070 German and 41,029 Soviet citizens were registered in the Oblast, with an unknown number of disregarded unregistered persons. In July of that year, the historic city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningradmarker to honour Mikhail Kalinin and the area named the Kaliningrad Oblastmarker. Between 24 August and 26 October 1948 21 transports with in total 42,094 Germans left the Oblast to the Soviet Occupation Zone. The last remaining Germans left in November 1949 (1,401 persons) and January 1950 (7 persons). After the expulsion of the German population ethnic Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were settled in the northern part.

In the Soviet part of the region, a policy of eliminating all remnants of German history was pursued. All German place names were replaced with new Russian names. The exclave was a military zone which was closed for foreigners and even Soviet citizens could only enter with a special permission. In 1967 the remains of Königsberg Castlemarker were destroyed by demolitions on the orders of Leonid Brezhnev to make way on the site for a new "House of the Soviets".

Modern situation

Since the fall of Communism in 1991, some German groups have tried to help settle the Volga Germans from eastern parts of Russia in the Kaliningrad Oblastmarker. This effort was only a small success, however, as most impoverished Volga Germans preferred to emigrate to the richer Federal Republic of Germanymarker, where they could become German citizens through the right of return.

Although the 1945–1949 expulsion of Germans from the northern part of former East Prussia was often conducted in a violent and aggressive way by Soviet officials seeking revenge for Nazi crimes committed in the Soviet Union, the present Russian inhabitants of the Kaliningrad Oblast have much less animosity towards Germans. German names have been revived in commercial Russian trade and there is sometimes talk of reverting Kaliningrad's name back its historic name of Königsberg. The city centre of Kaliningrad was completely rebuilt, as Britishmarker bombs in 1944 and the Soviet siege in 1945 had left it in nothing but ruins.

See also


  1. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2001–05), East Prussia
  2. Ostpreußen: The Great Trek
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica: Old-Prussian-language; Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.): Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 2005, Prussian
  4. The Family Dönhoff, or the futility of revenge
  5. A Treatise on Political Economy
  6. The Prussians, “Ideal Prussians”, Old Prussian and New Prussian
  8. Beevor, Antony, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, chapters 1-8, Penguin Books (2002). ISBN 0-670-88695-5
  9. Beevor, Antony, Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Penguin Books (2002). ISBN 0-670-88695-5
  10. Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p. 168, München 2008 ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5
  11. Ethnic Germans in Poland and the Czech Republic:A Comparative Evaluation by Karl Cordell and Stefan Wolff
  12. Andreas Kossert, Ostpreussen - Geschichte und Mythos, p.352, ISBN 3-88680-808-4
  13. The Polish toponymic guidelines (p.9)
  14. Andreas Kossert, Damals in Ostpreussen, p. 179-183, München 2008 ISBN 978-3-421-04366-5


Publications in English
  • Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, 14th revised edition, London, 1904.
  • (on the years 1944/45)
  • Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944-1950, 1994, ISBN 0-312-12159-8
  • Dickie, Reverend J.F., with E.Compton, Germany, A & C Black, London, 1912.
  • von Treitschke, Heinrich, History of Germany - vol.1: The Wars of Emancipation, (translated by E & C Paul), Allen & Unwin, London, 1915.
  • Powell, E. Alexander, Embattled Borders, London, 1928.
  • Steed, Henry Wickham, Vital Peace - A Study of Risks, Constable & Co., London, 1936.
  • Newman, Bernard, Danger Spots of Europe, London, 1938.
  • Wieck, Michael: A Childhood Under Hitler and Stalin: Memoirs of a "Certified Jew," University of Wisconsin Press, 2003, ISBN 0-299-18544-3.
  • Woodward, E.L., Butler, Rohan; Medlicott, W.N., Dakin, Douglas, & Lambert, M.E., et al. (editors), Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, Three Series, Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO), London, numerous volumes published over 25 years. Cover the Versailles Treaty including all secret meetings; plebiscites and all other problems in Europe; includes all diplomatic correspondence from all states.
  • Previté-Orton, C.W., Professor, The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History, Cambridge University Press, 1952 (2 volumes).
  • Balfour, Michael, and John Mair, Four-Power Control in Germany and Austria 1945-1946, Oxford University Press, 1956.
  • Kopelev, Lev, To Be Preserved Forever, ("Хранить вечно"), 1976.
  • Koch, H.W., Professor, A History of Prussia, Longman, London, 1978/1984, (P/B), ISBN 0-582-48190-2
  • Koch, H.W., Professor, A Constitutional History of Germany in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Longman, London, 1984, (P/B), ISBN 0-582-49182-7
  • MacDonogh, Giles, Prussia, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1994, ISBN 1-85619-267-9
  • Nitsch, Gunter, Weeds Like Us, AuthorHouse, 2006, ISBN 9781425967550

Publications in German
  • B. Schumacher: Geschichte Ost- und Westpreussens, Würzburg 1959
  • Boockmann, Hartmut: Ostpreußen und Westpreußen (= Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas). Siedler, Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-88680-212-4
  • Buxa, Werner and Hans-Ulrich Stamm: Bilder aus Ostpreußen
  • Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin v. :Namen die keiner mehr nennt - Ostpreußen, Menschen und Geschichte
  • Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin v.: Kindheit in Ostpreussen
  • Falk, Lucy: Ich Blieb in Königsberg. Tagebuchblätter aus dunklen Nachkriegsjahren
  • Suchenwirth, Dr.Richard, Deutsche Geschichte, Dollheimer, Leipzig, 1934.
  • Kibelka, Ruth: Ostpreußens Schicksaljahre, 1945-1948
  • Wieck, Michael: Zeugnis vom Untergang Königsbergs: Ein "Geltungsjude" berichtet, Heidelberger Verlaganstalt, 1990, 1993, ISBN 3-89426-059-9.

Publications in other languages
  • Pierre Benoit, Axelle
  • Georges Blond, L'agonie de l'Allemagne
  • Michel Tournier, Le roi des aulnes

External links

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