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The Province of Posen ( , ) was a province of Prussiamarker from 1848–1918 and as such part of the German Empiremarker from 1871 to 1918. The area was about 29,000 km2.

The territory of later province, roughly corresponding to the region of Greater Poland, had become Prussian in 1772 (Netze District) and 1793 (South Prussia) during the partitions of Poland. After Prussia's defeat in the Napoleonic Wars, the territory was attached to the Duchy of Warsawmarker in 1807 during the Treaty of Tilsit. In 1815 during the Congress of Vienna, Prussia gained the western third of the Warsaw duchy, which was about half of former South Prussia. Prussia then administered this province as the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Posenmarker, which lost most of its exceptional status in 1830. While the local Posen (Poznań) Parliament voted 26 to 17 votes against joining German Confederation, on 3rd of April 1848 the Frankfurt Parliament ignored the vote, forcing status change to a normal Prussian province and its integration in the German Confederationmarker.

This region was inhabited by Polish majority and German and Jewish minorities and a smattering of other peoples. Almost all the Poles were Roman Catholic, and about 90% of the Germans were Protestant. The small numbers of Jews were primarily to be found in the larger communities, mostly in skilled crafts, local commerce and regional trading. The smaller the community, the more likely it was to be either Polish or German. These "pockets of ethnicity" existed side by side, with German villages being the most dense in the northwestern areas. With Germanization policies, the population became more German until the end of the 19th century, when the trend reversed (in the Ostflucht). This was despite efforts of the government in Berlinmarker, which established the Settlement Commission to buy land from Poles and make it available only to Germans.

In 1919 during the Treaty of Versailles, Weimar Germanymarker ceded the bulk of the province to the newly established Second Polish Republicmarker. The German remainder, about 2,200 km2, was merged with the western remains of former West Prussia and administered as Posen-West Prussia. This province was dissolved in 1938, when its territory was split between the neighboring German provinces. In 1939, the territory of the former province of Posen was annexed by Nazi Germany and made part of Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia and Reichsgau Wartheland (initially Reichsgau Posen). When World War II ended in 1945, it was overrun by the Red Army who turned it over to the People's Republic of Poland.


The land is mostly flat, drained by two major watershed systems; the Noteć (German: Netze) in the north and the Warta (German: Warthe) in the center. Ice Age glaciers left moraine deposits and the land is speckled with hundreds of "finger lakes", streams flowing in and out on their way to one of the two rivers.

Agriculture was the primary industry, as one would expect for the 1800s. The three-field system was used to grow a variety of crops, primarily rye, sugar beets, potatoes, other grains, and some tobacco and hops. Significant parcels of wooded land provided building materials and firewood. Small numbers of livestock existed, including geese, but a fair amount of sheep were herded.

When this area came under Prussian control, the feudal system was still in force. It was officially ended in Prussia (see Freiherr vom Stein) in 1810 (1864 in Congress Polandmarker), but lingered in some practices until the late 1800s. The situation was thus that (primarily) Polish serfs lived and worked side by side with (predominantly) free German settlers. Though the settlers were given initial advantages, in time their lots were not much different. Serfs worked for the noble lord, who took care of them. Settlers worked for themselves and took care of themselves, but paid taxes to the lord.

Typically, an estate would have its manor and farm buildings, and a village nearby for the Polish laborers. Near that village, there might be a German settlement. And in the woods, there would be a forester's dwelling. The estate owners, usually of the nobility, owned the local grist mill, and often other types of mills or perhaps a distillery. In many places, windmills dotted the landscape, reminding one of the earliest settlers, the Dutchmarker, who began the process of turning unproductive river marshes into fields. This process was finished by the German settlers who were used to reclaim unproductive lands (not only marshland) for the host estate owners.


The Kingdom of Prussia had annexed the later territory of the Province of Posen during the 18th century Partitions of Poland. For more than a century, it would be part of the Prussian partition, with a brief exception during the Napoleonic Wars. At that time, in 1807, it became a part of the short-lived Duchy of Warsawmarker, but was restored to Prussia in 1815 as the Grand Duchy of Posenmarker.

During the Revolutions of 1848, the Frankfurt Parliament attempted to divide the duchy into two parts: the Province of Poznań, which would have been given to the Germans and annexed to a newly-created German Empiremarker, and the Province of Gnieznomarker, which would have been given to the Poles and held outside Germany. Because of the protest of Polish parliamentarians, these plans failed and the integrity of the duchy was preserved. On February 9, 1849, after a series of broken assurances, the Prussian administration renamed the duchy to the province of Posen. However, "Grand Duke of Posen" remained a title of the Hohenzollern dynasty and the name remained in official use until 1918.

With the unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, the province of Posen became part of the German Empiremarker (1871–1918) and the city of Posen was officially named an imperial residence city.

In the 1880s, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck started Germanisation policies, such as an increase of police forces, a colonization commission, the German Society for the Eastern Borders (Hakata), and the Kulturkampf. In 1904, special legislation was passed against the Polish population. The legislation of 1908 allowed the confiscation of Polish landed property. The Prussian authorities did not allow the development of industries, so the duchy's economy was dominated by high-level agriculture.

After World War I, the fate of the province was undecided. The Poles demanded that the region be included in the newly independent Second Polish Republicmarker, while the Germans refused any territorial concessions. The Greater Poland Uprising broke out on 27 December 1918, a day after the speech of Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The uprising received little support from the Polish government established in Warsawmarker at that time. After the success of the uprising the Posen province was briefly (until mid-1919) an independent state with its own government, currency and military force.

With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, most of the province, primarily the areas with a Polish majority, were ceded to Poland and reformed as the Poznań Voivodship. The remaining German part of the province was reformed as Posen-West Prussia with Schneidemühl (Piłamarker) as its capital, until 1938, when it was divided between Silesiamarker, Pomeraniamarker and Brandenburg.

Following Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, all of the German territory east of the newly established Oder-Neisse Line was either annexed by Poland or the Soviet Union. Therefore, all historical parts of the province came under Polish control and the remaining German ethnic population was expelled by force.

Religious and ethnic conflicts

The Prussian province of Posen.
Polish-speaking areas are shown in yellow.

The province's large number of resident Germans resulted from constant immigration of Germans since the Middle Ages, when the first settlers arrived in the course of the Ostsiedlung. Although many of those had been Polonized over time, a continuous immigration resulted in maintaining a large German community. The 1700s Jesuit-led Counter-Reformation enacted severe restrictions on German Protestants. The end of the century turned the tables as Prussia seized the area during the Partitions of Poland.

During the first half of the 1800s, the German population grew due to state sponsored colonisation . In the second half, the Polish population grew gradually due to the Ostflucht and a higher birthrate among the Poles. During the Kulturkampf, mainly Protestant Prussia sought to reduce the Catholic impact on its society. Posen was hit severely by these measures due to its high, mainly Polish Catholic population. Many Catholic Germans in Posen joined with ethnic Poles in opposition to Kulturkampf measures.

Following Kulturkampf, the German Empiremarker for nationalist reasons implied Germanisation programs. One measure was to set up a Settlement Commission, that was to attract German settlers to encounter the Polish population growth. However, this attempt failed, even when accompanied by additional legal measures. The Polish language was eventually banned from schools and government offices as part of the Germanisation policies.

Ethnic composition of the Province of Posen
year 1815 1861 1890 1910
total population 776.000 1.467.604 1.751.642 2.099.831
% Poles
(including bilinguals)
73% 54,6% 60,1% 61,5%
% Germans 25% 43,4% 39,9% 38,5%


Area: 28,970 km² Population

  • 1816: 820,176
  • 1868: 1,537,300 (Bromberg 550,900 - Posen 986,400)
  • 1871: 1,583,843
    • Religion: 1871
      • Catholics 1,009,885
      • Protestants 511,429
      • Jews 61,982
      • others 547
  • 1875: 1,606,084
  • 1880: 1,703,397
  • 1900: 1,887,275
  • 1905: 1,986,267
  • 1910: 2,099,831 (Brombergmarker 763,900 - Posen 1,335,900)

Ethnic composition of the Province of Posen
year 1861 1890 1910
total population 1.467.604 1.751.642 2.099.831
% Poles
(including bilinguals)
54,6% 60,1% 61,5%
% Germans 43,4% 39,9% 38,5%


Note: Prussian provinces were subdivided into government regions (Regierungsbezirke), which were subdivided into districts called Kreis. Cities would have their own "Stadtkreis" (urban district) and the surrounding rural area would be named for the city, but referred to as a "Landkreis" (rural district). In the case of Posen, the Landkreis was split into two: Landkreis Posen West, and Landkreis Posen East.

Data is from Prussian censuses, during a period of state-sponsored Germanization, and includes military garrisons. It is commonly criticized for being falsified.

Kreis ("County") Polish spelling 1905 Pop Polish speakers German speakers1 Jewish2 Origin
Regierunsbezirk Posen (southern)
City of Posenmarker Poznań 55% 45%
Adelnau Odolanów 90% 10%
Birnbaum Miedzychód 51% 49%
Bomst Babimost 49% 51%
Fraustadt Wschowa 27% 73%
Gostyn Gostyn 87% 13% Kröben
Grätz Grodzisk 82% 18% Buk
Jarotschin Jarocin 83% 17% Pleschen
Kempen Kępno 84% 16% Schildberg
Koschmin Koźmin 83% 17% Krotoschin
Kosten Kościan 89% 11%
Krotoschin Krotoszyn 70% 30%
Lissa Leszno 36% 64% Fraustadt
Meseritz Międzyrzecz 20% 80%
Neutomischel Nowy Tomyśl 51% 49% Buk
Obornik Oborniki 61% 39%
Ostrowo Ostrów 80% 20% ?Adelnau?
Pleschen Pleszew 85% 15%
Posen Ost Poznań, Wsch. 72% 28% Posen
Posen West Poznań, Zach. 87% 13% Posen
Rawitsch Rawicz 55% 45% Kröben
Samter Szamotuły 73% 27%
Schildbergmarker Ostrzeszów 90% 10%
Schmiegel Śmigiel 82% 18% Kosten
Schrimm Śrem 82% 18%
Schroda Środa 88% 12%
Schwerin Skwierzyna 5% 95% Birnbaum - 1877
Wreschen Września 84% 16%
Regierungsbezirk Brombergmarker (northern)
City of Brombergmarker Bydgoszcz 16% 84%
Bromberg Bydgoszcz 38% 62%
Czarnikau Czarników 27% 73%
Filehne Wieleń 28% 72% Czarnikau
Gnesen Gniezno 67% 33%
Hohensalza Inowrocław 64% 36%
Kolmar Chodzież 18% 82%
Mogilno Mogilno 76% 24%
Schubin Szubin 56% 44%
Strelno Strzelno 82% 18% ??
Wirsitz Wyrzysk 47% 53%
Witkowo Witkowo 83% 17% ?Gnesen?
Wongrowitz Wągrowiec 77% 23%
Znin Żnin 77% 23% ??
1 includes bilingual speakers

2 only religious Jews, without regard of their native language


The province was headed by presidents ( ).
Time in Office Name
1815–1824 Joseph Zerboni de Sposetti 1760–1831
1825–1830 Johann Friedrich Theodor von Baumann 1768–1830
1830–1840 Eduard Heinrich Flottwell 1786–1865
1840–1842 Adolf Heinrich Graf von Arnim-Boitzenburg 1803–1868
1843–1850 Carl Moritz von Beurmann 1802–1870
1850–1851 Gustav Carl Gisbert Heinrich Wilhelm Gebhard von Bonin (1.time in office) 1797–1878
1851–1860 Eugen von Puttkamer 1800–1874
1860–1862 Gustav Carl Gisbert Heinrich Wilhelm Gebhard von Bonin (2.time in office) 1797–1878
1862–1869 Carl Wilhelm Heinrich Georg von Horn 1807–1889
1869–1873 Otto Graf von Königsmarck 1815–1889
1873–1886 William Barstow von Guenther 1815–1892
1886–1890 Robert Graf von Zedtlitz-Trützschler 1837–1914
1890–1899 Hugo Freiherr von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1840–1905
1899–1903 Karl Julius Rudolf von Bitter 1846–1914
1903–1911 Wilhelm August Hans von Waldow-Reitzenstein 1856–1937
1911–1914 Philipp Schwartzkopf ?
1914–1918 Joh. Karl Friedr. Moritz Ferd. v. Eisenhart-Rothe 1862–1942

Notable people

(in alphabetical order)(see also Notable people of Grand Duchy of Posen)


External links

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