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Prussia ( ; Latin: Borussia, Prutenia; ; ; ; Old Prussian: Prūsa) was a historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussiamarker and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries this state had substantial influence on Germanmarker and European history. The last capital of the state of Prussia was Berlinmarker.

The name Prussia derives from the Old Prussians, a Baltic people related to the Lithuanians and Latvians. In the 13th century, "Old Prussia" was conquered by the Teutonic Knights. In 1308 Teutonic Knights conquered the formerly Polish region of Pomerelia with Gdańskmarker (Danzig). Their monastic statemarker was mostly Germanized through immigration from central and western Germany and in the south it was Polonized by settlers from Masovia. After the Second Peace of Thorn Prussia was split into the western Royal Prussia, a province of Poland, and the eastern part, since 1525 called Duchy of Prussiamarker, a fief of the Crown of Poland up to 1657. The union of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia in 1618 led to the proclamation of the Kingdom of Prussiamarker in 1701.

Prussia attained its greatest importance in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 18th century, it became a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great (1740–86). During the 19th century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck pursued a policy of uniting the German principalities into a "Lesser Germany" which would exclude the Austrian Empiremarker.

The Kingdom of Prussia dominated northern Germany politically, economically, in population, and was the core of the unified North German Confederationmarker formed in 1867, which became part of the German Empiremarker or Deutsches Reich in 1871.

With the end of the Hohenzollern monarchy in Germany following World War I, Prussia became part of the Weimar Republicmarker as a free statemarker in 1919. It effectively lost this status in 1932 following the Preußenschlag decree of Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen; Prussia as a state was abolished de facto by the Nazis in 1934 and de jure by the Allies of World War II in 1947.

Since then, the term's relevance has been limited to historical, geographical, or cultural usages.


The main coat of arms of Prussia, as well as the flag of Prussia, depicted a black eagle on a white background.

The black and white national colours were already used by the Teutonic Knights and by the Hohenzollern dynasty. The Teutonic Order wore a white coat embroidered with a black cross with gold insert and black imperial eagle. The combination of the black and white colours with the white and red Hanseatic colours of the free cities Bremenmarker, Hamburgmarker, and Lübeckmarker as well as of Brandenburgmarker resulted in the black-white-red commercial flag of the North German Confederationmarker, which became the flag of the German Empire in 1871.

Suum cuique ("to each, his own"), the motto of the Order of the Black Eagle created by King Frederick I in 1701, was often associated with the whole of Prussia. The Iron Cross, a military decoration created by King Frederick William III in 1813, was also widely associated with the country.

Geography and population

Prussia began as a territory, in what was later called East Prussia, which is now divided into the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeshipmarker of Poland, the Kaliningrad Oblastmarker exclave of Russia, and the Klaipėda Region of Lithuania. Originally the area was much larger, but was greatly reduced by newcomer countries Masovia and Polandmarker. Much of Prussian Sudovia and Yotvingians territory was conquered and came to Poland, Lithuaniamarker, and Belarusmarker.

The region, originally populated by Baltic Old Prussians who were Christianised, became a preferred location for immigration by (later mainly Protestant) Germans (see Ostsiedlung) as well as Poles and Lithuanians along border regions.

Before its abolition, the territory of the Kingdom of Prussiamarker included "Prussia proper" (West and East Prussia), Brandenburg, the Province of Saxonymarker (including most of the present-day state of Saxony-Anhaltmarker and parts of the state of Thuringiamarker in Germany), Pomeraniamarker, Rhinelandmarker, Westphaliamarker, Silesiamarker (without Austrian Silesia), Lusatia, Schleswig-Holsteinmarker, Hanovermarker, Hesse-Nassau, and a small detached area in the south Hohenzollernmarker, the ancestral home of the Prussian ruling family.

In 1871, Prussia's population numbered 24.69 million, accounting for 60% of the German Empiremarker's population. In 1910, the population had increased to a number of 40.17 million (62% of the Empire's population). In 1914, Prussia had an area of 354,490 km². In May 1939 Prussia had an area of 297,007 km² and a population of 41,915,040 inhabitants. The Principality of Neuenburg, now the Canton of Neuchâtelmarker in Switzerlandmarker, was a part of the Prussian kingdom from 1707 to 1848.

Although Prussia was dominated by Protestant Germans it contained millions of Catholics, and millions of minorities, particularly Poles. East Prussia's southern region of Masuria was largely made up of Germanised Protestant Masur. There were substantial Roman Catholic populations in the Rhineland and parts of Westphalia. Also West Prussia, Warmia, Silesia, and the Province of Posenmarker had predominantly Catholic populations. The Kingdom of Prussia acquired these areas from countries with a Catholic majority: the Kingdom of Poland and the Austrian Empire.

In 1871, approximately 2.4 million Poles lived in Prussia, constituting the largest minority. Other minorities were Jews, Danes, Frisians, Kashubians (72,500 in 1905), Masurians (248,000 in 1905), Lithuanians (101,500 in 1905), Walloones, Czechs and Sorbs.

The area of Greater Poland where the Polish nation had originated became the Province of Posen after the Partitions of Poland. Poles in this Polish-majority province (62% Polish, 38% German) resisted German rule. Also, the southeast portion of Silesia (Upper Silesia) had a majority percentage of Polish population. But Catholics, ethnic Poles and other Slavs, and Jews didn't have equal status with Protestants.

As a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 the Second Polish Republicmarker was granted these two areas, but also areas with a German majority in the Province of West Prussia. After World War II, East Prussia, Silesia, most of Pomerania, and part of Brandenburg were taken over by either the Soviet Union or Poland.

Early history

In 1211 Andrew II of Hungary granted the Burzenland (fiefdom) to the Teutonic Knights. In 1225, Andrew II expelled the Teutonic Knights from Transylvania, and they had to transfer to the Baltic Sea.In 1226 Duke Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights, a German military order of crusading knights, headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem at Acremarker, to conquer the Baltic Prussian tribes on his borders. During 60 years of struggles against the Old Prussians, the order created an independent statemarker which came to control the Old Prussian region. After the Livonian Brothers of the Sword joined the Teutonic Order in 1237 they also controlled Livonia (now Latviamarker and Estoniamarker) and western Lithuaniamarker.

In the course of the Ostsiedlung process, settlers were called in, a majority of which were Germans. This brought about changes in the ethnic composition as well as in language, culture and law. Low German became the dominant language.

The Knights were subordinate only to the pope and the emperor. Their initially close relationship with the Polish Crown deteriorated completely after they conquered Polish controlled Pomerelia and Danzig marker. The Knights were eventually defeated in the Battle of Grunwaldmarker in 1410 by Poland and Lithuania, allied through the Union of Krewo.

The Thirteen Years' War (1454–1466) began when the Prussian Confederation, a coalition of Hanseatic cities of western Prussia, rebelled against the Order and requested help from the Polish king. The Teutonic Knights were forced to acknowledge the sovereignty and pay tribute to King Casimir IV Jagiellon of Poland in the Second Peace of Thorn , losing western Prussia (Royal Prussia) to Poland in the process.

In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg-Ansbach, a member of a cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern, became a Lutheran Protestant and secularised the Order's remaining Prussian territories into the Duchy of Prussiamarker. This was the area east of the mouth of the Vistula River, later sometimes called "Prussia proper". For the first time, these lands were in the hands of a branch of the Hohenzollern family, rulers of the Margraviate of Brandenburg to the west, a German state centered on Berlinmarker and ruled since the 15th century by the Hohenzollern dynasty. Furthermore, with his renunciation of the Order, Albert could now marry and produce offspring.

Brandenburg and Prussia were unified two generations later. Anna, granddaughter of Albert I and daughter of Duke Albert Frederick (reigned 1568–1618), married her cousin Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg. Upon the death of Albert Frederick in 1618, who died without male heirs, John Sigismund was granted the right of succession to the Duchy of Prussia, which was still a Polish fief. From this time the Duchy of Prussia was in personal union with the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The resulting state, known as Brandenburg-Prussia, consisted of geographically disconnected territories in Prussia, Brandenburg, and Rhenish lands of Clevesmarker and Mark.

Rise to power

During the Thirty Years' War, the disconnected Hohenzollern lands were repeatedly marched across by various armies, especially the occupying Swedes. The ineffective and militarily weak Margrave George William (1619–1640) fled from Berlin to Königsberg, the historic capital of the Duchy of Prussia, in 1637. His successor, Frederick William (1640–1688), reformed the army to defend the lands.

Frederick William went to Warsawmarker in 1641 to render homage to King Władysław IV Vasa of Poland for the Duchy of Prussia, which was still held in fief from the Polish crown. Later, he managed to obtain a discharge from his obligations as a vassal to the Polish king by taking advantage of the difficult position of Poland vis-à-vis Sweden in the Northern Wars and his friendly relations with Russiamarker during a series of Russo-Polish wars. He was finally given full sovereignty over Prussia in the Treaty of Wehlau in 1657.

Frederick William became known as the "Great Elector" for his introduction of absolutism into Brandenburg-Prussia. Above all, he emphasized the importance of a powerful military to protect the state's disconnected territories.

Kingdom of Prussia

On 18 January 1701, Frederick William's son, Elector Frederick III, upgraded Prussia from a duchy to a kingdom and crowned himself King Frederick I. To avoid offending Polandmarker, where a part of the old Prussia lay, Leopold I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire where most of the lands of Prussia lay, allowed Frederick only to title himself "King in Prussia", not "King of Prussia".

The state of Brandenburg-Prussia became commonly known as "Prussia", although most of its territory, in Brandenburg, Pomerania, and western Germany, lay outside of Prussia proper. The Prussian state grew in splendour during the reign of Frederick I, who sponsored the arts at the expense of the treasury.

Frederick I was succeeded by his son, Frederick William I (1713–1740) the austere "Soldier King", who did not care for the arts but was thrifty and practical. He is considered the creator of the vaunted Prussian bureaucracy and the standing army, which he developed into one of the most powerful in Europe, although his troops only briefly saw action during the Great Northern War. In view of the size of the army in relation to the total population, Voltaire said later: "Where some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state!" Also, Frederick William settled more than 20,000 Protestant refugees from Salzburgmarker in thinly populated eastern Prussia, which was eventually extended to the west bank of the Memel river, and other regions. From Sweden he acquired Western Pomerania as far as the Peene in 1720.
In 1740, Frederick William was succeeded by his son, Frederick II, later nicknamed "Frederick the Great". As crown prince he focused on philosophy and the arts; yet, in the first year of his reign he ordered the Prussian army to march into Silesia, a possession of Habsburg Austria to which the Hohenzollerns laid claim based on an old and disputed treaty of succession. In the three Silesian Wars (1740–1763) Frederick succeeded in conquering Silesia from Austria and holding his new possession. In the last, the Seven Years' War, he held it against a coalition of Austria, France, and Russia. Voltaire, a close friend of the king, once described Frederick the Great's Prussia by saying " was Spartamarker in the morning, Athensmarker in the afternoon." From these wars onwards the German dualism dominated German politics until 1866.

Silesia, a region of rich soils and prosperous manufacturing towns, greatly increased the area, population, and wealth of Prussia. Success on the battleground against Austria and other powers proved Prussia's status as one of the great powers of Europe. The Silesian Wars began more than a century of rivalry and conflict between Prussia and Austria as the two most powerful states operating within the Holy Roman Empire (although, ironically, both had extensive territory outside the empire). In 1744 the County of East Frisia fell to Prussia following the extinction of its ruling Cirksena dynasty.
In the last 23 years of his reign until 1786, Frederick II, who understood himself as the "first servant of the state", promoted the development of Prussian areas such as the Oderbruchmarker. At the same time he built up Prussia's military power and participated in the First Partition of Poland with Austria and Russia (1772), an act that geographically connected the Brandenburg territories with those of Prussia proper. During this period, he also opened Prussia's borders to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution in other parts of Europe, such as the Huguenots. Prussia became a safe haven in much the same way that the United Statesmarker welcomed immigrants seeking freedom in the 19th century.

Frederick the Great, the first "King of Prussia", practised enlightened absolutism. He introduced a general civil code, abolished torture, and established the principle that the crown would not interfere in matters of justice. He also promoted an advanced secondary education, the forerunner of today's German gymnasium (grammar school) system, which prepares the brightest students for university studies. The Prussian education system became emulated in various countries.

Napoleonic Wars

During the reign of King Frederick William II (1786–1797), Prussia annexed additional Polish territory through further Partitions of Poland. His successor, Frederick William III (1797–1840), announced the union of the Prussian Lutheran and Reformed churches into one church.

Prussia took a leading part in the French Revolutionary Wars, but remained quiet for more than a decade due to the Peace of Basel of 1795, only to go once more to war with France in 1806 as negotiations with that country over the allocation of the spheres of influence in Germany failed. Prussia suffered a devastating defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte's troops in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, leading Frederick William III and his family to flee temporarily to Memelmarker. Under the Treaties of Tilsit in 1807, the state lost about half of its area, including the areas gained from the second and third Partitions of Poland, which now fell to the Duchy of Warsawmarker. Beyond that, the king was obliged to make an alliance with France and join the Continental System.

In response to this defeat, reformers such as Stein and Hardenberg set about modernising the Prussian state. Among their reforms were the liberation of peasants from serfdom, the Emancipation of Jews and making full citizens of them, and the institution of self-administration in municipalities. The school system was rearranged, and in 1818 free trade was introduced. The process of army reform ended in 1813 with the introduction of compulsory military service.

After the defeat of Napoleon in Russia, Prussia quit its alliance with France and took part in the Sixth Coalition during the "Wars of Liberation" (Befreiungskriege) against the French occupation. Prussian troops under Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher contributed crucially in the Battle of Waterloomarker of 1815 to the final victory over Napoleon. Prussia's reward in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna was the recovery of her lost territories, as well as the whole of the Rhineland, Westphalia, and some other territories. These western lands were to be of vital importance because they included the Ruhr Area, the centre of Germany's fledgling industrialisation, especially in the arms industry. These territorial gains also meant the doubling of Prussia's population. In exchange, Prussia withdrew from areas of central Poland to allow the creation of Congress Polandmarker under Russian sovereignty.

Prussia emerged from the Napoleonic Wars as the dominant power in Germany, overshadowing her long-time rival Austria, which had given up the imperial crown in 1806. In 1815 Prussia became part of the German Confederationmarker.

The first half of the 19th century saw a prolonged struggle in Germany between liberals, who wanted a united, federal Germany under a democratic constitution, and conservatives, who wanted to maintain Germany as a patchwork of independent, monarchical states, with Prussia and Austria competing for influence. One small movement that signaled a desire for German unification in this period was the Burschenschaft student movement, by students who encouraged the use of the black-red-gold flag, discussions of a unified German nation, and a progressive, liberal political system. Because of Prussia's size and economic importance, smaller states began to join its free trade area in the 1820s. Prussia benefited greatly from the creation in 1834 of the German Customs Union (Zollverein), which included most German states but excluded Austria.

In 1848 the liberals saw an opportunity when revolutions broke out across Europe. Alarmed, King Frederick William IV agreed to convene a National Assembly and grant a constitution. When the Frankfurt Parliament offered Frederick William the crown of a united Germany, he refused on the grounds that he would not accept a crown from a revolutionary assembly without the sanction of Germany's other monarchs.

The Frankfurt Parliament was forced to dissolve in 1849, and Frederick William issued Prussia's first constitution by his own authority in 1850. This conservative document provided for a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Landtag was elected by all taxpayers, who were divided into three classes whose votes were weighted according to the amount of taxes paid. Women and those who paid no taxes had no vote. This allowed just over one-third of the voters to choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring dominance by the more well-to-do men of the population. The upper house, which was later renamed the Herrenhausmarker ("House of Lords"), was appointed by the king. He retained full executive authority and ministers were responsible only to him. As a result, the grip of the landowning classes, the Junkers, remained unbroken, especially in the eastern provinces.

Wars of unification

In 1862 King Wilhelm I appointed Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck was determined to defeat both the liberals and conservatives and increase Prussian supremacy and influence among the German states. There has been much debate as to whether Bismarck actually planned to create a united Germany when he set out on this journey, or whether he simply took advantage of the circumstances that fell into place. Certainly his memoirs paint a rosy picture of an idealist, but these were written with the benefit of hindsight. What is clear is that Bismarck curried support from large sections of the people by promising to lead the fight for greater German unification. He eventually guided Prussia through three wars which together brought William the position of German Emperor.

Schleswig Wars

The Kingdom of Denmarkmarker was at the time in personal union with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, both of which had close ties with each other, although only Holstein was part of the German Confederationmarker. When the Danish government tried to integrate Schleswig, but not Holstein, into the Danish state, Prussia led the German Confederation against Denmark in the First War of Schleswig (1848–1851). Because Russiamarker supported Austria, Prussia also conceded predominance in the German Confederation to Austria in the Punctation of Olmütz in 1850.

In 1863, Denmark introduced a shared constitution for Denmark and Schleswig. This led to conflict with the German Confederation, which authorized the occupation of Holstein by the Confederation, from which Danish forces withdrew. In 1864, Prussian and Austrian forces crossed the border between Holstein and Schleswig initiating the Second War of Schleswig. The Austro-Prussian forces defeated the Danes, who surrendered both territories. In the resulting Gastein Convention of 1865 Prussia took over the administration of Schleswig while Austria assumed that of Holstein.

Austro-Prussian War

Expansion of Prussia 1807–1871

Bismarck realized that the dual administration of Schleswig and Holstein was only a temporary solution, and tensions escalated between Prussia and Austria. The struggle for supremacy in Germany then led to the Austro-Prussian Warmarker (1866), triggered by the dispute over Schleswig and Holstein.

On the side of Austria stood the southern German states (including Bavaria and Württembergmarker), some central German states (including Saxonymarker), and Hanover in the north; on the side of Prussia were Italymarker, most northern German states, and some smaller central German states. Eventually, the better-armed Prussian troops won the crucial victory at the battle of Königgrätz under Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. The century-long struggle between Berlin and Vienna for dominance of Germany was now over.

Bismarck desired Austria as an ally in the future, and so he declined to annex any Austrian territory. But in the Peace of Prague in 1866, Prussia annexed four of Austria's allies in northern and central Germany—Hanover, Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), Nassau and Frankfurtmarker. Prussia also won full control of Schleswig-Holsteinmarker. As a result of these territorial gains, Prussia now stretched uninterrupted across the northern two-thirds of Germany and contained two-thirds of Germany's population. The German Confederation was dissolved, and Prussia cajoled the 21 states north of the Mainmarker River into forming the North German Confederationmarker.

Prussia was the dominant state in the new confederation, as the kingdom comprised almost four-fifths of the new state's territory and population. Prussia's near-total control over the confederation was cemented in the constitution drafted for it by Bismarck in 1867. Executive power was held by a president, assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. The presidency was a hereditary office of the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia. There was also a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Reichstag (Diet), was elected by universal male suffrage. The upper house, or Bundesrat (Federal Council) was appointed by the state governments. The Bundesrat was, in practice, the stronger chamber. Prussia had 17 of 43 votes, and could easily control proceedings through alliances with the other states.

As a result of the peace negotiations, the states south of the Main remained theoretically independent, but received the (compulsory) protection of Prussia. Additionally, mutual defense treaties were concluded. (See also "Das Lied der Deutschen".) However, the existence of these treaties was kept secret until Bismarck made them public in 1867, when France tried to acquire Luxembourg.

Franco-Prussian War

The controversy with the Second French Empire over the candidacy of a Hohenzollern to the Spanishmarker throne was escalated both by France and Bismarck. With his Ems Dispatch, Bismarck took advantage of an incident in which the French ambassador had approached William. The government of Napoleon III, expecting another civil war among the German states, declared war against Prussia, continuing Franco-German enmity. Honouring their treaties, the German states joined forces and quickly defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Following victory under Bismarck's and Prussia's leadership, Baden, Württembergmarker, and Bavaria — which had remained outside the North German Confederation — accepted incorporation into a united German Empiremarker.

The empire was a "Kleindeutsche Lösung" or a "Lesser German Solution" to the problem of German unity, because it excluded Austria, which remained connected to Hungarymarker and further non-German population. On 18 January 1871 (the 170th anniversary of the coronation of King Frederick I), William was proclaimed "German Emperor" (not "Emperor of Germany") in the Hall of Mirrorsmarker at Versailles outside Parismarker, while the French capital was still under siege.

German Empire

Prussia in the German Empire 1871–1918
The two decades after the unification of Germany were the peak of Prussia's fortunes, but the seeds for potential strife were built into the Prusso-German political system.

The constitution of the German Empire was a slightly amended version of the North German Confederation's constitution. Officially, the German Empire was a federal state. In practice, Prussia's dominance over the empire was almost absolute. The Hohenzollern kingdom included three-fifths of its territory and two-thirds of its population. The Imperial German Army was, in practice, an enlarged Prussian army, although the other kingdoms (Bavariamarker, Saxonymarker, and Württembergmarker) retained their own armies. The imperial crown was a hereditary office of the House of Hohenzollern, the royal house of Prussia. The prime minister of Prussia was, except for two brief periods (January–November 1873 and 1892–94), also imperial chancellor. While all men above age 25 were eligible to vote in imperial elections, Prussia retained its restrictive three-class voting system. This effectively required the king/emperor and prime minister/chancellor to seek majorities from legislatures elected by two completely different franchises. In both the kingdom and the empire, the original constituencies were never redrawn to reflect changes in population, meaning that rural areas were grossly overrepresented by the turn of the century.
As a result, Prussia and the German Empire were something of a paradox. Bismarck knew that his new German Reich was now a colossus out of all proportion to the rest of the continent. With this in mind, he declared Germany a satisfied power, using his talents to preserve peace, for example at the Congress of Berlin. Bismarck had mixed success in his domestic policies, such as the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf and Germanization or expulsion of Poles of foreign nationality (Russian or Austro-Hungarian).

Frederick III may have had the potential to be a leader in Bismarck's mold, but he was already terminally ill when he became emperor for 99 days in 1888 upon the death of his father. He was married to Victoria, the first daughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdommarker, but their first son William suffered physical and possibly mental damage during birth.

At age 29, William became Emperor William II after a difficult youth and conflicts with his British mother. He turned out to be a man of limited experience, narrow and reactionary views, poor judgment, and occasional bad temper, which alienated former friends and allies. William, who was a close relative of the British and Russian royal families, became their rival and ultimately their enemy.
After forcing Bismarck out in 1890, William embarked on a program of militarisation and adventurism in foreign policy that eventually placed Germany in isolation. A misjudgment of the conflict with Serbiamarker by the emperor, who left for holidays, and the hasty mobilisation plans of several nations led to the disaster of World War I (1914–1918). As the price of their withdrawal from the war, the Bolsheviks conceded large regions of the western Russian Empiremarker, some of which bordered Prussia, to German control in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). German control of these territories lasted only for a few months, however, because of the defeat of German military forces by the western Allies and the German Revolution. The post-war Treaty of Versailles, which held Germany and her allies solely responsible for the war, was signed in Versailles' Hall of Mirrors, where the German Empire had been created.

Free State of Prussia in the Weimar Republic

Because of the German Revolution of 1918, William II abdicated as German Emperor and King of Prussia. Prussia was proclaimed a "Free State" (i.e. a republic, German: Freistaat) within the new Weimar Republicmarker and in 1920 received a democratic constitution.

All of Germany's territorial losses, specified in the Treaty of Versailles, were areas that had been part of Prussia: Alsace-Lorrainemarker to France; Eupenmarker and Malmedymarker to Belgiummarker; North Schleswig to Denmark; the Memel Territory to Lithuania; the Hultschin area to Czechoslovakiamarker. Many of the areas which Prussia had annexed in the partitions of Poland, such as the Provinces of Posenmarker and West Prussia, as well as eastern Upper Silesia, went to the Second Polish Republicmarker. Danzigmarker became the Free City of Danzigmarker under the administration of the League of Nations. Also, the Saargebiet was created mainly from formerly Prussian territories. East Prussia became an exclave, only reachable by ship ("shipping service East Prussia") or by a railway through the Polish corridor.

The German government seriously considered breaking up Prussia into smaller states, but eventually traditionalist sentiment prevailed and Prussia became by far the largest state of the Weimar Republicmarker, comprising 60% of its territory. With the abolition of the older Prussian franchise, it became a stronghold of the left. Its incorporation of "Red Berlin" and the industrialised Ruhr Area — both with working-class majorities — ensured left-wing dominance.

From 1919 to 1932, Prussia was governed by a coalition of the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre, and German Democrats; from 1921 to 1925, coalition governments included the German People's Party. Unlike in other states of the German Reich, majority rule by democratic parties in Prussia was never endangered. Nevertheless, in East Prussia and some industrial areas, the National Socialist German Workers Party (or Nazi Party) of Adolf Hitler gained more and more influence and popular support, especially from the lower middle class. Except for Roman Catholic Prussian Upper Silesia, the Nazi Party in 1932 became the largest party in most parts of the Free State of Prussia. However, the democratic parties in coalition remained a majority, while Communists and Nazis were in the opposition.

The East Prussian Otto Braun, who was Prussian minister-president almost continuously from 1920 to 1932, is considered one of the most capable Social Democrats in history. He implemented several trend-setting reforms together with his minister of the interior, Carl Severing, which were also models for the later Federal Republic of Germanymarker (FRG). For instance, a Prussian minister-president could be forced out of office only if there was a "positive majority" for a potential successor. This concept, known as the constructive vote of no confidence, was carried over into the Basic Law of the FRG. Most historians regard the Prussian government during this time as far more successful than that of Germany as a whole.

In contrast to its prewar authoritarianism, Prussia was a pillar of democracy in the Weimar Republic. This system was destroyed by the Preußenschlag ("Prussian coup") of Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen. In this coup d'état, the government of the Reich unseated the Prussian government on 20 July 1932, under the pretext that the latter had lost control of public order in Prussia (during the Bloody Sunday of Altona, Hamburgmarker, which was still part of Prussia at that time). Papen appointed himself Reich commissioner for Prussia and took control of the government. The Preußenschlag made it easier, only half a year later, for Adolf Hitler to take power decisively in Germany, since he had the whole apparatus of the Prussian government, including the police, at his disposal.

End of Prussia

After the appointment of Hitler as the new chancellor, the Nazis used the opportunity of the absence of Franz von Papen to appoint Hermann Göring federal commissioner for the Prussian ministry of the interior. The Reichstag election of March 5, 1933 strengthened the position of the National Socialist Party, although they did not achieve an absolute majority.

Because the Reichstag buildingmarker had been set on fire a few weeks earlier, the new Reichstag was opened in the Garrison Church of Potsdammarker on March 21, 1933 in the presence of President Paul von Hindenburg. In a propaganda-filled meeting between Hitler and the Nazi Party, the "marriage of old Prussia with young Germany" was celebrated, to win over the Prussian monarchists, conservatives, and nationalists and induce them to vote for the Enabling Act of 1933.

In the centralised state created by the Nazis in the "Law on the Reconstruction of the Reich" ("Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiches", 30 January 1934) and the "Law on Reich Governors" ("Reichsstatthaltergesetz", 30 January 1935) the states were dissolved, in fact if not in law. The federal state governments were now controlled by governors for the Reich who were appointed by the chancellor. Parallel to that, the organisation of the party into districts (Gaue) gained increasing importance, as the official in charge of a Gau (the head of which was called a Gauleiter) was again appointed by the chancellor who was at the same time chief of the Nazi Party.

In Prussia, this anti-federalistic policy went even further. From 1934 almost all ministries were merged and only a few departments were able to maintain their independence. Hitler himself became formally the governor of Prussia. His functions were exercised, however, by Hermann Göring, as Prussian prime minister.

As provided for in the "Greater Hamburg Law" ("Groß-Hamburg-Gesetz"), certain exchanges of territory took place. Prussia was extended on 1 April 1937, for instance, by the incorporation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeckmarker.

The Prussian lands transferred to Poland after the Treaty of Versailles were re-annexed during World War II. However, most of this territory was not reintegrated back into Prussia but assigned to separate Gaue of Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland.

With the end of National Socialist rule in 1945 came the division of Germany into Zones of Occupation, and the transfer of control of everything east of the Oder-Neisse line, (including Silesia, Farther Pomerania, Eastern Brandenburg, and southern East Prussia), to Poland, with the northern third of East Prussia, including Königsberg, now Kaliningradmarker, going to the Soviet Unionmarker. Today the Kaliningrad Oblastmarker is a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland. During the Soviet Army's takeover of eastern Germany an estimated ten million Germans fled, were expelled from (or were not able to return) to these territories as part of the Potsdam Agreement and the sanctioned German exodus from Eastern Europe.

As part of their war aims the Western allies sought the abolition of Prussia. Stalin was initially content to retain the name, Russia having a different historical view of its neighbour and sometime former ally. In Law #46 of 20 May 1947 the Allied Control Council formally proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.

In the Soviet Zone of Occupation, which became East Germanymarker in 1949, the former Prussian territories were reorganised into the states of Brandenburgmarker and Saxony-Anhaltmarker, with the remaining parts of the Province of Pomeraniamarker going to Mecklenburg-Vorpommernmarker. These states were abolished in 1952 in favour of districts, but were recreated after the fall of communism in 1990.

In the Western Zones of occupation, which became West Germanymarker in 1949, the former Prussian territories were divided up among North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Lower Saxonymarker, Hessemarker, Rhineland-Palatinatemarker, and Schleswig-Holsteinmarker. Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollernmarker were later merged with Baden to create the state of Baden-Württembergmarker.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Unionmarker, a small number of ethnic Germans from Kazakhstanmarker have begun to settle in the Kaliningradmarker exclave of Russiamarker, once northern East Prussia, as part of the migration influx into the area, which was previously a restricted area (closed city). As of 2005, about 6,000 (0.6% of population) ethnic Germans, mostly from other parts of Russia, live there.

After German reunification in 1990, a plan was developed to merge the States of Berlin and Brandenburg. Though some suggested calling the proposed new state "Prussia", no final name was proposed, and the combined state would probably have been called either "Brandenburg" or "Berlin-Brandenburg". However this proposed merger was rejected in 1996 by popular vote, achieving a majority of votes only in former West Berlin.

See also

Further reading


  1. Clark, Christopher (2006): Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. ISBN 10 0713994665 ISBN 13 978 0713994667
  2. Genealogy & Poland - a guide PolishRoots
  3. On March 11, cf. Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart: 11 vols., Leipzig: Leiner, 1900, vol. 11: 'Geschichte der Juden vom Beginn der Mendelssohnschen Zeit (1750) bis in die neueste Zeit (1848)', pp. 297seq. Reprint of the edition of last hand: Berlin: arani, 1998, ISBN 3-7605-8673-2.

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