Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Poland : Germans

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Poland : Germans, 2008, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


According to the 2002 census, there were 147,094 Germans in Poland. However, 774,900 people or two per cent of the population, failed to declare any nationality, and in the past the number of Germans were believed to be considerably higher than the 2002 census recorded. In the 1990s, Polish sources estimated the number at 750,000 (1.9 per cent) of the population, while German sources quoted the figure of 1,100,000 (2.8 per cent). Both figures included ethnic Germans, many of whom are only now able to claim their ethnic identity, and being 'autochthonous'.

Historical context

On the eve of World War II, there were about 1 million ethnic Germans within Poland's borders, who made up 3.5 per cent of the country's population. The German territories, east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, over which Poland gained control after the war, had been inhabited before 1939 by some 10 million people. The expropriation and expulsion of Germans after the war led to tens or even hundreds of thousands of deaths, as dispossessed Germans lacked shelter and food. There is no agreement on the number of Germans who were left in Poland after the end of the mass transfer of the German population in 1945-49. During the 1950s, the Polish authorities maintained that no more that 250,000 ethnic Germans remained in Poland, while West German sources put the size of the minority at 1.7 million people. This discrepancy is partly explained by the fact that many ethnic Germans were viewed by the Polish authorities as 'autochthones' - original inhabitants of the region whose equivocal ethnicity qualified them as prospective Poles. Bilingualism and mixed family background had always been common in the borderlands.

Some 290,000 people were allowed to resettle in Germany between 1956 and 1959 under a family reunion scheme. Polish authorities used these transfers as a justification for the closure of all German-language schools, church services, newspapers and radio broadcasts. From about 1960, Poland denied the continued existence of a German minority on its soil. From the normalization of relations between Poland and West Germany in 1970 to 1990, about 970,000 people were allowed to leave Poland.

From 1989, Germans were able to reassert their ethnic identity in a new political climate. The Polish-German Treaty of Good Neighbourhood and Cooperation, signed in July 1991 inter alia secured the right for ethnic Germans 'freely to express, preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity, both individually and collectively'.

In the 1991 parliamentary elections, the German minority secured seven seats in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, and one in the Senate.

Current issues

The Federation of German Socio-cultural Associations, the main German organization, is represented in 16 of Poland's 49 provinces. Following October 2007 elections, there was only one German representative in the Sejm, and none in the Polish Senate.

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