Prussian deportations

Prussian deportations as shown on a contemporary painting by Konstanty Górski

Rugi pruskie

Prussian deportations by Wojciech Kossak

The Prussian deportations (or: Prussian expulsions, Polish: rugi pruskie) were mass expulsions of Poles (and, to a lesser extent, Jews) from Prussia in 1885-1890. More than 30,000 Poles with Austrian or Russian citizenship were deported from the Prussian part of divided Poland to the respective Austrian and Russian parts. The deportation was carried out in an inhumane way and was based on an ethnic discrimination principle. The expulsion was condemned by the Polish public as well as the federal German parliament. The expulsion also contributed to the worsening of the German-Russian relations. In the aftermath, Poles without German citizenship were again allowed to work and reside in the German Empire in all seasons but the winter.


Agriculture in the eastern provinces of Prussia was to a high degree based on large-area manors owned by German junkers, who employed thousands of immigrant Poles from the Russian and Austrian part of partitioned Poland. Also, the growing industrial region of Upper Silesia attracted workers from there. At the same time, parts of the local German and Polish population moved to more industrialized western areas of Germany (Ostflucht). Although no anti-German political activity of the immigrants was noted, the resulting increase of the Polish population alarmed nationalist German circles, including Germany's chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

The expulsion order of 1885 and its implementation

On 26 March 1885, the minister of internal affairs of Prussia[who?] ordered provincial authorities to expel abroad all Poles and Jews with Russian citizenship. In July 1885, the expulsion order was extended to include Austrian citizens also. Additionally, the authorities were obliged to watch that in future no "undesirable foreigners" would settle on those territories[1].

The order was executed on all non-Prussian citizens, regardless of year-long residence or previous service in the Prussian Army, and despite their state of health, age or sex. The expellees were "driven in mass towards the eastern border under blows of gendarmes' rifle butts"[2]. Fatal incidents were noted[1] as the expulsion was carried in winter time.

In the initial months nearly 26,000 persons[1] were expelled from eastern provinces of Prussia, mainly workers and craftsmen employed there. The expulsions were continued in subsequent years, so until 1890 the number of expelled persons exceeded 30,000.[2][3] Until 1890 the border of Prussia was closed to immigrants of Polish ethnicity.[1]

Effects on public opinion

The expulsion left a strong impression on the public opinion of Poland, Germany and Europe.[2] Alfred von Waldersee, who in principle agreed to the necessity of the expulsion, approved of "incredible harshness" (German: unglaubliche Härte) in individual cases. Schweinitz, then German ambassador in Russia, said upon reflection: When some day the great chancellor resigns, then many people will feel ashamed and they will mutually reproach themselves with the meanness of their grovelling before his mighty will. I am touched at the most by the unwise and to no purpose cruel order of the expulsions.[2]

The matter was laid before the parliament of the German Empire. A question was asked by Polish MP's and it was supported by the Centre Party, Social Democratic Party and the progressives. The leader of the Social Democratic Party Wilhelm Liebknecht called the chancellor to withdraw the steps which might cause international complications and bring down repressive measures upon Germans living abroad. Ansfeld, a progressive, put in a resolution that the expulsion was not justified by the national interest, it was contrary to humanitarian reasons and posed a threat to the welfare of the Empire's citizens. Ludwig Windthorst of the Centre Party put in a supplementary motion to the same effect. On 16 January 1886 the parliament of the German Empire condemned the expulsion with a great majority of voices.[2] Nevertheless the parliamentary resolution was neglected by the Prussian government.

A similar question was asked by Polish MP's and the Centre Party in the parliament of Prussia, but the majority of voices to condemn the expulsions was not obtained here, because political forces of anti-Polish orientation were represented much stronger in the Prussian parliament than in the parliament of the German Empire[3].

Influence on German relations with Russia

The formerly good relations between Germany and Russia worsened in the 1880s due to more nationalist trends in Russian policy. German minorities in the Russian Empire, including Baltic and Russian-born Germans as well as recent German immigrants faced sentiments of both the government and parts of the public supporting the idea of Pan-Slavism.

With that background in mind, the German ambassador in Russia, Schweinitz, advised Bismarck to abstain from the expulsions, anticipating they would provoke supporters of Pan-Slavism and entail repressions against German settlers in Russia[4].

In general, the expulsions met with disapproval in the government circles of Russia. Dmitry Tolstoy, a conservative and the minister of internal affairs, acknowledged Bismarck's anti-Polish motivation and tried to procure a good reception for the events in Russia, but unofficially gave ambassador Schweinitz to understand that Bismarck had committed a grave mistake as such measures were unnecessary.[5]. Also Nikolay Giers, the minister of foreign affairs of Russia, told that Bismarck, by his own conduct, had aggravated already existing hostile feelings towards German colonists in Russia, had set a bad example to be followed, and had spread the seeds of new ethnic antagonisms in the future.[5] Bismarck himself expressed to ambassador Schweinitz his disappointment, stating that "the Russians showed less satisfaction because of our expulsions than I had expected".[5]

Soon afterward, the Russian government imposed legal restrictions on acquisition and lease of land by Germans in Russia, thus limiting the German colonisation movement in the Russian-controlled part of Poland.[5]

Thus, contrary to Bismarck's original intentions, the expulsion contributed to the worsening of German-Russian relations and the erosion of their traditional cooperation - a shift in Russia's policy, which finally led to the creation of the Franco-Russian Alliance then transformed into Entente, which battled the German Empire during World War I from 1914 to 1918.

Softening of expulsion policy since 1890

Later on, the need for cheaper labour by German landlords and industry prevailed, thus the policy of the Prussian government in this question had to be softened. In 1890 a new order was issued to allow employment of foreigners of Polish ethnicity except in the period between 20 December to 1 February of each subsequent year, which measure was intended to force the workers to periodically return abroad, thus preserving their status of seasonal workers and preventing the continuity of their inhabitance in Prussia. Such a system of annual winter expulsions was adapted to the needs of the landlords, but was harmful to Upper Silesian industry, which used to disobey the order frequently, with the silent tolerance of Prussian authorities, or to enforce its temporary suspension. [6] Only unmarried persons were accepted and they were often separated from the local native Polish population[7].

Further Polish immigration to Prussia until 1914

Since 1905 a semi-government agency, called the "Head Office of Farm Workers" took up the engagement of workers from outside of Germany. Labour contracts gave opportunity for many corrupt practices to the detriment of workers. The immigrant worker was poorly paid, exploited and - in practice - totally unprotected. Nevertheless the influx of candidates was always huge and in the eve of World War I the number of immigrant workers exceeded 500,000 persons, 80% of them from the Russian-controlled part of Poland. Approximately 200,000 of them worked in the eastern provinces of Prussia. With a low living standard and intensive work, a male worker could save 100-150 Marks per year, while a female worker could save 50-100 Marks per year[8].

Place in Polish national traditions

The Prussian deportations serve as a national symbol for Poles of the anti-Polish policies of Prussia, the German Empire, and Otto von Bismarck during the time that Poland was divided.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Historia Polski, Vol. III 1850/1864-1918, Part 2 1850/1864-1900, edited by Polska Akademia Nauk [Polish Academy of Sciences], Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1967, p. 684.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Józef Feldman, Bismarck a Polska, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1966, p. 323.
  3. 3.0 3.1 -Skarby Dziedzictwa Narodowego - Katalog Skarbów - Rugi pruskie
  4. Józef Feldman, op. cit., p. 327
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Józef Feldman, op. cit., p. 328
  6. Konstanty Grzybowski, Historia państwa i prawa Polski, Vol. IV, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1982, p. 533.
  7. Stefan Kieniewicz, Historia Polski 1795-1918, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warsaw 1983, p. 373.
  8. Stefan Kieniewicz, op. cit., p. 373.

External links

See also

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