A Very Concise History of Upper Silesia


Upper Silesia (Upper Silesian: Gůrny Ślůnsk, German: Oberschlesien, Latin: Silesia Superior) – before the name existed, the land itself was inhabited by Neolithic European people, then by Celts and later by Germanic and Slavic tribes.

They intermingled peacefully and could set a great example for modern Europeans, who so often choose to fight each other instead of building strength to fight off their common enemy. The greatest contributors to the modern Upper Silesian’s DNA were surely the Germanic Silingi and Slavic Golensizi tribes.

“From the beginning of this month I have been staying in the most fascinating land, which forms into such complete and sensual beauty. I shall have much to tell you upon return.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, in a letter from his journey through Silesia


First mention of the land by the name “Upper Silesia” is noted in 1478, but various sources refer to it as early as in IX century, using names not precisely corresponding to the one used today. After being a separate tribal land, it was annexed by the Great Moravian Empire and subsequently changed hands a few times between the Czech Kingdom and Poland to finally gain full independence in 1138, retaining it until 1336.

“I’m Silesian – that’s my nationality, that’s my religion.”

– Horst “Janosch” Eckert


Yellow eagle on a sky-blue background, the coat-of-arms of the prince of Opole, taken from the Gelre Armorial, one of the oldest surviving armorials in Europe.

In 1336 the last Upper Silesian prince dies childless, and Upper Silesia is again joined with the Czech Crown. Czech Kingdom fell to the Habsburg rule in 1526, marking the end of semi-autonomous rule under the relatively considerate Czechs. Nevertheless, throughout the next five centuries of Austrian (1526-1742), Prussian (1742-1871), German (1871-1945), Polish (1922-continued) and Czech rule, stubborn and proud Upper Silesians successfully retained their unique national identity.

In a 2011 census in Poland close to a million respondents claimed Upper Silesian nationality (that’s thrice the population of Iceland) and more than half a million claimed to use the Upper Silesian language on an everyday basis. All despite that in 1945-1989 you were beaten and humiliated in schools throughout Poland and treated with disrespect in the workplace – certainly excluded from senior positions – if you happened to speak the language or declare your Upper Silesian nationality publicly.

A further half a million lives in the Czech Republic, estimated 150 000 speaks Upper Silesian.

“Upper Silesia – region with its own culture and history of hundreds of years, “jewel in the crown” of consecutive rulers, is still, unfortunately, treated opportunistically. Deluded with promises when it had been the backbone of the country’s economy, ignored and neglected when it fulfilled its tasks. Despite its loyalty surrounded with a wall of distrust and misunderstanding.”

– Prince Jerzy Giedroyc

Hubert von Tiele-Winckler - an Upper Silesian nobleman

Hubert von Tiele-Winckler – an Upper Silesian nobleman

During the catastrophic Thirty Years War, Upper Silesia sided with the Czech Crown in an attempt for both nations to regain independence. The insurgent army lost, resulting in an amount of casualties never before or after witnessed in those regions – some estimates put the numbers at half of the entire population of both the Czech lands and Upper Silesia.

In the case of the latter, it was the Poles who were responsible for what could only be called ruthless and inhuman ethnic cleansing. With many horrid events such as those, there are many Upper Silesians still resentful towards Poland. Soon afterwards, Upper Silesia developed to be region where plentiful natural resources were mined – something that attracted the attention of possibly the greatest ruler in human history – king Friedrich II of Prussia. After the Silesian Wars with the Austrian Empire (1740-1742), he joined Upper Silesia to his kingdom, making it the very heart of Prussian industry and wealth.

“To let Poland have Upper Silesia would be the same as to let a monkey have a watch.”

– David Lloyd George

Under Prussian leadership, German states united in creating the German Empire in 1871. History of XIX’s century Upper Silesia is overabundant with examples of truly titanic creative and industrious work. Upper Silesia, the Ruhr and Manchester were in XIX century of even bigger importance to the world development than the Silicon Valley is today. This trend continued well into XX century, less halted by the World Wars than by the Polish incompetence (Poland seized full control of Upper Silesia upon Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, leaving only a small part to the Czech Republic). Any war brings human suffering and takes away the best, most courageous and self-sacrificial men – the greatest loss to any nation.

A castle in Miechowitz, once belonging to Upper Silesian nobility

The castle in Miechowitz, once belonging to Upper Silesian nobility

The war didn’t end in 1945 for the Upper Silesian people – thanks to Bolshevik Jews and their “revenge” plan (note that neither had the women and children of Upper Silesia anything to do with the alleged Holocaust, nor had the Bolshevik Jews been its victims) it continued until 1951. Some researchers claim there were hundreds of thousands of people executed or worked to death in the infamous labor camps. At the same time the lost Upper Silesians were being replaced by eastern Polish people, not only successfully obscuring the tragedy – after all, all the censuses shown an increase in population! – but also weakening the ethnic unity of the region, making it less concerned about its own identity and fate and thus much easier to control and assimilate.

Even now, more than 20 years after the fall of communism and the Soviet lies, it seems forbidden to mention the Upper Silesian Tragedy and the sick, sadistic murderers behind it. You will hardly find any articles, books or in fact any academic work whatsoever on that subject published in German, Polish or Upper Silesian. It is literally never mentioned in the mass media or by the politicians. That propaganda strategy made this grievous event and the people responsible for it largely unknown to the public. “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Heinrich Moritz August Nottebohm, a great architect who was also interested in astrology and ancient history, designed the city of Kattowitz in Upper Silesia in a way so the two main streets pointed precisely at the Sun's position during the Spring and Autimn equinoxes. Just like a Monolithic stone circle.

Heinrich Moritz August Nottebohm, a great architect who was also passionate about astrology and ancient history, designed the city of Kattowitz in Upper Silesia in a way so the two main streets pointed precisely at the Sun’s position during the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. Just like a Monolithic stone circle

And the confusion is even greater when it comes to recognizing Upper Silesians as neither Poles nor Germans nationally and internationally. Recently, the Polish court ruled that there is no such thing as an Upper Silesian nation (similarity between this and Sweden’s plans to remove the concept of race from all legislation is perplexing).

Great people like Vincenz Priessnitz, the inventor of natural care method known as hydrotherapy or the Romantic poet and writer Joseph von Eichendorff, who collected and published Upper Silesian fairy tales – similar to what the Grimm brothers did in Germany, Horst Eckert, more widely known as Janosch, one of the most famous authors and illustrators of children’s books, Karl Godulla with his super-industrious mind or inspiration behind the folk music elements incorporated into baroque composer Telemann’s works were all Upper Silesian, but are so often dubbed “German” or “Polish”. And these are but a few examples.

“Upper Silesian should be acknowledged as a language.”

– Norman Davies

Due to Poland’s approach towards Upper Silesia (as one Polish Chief of State once remarked: “Upper Silesia is an old German colony, Upper Silesia can kiss my ass!”), the Upper Silesian language is still legislatively considered only a dialect, despite the fact that it has little in common with the Polish language in particular and more with Slavic languages in general, with a strong Germanic influence as well.

Linguists noted more differences between Upper Silesian and Polish than between Dutch and German – while there’s no dispute as to Dutch’s status as a language. Even the British pro-Polish historian Norman Davies lists Upper Silesian in a language list at the end of his book Europe: A History. If one would simplify things to a great extent, one could say that Upper Silesian contains primarily archaic Moravian, German and Old Polish language elements, but its distinctness makes that generalization somewhat unfair.

“People certain about their own identity are not bothered by that of someone else. I’m Silesian, not Polish. My fatherland is Upper Silesia. I did not pledge anything to Poland nor I promised anything to it so it means that I did not betray it. State called Republic of Poland, of which I’m a citizen, refused to give me and my friends a right to self-determination and so that’s why I do not feel obligated to loyalty towards this country.”

– Jerzy Gorzelik

Since 1990, there’s an ongoing effort by the Silesian Autonomy Movement to gain self-determination from the state of Poland. Naturally the Movement has been perpetually demonized, called “Volksdeutsche organization which real goal is to break the Upper Silesia region from Poland and return it to Germany” and also a “German fifth column in Poland”. Absurd as it is, this is the version that most Poles believe in. And let them. Ironically, SAM only seeks autonomy, when it should be seeking to establish the rightful sovereign, independent state of Upper Silesia.

Upper Silesians have their own history, culture, tradition, folklore, customs, language, literature, cuisine and a distinct sense of their own nationality. And while there are organizations that aim at freeing Upper Silesia completely, perhaps thanks to SAMs mild approach, it attracts more and more followers every year, achieving what others couldn’t – placing their own representatives in the provincial-level elected political assembly.

Also, a staggering 140 000 took part in their latest public effort to change Polish legislation and acknowledge the Upper Silesian nation’s existence (something that has been done many years ago in the Czech Republic). It would certainly be a good start.




12 thoughts on “A Very Concise History of Upper Silesia

  1. I was not aware that Goethe, one of my favourite writers of all time, had such a favourable opinion about my homeland!

    A truly fascinating article.

    • Yes – and the quote itself doesn’t seem to be available anywhere in English. I had to translate it myself in order to incorporate it into the article – and I have to admit, every time I attempt at translating an author who chose his words as meticulously as Goethe, my respect for able translators of poetry and prose grows considerably. They do seem to be a rarity these days, though…

      • I have always admired poetry translators, especially when it comes to rhymed poetry written in a specific meter – it must be a hell of a task to create a meter that makes sense in another language and to keep it rhymed without loosing the ”spirit” and the meaning of a poem.

      • That’s exactly right. It’s as if someone gave you the basic idea and you had to write the poem all over again in your own language – so in a way, the translator is also a poet.

  2. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, i started to ask my Polish mother about it and found out im probably 1/4 or from 1/2 of upper-Silesian blood :D

    • Possibly :) there’s an old village in Texas founded by Upper Silesians called Panna Maria (which means Virgin Mary). It’s now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and I believe most of the population is still made up of Upper Silesian descendants.

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