Silesian Uprisings

10 Nov 2017

The Silesian Uprisings hold a special place in the Polish national consciousness, but especially here in Katowice – the city that most benefitted from the insurrectionary effort. Formerly the German city of Kattowitz, the town played a key role in the Uprisings and when it became incorporated into Poland in 1922 the Polish government rewarded Katowice by making it the autonomous capital of the newly acquired territories. All of a sudden, what had been a dismal industrial border-town was the capital of an autonomous province with its own legislative body, treasury and Parliament. The good times didn’t last, but the memories have. Today one of the largest and most iconic monuments in Poland honours the heroes of the Silesian Uprisings in downtown Katowice. To see the truly colossal Uprisings Monument, take a tram to Rondo Gen Ziętka. To learn the story behind it, read on.

Setting the Stage

Silesia has been at the geographic and political crossroads of Europe throughout its entire history - a position which has seen it sitting ambivalently on the borderlands of this or that kingdom, or continually placed in the crosshairs of various land-grabbing empires and nations throughout history. Going back to the Middle Ages, the region was first recorded in the history books as a Piast duchy in the late 13th century and was part of the Kingdom of Poland before King Kazimierz the Great conscientiously spurned it; Silesia then slipped under the Bohemian Crown in the 14th century, who passed it like a kidney stone to the Habsburgs in the 16th century before Frederick the Great took a liking to it and had a little mid-18th century war over the matter until it was in his Prussian domain. By that time Silesia had passed hands more than any other territory in Europe, and, as such, developed a distinctly unique and diverse cultural make-up of Polish, German, Bohemian, Austrian and Jewish influences, including its own Silesian dialect of the Polish language (though some argue it has its own distinct language). By the time modern nations were being formed across Europe in the wake of Napoleon, Silesia couldn’t be legitimately claimed as the byrights homeland of any particular nation (though it remained within German borders).

Silesia’s true political relevance didn’t begin to take shape until the 19th century when the revelation spread that the region was rich in natural resources, particularly coal, and it developed into a hotbed of heavy industry which would largely enable the German war machine during World War I. When the Allies agreed to the reconstitution of the Polish nation in the aftermath of the war, Silesia became a bone of contention between the two countries where the local population was an almost even split between Germans and Poles. In drafting the Treaty of Versailles, the Allies sought to inflict territorial losses on Germany and lands east of the Oder River, particularly Upper Silesia which had a Polish ethnic majority, were a natural choice. When the Allied intention appeared in initial drafts of the treaty, the potential loss of Upper Silesia sent shockwaves through Germany; widespread unrest and even famine were predicted and the Germans found an audience with their claim that the country’s war reparations would be impossible to repay without the resource-rich region creating revenue for the Rhineland. After loud German protest, it was finally decided in 1918 that the territorial matter would be decided democratically when a mandated plebiscite took place in two years time; until then, German administration and police would be left in place in the region. The decision deeply disappointed Warsaw which had expected the Silesian territories with a Polish majority east of the Oder River would be incorporated into the new Polish Republic without debate, and angered the regional Polish community eager to escape discrimination in Germany.


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Over a year ago
Gary Jones
United Kingdom
The majority of the people involved in the Silesian Uprisings where nothing more than "Bolsheviks" as stated by Major General Alexander when he was a junior officer in the British army who entered Upper Silesia as peacekeepers. He later was the Commander in Chief of British forces of which The Polish Free Army (of which my father served) was under his command briefly during WW2. Though one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter !
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