East Prussian plebiscite

East Prussian plebiscite
1920 map of Poland and the Baltic States showing area of the East Prussian plebiscite.

The East Prussia(n) plebiscite[1][2] (German: Abstimmung in Ostpreußen), also known as the Allenstein and Marienwerder plebiscite[3][4][5] or Warmia, Masuria and Powiśle plebiscite[6] (Polish: Plebiscyt na Warmii, Mazurach i Powiślu), was a plebiscite for self-determination of the regions Warmia (Ermland), Masuria (Mazury, Masuren) and Powiśle, which had been in parts of East Prussia and West Prussia, in accordance with Articles 94 to 97 of the Treaty of Versailles. Prepared during early 1920, it took place on 11 July 1920. The majority of voters selected East Prussia over Poland (over 97% in Allenstein (Olsztyn) and 92% in Marienwerder (Kwidzyn)[7]); most of the territories in question thus remained in the Free State of Prussia, and therefore, in Germany.


Historical background

The districts concerned had changed hands at various times over the centuries between Old Prussians, Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights, Germany, and Poland. The area of Warmia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia since the first partition of Poland in 1772 and the region of Masuria was ruled by the German Hohenzollern family since the Prussian Tribute of 1525 (as a Polish fief till 1660). Many inhabitants of that region had Polish roots and were influenced by Polish culture; the last official German census in 1910 classified them as Poles or Masurians.[8] The Polish delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, led by Roman Dmowski, made a number of demands in relation to those areas which were part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1772 and despite their protests, supported by the French, President Woodrow Wilson and the other allies agreed that plebiscites should be held.[9]

Regions of the plebiscite

A Polish map showing languages of Mazury and Warmia in 1920s. Red: Second Polish Republic. Blue: Germany. Yellow: territories incorporated into Poland as a result of the plebiscite. Green: territories with a majority of speakers of the Polish language (or Masurian dialect of Polish). Grey: territories with a majority of speakers of the German language. Brown: borders of landkreis.
Plebiscite results, black sections of the piecharts show the Polish share of votes

The plebiscite areas were placed under the authority of two Inter-Allied Commissions of five members appointed by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers representing the League of Nations. British and Italian troops under the command of these Commissions had arrived on and soon after February 12, 1920. The regular German Reichswehr had previously left the area. Civil and municipal administration was continued under the existing German authorities who were responsible to the Commissions for their duration.[10]

In accordance with Articles 94 to 97 of the Treaty of Versailles (section entitled "East Prussia"[11]) the territory of the plebiscite was formed by Marienwerder (Kwidzyn) district (Landkreis Marienwerder - Marienwerder district) which encompassed counties of Stuhm (Sztum), Rosenberg in Westpreußen (Susz) as well as parts of counties of Marienburg (Malbork) east off the Nogat river) and Marienwerder (east of the Vistula river).[12] The treaty defined the area as "The western and northern boundary of Regierungsbezirk Allenstein (Allenstein district) to its junction with the boundary between the Kreise (district) of Oletzko (Olecko) and Angerburg (Węgorzewo); thence, the northern boundary of the Kreis of Oletzko to its junction with the old frontier of East Prussia."[11]

H. D. Beaumont, the British representative on the Marienwerder Plebiscite Commission, reported to Earl Curzon on February 25, 1920, that the total population of his Plebiscite Area was approximately 158,300, of whom 134,500 were claimed to be of German race and 23,800 Poles, or 15%.

Allenstein (Olsztyn) region

Handover of the Plebiscite area by the Allied commission, Allenstein 16 August 1920

The President of and British Commissioner on the Inter-Allied Administrative and Plebiscite Commission for Allenstein was Mr. Ernest Rennie; French Commissioner was M. Couget; the Marquis Fracassi, a Senator, for Italy; Mr. Marumo for Japan. The German Government were permitted under the Protocol terms to attach a delegate and they sent Baron von Gayl, formerly in the service of the Interior Ministry and lately on the Colonization Committee. The local police forces were placed under the control of two British officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Bennet and Major David Deevis. Bennet reported that he regarded them as "well-disciplined and reliable". There was also present a battalion from the Royal Irish Regiment and an Italian regiment stationed at Lyck (Ełk).[13]

This Commission had general powers of administration and, in particular, was "charged with the duty of arranging for the vote and of taking such measures as it may deem necessary to ensure its freedom, fairness, and secrecy. The Commission will have all necessary authority to decide any questions to which the execution of these provisions may give rise. The Commission will make such arrangements as may be necessary for assistance in the exercise of its functions by officials chosen by itself from the local population. Its decisions will be taken by a majority."

Marienwerder (Kwidzyn) region

Beaumont and the other members of the Commission reached Marienwerder on February 17, 1920. Upon their arrival they found an Italian battalion of Bersaglieri on guard who afterwards marched past at the double. This commission had about 1,400 uniformed German police under its authority.[14]

The difficulties

A Polish map 1910.
5-Pfennig stamp. To advertise the plebiscite, special postage stamps were produced by overprinting German stamps and sold from 3 April. One kind of overprint read PLÉBISCITE / OLSZTYN / ALLENSTEIN, while the other read TRAITÉ / DE / VERSAILLES / ART. 94 et 95 inside an oval whose border gave the full name of the plebiscite commission. Each overprint was applied to 14 denominations ranging from 5 Pf to 3 M.

Beaumont said that with the exception of the Kreis of Stuhm (Sztum), where Poles admittedly numbered 15,500 out of a population of 36,500 (42%), the German sympathies of the inhabitants were clearly evident. He added that "immense sums have been spent in the past on railways, roads, bridges and public buildings." Beaumont continued: "the frontier is strictly guarded by the Poles with people having business on the other side prevented from passing without having to go through vexatious formalities. Trains are deliberately held up for hours on entering and leaving Polish territory or the service suspended altogether. Postal, telegraphic and telephonic communication is constantly interrupted. To pass into the territory of the Free City of Danzig it is necessary to cross through a narrow strip of Polish territory by the great bridge over the Vistula at Dirschau [​Tczew]. Here the way is barred by sentries (in French uniforms) who refuse to understand any language but Polish, and a similar barrier has been established at the little village of Muhlhaus before again entering Danzig territory. The result is that this area is cut off from its shopping centre and chief port almost completely. Although it is scarcely likely to change the result of the Plebiscite it would in my opinion be desirable to convey a hint to the Warsaw Government that their present policy is scarcely calculated to gain them votes."[15]

Sir Horace Rumbold, the British Minister in Warsaw, also wrote to Curzon on March 5, 1920, saying that the Plebiscite Commissions at Allenstein and Marienwerder "felt that they were isolated both from Poland and from Germany" and that the Polish authorities were holding up supplies of coal and petrol to those districts. Sir Horace had a meeting with the Polish Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Patek, who declared he was disappointed with his people's behaviour and "spoke strongly about the tactlessness and rigidity of the Polish Military authorities."[16]

On March 10, 1920, Beaumont wrote of numerous continuing difficulties being made by Polish officials and added "as a result, the ill-will between Polish and German nationalities and the irritation due to Polish intolerance towards the German inhabitants in the Corridor (now under their rule), far worse than any former German intolerance of the Poles, are growing to such an extent that it is impossible to believe the present settlement (borders) can have any chance of being permanent.... It can confidently be asserted that not even the most attractive economic advantages would induce any German to vote Polish. If the frontier is unsatisfactory now it will be far more so when it has to be drawn on this side (of the river) with no natural line to follow, cutting off Germany from the river bank and within a mile or so of Marienwerder, which is certain to vote German. I know of no similar frontier created by any treaty."[17]

The Poles began to harden their position and Rumbold reported to Curzon on March 22, 1920 that Count Przezdziecki, an official of the Polish Foreign Office, had told Sir Percy Loraine (1st Secretary in H.M. Legation at Warsaw) that the Poles questioned the impartiality of the Inter-Allied Commissions and indicated that the Polish Government might refuse to recognise the results of the Plebiscites.[18]


The "German House", the headquarter of the Ostdeutsche Heimatdienst in Allenstein in July 1920

Both sides started a propaganda campaign. Already in March 1919 Paul Hensel, the Lutheran Superintendent of Johannisburg, travelled to Versailles to hand over a collection of 144,447 signatures to the Allied Powers to protest against the planned cession.[19] The Germans founded several regional associations under the title of the "Ostdeutsche Heimatdienst", which had over 220,000 members.[19] They put their emphasis on Prussian history and loyalty to the Prussian state and also used prejudices against Polish culture and Poland's economical backwardness.[20] Rennie, the British Commissioner in Allenstein, reported on March 11, 1920, that "in those parts which touch the Polish frontier a vigorous German propaganda is in progress", and that "the Commission is doing all it can to prevent German officials in the district from taking part in national propaganda in connection with the Plebiscite. Ordnances and instructions in this sense have been issued."[21]

Rennie reported to Curzon at the British Foreign Office, on February 18, 1920, that the Poles, who had taken control of the Polish Corridor to the Baltic Sea, had "entirely disrupted the railway, telegraphic and telephone system, and the greatest difficulty is being experienced. Colonel Lomas, the head of the Communications Department, has left for Warsaw to negotiate with the Polish Authorities and to endeavour to remedy matters."[22]

Rennie reported on March 11, 1920, that the Polish Consul-General, Dr. Lewandowski, aged about 60 and a former chemist who kept a shop in Poznań (Posen), had arrived. Rennie states: "he apparently has little experience of official life, and immediately after his arrival he began sending to the Commission complaints, frequently couched in extravagant language, declaring that the entire Polish population of this district have been terrorised for years and are as a result unable to or incapable of expressing their sentiments. I have to say Dr. Lewandowski's attitude is not always judicious as may be instanced by the incident which occurred on Sunday last in connection with the hoisting of the Polish flag over the consular office. Dr. Lewandowski had been recognised only four days previously, and, without giving notice of his intention to the Commission, proceeded to hoist his flag from his office window, which is situated in the same building and alongside the office of the Polish Propaganda Department. On seeing this the population, perhaps not unnaturally, showed its resentment. The police had to be summoned, entered the building, and removed the flag. However, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon the flag was again flown and the police had to be posted outside the building to prevent trouble and the flag was hauled down at 5 p.m. I pointed out to Dr. Lewandowski that he ought to realise that his position here was a delicate one........and I added it was highly desirable that his office should not be situated in a building with the Bureau of Polish propaganda."[23]

Undercover and illicit activities were also commenced and as early as March 11, 1920 the Earl of Derby reported a decision of the Allied Council of Ambassadors in Paris to make representations to the Polish government regarding violations of the frontiers of the Marienwerder district by Polish soldiers.[24]

Beaumont reported from Marienwerder at the end of March that "no change has been made in the methods of Polish propaganda. Occasional meetings are held, but they are attended only by Poles in small numbers." He continues "acts and articles violently abusive of everything German in the newly founded Polish newspaper appear to be the only (peaceful) methods adopted to persuade the inhabitants of the Plebiscite areas to vote for Poland."[25]

The Poles established an unofficial Masurian Plebiscite Committee (Mazurski Komitet Plebiscytowy) on June 6, 1919 under the chairmanship of Juliusz Bursche, later Bishop of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland. There was also an unofficial Warmian Plebiscite Committee (Warmiński Komitet Plebiscytowy). They argued that the Masurians of Warmia and Masuria were victims of a long period of Germanization, but ethnic Poles, now had the opportunity to liberate themselves from Prussian rule.[26]

After the vote, the Poles felt disadvantaged by the Versailles Treaty stipulation which enabled those who were born in the plebiscite area but not living there any more to return to vote. Approximately 152,000 such individuals participated in the plebiscite.[27] There is confusion on whether this was a Polish or German condition at Versailles as it might have been expected that many Ruhrpolen would vote for Poland,.[26] While it is reported, that the Polish delegation planned to bring Polish émigrés not only from other parts of Germany but also from America to the plebiscite area to strengthen their position,[28] the Polish delegation claimed that it was a German condition.

The plebiscite

The plebiscites asked the voters whether they wanted their homeland to remain in East Prussia, which was part of Weimar Germany, or instead become part of Poland (the alternatives for the voters were not Germany / Poland, but East Prussia / Poland). All inhabitants of the plebiscite district older than 20 years of age or those who were born in this area before 1 January 1905, were entitled to return to vote.

The plebiscite took place on 11 July 1920; at the time Poland appeared on the verge of defeat in the Polish-Soviet War (see Miracle at the Vistula). German Prussia was able to organize a very successful propaganda campaign, building on the long campaign of Germanization; notably the plebiscite masked the German choice under the regional name of Prussia. The activity of German organizations, and the Allied support for the participation of Masurians who were born in Masuria but did not live there any longer, further aided the German cause. Hence the plebiscite ended with a majority of the voters voting for Prussia, only a small part of the territory affected by the plebiscite was awarded to Poland, with the majority going to Germany.[29]


Results as published by Poland[7] thus with Polish name first.


The results for Olsztyn/Allenstein region were:[30]

County votes for Prussia votes for Poland
Olecko/ Oletzko 99.99% 0.01%
Gizycko/ Lötzen 99.97% 0.03%
Mragowo/ Sensburg 99.93% 0.07%
Ełk/ Lyck 99.88% 0.12%
Pisz/ Johannisburg 99.96% 0.04%
Szczytno/ Ortelsburg 98.51% 1.49%
Nidzica/ Neidenburg 98.54% 1.46%
Ostróda/ Osterode 97.81% 2.19%
Olsztyn/ Allenstein 86.53% 13.47%
Reszel/ Rößel 97.9% 2.1%
total % 97.89% 2.11%
total votes 363,209 7,980[31]

registered voters: 425,305, valid: 371,189, turnout: 87.31%

To honour the exceptionally high percentage of pro-German votes in the district of Oletzko (de:Landkreis Oletzko), with 2 votes for Poland compared to 28,625 for Germany, the main town Marggrabowa (Margrave town) was renamed "Treuburg" (TreueGerman = "faithfulness") in 1928,[32] with the district following this example in 1933.

In the villages of Lubstynek (Klein Lobenstein), Czerlin (Klein Nappern) and Groszki (Groschken) in the Kreis Osterode/district of Osterode (Ostróda), situated directly at the border, a majority voted for Poland. These villages became a part of Poland after the plebiscite.[33]

Due to the Prussian Eastern Railway line Danzig-Warsaw passing there, the area of Soldau in Landkreis Neidenburg was transferred to Poland without plebiscite, and renamed Działdowo.[1]

Marienwerder / Kwidzyn

The results for Kwidzyn/Marienwerder region were:[34]

County votes for Prussia votes for Poland
Marienwerder (Kwidzyn) 93.73% 6.27%
Marienburg (Malbork) 98.94% 1.06%
Rosenberg (Susz) 96.9% 3.1%
Stuhm (Sztum) 80.3% 19.7%
total % 92.36% 7.64%
total votes 96,923 8,018 [35]

registered voters: 125,090 valid: 104,941 turnout: 84.00%

The plebiscite district remained with German East Prussia as the Regierungsbezirk Westpreussen.

See also


  1. ^ Keynes, Google Print, p.11 (full view - text is in PD)
  2. ^ Tooley, Google Print, p.176
  3. ^ Butler, pps: 720 - 828
  4. ^ Williamson, pps: 93-101
  5. ^ Wambaugh
  6. ^ Topolski, p. 31
  7. ^ Mayer, vol.8, p. 3357-8
  8. ^ Mayer, vol.8, p. 3357
  9. ^ Butler, p. 722
  10. ^ a b The Versailles Treaty
  11. ^ A map of counties of Marienburg and Marienwerder with marked results of the plebiscite with discussion
  12. ^ Butler, p. 721-2 and 731
  13. ^ Butler p. 728
  14. ^ Butler, p. 723-4
  15. ^ Butler, p.725
  16. ^ Butler, p.726-7
  17. ^ Butler, p.734-5
  18. ^ a b Andreas Kossert: Ostpreußen. Geschichte und Mythos. München 2005, S. 219
  19. ^ Kossert, p.249
  20. ^ Butler, p.732 and 743
  21. ^ Butler, p.723
  22. ^ Butler, p.730-1
  23. ^ Butler, p.729
  24. ^ Butler, p.737
  25. ^ a b Kossert, p. 247
  26. ^ Rhode, p. 122
  27. ^ T. Hunt Tooley (1997). National identity and Weimar Germany. http://books.google.de/books?id=QIAXSaC3lMQC&pg=PA40&dq=corridor+East+prussia+1922&lr=&as_brr=3. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  28. ^ Cezary Bazydlo (www.jugendzeit-ostpreussen.de): Plebiscyt 1920 (Polish), Volksabstimmung 1920 (German), 2006
  29. ^ Butler, p. 826
  30. ^ Suchmaschine für direkte Demokratie: Allenstein / Olszyn (Ostpreussen), 11. Juli 1920
  31. ^ Adrian Room, Place-name Changes Since 1900: A World Gazetteer
  32. ^ Kossert, p.247
  33. ^ Butler, p. 806
  34. ^ Suchmaschine für direkte Demokratie: Marienwerder / Kwidzyn (Westpreussen), 11. Juli 1920


  • Butler, Rohan, MA., Bury, J.P.T.,MA., & Lambert M.E., MA., editors, Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939, 1st Series, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1960, vol.x, Chapter VIII, "The Plebiscites in Allenstein and Marienwerder January 21 - September 29, 1920"
  • Keynes, John Maynard. A Revision of the Treaty: Being a Sequel to The Economic Consequences of the Peace, Harcourt, Brace, 1922
  • Kossert, Andreas. Masuren: Ostpreussens vergessener Süden, ISBN 10-3-57055006-0 (German)
  • Mayer, S. L., MA. History of the First World WarPlebiscites:Self Determination in Action, Peter Young, MA., editor, BPC Publishing Ltd., UK., 1971.
  • Rhode, Gotthold. Die Ostgebiete des Deutschen Reiches, Holzner-Verlag Würzburg, 1956.
  • Tooley, T. Hunt. National Identity and Weimar Germany: Upper Silesia and the Eastern Border, 1918-1922, U of Nebraska Press, 1997, ISBN 0803244290
  • Topolski, Jerzy. An Outline History of Poland, Interpress, 1986, ISBN 832232118X
  • Wambaugh, Sarah. Plebiscites since the World War, Washington DC, 1933. I p 99 – 141; II p 48 - 107
  • Williamson, David G. The British in Germany 1918-1930, Oxford, 1991, ISBN 0-85496-584-X

Further reading

  • Robert Kempa, Plebiscyt 1920 r. w północno-wschodniej części Mazur (na przykładzie powiatu giżyckiego). In Masovia. Pismo poświęcone dziejom Mazur, 4/2001, Giżycko 2001, p. 149-157 (Polish)
  • Andreas Kossert, Ostpreussen: Geschichte und Mythos, ISBN 10-3-88680-808-4 (German)
  • Andreas Kossert, Religion versus Ethnicity: A Case Study of Nationalism or How Masuria Became a "Borderland", in: Madeleine Hurd (ed.): Borderland Identities: Territory and Belonging in Central, North and East Europe. Eslöv 2006, S.313-330
  • Adam Szymanowicz, Udział Oddziału II Sztabu Generalnego Ministerstwa Spraw Wojskowych w pracach plebiscytowych na Warmii, Mazurach i Powiślu w 1920 roku. In Komunikaty Mazursko - Warmińskie, 4/2004, p. 515 - 530.(Polish)
  • Wojciech Wrzesiñsk, Das Recht zur Selbstbestimmung oder der Kampf um staatliche Souveränität - Plebiszit in Ostpreußen 1920 in AHF Informationen Nr. 54 vom 20.09.2000 [2] (German)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • East Prussia — is sometimes used to refer to the Duchy of Prussia (1525–1618) The Province of East Prussia (red), within the Kingdom of Prussia, within the German Empire, as of 1871 …   Wikipedia

  • Upper Silesia plebiscite — was a plebiscite for self determination of Upper Silesia demanded by one of the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. The German government had declared during the negotiations in London, and indeed at an earlier period, that the possession of… …   Wikipedia

  • Masurians — East Prussia, 1931: Typical Masurian farmhouse near a lake. The Masurians or Mazurs or Masurs (Polish: Mazurzy, German: Masuren) are a …   Wikipedia

  • Polish Corridor — The Polish Corridor in 1923 1939 …   Wikipedia

  • Masuria — Mazury redirects here. For other uses, see Mazury (disambiguation). Sailing on Lake Mikołajki …   Wikipedia

  • Olsztyn — For other uses, see Olsztyn (disambiguation). Olsztyn Old Town …   Wikipedia

  • Poland — /poh leuhnd/, n. a republic in E central Europe, on the Baltic Sea. 38,700,291; ab. 121,000 sq. mi. (313,400 sq. km). Cap.: Warsaw. Polish, Polska. * * * Poland Introduction Poland Background: Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived around …   Universalium

  • Territorial changes of Germany — BackgroundGerman settlement in Eastern EuropePart of the motivation behind the territorial changes are based on events in the history of Germany and Europe, especially Eastern Europe. Migrations that took place over more than a millennium led to… …   Wikipedia

  • Treaty of Versailles — otheruses4|the Treaty of Versailles of 28 June 1919, at the end of World War I|other uses|Treaty of Versailles (disambiguation) Infobox Treaty name = Treaty of Versailles long name = Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and… …   Wikipedia

  • Former eastern territories of Germany — v · d …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.