Assimilation projects and the true status of the Polish nationality 1871 - 1918

In 1795 the third partion of Poland took place.[1] As a consequence of this activity Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years.

   The lands formerly belonging to Poland were divided between the three invaders as their provinces. In Austria, these lands were called Galicja, the Russians gave to  all the territories taken over status of  “the governorate”, and in the Kingdom of Prussia, the newly joined area was divided into so-called Western Prussia, South Prussia and New Eastern Prussia.[2]

All partitioners sought to assimilate the Polish nation within newly joined areas. However the way to assimilate Poles were significantly different and stimulated by other needs of the invaders.

    Poland was the pawn in their political game that took place in 19th century Europe. They

needed those territories, but not as hostile. Only problem was that Poles did not want to assimilate  with new homelands, and in the country and abroad, preparations for the struggle of independence were made.


What actions did the partitioners made against polishness in the years between 1871 and 1918?


The year of 1871 was important for Germans and thus also for that part of Poland which belonged to the Kingdom of Prussia.

     On the 10 May 1871 in The Treaty of Frankfurt was signed. It was the end of Franco-Prussian war that was carried out from the July of 1870.

      The German states proclaimed their union as the German Empire with the king Wilhelm I and Otto von Bismarck as the First German Chanchellor. Finally the dream about uniting Germany as a nation-state become true.[3]

     As a Chancellor Otto von Bismarck led a very offensive policy towards the Polish nation, he started realizing it just after taking over the office, by already in 1871  introduced a new resolution on the partition of the Germany.[4]

   He wanted to assimilate the Poles, because in the control over those territories  he saw the future of Germany, as we can read in letter he wrote to sister: „Beat the Poles so that they will despair about life. I have great pity for their position, but if we want to exist, then we have nothing else to do but to exterminate them.”[5]  To to maintain strength and position in Europe, they needed control over the territories of Poland. However, thoes territories with unassimilated polish nation was dangerous and uncertain.

   The Chancellor of the German Empire wanted destroy the Polish nation to be sure of the Empire position in Europe.

   The intensification of germanization at the end of seventies and begining of eightiees was also caused by changes in the national structure in the eastern territories unfavorable for the Germans.

    Political unity was identified with cultural unity, that is why Otto von Bismarck  started activities known today as kulturkampf („fight for the culture”).

    The kulturkampf consisted of many acts  aimed primarily at the Catholic Church, its purpose to  striving to limit the role and influence of the Catholic Church in the State and to limit the influence of priests on society. In the German partition it was also directed at polishness and polish language.[6]

    By the 1874 polish language was almost totally withdrawn from schools (only religion classes could be taught in polish). Those of students who wanted to attended to high school can not be members of catholic youth organizations.

     Polish teachers were replaced by Germans, and from 1872 they can not being members of polish scientific organizations (Society for Scientific Assistance Marcinkowski and the Society of Friends of Sciences in Poznań).

     In 1876, the Polish language was finally withdrawn from the judiciary and offices in the entire area of the Prussian partition.

     In 1885,  the Prussian Settlement Commissionthe[7] was set up and so-called Prussian ruga began, orders to leave the eastern provinces of the state to all Poles who do not have German citizenship. The Prussian deportations were to move the population and get rid of Poles from the part of the former Poland,to get these territories easier assimilate. Poles had to move or change theirs citizenship and thus renounce Polishness. 

     During the reign of Bismarck, many Polish families changed their surnames from Polish to German. It was a commonly used practice, because like a change of surmane it facilitated finding a better job, and thus improving living conditions and also avoiding social lynching, which was then used against Poles.

      After Bismarck resignation from the position of the Chancellor in 1890 germanization had temporarily eased. However it becomes even worse after in 1894 Hakata had been foundet, and lasted until the First World War.

      Hakata was a German nationalist organization that  was aimed at final Germanization of the territories annexed by Prussia (Germany). It took its name from the first letters of the founders' names: Ferdynand von Hansemman (1861-1900), Hermman Kennemann (1815-1910), Henry von Tiedemann (1840-1922).

      In theirs actions Hakata mainly dealt with: liquidation of Polish literature and press, encouraging Germans to buy real estate and businesses from Poles, bringing Germans to Wielkopolska (territories of German partition).[8]

      Poles did not  leaved Germany's actions without a response. In 1901 the children's strike in Września broke out, when  was ordered to study religion in German at the school. Many people were imprisoned and the children who took part in the strike were expelled from school.[9]

      From the year of 1904 Poles without german citizenship could not build a house without permission of government. Michał Drzymała, among others, was denied the right to build a house, because of the fact that he refused to change his citizenship for german. Instead of this he build a circus car, that he moves every day on his property (the law  banned having a permanent building, but nothing was said about the moving hause).

   In 1908 polish language itself was banned, because German Parliament established „The muzzle act”, that prohibited the use of Polish at meetings in those towns where there were less than 60% of Poles.

    This situation persisted until the rebirth of Poland, the end of the First World War.[10]

    Those times in Russian partition was right after fall of the January Uprising(1863-1864).   As a revange of insurrection Russians becomes repressing Poles.  Around 400 persons were executed and 18,672 were exiled to Siberia. Near 70,000 man and woman were imprisioned or exiled from teritories of Russian partition, to punish them for participation in uprising.

        Confiscation covered 1,600 properties, against politically suspect persons, the courts issued very strict sentences, and there were threats of contributing for carrying national mourning or refusal to participate in ceremonies organized by the Russian authorities.

        The main punishment for Poles in revenge for the January Uprising  eliminated the political, economic and legal separation of the lands of the Kingdom of Poland.  Its external sign was the  change of its name  from the Kingdom of Poland to Vistula land.

         The internal image of the changes was the abolition of Polish administrative institutions in 1867 , Administrative Board, Council of State, Secretariat of State of the Kingdom and government committees operating in Warsaw, and the appointment of new authorities subordinate to the tsar. 

      A so-called Furnishing Committee was established, whose task was to organize a new political life of Poland under Russian rule. Its chairman was the new governor of the Kingdom of Poland, Count Fiodor Berg. After his death in 1874  not governor of the Kingdom of Poland was appointed but the governor-general, who had a wide range of authority - administrative, military and police. 

         The number of gubernia increased from 5 to 10, thus breaking the lands of the partition into smaller, easier to control areas.

         Only the Land Loan Society, the Warsaw-Vienna Railway and Warsaw's government theaters remained Polish institutions. Few Poles remained in lower positions in education, the judiciary and administration, from higher (eg university employees) they were replaced by Russians.                     

         During the Russification in the second half of the nineteenth century, particular emphasis was placed on education and the Polish language, as well as Catholic religion.[11]

          In the years 1879-1897, Aleksander Apuchtin became the curator of the Warsaw school district. A so-called "apuchtin’s night" has come: the informers system have become extremely supportive of the authorities, which became the basis of the police system in schools. For all information on alleged anti-Russian conspiracies at school, you could get generous rewards. It was supposed to crush the spirit of the Polish nation and preserve in Polish children the habit of informing.[12]

         In 1869, the Main School in Warsaw was closed, and in its place the University of Warsaw with the Russian language of instruction was opened.  Since 1871, Russian has been compulsorily taught language in primary schools, so that from 1885 it will become the language of instruction on all educations levels, in addition to Polish and religious lessons.

          Already in 1863, the Polish language was removed from the administration, and Catholic priests were ordered to keep parish records in Russian.

          In public life, a command to use the Russian language was in force. For using Polish in the corridors at school, you could be removed from school and got „wolf ticket”, a document prohibiting a person expelled from one school  entering another school across the whole Russia.

           Martial law and preventive censorship were introduced. Which meant that not only for speaking in Polish but also for transferring patriotic feelings on paper you could be sentenced to prison, exile or death.

          The Russian authorities, realizing perfectly well the fact that the Catholic Church has a huge impact on the Poles, took up the fight with him.  In 1867, the Catholic hierarchy of the church was subordinated to the Roman Catholic College in St. Petersburg, which led to several years of conflict with the papacy. In the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century, many church estates were taken away, and about 130 monasteries were closed.

            In 1875, after many attempts at Russification, the Uniate Church, to which many Poles belonged, was liquidated in Russia.

            Easing the policy of Russification took place after the death of Tsar Alexander III.[13]

                             As a result, of the revolution in Russia 1905-07, the Polish population  gained limited national concessions (including Polish schools, associations, representation in the Russian State Duma and the Council of State).  By this action the new Russian authorities wanted to win Poles over. However, it did not stop the Poles' struggle to regain independence and did not contribute to the abandonment of anti-Russian activities.[14]


  Despite the great efforts of the Russian authorities, thanks to the generosity of Poles and their patriotic attitude, the Russification action ended in defeat, and the Poles proved impossible to assimilate.

Quite different those times were in third Partition of Poland second half of XIX century in the Austrian partition were quite favorable for Poles.

In the years of 1860-1873 as a result of the Austrian-Polish settlement Galicia obtained the rights of autonomy.  The Austrian occupation stood out against the background of both Russian and Germany partitions, the specific social and economic situation. Characteristic in these lands was a different approach to Polishness and patriotism, which was not blunted, as it was in Russia or Germany, but only controlled.[15]

    Galicia has developed Polish education, science and culture with freedom, much greater than in other partitions and  gave the Poles the most favorable conditions since the Kingdom of Poland.

    At that time, Galicia received local self-government in the form of the National Sejm and the National Council.

     The governor of Galicia was a Pole, who came from a conservative group, Agenor Romuald Gołuchowski. He had the right to give opinions on draft provisions related to Galicia, as he was part of Austro-Hungarian government.

     The new policy of the imperial government, aimed at acquiring Polish community environments, resulted in polonization of Galician administration and education.

      Poles saw in conciliatory the Austrian government's next concessions for Galicia and in the long term the possibility of rebirth of the Polish state.

      An important role in building the Polish identity was played by universities, the University of Lviv, polonized in 1871, and the University of Cracow, and the Academy of Skills (established in 1873).

     The policy of the Habsburg Monarchy was conducive to the creation of numerous political parties in various Galicia territories, with a different character, represented various political directions. From 1869, a conservative group was active in Krakow, whose members were called “Stańczycy”. They cared about the cultural deevelopment of Galicia but with the loyalty to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They criticized conspiracy activities and were against any demonstrations against Habsburg Monarchy.

       In 1897, the National Democratic Party with Roman Dmowski[16] was created in Lviv. These parties could actively participate in the political life of the monarchy. The only problem was the system of electoral law, which favored the landed gentry and wealthy townsmen.

     It introduced the division of voters into state curies, for whom the number of seats was set top-down. Therefore, the representatives of these classes most often represented Poles in the government. The Poles managed to occupy the highest positions, such as Kazimierz Badeni, who in 1895-1897 was the prime minister of the Austrian government.

     Many Polish organizations were formed here, and Polish literature, banned by the German and Russian censors, was published.

    As Galicia was a substitute for Poland, and freedom it was here that independence activists from the German and Russian partitions found shelter. So it can not be surprising, that in Galicia in 1908-14 Polish military-independence organizations were formed.

    Directions of those military-parties  at the beginning of the First World War were quite different:  pro-Russian (groupings of National Democracy, with Roman Dmowski) - binding national hopes of Poles with the victory of the Entente, especially Russia, and on the other hand pro -austrian (Józef Piłsudski[17] with Polish Legions), counting on the victory of central states.


     Despite a well-developed education and political freedoms, Galicia is considered the least developed. Most of the Galician territories were economically underdeveloped.

     The level of education in universities was very high, however, early school education was undeveloped.

    In many towns and villages of Galicia were no schools and anaphlabicism spread among people.[18]



   Projects of assimilation polish nation were quite diffeerent in each partitions, but what was the common things that any of them went well.

   The mainstay of Polishness, tradition and language that the invaders failed to overcome was  The Catholic Church.

   Poles living under the partitions did not organized insurections every day, they try to live as they could: they were learning at universities of Germans, Russians and Austrians, having mixed marriages with invaders, repeatedly changing theirs surnames to have better living conditions.

    However, in their faith (their religion) Polishness remained.

 It is thanks to the fact that for 123 years of occupation, Poles have been cultivating their traditions, that after regained independence people raised in three differend countries could build Poland together.  Despite the fact that their vision of Poland was different, marked by the experience of other occupations, they were guided by the same goal - Let Poland be Poland.[19]

  Summing up my work, I think that despite the extremely different methods of the occupation, their plan was mainly the same: the incorporation of the Polish nation into the structures of their countries.

    On the question of how these assimilation projects of the Poles succeeded, and whether the invaders managed to completely assimilate the Polish nation, the fact that Poland exists today answer. Despite various ways in assimilating Poles, after 123 years they still remembered who they were and fought for Poland's freedom.

Karolina Kaliszewska



  1. Kukiel Marian, Dzieje Polski porozbiorowe (1795–1921), Wyd. Puls, 1996.
  1. Paluszyński Tomasz,Historia Niemiec i państw niemieckich. Zarys dziejów politycznych, Oficyna Wydawnicza Wyższej Szkoły Języków Obcych w Poznaniu, wyd. II popr. i uzupełn., Poznań 2006.
  1. Gomolec Ludwik ,We Wrześni przed 60 laty 1901-1961, Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1961.
  1. Felman Józef, Bismarck a Polska, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy,Warszawa 1980.
  1.  Krasuski Jerzy, Kulturkampf: Katolicyzm i liberalizm w Niemczech XIX wieku, Poznań 1963.
  1. Strumph-Wojtkiewicz Stanisław, Powstanie styczniowe, Nasza Księgarnia, Warszawa,1963.
  1. Frączykowski Piotr,Rusyfikacja polskiego narodu, Wydawnictwo PWN, Kraków, 2001.
  1.  Tych Feliks, Rok 1905, Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza,Warszawa, 1990.
  1.  Fras Zbigniew, Galicja, Wyd. Dolnośląskie,Wrocław 2002.






[1]     Three partitions of the Poland took place (1772, 1793 and 1795). As a consequence of the last of these, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years.

[2]     Kukiel Marian, Dzieje Polski porozbiorowe (1795–1921), Wyd. Puls, 1996, pp.23,28-34

[3]     Paluszyński Tomasz,Historia Niemiec i państw niemieckich. Zarys dziejów politycznych, Oficyna Wydawnicza Wyższej Szkoły Języków Obcych w Poznaniu, wyd. II popr. i uzupełn., Poznań 2006, p. 386

[4]     Felman Józef, Bismarck a Polska, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy,Warszawa 1980, p.450

[5]     From letter to his sister, 26th March 1861, Briefe Bismarcks an Schwester und Schwager 1843-1897, Lipsk 1915, p. 120.

[6]         Krasuski Jerzy, Kulturkampf: Katolicyzm i liberalizm w Niemczech XIX wieku, Poznań 1963, s. 171

[7]     The Prussian Settlement Commissionthe- organization aimed at buying land from Polish owners and distribute it among German colonists. As an answer to this Poles founded land buying associations for Poles

[8]     Paluszyński Tomasz,Historia Niemiec i państw niemieckich. Zarys dziejów politycznych, Oficyna Wydawnicza Wyższej Szkoły Języków Obcych w Poznaniu, wyd. II popr. i uzupełn., Poznań 2006, p. 375.

[9]     Ludwik Gomolec "We Wrześni przed 60 laty 1901-1961", Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1961, pp.1-15

[10]   Kukiel Marian, Dzieje Polski porozbiorowe (1795–1921), Wyd. Puls, 1996, p.46.

[11]   Strumph-Wojtkiewicz Stanisław, Powstanie styczniowe, Nasza Księgarnia, Warszawa,1963.

[12]    Frączykowski Piotr,Rusyfikacja polskiego narodu, Wydawnictwo PWN, Kraków, 2001, p.25.

[13]     Ibidem, pp.27-36.

[14]     Tych Feliks, Rok 1905, Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza,Warszawa, 1990.

[15]   Fras Zbigniew, Galicja, Wyd. Dolnośląskie,Wrocław 2002, p. 80-89.

[16]   Roman Dmowski- Polish politican. Minister of foregin affairs, co-founder of National Democracy, the main ideologist of polish nationalism, deputy to the Legislative Sejm of the Republic of Poland and the 2nd and 3rd Duma.

[17]   Józef Piłsudski- Polish social and independence activist, soldier, politician, statesman, from 1892 a member of the Polish Socialist Party and its leader in the country, the creator of the PPS Combat Organization (1904) and the Polish Military Organization (1914), head of the Military Commission and Provisional Council of State (1917) [2], from November 11, 1918, the Supreme Commander of the Polish Army, in the years 1918-1922, the head of the state, the first Polish marshal (1920); leader of the Sanacja camp after the May coup (1926), two-time Polish Prime Minister (1926-1928 and 1930); he had a decisive influence on the internal and foreign policy of the Second Polish Republic.

[18]   Fras Zbigniew, Galicja, Wyd. Dolnośląskie,Wrocław 2002, p. 101-111.

[19]   Title of polish patriotic song, writed by Jan Pietrzak, with the music by Włodzimierz Korcz. Created in 1976, refers to Polish road to independence.