It is a well known fact that Poland won a lot of territory over Germany after WWII, and that German people were expelled, and the place was re-settled with ethnically Poles. What is less known is how they decided who counts as a German and who counts as a Pole.

The region being originally Polish but having gone through years of germanisation, especially during the XIXth century, many people living there would have a multicultural German/Polish identity. In the region a variety of dialects were spoken, and it was not clear if a dialect would be a Slavic influenced German dialect or a German influenced Slavic dialect, neededless to say the debate is more political than ethno-linguistical

Wikipedia says:

Historian John Kulczycki argues that the Communist authorities discovered that forging an ethnically homogenous Poland in the Recovered Territories was quite complicated, for it was difficult to differentiate German speakers who were "really" Polish and those who were not. The government used criteria that involved explicit links to Polish ethnicity, as well the person's conduct. Local verification commissions had wide latitude in determining who was or was not Polish and should remain.

However it would be nice to have more/better info about how they decided whenever a particular bunch of individuals are "Poles" or "Germans".

Side question: Names could play a major role in such a settlement, but what about polonized German names (for example, Szuter), or germanized slavic names (for example, Lukasewitz)? Or people having a German given name and a Slavic family name, or vice-versa?

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    To me that "wide latitude" line implies that a lot was left up to personal discretion, which means there would be a different answer for every local commission.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 10, 2015 at 14:45
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    In local communities everyone knew who was German. For Polish/Soviet army it was clear to talk to by knowing who welcomes them, who raises Polish flags, and also who is keeping his home locked and is afraid to go to shop o buy something to eat. Many Germans were afraid of staying in Poland and were expecting some kind of revenge. The Germans were usually people of middle and high class. They kept photographs of their relatives in Wehrmacht uniforms at home. The Polish were mostly poor, peasants or workers, and it was clear who they were.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 11, 2015 at 10:11
  • A Polish officer could tell if you were Polish by understanding your way of speaking, if you knew some basic prayers like "Our Father". It was possible to tell if you knew most popular Polish literature, like Mickiewicz. It was no problem to tell which nationality you were. (As a side note: A few years ago I met professor Ulrich Schrade. Both his names are German, in Polish he should be named "Ulryk", but this name is very rare. His nationality is Polish, his family is Polish, but names are German)
    – Voitcus
    Jun 11, 2015 at 10:16
  • @Voitcus You'd want to expand your comments into an answer so I can further comment it and/or accept it. You'd also want to expand on why it was so obvious, I suspect not everyone had a Polish flag ready to be risen when Hitler banned all other flags than the third reich's for 12 years. (I was talking specifically about pars of Poland which were annexed in 1945, not those who were already politically Polish before / there certainly was poor german people in those parts)
    – Bregalad
    Jun 11, 2015 at 12:32
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    I would think that the allegiance which individuals and families had adopted during the Nazi occupation played an important part. It was not only in eastern Europe that these sorts of post-war problems existed. In 1945 France was a country of erstwhile resisters and erstwhile collaborators.
    – WS2
    Jun 11, 2015 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


The answer is based on my talks with people of Polish origins in East Prussia and Upper Silesia and might not represent all the cases. I also do understand the answer does not cite any sources.

Since about late 1944 it was clear that the territories west of Poznań and Łódź are going to be in Poland. The Allied forces which were present in Western (of 1939) Poland were:

During the liberation of Poland all AK forces were eliminated, both physically, or just wiped off to forests, etc. Of course at first the administration were conducted by military (Soviet and People's Poland), then civilians. The civil administration were backed by at first NKVD, but later replaced with Militia forces, and KBW, having Polish personnel.

The tasks of these de-facto military organizations were to suppress any "reactive movements" ie. all activity leading to re-establishment of pre-war capitalist system. They performed the same tasks in the Recovered Territories.

It became clear (in late 1944) that the Soviet Army is too strong to be stopped by Germans, which was met with mixed feelings in Poland, but mainly people were happy the war would end at last. There was a faith that Western Powers will help to keep democracy.

The Polish in Third Reich were clearly happy seeing liberating forces approaching, as they did not know everything about repressions of a new regime (repressions were mostly hidden in Poland itself). The German administration was ruined and many people tried to escape or save their possessions.

The Polish were not afraid of Russians, and of course both Polish armies. So when Allies entered, the Polish stopped hiding and began to co-operate and help. Soon it became clear who was Polish and who was not. The Polish administration knew these people. They were not high-class persons, and rarely middle-class (eg. teachers, doctors, engineers etc.); mainly they were peasants and workers, and as such not enemies of Soviet/Polish administration. Many of them have risen to became mayors or other officials. And they also knew one another; they knew personally who was German and who was Polish. If they didn't, they could easily recognize Germans by their fashion, behaviour (Germans were afraid of some kind of revenge and now they were trying to hide), way of speaking, what they had at home (like photographs of male relatives in Wehrmacht uniforms). If there were Germans disguised as Polish, they were easily recognizable. It is difficult for Germans to speak Polish without a strange accent (it was easily recognizable even for a Russian officer). It is difficult to pronounce clearly things which every Pole could (like a prayer, Mickiewicz rhymes, etc.). Please also note that German administration was known for their meticulous record-keeping. Anyone who wanted to prove their ownership of a building, shop, or land, needed to keep their own identity and thus couldn't just pretend to be Polish.

The names were also a clue, but not always decisive. There were Polish-German intermarriages. A few years ago I met professor Ulrich Schrade. He was from East Prussia and was born in Polish family. Both first and last names are German (the first name should be "Ulryk" in Polish, but it is very rare name). I did ask him if he was German (he spoke Polish fluently) and he said that he always was Polish, but it was common to give children German names even among Poles. So names did not matter in many cases (also some Polish could be traitors).

So answering shortly: the Germans wanted to be known to be Germans because they believed they would be allowed to keep their property. The ones who wanted to hide were easily unveiled the same way as we do recognize foreigners.

Eventually they lost everything, but it was too late to hide, and in fact they had no reason to stay other than sentiment for their local homeland (Heimat).

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    I believe you can be a credible 1st hand source since you're from there. I'll however be warned that some older people might have inadvertently affected the truth when narrating the events they lived.
    – Bregalad
    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:22
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    I added explanation: they were happy seeing liberating forces approaching. The more politically aware knew about communism and repressions against the AK and Katyń, the less were neutral, and they were happy because they became free of Germans. Note that the German occupation in Poland was very brutal and cannot be compared to the one of France or Denmark. So even the Soviets were considered liberators; there was strong faith that UK and USA will keep democracy and all repressions are temporary.
    – Voitcus
    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:34
  • You probably mean, "West of Poznan and Gdansk"? It's pretty obvious territories west of Lodz were polish.
    – Bregalad
    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:34
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    The AK was considered by common people to fight against an enemy one couldn't win, and which was not necessary. The war ended, but they fought. This is very difficult part of history, further reading eg. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursed_soldiers
    – Voitcus
    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:38
  • Yes, I've meant what was then Łódź - Poznań - Toruń (Pomorskie) Voivodships, see the map
    – Voitcus
    Jun 12, 2015 at 6:40

In most cases it was regional. Entire towns and provinces were expelled if they were German. When you are expelling hundreds of thousands of people at once, you don't have the time to be going person by person. You just ship out the whole county.

In cases where population was mixed, the name would usually indicate whether the person was German or Polish. If the person had no papers or otherwise verifiable name, a Polish interrogator would simply determine what you were.

Of course, I suppose a German who could speak Polish fluently and tell a believable story might be able to convince a Pole that he was Polish, but those were probably exceptional cases, not the norm.

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    Oh so that's what I suspected but I was expecting a more complete answer. Perhaps I'll clarify my question as well.
    – Bregalad
    Jun 10, 2015 at 20:09
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    The expulsions in Silesia did not take place all at once: My father and his parents were expelled to East Germany in 1948, in the 3rd and final transport wave from their village. Only 1 German remained in that place, a girl who had married a Polish man. Inability to work was a big factor in who was sent away first.
    – bgwiehle
    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:36

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