Before and during WWI, people of Polish origin held either Russian, Austrian or German passports. I am pretty sure none of the official documents mentioned ethnicity at all, the system of separate citizenship and "nationality" (aka ethnicity) implemented by the Soviet Union.

After the revival of Poland, it became clear that those living on the territory of newborn Poland would get Polish citizenship. However, could Poles that lived outside of Poland (and outside of the former partitioner's country) replace their Russian, Austrian or German citizenship by Polish citizenship ?

If so, how hard was such an administrative procedure from a foreign country ?

Would Polish citizenship replace, or add itself to the former citizenship ?

  • fascinating subject if you have a look at our wall of names you'll people born in Karelia, Riga, Minsk, Siberia, Bryansk, Kharkiv etc (just put a place name in the search box) it doesn't seem to have been a problem kresy-siberia.org/won/?page_id=3&lang=en Witold Pilecki was born in Olenets, Karelia Mar 9, 2016 at 11:25
  • @TimBucknall I was talking about the rebirth of Poland in Novermber 1918, not about the event of second world war and aftermath.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 10, 2016 at 7:46

2 Answers 2


In Poland since 1918, it's been the case that the citizenship could only be earned by descendants of Polish citizens.

However, a big one-time change – which turned "almost everyone" into a citizen – came through the Polish Citizenship Act of 1920, Article 2 and 2a. On January 20th, 1920, everyone became a Polish citizen who was a resident on the new, greater Polish territory and had no other citizenship.

To be a resident on the new, greater Polish territory, one had to prove it either by papers showing his citizenship in the former Kingdom of Poland; or Prussian, Russian, or Austrian/Hungarian documents showing the residence with a specific proof that he or she lived on the territories later acquired by the new Polish state.

The citizenship was also given to some exceptions based on international treaties; and, after a 1938 update of the law, most of the former citizens of Czechoslovakia in the vicinity of Těšín that was partly conquered by Czechoslovakia after the (tied) 1919 Czechoslovak-Polish seven-day war, and re-acquired by Poland as a gift from Adolf Hitler in 1938 (no one had to ask Czechoslovakia since the Munich Treaty).

Many people were of Polish origin but hadn't lived on the "right" territory before 1918 so they didn't become Polish citizens but were recognized as a special category of people of "Polish origins". In practice, this was the first step to becoming a Polish citizen if (as Article 3 of the 1920 law says) they renounced the previous citizenship and declared their desire to become Polish citizens. Any "break" in the citizenship could have eliminated the citizenship for the family, and so on, see Polish nationality law.

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    Oh I guess this explains why my polish grandfather had a German passport, they resided in the "wrong" territory and didn't bother doing the long and tedious administrative work to get a Polish passport, when their priority was to eventually get a Swiss passport.
    – Bregalad
    Aug 20, 2015 at 15:50
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    @Bregalad, I suppose that if you only wanted to, you could get your Polish citizenship confirmed solely on this basis. This was recently applied to some French-born footballers of Polish descent. Feb 23, 2016 at 22:10

I was showing how many Polish Citizens of the interwar republic were born well outside Poland, surely that's relevant to the question

everyone in that list was a Citizen , ie: they had Polish passports

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