After the partition of poland in the late 18th century, Prussia aquired a large part of Polish territory. Those areas suffered heavy Germanization process through assimilation and suppression of Polish culture.

By the end of the 19th century, kids were instructed to read and write German language, and in German only. Polish was only used as a spoken language at home, and maybe with your neighbours, but definitely not in an interaction with anybody outside your village, anybody who would see their social rank rise had to be germanized.

The results is that people would only speak a Polish dialect with their family, but have absolutely no idea how the language is read or written, since the orthography system is very different from the German system.

I know there was some Polish newspapers, but who could read them?

Once Poland was restored in 1918, people certainly couldn't understand anything to the written language, could they?

  • Have you even thought to read about Frédéric Chopin, who lived his entire life under the Partition of Poland yet wrote several pieces with Polish lyrics: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Chopin#Polish_heritage May 8, 2016 at 1:06
  • 1. F.C. Lived a significant part of his life in France 2. Russian partition of Poland was different from Prussian and is off-topic here.
    – Bregalad
    May 8, 2016 at 8:34

2 Answers 2


The "Germanization" process really only got underway after the unification of Germany in 1870. That means you have a period of only 40 years in which Germany is actively trying to suppress Polish culture. And in practice it wasn't very thorough.

I think you vastly underestimate the opportunity for and existence of "high-level" communication and culture in Polish in the Prussian-controlled territories. For example, the city of Poznán saw the founding (and persistence) of:

  • the Raczynski Library ("the Library was still a mainstay of Polish culture under Prussian rule thanks to the Polish book collections and Polish personnel");

  • the Central Economic Society for the Grand Duchy of Poznań ("Its main goal was to promote modern agricultural methods by organizing meetings, speeches, debates, excursions and competitions and also publishing the newspapers and magazines.");

  • the Poznań Society of Friends of Learning ("When founded in the 19th century, the Poznań Society was the chief Polish scientific and cultural organization in Prussian Poland, and until the creation of Kraków's Academy of Learning in 1871–73 it was the most important learned society in all the Polish lands.");

  • the People's Libraries Society ("Its main goal was to promote education in Polish language among the people, especially the lower classes, and to revert the Germanisation practices of the Prussian authorities. The society established a network of libraries, reading rooms and organized speeches.")

I get the impression that the imposition of strong Germanization after 1870 partly backfired, in that it inspired resistance among the Poles and a strong desire to retain and promote their own culture. This would have included things like home schooling in Polish, private schools for education in Polish, and the like. (The Russians outlawed private Polish schools after 1863, but Poles went ahead and set up illegal private schools in places like Warsaw anyway.)

(And I suspect even for those Polish-speaking kids who didn't have home schooling in written Polish, being literate in the Latin alphabet from learning to read and write German in school would get you about 90% of the way there -- sure, you don't initially know all the details of the orthography, but you know all but a couple of the letters and you know what all the words are supposed to be, because you already know the language.)

Finally, there's the fact that the relatively liberal Austrian-controlled Polish region (Galicia) was right next door; interested Poles could travel to Cracow or Lwow for a proper Polish-language university education, for example. (We have to remember that international travel in the 19th Century was generally a lot less restricted than it is now.)


By the time of partition, Poles had strong cultural tradition and literature. Suppressing such language and culture is difficult or impossible. You say children were educated in German". I am sure they were educated also in Polish, even if this happened at home. Certainly there were many well educated Poles by 1918, and overwhelming majority could speak read and write Polish.

Similar things happened in the Russian-annexed territory, which was the largest part of Poland. Russian policies varied with time, but there were times when formal education in that part of Poland was available only in Russian.

I can compare this with other nations whole langiuage was suppressed. Ukrainian language was never recognized in the Russian empire as a language, no official education was available, and at various time publishing books in it was prohibited, not even mentioning newspapers. Unlike Polish language and culture which are quite old, Ukrainian literature begins only AFTER Russian annexation, though most people spoke Ukrainian. So many books were published abroad and illegally brought to the empire. Even under such circumstances, by 1918 there were many people who not only spoke but read and wrote Ukrainian.

EDIT. I agree that the mass of peasants did not have a high literacy rate. The same applies to Russia and Ukraine where most peasants were illiterate; Poland was somewhere in between Russia/Ukraine and countries to the West of it. However for the survival of literary tradition, a critical mass of intellectual is crucial, and they can be a very small part of population. Intellectuals made a very small part of population in Russia as well, but they maintained a world-class literature. Polish literature had comparable status in 19th century if not higher, and nationalistic feelings were very strong both among the intellectuals and in the general population.

  • 1
    They were "educated" in polish for farm life, how to take care of animals, etc... Not how to read and write the language. Especially considering school became obligatory only during the time of partitions, so no low-class farmer knew how to read/write polish language, they learned it in German directly. Correct me if I'm wrong.
    – Bregalad
    May 5, 2016 at 15:13
  • 1
    What's the source of information in your statements?
    – Alex
    May 5, 2016 at 18:29
  • I agree with your edit, however the German partition was different. All cities were fully germanized, university was in German only just like all other level of scools. There might have been a few poles which got lucky and allwed to rise to higher levels of living, but then they automatically became Germanized. This didn't happen in neither AH nor Russia which were large multi-ethnic empires.
    – Bregalad
    May 5, 2016 at 21:01
  • 1
    Any sources of this information?
    – Alex
    May 6, 2016 at 0:41
  • Look at the ethnic composition of cities like Oppeln, Dantzig, Posen, Kattowitz according to the 1910 German census. They were all >90% German, while the surrounding lands are certainly Polish (even though the census was falsified to inflate the # of Germans). Also look at the result of the Upper Silesia plesbicite. There was an obvious urban/rural fraction, where urban=german, rural=polish. In A/H however, the Polish language and culture weren't suppresed, and the cities remained Polish.
    – Bregalad
    May 6, 2016 at 11:34

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