The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






East Prussia

East Prussia (German: Ostpreußen; Polish: Prusy Wschodnie; Russian: Восточная Пруссия — Vostochnaya Prussiya) was a province of Kingdom of Prussia, situated on the territory of former Ducal Prussia. The northern part of East Prussia corresponds today to Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast (Königsberg); the southern parts form Poland's Warminsko-Mazurskie Voivodship. East Prussia enclosed the bulk of the ancient ancestral lands of the Baltic Prussians.

East Prussia was located along the south-east corner of the Baltic Sea. Its capital was Königsberg (now Kaliningrad)

1 German Empire

2 Weimar Republic
3 Nazi reign
4 WW2
5 Further reading



In 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, Warmia (a part of former province of Royal Prussia) was merged with East Prussia. On January 31, 1773 King Friedrich II announced that the newly annexed lands were to be known as "Westpreußen" (West Prussia) and the old Duchy of Prussia was to be known as "Ostpreußen" (East Prussia).

Since 1701, when Elector Friedrich III crowned himself King in Prussia, Prussia, the old name of the area, had become the name for the whole Kingdom ruled by Hohenzollern monarchs.

German Empire

Along with the rest of Prussia, East Prussia became part of the German Empire at its creation in 1871. From World War I until World War II, East Prussia became an exclave of Germany, created as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, when parts of the province of West Prussia (former Royal Prussia) were ceded to Poland creating the so called Polish Corridor, roughly corresponding to today's Pomeranian Voivodship.

In 1875 the ethnic make up of East Prussia was 73.48% German, 18.39% Polish, and 8.11% Lithuanian (according to "Slownik geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego"). The population of the province in 1900 was 1,996,626 people, with a religious make up of 1,698,465 Protestants, 269,196 Roman Catholics, and 13,877 Jews.

Population of the East Prussia in 1890

Population of East Prussia and its Provinces in 1890
Inhabitants non-German citizens*
East Prussia 1,958,663 2,189

The number for "non-German citizens" represents only people who were not German citizens, but excludes non-German minorities.

From 1885 to 1890 Berlin's population grew 20%, Brandenburg and the Rhineland gained 8.5%, Westphalia 10%, while East Prussia had lost 0.07% and West Prussia 0.86%.

The following counties in the province had large Polish populations, according to a German census from 1900:

Johannisburg (Provinz Ostpreußen) 70,2 %
Ortelsburg (Provinz Ostpreußen) 74,5 %
Lyck (Provinz Ostpreußen) 53,2 %
Neidenburg (Provinz Ostpreußen) 69,3 %
Sensburg (Provinz Ostpreußen) 50,5 %
Lötzen (Provinz Ostpreußen) 38,1 %
Oletzko County Oletzko (Provinz Ostpreußen) 33,5 %
Osterode (Provinz Ostpreußen) 43,9 %
Allenstein (Provinz Ostpreußen) 47,1 %
Rössel (Provinz Ostpreußen) 14,0 %

Weimar Republic

The German Empire became a Republic in 1918, with the abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II. As a consequence of the World War I defeat and according to the Versailles Treaty, a plebiscite was to be held in the southern parts of East Prussia in 1920 to decide whether these areas should be ceded to the re-established state of Poland or remain German. 96.7 % of the people voted for remaining within Germany. (The choice on the ballot was in fact between "East Prussia" and "Poland", not "Germany" and "Poland", as is widely believed.)

Nazi reign

Map of East Prussia in 1939
Map of East Prussia in 1939

The Nazis altered about 1/3 of the toponymy of the area, eliminating all names of Polish or Lithuanian origin. Members of minorities with Polish roots (see Mazurs) who did not co-operate with the new rulers were brutally suppressed, with activists being sent to concentration camps.


During the World War II, the province was extended (see Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany). In 1939, East Prussia had 2.49 million inhabitants. Many were killed in the war, most of them young people conscripted to the German army and killed in action.

The Red Army had entered the eastern-most tip of Prussia by August 29 1944. The news about massacres and rapes of civilians committed by the Soviet troops spread panic in the province and caused a mass flight westward. More than 2 million people were evacuated via the Baltic Sea. Over 15000 of these refugees drowned when the ships Wilhelm Gustloff, Steuben and Goya were torpedoed by Russian submarines in three of the worst sea disasters in terms of lives lost.

After the war, many ethnic Germans who had fled in early 1945 returned to their homes in East Prussia. The remaining German population of East Prussia was expelled by the communist Soviet and Polish regimes. During the war and shortly thereafter, many people were also deported as slave labourers to Eastern parts of the Soviet Union. Many of those sent to the Soviet Union ended up in the Gulag camp system.

In April 1946, northern East Prussia became an official Russian province of the Soviet Union, and in July of that year, the capital city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad, and the province renamed the Kaliningrad Province. After the expulsion of the German population beginning in late 1947 from the Russian territory, ethnic Russians Belorussians and Ukrainians were settled in the northern part and Sambia, and Polish expatriates from eastern parts of Poland taken over by the Soviet Union were settled in the southern part of East Prussia, now the Polish Warminsko-Mazurskie Voivodship.

Further reading

Publications in German

  • B. Schumacher: Geschichte Ost- und Westpreussens, Wurzburg 1959
  • Buxa, Werner and Hans-Ulrich Stamm: Bilder aus Ostpreußen
  • Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin v. :Namen die keiner mehr nennt - Ostpreußen, Menschen und Geschichte
  • Dönhoff, Marion Gräfin v.: Kindheit in Ostpreussen
  • Falk, Lucy: Ich Blieb in Königsberg. Tagebuchblätter aus dunklen Nachkriegsjahren
  • Kibelka, Ruth: Ostpreußens Schicksaljahre, 1945-1948

Publications in Polish

  • K. Piwarski, Dzieje Prus Wschodnich w czasach nowożytnych, Gdańsk 1946
  • Gerard Labuda (ed.), Historia Pomorza, vol. I–IV, Poznań 1969–2003 (also covers East Prussia)
  • collective work, Szkice z dziejów Pomorza, vol. 1–3, Warszawa 1958–61

External links

See also

Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46