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East Prussia (German: Ostpreußen, pronounced [ˈɔstˌpʁɔʏsən] ( ); Latin: Borussia orientalis) was the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.
East Prussia enclosed the bulk of the ancestral lands of the Baltic Old Prussians. During the 13th century, the native Prussians were conquered by the crusading Teutonic Knights. The indigenous Balts who survived the conquest were gradually converted to Christianity. Because of Germanization and colonisation over the following centuries, Germans became the dominant ethnic group, while Poles and Lithuanians formed minorities. From the 13th century, East Prussia was part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights, which became the Duchy of Prussia in 1525. The Old Prussian language had become extinct by the 17th or early 18th century.
Following the death of Hohenzollern Albert of Brandenburg Prussia, Duke of Prussia (1525–1568), Joachim II, the prince-elector Kurfürst of Brandenburg, became co-inheritor of Ducal Prussia. In 1577, House of Hohenzollern co-regents took over administration from Albert's only son, Albert Friedrich. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia again passed by inheritance and in personal union with the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg and the territory was called Brandenburg-Prussia. The territories of the House of Hohenzollern were scattered in Franconia, Brandenburg, eastern Prussia and elsewhere.
Because the duchy was outside of the core Holy Roman Empire (Prussia was under HRE administration by the Teutonic Order grandmasters), the prince-electors of Brandenburg were able to proclaim themselves kings in Prussia beginning in 1701. After the annexation of most of western Royal Prussia in the 1772 First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, East Prussia was connected by land with the rest of the Prussian state and was reorganized as the Province of East Prussia the following year. Between 1829 and 1878, the Province of East Prussia was joined with West Prussia to form the Province of Prussia.
The Kingdom of Prussia became the leading state of the German Empire after its creation in 1871. However, the Treaty of Versailles following World War I granted West Prussia to Poland and made East Prussia an exclave of Weimar Germany, while the Memel Territory was detached and was annexed by Lithuania in 1923. Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, war-torn East Prussia was divided at Joseph Stalin's insistence between the Soviet Union (the Kaliningrad Oblast in the Russian SFSR and the constituent counties of the Klaipėda Region in the Lithuanian SSR) and the People's Republic of Poland (the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship). The capital city Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. The German population of the province was largely evacuated during the war or expelled shortly thereafter in the expulsion of Germans after World War II. An estimated 300,000 (around one fifth of the population) died either in war time bombings raids or the battles to defend the province.
Upon the invitation of Duke Konrad I of Masovia, the Teutonic Knights took possession of Prussia in the 13th century and created a monastic state to administer the conquered Old Prussians. Local Old-Prussian (north) and Polish (south) toponyms were gradually Germanised. The Knights' expansionist policies, including occupation of Polish Pomerania with Gdańsk/Danzig and western Lithuania, brought them into conflict with the Kingdom of Poland and embroiled them in several wars, culminating in the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War, whereby the united armies of Poland and Lithuania, defeated the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410. Its defeat was formalised in the Second Treaty of Thorn in 1466 ending the Thirteen Years' War, and leaving the former Polish region Pomerania/Pomerelia under Polish control. Together with Warmia it formed the province of Royal Prussia. Eastern Prussia remained under the Knights, but as a fief of Poland. 1466 and 1525 arrangements by kings of Poland were not verified by the Holy Roman Empire as well as the previous gains of the Teutonic Knights were not verified.
The Teutonic Order lost eastern Prussia when Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg-Ansbach converted to Lutheranism and secularized the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order in 1525. Albert established himself as the first duke of the Duchy of Prussia and a vassal of the Polish crown by the Prussian Homage. Walter von Cronberg, the next Grand Master, was enfeoffed with the title to Prussia after the Diet of Augsburg in 1530, but the Order never regained possession of the territory. In 1569 the Hohenzollern prince-electors of the Margraviate of Brandenburg became co-regents with Albert's son, the feeble-minded Albert Frederick.
The Administrator of Prussia, the grandmaster of the Teutonic Order Maximilian III, son of emperor Maximilian II died in 1618. When Maximilian died, Albert's line died out, and the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Electors of Brandenburg, forming Brandenburg-Prussia. Taking advantage of the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1655, and instead of fulfilling his vassal's duties towards the Polish Kingdom, by joining forces with the Swedes and subsequent treaties of Wehlau, Labiau, and Oliva, Elector and Duke Frederick William succeeded in revoking king of Poland's sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia in 1660. The absolutist elector also subdued the noble estates of Prussia.
Although Brandenburg was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Prussian lands were not within the Holy Roman Empire and were with the administration by the Teutonic Order grandmasters under jurisdiction of the Emperor. In return for supporting Emperor Leopold I in the War of the Spanish Succession, Elector Frederick III was allowed to crown himself "King in Prussia" in 1701. The new kingdom ruled by the Hohenzollern dynasty became known as the Kingdom of Prussia. The designation "Kingdom of Prussia" was gradually applied to the various lands of Brandenburg-Prussia. To differentiate from the larger entity, the former Duchy of Prussia became known as Altpreußen ("Old Prussia"), the province of Prussia, or "East Prussia".
Approximately one-third of East Prussia's population died in the plague and famine of 1709–1711, including the last speakers of Old Prussian. The plague, probably brought by foreign troops during the Great Northern War, killed 250,000 East Prussians, especially in the province's eastern regions. Crown Prince Frederick William I led the rebuilding of East Prussia, founding numerous towns. Thousands of Protestants expelled from the Archbishopric of Salzburg were allowed to settle in depleted East Prussia. The province was overrun by Imperial Russian troops during the Seven Years' War.
After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Warmia, part of western Royal Prussia, with large Polish-Catholic population was forcibly merged with the former Duchy of Prussia. On 31 January 1773, King Frederick II announced that the newly annexed lands were to be known as the Province of West Prussia, while the former Duchy of Prussia and Warmia became the Province of East Prussia.
From 1824–1878, East Prussia was combined with West Prussia to form the Province of Prussia, after which they were reestablished as separate provinces.
From 1885 to 1890 Berlin's population grew by 20%, Brandenburg and the Rhineland gained 8.5%, Westphalia 10%, while East Prussia lost 0.07% and West Prussia 0.86%. This stagnancy in population despite a high birth surplus in eastern Germany was because many people from the East Prussian countryside moved westward to seek work in the expanding industrial centres of the Ruhr Area and Berlin (see Ostflucht).
The population of the province in 1900 was 1,996,626 people, with a religious makeup of 1,698,465 Protestants, 269,196 Roman Catholics, and 13,877 Jews. The Low Prussian dialect predominated in East Prussia, although High Prussian was spoken in Warmia. The numbers of Masurians and Prussian Lithuanians decreased over time due to the process of Germanization. The Polish-speaking population concentrated in the south of the province (Masuria and Warmia) and all German geographic atlases at the start of 20th century showed the southern part of East Prussia as Polish with the number of Poles estimated at the time to be 300,000. Lithuanian-speaking Prussians concentrated in the northeast (Lithuania Minor). The Old Prussian ethnic group became completely Germanized over time and the Old Prussian language died out in the 18th century.
At the beginning of World War I, East Prussia became a theatre of war when the Russian Empire invaded the country. The Russian Army encountered at first little resistance because the bulk of the German Army had been directed towards the Western Front according to the Schlieffen Plan. Despite early success and the capture of the towns of Rastenburg and Gumbinnen, in the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 and the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes in 1915, the Russians were decisively defeated and forced to retreat. The Russians were followed by the German Army advancing into Russian territory.
After the Russian army's first invasion the majority of the civilian population fled westwards, while several thousand remaining civilians were deported to Russia. Treatment of civilians by both armies was mostly disciplined, although 74 civilians were killed by Russian troops in the Abschwangen massacre. The region had to be rebuilt because of damage caused by the war.
With the forced abdication of Emperor William II in 1918, Germany became a republic. Most of West Prussia and the former Prussian Province of Posen, territories annexed by Prussia in the 18th century Partitions of Poland, were ceded to the Second Polish Republic according to the Treaty of Versailles. East Prussia became an exclave, being separated from mainland Germany. The Seedienst Ostpreußen was established to provide an independent transport service to East Prussia.
On 11 July 1920, amidst the backdrop of the Polish-Soviet War, the East Prussian plebiscite in eastern West Prussia and southern East Prussia was held under Allied supervision to determine if the areas should join the Second Polish Republic or remain in Weimar Germany Province of East Prussia. 96.7% of the people voted to remain within Germany (97.89% in the East Prussian plebiscite district).
In 1932 the local paramilitary SA had already started to terrorise their political opponents. On the night of 31 July 1932 there was a bomb attack on the headquarters of the Social Democrats in Königsberg, the Otto-Braun-House. The Communist politician Gustav Sauf was killed, the executive editor of the Social Democrat "Königsberger Volkszeitung", Otto Wyrgatsch, and the German People's Party politician Max von Bahrfeldt were severely injured. Members of the Reichsbanner were attacked and the local Reichsbanner Chairman of Lötzen, Kurt Kotzan, was murdered on 6 August 1932. After the Nazis took power in Germany, opposition politicians were persecuted and newspapers were banned. The Otto-Braun-House was requisitioned and became the headquarter of the SA that used the house to imprison and torture opponents. Walter Schütz, a communist member of the Reichstag was murdered here.
In 1938 the Nazis altered about one-third of the toponyms of the area, eliminating, Germanizing, or simplifying a number of Old Prussian names, as well as those Polish or Lithuanian names originating from refugees to Prussia during and after the Protestant Reformation. More than 1,500 places were ordered to be renamed by 16 July 1938 following a decree issued by gauleiter and Oberpräsident Erich Koch and initiated by Adolf Hitler. Many who would not cooperate with the rulers of Nazi Germany were sent to concentration camps and held prisoner there until their death or liberation.
In 1939 East Prussia had 2.49 million inhabitants, 85% of them ethnic Germans, the others Poles in the south who, according to Polish estimates numbered in the interwar period around 300,000-350,000, and Lietuvininkai speaking Lithuanian (Baltic) in the northeast. Most German East Prussians, Masurians, and Lietuvininkai were Lutheran, while the population of Ermland was mainly Roman Catholic due to the history of its bishopric. The East Prussian Jewish Congregation declined from about 9,000 in 1933 to 3,000 in 1939, as most fled from Nazi rule. Those who remained were later deported and killed in the Holocaust.
In 1939 the Regierungsbezirk Zichenau was annexed by Germany and incorporated into East Prussia. Despite Nazi propaganda presenting all of the regions annexed as possessing significant German populations that wanted reunification with Germany, the Reich's statistics of late 1939 show that only 31,000 out of 994,092 people in the annexed Polish western territories were ethnic Germans.
East Prussia was only slightly affected by the war until January 1945, when it was devastated during the East Prussian Offensive. Most of its inhabitants became refugees in bitterly cold weather during the Evacuation of East Prussia.
In 1944 the medieval city of Königsberg, which had never been severely damaged by warfare in its 700 years of existence, was almost completely destroyed by two Allied air raids on the night of 26/27 August 1944 and three nights later on the 29/30 August 1944. Winston Churchill (The Second World War, Book XII) had erroneously believed it to be "a modernised heavily defended fortress" and ordered its destruction.
Gauleiter Erich Koch protracted the evacuation of the German civilian population until the Eastern Front approached the East Prussian border in 1944. The population had been systematically misinformed by Endsieg Nazi propaganda about the real state of military affairs. As a result, many civilians fleeing westward were overtaken by retreating Wehrmacht units and the rapidly advancing Red Army.
Reports of Soviet atrocities in the Nemmersdorf massacre of October 1944 and organized rape spread fear and desperation among the civilians. Thousands lost their lives during the sinkings (by Soviet submarine) of the refugee ships Wilhelm Gustloff, the Goya, and the General von Steuben. Königsberg surrendered on 9 April 1945, following the desperate four-day Battle of Königsberg. The number of civilians killed is estimated to be at least 300,000.
However, most of the German inhabitants, which then consisted primarily of women, children, and old men, did manage to escape the Red Army as part of the largest exodus of people in human history. "A population which had stood at 2.2 million in 1940 was reduced to 193,000 at the end of May 1945."
Shortly after the end of the war in May 1945, Germans who had fled in early 1945 tried to return to their homes in East Prussia. An estimated number of 800,000 Germans were living in East Prussia during the summer of 1945. Many more were prevented from returning, and the German population of East Prussia was almost completely expelled by the communist regimes. During the war and for some time thereafter 45 camps were established for about 200,000-250,000 forced labourers, the vast majority of whom were deported to the Soviet Union, including the Gulag camp system. The largest camp with about 48,000 inmates was established at Deutsch Eylau (Ilawa).
Representatives of the Polish government officially took over the civilian administration of the southern part of East Prussia on 23 May 1945. Subsequently Polish expatriates from Polish lands annexed by the Soviet Union as well as Ukrainians and Lemkos from southern Poland, expelled throughout Operation Vistula in 1947, were settled in the southern part of East Prussia, now the Polish Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. In 1950 the Olsztyn Voivodeship counted 689,000 inhabitants, 22.6% of them coming from areas annexed by the Soviet Union, 10% Ukrainians, and 18.5% of them pre-war inhabitants. The remaining pre-war population was treated as Germanized Poles and a policy of re-Polonization was pursued throughout the country Most of these "Autochthones" chose to emigrate to West Germany from the 1950s through 1970s (between 1970 and 1988 55,227 persons from Warmia and Masuria moved to Western Germany). Local toponyms were Polonised by the Polish Commission for the Determination of Place Names.
In April 1946, northern East Prussia became an official province of the Russian SFSR as the "Kyonigsbergskaya Oblast", with the Memel Territory becoming part of the Lithuanian SSR. In June 1946 114,070 German and 41,029 Soviet citizens were registered in the Oblast, with an unknown number of disregarded unregistered persons. In July of that year, the historic city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad to honour Mikhail Kalinin and the area named the Kaliningrad Oblast. Between 24 August and 26 October 1948 21 transports with in total 42,094 Germans left the Oblast to the Soviet Occupation Zone (which became East Germany). The last remaining Germans left in November 1949 (1,401 persons) and January 1950 (7 persons). After the expulsion of the German population ethnic Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were settled in the northern part.
In the Soviet part of the region, a policy of eliminating all remnants of German history was pursued. All German place names were replaced by new Russian names. The exclave was a military zone, which was closed to foreigners; Soviet citizens could only enter with special permission. In 1967 the remnants of Königsberg Castle were demolished on the orders of Leonid Brezhnev to make way for a new "House of the Soviets".
Since the fall of Communism in 1991, some German groups have tried to help settle the Volga Germans from eastern parts of Russia in the Kaliningrad Oblast. This effort was only a small success, however, as most impoverished Volga Germans preferred to emigrate to the richer Federal Republic of Germany, where they could become German citizens through the right of return.
Although the 1945–1949 expulsion of Germans from the northern part of former East Prussia was often conducted in a violent and aggressive way by Soviet officials, the present Russian inhabitants of the Kaliningrad Oblast have much less animosity towards Germans. German names have been revived in commercial Russian trade and there is sometimes talk of reverting Kaliningrad's name to its historic name of Königsberg. The city centre of Kaliningrad was completely rebuilt, as British bombs in 1944 and the Soviet siege in 1945 had left it in nothing but ruins.
|City/Town||District (Kreis)||Pop. in 1939||Current Name||Current Administrative Unit|
|Allenburg||Landkreis Wehlau||2 694||Druzhba||Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia)|
|Allenstein||Landkreis Allenstein||50 396||Olsztyn||Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship (Poland)|
|Angerburg||Landkreis Angerburg||10 922||Węgorzewo (Węgobork)||Warmia-Masuria|
|Arys||Landkreis Johannisburg||3 553||Orzysz||Warmia-Masuria|
|Bartenstein||Landkreis Bartenstein||12 912||Bartoszyce||Warmia-Masuria|
|Bischofstein (Ostpreußen)||Rößel||3 200||Bisztynek||Warmia-Masuria|
|Braunsberg||Landkreis Braunsberg||21 142||Braniewo||Warmia-Masuria|
|Eydtkuhnen||Landkreis Stallupönen||4 922||Chernyshevskoye||Kaliningrad|
|Fischhausen||Landkreis Samland||3 879||Primorsk||Kaliningrad|
|Frauenburg (Ostpreußen)||Braunsberg||2 951||Frombork||Warmia-Masuria|
|Gerdauen||Landkreis Gerdauen||5 118||Zheleznodorozhny||Kaliningrad|
|Gilgenburg||Landkreis Osterode||1 700||Dąbrówno||Warmia-Masuria|
|Goldap||Landkreis Goldap||12 786||Gołdap||Warmia-Masuria|
|Gumbinnen||Landkreis Gumbinnen||24 534||Gusev||Kaliningrad|
|Guttstadt||Landkreis Heilsberg||Dobre Miasto||Warmia-Masuria|
|Heiligenbeil||Landkreis Heiligenbeil||12 100||Mamonovo||Kaliningrad|
|Heydekrug||Landkreis Heydekrug||4 836||Šilutė||Klaipėda County (Lithuania)|
|Insterburg||Landkreis Insterburg||48 711||Chernyakhovsk||Kaliningrad|
|Königsberg (Preußen)||Stadtkreis||372 000||Kaliningrad||Kaliningrad|
|Kreuzburg (Ostpreußen)||Landkreis Preußisch Eylau||Slavskoye||Kaliningrad|
|Labiau||Landkreis Labiau||6 527||Polessk||Kaliningrad|
|Landsberg in Ostpreußen||Preußisch Eylau||Górowo Iławeckie||Warmia-Masuria|
|Liebstadt||Landkreis Mohrungen||2 742||Miłakowo||Warmia-Masuria|
|Lötzen||Landkreis Lötzen||13 000||Giżycko (Lec)||Warmia-Masuria|
|Lyck||Landkreis Lyck||16 482||Ełk (Łęg)||Warmia-Masuria|
|Marienburg in Westpreußen||Landkreis Marienburg (Westpr.)||Malbork||Pomeranian Voivodeship (Poland)|
|Mühlhausen||Landkreis Preußisch Holland||Młynary||Warmia-Masuria|
|Neidenburg||Landkreis Neidenburg||9 201||Nidzica (Nibork)||Warmia-Masuria|
|Ortelsburg||Landkreis Ortelsburg||14 234||Szczytno||Warmia-Masuria|
|Osterode (Ostpreußen)||Osterode||19 519||Ostróda||Warmia-Masuria|
|Peterswalde||Osterode||Piertzwald||Warmia-Masuria Werner 21:47, 19 June 2011 (UTC)|
|Preußisch Eylau||Preußisch Eylau||7 485||Bagrationovsk||Kaliningrad|
|Preußisch Holland||Preußisch Holland||Pasłęk||Warmia-Masuria|
|Ragnit||Landkreis Tilsit-Ragnit||10 094||Neman||Kaliningrad|
|Rastenburg||Rastenburg||19 634||Kętrzyn (Rastembork)||Warmia-Masuria|
|Wartenburg (Ostpreußen)||Allenstein||5 841||Barczewo (Wartembork)||Warmia-Masuria|