Stolen Land: Stettin

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Stettin (Szczecin in Polish)

The city’s recorded history began in the 8th century as a Lechitic Pomeranian stronghold, built at the site of the Ducal castle. In the 12th century, when Stettin had become one of Pomerania‘s main urban centres, it lost its independence to Piast Poland, the Duchy of Saxony, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark. At the same time, the House of Griffins established themselves as local rulers and the population was Christianized. After the Treaty of Stettin in 1630, the town came under the control of the Swedish Empire and became in 1648 the Capital of Swedish Pomerania until 1720, when it was acquired by the Kingdom of Prussia and then the German Empire. Following World War II Stettin became part of Poland in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement, resulting in the almost complete expulsion of the pre-war German population.

Red with a white cross that extends to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side

In 1173 Szczecin castellanWartislaw II, could not resist a Danish attack and became vassal of Denmark. In 1181, Bogusław became a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1185 Bogusław again became a Danish vassal. Following a conflict between his heirs and Canute VI of Denmark, the settlement was destroyed in 1189, but the fortress was reconstructed and manned with a Danish force in 1190. While the empire restored its superiority over the Duchy of Pomerania in the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227, Szczecin was one of two bridgeheads remaining under Danish control (until 1235; Wolgast until 1241/43 or 1250).

17th to 19th centuries

The city’s fortifications, as seen in 1642

Following the Treaty of Stettin of 1630, the town (along with most of Pomerania) was allied to and occupied by the Swedish Empire, which managed to keep the western parts of Pomerania after the death of Bogislaw XIV in 1637. From the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Stettin became the Capital of Swedish Pomerania. Stettin was turned into a major Swedish fortress, which was repeatedly besieged in subsequent wars. The Treaty of Stettin (1653) didn’t change this, but due to the downfall of the Swedish Empire after Charles XII, the city went to Prussia in 1720. Instead Stralsund became Capital of the last remaining parts of Swedish Pomerania 1720–1815.

Wars inhibited the city’s economic prosperity, which had undergone a deep crisis during the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War and was further impeded by the new Swedish-Brandenburg-Prussian frontier, cutting Stettin off from its traditional Farther Pomeranian hinterland. 

Due to a Plague during the Great Northern War, the city’s population dropped from 6,000 people in 1709 to 4,000 in 1711. 

In 1720, after the Great Northern War, Sweden was forced to cede the city to King Frederick William I of Prussia. Stettin was made the capital city of the Brandenburg-Prussian Pomeranian province, since 1815 reorganised as the Province of Pomerania. In 1816 the city had 26,000 inhabitants.

The Prussian administration deprived Stettin of her right to administrative autonomy, abolished guild privileges as well as its status as a staple town, and subsidised manufacturers. Also, colonists were settled in the city, primarily Huguenots.

In October 1806, during the War of the Fourth Coalition, believing that he was facing a much larger force, and after receiving a threat of harsh treatment of the city, the Prussian commander Lieutenant General Friedrich von Romberg agreed to surrender the city to the French led by General Lassalle. In fact, Lassalle had only 800 men against von Romberg’s 5,300 men. In March 1809 Romberg was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for giving up Stettin without a fight.

From 1683 to 1812, one Jew was permitted to reside in Stettin, and an additional Jew was allowed to spend a night in the city in case of “urgent business”. These permissions were repeatedly withdrawn between 1691 and 1716, also between 1726 and 1730 although else the Swedish regulation was continued by the Brandenburg-Prussian administration. Only after the Prussian Edict of Emancipation of 11 March 1812, which granted Prussian citizenship to all Jews living in the kingdom, did a Jewish community emerge in Stettin, with the first Jews settling in the town in 1814. Construction of a synagogue started in 1834; the community also owned a religious and a secular school, an orphanage since 1855, and a retirement home since 1893. The Jewish community had between 1,000 and 1,200 members by 1873 and between 2,800 and 3,000 members by 1927–28. These numbers dropped to 2,701 in 1930 and to 2,322 in late 1934.

After the Franco Prussian war of 1870–1871, 1,700 French POWs were imprisoned there in deplorable conditions, resulting in the death of 600 of them; after the Second World War monuments in their memory were built by the Polish authorities.

Until 1873, Stettin remained a fortress. When part of the defensive structures were levelled, a new neighbourhood, Neustadt (“New Town”) as well as water pipes, sewerage and drainage, and gas works were built to meet the demands of the growing population.

19th–20th centuries

Old Prussianbarracks 

Stettin was on the path of Polish forces led by Stefan Czarniecki moving from Denmark, which led his forces to the city, is today mentioned in the Polish anthem, and numerous locations in the city honour his name.

Stefan Czarniecki was a 17th-century hetman (military commander), famous for his role in driving the Swedish army out of Poland after an occupation that had left the country in ruins and is remembered by Poles as the Deluge. With the outbreak of a Dano-Swedish War, he continued his fight against Sweden in Denmark, from where he “returned across the sea” to fight the invaders alongside the king who was then at the Royal Castle in Poznań.

Wikipedia

[An extremely shameful part of Danish history]

Stettin developed into a major Prussian port and became part of the German Empire in 1871. While most of the province retained its agrarian character, Stettin was industrialised, and its population rose from 27,000 in 1813 to 210,000 in 1900 and 255,500 in 1925. Major industries that flourished in Stettin from 1840 were shipbuilding, chemical and food industries, and machinery construction. Starting in 1843, Stettin became connected to the major German and Pomeranian cities by railways, and the water connection to the Bay of Pomerania was enhanced by the construction of the Kaiserfahrt (now Piast) canal. The city was also a scientific centre; for example, it was home to the Entomological Society of Stettin.

On 20 October 1890, some of the city’s Poles created the “Society of Polish-Catholic Workers” in the city, one of the first Polish organisations. In 1897 the city’s ship works began the construction of the pre-dreadnought battleship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.

In 1914, before World War I, the Polish community in the city numbered over 3,000 people. 

These were primarily industrial workers and their families who came from the Poznań (Posen) area and a few local wealthy industrialists and merchants. Among them was Kazimierz Pruszak, director of the Gollnow industrial works and a Polish patriot, who predicted the eventual “return” of Szczecin to Poland. Stettin was long Germany’s largest Baltic port, a situation which greatly helped speed development and attract public investment

During the interwar period, Stettin was Weimar Germany‘s largest port on the Baltic Sea, and her third-largest port after Hamburg and Bremen. Cars of the Stoewer automobile company were produced in Stettin from 1899 to 1945. By 1939, the Reichsautobahn Berlin–Stettin was completed.

Stettin played a major role as an entrepôt in the development of the Scottish herring trade with the Continent, peaking at an annual export of more than 400,000 barrels in 1885, 1894 and 1898. Trade flourished till the outbreak of the First World War and resumed on a reduced scale during the years between the wars.

In the March 1933 German elections to the Reichstag, the NSDAP and German nationalists from the German National People’s Party (or DNVP) won most of the votes in the city, together winning 98,626 of 165,331 votes (59.3%), with the NSDAP getting 79,729 (47.9%) and the DNVP 18,897 (11.4%).

In 1935 the Wehrmacht made Stettin the headquarters for Wehrkreis II, which controlled the military units in all of Mecklenburg and Pomerania. It was also the area headquarters for units stationed at Stettin I and II; SwinemündeGreifswald; and Stralsund.

In the interwar period, the Polish minority numbered 2,000 people. 

A number of Poles were members of the Union of Poles in Germany (ZPN), which was active in the city from 1924. A Polish consulate was located in the city between 1925 and 1939. On the initiative of the consulate and ZPN activist Maksymilian Golisz, a number of Polish institutions were established, e.g., a Polish Scout team and a Polish school. German historian Musekamp writes, “however, only very few Poles were active in these institutions, which for the most part were headed by employees of the [Polish] consulate.” The withdrawal of the consulate from these institutions led to a general decline of these activities, which were in part upheld by Golisz and Aleksander Omieczyński. Intensified repressions by the “Nazis”, who exaggerated the Polish activities to propagate an infiltration, led to the closing of the school. In 1938 the head of Szczecin’s Union of Poles unit, Stanisław Borkowski, was imprisoned in Oranienburg. In 1939 all Polish organisations in Stettin were disbanded by the German authorities. Golisz and Omieczyński were murdered during the war. According to Musekamp, the role of the pre-war Polish community was exaggerated for propagandistic purposes in post-war Poland which made “the numerically insignificant Polonia of Stettin… probably the best-researched social group” in the history of the city”. After the defeat of Germany, a street in Szczecin was named after Golisz.

World War II

Two soldiers of the German Wehrmacht take a stroll along the riverfront in Stettin.

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During World War II, Stettin was the base for the German 2nd Motorised Infantry Division, which cut across the Polish Corridor and was later used in 1940 as an embarkation point for Operation Weserübung, Germany’s assault on Denmark and Norway.

On 15 October 1939, neighbouring municipalities were joined to Stettin, creating Groß-Stettin, with about 380,000 inhabitants, in 1940. The city had become the third-largest German city by area, after Berlin and Hamburg.

As the war started, the number of non-Germans in the city increased as slave workers were brought in. The first transports came in 1939 from BydgoszczToruń and Łódź. They were mainly used in a synthetic silk factory near Stettin. The next wave of slave workers was brought in 1940, in addition to PoWs who were used for work in the agricultural industry. According to German police reports from 1940, 15,000 Polish slave workers lived within the city.

During the war, 135 forced labour camps for slave workers were established in the city. Most of the 25,000 slave workers were Poles, but Czechs, Italians, Frenchmen and Belgians, as well as Dutch citizens, were also enslaved in the camps.

In February 1940, the Jews of Stettin were deported to the Lublin reservation. International press reports emerged, describing how the “Nazis” forced Jews, regardless of age, condition and gender, to sign away all property and loaded them onto trains headed to the camp, escorted by members of the SA and SS. Due to publicity given to the event, German institutions ordered such future actions to be made in a way unlikely to attract public notice. The action was the first deportation of Jews from prewar territory in “Nazi” Germany. Throughout the war, Stettin was a major port of disembarkation for Baltic Germans returning to the ‘fatherland’, and later in the war those fleeing the advancing Soviet Red Army

Allied air raids in 1944 and heavy fighting between the German and Soviet armies destroyed 65% of Stettin’s buildings and almost all of the city centre, the seaport, and local industries. Polish Home Army intelligence assisted in pinpointing targets for Allied bombing in the area of Stettin. The city itself was covered by the Home Army’s “Bałtyk” structure, and Polish resistance infiltrated Stettin’s naval yards. Other activities of the resistance consisted of smuggling people to Sweden.

View of the Old Town from the Oder river. Most of the medieval buildings in the city center were completely destroyed during World War II. The Ducal Castle can be seen in the background

The Soviet Red Army captured the city on 26 April. While the majority of the almost 400,000 inhabitants had left the city, between 6,000 and 20,000 inhabitants remained in late April.

On 28 April 1945 Polish authorities tried to gain control, but in the following month, the Polish administration was twice forced to leave. Finally the permanent handover occurred on 5 July 1945. In the meantime, part of the German population had returned, believing it might become part of the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. The Soviet authorities had already appointed the German Communists Erich Spiegel and Erich Wiesner as mayors. Stettin is located mostly west of the Oder river, which was expected to become Poland’s new western border, placing Stettin in East Germany. This would have been in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement between the victorious Allied Powers, which envisaged the new border to be in “a line running from the Baltic Sea immediately west of Swinemünde, and thence along the Oder River[…]”. Because of the returnees, the German population of the town swelled to 84,000. The mortality rate was at 20%, primarily due to starvation. However, Stettin and the mouth of the Oder River (GermanStettiner Zipfel) became Polish on 5 July 1945, as had been decided in a treaty signed on 26 July 1944 between the Soviet Union and the Soviet-controlled Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) (also known as “the Lublin Poles”, as contrasted with the London-based Polish government-in-exile). On 4 October 1945, the decisive land border of Poland was established west of the 1945 line, but it excluded the Police (Pölitz) area, the Oder river itself, and the Stettin port, which remained under Soviet administration. The Oder river was handed over to Polish administration in September 1946, followed by the port between February 1946 and May 1954.

After 1945

The city centre in 1945

After World War II the city was transferred to Poland. Stettin was transformed from a German into a Polish city as it was renamed Szczecin. While in 1945 the number of pre-war inhabitants dropped to 57,215 on 31 October 1945, the systematic expulsion started on 22 February 1946 and continued until late 1947. In December 1946 about 17,000 German inhabitants remained, while the number of Poles living in the city reached 100,000. To ease the tensions between settlers from different regions, and help overcome fear caused by the continued presence of the Soviet troops, a special event was organised in April 1946 with 50,000 visitors in the partly destroyed city centre. Settlers from Central Poland made up about 70% of Szczecin’s new population. In addition to Poles, Ukrainians from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union settled there. In 1945 and 1946 the city was the starting point of the northern route used by the Jewish underground organisation Brichah to channel Jewish displaced persons from Central and Eastern Europe to the American occupation zone.

Monument to Polish Endeavor (Pomnik Czynu Polaków), dedicated to three Generations of Poles in Western Pomerania: the pre-war Poles in Szczecin, the Poles who rebuilt the city after World War II and the modern generation

Szczecin was rebuilt, and the city’s industry was expanded. At the same time, Szczecin became a major Polish industrial centre and an important seaport (particularly for Silesian coal) for Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany.

The East German economy began poorly because of the devastation caused by the Second World War; the loss of so many young soldiers, the disruption of business and transportation, and finally reparations owed to the USSR. The Red Army dismantled and transported to Russia the infrastructure and industrial plants of the Soviet Zone of Occupation. By the early 1950s, the reparations were paid in agricultural and industrial products; and Lower Silesia, with its coal mines and Szczecin, an important natural port, were given to Poland by the decision of Stalin.

Wikipedia

Cultural expansion was accompanied by a campaign resulting in the “removal of all German traces”. In 1946 Winston Churchill prominently mentioned Szczecin in his Iron Curtain speech: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent”.

The 1962 Szczecin military parade led to a road traffic accident in which a tank of the Polish People’s Army crushed bystanders, killing seven children and injuring many more. The resultant panic in the crowd led to further injuries in the rush to escape. The incident was covered up for many years by the Polish communist authorities.

The city witnessed anti-communist revolts in 1970. In 1980, one of the four August Agreements, which led to the first legalisation of the trade union Solidarity, was signed in Szczecin. The introduction of martial law in December 1981 met with a strike by the dockworkers of Szczecin shipyard, joined by other factories and workplaces in a general strike. All these were suppressed by the authorities. Pope John Paul II visited the city on 11 June 1987. Another wave of strikes in Szczecin broke out in 1988 and 1989, which eventually led to the Round Table Agreement and first semi-free elections in Poland.

Szczecin has been the capital of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship since 1999.

Read more here at Wikipedia

National Museum (left) and Maritime Museum (right)

Administration building of the Pomeranian Medical University

City Hall

Red City Hall

Provincial Office building

Main police headquarters

Palace of the Pomeranian

The Old Art Gallery

Central Cemetery – third largest cemetery in Europe

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