Reichsgau Wartheland

Reichsgau Wartheland (initially Reichsgau Posen) was the name given by Nazis to the territory of Greater Poland which was occupied, annexed and directly incorporated into the German Reich after defeating the Polish army in 1939 (as opposed to the General Government, GG). The main parts of Reichsgau Wartheland had been part of Prussia (later Germany) for most of the period between 1793 and 1919 (refer to "Greater Poland through history" section below).

Poznan City Hall occupied by the Nazis
Poznan City Hall occupied by the Nazis

Area: 43,905 kmē

Population: 4,693,700 (1941)
This territory was inhabited mostly by Poles, while having a significant German minority. During World War II, many Poles were expelled from the territory into the GG, more than 70,000 from Poznan alone. These actions were covered by the so-called Kleine Planung and as part of Generalplan Ost.



During the first week of the German invasion of Poland, there is little agreement as to the number and manner of minority Germans killed during Bromberg Bloody Sunday and in the days that followed throughout western Poland as the German Blitzkrieg swept through. Nazi propaganda later reported 60,000 people and used it as a pretext for repression against Poles (see also Provocation in Gliwice).

As German forces gained control, immediate executions killed over 3,000 Poles, many with unproven culpability, but this was just the beginning. Throughout the war, Poland experienced atrocities on an unimaginable scale. On September 1, 1939, it had 390,000 Jews; most perished or suffered terrible abuse during the war. Two thousand members of the Polish intelligentsia were murdered, and another 10,000 as part of Action Tannenberg. Almost every village has a killing field or cemetery, quite often half a village was killed or sent away to work camps or concentration camps from which few returned. The Germans closed or destroyed universities, schools, museums, libraries, and scientific laboratories. They demolished hundreds of monuments to national heroes.


In the Wartheland, the Nazis' goal was complete "Germanization"; to assimilate the territory politically, culturally, socially, and economically into the German Reich. Germans closed elementary schools where Polish was the language of instruction. They renamed streets and cities - for example Lodz was renamed not to Lodsch (the name used for Lodz under Prussian rule), but to Litzmannstadt, after General Litzmann, who had tried to capture the city during World War I. They also seized tens of thousands of Polish enterprises, from large industrial firms to small shops, without payment to the owners. Signs posted in public places warned: "Entrance is forbidden to Poles, Jews, and dogs."

The Roman Catholic Church was suppressed in Wartheland more harshly than elsewhere, as they systematically closed churches, seminaries and convents; most priests were either killed (estimated 3,000 throughout Poland), imprisoned, or deported to the General Government.

The Germanization of the annexed lands also included an ambitious program to resettle Germans from the Baltic and other regions on farms and other homes formerly occupied by Poles and Jews. This policy was pursued by the newly-appointed Gauleiter of the Warthegau, Artur Griser. By the end of 1940, the SS had expelled 325,000 Poles and Jews from the Wartheland and the Danzig corridor and transported them to the General Government, confiscating their belongings. Many elderly people and children died en route or in makeshift transit camps such as those in the towns of Potulice, Smukal, and Torun. In 1941, the Nazis expelled a further 45,000 people.

At least 1.5 million Polish citizens (many were teenagers) were transported to the Reich for labor, most of them against their will. They were generally treated worse than other forced labor groups.

End of war

At the beginning of 1945, Russian forces drove the retreating Germans through the Polish lands. Caught in severe winter temperatures, most resident German citizens fled, many too late due to restrictions by their own government. An estimated 50,000 of the former German residents perished, some from flight conditions, some from the atrocities committed by conquering Soviet soldiers. Most captured German men were sent to Soviet camps in Kazakhstan.

Of those German citizens who remained in their homes many were subsequently persecuted. Those who failed to pass reviews by the communists were expelled by the communist government, newly established in Poland by the Red Army. Private and public German property was confiscated and used to compensate Poles, who were forcibly relocated from southeastern Poland.


See also:

fr:Reichsgau Wartheland


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