Administrative division of Polish territories during World War II

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Division of interwar Poland
by the occupying powers
Occupation of Poland 1939.png
Fourth Partition of Poland - aftermath of the Nazi-Soviet Pact; division of Polish territories in the years 1939-1941
Occupation of Poland 1941.png
Changes in administration of Polish territories following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The map shows the state in 1944

Administrative division of Polish territories during World War II can be divided into several phases, when territories of the Second Polish Republic were administered first by Nazi Germany (in the west) and Soviet Union (in the east), then (following German invasion of the Soviet Union) in their entirety by Nazi Germany and finally (following Soviet push westwards) by the Soviet Union again. Starting with the reform of 1946, the administrative division was returned to Poland (see Administrative division of People's Republic of Poland).

After Germany and the Soviet Union had partitioned Poland in 1939, following their invasion, most of the ethnically Polish territory ended up under German control while the areas annexed by the Soviet union was ethnically diverse peoples with the territory being divided into several areas some of which had a significant non-Polish majority (Ukrainians in the south and Belarusians in the north),[1] many of whom felt alienated in the interwar Poland and welcomed the Soviets. Nonetheless Poles composed the largest single ethnic group on the territories annexed by the Soviets.[2]

Soviet zone (1939-1941)[edit]

By the end of the Polish Defensive War the Soviet Union had taken over 52.1% of the territory of Poland (circa 200,000 km²), with over 13,700,000 people. The estimates vary; Professor Elżbieta Trela-Mazur gives the following numbers in regards to the ethnic composition of these areas: 38% Poles (ca. 5.1 million people), 37% Ukrainians, 14.5% Belarusians, 8.4% Jews, 0.9% Russians and 0.6% Germans. There were also 336,000 refugees from areas occupied by Germany, most of them Jews (198,000).[2] Areas occupied by the USSR were annexed to Soviet territory, with the exception of area of Wilno, which was transferred to Lithuania, although soon attached to USSR, when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.

Under the terms of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, adjusted by agreement on 28 September 1939, the Soviet Union, annexed all Polish territory east of the line of the rivers Pisa, Narew, Bug and San, except for the area around Wilno (Vilnius), which was given to Lithuania, and the Suwałki region, which was annexed by Germany. These territories were largely inhabited by Ukrainians and Belarusians, with minorities of Poles and Jews (see exact numbers in Curzon line). The total area, including the area given to Lithuania, was 201,000 square kilometres, with a population of 13.5 million. A small strip of land that was part of Hungary before 1914, was also given to Slovakia.

German zone (1939-1945)[edit]

Annexation of selected Polish territories[edit]

Under the terms of two decrees by Hitler (8 October and 12 October 1939), large areas of western Poland were annexed to Germany. These included all the territories taken by Prussia in Partitions of Poland which Germany subsequently lost under the 1918 Treaty of Versailles, including the Polish Corridor, Wielkopolska, as well as territories divided after plebiscites such as Upper Silesia, as well as a large area east of these territories, including the city of Łódź.

The area of these annexed territories was 94,000 square kilometres and the population was about 10 million, the great majority of whom were Poles. The annexed parts were controlled by a German administration ruled by a Gauleiter, a system similar in practice to that of the Reich itself. Nearly 1 million Poles were expelled from this German ruled area, while 600,000 Germans from eastern Europe and 400,000 from the German Reich were settled there.

Nazi German administrative units Annexed administrative units
(government region)
Polish voivodeship/
Reichsgau Wartheland
initially Reichsgau Posen[3]
Poznań all counties
Łódź most counties
Pomeranian five counties
Warsaw one county
Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia1
initially Reichsgau West Prussia
Greater Pomeranian most counties
Free City of Danzig
East Prussia1
southernmost part2
Warsaw Ciechanów, Działdowo, Maków, Mława,
Płock, Płońsk, Przasnysz, Sierpc;
parts of Łomża, Ostrołęka, Pułtusk,
Sochaczew, Warsaw
Białystok Suwałki and part of Augustów
Bezirk Bialystok
(attached in 1941)6
Białystok Białystok, Bielsk Podlaski, Grajewo, Łomża,
Sokółka, Volkovysk, Grodno
(Upper) Silesia1,3
easternmost part4
Autonomous Silesian
Kielce Sosnowiec, Będzin, Zawiercie, Olkusz
Kraków Chrzanów, Oświęcim, Żywiec[4]
1 Gau or Regierungsbezirk only partially comprised annexed territory

2 the annexed parts are also referred to as "South East Prussia" (German: Südostpreußen)
3 Gau Upper Silesia was created in 1941, before it was part of Gau Silesia
4 the annexed parts are also referred to as "East Upper Silesia" (German: Ostoberschlesien)
5 named after the chief city, Polish: Łódź. The German equivalent Lodz was rendered to Litzmannstadt in 1940, thus the Regierungsbezirk's name was changed accordingly.
6 not incorporated into, but administered by Gau East Prussia, attached after the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, 1941

Creation of General Government[edit]

Hans Frank with districts administrators in 1942 from left: Ernst Kundt, Ludwig Fischer, Hans Frank, Otto Wächter, Ernst Zörner, Richard Wendler.
Administrative map of the General Government, August 1941
Main article: General Government

The remaining block of territory was placed under a German administration called the General Government (in German Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete), with its capital at Kraków. The General Government was subdivided into four districts, Warsaw, Lublin, Radom, and Kraków (Distrikt Krakau).

A German lawyer and prominent Nazi, Hans Frank, was appointed "Governor-General of the occupied Polish territories" on 26 October 1939. Frank oversaw the segregation of the Jews into ghettos in the larger cities, particularly Warsaw, and the use of Polish civilians as forced and compulsory labour in German war industries.

German attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland[edit]

After Operation Barbarossa, the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Polish territories previously occupied by the Soviets were organized by the Germans as follows:

Return of Soviet administration (1944-1945)[edit]

Soviet forces returned to former Polish territories during their counter-offensive against Nazi Germany around 1944 (Operation Bagration, Lublin–Brest Offensive), leading to Vistula–Oder Offensive of 1945. However, in terms of international politics, a far more important victory was won by Joseph Stalin already in 1943, when the Western Allies yielded to his demands during the Tehran Conference, for the annexation of eastern Poland by the Soviet Union.[5]

With full Soviet control and sponsorship, in July 1944, a brand new Polish provisional government was formed, called the Polish Committee of National Liberation (Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego, PKWN) in order to administer the territories earmarked for the return to the newly reformed Stalinist Poland. Starting with the communist decrees of 1946, the legal powers were passed on to local administration (see Administrative division of People's Republic of Poland).[6]

Elimination of the Polish Underground State[edit]

Throughout World War II, Poland had a unique underground administration maintained by the Polish Underground State. For regional divisions of Poland by the underground army known as Armia Krajowa, see areas and regions of operation. Following the German surrender, Soviet agencies such as NKVD and SMERSH took full responsibility for the elimination of all structures originating from the prewar Second Polish Republic. Over 20,000 Poles, including the hero of Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki, were murdered in communist prisons.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jan Tomasz Gross, Revolution from Abroad, pp. 4, 5, Princeton, 2005, ISBN 0-691-09603-1
  2. ^ a b Elżbieta Trela-Mazur (1997). Włodzimierz Bonusiak; Stanisław Jan Ciesielski; Zygmunt Mańkowski; Mikołaj Iwanow, eds. Sowietyzacja oświaty w Małopolsce Wschodniej pod radziecką okupacją 1939–1941. Sovietization of education in eastern Lesser Poland during the Soviet occupation 1939–1941. Kielce: Wyższa Szkoła Pedagogiczna im. Jana Kochanowskiego. pp. 294–. ISBN 8371331002 – via Google Books. Of the 13.5 million civilians living in Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union according to the last official Polish census, the population was over 38% Poles (5.1 million), 37% Polish Ukrainians (4.7 million), 14.5% Belarusians, 8.4% Jews, 0.9% Russians and 0.6% Germans. 
  3. ^ Piotr Eberhardt, Political Migrations in Poland, 1939-1948, Warsaw 2006, [1]: 10,568,000 people
  4. ^ Ryszard Kaczmarek Górnoślązacy i górnośląscy gauleiterzy Biuletyn IPN NR 6–7 (41–42) 2004 page 46
  5. ^ Robert Gellately (2013). Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Oxford U.P. pp. 177–178. 
  6. ^ Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland. Vol 2. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982 and several reprints. ISBN 0-231-05353-3 and ISBN 0-231-05351-7.
  7. ^ Rzeczpospolita, 02.10.04 Nr 232, Wielkie polowanie: Prześladowania akowców w Polsce Ludowej (Great hunt: the persecutions of AK soldiers in the People's Republic of Poland). Internet Archive.

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