History of Wrocław

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Historical affiliations
Silesians until the 800s

Great Moravia 800s–907
Duchy of Bohemia 907–990
Kingdom of Poland 990–1038
Duchy of Bohemia 1038–1054
Kingdom of Poland 1054–1202
Duchy of Silesia 1202–1335
 Kingdom of Bohemia 1335–1469
Kingdom of Hungary 1469–1490
 Kingdom of Bohemia 1490–1526
Habsburg Monarchy 1526–1742
Kingdom of Prussia 1742–1871
German Empire 1871–1918
Weimar Germany 1918–1933
 Nazi Germany 1933–1945
People's Republic of Poland 1945–1989

 Republic of Poland 1989–present

Wrocław (Czech: Vratislav; German: Breslau) has long been the largest and culturally dominant city in Silesia, and is today the capital of Poland's Lower Silesian Voivodeship.

The history of Wrocław starts at a crossroads in Lower Silesia. It was one of the centres of the Duchy and then Kingdom of Poland, and briefly, in the first half of the 13th century, the centre of half of the divided Kingdom of Poland. German settlers arrived in increasing numbers after the 1241 Mongol invasion, and Wrocław eventually became part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. After the War of Austrian Succession, the city and region were added to Prussia, and later part of the German Empire. After World War II, Wrocław and most of Silesia were transferred to Poland.


The city of Wrocław originated as a Bohemian stronghold situated at the intersection of two long-existing trading routes, the Via Regia and the Amber Road. The city was first recorded in the 10th century as Vratislavia, possibly derived from the name of the Bohemian duke Vratislav I who died in 921. At that time the city bore the name of Vratislavia and was limited to the district of Ostrów Tumski (the Cathedral Island).

Poland, Bohemia and Piast duchy[edit]

Monument to Bolesław Chrobry in modern Wrocław

In 990 Duke Mieszko I of Poland of the Piast dynasty conquered Silesia and Wroclaw. In 1000 Mieszko's son, King Boleslaw I of Poland established the first bishopric of Silesia, under the Archbishopric of Gniezno in Greater Poland, the See independent of the German Archbishopric of Magdeburg, which had tried to lay claim to jurisdiction over the Polish church. The city quickly became a commercial centre and expanded rapidly to the neighbouring Wyspa Piaskowa (Sand Island), and then to the left bank of the Odra river. Hugo Weczerka writes that around 1000 the town had approximately 1000 inhabitants.[1] and after an uprising in 1037/38 against the church and probably also against the new rulers the bishop and the representative of the Polish king were expelled.[2] In 1038 Bohemia captured the city and owned her until 1054, when Poland regained control. Weczerka writes that between 1079 and 1102 Silesia and Wrocław became temporarily independent.[2] and in 1163 it became the capital of the duchy of Silesia, which – according to Hugo Weczerka – slowly detached from Poland.[2] By 1139 two more settlements were built. One belonged to Governor Piotr Włostowic (a.k.a. Piotr Włast Dunin, Piotr Włost or Peter Wlast; ca. 1080–1153) and was situated near his residence on the Olbina by the St. Vincent's Benedictine Abbey. The other settlement was founded on the left bank of the Oder River, near the present seat of the university. It was located on the Via Regia that lead from Leipzig and Legnica) and followed through Opole, and Kraków to Kievan Rus'. Polish, Bohemian, Jewish, Walloons[3] and German communities[4] existed in the city.

In the first half of the 13th century duke Henry I the Bearded of the Silesian line of the Piast dynasty, managed to reunite much of the divided Polish kingdom. He became the duke of Kraków (Polonia Minor) in 1232, which gave him the title of the senior duke of Poland (see Testament of Bolesław III Krzywousty). Henry tried to achieve the Polish crown but he didn't manage to succeed.[5] His activity in this field was continued by his son and successor Henry II the Pious whose work towards this goal was halted by his sudden death in the 1241 (Battle of Legnica). Polish territories acquired by the Silesian dukes in this period are called "The monarchy of the Silesian Henries".[6] Wrocław was the centre of the divided Kingdom of Poland.

Church of the years 1241–42 in the oldest District of Ostrów Tumski

The city was devastated in 1241 during the Mongol invasion of Europe. The inhabitants burned down their own city in order to force the Mongols to a quick withdrawal. The invasion, according to Norman Davies, led German historiography to portray the Mongol attack as an event which eradicated the Polish community. However, in light of historical research this is doubtful, as many Polish settlements remained, even in the 14th century, especially at the right bank of the Oder and Polish names such as Baran or Cebula appear including among Wrocław's ruling elite.[7]

Georg Thum, Maciej Lagiewski, Halina Okolska and Piotr Oszczanowski write that the decimated population was replenished by many Germans.[8][9] A different thesis is presented by Norman Davies who writes that it is wrong to portray people of that time as "Germans" as their identities were those of Saxons and Bavarians, while historian Norbert Conrads argues that a Polish identity didn't exist either, a view shared by Czech author František R. Kraus.[10][need quotation to verify] While Germanisation started, Norman Davies writes that "Vretslav was a multi-ethnic city in the Middle Ages. Its ethnic composition moved in an endless state of flux, changing with each political and cultural ebb and flow to which it was exposed".[11] German author Georg Thum states that Breslau, the German name of the city, appeared for the first time in written records, and the city council from the beginning used only the Latin and German.[8]

The new and rebuilt town adopted Magdeburg rights in 1262 and, at the end of the 13th century joined the Hanseatic League. The expanded town was around 60 hectares in size and the new Main Market Square (Rynek), which was covered with timber framed houses, became the new centre of the town. The original foundation, Ostrów Tumski, was now the religious centre. With the ongoing Ostsiedlung the Polish Piast dynasty[12][disputed ] dukes remained in control of the region, however their influence declined continuously as the self-administration rights of the city council increased. German historian Norbert Conrads writes that they adopted the German language and culture and became Germanized in the 13th century.[13] Norman Davies writes that German historiography has tried to present the Silesian branch of Polish Piasts as subjects of early Germanization who wished to enter Holy Roman Empire, but that this theory is inaccurate. Wrotzila – despite the beginnings of Germanization – remained in close union with Polish church, and local Piasts remained active in Polish politics, while Polish language was still used at the court in 13th century[14]

In 1289–1292 the Přemyslid King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus II, became Duke of Silesia, then also King of Poland. After the death of Wenceslaus III, king of Bohemia and Poland, the right to the Polish crown was disputed, being claimed by various Piast dukes as well as the successors of Wenceslaus III on the Bohemian throne. In 1327 John of Bohemia invaded Poland in order to gain the Polish crown. After the intervention of King Charles I of Hungary he left Polonia Minor, but on his way back he enforced his supremacy over the Upper Silesian Piasts.

In 1329 Władysław I the Elbow-high engaged himself in a war with the Teutonic Order. The Order was supported by John of Bohemia who managed to enforce his supremacy over the dukes of Masovia and Lower Silesia with Wrocław.

In 1335 John of Bohemia renounced his claim to the title of king of Poland in favour of Casimir the Great, who in return renounced his rights to the whole Silesia province with Wrocław as its capital.[15] This was formalized in the treaties of Trenčín and Visegrád, ratified in 1339.[16] The issue was closed only in 1372; and while the city lost political ties to Polish state, it remained connected to Poland by religious links and existence of Polish population within it.[17] Despite the treaties of Trenčín and Visegrád Polish chronicler Jan Długosz described the Bohemian rule over Wrocław as unlawful and expressed hope that it would eventually return to Poland[18]

During much of the Middle Ages Wrocław was ruled by its dukes of the Silesian Piast dynasty. Although the city was not part of the Duchy's principality, its bishop was known as the prince-bishop ever since Bishop Preczlaus of Pogarell (1341–1376) bought the Duchy of Grodków (Grottkau) from Duke Boleslaw of Brzeg (Brieg) and added it to the episcopal territory of Nysa (Neisse), after which the Bishops of Wrocław had the titles of Prince of Neisse and Dukes of Grottkau, taking precedence over the other Silesian rulers.


Wrocław historic City Hall built in a typical 14th century Brick Gothic

In 1335, the city was incorporated with almost the entirety of Silesia into the Kingdom of Bohemia, and a Landeshauptmann (Provincial governor) was appointed to administrate the country. Between 1342 and 1344 two fires destroyed large parts of the city. Four years later Casimir III of Poland renounced all dynastic rights in Silesia in the treaty of Namslau/Namysłów and Charles IV, king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, visited the town. His successors Wenceslaus and Sigismund became involved in a long lasting feud with the city and its magistrate, culminating in the revolt of the guilds in 1418 when local craftsmen killed seven councillors. In a tribunal two years later, when Sigismund was in town, 27 ringleaders were executed. He also called up for a Reichstag in the same year, which discussed the earlier happenings in the city.

When George of Poděbrady became king of Bohemia the city opposed the Hussite and instead sided with his Catholic rival Matthias Corvinus. After Breslau fought alongside Corvinus against Bohemia in 1466 the Silesian classes rendered homage to the king on 31 May 1469 in the city, where the king also met the daughter of mayor Krebs, Barbara, which he took as his mistress. In 1474 Matthias Corvinus incorporated Breslau and Silesia in his dominion, which returned to Bohemia when he died. 1475 marks the beginning of movable type printing in the city, when Kasper Elyan opened his printing shop. The first illustration of the city was published in the Nuremberg Chronicle in 1493. Documents of that time referred to the town by many variants of the name including Wratislaw, Bresslau and Presslau.

Habsburg Monarchy[edit]

The ideas of the Protestant Reformation reached Breslau already in 1518, and in 1519 the writings of Luther, Eck and the opening of the Leipzig Disputation by Mosellanus were published by local printer Adam Dyon. In 1523 the town council unanimously, appointed Johann Heß as the new pastor of St. Maria Magdalena and thus introduced the Reformation in Breslau. In 1524 the town council issued a decree that obliged all clerics to the Protestant sermon and in 1525 by another decree banned a number of Catholic customs. Breslau had become dominated by Protestants although a Catholic minority remained. Norman Davies states that as a city it was located on the borderline between Polish and German parts of Silesia, writing that "Vretslav lay astride the dividing line";it also hosted a large Czech community.[19]

After the death of Louis II in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria inherited Bohemia, Silesia and the city of Breslau. In 1530 Ferdinand I awarded Breslau its current coat of arms. On 11 October 1609 German emperor Rudolf II granted the Letter of Majesty, which ensured free exercise of church services for all Bohemian and Silesian Protestants. After the election of the staunch Catholic Ferdinand II as king of Bohemia Breslau supported the Bohemian revolt as it feared the rights granted in the letter of majesty would be revoked. In the following Thirty Years' War the city suffered badly, was occupied by Saxon and Swedish troops and lost 18,000 of its 40,000 residents to plague.

The Counter-Reformation had started with Rudolf II and Martin Gerstmann, bishop of Breslau. One of his successors, bishop Charles of Austria, did not accept the letter of majesty on his territory. At the same time the emperor encouraged several Catholic orders to settle in Breslau. The Minorites came back in 1610, the Jesuits arrived in 1638, the Capuchins in 1669, the Franciscans in 1684 and the Ursulines in 1687. These orders undertook an unequaled amount of construction which shaped the appearance of the city until 1945. The Jesuits were the main representatives of the Counter-Reformation in Breslau and Silesia. Much more feared were the Liechtensteiner dragoons, which converted people by force and expelled those who refused. At the end of the Thirty Years' War, Breslau was only one of a few Silesian cities which stayed Protestant, and after the Treaty of Altranstädt of 1707 four churches were given back to the local Protestants.

During the Counter-Reformation the intellectual life of the city, which was shaped by Protestantism and Humanism, flourished, as the Protestant bourgeoisie of the city lost its role as the patron of the arts to the Catholic orders. Breslau and Silesia, which possessed 6 of the 12 leading grammar schools in Holy Roman Empire, became the centre of German Baroque literature. Poets such as Martin Opitz, Andreas Gryphius, Christian Hoffmann von Hoffmannswaldau, Daniel Casper von Lohenstein and Angelus Silesius formed the so-called First and Second Silesian school of poets which shaped the German literature of that time.

The dominance of German population under the Habsburg rule in the city became more visible, while the Polish population diminished in numbers, although it did not disappear.[20] Only a few families from upper and middle classes celebrated their Polish roots, despite having Polish ancestors, and while Polish population was reinforced by migrants and merchants, many of them became Germanized.[20] Nevertheless, Poles continued to exist in the city, mostly living on the right bank of Oder river also known as "Polish side".[20] The Polish community was led by such priests as Stanislaw Bzowski or Michał Kusz, who fought for continued existence of Polish schools in the city, and addressed their flock in Polish;Latin masses were interspersed with hymns and prayers in Polish language[20]

In 1702 the Jesuit academy was founded by Leopold I and named after himself, the Leopoldine Academy.

Breslau's City Towers in 1736


During the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s, most of Silesia was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia's claims were derived from the agreement, rejected by the Habsburgs, between the Silesian Piast rulers of the duchy and the Hohenzollerns who secured the Prussian succession after the extinction of the Piasts. The Protestant citizenry didn't fight against the armies of Protestant Prussia and Frederick II of Prussia captured the city without a struggle in January 1741. In November 1741 the Silesian classes[clarification needed] rendered homage to Frederick. In the following years Prussian armies often stayed in the city during the winter month. After three wars Empress Maria Theresa renounced Silesia and Breslau in the Treaty of Hubertusburg in 1763.

The Protestants of the city could now express their faith without limitation, and the new Prussian authorities also allowed the establishment of a Jewish community.

Entering the Duke Jerome Bonaparte to Breslau, 7 January 1807

After the demise of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Breslau was occupied by an army of the Confederation of the Rhine between 6 December 1806 to 7 January 1807. The Continental System disrupted trade almost completely. The fortifications of the city were levelled and almost every monastery and cloister secularized. The Protestant Viadrina university of Frankfurt (Oder) was relocated to Breslau in 1811, united with the local Catholic university of the Jesuits and formed the new Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität (Wrocław University).

In 1813 King Frederick William III of Prussia gave a speech in Breslau signalling Prussia's intent to join the Russian Empire against Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars. He also donated the Iron Cross and issued the proclamation "An mein Volk" (to my people), summoning the Prussian people to war against the French. The city became the centre of the Liberation movement against Napoleon Bonaparte as volunteers from all over Germany gathered in Breslau, among them Theodor Körner, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and Ludwig Adolf Wilhelm von Lützow, who set up his Lützow Free Corps in the city.

The Prussian reforms of Stein and Hardenberg led to a sustainable increase in prosperity in Silesia and Breslau. Due to the levelled fortifications the city could grow beyond her old borders. Breslau became an important railway hub and a major industrial centre, notably of linen and cotton manufacture and metal industry. Thanks to the unification of the Viadrina and Jesuit university the city also became the biggest Prussian centre of sciences after Berlin, and the secularization laid the base for a rich museum landscape. In 1836 the Slavonic Literary Society was founded in the city by Czech scholar Jan Evangelista Purkyně with the assistance of Polish scholars Władysław Nehring and Wojciech Cybulski, its aim was to develop studies on Slavic languages and cultures; the Prussian authorities disbanded it in 1886[21] On 15 January 1841 the Chair of Slavistics was formed in the city,[22] and headed by Professor František Čelakovský, it was first institution of this kind in Germany[23]

In 1854 the Jewish Theological Seminary was created, one of the first modern rabbi seminars in Europe. Its first director, Zecharias Frankel, was the principal founder of conservative Judaism.

German Empire[edit]

Town square and St. Elisabeth's Church

Breslau became part of the German Empire in 1871, which was established at Versailles in defeated France. The early years were characterized by rapid economic growth, the so-called Gründerzeit, although Breslau was hampered by protectionist policies of its natural markets in Austria-Hungary and Russia and had to turn to the German domestic market. Breslau's population grew from 208,000 in 1871 to 512,000 in 1910, yet the city was pushed down from being the third- to the seventh- biggest city of Germany. Among the population were the Polish and Jewish minorities.

The city spread out and incorporated outlying villages, like Kleinburg (Dworek) and Pöpelwitz (Popowice) in 1896, Herdain (Gaj) and Morgentau (Rakowiec) in 1904 and Gräbschen (Grabiszyn) in 1911. With the regulation of the Oder (Odra) modern garden suburbs like Leerbeutel (Zalesie) and Karlowitz (Karlowice) were built.

The official German census of 1905 listed 470,904 residents, thereof 20,536 Jews, 6,020 Poles and 3,752 others. Polish historians point to distortion of that number by German officials, and speak of several thousand more, or even 20,000 Poles living in it.[24][25][26] Estimates however are difficult, since foreign residents were registered by citizenship rather than by nationality.[27] Most of suburbs on right bank of Oder were Polish-speaking communities according to a source from 1874, and many photographs from this period indicate widespread use of Polish names;.[28] As a frontier city on the edge of the Slavonic world Breslau was more assertively German than other cities of the empire, and Breslau was less friendly to Poles, Czechs or unassimilated Jews than, for example, Berlin was.[29] During his one-year tenure as rector of the university Felix Dahn for instance banned all Polish student associations.[30]

Centennial Hall in Wrocław
UNESCO World Heritage site
Centennial Hall in Wrocław and Zoo Wrocław 1.jpg
The Hall.
Criteria Cultural: (i)(ii)(iv)
Reference 1165
Inscription 2006 (30th Session)
Area 36.69 ha (90.7 acres)
Buffer zone 189.68 ha (468.7 acres)
Coordinates 51°6′25.01″N 17°4′37.25″E / 51.1069472°N 17.0770139°E / 51.1069472; 17.0770139

Woodworking, brewing, textiles and agriculture, Breslau's traditional industries, flourished, and service and manufacturing sectors were established, which benefited from the nearby heavy industry of Upper Silesia. Linke-Hofmann, specialized in locomotives, became one of the city's largest employers and one of Europe biggest manufacturers of railway carriages. By the end of the 19th century Breslau threatened to eclipse Berlin, capital of Prussia and the German Empire, as the financial centre of the country. The retail sector flourished too, represented by modern stores of Barasch, Molinari, Wertheim or Petersdorff. At the end of the German Empire Breslau had become the economic, cultural and administrative centre of Eastern Germany.

While Breslau itself was mostly Protestant the city also housed the Roman Catholic Diocese of Breslau, the second-largest diocese in the world, and thus became entangled in Bismarcks Kulturkampf. According to Norman Davies the city had a population divided among 63% Protestants, 32% Catholics and 5% Jews.[31] At the time of German Empire Although open conflict between Breslau's Protestant majority and Catholics was avoided, public resentment was notable, most notably in the affairs of the numerous student corporations. Meanwhile, Breslau became the focus of the Old Lutheran Church. In 1883 the Old Lutheran Theological Seminar was opened, which attracted numerous scholars, among them Rudolf Rocholl. By 1905 the community already had 75 pastors and 52,000 members.

The German Jewry of Breslau formed the Einheitsgemeinde (united community) of Orthodox and Reform Jews und thus narrowed the gap between both schools. In 1872 Reformed Rabbi Joel and his Orthodox counterpart Gedaliah Tiktin jointly consecrated Breslau's New Synagogue. From 14,000 in 1871 the Jewish community grew to 20,000 in 1910, thus becoming the third-largest in Germany. Breslau's confident, vibrant and assimilated community, with countless social, charitable, cultural and educational organisations, became a model for others. The first Jewish students' fraternity in the German Empire, the Viadrina, was created in 1886 in Breslau. Polish student organisations included Concordia, Polonia, and a branch of the Sokol association.

While most of Silesia's greats of the 19th century, such as Gustav Freytag, Adolph Menzel or Willibald Alexis, had to leave Silesia to get recognized, the cultural exodus was stopped by the 1890s. In a few decades Breslau was turned into a cultural centre of international notability. The old Art Academy moved into a bigger home and attracted artists like painter Max Wislicenus, sculptor Theodor von Gosen and future Nobel prize winner Gerhard Hauptmann. The architectural section of the academy rose to prominence unter the directorship of Hans Poelzig, who contributed greatly, along with Max Berg, to the Neues Bauen movement, and Breslau gained fame as a centre of modernist architecture.

Performing arts in the city received a notable boost too. In 1861 the Orchestral Society (Orchesterverein) was founded, which achieved a good reputation in the 1880 when Max Bruch was conductor of the orchestra, and later the Polish musician Rafał Ludwik Maszkowski, who conducted the orchestra till his death in 1901; he along with other Polish artists like Wanda Landowska, Józef Śliwiński, Bronisław Huberman and Władysław Żeleński performed Polish-themed plays as part of the repertoire of the Orchesterverein.[32][32] The Opera house (Stadttheater), which was reopened in 1871 after two fires, attracted artists like Leo Slezak and Wilhelm Furtwängler. Johannes Brahms paid tribute to the city when he composed the Akademische Festovertüre, Op. 80 upon receiving an honorary doctorate in 1879.

Modern science flourished in the city, with a wide array of achievements in almost every department. During the German Empire Breslau's scientists received four Nobel Prizes (plus two in literature). Above all, medical sciences were the flagship of academic research, where Breslau not only presented new theories but also new disciplines. Ferdinand Cohn, the director of the Institute of Plant Physiology, is considered a pioneer of bacteriology, while Albert Neisser, director of the Dermatology clinic, discovered gonorrhoea, and Alois Alzheimer, professor at the university, discovered the Alzheimer disease.

In the 1890s Breslau developed into a centre of Social Democracy in Germany. With one exception at least one member of the Silesian SPD was sent to the Reichstag in Berlin, among them several prominent socialists like Eduard Bernstein, the former secretary of Friedrich Engels.

With the outbreak of World War I, Breslau's VI. Army Corps was sent to the western front to form the pivot of the Schlieffen plan, while the 1st Leibkürassiere saw action at the battle of the Marne before they were moved to the Eastern Front. The end of Germany's western offensive and the absence of the VI. Army Corps left Silesia and Breslau dangerously exposed. In 1914/15 the Russian army stopped only 80 km to the east of Breslau, which led to the evacuation of children and the erection of barbed-wire defenses. The Silesian Landwehr under General Remus von Woyrsch was rapidly deployed to face the Russian army, but German victories at the Masurian lakes and Gorlice soon eliminated this threat.

Population in the city suffered badly during the war. Food was rationed, and prices for potatoes or eggs skyrocketed by more than 200%, resulting in food riots. The "turnip winter"Template:The Turnip Winter of 1916/17 left many on the verge of starvation. Food-hoarding was decreed with capital punishment in the city. After four years of war Breslau's trade had fallen by 66 per cent. More than 8,000 people died of tuberculosis, and the population dropped from 540,000 to 472,000.

The end of World War I was followed by civil unrest and revolution in Germany. The garrison in Breslau mutinied in November, liberated convicts from jail, among them Rosa Luxemburg, looted shops and seized the offices of the Schlesische Zeitung, Breslau's biggest newspaper. When emperor Wilhelm II left the country the German Empire dissolved.

Weimar Republic[edit]

Church of St. Martin became one of the focal points of social life of the Polish population in the interwar period
Announcement of the Socialist provicional government, Breslau 12 November 1918

The end of the German Empire led to anarchy all over Germany. In Breslau however the imperial authorities were deposed without larger tumults. While, among others, Lord Mayor Paul Mattig and Archbishop Bertram called for a continuance of public duty and order General Pfeil of the VI Army Corps released all political prisoners, ordered his soldiers to leave the barracks and, as his last military order, allowed a demonstration of the Social Democrats in the Jahrhunderthalle. One day later soldiers councils in the army and the Committee of Public Savety were formed. On the same day a Volksrat (peoples council) of Social Democrats, Liberals, the Catholic Centre Party and trade unions was founded, led by Social Democrat Paul Löbe. As relations between the Volksrat and his opponents were mostly consensual the "revolution" in Breslau was peaceful.

Lack of homes in 1919 Germany: In this home, with only one room and a kitchen, lived 11 people

Despite the largely peaceful transition Breslau faced several challenges which radicalized the political landscape of the city. Social conditions got worse as 170,000 soldiers and displaced persons were expected to return, with only 47,000 available quarters. The prospect of a Communist government was a major fear. The loss of nearby Posnania to a newly created Poland, the prospect of further losses in Upper Silesia and the transformation of neighbouring Bohemia into a hostile new state called Czechoslovakia spread anxiety among people,[33] who saw their city turn into an advance post of Germany.[34] The number of Poles in the city dropped from an already low 4–5.000 to 0.5 percent 20 years later.[clarification needed][35][36]

Riots of the Spartacists in February resulted in the death of five protesters and injured nineteen. A month later the Freikorps revolted, but only in Silesia did the Kapp Putsch receive a solid backing. The commander of the military district supported the coup d'état and four Freikorps peacefully took over large parts of the city. The governor of Silesia, Breslau's Chief of Police and the SPD President of Breslau were immediately purged. Kapp's government, however, collapsed after a week and the Freikorps in Breslau withdrew, killing 18 people and wounding countless others. Anti-Semitic propaganda, moreover, culminated in the murder of Bernhard Schottländer, the Jewish editor of the Schlesische Arbeiter-Zeitung. Jewish stores and hotels were attacked by mobs in the city.[37]

After First World War the Polish community starting having masses in Polish in Churches of Saint Ann and since 1921 in St. Martin Church; Polish consulate was opened on the Main Square, additionally a Polish School was formed by Helena Adamczewska.[38] Soon after tensions around the Upper Silesian plebiscite sparked violence in Breslau, where widespread rioting was mostly directed against the Inter-Allied Plebiscite Commission, especially the French, but also the Polish. The buildings of Polish consulate and school were demolished and Polish library was burned along with several thousand volumes[39][40] Problems culminated however in 1923. Hyperinflation ruined many people, and strikes and walk-outs swept all over Germany. 50 large shops in the commercial centre were looted in the city when, partly anti-Semitic,[41] riots broke out on 22 July, and six looters were killed.

In 1919, Breslau became the capital of the newly created Province of Lower Silesia, its first head of government (German: Oberpräsident) was social democrat Felix Philipp. The Social democrats also won the Lower Silesian elections of 1921 with 51.19%, followed by the Catholic centre with 20.2%, DVP 11.9%, DDP 9.5% and the Communists with 3.6%.

The mid-1920s brought political stability, mostly due to the leadership of Gustav Stresemann.[42] In 1 Election result in Lower Silesia and Breslau showed a solid Socialist majority in 1924 and 1928. In 1925 the Silesian NSDAP was founded, the party however garnered only 1 per cent of the votes in 1928, well below the national average of 2,8 per cent.

Arrest of 200 Nationalsocialists in Jäschkowitz, 15km to the south of Breslau, 1930

After the incorporation of 54 communes between 1925 and 1930 the city expanded to 175 km² and housed 600,000 people. Between 26. and 29. of June 1930 it hosted the Deutsche Kampfspiele, a sporting event for German athletes after Germany was excluded from the Olympic Games after World War I.

Wohnungs-und Werkraumausstellung (WuWa), building designed by Hans Scharoun, today Park Hotel

These peaceful period ended with the Wall Street Crash and the following collapse of the German economy. Unemployment rose from 1.3 million in September 1929 to 6 million (1/3 of the working population) in 1933; in Breslau from 6,672 persons in 1925 to 23,978 in 1929, the worst figures in Germany after Chemnitz. The number of families living on welfare support was more than twice as high as in Leipzig or Dresden. Public faith in democratic institution faded and anti-democratic parties – Communists and Nazis – gained support. The battles of both were played out all over Germany, also in Breslau. In June 1931 the annual rally of the Stahlhelm, marked by violent rhetoric and clashes, took place in the city. The violence in the city spiralled in the summer of 1932. On 23 June a column of SA men was attacked by Communists, with eleven seriously injured, followed by a killed Socialist three days later. On 6 August grenades were thrown during battles between Nazis and Communists. In July 1932 Hitler spoke in Breslau, attracting 16,000 listeners. In the following elections his party received 43% of the Breslau vote, the third-highest result in Germany. On 30 January 1933 he was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

Despite all turbulences the cultural scene in the Weimar Republic and in Breslau flourished. The reorganized Academy of Arts reached its creative height under the directorship of Oskar Moll and can be considered a predecessor of the first Bauhaus. Many Bauhaus artists, among them Oskar Schlemmer and Georg Muche, taught in Breslau, while several lecturers and students of the academy became leading protagonists of the main artistic trends in the Weimar Republic, like Alexander Kanoldt, who was co-founder of the Munich New Secession and became one of the stars of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or Hans Scharoun, an important exponent of Organic architecture. In 1929 the Werkbund opened WuWa (German: Wohnungs-und Werkraumausstellung) in Breslau-Scheitnig, an international showcase of modern architecture by architects of the Silesian branch of the Werkbund.

During the inter-war years the city was also the centre of Polish national movement radiating towards other groups of Poles in Lower Silesia; it focused Polish cultural life and organisational efforts.[43]

Nazi period and World War II[edit]

The city became one of the largest support bases of NSDAP movement, and in 1932 elections the Nazi party received in it 43.5% of votes, achieving the third biggest victory in Weimar Germany[44]

In 1933 the Gestapo began actions against Polish and Jewish students in the city[45] who were issued special segregationist ID documents like those of Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and other people deemed threats to the state. People were arrested and beaten for using Polish in public.[46] In 1938 the Polish cultural centre (the Polish House) in Breslau was destroyed by the police,[45] New Synagogue was destroyed 1938, and many of the city's 10,000 Jews were deported to pre-war Nazi concentration camps; those who remained were killed during the Nazi genocide of World War II. The coat of arms in Breslau was changed by Nazis in 1938, as it contained letter W considered by them to be "too Slavic"[47] Additionally 88 locations in the city received new German names as part of campaign of Germanization[48]

Most of the Polish elites also left during the 1920s and 1930s while Polish leaders who remained were sent to concentration camps.[45] During the war, 363 Czech and 293 Polish prisoners, as well as resistance members from Western Europe, were executed by guillotine in the city's prison.[49] In total, the German regime killed 896 people in this way. In 1941 the remaining pre-war Polish minority in the city, as well as Polish slave labourers organised resistance group called Olimp. In 1942 additional Polish resistance groups were reported to be in existence in the city, "Jaszczurka", Siła Zbrojna Polski and Polska Organizacja Polityczna[50]

In addition, a network of concentration camps and forced labour camps, or Arbeitslager, was established in the district around Breslau, to serve the city's growing industrial concerns, including FAMO, Junkers and Krupp. The total number of prisoners held at such camps exceeded many tens of thousands.[51] Official Nazi estimates reported 43,950 forced labourers in 1943 and 51,548 in 1944, most of them being Poles.[52] At the end of 1944 between 30,000 and 60,000 captured Poles were sent to Breslau after the defeat of Warsaw Uprising[53]

Commemorative plate honouring bombing of the main railway station in 1943 by Polish resistance in the city, placed in 1995

Throughout most of World War II Breslau was not close to the fighting. The city became haven for refugees, swelling in population to nearly one million.[54] Polish resistance from the group Zagra-Lin[55] successfully attacked a Nazi Germany's troop transport on the main railway station in the city on 23 April 1943, and a commemorative plate honouring their actions was placed after Nazi Germany was defeated in 1945.[56][57][58][59] In February 1945 the Soviet Red Army approached the city. Gauleiter Karl Hanke declared the city a Festung (fortress), i.e. a stronghold to be held at all costs. Concentration camp prisoners were forced to help build new fortifications (see Arbeitseinsatz). In one area, the workers were ordered to construct a military airfield intended for use in resupplying the fortress, while the entire residential district along the Kaiserstraße (now Plac Grunwaldzki) was razed. The authorities threatened to shoot anyone who refused to do their assigned labour. Eyewitnesses estimated that some 13,000 died under enemy fire on the airfield alone. In the end, one of the few planes that ever used it was that of the fleeing Gauleiter Hanke.[60]

Hanke finally lifted a ban on the evacuation of women and children, when it was almost too late. During his poorly organised evacuation in January and February 1945, around 18,000 people froze to death, mostly children and babies, in icy snowstorms and −20 °C weather. Some 200,000 civilians, less than a third of the pre-war population, remained in the city, because the railway connections to the west were damaged or overloaded.

By the end of the Siege of Breslau, 50% of the old town, 90% of the western and southern and 10–30% of the northern and northeastern quarters of the city had been destroyed. 40,000 inhabitants, including forced labourers, lay dead in the ruins of homes and factories. After a siege of nearly three months, "Fortress Breslau" surrendered on 7 May 1945. It was one of the last major cities in Germany to fall.[61]


Preserved part of Osobowice cemetery with Russian, Serbian and German graves[62][63]
Kozanów tower blocks

People's Republic of Poland[edit]

Along with almost all of Lower Silesia, post-war Wrocław became part of Poland under the terms of the Potsdam Conference. It became the biggest city of the so-called Recovered Territories. On 24 May 1945 the surviving members of Polish pre-war minority from the Nazi German genocide in Wrocław were met by Polish authorities.[64] Bolesław Drobner, the city's newly appointed mayor, welcomed them in "Free Poland" and urged pre-war Poles from Wrocław to stay in the city, expressing his view that the Polish state needs people like them to awake to life after the war; many of the addressed heeded this call, and pre-war Poles became active members of Wrocław's political and cultural life, forming an association called "Klub Ludzi ze znakiem P"("People with the P sign"), remembering those Poles who perished under Nazi German rule in the city.[65]

Franciszek Juszczak, a long time leader of the Polish community in Wrocław before World War II and resistance member, was nominated by Drobner to the position of vice-president of the Lower Silesian Chamber of Crafts[66] In close cooperation with authorities he formed Związek Polaków Byłych Obywateli Niemieckich(Union of Poles Former German Citizens). The pre-war Polish minority, though officially regarded as heroes, was subject of a "verification process" to determine their Polishness, in a procedure described as an "experience of some unpleasantness".[65] According to German historian Gregor Thum in 1949 2,769 or about 1 percent of the city's population were pre-war inhabitants of the city, 1,029 of them able to speak Polish fluently.[67]

In the summer of 1945 the city had a predominately German population[68] who were expelled to one of the two post-war German states between 1945 and 1949. However, as was the case with other Lower Silesian cities, a considerable German presence remained in Wrocław until the late 1950s; the city's last German school closed in 1963. The population of Wrocław was soon increased by resettlement of Poles forming part of postwar repatriation of Poles (1944–1946) (75%) as well as the forced deportations from Polish lands annexed by the Soviet Union in the east (25%) including from cities such as Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine), Stanisławów (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine), Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), and Grodno (now Hrodna, Belarus).

After the destruction during the Siege of Breslau the city was further destroyed by vandalism, fire, and the razing and dismantling of factories, and material assets by the Soviet Union. The economic potential of the city was decreased to 40% of the prewar situation.[69] Wroclaw was further weakened by the so-called Szaber, which transferred goods to Central Poland, and the campaign “bricks for Warsaw” by the Polish government ten years later, which provided reconstruction material for the levelled Old Town of the Polish capital. This loss of historic structures was irreversible and the consequences are still visible today.[70]

The rebuilding of the town was characterized by a mix of polonization and degermanization, which led to reconstruction and destruction. Gothic architecture was painstakingly restored, while testimonies of later eras were often neglected or destroyed. The process of degermanization also included the removal and destruction of almost all German non-religious monuments,[71] and the elimination of inscriptions, even centuries-old on epitaphs and in churches.[72] Between 1970 and 1972 all non-Jewish German cemeteries were destroyed.[73]

Tower blocks were massively constructed both in the city and around it, e.g. Kozanów housing estate.

After the fall of communism[edit]

Flood 1997

In July 1997, the city was heavily affected by a flood of the Oder River, the worst flooding in post-war Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Around one third of the city's area stood under water.[74] An earlier equally devastating flood of the river took place in 1903.[75] After the flood big areas of the city were renovated, including Main Market Square with the Town Hall[76] and the Wrocław Palace.[77]

Historical populations[edit]

Year 1800 1831 1850 1852 1880 1900 1910 1925 1933 1939
Inhabitants 64,500 89,500 114,000 121,100 272,900 422,700 510,000 555,200 625,198 629,565
Year 1946[78] 1956[79] 1960 1967 1970 1975 1980 1990 1999 2009
Inhabitants 171,000 400,000 431,800 487,700 526,000 579,900 617,700 640,577 650,000 632,240

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weczerka, p. 39
  2. ^ a b c Weczerka, p. 40
  3. ^ Norman Davies "Mikrokosmos" page 110-115
  4. ^ Weczerka, p. 41
  5. ^ Benedykt Zientara (1997). Henryk Brodaty i jego czasy (in Polish). Warsaw: Trio. pp. :317–320. ISBN 83-85660-46-1. 
  6. ^ R. Żerelik [in:] M. Czapliński (red.) Historia Śląska, Wrocław 2007, p. 57, ISBN 978-83-229-2872-1
  7. ^ Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City [Paperback] Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse, page 90, Pimlico; 2003 "Fighting between Poles and Czechs was recorded in 1314. It would be particularly out of place to assume that the Polish element was decimated.The villages on the right bank of the Odra remained solidly Polish, while Polish names such as Baran or Cebula figured regularly, even among the city's patricians"
  8. ^ a b Thum, p. 316
  9. ^ Maciej Lagiewski; Halina Okolska; Piotr Oszczanowski (2009). 1000 Jahre Breslau. Wrocław: Muzeum Miejskie Wrocławia. pp. :35. ISBN 978-83-89551-57-3. 
  10. ^ Norbert Conrads (1994). Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas: Schlesien. Berlin: Siedler Verlag. pp. :55–56. ISBN 3-88680-775-4. 
  11. ^ Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City [Paperback] Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse, page 134, Pimlico; 2003
  12. ^ Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN Warsaw 1975 vol. III page 505
  13. ^ Conrads, p. 100
  14. ^ Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City [Paperback] Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse, page 88-89, Pimlico; 2003
  15. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: Silesia
  16. ^ Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse (2002). Znak, ed. Mikrokosmos (in Polish). Kraków. pp. :127. ISBN 83-240-0172-7. 
  17. ^ Microcosm, page 103
  18. ^ Długosz, ks. IX, s 153
  19. ^ Silesia was divided by the River Oder into its two "national halves"-German and Polish. Vretslav lay astride the dividing line.As the second city of the Kingdom of Bohemia Vretslav also supported a considerable Czech community Norman Davies, Microcosm, page 135
  20. ^ a b c d Microcosm, page 182
  21. ^ [Towarzystwo Literacko-Słowiańskie http://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo.php?id=3988415] Encyklopedia PWN
  22. ^ Prace literackie, Tome 35, page 10, Uniwersytet Wrocławski im. Bolesława Bieruta, Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe
  23. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 239
  24. ^ Nauki polityczne,Tom 37,Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 1989, page 157
  25. ^ Życie i myśl, Tom 36,Wydania 7–12,Instytut Zachodni, Pax.,page 16, 1987
  26. ^ Ślaski kwartalnik historyczny Sobótka, Tom 54, Wrocławskie Towarzystwo Miłośników Historii, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1999, page 293Liczba Polaków żyjących na przełomie XIX i XX w. we Wrocławiu nie jest znana, szacunki mówią o 20 tys. według spisu z 1905 r. polskość zadeklarowało 8927 osób.
  27. ^ Davies, Microcosm page 304
  28. ^ Davies, Microcosm page 305
  29. ^ Microcosm: A Portrait of a Central European City [Paperback] Norman Davies, Roger Moorhouse, page 304, Pimlico; 2003
  30. ^ Norman Davies Microcosm page 305 At the time when rector Felix Dahn had banned all Polish student bodies
  31. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm, page 304
  32. ^ a b Official Page of Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra-History
  33. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 329
  34. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 328
  35. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 360, 361
  36. ^ Harasimowicz, p. 466f
  37. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 363
  38. ^ Microcosm, page 361
  39. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 361
  40. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 362
  41. ^ van Rahden, Juden, p. 323-26
  42. ^ Norman Davies, Microcosm page 333
  43. ^ Nauki polityczne,Tom 37, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 1989, page 157.
  44. ^ Norman Davies "Mikrokosmos" page 369
  45. ^ a b c Davies, Moorhouse, p. 395
  46. ^ Kulak, p. 252
  47. ^ Wrocławskie skandale z herbem miasta w tle. Gazeta Wyborcza Wrocław.Interview with Professor Rościsław Żerelik, 12.03.2010
  48. ^ Stare i nowe osiedla Zygmunt Antkowiak, Zakład Narodowy imienia. Ossolińskich, page 8, 1973
  49. ^ http://www.sw.gov.pl/index.php/jednostki/14/288
  50. ^ Microcosm, page 403
  51. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 June 2010. Retrieved 28 August 2010. 
  52. ^ Microcosm, page 389-390
  53. ^ Microcosm, page 390
  54. ^ History of Wrocław
  55. ^ pl:Zagra-Lin
  56. ^ Wywiad, sabotaż, dywersja:polski ruch oporu w Berlinie, 1939–1945 Juliusz Pollack page 141 Ludowa Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza, 1991
  57. ^ Jak Polacy żołnierzy w Breslau zabili Gazeta Wrocławska 2010-05-21
  58. ^ Wojskowy przeglad historyczny , Volume 40, Issues 3–4 1995 page 264
  59. ^ Historia Wrocławia: Od twierdzy fryderycjańskiej do twierdzy hitlerowskiej Cezary Buśko, Włodzimierz Suleja, Teresa Kulak, Wydawnictwo Dolnoślaskie, 2001 , page 334
  60. ^ Davies, Moorhouse, p. 31
  61. ^ Festung Breslau (Wrocław Fortress) siege by the Soviet Army – photo gallery
  62. ^ [1]
  63. ^ [2]
  64. ^ Do nich przyszła Polska--: wspomnienia Polaków mieszkających we Wrocławiu od końca XIX w. do 1939r Alicja Zawisza Wydawnictwo "Wratislavia", 19932
  65. ^ a b Historia Wrocławia: Od twierdzy fryderycjańskiej do twierdzy hitlerowskiej Cezary Buśko, Włodzimierz Suleja, Teresa Kulak, Wydawnictwo. Dolnoślaskie, 2001, page 343
  66. ^ [3]
  67. ^ Thum, Gregor (2011). Uprooted: How Breslau became Wroclaw during the century of expulsions. Princeton University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-691-14024-7. 
  68. ^ Mazower, M(2008) Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, Penguin Press P544
  69. ^ Thum, p.183
  70. ^ Thum, p.200
  71. ^ Thum, p.382
  72. ^ Thum, p.377
  73. ^ Thum, p.390
  74. ^ 1997 great flood of Oder River – photo gallery
  75. ^ 1903 great flood of the Oder river – photo gallery Archived 1 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  76. ^ Łukasz Damurski, Wrocław, Image of the City 1997–2007
  77. ^ Muzeum Historyczne
  78. ^ Immediately following Flight and expulsion of Germans from Poland during and after World War II
  79. ^ The surge in population is the result of Repatriation of Poles (1944–1946) and the subsequent forced deportation of Poles living in Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union


English language[edit]

Polish language[edit]

  • Harasimowicz, Jan; Włodzimierz Suleja (eds.) (2001). Encyklopedia Wrocławia. Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie. ISBN 83-7384-561-5. 
  • Kulak, Teresa (2006). Wrocław. Przewodnik historyczny (A to Polska właśnie). Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie. ISBN 83-7384-472-4. 
  • Studenci Polacy na Uniwersytecie Wrocławskim w latach, 1918-1939: katalog zachowanych archiwaliów, Alicja Zawisza, Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Breslau, Breslau. Uniwersytet 1972
  • Dawna Polonia wrocławska Alicja Zawisza Towarzystwo Miłośników Wrocławia, 1984
  • Polacy na studiach lekarskich we Wrocławiu w latach 1811-1918 Jan Smereka, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1979
  • Sławni Polacy we Wrocławiu w XIX wieku: informator : [wystawa], Muzeum Historyczne we Wrocławiu Oficyna "Gryf", 1987
  • Historia Wrocławia w datach, Marek Cetwiński, Romuald Gelles
  • Historia Wrocławia: Od twierdzy fryderycjańskiej do twierdzy hitlerowskiej Cezary Buśko, Włodzimierz Suleja, Teresa Kulak.

German language[edit]

  • Dorn, Leonard (2016), Regimentskultur und Netzwerk. Dietrich Goswin von Bockum-Dolffs und das Kürassier-Regiment No. 1 in Breslau 1788-1805 (Vereinigte Westfälische Adelsarchive e.V., Veröffentlichung Nr. 20). Münster
  • Scheuermann, Gerhard (1994). Das Breslau-Lexikon (2 vols.). Dülmen: Laumann Verlagsgesellschaft. ISBN 978-3-89960-132-9. 
  • van Rahden, Till (2000). Juden und andere Breslauer: Die Beziehungen zwischen Juden, Protestanten und Katholiken in einer deutschen Großstadt von 1860 bis 1925. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 3-525-35732-X. 
  • Thum, Gregor (2003). Die fremde Stadt. Breslau 1945. Berlin: Siedler. ISBN 3-88680-795-9. 
  • Codex Diplomaticus Silesiae T.3: Henricus pauper – account book of Wroclaw, 1299–1358 (in German) (in Latin)
  • Codex Diplomaticus Silesiae T.11 Breslauer Stadtbuch – liber civitatis (town book) of Wroclaw, containing the councilmen since 1287 and documents regarding the constitutional history (in German) (in Latin)
  • Breslauer Urkundenbuch – complete collection of all deeds of the city (in German) (in Latin)