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German: "Polish lighterman", French: "Polish slave", a drawing by Daniel Chodowiecki

Wasserpolak was the name used for people living in Upper Silesia who spoke Silesian (a Polish dialect with many German and Czech elements). German equivalent is Wasserpolnisch, Czech Wasserpolák or Vasrpolák.


In Silesia, the Polish, German and Czech languages and cultures influenced one another for centuries. Since the 18th century, the German language became more important, starting to penetrate Slavic dialects. Many times families where mixed of different nations over centuries and they could not be treated as entirely Polish, German or Czech. They identified themselves as a regional community with regional language.[1]


The name means "diluted Polish" (translated literally: water Polish). The term Wasserpolak appears in the 17th century and was used for Poles living in Lower and Upper Silesia and also in other places where languages and nations were mixed over centuries.[2] Later its referrent expanded to all Slavic people of Silesia and the Polish-German border areas.

Use until World War II[edit]

Since the 19th century the name started to be used as a pejorative term.[3] It was used in this sense e.g. by the historian Friedrich Christoph Förster who claimed that the poor "verschnappste Wasserpolacken" were evading the German army draft.[4] During World War II the occupant German Nazis used this term to divide Poles by micronationalities.[5]

After World War II[edit]

Alongside German and Polish, many citizens of Opole-Oppeln before 1945 used a strongly German-influenced Silesian dialect (sometimes called wasserpolnisch or wasserpolak). Because of this, the post-war Polish state administration after the annexation of Silesia in 1945 did not initiate a general expulsion of all former inhabitants of Opole, as was done in Lower Silesia, for instance, where the population almost exclusively spoke the German language. Because they were considered "autochthonous" (Polish), the Wasserpolak-speakers instead received the right to remain in their homeland after declaring themselves as Poles. Some German speakers took advantage of this decision, allowing them to remain in their Oppeln, even when they considered themselves to be of German nationality. The city outlying areas currently contain the largest German and Upper Silesian minorities in Poland.

Since the 1950s the term became archaic, and it has fallen out of use by now, apart from polemical political texts.[3]

See also[edit]

Opole (section "German minority")

Germans of Poland


  1. ^ Marcin Jarząbek (2009). Separateness and National Identity. CEU. 
  2. ^ "Wasserpolak by Surhone, Lambert M./ Tennoe, Mariam T./ Henssonow, Susan F. [P...". eBay. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  3. ^ a b ""Wasserpolak". Kto zacz?". Gazeta Wyborcza. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  4. ^ Forster: (1856). Neuere und neueste Preussische Geschichte. Berlin. 
  5. ^ Erhard Wetzel, Günther Hecht (1939). Behandlung der Bevölkerung der ehemaligen polnischen Gebiete. Berlin.