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East Prussia

East Prussia

East Prussia is the historical center of development of Prussia. Up to the 16th century this region was inhabited by pagan tribes of Baltic (Prussian and Lithuanian) ethnic backgrounds. In the 13th century the knights of the Teutonic Order of Our Lady settled there in order to convert the Prussians. During that period of history the knights ruled a considerable part of historical Pomerania. In the 15th century that region was taken over by the Polish King, after his wars with the Order, and renamed Royal Prussia. The Order kept the eastern parts of Prussia as a vassal of Poland. During the Reformation, the Order was secularized and its Great Master began to rule his fief as a prince, hence the territory was called Ducal Prussia. The princes became more and more powerful and during the 17th and 18th centuries they also began to rule Brandenburg, Pomerania and Silesia. In 1701 the Prince became King of Prussia.


Finally, during the Partitions of Poland, the King of Prussia also incorporated the northern and western parts of the Polish Kingdom, namely Royal Prussia (then renamed West Prussia) and Greater Poland (later renamed Province of Posen). The territory of East Prussia was sparsely populated and colonized by the Germans and Poles (the southern parts). The Prussians of Baltic background were Germanized before the 17th century. Most of the inhabitants of the province were Lutheran. In 1815 a new administrative division of the Prussian monarchy was introduced. The westernmost portion (marked in cyan on the map) of the historical Ducal Prussia (with Kwidzyn/Marienwerder) was incorporated into West Prussia, which in turn lost the region of Warmia (German: Ermland - shown in yellow) to East Prussia. Warmia remained a Catholic enclave in this generally Protestant province. At the end of the 19th century most of the inhabitants of East Prussia spoke German. A considerable minority speaking Polish (the Masurian dialect) lived in the southern districts and the northeastern portions were partially inhabited by Lithuanians.


After WWI, the northernmost region of Memel (Lithuanian: Klaipeda) was incorporated into the newly created independent Lithuania. The southernmost portion of East Prussia (along with the town Dzialdowo - German: Soldau) became part of Poland. Both areas mentioned are marked in green on the map below. East Prussia was in turn extended by the eastern districts (shown in green and in cyan) of the former Province of West Prussia which remained German after 1920.


In 1945 East Prussia was divided between Poland and Russia. The capital city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad and became the capital of the Russian enclave. German inhabitants of East Prussia either escaped in 1945 or were expelled from there afterwards. Only a part of the Polish-speaking population from the southern districts remained. The territory was settled by Poles (the Polish part) and citizens of the Soviet Union (the Soviet part).


The map shows the territory of East Prussia at the beginning of the 20th century. The colored regions are explained above. The pink line is the post-WWII border between Poland and Russia. Polish, German and post-WWII Soviet names of cities are provided.




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