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Poland Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Daniel McCollum

Dan has a Master's Degree in History and has taught undergraduate History

Poland is not inhabited only by Poles. Like many other nations, Poland has inhabitants who do not belong to the majority of the population. This lesson examines the culture and history of three of these ethnic groups.

Poland and its Ethnic Groups

The modern nation of Poland was established after the First World War, carved out of the Polish lands of Germany, Austria and Russia. At the time, the Republic of Poland claimed many lands which had belonged to Poland centuries earlier but which were populated by people who did not identify as Poles. Before the Second World War, Poland contained large Ukrainian, German, Jewish and Lithuanian populations to name only a few. After the war was over, the borders of Poland were redrawn to exclude many of these minorities and to make Poles the predominant people in their own nation. Sometimes, there were massive population exchanges. For instance, when Poland was given the lands of eastern Prussia, the German population of the area was forcibly removed. Today, there are still several ethnic groups that live in Poland, besides just Poles. We'll look at the three largest groups, examine their culture and look at their relationship with the Polish people and government.

Kashubians

The Kashubians are a people who live today around the city of Gdansk and a land called either Kashubia or Kaszuby. The Kashubians have a great deal in common with the Poles and speak a language which is closely related to Polish, since both are Western Slavic languages. Early in their history, the Kashubians were ruled, at different times, by Germans, Swedes and Poles. Although they founded the modern city of Gdansk, the nobility in the Middle Ages invited German immigrants into the city so that, into the 20th century, the city was known by its German name of Danzig, and was felt by many to be a part of Germany. This meant that the Kashubians mainly survived as a rural and agricultural people, although many Kashubs moved to industrial cities during the 19th and 20th century.

Beginning in the 19th century, local intellectuals attempted to bring more attention to Kashubian culture. Florian Ceynowa, for instance, was a doctor who worked to popularize the Kashubian language. A poet and author, he wrote many important works in Kashubian, and also translated the works of other people into the language. At the time, this was an act of political rebellion, because it showed the Kashubians didn't want to adopt German or Polish language and culture; a process called assimilation. Another important Kashubian was Aleksander Majkowski who started the Society of Young Kashubians in 1912, an organization that fought for the economic and cultural development of the Kashubian people. He also started the magazine Gryf which reported on Kashubian news and culture, and also wrote 'The Life and Adventures of Remus' which is considered the greatest book written in the Kashubian language.

Despite this cultural awakening, Kashubs suffered during World War 2 and after. Many Kashubs joined the anti-Nazi movement during the war, despite the fact that the Nazis considered them capable of becoming German. After the war, the Communist government wanted to stress that Poland was an ethnically coherent state that did not have separate ethnic groups. Expressions of Kashubian culture were frowned upon. Today, many Kashubs consider themselves to be loyal to both Polish and Kashubian traditions. Roughly 500,000 Kashubs live in Poland today. There are also Kashub communities in Ontario, central Wisconsin, northern North Dakota and southeastern Minnesota today.

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