Note: although the term "recovered territories" has a clear meaning in Poland and Polish historiography, it is not a widely accepted term or concept in English speaking nations. See Oder-Neisse line for details.
Recovered Territories, Regained Territories or Western and Northern Territories (Polish: Ziemie Odzyskane, Ziemie Zachodnie i Pˇłnocne) is the term used in Poland to describe the current-day Polish provinces of Pomerania, Silesia, Lubus Land and Warmia i Mazury which were taken from Germany and assigned ("restored", "recovered") to Poland by the Allies after World War II. In official West German usage, according to the Potsdam Agreement, these areas were initially referred to as "German Eastern Territories Under Polish Administration" (Deutsche Ostgebiete unter polnischer Vewaltung); this term disappeared from general usage by the 1970s.
Brief history of Recovered Territories
The areas of today's Poland, including the Recovered Territories, were first described by Tacitus in 98 AD in his book Germania. He described the many tribes living in Eastern Europe, including the Baltic, Germanic, Finnic and Celtic peoples. With the ongoing tribal migrations of the Volkerwanderung period and invasions of tribes from the Asian steppes, many inhabitants of today's Poland, particularly around the Baltic Sea, moved westwards and southwards and invaded the Roman Empire, forming several Germanic kingdoms in Western Europe.
According to some theories, later Poland was almost entirely deserted at the end of this period, and around 500 AD Slavic peoples settled the area. Alternative theories popular in the middle of the 20th century claimed that Poland was the homeland of all Slavic peoples. The proportion of local and immigrant elements that formed the Polish nation of early the Middle Ages is subject to debate among historians. However, most agree that Poland was homeland to numerous Slavic tribes by the year 1000.
Beginning of Polish state
The lands of Mieszko the I of Poland were described in the Dagome Iudex and came under protection of the Pope. The first Polish King, Boleslaus I of Poland, got a recognition from the Holy Roman Empire at the Meeting in Gniezno in 1000, where he was named as a friend and ally of the empire that represented Christian Europe.
Later on, parts of Poland were conquered by substates of the Holy Roman Empire. Under feudal governments and royal houses connected to the empire, various different ruling houses held sovereignties, such as Bohemia, Austria, Sweden, Prussia and then Imperial Germany.
This boundary is basically the same as the 10th-14th century Polish-German border.
Poland fragmented and re-united
In the Middle Ages Poland boundaries were basically the same as they are today. In 12th-13th centuries Poland, as many other countries in Europe, was fragmented into several semi-independent duchies ruled by the Piast dukes fighting each other. When Kingdom of Poland was reunited in 1306-1320 by the king Wladyslaw the Short not all provinces were united leaving the independent duchies of Pomerania, Silesia and Masovia. Silesian duchies were transferred into the Crown of Bohemia, as the Czech kings claimed to be also the Polish kings, Masovia was incorporated into Poland in 1526.
Expansion of Prussia-Brandenburg
Prussia annexed Pomerania part by part in years: -- 1648, 1657, 1720, 1772, 1815. Prussia annexed majority of Silesia in 1742. Prussia took part in partitions of Poland in years 1772, 1793, 1795 and in the political reshuffle after the Vienna congress in 1815.
After World War I, in 1918, Poland regained her independence and in the following years managed to reclaim several provinces from Prussia-Germany: Eastern Pomerania, Greater Poland, and half of Upper Silesia. After World War II, Poland managed to reclaim the provinces of Western Pomerania, Lubusz Land, the remainder of Silesia, the city of Gdansk, and Warmia-Masuria.
Potsdam conference aftermath
Border question during WW2
In 1939 the population of the regions assigned to Poland after the Second World War consisted mostly of self-identified ethnic-Germans (although many had Slavic ancestry) and a significant Polish minority. Some one million Poles lived outside of Poland on the German side. Initially Poland was promised East Prussia, Upper Silesia and the eastern part of Western Pomerania up to Kolberg. At the Potsdam conference, Poland's exact western borders were drawn on the Oder-Neisse line. The German inhabitants of these areas either fled westwards or were expelled, often violently, by Soviet forces and the local Polish administration. Today the area is predominantly Polish.
The problem with the status of areas of previously settled German communities east of the Oder-Neisse rivers was that in 1945 the concluding document of the Potsdam Conference was not a juristically binding treaty, but a memorandum. It regulated the issue of the German Eastern border, which was to be the Oder-Neisse line, but the final article of the memorandum said that the final regulations concerning Germany were subject to a separate peace treaty. This treaty wasn't signed until 1990 and "Treaty on the Final Settlement". This meant that for 45 years, people on both sides of the border (and the issue) could not be sure that the settlement reached in 1945 would not be change at some future date.
Until the Treaty on the Final Settlement, the official government German view of the status of areas vacated by settled German communities east of the Oder-Neisse rivers was that the areas were "temporarily under Polish [or Soviet] administration". To facilitate wide international acceptance of German reunification in 1990 the German political establishment recognised the "facts on the ground" and accepted clauses in the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany wherby Germany renouncing of all claims to territory east of the Oder-Neisse line. This allowed the treaty to be negotiated quickly and for German unification to go ahead quickly, which was seen as a priority by most sections of the German political establishment of the time. Germany signed a separate treaty with Poland confirming the two countries' present border the following year.
Arguments over rights to Recovered Territories
Theory of Polish historical rights
Acquring territories West to the Oder-Neisse line was part of the process of Polish westward shifting, which went along with Soviet annexation of the land east of the Curzon line. Both changes were decided at the Potsdam conference. This included not only shifting borders, but also movement of people, monuments and tradition.
It was also implemented in the sphere of ideology: Poles were told that their six-centuries-long presence in the former Eastern Poland area had come to an end. Moreover, they were told the Polish people in those areas were backward, were no good, and were rightfully replaced by peoples of the Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. At the same time, Poles were led to believe that Polish presence in the newly acquired areas of Western Poland was the homeland of their forefathers and hence their rightful inheritance. Despite the fact that a Polish minority lived in these parts, they had been politically and ethnically German for centuries.