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Repatriation and Resettlement after WWII:
A Short History


To understand the people involved in the resettlements and the documents found in the PUR collection, a short general history must be provided. Before World War II, Poland was an ethnically diverse country. It had a wide range of ethnic groups, religions and languages. Although Poles still made up the majority of the population, they were mainly concentrated in the middle of the country. On the borders, Poles did not always make up the majority, and in some places, made up only a small fraction of the population.

1931 Census: Total Population of Poland 31,915,800
Polish 21,993,400 68.9% Russian 138,700 0.4%
Ukrainian1 3,222,000 10.1% German 741,000 2.3%
Ruthenian1 1,219,600 3.8% Yiddish & Hebrew 2,732,600 8.6%
Belarusian1 989,900 3.1% Other and not given 878,600 2.8%

1The numbers may be questionable. Belarussians did not have a developed national consciousness as the Ukrainians, so this number appears to be considerably low. Ruthenian may be attributed to the Rusyns of the Carpathian mountains, but the distinction between Ukrainian and Ruthenian is not clear from the statistics.


Population Statistics of 1931 for the Eastern Territories which were occupied by the USSR in 19392
(2Ciesielski, 9)

by language by religion
Polish 5,597,600 43% Roman Catholic 4,734,900 36.4%
Ukrainian 3,151,000 24.2% Greek Catholic 3,273,300 25.1%
Rusyn (Carpatho-Rusyn) 1,150,100 8.8% Orthodox 3,514,700 27%
Yiddish or Hebrew 1,079,100 8.3% Jewish 1,392,600  
Belarusian 986,700 7.6%      
Russian 125,800 1%      


Breakdown of population by native language of the three Eastern Galician provinces from 1931 Census











Lwów 1,972,495 885,926 44.9% 903,984 45.8% 165,618 8.4% 16,967 .9
Tarnopol 1,600,406 789,114 49.3% 728,135 45.5% 78,932 4.9% 4,225 .3%
Stanisławów (today known as Ivano-Frankivs’k) 1,480,285 332,175 22.4% 1,018,878 68.8% 109,378 7.4% 19,854 1.3%

The times between the two world wars saw great ethnic strife between the various ethnic groups. Poland endured political conflict, sometimes leading to open war, within its own borders with ethnic groups such as Czechs, Ukrainians, Belorusians, Lithuanians and Germans. Clearly beyond the scope of this article, I recommend others to read histories, available in English, on this critical subject.

On September 1, 1939, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland from the west. After only a few weeks, on September 17, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Poland capitulated within a few weeks. The nation suffered a partition between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and ceased to exist as an independent nation. Yet even during the ensuing war, ethnic strife continued in the occupied territories between the Poles and their neighbors, especially in Volyn (Wołyń) and Eastern Galicia (Wschodnia Galicja or Wschodnia Małopolska).

At the treaty of Yalta in February 1945, while the Nazi Germans were retreating on all fronts, the Allied Powers consisting of the Soviet Union (which at the start of the war was allied with Germany, but later became an enemy after the German invasion), England and the US, discussed a new world order after victory. One of their ideas was to redraw the map of Europe, especially in terms of Poland. They stated that "the Polish frontier should run along the Curzon line" and that "Poland ought to acquire considerable territorial gains in the north and west". (Klafkowski, 71) Notably absent from the agreement was a representative of Poland. Later after the war was over, the same three powers concluded the Pottsdam Agreement in August 1945. In this treaty, the decision was to move Poland roughly 200 kilometers to the west.

In addition to moving the borders, the decision called for a massive relocation of populations. Ethnic Germans (not already fleeing with the German army) would be forced out of the land that became western Poland. Ethnic Poles from the pre-war Eastern Territories would be moved to the western lands vacated by the Germans, often called in Polish histories as the Recovered Territories, or in Polish, Ziemie Odzyskane. Backed by the Soviet government, the Polish government reasoned that the acquiring of this German territory was an historical move to take back for Poland what rightfully belonged to Poland before the 14th Century. (This assertion is really quite absurd for it completely ignores the last 600 years of history and development.) The legal aspect of this border change, the result of which is accepted officially without reservation by the countries today, is still questionable to some historians.

The intent of this policy was to remove the ethnic tension seen before (and even during) World War II. The effect though, was a complete upheaval of Polish society and horrible tragedy to the individuals involved. Furthermore, society in the western provinces for decades was overshadowed by the contrast between the indigenous inhabitants and those people who were relocated. Kersten writes "Local traditions and symbols, places of worship, and traditional cultural signs that had defined identities and provided feelings of stability and safety became things of the past. Attempts were made to preserve certain vestiges to transfer old cultural reference points to new homes. Most of these efforts were in vain. The chaotic nature of the resettlement made it impossible to recreate familiar environments in the newly settled areas. People did, in time, take root in their new communities, but these roots were much weaker than the old ones had been." (Kersten 83)

An agreement to a border change and exchange of populations between Poland and the USSR was made even before the allied treaties of Yalta and Pottsdam. In late 1944, it was decided that ethnic Poles had the voluntary choice of moving into the new boundaries of Poland while ethnic Lithuanians, Belorusians and Ukrainians had the similar choice of moving to the USSR. (Kochanowski, 137). Although some Poles did willingly leave their homes to move within the new Polish borders, others were forced out of fear of anti-Polish terrorists or the threat of imprisonment or deportation to Siberia. Imagine the fear and uncertainty of the population. Of course, they hated to leave their ancestral homes, churches and farms. They were not allowed to take much with them. They had no idea where they were going. Yet there existed a very real threat of anti-Polish local terrorism and their memory of arrests, deportations and killings made by the Soviets during their occupation from September 1939 to June 1941. In the course of four years, by 1948, some 4.5 million Repatriates and Resettlers arrived in the western provinces. (Ziółkowski, 137)

The actual relocation process was handled extremely poorly by the Polish government. People were often hurdled into overcrowded train compartments for weeks during the relocation. Sometimes they were forced in compartments with livestock. Such trips were worse during the harsh cold months of winter. Eventually these people found themselves in new cities, towns and villages badly damaged from the war. Ziółkowski states that “54% of town buildings and 27.5% of village buildings were destroyed” in the Recovered Territories. (Ziółkowski, 136) Often, people had to wait at the train stations until the ethnic Germans were vacated from their homes, allowing the Poles to move in. From the reports found in the archives, I’ve seen that families sometimes had to move into barns or burned out homes, as the countryside was devastated by fierce fighting between the Soviets and the Germans putting up a strong resistance.

Sources of inflow and the location of particular groups in the Recovered Territories on January 1, 19473
3Ziółkowski, 138.

Province Total Population Indigenous Residents Repatriates Resettlers and Reimmigrants
Olsztyn 380,200 21.04% 29.77% 49.19%
Gdańsk (partial) 370,100 8.93% 28.47% 62.60%
Szczecin 756,100 3.61% 43.69% 52.70%
Poznań (partial) 351,500 2.42% 53.20% 44.38%
Wrocław 1,384,400 .51% 51.87% 47.62%
Silesia (partial) 1,351,800 62.99% 17.56% 19.45%


Breakdown of New Arrivals to the Recovered Territories up to 19504
4Ziółkowski, 144
Resettlers’ place of origin based on residence in August 1939.

Resettlers from Warsaw city 142,764
Resettlers from Warsaw district 326,315
Resettlers from Bydgoszcz woj. 226,098
Resettlers from Poznań 359,068
Resettlers from Łódź city 30,095
Resettlers from Łódź district 215,614
Resettlers from Kielce woj. 271,646
Resettlers from Lublin woj. 238,746
Resettlers from Białystok woj. 148,678
Resettlers from Katowice woj. 178,636
Resettlers from Kraków woj. 255,419
Resettlers from Rzeszów woj. 253,941
Resettlers from other woj. 85,779
Total Resettlers 2,732,799
Repatriates from USSR 1,553,512
Reimmigrants from France 54,576
Reimmigrants from Germany 44,170
Reimmigrants from other countries 53,012
Total population from abroad (Repatriates and Reimmigrants) 1,705,270
Total of New Arrivals 4,497,984



This short history is not meant to be inclusive. I avoid the many aspects concerning ethnic relations from before, during and after the war. I further avoided giving details and reasons to the ethnic tensions and the impact of the foreign invading German and Soviet forces. I intend this over-simplification solely as a background to the genealogical documents. I strongly recommend everyone interested to read more on the subject.


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