1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Posen (province)

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POSEN, an eastern province of the kingdom of Prussia, in the German Empire, bounded N. by the Prussian province of West Prussia, E. by Russian Poland and S. and W. respectively by the Prussian provinces of Silesia and Brandenburg. Its area is 11,186 sq. m. and the population shows a density of 177.5 inhabitants to the square mile. Posen belongs to the north German plain, and consists of a low plateau intersected by the beds of the Netze, the Warthe and the Obra. These three rivers drain into the Oder, but part of the province falls within the basin of the Vistula, which forms the frontier for a short distance on the north-east. By means of the Bromberger canal the Netze is joined with the Brake and then through this river with the Vistula. The surface is dotted with small lakes and ponds, and there are many broad fens and marshes. The soil is light and sandy, but much of the land reclaimed in the boggy districts is very fertile. Upwards of 61% of the area is under tillage, 13% is occupied by pasture and meadows and 20% by forests, mostly fir. The principal crops are rye, the chief cereal grown, wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, beets and hops. The vine is cultivated to some extent in the south-west corner, and tobacco is also grown. The marshy tracts often afford excellent pasture and support large numbers of cattle, sheep and goats. The mineral resources of the province are practically restricted to lignite and salt. Besides brewing and distilling, the chief products are machinery, sugar, cloth, tobacco and bricks. Trade in timber and agricultural produce is facilitated by the network of railways, navigable rivers and canals, but both industry and trade are somewhat cramped by the duties imposed at the Russian frontier. The population of the province in 1905 was 1,986,637, including 1,347,958 Roman Catholics, 605,312 Protestants and 30,433 Jews. The Roman Catholics are mainly Poles, of whom there are upwards of 1,000,000 in Posen, while the great bulk of the 900,000 Germans are Protestants. About 57% of the population was returned in 1905 as “rural,” in spite of the large number of so-called “towns,” only five of which, however, have more than 20,000 inhabitants — Posen, Bromberg, Hohensalza, Gnesen and Schneidemühl. The province of Posen was long the worst-educated part of the German dominions, but of recent years this blemish has been removed. Thus while in 1882-1883 the ratio of illiterate recruits amounted to 9.75%, in 1901 less than one quarter per cent of the military drafts were without schooling. The province returns 15 members to the Reichstag, 29 to the Prussian Lower House of the Prussian Diet, and is represented in the Upper House by 19 members. It is divided into two districts, those of Bromberg and Posen.

History. — The history of Posen, comprehending some part of the old kingdom of Poland, including its most ancient capital, Gnesen, falls within the scope of the article Poland. Its political connexion with Prussia began in 1772, when the districts to the north of the Netze fell to the share of that power in the first partition of Poland. The rest followed in 1793, and was united with the Netze district to form the province of South Prussia. In 1807, after the peace of Tilsit, Posen was incorporated with the grand duchy of Warsaw, but in 1815 it reverted to Prussia under the style of the grand duchy of Posen. In 1848 the Polish inhabitants of the province revolted and had to be put down by force, and, in spite of the efforts of the Prussian government, they remain in language and culture separated from their German compatriots.

The tide of German immigration into Posen began at an early period and flowed strongly in the 13th and following centuries. The industrious German settlers were welcomed by the Polish nobles and were the founders of most of the towns, in which they lived after their own customs and were governed by their own laws. They established manufactures, introduced the cultivation of hops, reclaimed the waste soil, and did much to improve agriculture. In the 16th century Protestantism was widely diffused by their means. A strong reaction set in in the following century, and persecution of the Protestants went hand in hand with the ravages of war in hastening the political, intellectual and agricultural decline of the district. By the 18th century the burghers had sunk to the level of “städtische Bauern,” or peasants with municipal privileges, and poverty and misery were widely spread.

In the latter part of the 19th century, however, this state of things began to be greatly modified owing to the strong Polish national movement which threatened to drive back the boundaries of Germanism in the eastern provinces of Prussia, as they had already been driven back in Bohemia. Hitherto the most important class in Posen had been the Polish nobles, of whom many were very poor; but the economic development of the country and the break-up of the large estates into peasant holdings, which created a comparatively wealthy Polish middle class, threatened German ascendancy more seriously than had the traditional nationalism of the nobles. To combat this the Prussian government entered on a policy of the compulsory Germanization of the Polish population. In 1872 an administrative ordinance made German the medium of instruction in the schools “wherever possible,” and the police commissaries who attended public meetings were instructed to close any meeting at which speeches were delivered in Polish. In April 1888 the Prussian parliament passed a law establishing a commission for the purpose of buying the land of the Poles in Posen and West Prussia, and letting it out to German colonists. The sum of 100,000,000 marks (£5,000,000) was voted for this work, to which in 1898 a like sum was added. In fifteen years an area of nearly 600 sq. m. of land was bought from the Poles, over one-half in Posen, and on this over 4000 families were settled. In spite of this policy, however, the Polish element continued to gain, this being partly due to immigration over the eastern border, partly to the repressive policy of the Prussian government, which converted what had been an aristocratic opposition into one that is popular and radical. In 1902 much scandal was caused by the revelation made in the Prussian parliament of the methods used in the attempt to Germanize the Poles; and Count Bülow had to confess that “corporal punishment was out of place in religious instruction”; Polish children having been beaten for refusing to say the Lord's Prayer in German (see Ann. Reg., 1901, p. 278). In his speech of the 13th of January 1903, in which he made the above admission, Count Bülow also had to admit the failure of the Prussian policy. Fresh legislation was passed in May, devoting another 250,000,000 marks (£12,500,000) to the policy of German colonization, and forbidding the German colonists to sell their land to Poles.[1] The laws forbidding the use of the Polish language in the schools were retained, in spite of an agitation in Germany itself for their repeal. Yet, three years later, Baron von Rheinbaben, the Prussian minister of finance, complained that in fifteen years the German population of East Prussia had diminished by 630,000, while Polish immigrants had in five years numbered 300,000; at the same time he confessed that the Poles were vastly increasing their economic resources at the expense of the German element. As a result of this report a further sum of £100,000 was voted for “provincial colonization” and to prevent German emigration.

In 1906 the Prussian government was made somewhat ridiculous by the strike of some 100,000 Polish school children, who objected to being whipped for refusing to answer questions in German. The petition of the archbishop of Posen that the children should be allowed to receive religious instruction in Polish having been rejected by the Prussian minister of education, he issued on the 17th of October a pastoral allowing parents to confine religious instruction to home or priestly teaching. As a result parents were fined or imprisoned for withdrawing their children from religious instruction. The repressive efforts of the government, however, culminated in the bill, introduced in the session of 1907 by Prince Bülow, providing for the compulsory expropriation of Polish landowners in favour of Germans. This bill, which applied to “the districts in which the safety of the endangered German element could only be ensured by additional allotments to German settlers” — i.e. Posen and West Prussia — was passed, in spite of the strenuous opposition of some of the most conspicuous nobles in Prussia, in the session of 1908. At the same time under the Public Meetings Bill, introduced in 1907 and now passed, no language save German was to be used at any public meetings other than international congresses, &c. — save during actual parliamentary elections (Ann. Reg., 1908, p. 290). How opposed to the general sentiment of Germany the Prussian policy in Posen was, was shown in February 1909, when it was condemned, though without effect, by a resolution of the German imperial parliament. In January 1910 the Prussian policy was again arraigned in the German parliament in connexion with the “Kattowitz incident,” Herr von Delbrück justifying the removal of a number of minor officials, for voting for Polish candidates at a municipal election, on the ground that the officials of the empire deserted the ground on which the constitution of the empire rested if they failed to support Prussia in her struggle (The Times, January 13, 1910, 5 d.). Herr von Bethmann Hollweg expressed himself later in the Prussian parliament to the same effect (ibid. January 20 and 22).

For the history of Posen see Wuttke, Städtebuch des Landes Posen (Leipzig, 1864); C. Meyer, Geschichte des Landes Posen (Posen, 1887), and Geschichte der Provinz Posen (Gotha, 1891); Knoop, Sagen und Erzählungen aus der Provinz Posen (Posen, 1894); E. von Bergmann, Zur Geschichte der Entwickelung deutscher, polnischer und jüdischer Bevölkerung in der Provinz Posen seit 1824 (Tübingen, 1883); E. Schmidt, Geschichte des Deutschtums im Lande Posen unter polnischer Herrschaft (Bromberg, 1904); Stumpfe, Polenfrage und Ansiedelungskommission. Darstellung der staatlichen Kolonisation in Posen (Berlin, 1902); Wegener, Der wirtschaftliche Kampf der Deutschen mit den Polen um die Provinz Posen (Posen, 1903); the Handbuch für die Provinz Posen, Nachweisung der Behörden, Anstalten, Institute und Vereine (Posen, 1905); and the publications of the Historische Gesellschaft für die Provinz Posen (Posen, 1882 seq.). See further the official work Zwanzig Jahre deutscher Kulturarbeit 1886-1906 (Berlin, 1907). A good account of the Prussian policy in Posen, from an outside point of view, will be found in the Annual Register, passim.


  1. Annual Register (1902), p. 280 seq.