silesia {sil-ee'-zhuh}

Silesian Dialects
Fig 1. Schlesien Kries & Stadt [Regions & Cities]
showing the typical dialects 1830 -1904.

Silesia (Polish: Slask; German: Schlesien; Czech: Slezsko) is a historic region in east central Europe, situated along the middle and upper Oder River basin. Most of Silesia lies in southwestern Poland, with smaller sections in the Czech Republic and the German state of Saxony.

Lower Silesia
Fig 2. Kries Niederschlesien Wappen
[Coat of Arms for the province of Lower Silesia]


Fig 3.  Eortelius's Map of Silesia (1850)

The region was divided historically into three parts.  Lower Silesia (Niederschlesien), to the northwest, includes the valley of the upper Oder, where potatoes, grain, and sugar beets are grown. Upper Silesia (Oberschlesien), to the southeast, is a heavily industrialized area with extensive iron, coal, and other mineral deposits. A third division, known as Austrian Silesia, or Teschen, borders Upper Silesia on the south and is also a coal and iron-mining region. The most important cities of Silesia are Wroclaw in Lower Silesia and Katowice in Upper Silesia.

Upper Silesia
Fig 4.  Kries Oderschlesien Wappen
[Coat of Arms for the province of Upper Silesia]

Silesia was settled by Slavs in the 6th century AD. From the 10th century it was ruled by the Polish Piast dynasty, which encouraged Germans to settle there.  In 1335 it passed to Bohemia, and became a possession of the Austrian Habsburgs when they acquired the kingdom of Bohemia in 1526.

After the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), Upper and Lower Silesia were annexed by Prussia and became part of the Prussian-dominated German Empire in 1871.  The region prospered economically under German rule.  After Germany's defeat in World War I a portion of Upper Silesia was ceded to Poland.

Fig 5. Map of Germany, from the best authorities (1870), showing an indicative Silesia, in the right middleground.  Breslau, Liegnitz and Glogau are clearly visible.

Fig 6. School Map of Prussia (1871)

At the same time, with the breakup of the Habsburg Empire, Teschen was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia.  After World War II the greater part of German Silesia was transferred to Poland, with the exception of Lusatia, which became part of East Germany.  About 3.5 million Germans emigrated from the region, which was then repopulated with Poles.  Nevertheless, a large ethnic German minority (between 600,000 and 800,000 in 1990) remained under Polish rule.

German Geneology - Silesia