The Upper Silesia plebiscite was a referendum for the self-determination of the population of Upper Silesia that was required by the Treaty of Versailles. Both Germany and Poland valued this region, not only for reasons of national identity, but also for its vast mineral resources as well.
Upper Silesia is the southeastern part of the region of Silesia. In the 9th century, Upper Silesia had been part of Greater Moravia. It then came successively under control of the Duchy of Bohemia and the Piast Kingdom of Poland (c. 990-1336), the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1336-1526), the Habsburg Monarchy (c. 1526-1742), the Kingdom of Prussia (1742-1871), and then of the German Empire (1871-1918).
Following World War I, the Treaty of Versailles detached many thousands of square miles of territory which had formerly been part of the German Empire. This was done in order to revive the state of Poland which had disappeared as a result of the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.
Many of these areas were ethnically mixed, including a considerable number of ethnic Germans. In these detached German territories, the Allied leaders provided for border plebiscites or referendums. These areas were occupied by Allied forces, governed in some degree by Allied international commissions, and made safe for an eventual vote of self-determination by the population. One of the most important of these plebiscites in the Eastern part of the German Empire was the one in Upper Silesia, since the region was one of Germany's principal industrial centers. The most important economic asset was the enormous coal-mining industry, but the area also yielded significant iron, zinc, and lead resources as well.
The period of the plebiscite political campaign and the Allied occupation was marked by violence. There were two Polish uprisings, and German volunteer paramilitary units came to the region as well. But the area was policed by French, British, and Italian troops, and overseen by an International Commission. As a result, the Upper Silesia plebiscite was conducted peacefully. In the Upper Silesia plebiscite of March 1921, a majority of 60% of the electorate voted against merging with Poland.
The Allies decided to partition the region, but before they could divide it, local partisans and military forces from Poland launched an uprising and took control of over half the area. The Germans responded with volunteer paramilitary units from all over Germany, which fought the Polish backed forces. In the end, after renewed Allied military intervention, the final position of the opposing forces became, roughly, the new border.
The decision was handed over to the League of Nations, which confirmed the new border, and Poland received roughly one third of the plebiscite territory, including the greater part of the Eastern industrial region.
The exact border, the maintenance of cross-border railway traffic and other necessary provisions, as well as equal rights for all inhabitants in both parts of Upper Silesia, were all fixed by the German-Polish Accord on East Silesia, signed in Geneva on May 15, 1922. On June 20, Germany ceded the eastern parts of Upper Silesia, with them becoming part of the Silesian Voivodeship of the Second Polish Republic.
Following World War II, all of the former German province of Upper Silesia was awarded to the Republic of Poland.
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