The Germanization Politics of the German Empire



Discrimination & Inequity Identity & Belonging

The fear of a “Polonization of the East” in conjuncture with antisemitic sentiments leads to the expulsion of 40,000 Polish workers from the territory of East Prussia in 1885, about a third of whom are Jewish.

At the beginning of the 1880s, anti-Polish and antisemitic attitudes dominate the political climate and are prevalent within the German Empire. About 250,000 people sign the so-called “Antisemites’ Petition” (Antisemiten-Petition) in 1881, which curtailed the fundamental rights of Jewish people(see Antisemitism in the German Empire, 1871-1918). Hundreds of Russian Jews were already expelled from Berlin in 1884, followed by the first expulsion decree in March of 1885. This coercive measure passed by Bismarck was supported by the popular theory that the immigration of Polish farmhands would force out the local population through wage pressure and thus encourage the emigration of Germans overseas. Subsequent immigration from non-German territories in Poland was prohibited.

This measure is part of the anti-Polish Germanization policies carried out by Bismarck. In addition to the culture war (“Kulturkampf“), which had the goal to displace the Catholic Church and the Polish language, he also pursued a battle over territory, as decrees of subsequent years revealed. For example, the Settlement Law of 1886 privileges German peasants over Polish peasants by giving state-bought territory exclusively to Germans.

This mass expulsion draws strong criticism from the opposition as well as the public. Even Prussian landowners are critical of this measure, because it drains a cheap and easily exploited labor force.