Oder–Neisse line

The Oder–Neisse line
The Oder and Neisse rivers
The Oder–Neisse line at Usedom

The Oder–Neisse line (Polish: granica na Odrze i Nysie Łużyckiej, German: Oder-Neiße-Grenze) is the border between Germany and Poland which was drawn in the aftermath of World War II. The line is formed primarily by the Oder and Lusatian Neisse rivers, and meets the Baltic Sea west of the seaport cities of Szczecin (German: Stettin) and Świnoujście (Swinemünde). All pre-war German territory east of the line and within the 1937 German boundaries (23.8% of the former Weimar Republic lands, most of them from Prussia) were discussed at the Potsdam Conference, and were placed under International Law Administrative status of Poland (for most of the area) and the Soviet Union (northern East Prussia) after the war (pending the final World War II peace treaty for Germany), and the vast majority of its native German population was killed, fled or expelled by force. The Oder–Neisse line marked the border between the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Poland from 1950 to 1990. East Germany confirmed the border with Poland in 1950, while West Germany, after a period of refusal, finally accepted the border (with reservations) in 1970.[1] In 1990 the newly reunified Germany and the Republic of Poland signed a treaty recognizing it as their border.


  • Historical border between Poland and Germany 1
  • Considerations during the war 2
    • Background 2.1
    • Tehran Conference 2.2
    • Yalta Conference 2.3
    • Polish and Soviet demands 2.4
  • Potsdam Conference 3
    • Concessions 3.1
    • Recovered territories 3.2
  • World War II aftermath 4
  • Recognition of the border by Germany 5
    • East Germany 5.1
    • West Germany 5.2
  • Other developments 6
    • Division of cities 6.1
    • Partially open border 1971–1980 6.2
    • Schengen Agreement 6.3
  • See also 7
    • World War II-related events 7.1
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
    • Bibliography 9.1
  • External links 10

Historical border between Poland and Germany

Piast Poland during the rule of Bolesław III Wrymouth (1102 – 1138)

The lower River Oder in Silesia was Piast Poland's western border from the 10th until the 13th century.[2] From around the time of World War I, some proposed restoring this line, in the belief that it would provide protection against Germany. One of the first proposals was made in the Russian Empire. Later, when the Nazis gained power, the German territory to the east of the line was militarised by Germany with a view to a future war, and the Polish population faced Germanisation.[3] The policies of Nazi Germany also encouraged nationalism among the German minority in Poland.

Before World War II, Poland's western border with Germany had been fixed under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. It partially followed the historic border between the Holy Roman Empire and Greater Poland, but with certain adjustments that were intended to reasonably reflect the ethnic compositions of small areas near the traditional provincial borders. However Pomerelia and Upper Silesia had been divided, leaving areas populated by the Polish as well as other Slavic minorities on the German side and a significant German minority on the Polish side. Moreover, the border left Germany divided into two portions by the Polish Corridor and the independent Free City of Danzig, which had a predominantly German urban population, but was split from Germany to help secure Poland's access to the Baltic Sea.

Considerations during the war


Between the wars, the concept of "Western thought" (myśl zachodnia) became popular among some Polish nationalists. The "Polish motherland territories" were defined by scholars like National Party, which was also opposed to the then current government of Poland, the Sanacja.[8] The proposal to establish the border along the Oder and Neisse was not seriously considered for a long time[3] After World War II the Polish Communists, lacking their own expertise regarding the Western border, adopted the National Democratic concept of western thought.[9]

After Selbstschutz ("self defence"), and support for Nazism among German society also connected the issue of border changes with the idea of population transfers intended to avoid such events in the future.[11]

Initially the Polish government in exile envisioned territorial changes after the war which would incorporate East Prussia, Danzig (Gdańsk) and the Oppeln (Opole) Silesian region into post-war Poland, along with a straightening of the Pomeranian border and minor acquisition in the Lauenburg (Lębork) area.[3] The border changes were to provide Poland with a safe border and to prevent the Germans from using Western Pomerania and East Prussia as strategic assets against Poland.[Note 2] Only with the changing situation during the war were these territorial proposals modified.[3] In October 1941 the exile newspaper Dziennik Polski postulated a postwar Polish western border that would include East Prussia, Silesia up to the Lausitzer Neisse and at least both banks of the Oder's mouth.[12] While these territorial claims were regarded as "megalomaniac" by the Soviet ambassador in London, in October 1941 Stalin announced the "return of East Prussia to Slavdom" after the war. On 16 December 1941 Stalin remarked in a meeting with the British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, though inconsistent in detail, that Poland should receive all German territory up to the river Oder.[12] In May 1942 General Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile, sent two memoranda to the US government, sketching a postwar Polish western border along the Oder and Neisse (inconsistent about the Eastern Glatzer Neisse and the Western Lausitzer Neisse). The concept was however dropped by the government-in-exile in late 1942.[13]

In post-war Poland the Oder–Neisse line was described as the result of tough negotiations between Polish Communists and Stalin.[14] According to the modern Institute of National Remembrance however, Polish claims or aspirations had no impact on the final outcome; rather the idea of a westward shift of the Polish border after World War II was adopted synthetically by Stalin who was the final arbiter in the matter. Stalin's concept of a swap of eastern Polish territory for acquisitions in the west was motivated by his political ideas, as well as a desire to ensure enmity between Poles and Germans, so as to control both countries.[3] While before the war some fringe groups advocated restoring the old border between Poland and Germany.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Tehran Conference

At the Tehran Conference in late 1943 the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin raised the subject of Poland's western frontier and its extension to the River Oder. While the Americans were not interested in discussing any border changes at that time,[15] Roosevelt agreed that in general the Polish border should be extended West to the Oder, while Polish eastern borders should be shifted westwards; he also admitted that owing to elections at home he could not express his position publicly.[16] British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden wrote in his diary that "A difficulty is that the Americans are terrified of the subject which [Roosevelt advisor] Harry [Hopkins] called 'political dynamite' for their elections. But, as I told him, if we cannot get a solution, Polish-Soviet relations six months from now, with Soviet army man armies in Poland, will be infinitely worse and elections nearer."[17] Winston Churchill compared the westward shift of Poland to soldiers taking two steps "left close" and declared in his memoirs: "If Poland trod on some German toes that could not be helped, but there must be a strong Poland."[18]

The British government formed a clear position on the issue and at the first meeting of the European Advisory Commission on 14 January 1944, recommended "that East Prussia and Danzig, and possibly other areas, will ultimately be given to Poland" as well as agreeing on a Polish "frontier on the Oder".[19][16]

Yalta Conference

In February 1945, American and British officials met in Yalta and agreed on the basics on Poland's future borders. In the east, the British agreed to the Curzon line but recognised that the US might push for Lwów to be included in post-war Poland. In the west, Poland should receive part of East Prussia, Danzig, the eastern tip of Pomerania and Upper Silesia. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that it would "make it easier for me at home" if Stalin were generous to Poland with respect to Poland's eastern frontiers.[20] Winston Churchill said a Soviet concession on that point would be admired as "a gesture of magnanimity" and declared that, with respect to Poland's post-war government, the British would "never be content with a solution which did not leave Poland a free and independent state."[21] With respect to Poland's western frontiers, Stalin noted that the Polish Prime Minister in exile, Stanisław Mikołajczyk, had been pleased when Stalin had told him Poland would be granted Stettin/Szczecin and the German territories east of the Western Neisse.[22] Yalta was the first time that the Soviets openly declared support for a German-Polish frontier on the Western as opposed to the Eastern Neisse.[23] Churchill objected to the Western Neisse frontier, saying that "it would be a pity to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that it got indigestion."[24] He added that many Britons would be shocked if such large numbers of Germans were driven out of these areas, to which Stalin responded that "many Germans" had "already fled before the Red Army."[25] Poland's western frontier was ultimately left to be decided at the Potsdam Conference.

Polish and Soviet demands

Alleged map of dominant ethnicities in and around Poland, 1931 (according to Henryk Zieliński, a Pole)

Originally, Germany was to retain Stettin, while the Poles were to annex East Prussia with Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). The Polish government had in fact demanded this since the start of World War II in 1939, because of East Prussia's strategic position that allegedly undermined the defense of Poland. Other territorial changes proposed by the Polish government were the transfer of the Silesian region of Oppeln and the Pomeranian regions of Danzig, Bütow and Lauenburg, and the straightening of the border somewhat in Western Pomerania.

However, Stalin decided that he wanted Königsberg as a year-round warm water port for the Soviet Navy, and he argued that the Poles should receive Stettin instead. The pre-war Polish government-in-exile had little to say in these decisions, but insisted on retaining the city of Lwów (Lvov, Lemberg, now L'viv) in Galicia. Stalin refused to concede, and instead proposed that all of Lower Silesia including Breslau (Polish: Wrocław) be given to Poland. Many Poles from Lwów would later be moved to populate the city.

Westward shift of Poland after World War II. Blue line: Curzon Line of 8 December 1919. Pink areas: pre-war German territory transferred to Poland after the war. Grey area: pre-war Polish territory transferred to the Soviet Union after the war.

The eventual border was not the most far-reaching territorial change that was proposed. There were suggestions to include areas further west so that Poland could include the small minority population of ethnic Slavic Sorbs who lived near Cottbus and Bautzen.

The precise location of the western border was left open. The western Allies accepted in general that the Oder would be the future western border of Poland. Still in doubt was whether the border should follow the eastern or western Neisse, and whether Stettin, now Szczecin, should remain German or be placed in Poland (with an expulsion of the German population). Stettin was the traditional seaport of Berlin.[26] It had a dominant German population and a small Polish minority that numbered 2,000 in the interwar period.[27][28] The western Allies sought to place the border on the eastern Neisse at Breslau, but Stalin refused to budge. Suggestions of a border on the Bóbr (Bober) were also rejected by the Soviets.

Nikita Khrushchev in his memoirs said: "I had only one desire – that Poland's borders were moved as far west as possible."[29]

Potsdam Conference

Allied Occupation Zones in Germany from 1945 until 1949.

At Potsdam, Stalin argued for the Oder–Neisse line on the grounds that the Polish Government demanded this frontier and that there were no longer any Germans left east of this line.[30] Later the Russians admitted that at least "a million Germans" (still far lower than the true number) still remained in the area at that time. Several Polish Communist leaders appeared at the conference to advance arguments for an Oder–Western Neisse frontier. The port of Szczecin was demanded for Eastern European exports. If Szczecin was Polish, then "in view of the fact that the supply of water is found between the Oder and the Lausitzer Neisse, if the Oder's tributaries were controlled by someone else the river could be blocked."[31] Soviet forces had initially expelled Polish administrators who tried to seize control of Szczecin in May and June, and the city was governed by a German communist-appointed mayor, under the surveillance of the Soviet occupiers, until 5 July 1945.[32]


Marking the new Polish-German Border in 1945

James Byrnes – who had been appointed as U.S. Secretary of State earlier that month – later advised the Soviets that the U.S. was prepared to concede the area east of the Oder and the Eastern Neisse to Polish administration, and for it not to consider it part of the Soviet occupation zone, in return for a moderation of Soviet demands for reparations from the Western occupation zones.[33] A Nysa Kłodzka boundary would have left Germany with roughly half of Silesia – including the majority of Wrocław (Breslau), the former provincial capital and the largest city in the region. The Soviets insisted that the Poles would not accept this. The Polish representatives (and Stalin) were in fact willing to concede a line following the Oder-Bober-Queiss (Odra-Bóbr-Kwisa) rivers through Żagań (Sagan) and Lubań (Lauban), but even this small concession ultimately proved unnecessary, since on the next day Byrnes told the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that the Americans would reluctantly concede to the Western Neisse.[34]

Byrnes' concession undermined the British position, and although the British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin raised objections,[35] the British eventually agreed to the American concession. In response to American and British statements that the Poles were claiming far too much German territory, Stanisław Mikołajczyk argued that "the western lands were needed as a reservoir to absorb the Polish population east of the Curzon line, Poles who returned from the West, and Polish people who lived in the overcrowded central districts of Poland."[36] The U.S. and the U.K. were also negative towards the idea of giving Poland an occupation zone in Germany. However, on 29 July, President Truman handed Molotov a proposal for a temporary solution whereby the U.S. accepted Polish administration of land as far as the Oder and eastern Neisse until a final peace conference determined the boundary. In return for this large concession, the U.S. demanded that "each of the occupation powers take its share of reparations from its own [Occupation] Zone and provide for admission of Italy into the United Nations." The Soviets stated that they were not pleased "because it denied Polish administration of the area between the two Neisse rivers."[37]

On 29 July Stalin asked Bolesław Bierut, the head of the Soviet-controlled Polish government, to accept in consideration of the large American concessions. The Polish delegation decided to accept a boundary of the administration zone at "somewhere between the western Neisse and the Kwisa". Later that day the Poles changed their mind: "Bierut, accompanied by Rola-Zymierski, returned to Stalin and argued against any compromise with the Americans. Stalin told his Polish protégés that he would defend their position at the conference."[37]

Finally on 2 August 1945, the Potsdam Agreement of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union, in anticipation of the final peace treaty, placed the German territories east of the Oder–Neisse line formally under Polish administrative control. It was also decided that all Germans remaining in the new and old Polish territory should be expelled.

Recovered territories

Edward Henry Lewinski Corwin's map of Polish-German borders in the 12th century (published in 1917, US)

Those territories were known in Poland as the Regained or