Timelines and History of Migration: Germany

The "Ruhrpolen" - The Poles in the Ruhr area

 

The first vertical-shaft coal mines were built in the Ruhr Area after 1825. At this time few people lived there, for example only 500 people in the village of Katernberg (today: Essen-Katernberg). Later there was a coal mine with 1,000 miners in this village. The mines needed more workers. They came from the German east provinces: Silesia, Pomerania, East Prussia and Poznan-West Prussia. At first just the men came into the Ruhr Area, their families came later.

The coal mines recruited the workers with the help of attractive offers, for example high wages and houses in estates (called "colonies" here). But the immigrants did not know that the cost of living in the West was very high. All in all, there were 500,000 immigrants.

Kolonie Eisenheim

The oldest "colony" (Kolonie) in the Ruhr Area: Oberhausen-Eisenheim,
once the home of Polish-speaking migrants

Most of them were German citizens but spoke Polish. The German administration became scared that the Poles might become insurgents and fight for a Polish nation on German territory. In addition, the Poles were Catholics, a religion that was discriminated against by the government. Thus, in several respects, the migrants did not fit into the new nation withits nationalistic ideas. This is the reason why the immigrants were discriminated against and had to adjust to the German culture, i.e. they were not always allowed to speak their own language and it was difficult for them to live according to their religion, customs and traditions.

As they did not speak the local Low-German dialect they were treated as a minority. They were abused as "Polacken" because of their Polish names. Therefore many gave up their foreign-sounding family names and got a German name instead.

But the immigrants created their own associations like gymnastic clubs and choirs. The German administration thought that, since the Poles were keeping very fit through the gymnastics, they were preparing for an uprising. So the Germans tried to prohibit the gymnastic activities.

The Poles had their own newspaper in their own language. The German police controlled the newspaper because they wanted to stop any insurgents.

Catholicism also offered identification. An image of the "Black Madonna" of Czestochowa, the most important national shrine of the Polish church, could be found in almost every Polish household.

There were also the "Masuren", an ethnic group from East Prussia who spoke a different language, who were Protestants and who did not see themselves as Poles. Nevertheless, when a large number of them migrated to the Ruhr area, they found themselves treated like the Polish-speaking immigrants.

In the year 1939 the Second World War began with the German war against Poland, and that was why the Polish clubs and societies were forbidden. All the chairmen of the Polish clubs were arrested and were taken into concentration camps.

Today, Polish names are still frequent in the Ruhr Area, but the descendants of the immigrants have been fully integrated.

doctor with Polish name

 

Origin of coal miners in the Ruhr, 1893
ORIGIN NUMBER %
Westfalia
67.242
42.5
Rhineland
31.997
20.2
East and West Prussia
20.096
12.7
other parts of Germany
13.991
8.8
Poznan-West Prussia
9.839
6.2
Silesia
9.453
6.0
Austria-Hungary
1.902
1.2
Netherlands
1334
0.8
Italy
728
0.5
Pomerania
299
0.2