The Rehabilitation and Ethnic Vetting of the Polish Population in the Voivodship of Gdańsk after World War II

by Sylwia Bykowska (Author)
©2020 Monographs 292 Pages
Open Access


This book describes the tragedy of a border society that had no place inside the boundaries of a nation-state under totalitarianism. It is the story of citizens of the former Third Reich with Polish ethnic roots in the second half of the 1940s. The story takes place in Gdańsk-Pomerania, which was a difficult homeland for its citizens. This book depicts the consequences of Third Reich’s policies on this territory and the disastrous effects of communist policy towards the indigenous population after 1945. In parallel with exchange of population, the fortunes of the indigenous population unfolded. Based on archival sources, this work presents the fate of Pomeranians and the residents of Gdańsk who had to prove their national usefulness before they joined the post-war life.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface to the English edition
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • I Ethnic Policy in the Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen 1939–1944
  • 1.1 The Objectives and Principles of Third Reich Policy towards the Population of Pomerania
  • 1.2 The German National List in Pomerania and Its Consequences
  • II The Political, Legal and Social Dimension of Ethnic Rehabilitation and Vetting
  • 2.1 The Indigenous Polish Population during the Initial Period of Communist Rule
  • 2.2 The Beginnings of Gdańsk Voivodship
  • 2.3 National Polish Legal Solutions Regarding Rehabilitation
  • 2.4 National Polish Legal Solutions Regarding Ethnic Vetting
  • 2.5 The Social Conditions for Rehabilitation and Vetting
  • III The First Stage of Ethnic Rehabilitation and Vetting in Gdańsk Voivodship
  • 3.1 The Situation of the Indigenous Polish Population
  • 3.2 The Bodies Conducting Ethnic Rehabilitation and Vetting
  • 3.3 Rehabilitation Procedures under the First Directives of the Voivode of Gdańsk
  • 3.4 Judicial Rehabilitation
  • 3.5 Legal Regulations – Theory and Practice
  • 3.6 The Beginnings of Ethnic Vetting
  • 3.7 The Creation of the Voivodship Vetting Board. Field Inspections
  • IV Rehabilitation and Vetting under the New Legal Regulations
  • 4.1 Criminal Proceedings against those Included on the German National List
  • 4.2 The Work of the Inter-Ministerial Commission. The Elimination of the Problem of the Volksliste
  • 4.3 The Intensification of Ethnic Vetting
  • 4.4 Attempts to End Vetting. The Indigenous Population during the Final Stage of Vetting
  • Postscript
  • Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography
  • Index


The voivodship of Gdańsk was formed on 30 March 1945, before the end of the war. It included areas that had belonged to three administrative units between the wars: the Free City of Danzig, the Second Polish Republic, and the German Reich. The shape of the voivodship was adjusted in 1945–1946, so that in the end it included the following: the separate cities of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia; and the powiats (counties) of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Kartuzy, Starogard, local coastal waters, Kościerz, Tczew, Elbląg, Malbork, Sztum, Kwidzyn and Lębork. By 29 May 1946, the voivodship had been expanded to include the counties of Sławno, Miastko, Słupsk, and Bytowo. Subsequently, these came under the authority of the voivode of Szczecin. This change had an impact on the subject examined in this book, for the process of vetting and rehabilitation regarding these four counties relates to the period when they belonged to the administrative unit in question. The voivodship of Gdańsk was thus a mixed area, comprising old counties that had previously belonged to the Second Polish Republic before the war (Gdynia, Kartuzy, local coastal waters, Starogard, Kościerz, and Tczew), and new counties annexed to Poland after the war (Gdańsk, Elbląg, Malbork, Sztum, Kwidzyn, and Lębork). The process of rehabilitation concerned the old counties, whilst the process of vetting was applied to the new ones, where the local population of Polish descent was subjected to it.

One of the effects of the occupation was the disintegration of the Polish community, a prime aim of German national policy intended to weaken national bonds and destroy the Poles’ unity. This aim was effected by creating the German National List (Deutsche Volksliste – DVL, Volksliste). The inclusion on this list of most of the inhabitants of these areas, frequently of Polish descent, was based on the conviction that the areas in question were historically German, and that they could quickly be re-Germanised. Inclusion on the DVL meant a recognition of German descent and the acquisition of German nationality. Therefore, a rapid settlement of the legal status of these persons became one of the most pressing and complicated tasks facing the post-war authorities. The liquidation of the effects of voluntary or compulsory enrolment on the Deutsche Volksliste was described as rehabilitation and led to strong emotions and condemnation, especially in the context of compulsory enrolment. During the 2005 Polish presidential campaign, this topic resurfaced when it was announced that the grandfather of one of the candidates for the highest state office had served in the Wehrmacht, ←15 | 16→one of the prime and most painful effects of being on the Volksliste3. During martial law in 1982, there was an attempt to discredit Father Henryk Jankowski by mentioning that his family had also been enrolled on the Volksliste.

Those who had waived their Polish nationality were often described as ‘traitors’ and Volksdeutsche in conspiratorial writings and have even been branded thus in post-war literature and by various social communities. And yet the term Volksdeutsche applies solely to those included in Group II of the DVL. We should note that this erroneous label of Volksdeutsche has been applied indiscriminately to anyone who held an Ausweis4, which is taken mean that they were collaborators and traitors, an opinion shared by many researchers of the topic5. The lack of clarification of this issue in academic publications has resulted in a repetition of well-worn false convictions among society, with the result that the topic remains extremely controversial6.

The second topic dealt with in this treatise is ethnic vetting, a process derived from the granting of eastern German territory to Poland in 1945 under the terms of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. The population of this territory possessed German citizenship, resulting in the need to create a clear divide between Poles and Germans and to grant Polish citizenship to the former and expel the latter from Polish territory. The vetting was publicised as a legal process aimed at determining ethnic identity by administrative means, and was an exceedingly difficult task. A part of the population preserved a sense of belonging to the Polish nation, but many others had completely lost it under the pressure of Germanisation. Others still, despite their Polish descent, felt no connection with any sense of ←16 | 17→Polish identity. The Polish authorities conducted a heated debate on the criteria which the Vetting Boards should apply when separating Poles from the expelled German population. The principle of so-called broad vetting prevailed, driven by the need to swiftly make the Regained Territories Polish.

In this work I shall describe the entire processes of rehabilitation and ethnic vetting in the voivodship of Gdańsk immediately after the war, against the background of the political and social changes at the time. These processes were determined by the following socio-political phenomena:

the shaping of national or ethnic identity in the border areas;

the nationalist policy of the German occupants in the Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen;

the attitudes of the indigenous Polish population towards the German National List during World War II;

the geo-political changes in Poland after the war, including the monopolisation of power by the communists;

the legal standards regarding rehabilitation and vetting, and amendments thereto;

the effects of the population shift in Gdańsk voivodship after 1945;

the policies of the post-war Polish authorities and of the administration of Gdańsk voivodship to the indigenous population.

I describe the processes of rehabilitation and vetting in the context of the legislation applicable to Poland as a whole and to the voivodship of Gdańsk in particular, for it provided the basis for both operations. They underwent frequent modification because various circumstances regarding inclusion on the Volksliste had not been taken into consideration in the context of rehabilitation, whist in the context of rehabilitation there was not enough knowledge of the issues concerning the indigenous Polish population inhabiting the Regained Territories vis-à-vis post-war vetting. Insufficient awareness of these issues, the absence of qualified officials, the creation of a Polish administration from scratch in the regained areas, migrants and resettlement – all of this encumbered and delayed efficient rehabilitation and vetting. Furthermore, local officials often interpreted central regulations in different ways and sought to profit from the unregulated situation of persons deprived of civic and financial rights, resulting in many dramatic situations, including continued detention in labour camps and indiscriminate confiscation of the property of those being rehabilitated or vetted. A significant role here was played by security officials, whose stance towards the indigenous population often differed from that of the central authorities. The intimidation of these persons in various spheres of daily life had a particular ←17 | 18→effect on both processes. Hence, the discrimination of the indigenous population in Gdańsk is present throughout this treatise.

I describe the topic in the context of the political changes caused by the monopolisation of power in Poland by the revolutionary left wing. Two factors which strongly affected the processes of rehabilitation and vetting deserve to be mentioned.

First, both of these processes were a major component of the German question extensively covered in Polish communist propaganda after the war. In particular, rehabilitation was presented as a struggle between the forces of democracy and the ever-present spectre of fascism. Secondly, granting civic rights to a segment of the population obliged to go through these processes turned them into potential voters in the political campaign that enabled the pro-Soviet forces to assume full authority in Poland. The supporters of this policy hoped that the mere creation of legislative conditions in this regard would provide a basis for extending their social influence. Such a manner of thinking whereby despite the enormous difficulties, the young Polish state fulfilled its obligations towards the people included on the Volksliste merely by adopting the appropriate legislation, was propagated towards the end of the 1960s by Julian Rados, a security police official7. Ignoring the harsh experience of thousands of Poles whose status and further fortunes often depended on the whims and moods of state officials should be included in the formula of historical interpretation which Michel Foucault has described as a reflection of the discourse of power8.

Rehabilitation and vetting occurred at a time not only of political changes, but also social changes. As in other regained areas, those areas belonging to Gdańsk voivodship witnessed the beginning of the creation of a new post-migration society in 1945. A characteristic feature of the first stage of this phenomenon was a confluence of various groups of people: persons resettled from central and south-eastern Poland, those repatriated from the eastern parts of the pre-war Republic, and the indigenous Polish population. These groups differed not just in terms of their territorial origin, but also in terms of cultural, political and economic characteristics, resulting in the emergence of fresh differences and sometimes even hostility. Mutual antagonism was mainly the result of economic factors. As a result of successful rehabilitation and vetting, people regained the rights to their property and farms. Until then, their properties had often been ←18 | 19→occupied by newcomers placed there by the authorities who wanted to preserve the uncertain status of the local population for the sake of material gain.

The choice of subject of this treatise was dictated by the absence of thorough works on this issue with reference to the voivodship of Gdańsk. The above-mentioned J. Rados tackled the subject of rehabilitation in Rehabilitation in Gdańsk Pomerania (Rehabilitacja na Pomorzu Gdańskim), but he limited himself to describing the legislation and the legal procedures of rehabilitation, thus narrowing the subject altogether. Vetting, too, has never been thoroughly examined concerning the area in question, although the subject has been dealt with several times in various works. For example, in his wok about vetting in Warmia, Masuria and Powiśle, L. Belzyt describes the subject with reference to parts of Gdańsk voivodship, i.e. the counties of Elbląg, Malbork, Sztum, and Kwidzyn, but for understandable reasons focuses mainly on the problem of Masuria9. Vetting has also been discussed as an element of the demographic, including national, processes initiated in the area in question after the war. Here we can note works by such authors as B. Maroszek10, L. Zieliński11, R. Wapiński12, and M. Hejger13.

The question of rehabilitation in a local sense has been discussed regarding Upper Silesia by Z. Boda-Krężel14, regarding Bydgoszcz by M. Romaniuk15, and regarding Greater Poland by K. Stryjkowski16. The legal aspects of crimes by the occupants, including the deprivation of Polish nationality, has been discussed at length by A. Pasek17. The only work devoted entirely to the problem of the Volksliste in Poland is the work by L. Olejnik18. The authors of works on ethnic ←19 | 20→vetting and the Polish indigenous population in the regained areas are, in addition to L. Belzyt, J. Misztal19, Z. Romanow20, and G. Strauchold21.

Rehabilitation and vetting have both been covered in more general works devoted mainly to the Regained Territories or the German population22. Both of these processes have also been examined in the context of ethnic groups, in the case of Gdańsk voivodship Kashubians23. Finally, these topics have also been covered in works about the activity of the Polish Western Union (Polski Związek Zachodni), an organisation keenly interested in the situation of the Polish indigenous population after the end of the war24.

The literature mentioned here does not exhaust the list of works that were necessary to prepare this treatise. I have restricted myself to the works of authors who chose rehabilitation and vetting as the direct subject of their research or who, dealing with this topic on the side-lines of other works, helped impart a fresh impetus to the topic. The bibliography at the end of this work indicates the complex and multi-faceted nature of this issue. I have tried to present it in as broad terms as possible, in order to encapsulate all of the important elements that contribute to the process and outcome of rehabilitation and vetting in Gdańsk voivodship.

←20 | 21→

Due to the shortage of literature mentioned above, a significant part of this work is based on archival material.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2019 (December)
Pomerania German National List Recovered Territories Indigenous population Nationalhood Polish citizenship
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 292 pp., 13 fig. b/w, 6 tables.

Biographical notes

Sylwia Bykowska (Author)

Sylwia Bykowska holds a PhD in Humanities. In her scientific work, she deals with history of Polish People’s Republic, population changes in Gdańsk after 1945 and the development of a new city society, ethnic issues in the so-called Recovered Territories, and history of Gdańsk and Pomerania in the 20th century.


Title: The Rehabilitation and Ethnic Vetting of the Polish Population in the Voivodship of Gdańsk after World War II
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294 pages