The World at War



1919Allenstein (Polish Olsztyn) grew up around a castle built by the Teutonic Knights in 1348. The city was ceded to Poland in 1466 then to Prussia by the first partition of Poland in 1772. It first gained renown as a health resort before prospering as a trade, manufacturing and railway center during the decades immediately prior to World War I. Allenstein was the objective of the Russian offensive that ended with Hindenburg's victory at Tannenburg.
Allenstein became the subject of a dispute at the Paris Peace Conference. The French and British were looking for territory to widen Poland's corridor to the Baltic. They harbored the mistaken notion that Poles constituted a majority of the district's population. The strenuous objections of the German delegation convinced the Conference to put the question to a vote. The Treaty of Versailles required the evacuation of German troops and administrators until such time as the matter could be resolved by plebiscite. Allenstein would be administered by an Inter-Allied Control Commission in the meantime.
The result of the plebiscite conducted on July 11, 1920 was a near unanimous 97.9% in favor of remaining in Germany. The Allies had not only under estimated the strength of the German element but completely misunderstood the character of the district's Slavic population. Allenstein's Slavs were primarily Masurian and not Polish. They spoke a dialect akin to Polish but shared the Lutheran faith and conservative politics of Allenstein's Germans. The primarily Slavophone town of Sensburg for example cast 34,334 votes for Germany vs 25 for Poland.
The Inter-Allied Control Commission withdrew and returned control of Allenstein to Germany on August 20, 1920. The city was heavily damaged when the Red Army captured it in January 1945. It was annexed to Poland at the end of World War II. The German population was expelled and the newly christened "Olsztyn" was repopulated with Polish refugees from the now Soviet regions of prewar Poland.
ARTICLE 94. In the area between the southern frontier of East Prussia... and the line described below, the inhabitants will be called upon to indicate by a vote the State to which they wish to belong: The western and northern boundary of Regierungsbezirk Allenstein to its junction with the boundary between the Kreise of Oletsko and Angerburg; thence, the northern boundary of the Kreis of Oletsko to its junction with the old frontier of East Prussia.
ARTICLE 95. The German troops and authorities will be withdrawn from the area defined above within a period not exceeding fifteen days after the coming into force of the present treaty. ...
...the said area will be placed under the authority of an International Commission of five members appointed by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. This Commission will have general powers of administration and... will be charged with the duty of arranging for the vote and of taking such measures as it may deem necessary to ensure its freedom, fairness, and secrecy...
Every person, irrespective of sex, will be entitled to vote who:
(a) Is 20 years of age at the date of the coming into force of the present Treaty, and
(b) Was born within the area where the vote will take place or has been habitually resident there from a date to be fixed by the Commission.
Every person will vote in the commune where he is habitually resident or, if not habitually resident in the area, in the commune where he was born.
The result of the vote will be determined by communes (Gemeinde) according to the majority of the votes in each commune.
On the conclusion of the voting the number of votes cast in each commune will be communicated by the Commission to the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, with a full report as the taking of the vote and a recommendation as to the line which ought to be adopted as the boundary of East Prussia in this region. In this recommendation regard will be paid to the wishes of the inhabitants as shown by the vote and to the geographical and economic conditions of the locality. The Principal Allied and Associated Powers will then fix the frontier between East Prussia and Poland in this region...
As soon as the line has been fixed by the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, the authorities administering East Prussia will be notified by the International Commission that they are free to take over the administration of the territory to the north of the line so fixed, which they shall proceed to do within one month of such notification and in the manner prescribed by the Commission ...
1919June 28 The Treaty of Versailles requires the evacuation of German troops from Allenstein. The district is administered by an Inter-Allied Control Commission until a plebiscite is held to determine whether it should remain German or be ceded to Poland
1920July 11 A plebiscite is conducted by the Inter-Allied Control Commission. 362,209 votes favor remaining German. 7,980 votes favor annexation to Poland.
August 20 Allenstein is returned to German control.
1945January 21 The Red Army enters Allenstein.
June Allenstein is ceded to Poland and renamed "Olsztyn".
Figure 2 : Allenstein banknote “notgeld” issued at the time of the plebiscite – The design leaves no doubt as to the outcome, the German eagle defeats the Polish eagle – The words “wir sind deutsch und bleiben Deutsch” i.e. We are German and wish to remain German, surround the combatants.

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