Introduction to Polish Plebiscites: Allenstein (Olsztyn)

At the Paris peace conference, the town of Allenstein became the subject of dispute. The French and British were looking for territory to widen Poland's corridor to the Baltic. They kept the mistaken notion in mind 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 commission in the meantime. The result of the plebiscite conducted on 11 July 1920 was a near unanimous 97.9% in favour of remaining in Germany. The Allies had not only underestimated 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 inter-allied commission withdrew and returned control of Allenstein to Germany on 20 August 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.