Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Slask, called Silesia in Latin, is a historic land situated in the middle of Europe. Its territory lies in the borders of today’s Poland (most of Silesia region), Czech Republic and Germany. It is divided today into Upper and Down Silesia. Its biggest cities are Wroclaw (historical capital of Silesia), Katowice and Ostrava (situated in Czech Republic while the first two are located in Poland).
There are various discussions over the name of Silesia and its origin. Most probably the name of the region comes from the name of the river – Sleza – that goes through it. There is also a hill called Sleza – or Sobotka – that used to be the main place for pagan cult. But the very word has its origin already in pra-Slavic language as it meant moisture and damp.
At the beginning the territory was inhabited by non-Slavic tribes but already in 7th century it became of land of interest for the first Slavic rulers. The first rulers of Poland incorporated it into their kingdom. However, further history of Silesia region would make it a part of other countries that were under rule of various monarchies. It was especially during the times that Silesia was part of Prussia, that Silesia lost its Polish character (especially due to Germanization).
After WWI, when newly born Poland was created, one third of Silesia region has been incorporated into the country. However, the rest (apart from small part that was joined with Czech Republic) was still in the borders of Germany. When the WW II broke out, Hitler announced Silesia a part of German Reich. The citizens of that region have been divided into groups, depending on the origin that they proved or claimed as well as their approach to the Reich. At the end of 1944 saying aloud that one is of Polish nationality was like a death sentence.
After the WW II the German part of Silesia region has been granted to Poland. Most of the autochthonic citizens were made to move out and leave their houses. They were replaced by new comers from eastern lands (where lots of Poles lived but left due to granting those terrains to Soviet Union). At first the communist government of Poland treated the inhabitants of Silesia as Germans while later on they were perceived as Germanized Slavs. The signs of German rule has been removed from all the Silesian cities while some of inhabitants – that her German sounding names – were forced to change their surnames.
Nowadays many inhabitants of Silesia claim to be of separate origin than Poles or German. They perceive their language (that is actually mixture of the three: Polish, German and Czech) separate speech.