Ruhrpolen (German: [ˈʁuːɐ̯ˌpoːlən], “Ruhr Poles”) is a German umbrella term for the northwest Slavic peoples (including Masurians,[1][2][3] Kashubians,[4] Silesians, and other Poles) who migrated to the rapidly industrializing areas of the Ruhr.


The immigrants mainly came from what were then eastern territories of Germany (Province of Posen, East Prussia and West Prussia, Province of Silesia), which were partially acquired in the Polish partitions and which housed a significant Polish population. This migration wave, known as the Ostflucht, began in the late 19th century, with most of the Ruhrpolen arriving around the 1870s. The migrants found employment in the mining, steel and construction industries. In 1913 there were between 300,000 and 350,000 Poles and 150,000 Masurians. Of those, one-third were born in the Ruhr area.[5] The Protestant Masurians did not accept being identified with Catholic Poles and underlined their loyalty to Prussia and the German Empire.[6]

German Empire

The rights of the Ruhrpolen as citizens were restricted in many ways by anti-Polish policies of the German Empire.[7] While initially German officials hoped that the Polish population would succumb to Germanization, they eventually lost hope that this long-term strategy would succeed.[8] Polish schools had their accreditation refused and public schools no longer took account of ethnic diversity.[9] In schools where the percentage of Polish-speaking students became high, German officials split up the students.[10] When parents tried to organize private lessons for their children, police would come to their homes.[11]

Other measures included instructing teachers and officials that their duty was to promote German national consciousness. A decree was issued that ordered all miners to speak German. Discrimination started to affect issues of basic existence.[12] The Settlement Law of 1904 made it difficult for Poles who wished to return east to purchase land. In 1908, laws discriminating against the Polish language were applied to the entire German Empire.[13]

In response to harassment by Prussian authorities, the organisations of Ruhr Poles expanded what had been their purely cultural character, and restored their links with Polish organizations in the east. The League of Poles in Germany, founded at Bochum in 1894, merged with the ''Straż'' Movement set up in 1905. In 1913, the combined group formed an executive committee, which worked alongside the Polish National Council.[14] Poles also demanded Polish priests and mass services in Polish.[15]

After the outbreak of the Second World War, all remaining Polish organizations in the Ruhr faced dissolution by the Nazis. On 11 September 1939, 249 leading Polish activists from the Ruhr were placed in concentration camps; at least 60 Ruhr Poles were murdered for their activities by Nazi Germany.[16]


It is estimated that in modern times, some 150,000 inhabitants of the Ruhr Area (out of roughly five million) are of Polish descent.

Notable people


  4. "Nationales Denken im Katholizismus der Weimarer Republik", Reinhard Richter, Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2000, page 319
  5. The German melting-pot: multiculturality in historical perspective, Wolfgang Zank, page 139, Palgrave Macmillan 1998
  6. Stefan Goch, Polen nicht deutscher Fußballmeister. Die Geschichte des FC Gelsenkirchen-Schalke 04, in: Der Ball ist bunt. Fußball, Migration und die Vielfalt der Identitäten in Deutschland: Hrsg: Diethelm Blecking/Gerd Dembowski. Frankfurt a.M. 2010, p.237-249.
  7. Migration Past, Migration Future:Germany and the United States Myron Weiner, page 11, Berghahn Books 1997
  8. Imperial Germany, 1871-1918: economy, society, culture, and politics, Volker Rolf Berghahn, pages 107-108,Berghahn Books 2004
  9. Imperial Germany... pages 107-108
  10. Imperial Germany... pages 107-108
  11. Imperial Germany... pages 107-108
  12. Imperial Germany... pages 107-108
  13. Imperial Germany... pages 107-108
  14. Imperial Germany... page 218
  15. Imperial Germany... page 108
  16. Weimar and Nazi Germany:Panikos Panayi, Longman 2000, page 235
  17. Kempka, Erich (2010) [1951]. I was Hitler's Chauffeur. London: Frontline Books-Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-84832-550-0. p. 10
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