Upper Silesians
on the fronts
of World War I


The main participants in World War I included Austria-Hungary and Germany (the Central Powers), and Russia, France and Britain (the Entente Powers). Thus, the partitioning countries fought against each other, which gave Poland a chance to be reborn.

Upper Silesians, as subjects of Germany and Austria-Hungary, also took part in World War I. It is assumed that mobilisation in Prussian Upper Silesia at the very beginning of the war involved a higher percentage of local miners than in other parts of Germany. Initially, the Polish and German press published lists of victims’ names. These lists grew longer each day, and yet they did not include all the people. Already in October 1914, “Nowiny Raciborskie” wrote that “if the names of all the dead, wounded and missing from the region were to be published, there would not be enough space for other news.”

Upper Silesians (fighting in the German and Austro-Hungarian armies) who were taken prisoners were sent to POW camps in France and Britain. Some of them joined General Haller’s volunteer army called the Blue Army. Some managed to take part in the fight against the Germans in the summer of 1918. Later, after coming to Poland, they participated, for instance, in the Polish-Bolshevik War.

In Cieszyn Silesia, the formation of the Silesian Legion, part of the Polish Legions, was permitted. This voluntary unit was initiated and commanded by pro-Polish activists Hieronim Przepiliński and Jan Łysek. In September 1914, the soldiers set off to the eastern front, where they fought in bloody battles, including those at Mołotków and Kostiuchnówka.


Some of the most important events of the four-year conflict:

August 1914 
German attack on Belgium, Luxembourg and France; Russian troops enter East Prussia and are defeated at Tannenberg

September 1914
Defeat of the German forces on the Marne river and the beginning of the positional war on the Western Front

May/June 1915
Great offensive of the Central Powers in the east, the Russians are driven out from Eastern Galicia

November 1915
Stabilisation on the Eastern Front

February 1916
Beginning of the Battle of Verdun

June 1916
Russian offensive in Eastern Galicia, German intervention saves Austria-Hungary from defeat

July/November 1916
Battle of the Somme

February 1917
Germany announces the start of unrestricted submarine warfare

April/May 1917
Failed offensive by French troops in Champagne

June/July 1917

Failed Russian offensive and decomposition of its army as a result of the revolution.
Germany occupies the Russian Baltic coast

March 1918
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Central Powers

July 1918
Allied offensive on the Western Front and gradual retreat of the German forces

September 1918
Capitulation of Bulgaria

October 1918
Disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, capitulation of Turkey

November 1918
Revolution in Germany, Germany signs a surrender act on 11 November


+ German artillerymen at a 21 cm calibre heavy howitzer at a firing position in a forest, Eastern Front, 1916–1917  (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ Group shot of soldiers in German uniforms, 1914  (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ Group shot of soldiers in German uniforms, 1914  (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ Photographic postcard showing a view from the railway station in Virbalis in Lithuania with a blown-up water tower, 1915   (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+  Four soldiers of the German army in front of a barrack, 1914–1916    (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+  Two soldiers of the German 263rd Reserve Infantry Regiment at a 7.58 cm calibre mortar against a damaged building, Western Front, 1917–1918   (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ German soldier in an infantryman’s field uniform, 1914–1918  (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ Photographic postcard, 1915   (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


War losses in Upper Silesia

16,200 widows

35,300 orphans

42,100 disability cases

5,100 parents of the fallen soldiers


+ Graphic depicting war losses of the Upper Silesian population published in the plebiscite brochure entitled “The Suffering of the Upper Silesian People under the German Rule. A Statistical Compilation with Pictures,” 1920–1921  (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)


+ During World War I, General Haller’s Blue Army was formed, and approximately 5,500 inhabitants of Upper Silesia and 600 people from Cieszyn Silesia joined its ranks. Some of them fought against the Germans until the second half of 1918. In 1920, Upper Silesian Haller soldiers took part in the Polish-Bolshevik war, and after the warfare ended in autumn of that year, they were released to return home as the plebiscite was being prepared.

German infantry soldier, probably Wilhelm Ochot from Murcki (today: district of Katowice), autumn 1917 (OWNED BY MUZEUM ŚLĄSKIE W KATOWICACH)





Wystawa plenerowa z okazji 100. rocznicy powrotu Śląska do Macierzy. Dofinansowano ze środków Ministra Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego

Projekt realizowany w ramach obchodów stulecia odzyskania niepodległości oraz odbudowy polskiej państwowości

Muzeum Śląskie w Katowicach jest instytucją kultury Samorządu Województwa Śląskiego współprowadzoną przez Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego