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The Oder-Neisse line (German: Oder-Neiße-Grenze; Polish: Granica na Odrze i Nysie Łużyckiej) is the border between Germany and Poland. The line consists mostly of the rivers Oder/Odra and Neisse/Nysa Łuzycka, but digresses to include the city of Szczecin/Stettin, on the west bank of the Oder in Poland.
History of the line
Before World War II, Poland's western border with Germany had been fixed under terms of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 generally along the provincial borders of Silesia and Pomerania, but with certain adjustments that were intended to reasonably reflect the ethnic compositions of small areas beyond the provincial borders.
In 1945, under territorial changes demanded by the Soviet Union, the border was moved westward into prewar Germany, to the Oder-Neisse line, to encompass most of Silesia and Pomerania, including Szczecin/Stettin, on the west side of the Oder, plus eastern Brandenburg, within Poland. These changes were accompanied by the expulsion of millions of German residents, and their eventual replacement by Poles from other parts of Poland, particularly the section of eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union. Poland's gains from Germany, which also included Gdansk/Danzig and the southern part of East Prussia, were termed "compensation" for Poland's territorial losses to the Soviet Union, which occurred in 1939 under terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact that in essence divided Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Allies decide Polish border
The decision to move Poland's western boundary westward was made by the Allies at the Yalta Conference, without involvement of the Polish side, shortly before the end of World War II. The precise location of the border was left open; the western Allies also accepted in general the principle of the Oder-Neisse line as the future western border of Poland and of population transfer as the way to prevent future border disputes. The open question was whether it should be the eastern or western Neisse and if it should include Szczecin/Stettin or not.
Originally Germany was to keep Szczecin/Stettin and the Poles were to get East Prussia with Königsberg/Kaliningrad, but after Stalin decided he needed Königsberg as a year round warm-water port, the Poles were given Szczecin/Stettin as compensation. The Poles also insisted on keeping Lwów/L'viv in Galicia, but Stalin refused and offered Lower Silesia with Wrocław/Breslau instead. (Incidentally many people from Lwów were later moved to Wrocław and to Gdańsk).
At the Potsdam Conference the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union decided to put the German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line (Communist propaganda in Poland referred to as "Western Territories" or "Regained Territories") under Polish administrative control. It was then expected that a final peace treaty would follow quickly and would either confirm the border or determine the exact border; it was also agreed that Germans remaining in Poland should be transferred to Germany (German expulsions).
The final agreements compensated Poland for 187,000 km² located east of the Curzon line with 112,000 km² of former German territories. The northern part of East Prussia was directly annexed by the Soviet Union.
One of the reasons for the final version of the border line was the fact that it was possibly the shortest possible border between Poland and Germany. It is only 472 km in length, because it stretched from the northernmost point of the Czech Republic to one of the southernmost points of the Baltic Sea in the Oder river estuary. The previous border had been one of the longest borders in Europe, comprising more than 1400 km.
Recognition of the border by Germany
The government of East Germany signed a treaty with Poland in 1950 recognizing the Oder-Neisse line, officially called "Border of Peace and Friendship." In a new treaty signed in 1989 between Poland and East Germany, the sea border was set.
In 1952, recognition of the Oder-Neisse line as a permanent boundary was one of the conditions for the Soviet Union to agree to a reunified Germany. The reunification was rejected by West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer for several reasons.
In West Germany, the recognition of the line as permanent was initially regarded as unacceptable. In fact, West Germany as part of the Hallstein Doctrine did not recognize either Poland or East Germany. The West German attitude changed with the policy of Ostpolitik led by Willy Brandt; in 1970 West Germany signed treaties with Poland and the Soviet Union recognizing the Oder-Neisse line as a factual border of Poland, thus making family visits by the displaced eastern Germans to their former homelands possible. On November 14, 1990 as a prerequisite for the unification with East Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany amended its constitution, the Basic Law, to remove the article concerning unification of pre-war German areas, as requested by Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany. The 1991 Polish-German border agreement finalized the Oder-Neisse line as the Polish-German border. As part of the agreement, the two countries recognized basic political and cultural rights for both German and Polish minorities living on either side of the border.
Relations between Poland and Germany are good, and there are no fears within Poland that Germany would annex the land east of the Oder-Neisse line.
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