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East Prussia,Ger. Ostpreussen, former province of Prussia, extreme NE Germany. The region of East Prussia has low rolling hills that are heavily wooded, and it is dotted by many lakes (especially in MasuriaMasuria
, Ger. Masurenland, Pol. Mazury, region, N Poland. It is a low-lying area covered by large lakes and forests and drained by many small rivers. The original population of the region was expelled by the Teutonic Knights and replaced (14th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and drained by several rivers including the Nemen (Nieman). Its Baltic coast is deeply indented by the Vistula Lagoon (Frisches Haff) and by the Gulf of Kursh (Kurisches Haff). In the 13th cent. the Teutonic KnightsTeutonic Knights
or Teutonic Order
, German military religious order founded (1190–91) during the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade. It was originally known as the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem.
..... Click the link for more information. conquered the region from the Borussi, or Prussians (a people related to the Liths), displaced the original population, and secured the territory as a fief for their order. In 1309, MalborkMalbork
, Ger. Marienburg, town (1994 est. pop. 40,100), Pomorskie prov., N Poland, on the Nogat River. It is a rail junction with sugar refineries and dairies. Originally a castle founded (1274) by the Teutonic Knights, Malbork became the seat of their grand master in
..... Click the link for more information. became the headquarters of the grand master of the Teutonic Knights.
In 1466, by the Peace of Torun, the knights ceded Pomerelia (see PomeraniaPomerania
, region of N central Europe, extending along the Baltic Sea from a line W of Stralsund, Germany, to the Vistula River in Poland. From 1919 to 1939, Pomerania was divided among Germany, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk).
..... Click the link for more information. ; later a part of West PrussiaWest Prussia,
Ger. Westpreussen, former province of Prussia, 9,867 sq mi (25,556 sq km), NE Germany, extending S from the Baltic Sea, between Pomerania on the west and East Prussia on the east. Danzig was the capital.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and ErmelandErmeland
, or Warmia
, historic region of East Prussia, extending far inland from the Baltic Sea. It was ceded to Poland in 1466 by the Teutonic Knights, passed to Prussia in 1772, and reverted to Poland after World War II.
..... Click the link for more information. to Poland and accepted Polish suzerainty over the rest of their domain. Grand Master Albert of BrandenburgAlbert of Brandenburg,
1490–1568, grand master of the Teutonic Knights (1511–25), first duke of Prussia (1525–68); grandson of Elector Albert Achilles of Brandenburg.
..... Click the link for more information. , after secularizing the Teutonic order, took the title "duke of Prussia" in 1525, remaining under Polish suzerainty. The duchy was inherited (1618) by the elector of Brandenburg. Frederick WilliamFrederick William,
known as the Great Elector,
1620–88, elector of Brandenburg (1640–88), son and successor of George William. At his accession the scattered lands of the Hohenzollern were devastated and depopulated by the Thirty Years War and occupied by
..... Click the link for more information. , the Great Elector, won full sovereignty over the duchy at the Peace of OlivaOliva, Peace of
, 1660, treaty signed at Oliva (now a suburb of Gdańsk) by Poland and Sweden. John II of Poland renounced the theoretical claim of his line to the Swedish crown, which his father, Sigismund III, had in practice lost in 1599.
..... Click the link for more information. (1660), and in 1701 his son, Frederick III, had himself crowned "king in Prussia" as Frederick IFrederick I,
1657–1713, first king of Prussia (1701–13), elector of Brandenburg (1688–1713) as Frederick III. He succeeded his father, Frederick William the Great Elector, in Brandenburg.
..... Click the link for more information. at Königsberg (KaliningradKaliningrad
, formerly Königsberg,
city (1989 pop. 401,000), capital of Kaliningrad region, an exclave of W European Russia; on the Pregolya River near its mouth on the Vislinski Zalev, which empties into the Gulf of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
East Prussia, as the original Prussia came to be called, from 1701 to 1945 shared the history of PrussiaPrussia
, Ger. Preussen, former state, the largest and most important of the German states. Berlin was the capital. The chief member of the German Empire (1871–1918) and a state of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Prussia occupied more than half of all Germany
..... Click the link for more information. . It remained the stronghold of the Prussian landowning and military aristocracy—the Junkers—whose immense estates took up a large part of the province. From 1919 to 1939 it was separated from the rest of Germany by the Polish CorridorPolish Corridor,
strip of German territory awarded to newly independent Poland by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The strip, 20 to 70 mi (32–112 km) wide, gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea.
..... Click the link for more information. and the Free City of Danzig (GdańskGdańsk
, formerly Danzig
, city (1993 est. pop. 466,700), capital of Pomorskie prov., N Poland, on a branch of the Vistula and on the Gulf of Gdańsk. One of the chief Polish ports on the Baltic Sea, it is a leading industrial and communications center.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Königsberg was the capital. East Prussia bordered on Poland and Lithuania in the south and east and stretched to Memel and the Baltic Sea in the north and northeast.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, East Prussia was overrun by Soviet troops and about 600,000 of its inhabitants were killed. Most Germans who had not left by the end of the war were expelled by the Polish and Soviet governments shortly after its end. At the Potsdam Conference (1945), East Prussia was divided by two transfers; the transfers were made permanent by treaties between West Germany and Poland and the USSR that were signed and ratified between 1970 and 1972. The northern part was assigned at Potsdam to the USSR; it includes the cities of Kaliningrad, Sovetsk (Tilsit), Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg), Gusev (Gumbinnen), and Baltiysk (Pilau). The rest was incorporated into Poland as Olsztyn province; this part includes the cities of Olsztyn (Allenstein), Malbork (Marienburg), and Elbląg (Elbing).
See M. Egremont, Forgotten Land: Journeys among the Ghosts of East Prussia (2011).