Szczecin (/ˈʃtʃɛtʃɪn/; Polish pronunciation: [ˈʂt͡ʂɛt͡ɕin] ( listen); German: Stettin [ʃtɛˈtiːn] ( listen); Swedish also: Stettin), is the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland. In the vicinity of the Baltic Sea, it is the country’s seventh-largest city and a major seaport in Poland. As of June 2011 the population was 407,811.
Szczecin is located on the Oder River, south of the Szczecin Lagoon and the Bay of Pomerania. The city is situated along the southwestern shore of Dąbie Lake, on both sides of the Oder and on several large islands between the western and eastern branches of the river. Szczecin borders with the town of Police.
Area of Szczecin’s Międzyodrze had changed during building of harbour. This area is covered by many islands (Dębina, Czarnołęka, Radolin, Mewia Wyspa, Gryfia, Ostrów Grabowski, Łasztownia, Kępa Parnicka, Ostrów Mieleński, Wielka Kępa, Mieleńska Łąka, Międzyodrze-Wyspa Pucka, Zaleskie Łęgi, Siedlińska Kępa, Klucki Ostrów, Sadlińskie Łąki and Czapli Ostrów).
The city’s beginnings were as an 8th-century Slavic Pomeranian stronghold, built at the site of today’s castle. In the 12th century, when Szczecin had become one of Pomerania’s main urban centres, it lost its independence to Piast Poland, Saxony, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark. At the same time, the Griffin dynasty established themselves as local rulers, the population was converted to Christianity, and German settlers arrived. The native Slavic population was assimilated and sometimes discriminated against in the following centuries. In 1237/43, the town was built anew and granted vast autonomy rights, and it joined the Hanseatic League.
After the Treaty of Stettin (1630) the town came under Swedish control. It was fortified and remained a Swedish fortress until 1720, when it was acquired by the Kingdom of Prussia and became capital of the Province of Pomerania, which after 1870 was part of the German Empire. In the late 19th century, Stettin became an industrial town, and vastly increased in size and population, serving as a major port for Berlin. During the Nazi era, opposition groups were persecuted as were minorities such as the city’s Jews and the few Poles living there. At the end of World War II Stettin’s status was in doubt, and the Soviet occupation authorities at first appointed officials from the city’s almost entirely German pre-war population. In July 1945, however, Polish authorities were permitted to take power. Stettin was renamed Szczecin and became part of the People’s Republic of Poland, and from 1989 the Republic of Poland.
After the flight and expulsion of the German population and Polish settlement, Szczecin became the administrative and industrial center of Polish Western Pomerania, the site of the University of Szczecin and Szczecin University of Technology, and the see of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Szczecin-Kamień. Szczecin was an important site of anti-communist unrest in the communist era.
The history of Szczecin, began in the 8th century, when West Slavs settled Pomerania and erected a new stronghold on the site of the modern castle. Since the 9th century, the stronghold was fortified and expanded toward the Oder bank. Mieszko I of Poland took control of part of Pomerania between the 960s and 1005 and annexed the city of Szczecin to Poland in 967 Subsequent Polish rulers, the Holy Roman Empire and the Liutician federation aimed at control of the territory.
After the decline of neighboring regional center Wolin in the 12th century, the city became one of the more important and powerful seaports of the Baltic Sea south coasts.
In a campaign in the winter of 1121–1122, Bolesław III Wrymouth, the Duke of Poland, gained control of the region as well the city of Szczecin and its stronghold. The inhabitants were converted to Christianity by two missions of bishop Otto of Bamberg in 1124 and 1128. At this time, the first Christian church of St. Peter and Paul was erected. Polish minted coins were commonly used in trade in this period. The population of the city at that time is estimated to be at around 5,000-9,000 people
Polish rule ended with Boleslaw’s death in 1138. During the Wendish Crusade in 1147, a contingent led by the German margrave Albert the Bear, an enemy of Slavic presence in the region, papal legat, bishop Anselm of Havelberg and Konrad of Meißen besieged the town. There, a Polish contingent supplied by Mieszko III the Old joined the crusaders. However the citizens had placed crosses around the fortifications, indicating they already had been Christianized. Ratibor I, Duke of Pomerania, negotiated the disbandement of the crusading forces.
After the Battle of Verchen in 1164, Szczecin duke Bogislaw I became a vassal of the Saxony’s Henry the Lion. In 1173, Szczecin castellan Wartislaw II could not resist a Danish attack and became vassal of Denmark. In 1181, duke Bogislaw I of Szczecin became a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1185, Bogislaw again became a Danish vassal. Following a conflict between his heirs and king Canute VI, the settlement was destroyed in 1189, but the fortress was reconstructed and manned with a Danish force in 1190. While the empire restored her superiority over Pomerania in the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227, Szczecin was one of two bridgeheads remaining under Danish control (until 1235, Wolgast until 1241/43 or 1250).
In the second half of the 12th century, a group of German tradesmen («multus populus Teutonicorum» from various parts of the Holy Roman Empire) settled in the city around St. Jacob’s Church, which was donated in 1180 by Beringer, a trader from Bamberg, and consecrated in 1187. Hohenkrug (now in Szczecin-Struga) was the first village in the Duchy of Pomerania which was clearly recorded as German (villa teutonicorum) in 1173. Ostsiedlung accelerated in Pomerania during the 13th century. Duke Barnim I of Pomerania granted Szczecin a local government charter in 1237, separating the German settlement from the Slavic community settled around the St. Nicholas Church in the neighborhood of Kessin (Polish: Chyzin). In the charter, the Slavs were put under German jurisdiction.
When Barnim granted Szczecin Magdeburg rights in 1243, part of the Slavic settlement was reconstructed The duke had to promise to level the burgh in 1249. Most Slavic inhabitants were resettled to two new suburbia north and south of the town. Last records of Slavs in Stettin are from the 14th century, when a Slavic bath (1350) and bakery are recorded, and within the walls, Slavs lived in a street named Schulzenstrasse.[inconsistent] By the end of the 14th century, the remaining Slavs had been assimilated.[inconsistent]
In 1249, Barnim I granted town law also the town of Damm (also Altdamm) on the eastern bank of the Oder, which only on 15 October 1939 was merged to neighboring Szczecin and is now the Dąbie, Szczecin neighborhood. This town had been built on the site of a former Pomeranian burg, «Vadam» or «Dambe», which Boleslaw had destroyed during his 1121 campaign.
On 2 December 1261, Barnim I allowed Jewish settlement in Szczecin according to Magdeburg law in a privilege renewed in 1308 and 1371. The Jewish Jordan family was granted citizenship in 1325, but none of the 22 Jews allowed to settle in the duchy in 1481 lived in the city, and in 1492, all Jews in the duchy were ordered to convert to Christianity or leave — this order remained effective throughout the rest of the Griffin era.
Stettin was part of the federation of Wendish towns, a predecessor of the Hanseatic League, in 1283. The city prospered due to the participation in the Baltic Sea trade, primarily with herrings, grain and timber; also craftmenship prospered and more than forty guilds were established in the city. The far-reaching autonomy from the House of Pomerania was in part reduced when the dukes reclaimed Stettin as their main residence in the late 15th century. The anti-Slavic policies of German merchants and craftsmen intensified in this period, resulting in bans on people of Slavic descent joining craft guilds, doubling customs tax for Slavic merchants, or bans against public usage of their native language. More prosperous Slavic citizens were forcefully stripped of their possessions which were awarded to Germans. In 1514, the guild of the tailors added a Wendenparagraph to its statutes, banning Slavs.
While not as heavily affected by medieval witchhunts as other regions of the empire, there are reports of the burning of three women and one man convicted of witchcraft in 1538.
In 1570, during the reign of Pomeranian duke Johann Friedrich, a congress was held at Stettin ending the Northern Seven Years’ War. During the war, Stettin had tended to side with Denmark, while Stralsund tended toward Sweden — as a whole, the Duchy of Pomerania however tried to maintain neutrality. Nevertheless, a Landtag that had met in Stettin in 1563 introduced a sixfold rise of real estate taxes to finance the raising of a mercenary army for the duchy’s defense. Johann Friedrich also succeeded in elevating Stettin to one of only three places allowed to coin money in the Upper Saxon Circle of the Holy Roman Empire, the other two places were Leipzig and Berlin. Bogislaw XIV, who resided in Stettin since 1620, became the sole, and Griffin duke when Philipp Julius died in 1625. Before the Thirty Years’ War reached Pomerania, the city as all of the duchy declined economically due to the sinking importance of the Hanseatic League and a conflict between Stettin and Frankfurt (Oder).
Following the Treaty of Stettin of 1630, the town (along with most of Pomerania) was allied to and occupied by the Swedish Empire, which managed to keep the western parts of Pomerania after the death of Bogislaw XIV in 1637 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 – despite the protests of Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg, who had a legal claim to inherit all of Pomerania. The exact partition of Pomerania between Sweden and Brandenburg was settled in Stettin in 1653.
Stettin was turned into a major Swedish fortress, which was repeatedly besieged in subsequent wars. It was on the path of Polish forces led by Stefan Czarniecki moving from Denmark; Czarniecki’s sea based route which led his forces to the city is today mentioned in Polish anthem and numerous locations in the city honour his name. Wars inhibited the city’s economical prosperity, which had undergone a deep crisis during the devastations of the Thirty Years’ War and was further impeded by the new Swedish-Brandenburg-Prussian frontier, cutting Stettin off its traditional Farther Pomeranian hinterland. Due to the Black Death during the Great Northern War, the city’s population dropped from 6,000 people in 1709 to 4,000 inhabitants in 1711. In 1720, after the Great Northern War, Sweden was forced to cede the city to King Frederick William I of Prussia. Stettin was made the capital city of the Brandenburg-Prussian Pomeranian province, since 1815 reorganized as Province of Pomerania. In 1816, the city had 26,000 inhabitants.
The Prussian administration deprived Stettin of her administrative autonomy rights, abolished guild privileges as well as its status as a staple town, and subsidized manufacturers. Also, colonists were settled in the city, primarily Hugenots.
In October 1806, during the War of the Fourth Coalition, believing he was facing a much larger force and after a threat to treat the city harshly, the Prussian commander Lieutenant General Friedrich von Romberg agreed to surrendered the city to the French led by General Lassalle. In fact Lassalle had only 800 men against von Romberg’s 5,300 men. In March 1809, Romberg was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for giving up Stettin without a fight.
From 1683 to 1812, one Jew was permitted to reside in Stettin, and an additional Jew was allowed to spend a night in the city in case of an «urgent business». These permissions were repeatedly withdrawn between 1691 and 1716, also between 1726 and 1730 although else the Swedish regulation was continued by the Brandenburg-Prussian administration. Only after the Prussian Edict of Emancipation of 11 March 1812, which granted Prussian citizenship to all Jews living in the kingdom, did a Jewish community emerge in Stettin, with the first Jews settling in the town in 1814. Construction of a synagogue started in 1834; the community also owned a religious and a secular school, an orphanage since 1855 and a retirement home since 1893. The Jewish community had between 1,000 and 1,200 members by 1873 and between 2,800 and 3,000 members by 1927/28. These numbers dropped to 2,701 in 1930 and to 2,322 in late 1934.
After the Franco Prussian war of 1870–1871, 1,700 French POWs were imprisoned there in deplorable conditions. As a result, 600 of them died; after the Second World War monuments in their memory were built by the Polish authorities.
Until 1873, Stettin remained a fortress. When part of the defensive structures were levelled, a new neighborhood, Neustadt («New Town») as well as canalization, water pipes and gas works, were built to meet the demands of the growing population.
Stettin developed into a major Prussian port and became part of the German Empire in 1871. While most of the province retained an agrarian character, Stettin was industrialized and its population rose from 27,000 in 1813 to 210,000 in 1900 and 255,500 in 1925. Major industries prospering in Stettin since 1840 were shipbuilding, chemical and food industries and machinery construction. Starting in 1843, Stettin became connected to the major German and Pomeranian cities by railways, and the water connection to the Bay of Pomerania was enhanced by the construction of the Kaiserfahrt (now Piast) canal. On 20 October 1890, some of the city’s Poles created the Towarzystwo Robotników Polsko Katolickich (Society of Polish-Catholic Workers) in the city, one of the first Polish organisations. In 1914, before World War I, the Polish community in the city numbered over 3,000 people. These were primarily industrial workers and their families who came from the Poznań (Posen) area and a few local wealthy industrialists and merchants. Among them was Kazimierz Pruszak, director of the Gollnow industrial works and a Polish patriot, who predicted the eventual return of Szczecin to Poland.
During the interwar era, Stettin was Weimar Germany’s largest port at the Baltic Sea, and her third-largest port after Hamburg and Bremen. Cars of the Stoewer automobile company were produced in Stettin from 1899 to 1945. By 1939, the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Stettin was completed.
In the March 1933 German elections to Reichstag, the Nazis and German nationalists from DNVP won most of the votes in the city, obtaining together 98,626 of 165,331 votes (59.3%), with the NSDAP getting 79,729 (47.9%) and the DNVP 18,897 (11.4%)
In 1935 the Wehrmacht made Stettin the headquarters for Wehrkreis II, which controlled the military units in all of Mecklenburg and Pomerania. It was also the Area Headquarters for units stationed at Stettin I and II; Swinemünde; Greifswald; and Stralsund.
In the interwar period the Polish minority numbered 2,000 people. A number of Poles were members of the Union of Poles in Germany (ZPN), which was active in the city since 1924, A Polish consulate was hosted in the city between 1925 and 1939. On initiative of the consulate and ZPN activist Maksymilian Golisz, a number of Polish institutions were established, e.g. a Polish Scout team and a Polish school. German historian Musekamp writes that «however, only very few Poles were active in these institutions, which for the most part were headed by employees of the [Polish] consulate.» The withdrawal of the consulate from these institutions led to a general decline of these activities, which were in part upheld by Golisz and Aleksander Omieczyński. Intensified repressions by the Nazis, who exaggerated the Polish activities to propagate an infiltration, led to the closing of the school. In 1938 the head of Szczecin’s Union of Poles unit, Stanisław Borkowski, was imprisoned in Oranienburg. In 1939 all Polish organisations in Szczecin were disbanded by the German authorities. Golisz and Omieczyński were murdered during the war. According to Musekamp the role of the pre-war Polish community has been exaggerated for propagandistic purposes in post-war Poland which made «the numerically insignificant Polonia of Stettin… probably the best-researched social group» in the history of the city. After Nazi Germany was defeated, Golisz had a street named after him.
During the 1939 invasion of Poland, which started World War II in Europe, Stettin was the base for the German 2nd Motorized Infantry Division, which cut across the Polish Corridor and was later used in 1940 as an embarcation point for Operation Weserübung, Germany’s assault on Denmark and Norway.
On 15 October 1939, neighbouring municipalities were amalgamated into Stettin, creating Groß-Stettin with about 380,000 inhabitants in 1940. The city had become the third-largest German city by area, after Berlin and Hamburg.
As the war started, the number of non-Germans in the city increased as slave workers were brought in. The first transports came in 1939 from Bydgoszcz, Toruń and Łódż. They were mainly used in a synthetic silk factory near Szczecin. The next wave of slave workers was brought in 1940, in addition to PoWs who were used for work in the agricultural industry. According to German police reports from 1940, 15,000 Polish slave workers lived within the city.
During the war, 135 forced labour camps for slave workers were established in the city. Most of the 25,000 slave workers were Poles, but Czechs, Italians, Frenchmen and Belgians, as well as Dutch citizens, were also enslaved in the camps.
In February 1940, the Jews of Stettin were deported to the Lublin reservation. International press reports emerged, describing how the Nazis forced Jews, regardless of age, condition and gender, to sign away all property and loaded them on to trains headed to the camp, escorted by members of the SA and SS. Due to publicity given to the event, German institutions ordered such future actions to be made in a way unlikely to attract public notice.
Throughout the war, Stettin (Szczecin) was a major port of disembarcation for Baltic Germans returning to the ‘fatherland’, and later in the war those fleeing the advancing Soviet Red Army.
Allied air raids in 1944 and heavy fighting between the German and Soviet armies destroyed 65% of Stettin’s buildings and almost all of the city centre, the seaport and local industries. Polish Home Army intelligence assisted in pinpointing targets for Allied bombing in the area of Stettin. The city itself was covered by the Home Army’s «Bałtyk» structure and Polish resistance infiltrated Stettin’s naval yards. Other activities of the resistance consisted of smuggling people to Sweden.
In April 1945, Nazi authorities of the city issued an order of evacuation and most of the city’s German population fled. The Soviet Red Army captured the city on 26 April. Stettin was virtually deserted when it fell, with only approx. 6,000 Germans in the city, when Polish authorities tried to gain control. In the following month the Polish administration was forced to leave again twice. Finally the permanent handover occurred on 5 July 1945. In the meantime, part of the German population had returned, believing it might become part of the Soviet occupation zone of Germany and the Soviet authorities had already appointed the German Communists Erich Spiegel and Erich Wiesner as mayors. Stettin is located mostly west of the Oder river, which was considered to become Poland’s new western border, placing Stettin in East Germany. This would have been in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement between the victorious Allied Powers, which envisaged the new border to be in «a line running from the Baltic Sea immediately west of Swinemünde, and thence along the Oder River[…]». Because of the returnees, the German population of the town swelled to 84,000 again. The mortality rate was at 20%, primarily due to starvation. However, Stettin and the mouth of the Oder River (German: Stettiner Zipfel) became Polish on 5 July 1945, which had been decided in a treaty signed on 26 July 1944 between the Soviet Union and the Soviet-controlled Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN) (also known as «the Lublin Poles,» as contrasted with the London-based Polish government-in-exile). On 4 October 1945, the decisive land border of Poland was established west of the 1945 line, but excluded the Police (Pölitz) area, the Oder river itself and the Szczecin port, which remained under Soviet administration. The Oder river was handed over to Polish administration in September 1946, and the port was subsequently handed over between February 1946 and May 1954.
After World War II the city was transferred to Poland. Szczecin, as it was now called, was also demographically transformed from a German into a Polish city. At the same time as the flight and expulsion of the German population, Poles moved in. Settlers from Central Poland made up about 70% of Szczecin’s new population. Additionally Poles and Ukrainians from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union settled there. In 1945 and 1946 the city was the starting point of the northern route used by the Jewish underground organization Brichah to channel Jewish DPs from Central and Eastern Europe to the American occupation zone.
Szczecin was rebuilt and the city’s industry was expanded. At the same time, Szczecin became a major Polish industrial centre and an important seaport (particularly for Silesian coal) for Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. Cultural expansion was accompanied by a campaign resulting in the «removal of all German traces.» In 1946 Winston Churchill prominently mentioned Szczecin in his Iron Curtain speech: «From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent».
The 1962 Szczecin military parade led to a road traffic accident in which a tank of the Polish People’s Army crushed bystanders, killing seven children and injuring many more. The resultant panic in the crowd led to further injuries in the rush to escape. The incident was covered up for many years by the Polish communist authorities.
The city witnessed anti-communist revolts in 1970. In 1980, one of the four agreements, known as the August Agreements, which led to the first legalization of Solidarity, was signed in Szczecin. Pope John Paul II visited the city on 11 June 1987. The introduction of martial law in December 1981 met with a strike by the dockworkers of Szczecin shipyard, joined by other factories and workplaces in a general strike. All these were suppressed by the authorities. Another wave of strikes in Szczecin broke out in 1988 and 1989, which eventually led to the Round Table Agreement and first semi free elections in Poland.
Since 1999 Szczecin is the capital of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship.