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Polish Property Confiscated by the Partitioning Powers

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The Polish Plumb-Cake

On 1 September 1774 artist John Lodge created this cartoon engraving that shows Leopold II and Frederick William II with swords drawn, Catherine II holding a cleaver, and Louis XV with a knife seated around a table on which rests a partitioned cake , representing Poland, each monarch getting a separate, but not equal share; in the background on the left stands a weeping king of Poland, on the right, with sword raised is the Sultan.


During the Second World War, and directly after, Polish citizens had their properties confiscated by the two invaders and occupiers: the German Nazis and the Soviet Communists. However, quite a few Poles were deprived of their property from the eighteenth century onwards by the three partitioning powers—Prussia, Austria, and Russia—as shown by the Wykaz dóbr ziemskich skonfiskowanych przez rządy zaborcze w latach 1773 – 1867 [Register of landed properties confiscated by the partitioning powers in 1773 - 1867], which was published in Warsaw in 1929.

Poland, or more precisely the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, had been one of the European powers for several centuries. The Commonwealth’s elite—the land-owning nobility, or szlachta—eventually succumbed to hubris. The Noble Republic began to rot from within, particularly during the eighteenth century. The neighboring predatory powers—Prussia, Austria, and Russia—took advantage of the Rzeczpospolita’s decline and partitioned the country in three installments (1772, 1793, 1795), with Russia grabbing the largest share.

Patriotic Poles resisted, as demonstrated by Tadeusz Kościuszko’s Uprising in 1794, but were defeated. Such was also the fate of Polish insurrections in the nineteenth century, the November (1830 – 1832) and January Uprisings (1863 – 1864/65) in particular.

The crushing of each Polish revolt was followed by a wave of expropriations by the three partitioning powers. Since the nineteenth-century uprisings were primarily anti-Russian, the Register focuses mostly on Muscovite despoliation of Polish properties. The landed estates of the Polish nobles leading the insurgencies—and even those who refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the invaders—were confiscated and awarded to the generals and servitors upholding the three occupations. In this sense, the partitioning powers not only deprived Poland of its independence and retarded its economic growth; they also deprived many Poles of their property and plundered their wealth.

A select listing of properties confiscated by the partitioning powers—the Russians in particular—is available on the website of the Wielkopolska Digital Library (viewing the document requires a download of the DjVu Browser Plugin, which is available on the site).

Posted in: Property Polska
Paweł P. Styrna

About the Author:

Paweł P. Styrna was born in 1983 in Zabrze, Poland. His Masters of Arts thesis analyzed the attitudes of the American, British, Belgian, Polish, and Soviet press vis-à-vis the Polish-Ukrainian Kiev Offensive against the Bolsheviks in 1920. He is working on a biography of Polish industrialist Leopold Wellisz and has written numerous book reviews for Glaukopis, Sarmatian Review and Najwyższy Czas! He co-edited Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Fate of Wartime Poles and Jews (2012) and authored the chapter titled "The Tale of Two Hamlets: The Case of Wólka-Okrąglik and Gniewczyna." Mr. Styrna is a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research (SFPPR) and writes the blog Property Polska for the Journal of Property Rights in Transition. Mr. Styrna was educated at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his Bachelor of Arts and his Master of Arts in modern European history, with minor specializations in Polish and Soviet history. He is currently enrolled in the international relations program at The Institute of World Politics and is a research assistant to the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies.

1 Comment on "Polish Property Confiscated by the Partitioning Powers"

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  1. Erika T says:

    Look at the devil poking out from under the tablecloth! No doubt he was there:-)

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