Since the earliest times Silesia has been associated with Bohemia and Moravia. In the 9th century Silesia was part of the Great Moravian Empire. Following the fall of Great Moravia at the beginning of the 10th century, Silesia passed to the Czech princes of Bohemia. In fact the capital of Silesia, Wroclaw in Polish and Breslau in German, was named after Bohemia’s prince Vratislav. Vratislav was the son of St. Ludmila and the father of St. Vaclav.
From the 11th century to the 14th century Silesia passed back and forth from Bohemian to Polish rule. By the 14th century Silesia was ruled by numerous Polish princes of the Piast dynasty. Many of these princes were the descendants of St. Hedwig’s son Henry the Pious, who died at the Battle of Legnica in 1241 defending Silesia and Christian Europe against the Tartar onslaught, and his wife Anna, who was the daughter of Bohemia’s King Premysl I.
In the 1320s and 1330s Silesia’s Polish princes recognized King John of Bohemia as their sovereign, and Silesia became a permanent jewel of the Czech Crown for the next four centuries. Whereas the Piast dynasty died out as the national dynasty of Poland in 1370 with the death of Kazimierz the Great, Piast princes continued to sit on local thrones in Silesia as late as 1675.
Over the years German settlers flocked to the province, especially after the devastation wrought by the Tartar invasion of 1241. The result was that Silesia changed from a Slavic region to a predominantly German one.
In the 16th and 17th centuries Silesia became a province of the Habsburg empire along with Bohemia and Moravia. In 1741-42, however, Frederick the Great of Prussia conquered most of Silesia, leaving only a narrow slice of the province under Austrian rule.
At the time when our ancestors emigrated to the United States there were two Austrian Silesias. They were separated by a narrow Moravian corridor that extended from Frenstat up to the Moravian town of Ostrava. East of this corridor was Tesin Silesia, or Tesinsko. Opavsko, or Opava Silesia, lay to the Moravian corridor’s west. Interestingly enough, the first Poles to settle in Texas came from the eastern-most part of Prussian Silesia, which still had a large rural Polish population. They emigrated in 1854 and established the Karnes County community of Panna Maria, considered the first Polish community in the United States.
Emigrants also left for Texas from Austrian Silesia. They hailed from villages such as Dobra, Kuncice and Vratimov in Tesinsko, and Bilovec and Velke Albrechtice in Opavsko. Both Czech families and German families were involved in this emigration.
At the end of World War I Austrian Silesia became part of Czechoslovakia along with Bohemia and Moravia. Poland claimed a large part of Tesin Silesia, because it was inhabited primarily by Poles. A bitter dispute broke out, which the Poles blamed on the Czechs and the Czechs blamed on the Poles. This poisoned the relationship between Czechoslovakia and Poland during the inner-war period. In any event, the eastern half of Tesinsko was ceded to Poland.
While Czechoslovakia lost a part of Austrian Silesia to Poland, it was awarded a small corner of Prussian Silesia which was part of the German district of Ratibor and was located between Opava and Ostrava. This southern part of Ratiborsko was inhabited largely by a group of Czechs known as Moravci.
At first Czechoslovakian Silesia was a separate province of the First Republic, but in 1927 it was combined with Moravia to form a single administrative unit.
In 1938 almost all of Czechoslovakian Silesia was considered part of the so-called Sudetenland and was handed over to Hitler’s Germany, but it was returned to Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II. At the same time Germany lost the rest of Silesia, the area conquered by Frederick the Great back in the 1740s, to Poland. The vast majority of the German inhabitants of both Czechoslovakian and Polish Silesia were expelled, and the old province became once more a Slavic land.
The great coat of arms of the First Republic included all the coats of arms of the provinces that made up Czechoslovakia. The provincial coats of arms were as follows: center: Bohemia; top: Slovakia (left), Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia (right); middle: Moravia (left), Silesia (right); bottom: Tesinsko (left), Opavsko (middle), Ratiborsko (right). Silesia was well represented on the great coat of arms. Source: Novy Velky Ilustrovany Slovnik Naucny, Prague, 1930, vol. IV, pp. 169-70.
- Robert Janak
“Slezsko – Schlesien – Slask,” printed in the series Czech Connections, Cesky Hlas, February 1998, page 10.