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Masuria
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Masuria

Masuria is the English name for the area called Pojezierze Mazurskie or Mazury in Polish (Masurenland in German) in north-eastern Poland. Together with Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast to the north, the region used to be a part of Prussia and of the administrative region of East Prussia, a German exclave before World War II. After Germany's defeat 1945 and sanctioned by the allied Potsdam conference, Masuria came de jure "under Polish administration" until a solution in a formal peace treaty between Germany and the Allies.

Masuria and the Masurian Lakes Plateau are known in Polish as Kraina Tysiąca Jezior, and in German as Land der Tausend Seen meaning "land of a thousand lakes." As in other parts of post 1945 northern Poland, from Pomerania on Oder Odra river to Vistula (Wisła) river, one continuous stretch of lakes makes it a beautiful holiday location. These lakes were ground out of the land by glaciers during the ice age, when ice covered north-eastern Europe. By 10,000 BC this ice started to melt. Great geological changes took place and even in the last 500 years the maps showing the lagoons and peninsulas on the Baltic Sea have greatly altered in appearance.

In the southern part of the region, the ancient Prussian Sudovia and Galindia lands, wilderness areas survived for longer than in most of Europe. The deep forests in these territories made it possible for moose, aurochs, bears and many other mammals to survive. During the Baltic or Northern Crusades of the 13th century the native Prussian population also had the chance to survive in the remaining wilderness areas against the onslaught of the Teutonic Knights (of German origin) and other crusaders from elsewhere in Europe (mainly from Germany), who were sent by the pope to baptize by conquest of the land and conversion of the native population to Christianity. The south-eastern part of Prussia was getting penetrated by Poles.

Polish settlers, mainly from Masovia, so called Mazur, began to arrive following the Teutonic Order's conquest of the area. German, French, Flemish, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian colonists entered the area shortly afterward, founding numerous cities and towns. By the 15th century, the original Prussian population were exterminated and the Prussians language suffered a decline.

In Masuria - the southern part of East Prussia Polish language dominated due to the many settlers from Masovia. In the Second Treaty of Thorn (1466) the Teutonic Order came under the overlordship of the Polish crown. Since 1525 Masuria (with the exception of Warmia) has had a mostly Protestant population. The cities remained centres of German and Polish speakers, however the cities usually had as a requirement to become a Bürger (citizen) 'to be of German tongue'. The most ancient Old Prussian language survived in parts of the countryside until the early 18th century.

In 1656 the Ducal part of Masuria was devastated during the Deluge, when it was raided by Tartars and Poles. In 1708 some one third of population died during the Plague.

Losses in population were compensated by migration from Scottland, Salzburg, France and edpecially from Poland, Lithuania, as well as by refugees, including Polish Arians (Polish brethren), expelled from Poland in 1657. The last such group were the Russian Filipons in 1830.

The name Masuria began to be used officially after new administrative reforms in Prussia after 1818.

Germanisation was slowly and mainly done by education: after the unification of the province with Germany, in 1872 Polish language was removed from schools. In 1890 143,397 of Masurians gave German as their language (either first or second), 152,186 Polish, and 94,961 Masurian. In 1910, the German language was given by 197,060, Polish by 30,121, and Masurian by 171,413. In 1925, only 40,869 people gave Masurian as their native tongue and only 2,297 gave Polish.

After WW I, the League of Nations held a plebiscite in 1920 as to whether the people of the two southern districts of East Prussia wanted to remain within East Prussia or to join the state of Poland: 97.5% voted to remain with East Prussia.

Partly devastated by war between the retreating German and advancing Soviet armies in 1944 - 1945 Masuria came now under Polish rule. Most of the population fled to Germany or were killed during the war, the rest was expulsed by the communist Polish regime. Now, Poles from the former eastern part of Poland, annexed by the Soviet Union were settled in Masuria. The number of native Masurians that remained in Masuria were initially quite high. Soon after 1956, some of them were given opportunity to join their families in West Germany. Gradually, most of Masurs left, mostly thanks to better quality of life in Germany, and the fact that communist government persecuted their religion.

In 1999 Masuria was constituted with neighbouring Warmia as a single administrative province through the creation of the Warminsko-Mazurskie voivodship.