Skip to main content

"National Minorities at War: Integration, Identity and Combat Motivation among Poles in German and Austro-Hungarian Society, 1914-18"

Article Category

Article available in the folowing languages:

The long history of minority integration struggles

With EU borders opening up and increasing mobility, minority integration is a hot topic in both academic circles and public debate. Researchers examined the early markings of this phenomenon.

Climate Change and Environment

To advance a better understanding of the subject, the EU-funded POLMIN-1418 project endeavoured to highlight dilemmas regarding the integration of minorities with a long history in Europe. The project's design also afforded an opportunity to further knowledge in another two related areas. With a focus on the First World War, the first questioned how war contributed to national identity formation and spread in east–central Europe. The second analysed the influence of ideology, nationalism in particular, on modern combat motivation. An in-depth study of the Poles of Germany and Austria–Hungary allowed investigation of how polar opposite integration policies affected one minority. The time period in question went as far back as the four decades leading up to 1914. Germany applied increasingly obtrusive assimilationist policies, while Austria had a more multicultural approach.To assess the effectiveness of these policies, POLMIN-1418 studied Poles' conduct during WWI. The outcomes indicate that both German and Austrian pre-war integration policies had limited success. It also tested whether past integration policies had effectively promoted social cohesion.Official documentation and correspondence between minorities in military service and their families offered rich insights into the development of minority identities. Materials were also gathered from archives and libraries in Warsaw, Cracow, Berlin, Vienna and Jerusalem as well as in Poland.POLMIN-1418 showed that national identities hardened under the demands of war. The study also revealed that minorities in national or imperial armies fought effectively even in the absence of an ideological investment in the states they served. To deepen their findings, project researchers carried out a regional study on the Masurian people in East Prussia. Findings point to pre-war assimilation policies strengthening protestant and political affinities. This led to a higher identification with the German war effort. A regional study on Cracow highlighted two important wartime phenomena. It tracked the rise and changing politics of Polish nationalism in the city, and analysed how wartime conditions affected inter-ethnic relations there. The study's results are important for the historiography on WWI and Poland, and add to the multidisciplinary literature on nation building.By illuminating the limitations and problems of both assimilationist and multicultural integration strategies, project findings are slated to have important socioeconomic impact. With dilemmas of integration a central part of modern European history, POLMIN-1418 underlined that ethnic and religious diversity is not a new and unfamiliar phenomenon. Understanding the interplay of all of the above will help shift the public debate and better inform national and EU integration policymaking.


Minority integration, national identity formation, integration policies, wartime, social cohesion, assimilation, combat motivation

Discover other articles in the same domain of application