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History of Żuławy

Leaving aside its toponymic origin[1], the name Żuławy Wiślane became commonly used only after this section of Prussia was incorporated into the Crown of the Polish Kingdom in 1454. In the period of the Teutonic Knight administration, the Vistula delta was described by the German term Werder (island)[2] . The basic division of Żuławy into Gdańskie Żuławy, Wielkie Malborskie Żuławy, Małe Malborskie Żuławy, and Elbląskie Żuławy was established in the Middle Ages.

Żuławy Gdańskie - Danziger Werder includes the area between the Pojezierze (lake district) Kaszubskie and the Mierzeja (sandbar) Wiślana with Gdańsk near its northwestern border. In the 14th and 15th centuries, this area was called Żuławy Małe or Żuławy Steblewskie. The name Żuławy Gdańskie was introduced when the king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk incorporated a section of the area to the Gdańsk estate. It is accepted that the rivers Vistula, Motława, Wąska Woda, and Nowa Woda mark the border of the area.

Żuławy Wielkie - Grosse Werder is located between the Vistula and Nogat rivers and stretch from Biała Góra to the Mierzeja Wiślana and the Zalew (lagoon). In the Middle Ages, the border of the Żuławy Wielkie ran along the Szkarpawa river. The name Żuławy Wielkie became commonly used in the mid 15th century[3].

After 1454, the northeastern section of the Wielkie Żuławy, including the villages of Jankowo, Bronowo, Stare Babki, Wybicko, Szkarpawa, Świerznica, Wiśniówka, Tujsk, and Groszkowo was incorporated into the Gdańsk estate with the name Szkarpawa.

Małe Żuławy Malborskie is located on the eastern side of the Nogat and borders the Nizina (lowland) Warmińska, Elbląg area - Elbinger Niederung on the north, and areas located on the northern shore of Druzno lake - Drausenniederung. At the end of the 14th century, this region was called Żuławy Fiszewskie.

Żuławy Elbląskie was a part of the Elbląg estate and included areas to the west of the Elbląg river, up to the Nogat; on the south, the area bordered Tropy.

The historical range of the individual sections of the Żuławy region marked on the Goth and Endersch maps is the most authoritative because the subsequent administrative and political divisions were of little importance to rural colonization.

According to the archaeological findings, the Vistula delta was periodically inhabited as early as the Neolithic age. In the period of Roman influences and flourishing trade with the Empire with Roman merchants arriving in search of amber, the settlements were located in elevated areas and on islands in the broad section of the river (Grabin, Ostaszewo, Lubieszewo). In the early Middle Ages, the Vistula probably marked a border between Prussians, who inhabited the upland areas to the east of the river and the Slavic peoples residing on its western side. In the 9th century, Vikings established a trading post, Truso (recorded in sources) on the eastern side of the border belt constituted by the Vistula delta. The fortified town of Gdańsk was established ca. 980 on the western bank of the Vistula in order to control the river outlet. These two settlements controlled the trade and economic activities in the surrounding areas. The communication between these areas was maintained by waterways or overland routes running through the Mierzeja and possibly Żuławy. While no significant trading or administrative center appeared in the Prussian areas after the decline of Truso, Gdańsk developed into the largest town in the Pomerania and became the capital of the region. At the beginning of the 13th century, the city was a residence of the duke Świętopełk, who attempted to capture the entire area of the Vistula outlet. He controlled the Mierzeja and the northwestern section of the Żuławy. At the time, a fortified town of Zantyr was an administrative center of the southern section of the Żuławy. The exact location of Zantyr is uncertain, but it was probably located in the Biała Góra area. It is believed that Świętopełk also controlled the territory that was later referred to as Wielkie Żuławy. In the early Middle Ages, the area located between the river branches became more populated with the following new villages established: Gnojewo, Janówka, Jegłownik, Jeziernik, Kaczynos, Kamionka, Kończewice, Krasnołęka, Laski, Lichnowy, Lubieszewo, Mirowo, Nowy Staw, and Stare Pole. In 1292, the duke Mestwin granted the village of Giemlice to the monastery in Pelpin; in 1308, several other villages (Osice, Wocławy, Wiklina, and Bystra) were transferred to the Tczew castellan, Jakub and his brother, Jan by the king Władysław Łokietek . That event marked the beginning of colonization of wetlands based on feudal relationships. It is highly probable that the first draining works were completed in that period with the "stara tama (old dam)", which stretches from Steblewo to the Wiślinki area, being a notable relic of those early endeavors.

The arrival of the Teutonic Knights in 1226 was an all-important event in the history of the Żuławy region. The far-reaching goal of the Order was to conquer the areas inhabited by pagan Prussians and form an administrative structure in their territory. In order to secure their economic and political aspirations, the Teutonic Knights needed to take a full control of the Vistula river mouth. This goal was achieved in 1308, when the Order captured Gdańsk, Tczew, and other Pomeranian towns, in consequence, taking control over the entire Żuławy. When the Teutonic Knights transferred their headquarters from Venice to Malbork in 1309, the Żuławy region found itself enclosed by three cities, Gdańsk, Malbork, and Elbląg - very important political and economic centers - and quite naturally became their supply base.

The administrative structure of the Żuławy dates from the Teutonic Knights period. The Żuławy Wielkie belonged to the Malbork Commandry; the area of the present-day Nowy Dwór was also part of that commandry, but the terrain was administered by the fisheries office in Szkarpawa. The Fiszewo area as a separate "komornictwo" (jurisdiction of a "komornik" or chamberlain) and komornictwo Żuławki were subject to the Dzierzgoń commandry, while the western section of the Żuławy was administered by an alderman from Grabiny. Part of the Żuławy was transferred to the Gdańsk and Elbląg estates based on the Lübeck law. In the 14th century, the Teutonic Knights launched an extensive colonization campaign. They founded several dozen new settlements under the Chełmno law and granted the charter to existing villages. The Chełmno law guaranteed the land ownership, inheritance rights, as well as administrative and judiciary self-governance, among other privileges. Flood bank associations responsible for erection and maintenance of flood banks were also organized at that time. Feudal obligations were settled by paying rent. At the time, there were 25 villages in the Żuławy Gdańskie, over 40 in the Żuławy Wielkie, and ca. 13 in the Małe Żuławy Malborskie. In that period of colonization, settlers began to develop areas that were not directly subject to flooding, but still, the construction and maintenance of flood bank were an essential element of life in the Żuławy village.

In 1454, the Secret Council of the Prussian Association revoked the allegiance to the Teutonic Order and applied to the king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk to incorporate the area into the Kingdom of Poland. The Toruń peace treaty signed in 1466 legitimized the transfer of the Gdańsk Pomerania, including Żuławy to Poland. The administrative structure of the Żuławy was changed. Żuławy Steblewskie and the Szkarpowa region (Teutonic aldermanship and fisheries district in the Wielkie Żuławy) were included in the Gdańsk estate and the eastern section of the Wielkie Żuławy - the areas of present day Gozdawa, Półmiasto, and the Marzęcino - Nowy Dwór road - was transferred to the Elbląg estate in 1457. The remaining section of the Żuławy was turned into a royal estate, called "ekonomia Malborska (Malbork estate)". On the eastern side of the Nogat, the border between the royal estate, Małe Żuławy and the Elbląg estate ran along Drużno lake shore, the Tina river, and westward below Jegłownik. Barwald and Nowy Dwór tenancies were sectioned off from the royal estate. In 1565, the Barwald tenancy with the villages of Niedźwiedzica, Nowa Kościelnica, and Żuławka was granted by the king to Reinhold Krokowski. The Nowy Dwór tenancy was formed gradually, when the king successively transferred the following villages to the Gdańsk family, Ferber: Ostaszewo, Lubieszewo, Orłowo, and Tuja (in 1515, confirmed in 1552); the villages of Dziewięć Włók and Leśniewo were added later, when the tenancy was owned by the Loitz family. The villages of Żelichowo, Żelichowo -Cyganek, Neudorf and Altendorf were transferred in 1569 to cover another loan.

Farming the fertile Żuławy land was quite profitable and farmers were eager to expand and protect the acreage by construction of new flood banks and draining the area, which involved digging ditches and canals and building draining devices - horse and wind driven pumping machines. Although, the obligations of peasants were getting more substantial, serfdom was not very common in the region. With the Reformation, which spread to the large towns of the Royal Prussia in the 2nd quarter of the 16th century, the Żuławy village also underwent significant changes. Damages caused by catastrophic floods, which destroyed large part of the Żuławy, required considerable amount effort to re-develop the area and protect it against similar hazards. This period coincided with emigration of Anabaptists (primarily Mennonites) from the Netherlands triggered by religious and economic persecution. The lack of farmers, who were willing to develop the difficult Żuławy lands, contributed for the religious tolerance towards the newcomers. New settlers introduced new forms of village (or manor) organization, for instance, long term lease or rent payments in place of other obligations. A landowner and a settler (or a group of settlers) signed an agreement based on the emphyteutic law. The Żuławy emphyteusis was characterized by hereditary rights to the land (a contract was renewed on average every 30 or 40 years) and a possibility to remain outside of the local self-governance system, which was created during the Teutonic Knights period. The settlement organization was characterized by a new spatial arrangement - the reclusive farm. According to certain studies, a new law, called emphyteutic or Dutch ("olęder") law appeared not only in the previously unused areas (wastelands, marshes) but in all areas that experienced long-lasting economic difficulties . In those areas, the new law applied not only to Dutch settlers. Development of difficult areas such as marshes or cleared forests continued upstream along the Vistula in the previously undeveloped areas.

The Swedish invasion of 1626 -1635 ended the relatively peaceful period in Żuławy. The damages of the right-bank Żuławy, which was occupied by Gustav Adolf and provided supplies for his army, were insignificant in comparison to that of the rest of the region. Similarly undamaged was the Malbork estate, which was transfer to the Brandenburg Elector to cover a loan. The occupation and marches of troops caused significant damages to the Żuławy Steblewskie and Nowy Dwór tenancy, which were the scene of battles between the Swedish, Gdańsk and Polish armies. During "The Swedish Deluge" the situation was similar and the area experienced even more substantial damages, which largely affected the Malbork section. In 1703, the Elbląg estate was taken over by the Prussian king. Shortly afterwards, the Prussian administrators, being aware of the economic importance of the Żuławy, launched another extensive colonization campaign founding several new villages.

Following a relatively peaceful period, the Żuławy became the scene of military operations of the Great Northern War, in which all sides equally (Poland remained neutral) pillaged and ravaged the villages in the Vistula delta. And again, during the Seven Years' War, the combating armies passed through the Żuławy drafting recruits and plundering villages.

After the 1st Partition of Poland, the Żuławy was included in a large administrative district with a capital in Malbork. The 1st Partition did not affect Gdańsk; the district border ran along the Gdańsk estate. However, after the 2nd Partition, also Gdańsk with its estates was incorporated into the Prussian state. A short episode of the Free City of Dazing (Gdańsk) (1807 - 1813), during which the administration of the Żuławy Gdańskie was located in the city, had no effect on the region. The Napoleonic Wars was another destructive period for the Żuławy villages, which were plundered by the passing armies yet another time and were forced to pay tributes. After the Vienna Peace treaty, the region enjoyed an over hundred-year period of peace, during which the region was administered by the Prussian state and, later, by the German Reich, and well managed, prospered economically. The delta region was divided into districts, which corresponded to the old administrative structure; the Elbląg district included the lowland Elbląg territory, the Malbork district included the Malbork estate with Małe Żuławy, Wielkie Żuławy, former tenancies of Nowy Dwór and Barwald, as well as the Szkarpawa region, the rural Gdańsk district corresponded to the former Żuławy Gdańskie and Mierzeja, and the urban Gdańsk district included the city of Gdańsk with neighboring settlements.

The First World War did not affect the Żuławy directly, but as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the region was divided into the Free City of Dazing, which included not only the former Gdańsk estate, but also Wielkie Żuławy Malborskie and a part of the Żuławy Elbląskie, and a section incorporated to Germany with Małe Żuławy Malborskie and Żuławy Elbląskie. The Nogat river constituted a border between these two sections.

The real disaster struck at the end of January and beginning of February of 1945 when, as a result of the military operations, not only was the area devastated but was also flooded by water flowing through destroyed flood banks. The displacement of the former residents and arrival of new colonists followed. The settlement of Poles and Ukrainians, who came from completely different regions in terms of culture and farming style, as well as the implementation of a new political system and a new administrative division undermined the existing structure of the region. Highly advanced agriculture and a specific rural culture were interrupted. In place of well-organized farms, which were managed based on knowledge acquired through generations, the authorities established enormous state farms (PGR). These farms were organized according to the Soviet methods, which were inappropriate to the specific Żuławy conditions. Privately owned farms, being excessively taxed and harassed by officials, could not compete with the heavily subsidized state farms. Furthermore, the agricultural know-how of many new farmers, who came from undeveloped and, above all, agriculturally different regions, was often very poor.

[1] H. Górnowicz, Toponimia Powiśla Gdańskiego, Gdańsk 1980, tenże: Nazewnictwo żuławskie, w: Żuławy Wiślane, pod red. ,Gdańsk 1976.
[2] Długokęcki, s. 29.
[3] Ibidem, s. 82.
[4] Kizik, s. 44-45

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