The region of Silesia is located in Central Europe, covering an area of approximately 40,000 square kilometres. It is split into two main sub-regions, Lower Silesia, and Upper Silesia. Situated close to the Oder River it also includes the Sudeten Mountains which lay on its southern border. Historically, it has had a rich and diverse culture and traditions as well as its own language.

Cieszyn Silesia is in in south-eastern Silesia and includes the towns of Cieszyn and Český Těšín and the region is bisected by the Olza River.

Location of Cieszyn Silesia on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic.

Timeline of Polish conflicts after the First World War.

Disputed territory

Towards the end of World War One, Polish and Czech officials held negotiations regarding the border between the two new countries. Overall, the talks went well and most of the border was agreed upon. However, by the time the armistice itself was declared, there were three still politically important regions – particularly the area of Cieszyn Silesia - that the two parties could not reach common ground on. Both of these two newly created independent states - the Second Polish Republic and First Czechoslovak Republic - claimed the area of Cieszyn Silesia as their own.

Anti-Czech leaflet.

This disputed territory had historically been under the control of different kingdoms in the past and contained people of different ethnic groups, which complicated matters. Since the 9th century it had been controlled or ruled by:

  • Greater Moravia
  • The Duchy of Bohemia
  • The Piast Kingdom of Poland
  • The Bohemian Crown
  • The Holy Roman Empire
  • The Hapsburg Monarchy
  • The Kingdom of Prussia
  • The German Empire

In 1910, the Austrians conducted a census of the area and determined that it contained:

  • Three districts which identified as Polish: Cieszyn, Bielsko and Fryštát.
  • One district – Frýdek – which considered itself Czech
  • The Ślązakowcy district also had a high number of residents who claimed a separate, distinct Silesian identity.

Czechoslovak legions from Italy leaving for the Polish Front in 1919.

Public Domain

The Sudetenland region

To further complicate matters, the area contained rich coal deposits at Karviná and an extensive rail network – the Košice-Bohumín Railway line – which linked it to Czech and Slovak lands, and a railway junction at Bohumin which catered for international transport and communications. It was clearly an area containing valuable resources and infrastructure.

Because of this, the Czechs were unwilling to give up their claims to the area, especially as it formed part of the Sudetenland region, an area they wished to keep solely Czech. If this predominately Polish speaking region was allowed to join Poland, it might encourage other foreign nations – i.e., Germany – to also claim areas of the Sudetenland which contained a majority of German speakers. Even as far back as 1919, the Czechs realised the potential vulnerability of the Sudetenland to neighbouring countries.

Map of the Seven-Day War.


At 11:00 on 23 January 1919, in Cieszyn, Silesia, Polish commander Franciszek Latinik and Czechoslovak officer Josef Šnejdárek met with a group of officers from the UK, France, Italy and the USA. The Czechs presented the Poles with an ultimatum – they were to evacuate the area and withdraw to the Biala River – all within two hours. Given the seriousness of the situation, two hours seems scant enough time to organise a large-scale orderly withdrawal – presuming that the Poles were willing to comply.

Once the ultimatum had expired and it was clear the Poles remained, the Czech forces went on the offensive and seized the towns of Bohumin, Orlová and Karviná. At the same time, an Italian Legionnaire unit fighting on the Czech side, entered the disputed region from the east. By the 27 January, Czech forces controlled the whole of Cieszyn Silesia with the Poles – the bulk of their forces committed to other conflicts elsewhere- being forced back to the Vistula River.

Czechoslovakian legionaries from France in Cieszyn, Silesia.

Battle of Skoczów

The next day, further clashes occurred near Skoczów. The Poles resisted fiercely but were forced back to Ustroń and Drogomyśl. The Czech forces kept pressing and managed to break through Polish lines near Strumień. The Czechs – led by an officer called Josef Šnejdárek, managed to cross the Vistula and secure the railway line between Bohumín and Jablunkov. This forced a further retreat from the Polish forces where they formed a new line at Skoczów. With further Czech reinforcements pouring in, it seemed inevitable that the Polish defences would give way completely.

Czech armoured train in 1919.


However, on 31 January 1919, the Czech’s cancelled any further offensive actions due to pressure from the Triple Entente (The Russian Empire, French Republic, and United Kingdom). The Czech’s then withdrew to a new ‘Green Line’ which had been established by the International Commission Agreement. The Czechoslovak-Polish Treaty was then signed on 3 February 1919 in Paris, France.

In total, the Czech forces had numbered over 10,000 men, including 28 machine guns and an armoured train. Although the Poles also had access to an armoured train, they could only muster a single artillery piece and less than half the number of troops as the attacking Czechs – around 4000 infantry and cavalry. This was mainly due to the Poles already committing most of the forces elsewhere due to the Polish-Ukrainian War, the Greater Poland Uprising and the building tensions between the Poles and Russia – which led to the Polish-Soviet War breaking out  shortly after.

Czech anti-Polish leaflet used during the dispute between Czechoslovakia and Poland over Teschen Silesia in 1918 - 1920 and aimed at Teschen Silesians.

There were also accusations of war crimes being committed by the Czechs during this short but bloody conflict, a grisly accusation and one more associated with German SS units or the Russian NKVD. On 26 January, 20 Polish Prisoners of war were ruthlessly bayoneted to death and an unconfirmed account suggests more were killed in the village of Bystřice and several civilians murdered in Karviná. Thousands of more Poles fled the area and escaped to Poland.

Memorial to the Polish victims of the Seven-Day War in Zebrzydowice.


With the intervention on the Triple Entente and the subsequent ceasefire, the area was placed under international control and in July 1920, after the Spa Conference - which had been attended by many of the victorious nations of the First World War: United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, the division of the territory was decided, with the railway line divided between both Poland and Czechoslovakia:

  • Poland gained one-third of the population and lass than half the territory, including the town of Cieszyn and a number of villages.
  • Czechoslovakia gained the Fryštát and Frýdek and most of the district of Cieszyn, including the railway station and the entire Bohumín-Jablunkov railway line. The Czechs also received most of the Coal Mines and the Třinec Iron and Steel Works. They also gained 140,000 Poles who were left stranded on the Czech side of the border.

It is easy to see from the outcome, that Czechoslovakia appeared to have benefited most from the decisions made at the Spa Conference with the greater territorial and infrastructure gains.

The issue of the disputed territories continued to fester until 12 March 1924, when the League of Nations ruled that:

  • Czechoslovakia keeps the territories of Javorina and Ždia and gained areas around Suchá Hora and Hladovka.
  • Poland gained territory around Nižná Lipnica and Oraya.

The region now enjoyed a period of relative stability until the Munich Crisis and German claims over the Sudetenland gave the Poles an opportunity.