Allenstein, plebiscite (1920)

ALBUM – view my Allenstein Album

Fast Facts

Region: Germany / Poland Area
Group: Occupations and Plebiscites post wwI
Classification: Plebiscite
Prior Regime: The German Empire
Key Dates:
  1919, Jun – Treaty of Versailles
  1920, Feb 12 – British and Italian troops arrive
  1920, Jul 11 – Plebiscite
  1920, Aug 16 – Handover to Republic of Germany
Following Regime: Germany, Weimer Republic
Scott Catalogue: (Allenstein) #1-28
Pick Catalogue: none


Handover of the Plebiscite area by the Allied commission, Allenstein, 16 August 1920
Handover of the Plebiscite area by the Allied commission, Allenstein, 16 August 1920
After the defeat of the German Empire in World War 1, the terms of surrender were ultimately agreed and codified in the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June, 1919. The terms of the treaty required Germany to give up territory to neighbors in Europe as well as all of its foreign colonies in Africa and Asia. In the East Prussia area: a large portion of land would be given to the newly independent Poland, Danzig (Gdansk) would become a Free City, Memel (Klaipėda) was made a protectorate of the League of Nations (although Lithuania occupied and annexed the region in 1923), and Allenstein and Marienwerder were allowed to have a vote (or plebiscite) to determine whether they would become a part of Germany or Poland. To the north, Schleswig would conduct a plebiscite to determine whether it would be part of Denmark or Germany. To the West, Eupen and Malmedy would go to Belgium, Alsace and Lorraine would become part of France, and Saar would be administered by the French for the League of Nations, and referendum would be held 15 years later, in 1935 to determine their fate. To the southeast, Upper Silesia and Eastern Silesia also planned to conduct plebiscites to determine their fate.

As the Allies decided to establish Poland as an independent state, a large part of West Prussia was awarded to Poland (along with its large German population) to give the new nation access to the Baltic Sea. While this access to a seaport was considered necessary for the survival of the country, it created a strip of land, often called the Polish Corridor, that essentially split East Prussia off from the rest of Germany.

Allenstein (Olsztyn, in Polish) was a district in East Prussia from 1818 – 1910, when it became an independent city within the German Empire. According to the Treaty of Versailles, Allenstein was placed under the authority of the Inter-Allied Commission, and British and Italian troops began arriving on 12 February, 1920 to oversee the plebiscite. While the German Army had already left the area, civil and municipal administration continued under existing German authorities who were accountable to the Commissions. On 11 July, 1920, the vote was held and almost 98% of the voting population chose to remain with East Prussia in Germany. The formal handover from the Commission to German authorities occurred on 16 August, 1920 and Allenstein, along with Marienwerder became part of East Prussia.

Allenstein remained under the control of Germany until the end of World War 2, when it became a part of an expanded Poland

GER - Allenstein Map


During the lead up to the plebiscite, postage stamps of Germany were overprinted and issued to help publicize the event. Two different overprint designs were produced. The first design consisted of three lines reading: “PLÉBISCITE / OLSZTYN / ALLENSTEIN”, and was overprinted in 14 different denominations ranging from 3 pfennig to 3 marks.

The second overprint design consisted of an oval with the words: ”TRAITÉ DE VERSAILLES / ART. 94 et 95”, printed in in the center, and the full name of the plebiscite commission printed within the outside border.
Allenstein stamps were first issued on 3 April, 1920, and were valid until 20 August.


No Allenstein specific banknotes were issued during the plebiscite era.  However, a great period of inflation broke out in Germany after the war, causing great strains on the economy.  In the early 1920’s, Notegeld (emergency money) was issued in many local regions, Allenstein included.  The notes were meant to used for local bartering as the German Mark plummeted and metal was in short supply.  The bright colored notes featuring local buildings or folklore created a strong demand from collectors. Quite often these sets, known as “Serienscheine” (serial paper money),  were never actually produced for circulation, but instead sold to dealers.


East Prussian Plebiscite at Wikipedia
Plebiscite issues make interesting collection from Linns
Allenstein Plebiscite from Stamp Collecting World
Allenstein at BigBlue 1840-1949 by Jim Jackson
Stamps of Distinction – Allenstein

This entry was posted in Germany / Poland Area, Plebiscites, Treaty of Versailles, WW1. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Allenstein, plebiscite (1920)

  1. David Hodge says:

    The Polish Corridor dates from the middle ages. Duke Conrad of Masovia had problems with the pagan Old Prussians, who were related to the Lithuanians. Unable to get help in Poland, he asked for it in Germany. The German Order (Teutonic Knights) and others answered, and conquered the Prussians. The Teutonic Knights and friends then expanded into Latvia and Estonia, and finally into Lithuania. In 1410, the Poles, Lithuanians and others won the Battle of Tannenberg over the Teutonics, and recovered Lithuania. In spite of some German incursions, the Polish Corridor remained until the First Partition of Poland in 1772. In 1919, it still had a substantial Polish majority. Some areas that had been Polish before 1772 stayed with Germany because of German majorities. The Allenstein plebiscite was marked by fraud and coercion.

    • Michael says:

      Hi David
      Welcome to DCStamps, and it is great to see people who are very interested in history. This whole area of the world is fascinating, and we just visited Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia last year and saw several of the historical sites.
      Regarding Allenstein, most of the plebiscites after WW1 had their issues, especially as the populations of the regions were quite mixed. However, regardless of the chaos, those areas with a high German/Prussian population needed to have a say in their alignment.

  2. David Mielke says:

    Where can one get a decent map of Allenstein showing the districts and towns of the 1920s?

  3. orlando alvarez says:

    Met you yesterday at the Fort Washington Stamp Show. Terrific Web Site. Great historical info and pictures. Keep up the great work you’re doing.

    • Michael says:


      Nice to meet you as well. Thanks for the comments, and I hope to to see you at an upcoming stamp show. Would love to learn more about your collection.


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