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Ober Ost

Coordinates: 52°13′59″N 21°01′12″E / 52.23306°N 21.02000°E / 52.23306; 21.02000
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Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East
Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten (German)
StatusMilitary occupation authority of the German Empire
CapitalKönigsberg (HQ, 1919)[citation needed]
Common languagesPolish, Lithuanian, Latvian
Supreme Commander 
• 1914–1916
Paul von Hindenburg
• 1916–1918
Prince Leopold of Bavaria
Chief of Staff 
• 1914–1916
Erich Ludendorff
• 1916–1918
Max Hoffmann
Historical eraWorld War I
• Established
3 March 1918
11 November 1918
• Disestablished
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Governorate of Livonia
Courland Governorate
Kovno Governorate
Vilna Governorate
Grodno Governorate
Suwałki Governorate
Government General of Warsaw
Military Government of Lublin
Kingdom of Poland
Ukrainian People's Republic
Kingdom of Lithuania
Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
Belarusian People's Republic
Baltic State
Today part ofLatvia
This is a 2 kopek coin (2 КОПѢЙКИ) from Ober Ost, 1916

The Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East (German: Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten), also known by its German abbreviation as Ober Ost, was both a high-ranking position in the armed forces of the German Empire as well as the name given to the occupied territories on the German section of the Eastern Front of World War I, with the exception of Poland.[a] It encompassed the former Russian governorates of Courland, Grodno, Vilna, Kovno and Suwałki. It was governed in succession by Paul von Hindenburg and Prince Leopold of Bavaria. It was abandoned after the end of World War I.


Ober Ost was set up by Kaiser Wilhelm II in November 1914, initially came under the command of Paul von Hindenburg, a Prussian general who had come out of retirement to achieve the German victory of the Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914 and became a national hero. When the Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn was dismissed from office by the Kaiser in August 1916, Hindenburg took over at the General Staff, and Prince Leopold of Bavaria took control of the Ober Ost.

By October 1915, the Imperial German Army had advanced so far to the east that central Poland could be put under a civil administration. Accordingly, the German Empire established the Government General of Warsaw and the Austro-Hungarian Empire set up the Government General of Lublin. The military Ober Ost government from then on controlled only the conquered areas east and north of central Poland.

After the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918, the German Empire effectively controlled Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, parts of Poland, and Courland, all of which had been part of the Russian Empire.[1] Ober Ost itself controlled present-day Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Courland.


Postage stamps from Ober Ost

Ober Ost governed in a very strict and often cruel way. The movement policy (Verkehrspolitik) divided the territory without regard to the existing social and ethnic organization and patterns. Movement between the districts was forbidden, which destroyed the livelihood of many merchants and prevented people from visiting friends and relatives in neighboring districts.[2] The Germans also tried to "civilize" the people in the Ober Ost-controlled land, attempting to integrate German ideals and institutions[2] with the existing cultures. They constructed railroads but only Germans were allowed to ride them and schools were established and staffed with German instructors.[3]

In 1915, when large territories came under Ober Ost's administration as a result of military successes on the Eastern Front, Erich Ludendorff, von Hindenburg's second-in-command, set up a system of managing the large area now under its jurisdiction. Although von Hindenburg was technically in command, Ludendorff had actual control of the administration. There were ten staff members, each with a specialty (finance, agriculture, etc.). The area was divided into the Courland District, the Lithuania District and the Bialystok-Grodno District, each overseen by a district commander. Ludendorff's plan was to make Ober Ost a colonial territory for the settlement of his troops after the war and to provide a haven for German refugees from Russia.[3] Ludendorff quickly organized Ober Ost so that it was a self-sustaining region, growing all its own food and even exporting surpluses to Berlin. The largest resource was one that Ludendorff was unable to exploit effectively: the local population had no interest in helping obtain a German victory, as it had no say in the government and was subject to increasing requisitions and taxes.[3]

Communication with locals[edit]

There were many problems with communication with local persons within the Ober Ost. Among the upper-class locals, the soldiers could get by with French or German, and in large villages, the Jewish population would speak German or Yiddish, "which the Germans would somehow comprehend".[4] In the rural areas and amongst peasant populations soldiers had to rely on interpreters who spoke Lithuanian, Latvian or Polish.[4] The language problems were not helped by the thinly-stretched administrations, which would sometimes number 100 men in areas as large as Luxembourg.[4] The clergy at times had to be relied upon to spread messages to the masses since that was an effective way of spreading a message to people who speak a different language.[4] A young officer-administrator named Vagts related that he listened (through a translator) to a sermon by a priest who told his congregation to stay off highways after nightfall, hand in firearms and not to have anything to do with Bolshevist agents, exactly as Vagts had told him to do earlier.[4]

Russian Revolution[edit]

The uncertain situation caused by the Russian October Revolution in 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 made some indigenes elect Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg as head of the United Baltic Duchy and the second duke of Urach as king of Lithuania, but those plans collapsed in November 1918.

Administrative divisions[edit]

The Ober Ost was divided into three Verwaltungsgebiete (administrative territories): Kurland, Litauen, and Bialystok-Grodno. Each was, like Germany proper, subdivided into Kreise (districts); Landkreise (rural districts) and Stadtkreise (urban districts). In 1917 the following districts existed:[5]

Bialystok-Grodno Kurland
Alekszyce Bauske
Bialystok, Stadtkreis Doblen
Bialystok, Landkreis Goldingen
Bielsk Grobin
Grodno, Stadtkreis Hasenpot
Grodno, Landkreis Libau, Stadtkreis
Lida, Stadtkreis Mitau, Landkreis
Ost Talsen
Planty Tuckum
Radun Windau
Augustow Rossienie
Birshi Russisch-Krottingen
Johanischkele Saldugischki
Kiejdany Schaulen
Koschedary Schirwinty
Kowno, Stadtkreis Sejny
Kowno, Landkreis Siady
Kupzischki Skaudwile
Kurszany Suwalki
Maljaty Telsze
Mariampol Uzjany
Okmjany Wiezajcie
Olita Wilkomierz
Podbrodzie Wilna, Stadtkreis
Pojurze Wilna, Landkreis
Poniewiez Wladislawow
Rakischki Wylkowyschki

The total area was 108,808 km2 (42,011 sq mi), containing a population of 2,909,935 (by the end of 1916).[6]

Main military units in 1919[edit]


With the end of the war and collapse of the empire, the Germans started to withdraw, sometimes in a piecemeal and disorganized way, from Ober Ost around late 1918 and early 1919.[7] In the vacuum left by their retreat, conflicts arose as various former occupied nations declared independence, clashing with the various factions of the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War, and with each other. For details, see:

Parallels with Nazi German policy[edit]

The Lithuanian historian Vėjas Gabrielius Liulevičius postulates in his book War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I, that a line can be traced from Ober Ost's policies and assumptions to Nazi Germany's plans and attitudes towards Eastern Europe. His main argument is that "German troops developed a revulsion towards the 'East' and came to think of it as a timeless region beset by chaos, disease and barbarism", instead of what it really was, a region suffering from the ravages of warfare.[8] He claims that the encounter with the East formed an idea of "spaces and races", which needed to be "cleared and cleansed". Although he has garnered a great deal of evidence for his thesis including government documents, letters and diaries in German and Lithuanian, there are still problems with his work. For example, he does not say much about the reception of German policies by native populations.[8] Also, he "makes almost no attempt to relate wartime occupation policies and practice in Ober Ost to those in Germany's colonial territories overseas".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Under the authority of the Government General of Warsaw after October 1915.


  1. ^ Figes 1998, pp. xxiii, 548.
  2. ^ a b Gettman, Erin (June 2002). "The Baltic Region during WWI". Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  3. ^ a b c Koehl, Robert Lewis (October 1953). "A Prelude to Hitler's Greater Germany". The American Historical Review. 59 (1): 43–65. doi:10.2307/1844652. JSTOR 1844652.
  4. ^ a b c d e Vagts, Alfred (Spring 1943). "A memoir of Military Occupation". Military Affairs. 7 (1): 16–24. doi:10.2307/1982990. JSTOR 1982990.
  5. ^ "Kreise im Generalgouvernement Warschau 1917". territorial.de. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  6. ^ "Ober Ost (Kurland, Litauen, Bialystok-Grodno) 1917". www.brest-litowsk.libau-kurland-baltikum.de. Retrieved 2019-12-21.
  7. ^ Böhler, Jochen (2019). Civil War in Central Europe, 1918-1921: The Reconstruction of Poland. Oxford University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-19-879448-6.
  8. ^ a b c Gatrell, Peter; Liulevicius, Vejas Gabriel (2001). "Review of War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I". Slavic Review. 60 (4): 844–845. doi:10.2307/2697514. JSTOR 2697514.

Further reading[edit]

52°13′59″N 21°01′12″E / 52.23306°N 21.02000°E / 52.23306; 21.02000