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Ober Ost

Supreme Command of All German Forces in the East
Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten
Military occupation authority of the German Empire


Flag Coat of arms
Capital Königsberg (HQ, 1919)
Political structure Military occupation
Supreme Commander
 •  1914–1916 Paul von Hindenburg
 •  1916–1918 Leopold Maximilian
Chief of Staff
 •  1914–1916 Erich Ludendorff
 •  1916–1918 Max Hoffmann
Historical era World War I
 •  Established 1914
 •  Treaty of Brest-Litovsk March 3, 1918
 •  German surrender November 11, 1918
 •  Disestablished 1919
 •  1916 108,808 km² (42,011 sq mi)
 •  1916 est. 2,909,935 
     Density 26.7 /km²  (69.3 /sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Governorate of Livonia
Courland Governorate
Kovno Governorate
Vilna Governorate
Grodno Governorate
Kingdom of Lithuania (1918)
Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1918)
Kingdom of Poland (1916–18)
Today part of

Ober Ost is short for Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten, which is a German term meaning "Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East" during World War I. In practice it refers not only to said commander, but also to his governing military staff and the district they controlled: Ober Ost was in command of the Eastern front. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the German Empire effectively controlled Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, parts of Poland, and Courland: former territories of the Russian Empire.[1] Ober Ost itself was assigned present-day Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Poland, and Courland. The land it controlled was around 108,808 km². The Ober Ost was created in 1914, and its first leader was Paul von Hindenburg, a Prussian military hero. When the Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn was dismissed from office in 1916, von Hindenburg replaced him, and Prince Leopold of Bavaria was given control of the Ober Ost.


  • Policies 1
  • Communication with locals 2
  • Russian revolution 3
  • Administrative divisions 4
  • Main military units in 1919 5
  • Aftermath 6
  • Parallels with Nazi German policy 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10


Ober Ost ruled the land with an iron fist. The movement policy or "

  • Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius: War Land on the Eastern Front: Culture, National Identity, and German Occupation in World War I - review by Matthew R. Schwonek in The Journal of Military History, Vol. 65, No. 1. (Jan., 2001), pp. 212–213. [2]
  • Davies, Norman (2003) [1972], White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20 (2nd ed.),  
  • Figes, Orlando (1998), A People's Tragedy: the Russian Revolution, 1891–1924,  
  • Stone, Norman (1975), The Eastern Front, 1914–1917, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons,  

Further reading

  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 (The American Historical Review, Vol. 59, No. 1) 59 (1): 43–65.  
  4. ^ a b c d Vagts, Alfred (Spring 1943). "A memoir of Military Occupation". Military Affairs (Military Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 1) 7 (1): 16–24.  
  5. ^ Territoriale Veranderung (German)
  6. ^ Das Land Ober Ost (German)
  7. ^ Adrian Hyde-Price, Germany and European Order, Manchester University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-7190-5428-1 Google Print, p.75
  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 (Slavic Review, Vol. 60, No. 4) 60 (4): 844–845.  


See also

Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius 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' that 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]

Parallels with Nazi German policy

With the end of the war and collapse of the empire, the Germans started to withdraw, sometimes in a piecemeal and unorganized way, from Ober-Ost around late 1918 and early 1919. In the vacuum left by their retreat, a series of conflicts arose as various ethnic groups (Poles, Balts, Ukrainians) tried to create states, clashing with each other and with the various factions of the Russian Revolution. Winston Churchill commented: "The war of giants has ended, the wars of the pygmies began."[7] For details, see:


Main military units in 1919

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

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
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
Administrative map of the Ober Ost, 1917

In 1917 the following districts existed:[5]

The Ober Ost was divided into three Verwaltungsgebiete (administrative territories): Kurland, Litauen, and Bialystok-Grodno. Each was subdivided into Kreise (districts); Landkreise (rural districts) and Stadtkreise (urban districts).

Administrative divisions

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

Russian revolution

There were a great many problems with communication with indigenous 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 Latvian, Russian or both.[4] These language problems were not helped by the thinly stretched administrations, which would sometimes number 100 men in an area as large as Rhode Island.[4] The clergy were at times relied upon to spread messages to the masses, since this was an effective way of spreading a message to people who speak a different language.[4] A young officer-administrator named Vagts relates that he listened (through a translator) to a sermon by a priest who tells 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.

Communication with locals

[3] In 1915, when large territories came under Ober Ost's administration as a result of military successes on the Eastern Front

[3] with existing cultures. They brought in railroads but only Germans were allowed to ride them and schools were taught by German instructors, since they had not trained Lithuanians.[2] They also tried to "civilize" the people in the Ober Ost controlled land, attempting to integrate German ideals and institutions[2]

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