6 Dec 2017

Danzig: Excuse For Aggression

Vicissitudes of Danzig-Re-establishment of the Free City The Polish Corridor-Poles Create Port of Gdynia-Danzig Dissentients Establishment of Danzig Nazi Party Arnold Forster’s Campaign of Pin-pricks and Insults Nazis Dominate the Free City Propaganda for Incorporation in the Reich Tension Grows Germany Invades Corridor

In 1914 Europe and ultimately the world were plunged into war because of a terrorist’s bullet in the Balkans. In 1939 war came again to the world because the people of Danzig were resolved to rejoin the Reich. Perhaps the one statement is as true as the other, though of a certainty neither is the whole truth. Nevertheless, the murder of the Austrian Archduke was the spark that set fire to the powder barrel in 1914; and in 1939 the proclamation that Danzig had “ returned home " meant that Hitler’s Germany had decided to appeal to the arbitrament of the sword in its quarrel with Poland and with Poland’s allies.  Danzig has never been long absent from the pages of history. Situated at the mouth of the Vistula, it occupies a position of great economic importance, and apart from the fact that the Romans had a settlement in the neighbourhood, the place has been a centre of human intercourse for nearly a thousand years. Danes, Pomeranians, Prussians, Brandenburgers and Poles struggled for its possession, and from 1308 to 1454 it was the prosperous settlement of that famed medieval order the Teutonic Knights. When the power and discipline of the Knights declined, Danzig shook off their yoke and became part of Polish territory. Though nominally subject, however, it enjoyed the status and all the rights of a Free City; in fact, it was the head of a territory comprising some thirty townships. At this time it was also a member of the Hanseatic League, that combination of North European trading cities which for long constituted what was in fact a commercial empire. With the coming of the modern age it entered a period of troubled history, and in the wars between the Russians, the German states and Poland in the 17th and 18th centuries, it suffered severely.

When in 1772 Russia, Austria and Prussia descended like imperial birds of prey on the body of Poland, then sorely stricken by internal feuds, Danzig was separated from Poland, and in 1793 during the Second Partition it was definitely allotted to Prussia. For a short time it was a dukedom, but in 1814 it was  returned to Prussia, and it was the capital of West Prussia until 1919. At Versailles Danzig’s future again came under review, and it was resolved that the ancient Free City should be re-established under the protection of the League of Nations, primarily with a view to providing the newly restored state of Poland with control of the mouth of the river on which its life chiefly depended. By the end of 1920 the new order had il been established. Politically, the Free City enjoyed complete self government, but, economically, it was closely linked a with its great neighbour Poland and Danzig formed a single customs territory, Poland enjoying special privileges in the port and controlling the foreign relations of the little state.  Adjoining the free territory of Danzig is the province of Pomorze, the so-called Polish Corridor. History books talk of it as Pomerania, i.e. " along the sea ” it consists of Eastern Pomerania, which lies west of the Vistula, and the territory  of Kuhn, which lies on the eastern bank of the great river. Seized by Prussia in the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the region remained Polish even during those years of the 19th century when all the efforts of the Prussian governing machine were directed towards the eradication of everything that savoured of Polish national sentiment.

Despite   the German rule of over 140 years, the great majority of the population were still Poles in race, culture and language when, in 1919, the treaty makers at Versailles decreed that this portion of the German state should be restored to Poland. The action could be justified on racial and linguistic grounds, but another reason was the need for providing Poland with an outlet to the sea. It was early in 1920 that the first High Commissioner came to reside in Danzig and Poland took formal possession of the Polish Corridor. The rulers of the resuscitated Poland were well aware of Danzig’s present importance, but the fact could not be hid that it was predominantly German. Rather than have to rely completely on a port which, if not actually anti-Polish, was at least unPolish, the authorities in Warsaw decided upon the creation of an entirely new port on the Baltic coast of the Corridor, northwest of Danzig. The site they chose was Gdynia, and in the course of a few years what was then an insignificant fishing village developed into one of the great ports of Europe. While Poland was struggling with internal difficulties and with foreign foes, both Gdynia and Danzig advanced in wealth and importance. By 1932 two- thirds of all Poland’s trade went by the sea routes commanded by the two ports. So considerable was Poland’s overseas  trade, indeed, that there was room for both the old port and the new and despite the spectacular rise of Gdynia, Danzig’s trade was soon far in excess of what it had been when it was part of the Kaiser’s realm. Nevertheless, there was rivalry between Danzig and Gdynia there was friction between the Poles and the Danziger's, and, of course  with the latter’s German supporters, from the very commencement of the new order.

Germany regarded the loss of the Corridor and of Danzig as an unstaunched wound in her side and as the years passed there were innumerable clashes over economic and political issues. There was trouble for instance over the partial confiscation of the estates of German landowners in the Corridor a measure carried out in accordance with the new Polish land laws aiming at the improvement of the status of the peasants and there was resentment at Poland’s decision to erect a munitions dump or naval base at Westerplatte and at the claims put forward on behalf of Polish customs officers and postal officials in the territory.

For years Danzig and the Corridor were permanent items in the agenda of the League of Nations at Geneva, and it became a matter of principle for the successive German governments to champion the  rights of the allegedly suppressed Germans who had been cut off from the Fatherland by the Versailles “ Diktat." When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933 there was a distinct improvement in the relations between the Reich and Poland, resulting from the Fuehrer’s Ten year Treaty with Poland of January 26, 1934. In Danzig, however, the voice of the dissenters against League rule became ever more loud.

A Nazi party was established, and it was not long before it had completely captured the political machine and was working it on the totalitarian model. However friendly he might wish to be with Poland, Hitler never disguised his sympathies with the Germans of Danzig, and to a lesser degree with those occupying the Corridor. The Danzig Nazis, under the leadership of Albert Forster, by a combination of pin-pricks and insults made the position of the High Commissioner unbearable, and as soon as they achieved a majority in the Diet they subjected all the non-Nazi elements to a system of organized repression. A stream of inspired Nazi propaganda was poured out in favour of the city’s reunion with the Reich. All who favoured the democratic regime, or who advocated an understanding between the two peoples, were silenced by the brutal arguments usually employed by the Nazis prison  and the concentration camp, the cudgel and the assassin’s bullet. The Jews the A merchants and bankers who had always played so large a part in the city’s life and on whose talent its prosperity was so largely, grounded vigere driven out and o plundered. Hitler’s henchmen forced their way into every public office, and when in 1936 Arthur Greiser, the Nazi President of the Danzig Senate, was summoned to account by the League of Nations, he made a defiant speech at Geneva demanding the end of the League control.

By the end of 1937 the Free City was completely in the hands of the Nazis, and early in the next year Forster  declared that Berlin Has resumed control of the city’s foreign policy. Poland could do little to stem the Nazi tide. During 1938 it was understood that in return for certain economic concessions Poland was prepared to abandon her political claims, but in the autumn the position worsened following upon Forster’s declaration that the Germans in Danzig would soon be rewarded for their suffering just as the Germans in Austria and the Sudetenland had been rewarded. By the close of the year Danzig’s reincorporation in the Reich had become a matter of immediate political interest. Towards the end of July, 1939, it was announced that the Danzig police force had been increased from 1,500 to nearly 4,000 men owing to the " necessity for protecting Danzig from the Polish army," and tension between Poland and Danzig was further aggravated by the dismissal of Polish workmen in the shipyards interference with the rights and functions of Polish customs officials, and, finally, the shooting of one of the latter by Nazi storm troopers. As the days passed the tension grew. From Warsaw there came a statement that if the Germans insisted on realizing their plan of incorporating Danzig in the Reich, then Poland would be forced to resort to arms, knowing that she was fighting for her own independence. July passed into August, and it became increasingly apparent that Herr Hitler was contemplating yet another of those aggressive actions against neighbouring states which in the  past had proved so successful. Confronted by the possibility of a European, and possibly a world war, the statesmen of the powers strove unceasingly for peace. It was not to be however. On September 1 Herr Hitler’s troops entered the Corridor,  and on that morning Forster announced to the Danziger's that  the hour for which you have been longing for twenty years has come. This day Danzig has returned to the great German Reich.

Second Great War - a Standard History (9 Volume Set)


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