8 Dec 2017

The Final Crisis And The Onslaught On Poland

Dismissal of Polish Customs Inspectors Von Weizsacker and the "Persecution" of Poles Invasion of Silesia Hitler Sees British Ambassador Baseless Charges Rebutted Pact with Soviet Hitler’s " Peaceful Intentions" Fuehrer and Sir Nevile Henderson Britain’s Word Von Ribbentrop’s Fury Britain and France Present their Ultimatums Britain at War

Tin situation at Danzig had rapidly  deteriorated at, the beginning of August, and the high-handed action on August 4 of the Danzig Senate in dismissing the customs inspectors at four posts on the Danzig East Prussian frontier led to the most vigorous protests. The Germans intervened denying that any such order had been given. Colonel Beck, however, had documentary proof to the contrary, and replied that any further attempt to compromise the rights and interests of Poland would be regarded as an act of aggression. On August 16 Sir Nevile Henderson, our Ambassador in Berlin, reported the result of a stormy interview of the evening before with State Secretary K Baron von Weizséicker.  From this it became perfectly clear that the chicanery of German diplomacy was to be employed to make out a case of violence and persecution against the Poles, so that the contemplated violation of their territory might be justified. Herr Hitler’s patience, von Weizséicker indicated, was now exhausted. Underlying our Ambassadors calm account one senses a highly unpleasant interview. " We A disputed with acrimony about the rights and wrongs of the case without either apparently convincing the other.” By this time the full seriousness of the situation was realized and, as Sir Neville pointed out, events were drifting towards a situation in which neither side would be in a position to give way. Again the point was made perfectly clear to the German statesman that if Germany resorted to force Britain would resist with force. The State Secretary, who was clearly expressing the views of  the German Government, flatly turned down the suggestion that they should make some conciliatory gesture, and said that he could not believe that the British obligations to Poland meant that it was necessary for her to follow blindly every eccentric step on the part of a lunatic.”

During this historic discussion the number of persecutions by the Poles of innocent Germans grew to “ thousands ” and at the end Sir Nevile left the German minister apparently unmoved by his insistence on the inevitability of British intervention. The “ persecution” canard fostered by the Nazi propaganda deserves examination in the light of documents published in the British Blue Book. Sir Horace Kennard, British Ambassador in Warsaw, was at great pains to verify or refute the German accusations. On August 24 he declared himself perfectly satisfied that the campaign was a gross distortion and exaggeration of the facts. He described as “ merely silly " the German accounts that Poles had beaten Germans with chains, thrown them on barbed wire, or forced them to shout insults against Herr Hitler in chorus. In one specific case of a German arrested in connexion with the murder of a Polish policeman on August 15 it was stated in the German press that he had been beaten to death and his wife and children thrown out of the window. A British newspaper correspondent had had an interview with the "victim" in prison, had found that he had never been beaten and was in excellent health, and that the story about his wife and children was a complete fabrication. On the other hand, Sir H. Kennard spoke of the wholesale removal of Poles from frontier districts in Silesia and E. Prussia, the smashing of property, and other forms of persecution by Germans. Gradually the baiting and pin-prick incidents on the frontier increased. German bands not of irregulars but of fully equipped military detachments crossed the Silesian frontier, firing shots and attacking blockhouses and customs posts. The stories of persecutions of the German minority, though substantially the same as those fabricated against Czecho Slovakia in the previous year, were made to appear many times worse in the case of Poland. The object of these ruses was, in the case of the frontier incidents, to provoke retaliation which might easily be construed as Polish aggression; and in the persecution stories to arouse German indignation at the supposed ill treatment of their fellow nationals, which would foster the war spirit in Germany.

It was becoming clear that Hitler had planned the complete extinction of Poland and was employing what the Prime Minister called his sickeningly familiar technique. Not till the last shred of hope was abandoned did Mr. Chamberlain cease to put the British case fairly and squarely to Herr Hitler. Never again should it be said that war was precipitated by the obscurity which surrounded the British attitude. The Disquieting news of a German-Soviet agreement made no difference to the determination of Britain and France to uphold their pledges to Poland. Mr. Chamberlain reiterated this in a letter to the Fuehrer on August 22, adjuring him to pause before plunging Europe into war.

But the Fuehrer continued to rave and storm and to bring clattering down on the table the hand that had so often held the perjured pen. He received the British Ambassador on the night of August 23. Herr von Ribbentrop was still in Russia sealing his bargain with Stalin, and when that calm, dignified diplomat, Sir Nevile Henderson, was ushered into the fastness of Berchtesgaden he found himself confronted not by a leader of a great nation remorselessly and silently pursuing a reasoned course, but by a man beside himself with passion, howling invective at those who were attempting to stay his hand in its pursuit of tyranny. In the stream of abuse which fell on the surprised Ambassadors ears, again  centring round the supposed persecution of the Germans by the Poles, the excited Fuehrer advanced the fantastic story that the Poles were castrating Germans. Sir Neville said he knew of one case of a sex maniac being treated as he deserved. Not one word of reason could be instilled. All   Britain’s fault Britain who had incited the Czechs, so that ultimately they had to be crushed Britain who was driving Poland to its doom Britain who had forced him into agreement with Russia. It is at least to the Fuehrer’s credit that he was not over enthusiastic about this volte face and the jettisoning of yet another cargo of solemn vows and protestations.

What of this strange bargain, the news of which burst like a bombshell on an incredulous world? It will be remembered that at the time there was staying in Moscow a British military mission discussing problems of cooperation between Great Britain and Russia. Stalin’s main object, it appeared was to safeguard the defences of the Soviet he desired a free hand in the Baltic provinces which formerly had been part of Russia and now hedged him in from the sea. On this point, as was natural, the British Government did not see eye to eye with Stalin. Further, realizing that Britain could not prevent the Nazi conquest of Poland, the Soviet leader intended to regain territory that had been taken away in 1920. Failing to reach an agreement with Britain, he allowed the deliberations to continue while negotiating with Germany for a pact of nonaggression. The text of this agreement ran as follows

Non-aggression Pact Between Germany And The Union Of The Soviet Socialist Republics. The Government of the German Reich and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. guided by the desire to strengthen the cause of peace between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and taking as a basis the fundamental regulations of the Neutrality Agreement concluded in April 1926 between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, have reached the following agreement

Article l. The two Contracting Parties bind themselves to refrain from any act of force, any aggressive action and any attack on one another, both singly and also jointly with other Powers.

Art. 2. In the event of one of the Contracting Parties becoming the object of warlike action on the part of a, third Power, the other Contracting Party shall in no manner support this third Power.

Art. 3. The Governments of the two Contracting Parties shall in future remain continuously in touch with one another, by way of consultation, in order to inform one another on questions touching their joint interests.

Art. 4. Neither of the two Contracting Parties shall participate in any grouping of Powers which is directed directly or indirectly against the other Party.

Art. 5. In the event of disputes or disagreements arising between the Contracting Parties on questions of this or that, kind, both Parties would clarify these disputes or disagreements exclusively by means of friendly exchange of opinion or, if necessary by arbitration committees.

Art. 6. The present Agreement shall be concluded for a period of ten years on the understanding that, in so far as one of the Contracting Parties does not give notice of termination one year before the end of this period, the period of validity of this Agreement shall automatically be regarded as prolonged for a further period of five years.

Art. 7. The present Agreement shall be ratified within the shortest possible time. The instruments of ratification shall be exchanged in Berlin. The Agreement takes effect immediately after it has been signed.

This document was signed by von Ribbentrop and Molotov, on August 23, 1939.

On August 24, the British parliament met and the Prime Minister admitted that the announcement of the pact had come as a surprise very unpleasant surprise, to the Government, but even at this last hour he hoped that reason and sanity might still prevail. He refuted absolutely the German lie that it was the British guarantee to Poland that led Poland to refuse negotiations over the return of Danzig and the Corridor to the Reich. That refusal had taken place before the British guarantee was made. In a noble peroration he said that if war should come we should not be fighting for the political future of a faraway city in a foreign land, but for the preservation of the principles of the observance of international agreements once they have been entered into and the renunciation of force in the settlement of inter national differences.

From this time onwards the grim progress of the warmongers is marked by more intrigue and more provocative incidents. Polish sentries were attacked and their bodies mutilated. In Berlin the Polish Ambassador had an interview with Field-Marshal Goering, who was “ most cordial." He talked platitudes, and then the real reason for his excessive cordiality became apparent. He had a suggestion to make. Danzig and so forth were small matters. The real stumbling block to friendly relations was Poland’s alliance with Britain. If that could be removed, heaven knows what years of peace and prosperity lay before Poland. Had it succeeded this would have been a master stroke of chicanery, for Germany would have alienated Poland from France and Britain, and could have swallowed her prey at leisure, with no immediate threat on her Western border. But the Poles never even considered the suggestion. On August 25 the Fuehrer made a further attempt to buy off the intervention of the Allies with soft words and fulsome protestations of his pacific intentions. Once this Polish question was decided he had no further claims on Europe. He would settle down to the peaceful reconstruction of his country as an artist rather than a soldier. Memory was not so short as to forget other protestations and pledges of this character broken and thrown aside as soon as some new tempting bait presented itself. Still the efforts of the British Government to secure a peaceful solution never wavered. The Fuehrer was answered in temperate terms, offered every possible assistance in negotiation with the Poles, but assured again most firmly that an armed attack on that country would bring France and Britain in against Germany.

In this connexion there was an illuminating conversation on the evening of August 28 between the Fuehrer and Sir Nevile Henderson, who had said that Britain’s word was her word and she never had and never would break it. He then quoted a passage from a German book about Marshal Blücher exhortation to his troops when hurrying to the support of Wellington at Waterloo, Forward, my children  have given my word to my brother Wellington, and you cannot wish me to break it. To this Hitler replied:  Things were different 125 years ago. Sir Nevile then acidly observed, not so far as England is concerned, and asked Hitler what value he would place on British friendship, which he said that he desired, if the first act was one of disloyalty to a friend? There is no recorded answer to this question.

One of the most inspiring features of all is the calm, straightforward attitude of Britain as exemplified by her Ambassador in dealing with Hitler and his politicians. To Hitler’s reiterated plea that he would welcome British friendship there was always the answer that such friendship was his if he would agree to a settlement by direct negotiation with Poland. Britain was prepared to make concessions if an atmosphere of confidence were restored,but under no circumstances could they be exacted by a threat of force. Never was a great nation’s attitude more unequivocally explained. And while the British Cabinet and their emissary were struggling to make Hitler see how easily he could avert the misery with which he threatened the world and the ruin which he was inviting for himself, his armies were already marching towards the Polish frontier. On August 29, two days before the invasion of Poland, the Fuehrer made a proposal which was to lead to a signal perjury. He first demanded that Poland should send Colonel Beck or some other plenipotentiary to see him on the following day to receive his “ terms."

This was in itself an impossible proposition. As the British Ambassador in Warsaw wired I feel sure that it would be impossible to induce the Polish Government to send M. Beck or any other representative immediately to Berlin to discuss a settlement on basis proposed by Herr Hitler. They would sooner fight and perish rather than submit to such humiliation, especially after examples of Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and Austria. Poland, he felt, would not listen to a dictated settlement. The impudence of this proposal to repeat to  at Polish statesman the studied insults of a ready made conqueror met with a blank refusal. The normal diplomatic method of communication between the two countries was for Herr Hitler to hand to the Polish Ambassador in Berlin whatever terms of negotiation he proposed. This point was stressed by Sir Nevile Henderson in an interview with Ribbentrop. At the same time he told the German that the British Government had constantly urged the Polish Government to avoid provocative action.  With damned little effect, replied that ex commercial traveller.  I mildly retorted, said Sir Nevile,  that I was surprised to hear such language from a Minister of Foreign Affairs. The previous  terms  the Germans proposed to hand to Poland were read by Ribbentrop in German and at top speed. Sir Nevile got the gist of them and asked for a copy., Ribbentrop replied that it was now too late, as no Polish representative had arrived by midnight. To Sir Nevile’s suggestion that he should send for the Polish Ambassador and communicate them to him, Ribbentrop· replied in most violent language that he would never ask the Ambassador to visit him. Herr von Ribbentrop’s demeanour, Sir Nevile telegraphed Lord Halifax,  was aping Herr Hitler at his worst.

Under such impossible conditions efforts were still continued during August 3l to open direct negotiations between Poland and Germany. It was not until the evening of that day that von Ribbentrop received M. Lipski, the Polish Ambassador in Berlin. lt was after this interview that the German proposals were broadcast. The terms issued by wireless from Berlin that night took the following form

 (1) The Free City of Danzig. by virtue of its undeniably German character and the unanimous wish of its population, shall immediately be attached to the Reich.

(2) A corridor stretching from the Baltic to the line Marienwerder Graudenz Kulm Bromberg (including these towns) and then towards the west as far as Schoenlank shall be allowed to speak for itself as to whether it wishes to be attached to Germany or Poland.

(3) For this purpose a plebiscite Will be organized in this territory in which will ' participate all Germans domiciled in the territory in January 1918, and Poles and Kassubes born in this territory after that t date or domiciled in a permanent manner in this territory since that date. as well as Germans expelled from this territory. In order to ensure an impartial plebiscite and to make the necessary preparations the territory in question will be immediately submitted, as was the case with the Saar Basin, to an international commission  formed from the four Great Powers Italy, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and France. To this end the territory is to be evacuated in the shortest possible time by Polish troops, police, and authorities.

(4) From this territory will be excepted the Port of Gdynia, which is in principle sovereign Polish territory to the extent that this port is inhabited by Poles. The definite frontiers of this Polish port are to be settled between Germany and Poland, and if necessary by international arbitration.

(5) In order to assure the necessary time for the necessarily extensive preparations for the carrying out of a just plebiscite this plebiscite Will not take place before the expiry of 12 months.

(6) In order, during this time, to guarantee to Germany its communications with East Prussia, and to Poland her communication with the sea, roads and railways will be laid down rendering free transit possible. In this connexion only those dues would be levied as are necessary for the maintenance of communications or the carrying out of transportation.

(7) The division of the territory will be decided by a simple majority of the votes cast.

(8) In order, after the plebiscite has taken place quite apart from how it may result to guarantee the safety of Germany’s free traffic with its province of  Danzig East Prussia, and to guarantee Poland’s connexion with the sea, Germany will receive, in the event of the plebiscite region falling to Poland, an extra territorial traffic zone in the direction of Butow Danzig or Dirschau, for the construction of a motor road and a four-track railway line. The road and the railway shall be constructed in such a manner that the Polish lines of communication will not be affected that is to say, it will be crossed either by viaducts or by tunnels. The width of the territory shall be fixed at one kilometre and this zone will remain German sovereign territory. If the plebiscite is advantageous to Germany, Poland shall receive the same right to extra-territorial roads and railways in order to ensure Polish traffic with the Port of Gdynia.

(9) In the event of the return of the Corridor to the German Reich an exchange of populations shall take place between Poland and Germany in so far as conditions in the Corridor perinit.

(10) Negotiations are to take place regarding the special rights desired by Poland in Danzig and similar rights desired by Germany in Gdynia.

(11) In order to remove the feeling of a threat, both Danzig and Gdynia shall receive the character of trading cities pure and simple that is to say, without any military establishments or fortifications.

(12) The Hela Peninsula will be completely demilitarized whether it falls, to Germany or to Poland.

(13) As the German Reich has strong complaints to make and Poland also believes she has grievances, both parties agree to submit these complaints to an international commission. Germany and Poland undertake to repair all economic and other damage that has occurred since 1918, or pay equivalent compensation, and to annul all expropriations.

(14) In order to remove the feeling of loss of national rights on the part of Germans remaining in Poland and Poles remaining in Germany, and to guarantee that they are not employed for actions or services which are incompatible with their national feeling, both parties shall undertake to protect the rights of each other’s minorities by agreements; in particular respecting freedom of organization of these minorities. Both parties undertake not to conscript members of these minorities for military service.

(15) After agreement in principle has been reached on these proposals Germany and Poland shall declare themselves prepared immediately to order the demobilization of their respective armed forces.

(16) Further measures that may be required to expedite the carrying out of the above agreement shall be the subject of mutual agreement between Germany and Poland. The boundary or base of the suggested plebiscite area referred to in Point 2 of the proposals would run from Marienwerder, at the westernmost extremity of East Prussia, 20 miles south of Marienburg, through Graudenz (Grudziadz), a Polish border town on the river Vistula, then through Bromberg (Bydgoszcz), a town with a population of more than 117,000, and strike west to Schönlanke, a German town on the border of Pomerania, 15 miles W.S.W. of Schneidemühl.

M. Lipski at once tried to get in touch with Warsaw, but all means of communication had deliberately been cut. The Polish Government never had an opportunity of considering Hitler’s terms, which were never communicated to them before they were broadcast to the world. Nor were they communicated to the British Government in writing before this broadcast. The German troops were marching into Poland when Hitler, on September 1, issued his perjured proclamation to the German Army.

The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. Germans in Poland are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich. In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of  reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich.

The Polish state has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired. What the Polish state in reality refused was to send a plenipotentiary to Berlin to accept terms which they had never seen and we now know to be intolerable proposed under the threat of war. Messages between the British and German Governments passed until the early morning of September 3. At eleven o’clock on that day the Prime Minister declared Great Britain to be at war. The senseless ambition  of one man had  plunged Europe into an armed conflict the end of which no man could foresee. France, too, had imposed a time limit, and after 5 p.m. was also at war, which could only end when ·Hitlerism had been destroyed and a liberated Europe re-established.

During these fateful weeks noble efforts were made by His Holiness the Pope and the heads of neutral nations to secure a settlement by negotiation. President Roosevelt addressed messages to the King of Italy, to Herr Hitler, and to President Moscicki of Poland. On August 23 the King of the Belgians, in the name of the Oslo group of states represented by the King of Denmark, the President of Finland, the Grand  Duchess of Luxemburg, the King of Norway, the Queen of the Netherlands, and the King of Sweden, broadcast an appeal for peace a noble and generous appeal as the French Government termed it in their reply. Armies are gathering for a horrible struggle, he said,  which will know neither victor nor vanquished  the world is

moving in such a period of tension that there is a risk that all inter- national cooperation should become impossible lack of confidence reigns everywhere. But there is no people which wants to send its children to their deaths. All the States have the same interest. Time is getting short. If we wait much longer it will become more difficult to make direct contacts? Further, King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina offered their personal mediation, a gesture welcomed by Britain, France and Italy. Then, on August 24, the Pope broadcast a most moving address to the world. A grave hour is striking for the great human family, he said,  an hour of tremendous deliberation, in which our spiritual authority cannot disinterest itself from the task of inducing mankind to return to the path of justice and truth lt is with the force of reason and not with that of arms that justice advances. Conquests and empires not founded on justice are not blessed by God. The danger is vast, but there is still time. Nothing is lost by peace. Everything is lost by war. Finally, Signor Mussolini, who by this time had decided to remain neutral, offered it convene an international, conference. But no neutral good will,` no appeal to humanity could budge for a moment the remorseless decision of one man.

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


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