Polish Corridor

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See also West Prussia
The Polish Corridor & associated territories
The dismemberment of Prussia by the Western Allies in 1919. The lands above the Vistula river were taken from her. The Corridor is shown.
German proposals for extra-territorial access. The black and dotted territories were all part of Germany before 1919.

The Polish Corridor (which Poland named Pomorze), was a creation of the Treaty of Versailles and consisted of the former province of West Prussia or old Pomerelia, minus its former capital of Danzig, the latter's hinterland and the county of Posen, all of which were taken off Prussia (Germany) and given to the newly resurrected state of Poland, without a plebiscite, the latter action greatly angering the Germans.[1] The Corridor now separated Germany proper from its province of East Prussia.

The Corridor was the most momentous and contentious of the eastern frontier problems and ultimately led to World War II.

Area

The Corridor extended to 16,295 square kilometres. It was 230 kilometres in length and varied in width from between 80 to over 200 kilometres at its southern end to 30 kilometres at its narrowest point towards the north. It had a sea frontage of 76 kilometres, and with the narrow Hela Peninsula, which curves round towards Danzig Bay, of 146 kilometres. The historical and political division between Pomerelia and Posen is the line of the Netze Canal, constructed by Frederick the Great. Frederick reclaimed the whole of the territory forming the eastern block of the Corridor and put it into communication by water with East Prussia and other parts of his kingdom.[2]

After Versailles - What they said

In response to the Versailles Treaty the German Government stated: "No nation, even amongst the Allied and Associated Powers, can expect the German people to accept peace-terms which must detach vital members from the body-corporate of Germany without any consultation of the populations involved."[3] The new Foreign Minister Hermann Müller (SPD) stated in July 1919: "The German government would leave in no doubt its intentions to revise this treaty."

Fritz Thyssen, the famous industrialist who was one of the members of the German Peace Delegation in 1919, stated: "it is clear to everybody that the Treaty imposed on Germany was nefarious".[4]

Ferdinand Foch, French Marshal, wrote: "This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years"....."There (the Polish Corridor) lies the root of the next war."[5][6]

Francesco Nitti, Prime Minister of Italy wrote: "The [eastern] frontiers of Germany, as laid down by Articles 27 and 28 of the Treaty, constitute the greatest violation of the principles of self-determination, and are mere allotments of territory, marked out at random, and in violation of International Law....The labour of centuries was destroyed at a blow."[7]

Dr. Otto Braun, Prime Minister of Prussia 1920-1932, stated: "we will always protest against the violation of our rights. We will never recognise the arbitrary and unjust frontiers."[8]

Count Carlo Sforza, former Foreign Minister of Italy, said: "No serious statesman ever believed that the solution of the Corridor problem would not be temporary."[9]

The famous economist Hjalmar Schacht wrote: "Never yet in modern history has a peace treaty so flown in the face of the basic principles of morality as the Treaty of Versailles."[10]

After the Treaty of Locarno, signed on 12 October 1925, when Germany's western borders as laid down in the Versailles Treaty were confirmed, the question of the eastern borders with Poland, and Danzig, remained a matter for future arbitration.[11] Lord d'Abernon, former British Ambassador to Berlin, stated "After Locarno, the Polish Corridor becomes Europe's [next] powder-box."[12]

American Senator William E. Borah startled Poland by suggesting that economic conditions cannot improve as long as the Treaty of Versailles is unmodified. "First of all the frontiers of Upper Silesia and the Polish Corridor must be rectified."[13]

In September 1930 Hitler, then leader of the NSDAP, contributed an article to the London newspaper The Sunday Express in part of which he stated: "We, the National Socialists, demand the revision of the Versailles Treaty; we demand the return to Germany of the Polish Corridor, which is like a strip of flesh cut from our body as it cuts Germany in two. It is a national wound that bleeds continuously, and will continue to bleed till the land is returned to us. We will rouse all Germans against this injustice."[14]

Austrian socialist politician Karl Renner, writing to the Foreign Ministry in 1930 said: "It is impossible to imagine a peaceful solution to the problem of the Polish Corridor".

Austen Chamberlain's feelings about the Polish Corridor were that "no British Government ever will or ever can risk the bones of a single British grenadier" [for the corridor].[15]

Tomáš G. Masaryk, Czech statesman, wrote: "As for the Polish Corridor, it may be definitely said that Germany will never tolerate a condition of things by which East Prussia is separated from the German Reich."[16].

Since 1919 all German Governments had sought revisions based upon Article 19 of the League of Nations' Covenant (which was incorporated in the Treaty of Versailles), which said "The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by Members of the League of Treaties which have become inapplicable and the consideration of international conditions which might endanger the peace of the world."[17]

"Soon, despite the [Great Power] illusions harboured by the Poles, there would [soon be] a Fuhrer in the Polish Corridor." ~ Edouard Daladier, Premier of France.[18]

The issues

During the Paris Peace Conference the demarcation of the new German-Polish frontier was handed over to a Commission on Polish Affairs on 12 Feb 1919. Its President was Jules Cambon and the Vice-President was General le Rond of the French army. Both were violently anti-German and pro-Poland. The Polish delegation to the conference pronounced Germany as "an enemy of humanity" and demanded the frontiers Poland had in 1771, which were not ethnographic frontiers.[19] This was declined by the Peace Conference, although almost all the county of Posen was returned to Poland. West Prussia was also given to them without a plebiscite, and Danzig forced to become a 'Free City' under the sovereignty of the League of Nations without any consultation of the 407,000 population.

Railways

The Corridor totally disrupted the fine Prussian railway network, much of it now in Polish possession, and other communications. To go by train from East Prussia to the Reich or in the opposite direction, one now had to cross five frontiers: the German-Danzig frontier at Marienburg, the Danzig-Polish frontier at Dirschau, the Polish-Danzig frontier at Muehlbanz, the Danzig-Polish frontier at Zoppot or Gross Katz, and the Polish-German frontier at Boschpol. The Poles deliberately delayed the trains for fantastic periods, sometimes taking three to four days to cover a mere 200 miles. Freight trains from Berlin to Marienburg were now taking eight or more hours longer than before 1918. All kinds of ridiculous regulations were now imposed.[20]

Population

United States' President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, including self-determination, based upon governments' deriving their powers from the consent of the governed was his ideal. However, in eastern Europe this was to end in tears. Pomerelia was never ethnically Polish or part of ethnic Poland. The Polish delegation at Versailles, led by Roman Dmowski, a fanatical nationalist, opposed self-determination; there should be no "plebiscite comedies" he said.[21] (Danzig, for instance, which the Poles asked for, was 98% German, and it was obvious which way a vote would have gone there.) Both President Wilson and Britain's Mr Lloyd George stated that territories inhabited by "essentially Polish elements" and "indisputably Polish populations" should go to Poland.[22] Polish delegates at Versailles also demanded the counties of Marienwerder (West Prussia) and Allenstein (East Prussia). However the conference decided upon plebiscites in those counties, held on 11 July 1920, supervised by the Italians and the British. In Marienwerder 92.8 per cent voted to remain in Germany and in Allenstein 97.5 per cent.[23] These figures included a very large proportion of ethnic Poles living there. (It seems likely by all considerations available that something similar would have occurred in the Corridor had a plebiscite been held there.)[24]

According to numerous references the southern boundary of the Corridor was the ethnical and governmental frontier of fourteenth century Poland.[25] After the imposed Treaty of Thorn in 1466 the province came under Polish occupation until 1772 when it was returned to Prussia. Even then, Lord Eversley points out that "the larger part of West Prussia was inhabited by Germans."[26] In 1920 The Corridor and its over one million inhabitants were transferred from German sovereignty to Poland without being consulted[27] an absolute contravention of the Fourteen Points. Up to 1928 there was still an almost solid German population in the cities of Bromberg and Thorn.[28] It was an ethnological "bridge" forming a connexion between East Prussia and the rest of Germany. The Poles were numerous both farther south and farther north.

The last German Census in 1910 gave the relative numerical strength of Germans and Poles in West Prussia according to ethnicity and language[29]:

Germans: 603,821; Poles: 545,846; Kashubians: 104,474; Bilingual: 17,435. These figures exclude Danzig, and those areas which were retained by Germany. Had Danzig, now carved out of the Corridor, been included, it would have been overwhelmingly German.[30] The Polish delegation at Paris disputed the 1910 Census as "inaccurate" but Germany was in no difficulty then and there are no grounds to suggest that the census was anything but completely accurate. It should be also noted that Polish migration and settlement into this region in the 50 years prior to the census was very considerable[31], something overlooked by several observers such as Bernard Newman.

See also

Sources

  1. Danger Spots of Europe by Bernard Newman, London, 1938, p.106-7.
  2. The Polish Corridor and the Consequences by Sir Robert Donald, G.B.E., LL.D., London, 1929, p.23.
  3. Martel, London, 1930, p.66.
  4. I Paid Hitler by Fritz Thyssen, London & New York, 1941, p.90.
  5. Germany Under The Treaty by William Harbutt Dawson, London & New York 1933, citation:p.93.
  6. Lengyel, 1932, p.7.
  7. The Decadence of Europe by Francesco Nitti, London, 1923, p.87.
  8. Lengyel, 1932, citation p.9.
  9. Lengyel, 1932, p.12-13.
  10. The End of Reparations by Hjalmar Schacht, New York, 1931, pps:1-5.
  11. The Weimar Republic edited by Henrik Neubauer, English-language edition, Cologne, Germany, 2000, p.96-7. ISBN 3-8290-2697-8
  12. Lengyel, 1932, p.13.
  13. Lengyel, 1932, p.13.
  14. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939 edited by Norman H. Baynes, New York, 1969, vol.ii, p.994-5.
  15. The Origins of the Second World War by A. J. P. Taylor, London, 1961, p.54.
  16. Saturday Review, London, October 1930.
  17. Newman, 1938, p.20.
  18. Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939 edited by Professor E.L. Woodward, M.A., F.B.A., Rohan Butler, M.A., and Margaret Lambert, PhD., 3rd series, vol.ii, 1938, H.M.S.O., London, 1949, p.381.
  19. Donald, 1929, p.13.
  20. Lengyel, 1932, p.17.
  21. Donald, 1929, p.6.
  22. Donald, 1929, p.20.
  23. The Eastern Frontiers of Germany by René Martel, London, 1930, p.67-9.
  24. Newman, 1938, p.106-7.
  25. The Cauldron Boils by Emil Lengyel, New York, 1932, p.10, being one reference.
  26. The Partitions of Poland by Lord Eversley, London, 1915, p.16-17.
  27. Orphans of Versailles - The Germans in Western Poland 1918-1939 by Professor Richard Blanke, Kentucky University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8131-1803-4
  28. Newman, 1938, p.110.
  29. Donald, 1929, p.22-3.
  30. Donald, 1929, p.23.
  31. Imperial Germany by Prince Bernhard von Bulow, Cassell & co., London & New York, 1914, "The Eastern Marches" pps:239-268.
  • The Colonization of the Grenzmark Posen-West Prussia by Hans Jacob Schmitz, translated into English by Ernst Horstmann, Heimatblatter-Verlag, n/d (l930s).
  • The German Minority in Inter-war Poland by professor Winson Chu, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 2012/2013, ISBN 978-1-107-63462-6