West Prussia

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West Prussia. Everything shown here was originally within the territory of the Teutonic Knights until 1466. Pomerelia was never ethnically Polish or part of ethnic Poland.

West Prussia (German: Westpreußen), incorporating Pomerelia or Eastern Pomerania and Kulmerland, was a province of Prussia (de) and subsequently the German Empire until 1919, when it was removed from them by the liberal plutocratic Western Allies in the imposed Treaty of Versailles and given to the new resurrected Poland. Its capital city until then had been Danzig.[1]

It has come to be felt that there is a moral taint about treaties signed under duress"...[making them] morally discredited.[2]

History

Ptolemy's map of Germania. The river Vistula is given as the eastern frontier.
The Romans' Germania.
Germania before the immigrations of the Slavs.

Anciently it was settled by Baltic tribes, scattered Slav settlements of those the Germans called Wends, and Kashubians, who had settled there after the region had been vacated by the Goths and scattered Germanic tribes. The Slavs had migrated - "the most recent arrivals in the north" - from the great European plain, an area named "Sclavia" by the monk Adam of Bremen[3]). The Kashubians are said by some authorities to be only half-Slav and speak a language of their own which is of Slavic origin, but which cannot be considered a Polish dialect. When this area was part of modern Germany the officials distinguished between the Poles, the Germans, and the Kashubians.[4] However, Donald calls the Kashubians "the key people of the region, the remains of a very ancient Slav tribe....who have escaped assimilation and in 1929 numbered over 100,000.....They have more natural claims to the territory which they occupy than any other race as it has been their home from remote ages." He adds that "at one time their ancestors occupied the whole of Pomerania to the Oder and south to the Netz and Warthe rivers." The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica estimated their numbers at 200,000. Professor E. H. Mimms, lecturer on Palaeography at Cambridge University, states that the Kashubian language resembles Polab (which the Wends also spoke) rather than Polish, which is also the view held by Dr. Friedrich Lorentz[5], the historian of the Kashubians. The Kashubians are essentially agriculturalists and fishermen.[6]

During the reign of the German King (from 936) and Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I (962-973), when there was already a German settlement, protected by a 'Burgward', in Silesia, it was noted that small Slav tribes inhabited these areas. They were "in no way fundamentally opposed to the influx of German settlers, as German colonization of the east was as much the work of Slavs also…. Pomerania was eventually fully absorbed into Germany." [7]

To consolidate German rule in the east Otto relied less on the Margraves than the church, founding and endowing a chain of new bishoprics beyond the river Elbe in order to subdue the Slav tribes under the weight of ecclesiastical administrative organisation. Otto compelled the vanquished Wends to convert, to worship the 'German God' and to pay tithes. Otto planned to subordinate the newly-founded church of Posen on the river Warthe, and its German bishop, to the see of Magdeburg. However, in 983 there was a huge Slavic rebellion causing widespread material damage and death. "German settlements perished and disappeared; cultivated land returned to nature; churches and monasteries were left in ruins." This temporarily halted Otto’s plans for the Germanization of the Eastern Marches.[8] This situation was finally settled by the Wendish Crusade in 1147 when the Wends were finally crushed.

Polish invasions

Poland was, almost from the outset, expansionist, and the first Duke of Poland, Mieszko (d.992) ruled a then an ill-defined area but centred around Gnesen (Gniezno) and Posen the Poles call Great Poland. He took part in the 983 rebellions in the German Marches and endeavoured to seize large parts of Pomerelia and Pomerania right up to the river Oder. He also seized lands in Bohemia which led to the Polish-Bohemian war of 990. Mieszko’s fledgling state was nevertheless a feudatory of the German Crown (Holy Roman Empire) and his expansionist efforts were frowned upon by the Emperors. Eventually his Deed of Gift to Rome of Poland, by which the Duke became a vassal of the Pope, described the boundaries of Mieszko’s state, though admittedly full of inaccuracies and conflicting interpretations: for instance, it claimed the province (later Dukedom) of Cracow, which until 999 belonged to Bohemia. (Masovia was then independent under its own ruler, Duke Maslaw.) The Pomeranians drove the Poles out in the short reign (1025-1031) of Duke Mieszko II. After again defeating the western Pomeranians in battle in 1047 the Polish Duke Casimir (reigned 1040-1058) forced Pomerania into submission once more. However, his son Boleslaw 'the Bold' (d.1082) was ejected from Pomerania. In 1090 the Poles again invaded Pomerania but ultimately failed, and it remained independent with its capital at Belgard. Pomerania was not ethnically Polish.

Pomerelia

By the 11th century, Danzig, the capital of Pomerelia, had grown into a town with commercial relations to Germany, England, Bohemia and Hungary. The first Christian Church in this district of the river Vistula, St. Catherine’s, was founded in Danzig circa 1150. While Pomerelia was included in the ecclesiastical diocese of Wloclawek in 1123, it was not part of or politically subject to Poland. However, during this period the expansionist Duke Bolesław III (1102-1139) of Poland again invaded Pomerania and Pomerelia and made the local rulers temporarily accept him as their feudal overlord. With his death began a long period of Polish decline for two centuries and more, with Poland existing only as a group of warring petty dukedoms. In 1157 Emperor Frederick I forced the Poles once again to accept Imperial overlordship and in 1163 he separated all those parts of Silesia the Poles had migrated into and brought it, under Germanophile Dukes, into close contact with Germany, with Breslau now becoming a frontier city. In 1241 the Tartar invasions of Poland devastated and depopulated that country.[9][10]

Eastern Europe c1386.jpg

Dukes of Pomerelia

In little over two centuries, between 1125 and 1346, two-fifths of modern Germany was settled, colonized, and local populations absorbed. In 1147 the Wendish crusade took place with Bernard of Clairvaux’s slogan "baptism or extermination". [11] The great wave of German colonization, carrying the frontiers of Germany forward from the Elbe to the Vistula (the Romans' eastern border of Germania) and along the Baltic to the Gulf of Finland ushered in a new era in German history.

The native Dukes of Pomerelia appreciated the more advanced German civilisation and endeavoured to attract German immigrants by founding convents and monasteries (i.e: in 1170 and 1209), endowing them with large tracts of lands and also filling them with German nuns and monks.[12] By 1203 all Pomerania had fallen into the hands of the King of Denmark, who subsequently restored its independence with Duke Barnim ruling Western Pomerania at Stettin, and Duke Swantopolk ruling East Pomerania/Pomerelia, from 1220 to 1266, at Danzig (where he is buried in the Cistercian monastery at Oliva, founded in 1170). His lands lay on the western bank of the Vistula. There was also the Slav Duke Wizlaw of Rugen, a feudatory of Denmark also, who exclaimed in 1221 "God forbid that the land [Pomerania] should ever relapse into its former state, with the Slavs driving out the German settlers."[13] Swantopolk had defended his rule victoriously against the Polish Dukes who attempted to subject him, while Pope Gregory IX recognised his independence and threatened the Polish Dukes with heavy ecclesiastical penalties if they continued to wage war upon him. Duke Swantopolk had granted his protection to Lubeck merchants who brought salt and cloth to Danzig, lowered the customs duties in their favour, and expressly prohibited the exercise of the right of salvage against them. The port rapidly grew with the influx of German immigrants. The oldest charter concerning Danzig dates from 1235 and is a draft plan for extending the protection of German law to this colony of German merchants established here at the mouth of the Vistula and which gave birth to the Hanseatic city. In 1235 Duke Swantopolk agreed with the Council of the City of Lubeck that Danzig would have the constitution of a German city, granting it the law code of Lubeck. (The Lubeck constitutions originated at Soest in Westphalia).[14] In 1233 Swantopolk had joined a successful Teutonic Order crusade against the pagan western Prussian tribes in Pomesania (half-way between Thorn and the Baltic coast).

After Duke Swantopolk’s death (1266) his sons fought each other bitterly. One, Wartislaw, Duke of Danzig, enjoyed the support of the Teutonic Order. His brother Mestwin offered Danzig and Pomerelia to the Margraves of Brandenburg if they would support him. The Brandenburgers, welcoming the opportunity to extend their rule to the mouth of the Vistula, occupied the duchy in 1271, in which year Duke Mestwin expressly averred that his Danzig burghers were German (burgenses theutonici civitatis Gedanensis) as opposed to Prussians or Kashubians[15] and accepted the overlordship of the Margrave. Upon Mestwin’s death in 1294 he ignored his patyronymic relations and Willed his Duchy to Duke Przemyslav of Poland and a short-lived personal union took place between Pomerelia and the Polish Crown. During the struggle for succession which followed Przemyslav’s assassination just two years later, the several contestants for the rule of Pomerelia called in their neighbours, the Teutonic Knights, for assistance against the Poles, who were planning to secure by conquest an outlet to the Baltic and the port of Danzig. Pomerelia was occupied by the Knights firstly in 1301, the Brandenburgers again briefly in 1308, and again the Knights the same year.[16] The Poles now engaged in a lengthy war of skirmishes and raiding attacks against the Order. In 1320 Polish King Władysław I Łokietek engaged in a lengthy and bizarre lawsuit at Avignon against the Teutonic Order over Pomerelia, which failed. His war with the Order brought more loss than gain. His only son, Casimir III, a skillful diplomat, abandoned the hopeless war with the Teutonic Order and consented to the Treaty of Kalisz in 1343 ceding Poland's claims to Pomerelia and Kulm.[17]

It is here we first come across Polish propaganda (which becomes famous) as they "sedulously propagated the myth that Prussia and Pomerelia were former territories of the Polish Crown and holding out to the Prussian nobility and peasants the opportunity for 'liberty'."[18] Pomerelia was never ethnically Polish or part of ethnic Poland.

After 1466

The Teutonic Order incorporated Pomerelia into their monastic State and it remained so until the imposed Treaty of Thorn in 1466 following the defeat of the Order by Lithuania and Poland in several major conflicts whereby "the Poles directed their expansionism against lands populated alike by Germans and by alien Slavs who had never submitted to the yoke of Polish tyranny."[19] Under this imposed treaty the Order retained a truncated rump State but as a feudal vassal of the Polish Crown, with Poland annexing Pomerelia, giving them access to the Baltic, with Danzig becoming an autonomous Free City under a Protectorate arrangement with Poland, remaining a member of the German Hanseatic League.[20] With mixed success, due to continuing warfare, Poland attempted to Polonize Pomerelia by introducing peasant settlers over the next centuries.

In 1626 The Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus carried his campaigns into Pomerelia, Danzig, and East Prussia, in order to drive Poland away from the Baltic. By about the middle of the seventeenth century Poland slipped into "the desperate and well-nigh irremediable decadence which continued unchecked for a hundred years, bringing the country to the verge of ruin...The nation lived in an anarchy thinly concealed under the forms of an elaborate republican constitution"[21][22] The wars against the Swedes, Turks, and Muscovites had dealt the Polish economy its final blow. "By the 18th century the once busy and thriving towns presented a perfect picture of desolation, business confined to the operations of Jewish money-lenders and petty traders. Poland was destitute."[23] Between 1650 and 1750 the population of Danzig alone decreased from 77,000 to 46,000.[24]

The Partitions

The Great Powers, observing a prostrate and over-extended Poland, which had involved itself in all the wars over the previous centuries, decided to act. The Russian Count Nikita Panine (who was born in Danzig), an advisor to Russia’s Catherine The Great, argued that “Poland must remain as an intermediary State destined to prevent collision between her three neighbours.” His advice was ignored. In 1772 the first partition of Poland took place. Frederick The Great of Prussia argued with Russia’s Empress that Prussia should recover Pomerelia (which he had already occupied), and in particular Danzig, and Thorn - founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1231[25], which should both be Free Cities (as Danzig already was) under Prussia’s protection.[26] Catherine opposed the Danzig proposal during the First Partition.

However, after Poland's military occupation for 305 years (not unlike England's 211-year occupation of Calais), Pomerelia (often called Polish Prussia or Royal Prussia), fell again to Prussia reconnecting German Pomerania (since recovered from the Scandinavians), Silesia and East Prussia. Lord Eversley points out "the larger part of West Prussia was inhabited by Germans." He continues that ethnographic Poland was only about a third of the territory that country had occupied, which included the old duchy of Marsovia and the area the Poles call Great Poland - centred on the Province of Posen, about half of the province of West Prussia and about a third of Silesia[27], all of which bar Marsovia (which became 'Congress Poland') now found themselves in the Kingdom of Prussia following the partitions.

The Polish problem

Following the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars the treatment by Prussia of the 'Polish' provinces secured to it by the Congress of Vienna[28] was fair "and there was not much to complain of." Polish peasants benefited from the Prussian Stein-Hardenburg land reforms, which freed them completely from the serfdom they had previously endured, and gave them permanent interests in their holdings.[29]

Following the proclamation and consolidation of the German Empire in 1871, Bismarck became alarmed by the relative increase of Poles to Germans in West Prussia and adjoining provinces and adopted a new policy of measures for further 'Germanizing' them. The government argued that the State could not tolerate the growing presence of large numbers of Poles who were settling there and who were not Prussian subjects. In 1872 a law was passed requiring that children in State schools could only be taught in German and that in the church schools it would turn on the majority of the students. In 1885 Bismarck issued an edict by which all Poles who were not Prussian subjects would be expelled. It had come to light that large numbers of Poles were actually natives of Russian (Congress) Poland and had immigrated and established themselves in Prussia. Some 34,700 people were now expelled.[30] This was a controversial action which created bitter resentment amongst the Poles.

In the years from 1886 to 1911, 394,398 hectares of land were acquired by the government to provide for the settlement of German peasants; of these, 112,116 hectares were formerly owned by Poles. On the settlement estates there were 150,000 Germans; 450 new villages were built, and in 300 villages the number of Germans was increased. In response Polish landowners then bought up properties from German owners, aided by loans from Polish co-operative banks and other French-backed banks, and settled Poles on them. The result was that by 1906 there was another increase in the proportion of Poles to Germans in these districts, rather than the reverse, Polish birth-rates also being higher than in any other part of Europe. In the towns of West Prussia where formerly the population was exclusively German, there was a large influx of Poles, while in the rural districts their predominance was more than maintained.[31] This mirrored Upper Silesia.

In 1907/8 Prince von Bulow and the Government of Prussia felt obliged to make another exceptional effort to stem the tide of Polonization by stealth, giving power to the Land Commission to expropriate Polish landowners by compulsory purchase at prices fixed by the government. Von Bulow, who attributed the loss of Poland’s independence in the 18th century to “the incapacity of its ruling class”, wrote: "The annexation of the Prussian States of our eastern provinces, Posen and West Prussia, could not have come to pass if the Polish republic of nobles had been a state capable of continued existence…..our possessions in the East we must and will retain…No concern for the Polish people must hinder us from doing all we can to maintain and strengthen German nationality in the former Polish provinces. Nobody dreams of wishing to thrust our Poles outside the borders of the Prussian kingdom. It is the duty, however, and the right of the Prussian Government, to see that the Germans do not get driven out of the east of Germany by the Poles. The object is to protect, maintain, and strengthen German nationality among the Poles…..The new Dispossession Bill makes the Commission independent of the variations of the estate market, and ensures ultimate mastery to a strong government in the economic struggle for the land." In addition, he said, "If the attempt to extend the Polish population, and all that entails, had not been met by the Government, things in Posen and West Prussia today would have been much the same as in Galicia where the Austrian Government has caved in to local Polish wishes………If we had allowed the Slav element in the East of the Prussian Kingdom to extend and flood the German element we should have had a fight to maintain the unity of the Prussian State; we should not have had a Polish problem, we should have had a Polish danger."[32]

Development

West Prussia circa 1910. The significant Prussian communications network is evident.

The Prussian and German governments poured vast sums into the development of West Prussia. Communications and the flow of trade went in all directions, by railways and waterways, while the river Vistula was used as one of the main arteries for sea-going traffic. Bromberg was perhaps the chief city outside Danzig in West Prussia, where Frederick The Great had a canal constructed connecting the rivers Vistula and the Oder. Prior to Word War I the Government assisted greatly in the development of this "exceedingly well-built city, with magnificent public institutions, technical schools, colleges of music and art, academies, museums, chiefly located in the broad boulevards lined with trees and divided in the middle with flower beds….before 1919 Bromberg had a population of 75,000 of which 89 per cent were German." Graudenz, a trading port on the right bank of the Vistula with 50,000 inhabitants, was another industrial town and second to Bromberg, and again thoroughly German in character. A strong fortress, it had successfully resisted the French invasion in 1807. The next important city was Thorn, also on the Vistula, another "thoroughly German city", celebrated for its historic Town Hall - the early parts of it dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.[33] Copernicus, the astronomer, was born here; and express trains from Berlin to Russia via Posen and Insterberg passed through Thorn on the extensive Prussian railways network.[34]

Most importantly, from a Prussian perspective, West Prussia contained the Marienburg, the mighty fortress complex, on the Nogat river, of the Teutonic Order and, from 1309, seat of its Grand Master, a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and temporal and spiritual head of this religious order, as well as the seat of the Order’s Government. The castle symbolised German mediaeval artistic achievement which had then reached its zenith. It was an indestructible monument to Teutonic culture. Marienburg enshrined memories treasured by the German people as among the most sacred in the history of their civilisation. The town itself was a flourishing trading centre.[35]

1919

Map showing territorial losses by Germany 1920, West Prussia is above the province of Posen.

During the deliberations in Paris for a Peace Treaty following the end of World War I the Germans were completely excluded. Yet a Polish delegation was admitted, despite them not having played a part as a sovereign nation in the war. They were sponsored by France and the United States, for different political reasons, and President Woodrow Wilson had pledged that Poland would be afforded a "free and fair access to the sea". Had the Germans been present they would have argued that Poland had always had access to the sea, through German ports etc., much like other land-locked countries; that Poland did not have an ethnic sea-board or coastal towns; they were not seafarers. (When Czechoslovakia was created at this time it was entirely land-locked; Hungary as well as Austria also became land-locked, like Switzerland.)

The Polish delegation demanded West Prussia, including Marienwerder, and also the county of Allenstein in East Prussia. Despite Polish opposition to any vote of the local populations, the Peace Conference decided to hold two plebiscites: one for the district of Allenstein, and the other for that of Marienwerder and they took place simultaneously on 11th June 1920 under the control of the Inter-Allied Commissions which had been in those districts since February. Rennie, the English Minister, presided over the Allenstein plebiscite; the Italian General Pavia, over Marienwerder. In both counties the overwhelming majority voted to remain in Prussia: in Allenstein 97.5% and in Marienwerder 92.8%.[36] The considerable numbers of ethnic Poles living in these counties voted to remain. The results startled the Versailles Poles.[37]

Despite this, the Ambassadors’ Council in Paris removed from East Prussia three villages in the district of Osteroder and awarded them to Poland. In the Marienwerder district it gave Poland five villages situated on the right bank of the Vistula: Kleinfelde, Kramershof, Neu Liebenau, Hussenteich and Joannisdorf. Furthermore, the frontier was drawn so as to give Poland both banks of the river so that East Prussia no longer bordered the Vistula as it had always done for centuries, despite the guarantee of the Treaty. The German government protested against these annexations on 14th August 1920, arguing Poland’s new right to control the river did not extend to the territories situated on the eastern bank of the river which, in spite of the clearly expressed will of the inhabitants, were now being detached from Germany.[38]

Danzig, capital of West Prussia, and its hinterland, was removed from Germany and created a Free City (15 Nov 1920) with its own administration (Senate) under the protection of the League of Nations who would provide a resident High Commissioner. Poland was given numerous special rights in the Free City territory, considered onerous by the population.[39]

West Prussia, with the above exceptions, was ceded to Poland without a vote and became the infamous Polish Corridor (see that page), renamed Pomorze by Poland.

Notables

General von Conta
General Guderian.
  • Richard Heinrich Karl von Conta (1856 - 1941) was born in Tuchel, West Prussia. Highly regarded General of Infantry in The Great War. He was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Swords on 14 May, 1915, and the Pour le Mérite on 15 Oct 1916 - with Oak Leaves added, 26 March 1918.
  • Fedor von Bock (1880 - 1945) was born in Küstrin, West Prussia, a famous German Field-Marshall in World War II.
  • Heinz Guderian (1888 - 1954) was born in Kulm, West Prussia, a famous General and Chief of the German General Staff (Army) in WWII and author of the Blitzkrieg. His father and both grandfathers were also Prussian officers.

Further reading

  • The Colonization of the Grenzmark Posen-West Prussia by Hans Jacob Schmitz, translated into English by Ernst Horstmann, Heimatblatter-Verlag, n/d (l930s).
  • The Eastern Frontiers of Germany by René Martell, London, 1930, "After Versailles – Danzig, The Polish Corridor and the Frontier of the Vistula", pps:67-76.
  • The Cauldron Boils by Emil Lengyl, New York, 1932.
  • Germany Under The Treaty by William Harbutt Dawson, London and New York, 1933.
  • The Evolution of Prussia by Sir J. A. R. Marriott, M.A., & Sir Charles Grant Robertson, C.V.O., LL.D., M.A., New Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1937.
  • Poland from the Inside by Count Bertram de Colonna, London, 1939.
  • The Cambridge History of Poland to 1696 edited by the late William F. Reddaway (author of Marshal Pilsudski, 1939), J. H. Penson, O. Halecki and the late R. Dyboski, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 1950. (That Cambridge University could permit the accreditation of its name to this book of gross Polish propaganda is deplorable.)

External links

References

  1. Northern Germany by Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1904, p.165-6.
  2. Carr, Professor Edward Hallett, The Twenty Years' Crisis 1919 - 1939 Macmillan, London, 1939, "The Sanctity of Treaties", p.241-1.
  3. Christiansen, Eric, The Northern Crusades - The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, London, 1980, p.26.
  4. The Eastern Frontiers of Germany by René Martel, London, 1930, p124.
  5. Professor of History at Halle University. His book The Life of Alcuin is still available today in reprint.
  6. The Polish Corridor and its Consequences by Sir Robert Donald, G.C.B., LL.D., London, 1929, chapter V "The Kashubians" p.30-8.
  7. The Origins of Modern Germany by Professor Geoffrey Barraclough, Blackwells, Oxford, 1949, p.254.
  8. Barraclough, 1949, pp.37-43.
  9. The Danzig Dilemma by John Brown Mason, Stanford University Press, 1946, p.17.
  10. Barraclough, 1949, p.251.
  11. Barraclough, 1949, p.252.
  12. Mason, 1946, p.15.
  13. Barraclough, 1949, p.253-4.
  14. Mason, 1946, p.14-15.
  15. Martel, 1930, p.120-1.
  16. Baedeker, 1904, p.166.
  17. The Shorter Cambridge Mediaeval History by C. W. Previté-Orton, vol.ii, Cambridge University Press, 1952, p.924.
  18. Barraclough, 1949, p.255.
  19. Barraclough, 1949, p.255.
  20. The Evolution of Prussia by Sir J. A. R. Marriott, M.A., and Sir Charles Grant Robertson, C.V.O., LL.D., M.A., Revised edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford U.K. 1946, p.56-7.
  21. The Second Partition of Poland by Dr. Robert Howard Lord, PhD., Harvard University Press, USA & Oxford University Press, London, 1915, p.8-9.
  22. The Partitions of Poland by Lord Eversley, London, 1915, p.18-19.
  23. Lord, 1915, p.14-15.
  24. Mason, 1946, p.28.
  25. Baedeker, 1904, p.163.
  26. Eversley, 1915, p.51.
  27. Eversley, 1915, p.16-17.
  28. The Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 by Professor Sir Charles Webster, K.C.M.G., M.A., Litt.D., London, 1950, "The Final Settlement of the German and Polish Territorial Questions" p. 115-122.
  29. Eversley, 1915, p.305.
  30. Eversley, 1915, p.305-6.
  31. Eversley, 1915, p308-9.
  32. Imperial Germany by Prince Bernhard von Bulow, London, 1914, pps:257 – 263 and 266-268.
  33. Donald, 1929, pps: 25-28.
  34. Baedeker, 1904, p.163.
  35. Donald, 1925, p.101-5.
  36. Martel, 1930, p.66.
  37. Danger Spots of Europe by Bernard Newman, London, 1938, p.106-7.
  38. Martel, 1930, p.68-9.
  39. Martel, 1930, pps:73-76.