Poland From the Inside.

Dreams of Empire

The Poles say that they are the outposts of Europe, and once saved civilisation from Asiatic hordes. Now in their own Polish areas the Poles did build up a State which was excellent in many respects, but which failed to survive as a result of internal strife. The nobles constantly fought against each other, and did not unite until they found themselves under the domination of Czarist Russia. The Russians treated the Poles badly, and it was a good thing when the Poles regained their independence. Unluckily for all concerned, however, the Poles were also given non-Polish districts, and they, in their turn, have ruled over their own minorities badly.

History should have taught us better, for the Ukrainians had once before lived under Polish rule - and it was then that the Asiatic hordes, under Jenghiz Khan, were first defeated. Only there is a slight error here. It was the Ukrainian people and their volunteer guards, the Cossacks, who saved Europe from the Mongols, and not the Poles. As, however, Poland claimed sovereignty over Ukraine at the time, many Poles do, no doubt, genuinely believe [80] it was their ancestors who fought. But that is a mistake.

The Ukraine was formerly known as the Grand Duchy of Kiev and was the first Slav country to make its mark in history. In the 11th and 12th centuries Kiev was at the height of its power, but later internal strife and dynastic quarrels weakened the nation. As a result, Jenghiz Khan and his hordes found them an easy prey - or, at least, a comparatively easy one. The Ukrainians made an effort to unite, and resisted the attack made at the beginning of the 13th century. In 1224 the army of the Grand Duchy of Kiev was routed, but guerrilla warfare continued with such desperation that it was not until 16 years later that the Asiatics succeeded in capturing and destroying the capital. After this, the guerrilla war did not entirely cease, but the power of the Ukrainians was broken. They have never been entirely independent since, but have never lost their dream of independence. I am personally acquainted with many Ukrainians, most of them exiles, and they all hope and believe that their nation will again become independent and powerful. They are mainly to be found in Russia, while some are included in Rumania, but they also form Poland's greatest minority. Their language is distinct from all others. Several Ukrainian newspapers appear in Canada and U.S.A.

The Ukrainians were next under the control of Lithuania, then a powerful State, but in 1569 the Poles [81] obtained control of the whole of Lithuania, including the Ukraine. This was the origin of the Polish claim to part of the Ukraine, granted them at Versailles, and to Vilna, which they seized against the wishes of the Allies.

One of the worst chapters in European history followed. Ukrainians were ruthlessly massacred on occasion; they were robbed of the last vestige of semi-independence. Even their religion was forbidden them, and they were ordered to leave the Orthodox Church for the Church of Rome. Polish was introduced as the only permissible language.

In the towns the Polish policy was fairly successful. Rich Ukrainians - outwardly at least - came to terms in order to retain their worldly goods, but the main body of the people, engaged in agriculture, hunting and fishing, rejected all Polish measures whether peaceable or forcible. Many of them were killed, but in those days it was comparatively easy for groups of people to escape the Polish punitive expeditions. Serfdom, however, was widely introduced. The Ukrainians answered by attacking Poles and "converts", i.e. Ukrainians who submitted to the Poles, on sight. A period of lawlessness followed. The Poles were brutal in their methods, but their control was mainly confined to the Western Ukraine. Eastwards, on the other hand, raiding parties of Tartars harassed the Ukrainians, and here they were compelled to form volunteer forces for defence.

[82] The Tartars might have overrun wide areas of Europe had it not been for the Ukrainians, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. Ukrainian Cossacks kept the raiders at bay, and finally a Cossack Republic was established. A leader was elected, to hold supreme power in time of war. The Ukrainians welcomed the establishment of this republic, which though not entirely independent, made certain agreements with other countries. The power of the Cossacks only extended to the South-Eastern parts of the Ukraine. In the other parts, meantime, the struggle went on, religious persecution being the main cause, for the Ukrainians cling to their Orthodox faith.

Little notice was taken by the world at large of these gallant struggles carried on by the Ukrainians, though Oliver Cromwell felt a good deal of sympathy for the brave people. He once referred to his contemporary, the Ukrainian statesman Bohdan Chmelnyckyj, as the uncrowned king of the Ukraine. Later the Poles conquered again, and when, afterwards, Russia seized both the Ukraine and Poland, both nations became fellow-sufferers so to speak.

This makes the present position all the harder to understand. Poles and Ukrainians went side by side in chains to Siberia in pre-War days in the cause of their independence; but when, after the War, the Poles gained their independence and, at the same time, control over a part of the Ukraine, they applied the [83] same methods as of yore. The Ukrainians were forgotten at Versailles, although they were represented there.

In Warsaw, Poles told me that they had a powerful army and were united. Perhaps the Poles themselves are, but the inhabitants of Poland as a whole are definitely not united. It would be a mistake to believe that the Ukrainians, White Russians, Jews and Germans, the Lithuanians and the Slovaks in Poland are united to those who oppress them. The Ukrainians and Germans are only longing to escape. The Poles are not really united either, for the poor among them are very dissatisfied. I have seen hundreds of men and women sleeping in the open in meadows adjoining the Vistula. Beggars in rags approached me as I walked along the streets of Lemberg; dozens of hotel touts tried to persuade me to visit their hotels in Warsaw. Sitting on the terrace of one of Cracow's biggest cafes, adjoining the park, I was accosted by dozens of beggars, including many children, who stopped in front of my table to ask for alms. One small boy, thin and poorly clad, begged for bits of bread and lumps of sugar, which he took away in a dirty, torn bag.

The workers earn about 150 zloty per month on an average, or some six pounds. That amounts to precisely 28 shillings per week in a month of 30 days. Few civil servants earn more than about double this sum, even in Warsaw. But rents are high. I saw [84] small self-contained flats in Warsaw fetching more than the average flat would in Maida Vale. Even the most simple flats (all Warsaw lives in flats) are expensive in proportion to the family income. Quite often, half the earnings will be spent on rent. Taxes and insurance contributions are high, and are deducted from the wages and salaries.

It is quite a mistake to suppose that 28 shillings will buy more in Poland than in England. True, if one moved from Mayfair to Posen, the latter would appear to be cheap; one must compare the West End of London with the fashionable quarter of Warsaw. Comparing the cost of living in English and Polish towns and villages generally, we find that a shilling buys at least as much in England as in Poland, while our workers pay no taxes on small wages as the Poles do. In the country, of course, wages are even lower and, as in England, prices are not so high as in the towns. Poverty in Poland is widespread, especially in the South-East. First-class hotel charges are on the general European scale.

All the minorities are subjected to certain restrictions. They have schools of their own, which they run themselves, but the Poles constantly find fault with their management, closing them down under one pretext or other. Their newspapers are also banned from time to time.

The seizing of newspapers is not confined to the journals of the minorities, however, and I repeatedly [85] saw Polish papers seized. Policemen stroll about until they see a newsboy, and then look through his papers. The newsboy stands aside with a broad smile on his lips. The seized papers are counted and the policeman gives the newsvendor a receipt. No crowd collects. One becomes accustomed to such things. One can imagine what excitement there would be if the police seized papers in London and strolled around with their arms full of dailies. In Warsaw it is quite commonplace.

The Polish Press is not united in support of the idea of an alliance with Moscow, and not all Poles agree with it. In fact it is not so long since the Gazeta Polska, one of the leading dailies, stated (12. 11. 1937) that "the population of Danzig is German by a vast majority.... No one can contradict this." I met Poles who did contradict it, claiming that Danzig really had a Polish population. Needless to say, none of them had ever been there. Those who had, admitted that the people were German, but declared that the town was "historically Polish."

Though the Poles are not all of the same opinion, many of them have unfortunately misunderstood things, and believe that England is willing to help them "regain" wide areas in Central Europe. I well remember when the Labour Party protested loudly against the Polish attack on Russia in 1920. It is true that the Russians afterwards threatened to occupy the whole of Poland, but it was the Poles who began it. In 1921 the [86] attack on Lithuania, and the seizure of Vilna, took place, In the same year the Poles attacked Upper Silesia, against all the peace terms. In 1930 the Ukraine was pacified with a brutality fortunately seldom known in our days. In 1938 the Poles annexed a corner of Czecho-Slovakia, including parts with a German majority and one district that was mainly populated by Slovaks. At present the Danzigers are wondering if they will come next. And during all this time, hundreds of thousands of Germans have been forced to emigrate by the Polish terror.

One might ask why particularly the Germans, and not, say, the Ukrainians, should have emigrated if they are both persecuted. The answer is, of course, that whilst the Germans have crossed the frontier to the Reich, the Ukrainians have no country of their own. Incidentally, the Poles have tried particularly hard to drive the Germans out of Upper Silesia, due to the fact that the area is industrialised and hence thickly populated. In the Corridor, the building of Gdynia as a port has enabled Poles to settle there, but as there is little scope in Upper Silesia, the only way to make more room is to force the Germans to emigrate if possible. (It may be safely assumed that hundreds of thousands of people do not leave their homes en masse without some very good reason, and, as already mentioned, the Poles themselves admit that the Germans have left in large numbers.)

Very naturally their fellow-countrymen across the [87] frontier feel indignant, and it is not probable that the Russians are pleased with Poland, either. After all, a big White Russian minority still exists in Poland and some Russians consider the idea of an Anschluss to be good.

There seems no good reason to believe that in the event of war the Russians would really assist the Poles to any great extent. General Sikorski, writing in the Svenska Dagbladet (April 5th, 1939), expressed the opinion that benevolent neutrality was all that could be expected of Russia, and he expressly added that the most which could possibly be given (the maximum help, he called it) would be the assistance of the Russian Air Force. "Any further aid," he went on, "is not desired," the reason given being that the States bordering U.S.S.R. do not want "to expose themselves to the danger of being overrun by the Bolsheviks." Another sentence in the General's article was that "the situation would have to be really desperate, and Poland completely overrun by an enemy, before the acceptance of Russian help could be considered."

This attitude of the Poles is hardly surprising. At present, visitors from abroad are not admitted until they have paid 25 zloty for a visa, and even then the control is so strict that actually the number of the hotel bedroom occupied by a guest is included in the details to be given immediately on arrival to the police. I have never heard of any other country going to these extremes. But it is easy to understand that a [88] people with such an attitude towards foreigners is not likely to welcome the idea of admitting hundreds of thousands of Russians in their midst.

The Poles do not wish anyone to occupy their country. On the contrary, they are anxious to occupy areas outside their own present borders.

It is interesting to note that Poland once considered the Corridor to be worthless if she could not also have East Prussia, an idea never completely abandoned. Roman Dmowski, in his memorandum to President Wilson, dated October 8th, 1918, clearly pointed this out. He remarked that if East Prussia were to remain German territory, the Corridor should also be retained. The Corridor, he went on, was of no value to Poland without East Prussia, for it would never cease to be a bone of contention between Poland and Germany. Germany would always hanker after a linking bridge at the expense of Poland.

A prominent Pole recently suggested to me that the solution for Germany, if she did not like the idea of having an isolated province, was to exchange East Prussia for the Corridor. As East Prussia is 100% German, this proposal would hardly lead to a settlement, but it was proposed to me in all seriousness.

When the Corridor was established, Sforza said that "no serious politician had believed in the long existence of the Corridor emergency solution." In a book written afterwards, Sforza made the following statement:

    [89] "These Poles were terribly logical and obstinate with the result that everyone felt troubled about their perpetual claims. If they were to be believed, half Europe was once Polish and should have become Polish again. Thus it came about, for example, that diplomatic Europe, when Dmowski demanded the cession of East Prussia to Poland, in order, as he logically said, to avoid the contradiction of the Danzig Corridor, was so embittered that, if only Lloyd George had had his way, we might perhaps have experienced a fourth division of Poland in the end."

Dmowski angrily accused Lloyd George of playing into the hands of the Germans, and made this remarkable statement in his memoirs:

    "If it had not been for Lloyd George, our Western frontiers would have been very different. Only a man who was under a direct obligation to the Germans or the Jews would protect the interests of the Germans with such zeal.

    "The work of destroying the findings of the Territorial Commission began with less important matters, and then passed on to more ponderous affairs. First of all he prevented the four German districts near Marienburg from being handed to Poland, then he saw that a plebiscite was held. In the Danzig question, too, he was victorious in the struggle against Wilson and Clemenceau and the 'Free State' was finally agreed upon."

Incidentally, Tomasini called the Polish Corridor an [90] "incurable wound in Germany's flesh," and it was only owing to Clemenceau's urgency that this area was ever given to Poland at all. I well remember how everyone in London was against it at the time. Woodrow Wilson was not pleased about it either, for, as he pointed out to R. St. Baker in April, 1919, France's only real interest in Poland was to weaken Germany by giving the Poles areas to which they had no claim. The Poles have always considered that the Corridor question was bound to lead to a war, but to a war which would widen their own frontiers. There have been dozens of clear, unmistakable statements to that effect in various publications, and I select the following from the Mocarstwowiec because it appeared in 1930, i.e. before Hitler became Chancellor:

    "We are aware that war between Poland and Germany cannot be avoided. We must systematically and energetically prepare ourselves for this war. The present generation will see that a new victory at Grunwald will be inscribed in the pages of history. But we shall fight this Grunwald in the suburbs of Berlin. Our ideal is to round Poland off with frontiers on the Oder in the West and the Neisse in Lausatia, and to reincorporate Prussia, from the Pregel to the Spree. In this war no prisoners will be taken, there will be no room for humanitarian feelings. We shall surprise the whole world in our war with Germany."

Such boasts and threats as these have not, of course, [91] been made by the whole Polish people. On the contrary, the ordinary man in the street in Poland definitely opposes the idea of fighting for a new frontier and is all for peace. But there is an element in Poland which demands that Germany should be partitioned. A bank clerk when I changed a five-pound note in a small Polish town, asked me if I knew that there was a suburb called Nowawes in Berlin, adding that the "Nazis were changing its name to hide the fact that it was really Polish!" A hotel porter in a larger town told me that Wannsee, Berlin's bathing beach, was once Polish, and that the Berliners thus sunned themselves on true Polish soil. I heard many other similar claims, all absurd, and most of them contradictory.

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Poland From the Inside