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Poland From the Inside.
[92]
The Poles at home

The Poles have an exaggerated idea of their own importance. It was this in part which led to the extended frontiers which the Labour Party used to attack so strongly. The Labour Speakers' Handbook (1922-3) remarked under the heading "Poland" that "in the newly constituted State of Poland a large non-Polish population has been included. Exact statements on the whole of this cannot be given because the frontiers of Poland have not been finally fixed.... Nearly all West Prussia has been annexed to Poland, although two-thirds of the people are German and all the civilisation of the country has been due to Germany. A plebiscite was not allowed; if it had been, it would have gone overwhelmingly in favour of Germany.... The whole of the province of Posen has been annexed to Poland, although in the Western part there is a German majority.... The policy of Labour is to rectify these unjust territorial arrangements...."

A further example of their arrogance is to be found in the National Anthem. I would not by any means say that the text of national anthems is typical of the feelings of the people who sing it, but still it may be [93] of interest to quote the words of Verse II, which are as follows:

    Crossing the Vistula, crossing the Warta,
    We shall be true Poles;
    We learned a lesson from Buonaparte
    How to conquer everything.
That is hardly the spirit of a nation, desiring nothing more than to be left in peace. To "conquer everything" (which might also be rendered "to conquer all") may be a figure of speech, but the direct reference to Buonaparte leaves no doubt that the Poles think in terms of wide conquests. The Polish text of the last two lines is:

    Dal nam przykl ad Bonaparte
    Jak zwyciezać mamy.
That is not just a joke. The Poles actually did fight side by side with Napoleon for the conquest of Europe, against England, Prussia and other countries. It was not, as in so many other cases, that Napoleon placed one of his own relations on the throne and then claimed the country as his ally. Prince Joseph Poniatowski, nephew of the last king of Poland, fought for him, and fell at the Battle of Leipzig. His statue, which is the object of pilgrimages to-day, stands in Warsaw, in front of the Polish tomb of the Unknown [94] Warrior. I saw his burial place next to that of Kościusko in a vault of the Wawel in Cracow. Napoleon is much revered as an example of what a man should be; after all, he established the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807.

But when Napoleon was defeated by Wellington and Blücher, Poland's dream ended. The Congress of Vienna awarded most of Poland to Russia - who had also suffered under the joint attack of the French and Poles, and had been forced to burn Moscow in 1812 to avoid a French occupation, it will be remembered.

The Russians did not trouble themselves unduly about the terms under which Poland was entrusted to them. The Allies of 1815 (including the Prussians, though not the French) hoped that Russia would give all due consideration to the Polish rights, including self-government. 104 years later, the Allies (this time including the French, but not the Prussians) entrusted other minorities to Poland - and with no better results. Self-government was also promised - but never came into effect. So does history repeat itself.

Poland has had several great leaders, but they have always failed in the hour of victory by oppressing their beaten enemies, and by pushing their demands too far, or by quarrelling among themselves on some question of dynasty.

The late Marshal Pilsudski was a brilliant exception. He is to-day a national hero in Poland. I climbed the [95] hill on which a great plaque is erected to his memory outside Cracow, to be followed by a monument. To many of the pilgrims to this hill only Pilsudski's military ability is remembered. His statesmanship, at least as great, is mostly forgotten.

Joseph Pilsudski was born at Zulów in Vilna; his heart was buried at Vilna at the foot of his mother's grave, at his own request. He was born on December 5th, 1867. He studied at the University of Kharkoff, wishing to become a doctor; but he took more interest in liberating Poland than in medicine, and it was not long before he was being sent in chains to Siberia. From 1887 to 1892 he suffered exile, then returned to Warsaw, where he founded the Polish Socialist Party, which had for its aim the independence of Poland. Pilsudski started a paper which the police promptly banned, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Warsaw Citadel, afterwards being transferred to St. Petersburg. There, in the X Pavillion, he suffered solitary confinement in cell No. 31. On May 13th, 1901, he escaped and went to Cracow (then Austria). In 1906 and 1907 he organised Polish volunteers for the struggle against Russia. He started an organisation of Polish Riflemen in 1910 - not with the object of attacking Austria or Germany, where the Poles were reasonably well treated, but in order to attack Russia at the first opportunity.

That opportunity came when the Great War broke out. On August 6th, 1914, Pilsudski and his riflemen [96] left Cracow with the Polish flag at their head to fight side by side with the Central Powers. After the Russian defeat, Pilsudski had some disagreement with the Germans, who imprisoned him at Magdeburg, but he was afterwards released. He was then nominated First Marshal of Poland, after having occupied the post of "Chief of State." In 1922 he retired from public life, somewhat disillusioned, it is said. But in 1926 Poland was on the verge of a new partition, and Pilsudski took over control, despite the Government. In fact, he had first to overcome Polish opposition of a very definite character.

He had in the meanwhile studied politics, and now proved one of the greatest statesmen Poland ever had. In 1934 he made an agreement with Hitler when hardly anyone imagined that such a thing was possible. A lesser man would not have accomplished this. Hitler deserves equal praise in this respect, but then his country was the stronger. Pilsudski, in a weaker position secured a fair agreement for his country, which is the essence of true statesmanship. His body is preserved in the crypt of the Wawel Cathedral in Cracow.

The memory of Pilsudski is still alive in Poland, but his statesmanship, alas, is forgotten. He is remembered only as the warrior and victor. A prominent Pole told me that if Pilsudski had lived he would have attacked Germany and prevented all danger. I suggested that if he had been alive he would have [97] assured a long peace by agreement with his neighbour, as he did in 1934. My friend was struck by the idea, which had obviously never occurred to him before. After a slight pause he said, "Perhaps you are right!"

Colonel Beck, the Foreign Minister, is one of the best known Poles of the present time. He was formerly a staunch follower of Pilsudski, but has since changed his political views. He undoubtedly acts as he thinks best for his country, but unfortunately he lacks the far-sightedness of the late Marshal Pilsudski.

General Rydz was chosen by Pilsudski as his successor in leading the nation, and when the Marshal died his wish was respected. He was born in 1886, and was very serious as a boy. I was told that he organised a schoolboy campaign against smoking when only eleven years old. His parents died in his early childhood. Rydz is a man of great ability, but he is a dreamer. At school his main talents were in drawing and painting, while he steeped himself in history. His special hero has always been Napoleon, as is openly admitted in Warsaw to-day. He has stated, by the way, that Pilsudski's arrest in Germany after Russia's defeat was due to the Marshal's refusal to organise a Polish army to assist the Germans. Rydz was nominated General by Pilsudski himself. The dream of Napoleonic greatness now not only influences the head of the army, but also many of its senior officers.

Pilsudski was perhaps the first Pole to learn the lesson [98] of give and take. No less a person than Pitt found that it was hard to come to a settlement with Poland. He advised the Poles at the end of the 18th century to leave Danzig to Prussia, and Thorn was also to be ceded. The Polish Parliament refused. Pitt persisted, however, and told the Polish ambassador in Holland that these two towns should go to Prussia in December 1790. Prussia proved more pliable, although the stronger, and abandoned the claim to Thorn in the interests of peace, while through Pitt's good offices a big reduction on shipping dues on the Vistula was assured Poland. This excellent example from the pages of history, of a British Statesman securing an agreement between Prussia and Poland when things seemed hopeless, and Poland was already claiming Danzig, should prove a precedent for the present case.


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Poland From the Inside