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Poland From the Inside.

[99]
The influence of Napoleon

I have shown how the Poles admired Napoleon. But history shows that the French did not share this feeling. On the contrary, they wrote things which, if true, make terrible accusations - and it would be hard to believe they were inventions.

A typical example is to be found in the Memoirs of one of the best and most upright officers in Napoleon's army. It has a Napoleonic stamp, for the petit caporal left this officer instructions in his will to complete the Memoirs. This writer, General Baron de Marbot, who participated in all the big campaigns, wrote as follows in Volume III (The retreat from Russia):

    "...The desire to enrich themselves gave us a new enemy from the ranks of our own allies, the Poles. The Marshal of Saxony, son of one of their kings, rightly said, 'The Poles are the greatest robbers on earth, not even respecting the property of their own fathers.'

    "...On the march and in camp, they stole whatever they saw. But as finally no more trust was placed in them and individual acts of theft became very difficult, they decided to operate on a big scale. For this purpose they organised bands, doffed their helmets, [100] and put on peasants' caps, crept out of the camp, and met at a pre-arranged point when it became dark, then attacking their own camp while uttering the war-cry of the Cossacks. The false Cossacks returned after the work of plundering was completed, and were to be found in the ranks of the French army the next morning, only to become 'Cossacks' again on the next night.

    "Several generals and colonels decided to punish these disgraceful thefts. One night, 50 Poles were taken by surprise as they attacked the camp as Cossacks... and shot...."

The translation is made from the original French. But more than a century later, the French placed no greater confidence in their Polish friends. In 1929, for example, Pierre Valmigère wrote, in an article entitled "France, Allemagne et Pologne":

    "Do you believe in the gratitude of the Poles? - It is obviously not in the interests of France to support Poland at present, though this is done from reasons of stupid sentimentality. She (France) believes she loves Poland, but she does not know this nation, which had hardly regained its independence when everything within reach was grabbed into its clutches; which has more than 40 per cent. of non-Polish citizens who hate her, secretly in revolt and only awaiting an opportunity to free themselves.

    "Does France know that this Poland is not even satisfied with its 40 per cent. population of foreign [101] origin, but that it carries the madness and expansion mania to such limits that it demands Silesia from Beuthen to Oppeln, the whole of the Ukraine, Danzig and East Prussia?"

At Versailles, when Danzig was to have been handed entirely to the tender mercies of Poland, Lloyd George said that injustice in a moment of triumph would never be forgotten or forgiven, for which reason he was against placing more Germans than necessary under foreign rule. Lloyd George also stated in so many words that the Poles had never proved that they could rule even themselves, and that the proposal of the Polish Commission would, in his opinion, lead to war sooner or later.

It was not until Marshal Pilsudski ruled in Poland that these wild ideas of a vast Empire were temporarily abandoned in Warsaw. Pilsudski was a passionately patriotic Pole, but precisely for this reason he determined to avoid struggles with his neighbours which could only be to the detriment of his own country. That was the best proof of his greatness. Pilsudski was certainly aware that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany unfairly, and given Poland more land than she was historically or ethnographically entitled to. But he was a Pole and represented the interests of his own people. He realised the great importance of peace with Germany, and accepted the Non-Aggression Pact, which was to last ten years. Poland needed peace for reconstruction, just as Germany did. One [102] condition of this Pact was that Germans in Poland and Poles in Germany were to be well treated. The Poles in Germany are small in number, and there has been little friction between them and the Reich, but the Germans in Poland are a huge minority, and there had continually been disagreements from 1919 onwards. Pilsudski and Hitler came to an agreement. Pilsudski was heart and soul for this Pact, but there was a powerful group in Poland which was bitterly opposed to friendship with the Germans, and which waited for the first opportunity to turn the helm. After Pilsudski's death, the attempt to turn the Germans into 100% Poles was resumed.

This was bound to cause tension. Had Pilsudski lived, an agreement would probably have been unnecessary, for the Pact would have continued. And if a new agreement had been needed, the Polish Marshal would certainly have secured one which was just to all, and assured the interests of the Poles as well. Unfortunately the Poles to-day have been persuaded by their journalists and politicians that Pilsudski aimed at making all the Eastern half of Europe Polish - which was by no means the case. It was a sad day for Poland's true interests when this great man passed away before a lasting settlement to all questions had been reached. For the German-Polish Pact did not settle points under dispute, nor did it aim at doing so. The Pact was a kind of armistice to last ten years, during which time all questions were to be looked [103] into, and if possible settled, by a round-table conference between representatives of Berlin and Warsaw. This showed the true greatness of the agreement. Neither Poland nor Germany saw eye to eye with the other, but Pilsudski and Hitler signed a pact despite disagreements. Many minor points were settled after the Pact came into effect, but the main questions were left for the future - and Pilsudski's death prevented the new friendship between the two countries from maturing. This raises the question as to how it comes about that there are so many Germans in Poland. For the German inhabitants are not only to be found in the provinces allotted to Poland unjustly in 1919. They are spread throughout the country - in the Polish parts as a minority, of course, but in the Corridor and Upper Silesia as the majority.

When the first really Polish State was established by the Viking Prince, sometimes called Dago, and otherwise known as Misika, the new country was under German sovereignty. And thus the Polish dukes and nobles visited the German Courts, keeping in close touch with Western progress, such as it was in those days. These nobles invited German knights and monks to come to Poland, and many did so, where they established religious and educational centres. The first Gothic buildings in Poland, some of which still stand, owe their origin to these early German settlers.

German merchants and craftsmen followed, and as early as the 12th century they were sprinkled among [104] the Slav population. The first towns already existed, though of course few in number, and it was only in the 13th century that they became numerous. Most of these towns had only German inhabitants, the Poles being ineligible to become citizens, and the German language and customs were maintained for centuries, for the Poles showed little aptitude or inclination for city life, even when this was open to them, which was at a slightly later date. Many towns differed little from the mediaeval towns in Germany itself, examples being Cracow, Posen, Kalish, Lublin and Peisern. Many of the towns founded in Poland had German names from the start. Examples are Lemberg, Landshut, Neumarkt, Liebwarte, Landskrone, Timberg and Frawenstat. Some of the German towns, and particularly Cracow, were so powerful that they often played a decisive part in the dynastic struggles between the Polish dukes. Forts usually guarded the towns. A glance at the splendid walls of Cracow, still in a fine state of preservation, easily enables one to realise the strategic power that such a town could exercise in those times of comparatively primitive weapons.

In the course of time German peasants also settled in the sparsely populated country areas. There were actually large enclaves, such as that which still existed at the beginning of the 18th century at the foot of the Carpathians. Many of these Germans gradually learned to speak Polish, and are now regarded as [105] Poles. But in numerous cases their surnames remind one of their origin. The Christian names are Polish, however. In Posen and West Galicia German settlements were gradually established on a fairly large scale. Now these Germans were free men, while the Poles still lived in a state of serfdom, so that the Germans had more scope to make progress. Hundreds of German villages came into being. The Polish peasants, as they gained more liberty, adopted many customs of the Germans. Absolute proof of the fact that the Germans were in many areas before the Poles is to be found in the registers in old buildings, where the very earliest entries are in German. This is the case in innumerable towns. The oldest municipal register at Thorn does not contain a single word of Polish, it is all in German. The oldest municipal register in Cracow begins in German. Early council deliberations at Thorn, Posen, Cracow and many other towns took place in German only. [Emphasis added by The Scriptorium.]

The German character of many old buildings has already been remarked on. Some of these were German-built, while others were merely based on German style. The St. Mary's Church at Cracow was built by Wernher and Heinrich Parler, who hailed from Gmünd in Swabia. Sermons there were delivered in German until 1537. The altar was carved by the German, Veit Stoss. The old Cloth Halls in the Cracow market place, which rank high among the sights of Europe, were built by another German, [106] Jakob Lindentolde. Even the Wawel Castle thanks its existence very largely to Germans, one of whom, Hans Boner, was responsible for the financing, its construction and, to some extent, for its artistic excellence. The Cathedral at Lemberg is the work of a German architect, Peter Stecher; St. John's Church at Thorn was built by another German, Johann Gotland. In Warsaw, there are several German buildings, including the old Gothic Cathedral of St. John's.

The swampy areas adjoining the Vistula and Warta were reclaimed by Germans at a time when the Poles were still serfs. At the close of the 18th century German settlements extended to Lodz.

Large German villages sprang up, and existed in their original form for many generations. They form the nucleus of many a present village. The names of such villages include Königshuld, Luisenfeld and Friedrichshagen, after the Prussian Royal Family, and various names reminding the settlers of the homes of their forefathers, such as Neu-Württemberg, Leonberg, Effingshausen, Erdmannsweiler, Hochweiler, Neu-Sulzfeld, Neu-Ilvesheim, and the like. These names were afterwards officially translated into Polish but some still live in the hearts of the people. In 1885 there were roughly a thousand German villages in so-called Congress Poland alone, and this number was on the increase. At the beginning of the 19th century new settlements were established, mainly by weavers from Lower Silesia, Saxony, Thurin- [107] gia and the Sudetenland. There were about 30,000 such settlers, including women and children. A further 20,000 cloth-makers made their homes in Congress Poland about the same time.

Many of the great men of Poland were of German origin, including Copernicus and the philosopher Hoene. The names of General Haller and Colonel Beck actually sound German.

I quote the above to show how the Germans came to appear in distant parts of Poland, and what they did there. There can be no question of handing over German villages in Central Poland on this account, but it is clear that the Germans have assisted in building Polish towns and cities, in developing industry, and in improving things generally. Past co-operation between Germans and Poles should be regarded as a stepping-stone to future agreement and neighbourly relations. The Russians were the traditional enemies of the Poles, not the Germans.

The Polish Prince Radziwill adopted this view when, during the Great War, he asserted that "the common enemy of Poland and Germany is Russia. The final aim of the war is the same for both Poland and Germany. History proves this. Let us look at a sketch of the history of Poland, and we shall see that Poland has always regarded the Muscovite realm as her worst enemy. There can be no doubt about this. There has been no comparatively lengthy period without a war, more recently without a rising, against the Musco- [108] vites.... All these risings were against Russia only, including the last revolution in 1905...." Then again: "We Poles know that Posen is a part of Prussia, and always will be, and we do not dream of cutting a part out of the body of the country which liberates us."

Despite Prince Radziwill's words, Posen might better be left to Poland, so as to avoid any serious disputes. But the words of this prominent Pole are nevertheless of interest.

Many far-seeing Poles were against the inclusion of non-Polish territory in their State, and with good reason, for a people who number 20 millions can hardly digest a minority 75% as large as themselves - or, rather, a group of minorities. The way in which the present Polish frontier was fixed has been partly described in the Kurjer Poznansky by Dr. Rydlewski, a member of the Polish Commission in Paris. He showed the difficulties which Marshal Pilsudski's representative, Dr. Dluski, and Professor Nitsch, of Cracow, placed in the way of the two heads of the Commission, Dmowski and Paderewski, during the negotiations at Versailles.

His description is extremely illuminating. "During my stay in Paris," he writes, "I received an invitation to a session of the Polish Commission. In reply to the question as to where I thought the frontier in the Posen area should be, I declared briefly that I demanded the whole of the Grand Duchy of Posen without any cuts. Professor Nitsch of Cracow [109] protested with energy and determination. He stated that he had toured the whole area as a philologist, and had found that the Western part of this area was unquestionably German. 'I did not find a single Polish town or Polish village,' Professor Nitsch assured us, 'and I did not hear a single word of Polish in these regions.' 'Why,' exclaimed Professor Nitsch, greatly moved, 'perhaps you want to take Bomst, Bentschen, Birnbaum and Meseritz away from the Germans?' 'Of course,' I replied, 'these districts and towns belong to us!'"

Dr. Rydlewski went on to remark in the course of the same article that Professor Nitsch's attitude had troubled him, and a discussion followed, when the Professor declared the areas under discussion were all German. Dr. Dluski then joined in with protests against the proposed annexation of Posen and, according to Dr. Rydlewski, asked the latter ironically if he did not wish to annex Berlin as well.

Dmowski afterwards grumbled about Marshal Pilsudski's "difficult attitude," declaring that the Marshal was not very anxious to have Prussian areas, and that he also wished to give the Ukrainians a part of East Galicia. Pilsudski wanted a Polish State, and he no longer cherished the earlier dreams of an Empire. He saw that foreign areas were not worth having. It is clear that Pilsudski would never have been willing to risk the independence of his people in a war to retain non-Polish land.


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Poland From the Inside