Poland From the Inside.
Treatment of minorities

Though disputes between the Poles and their minorities were considered probable when the Polish frontiers were fixed, they were not expected to be of such far-reaching consequences as actually proved to be the case. According to the Handbook of Central and East Europe, published by the Central European Times Publishing Co. at Zurich, Danzig is "under international control and a High Commissioner appointed by the League of Nations is supposed to decide disputed questions between Poland and Danzig." The fact that a High Commissioner was "supposed" to decide disputed questions clearly shows that disputes were regarded as extremely likely, else why the provision?

The answer is that at the beginning of 1919 the Danzigers demanded union with the Reich, so that the Free City arrangement was known all along to be against their wishes, and the customs union with Poland was equally known to oppose their desires. This handbook claimed (in 1935) that the 22.2 million Poles formed 69.1% of the whole population of Poland. Even this figure would show minorities [134] totalling over 30%, but it is, of course, based on the official Polish statistics, and I have already shown the methods used by Poland in the Ukraine and Upper Silesia to secure a high percentage of registered Poles and a low percentage of foreign minorities. That I only selected two areas is not because there are no further cases, but because a description of those methods in other parts does not need illustration, being the same in type.

The same handbook throws an interesting light on the school system. There are (page 579 of the handbook) 1,765 nursery schools where the language used is Polish, 47 with Ukrainian, 34 with German, 42 with Yiddish, 35 with Hebrew, 2 with French, 2 with Russian and 16 which are bi-lingual, Polish being one of the languages. These figures apply to 1929-1930, and the number of non-Polish schools has dropped further since then. But even accepting these figures it is obvious that the proportion is wrong.

It means that 1,765 such schools exist of which only well below 10% teach in languages other than Polish, while according to the same handbook over 30% of the population is non-Polish.

Other similar conditions are noted in the other schools. There are actually, the handbook states, 22 academic schools, of which all, without exception, are Polish. But, worst of all, the teachers' training colleges are practically all Polish. Of 229 such estab- [135] lishments only 10 taught in Ukrainian and 3 in German. On page 580 the handbook asserts that of 100,500 pupils at nursery schools, as many as 93,700 are given instruction only in Polish.

When we come to organisations of a voluntary character, founded without the help of the State, the proportion is very different. The handbook (p. 556) shows that at the end of 1933 there were 6,421 Polish co-operative societies, while those of the national minorities amounted to no less than 5,341, of which 3,411 were Ukrainian. In other words, the Ukrainians had more than half as many as the Poles, but only because co-operative societies could be founded without State aid, while schools could not.

The need of more Ukrainian and German schools is beyond dispute, yet the authorities are doing their best to reduce the already meagre total. All this is in direct opposition to the terms under which Poland was given the minority areas. The Poles persuaded the Allies that they would care for all their minorities, and their word was accepted. It has turned out that this was a mistake. If the Poles really gave the minorities equal opportunities we should find a proportion of Ukrainian and German schools at least equal to the proportion of Ukrainians and Germans admitted by official Polish statistics. In point of fact it requires a brave man to send his son or daughter to a non-Polish school - and he is, moreover, probably exposing his child to difficulties in after-life. The Poles have finely [136] calculated this factor, and it has been fairly successful in achieving its purpose.

But we must not believe that the number of children speaking Polish is conclusive evidence. There are hundreds of thousands who speak two languages - Polish, which they are compelled to learn at school, and their own, taught by their mothers at home and spoken in secrecy. This may appear fantastic to those who are not acquainted with Eastern Europe, but how else can one explain, for example, the fact that the Ukrainian language has survived all attempts for centuries to stamp it out?

It is astonishing that so much Ukrainian, German, Polish, Lithuanian and, as a matter of fact, one or two other languages, such as Slovakian, are still spoken at all. The Ukrainians remained in their native areas, so far as they were not imprisoned or sent to Warsaw under protest. But the Germans who decided to retain their Reich nationality knew, when they did so, that they would have to leave hearth and home. They automatically became foreigners in their own country. Nothing can be said against this. The persons concerned voted for German nationality fully knowing what would result. It was hard on them to have to choose between their homes and their true country, of course.

But the worst part came afterwards, when the Poles informed numerous German-speaking land-owners that they were not Polish citizens, and could not, [137] therefore, continue to be farmers in the Republic. Small-holders were less affected, but big German land-owners suffered severely. In many cases the fact that a son had studied at a university in Prussia was regarded as rendering the whole family ineligible for Polish nationality, and it must be remembered that the areas where the farmers lived had been a part of Prussia until 1919.

The Germans belonged in many cases to a league for maintaining language and tradition, known as the Deutschtumsbund, in the first years of the Republic. At the beginning of August, 1923, the police raided all the branches of this Bund. Within three days not a single branch was left. The Polish Press reported that the organisation had been aiming at high treason. But none of the leaders of the Deutschtumsbund was brought up for trial. Hundredweights of printed matter were collected at the Posen Court, but the case was "pending" for years, and nothing came of it.

Nevertheless, the Polish action achieved its purpose, for the Deutschtumsbund had been handling the complaints of the German minority, and the material collected, intended in part for Geneva, was destroyed when the organisation was broken up.

The Germans whose property was seized received compensation, it is true. But the amounts were ridiculously small. Baron Firck's property at Radolin, known to be worth several million gold zloty, was officially valued at only 250,000 gold zloty; the big [138] Hindersin estates, at Lissa, had been officially estimated at 451,000 dollars, but the official valuation when it came to expropriation was 40,000 dollars. I quote these two examples because the estates were fairly well known, but less famous property fared no better.

The extent of the expropriation may be seen from the statement of the (Polish) Liquidation Commission on May 27th, 1929, i.e. that 4,000 country estates and 2,000 plots of land in municipal areas had been "liquidated."

Those who had not received the documents confirming the cession of real estate in German provinces during the War were particularly unlucky. The applications had been filed at the Courts in the manner usual in Prussia at the time, but shortage of staff owing to the continuation of hostilities had led to postponement of registration. German ownership of real property is entered in a book called the "Grundbuch." In normal times this procedure is fairly speedy, but in the War years it was often held over till peace time.

In the areas taken over by the Poles, failure to produce a document was regarded as a reason for driving the owners from the land. The fact that the applications had in many cases been pending for years was not taken into consideration. The Poles said they were the successors of the Prussians, and must drive away all who had no document to confirm ownership. Precisely 3,964 German settlers were [139] robbed of their land in this way, and became homeless. They received no compensation.

These 3,964 settlers were summarily turned out. But in thousands of other cases action was also taken against German peasants and landowners on account of their racial origin. One method was as follows:

The Prussian Government had financially assisted many of the smallholders to buy land, and possessed, until such time as the payments were completely returned, the right to buy the holders out. Before the Treaty of Versailles came into effect, Prussia had transferred its claims to the German Peasants' Bank at Danzig. But Poland claimed to have taken over the right along with sovereignty of the provinces in question. I shall not go into the rights and wrongs of the claims of the Danzig Bank and the Polish State, which are really immaterial. The point is that the Poles used this opportunity to dispossess the Germans forcibly. When a smallholder died, his lawful heirs were not allowed to take over his property, which was claimed by the Polish Government as its own. This meant no compensation at all. The owner could sell during his life-time, but only Poles were allowed to buy from him, and the price was kept down to an absurd level. Hundreds of these cases were brought before the Courts, often before International Courts, but no redress was made until 1929, and even then it only affected those who had not been robbed of their land in the meanwhile.

[Scriptorium notes: for a taste of the Poles' treatment of their German minority at almost the exact time that this book was published, click here!]

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Poland From the Inside