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Poland From the Inside.
[140]
Upper Silesia's example

It may not be without interest to consider how Poland came into possession of much of the territory now under her control. Upper Silesia is an excellent example, all the more so since its inclusion in the Polish Republic was against the wishes of the British Government in general, and of Lloyd George in particular.

A plebiscite was to be held in Upper Silesia, and Woiczech Korfanty was nominated Poland's Commissar for the Plebiscite. One of his closest collaborators was a lawyer called Wolny, which is the Polish word for "free," or "at liberty." The plebiscite was held on March 21st, 1921. Germany received 707,393 votes and Poland 479,365 votes, despite the fact that it was well known that high taxes would be necessary in Germany in order to pay the Reparations, and despite considerable pressure on the part of the Poles. This was a fairly good majority, and the Inter-Allied Commission at Oppeln was of the opinion that the question was settled, for this plebiscite was to have been considered final. The French General le Rond, who was in close touch with Korfanty, favoured a return [141] to Poland. The promises made to the population of Upper Silesia by Korfanty place all election pledges in the shade. There was little he did not promise them if they would vote for Poland. And yet the Germans obtained a good majority.

Korfanty should never have been allowed to act as Plebiscite Commissar, for he had tried to take control illegally on two occasions, the last being on August 19th, 1920, when General le Rond ordered the French to disarm the German police, and Korfanty was equipped with a good supply of arms and munitions from some quarter or other.

On May 2nd, 1921, Korfanty, while still officially holding the post of Plebiscite Commissar, began a night march against the area. The districts of Beuthen, Pless, Rybnik, Gross-Strelitz, Gleiwitz and Kattowitz were taken by storm. The German police had been in part replaced by Polish police. The latter joined the rebels in uniform, and the former were disarmed, in numerous cases ill-treated, and in many actually murdered.

Between 50 and 60 persons were murdered during that night. German officials were arrested and mishandled. Where French soldiers were on duty, they took no action whatever. The protests of the Germans reached General le Rond, who ignored them. The Polish Government relieved Korfanty, it is true, of his post as Commissar, but it was too late. Korfanty then sent a message to Lloyd George, Briand, Harding, [142] Lord Curzon, Count Sforza and Giolitti, telling them that he had done his best to prevent a rising. Korfanty was in possession, however.

The Italian troops endeavoured to restore law and order (there were no Fascists in those days, and no Axis), and they marched on May 4th from Ratibor towards Rybnik. The Poles fired on these representatives of the Allied troops, and the Italians suffered 30 killed and some 50 wounded.

Fighting followed. The inhabitants resisted the Polish insurgents. The Poles cut off the water and electricity supply of Kattowitz for several days in succession, and the infant mortality rose alarmingly. Families filled all imaginable vessels with water after that, and were thus better able to withstand attempts to torture them by cutting off their water supply, which were repeated several times.

England never agreed to all this. The French troops stood and looked on, but England never countenanced the Polish brutality. That is a fact of which we may be justly proud. The British member of the Inter-Allied Commission at Oppeln, Colonel Percival, sent dispatches containing the truth to London. They completely contradicted the tales told by the Poles and the French. On May 13th, 1921, Lloyd George told the House of Commons that the Inter-Allied Commission had intended to give Poland the parts of Upper Silesia which had voted with a majority for that country, and he characterised [143] the armed action of the Poles as a complete breach of the Treaty of Versailles. Lloyd George emphasised that this breach of faith on the part of the Poles would lead the Germans to grumble that they had to abide by the Treaty, while other nations did not. He stressed the fact that while some might say they were "only Germans," they, too, had a right to whatever the Treaty granted them. Lloyd George also said it would be unfair not to allow the Germans to make use of their own troops to restore order, and his words were loudly applauded in the House. England, he went on, stood for fair play. He also remarked that the area in question had been German for two centuries, and that it had certainly not been Polish for the past six hundred years.

But fighting continued. England did not fight for the weaker party, nor, of course, could she be expected to, for, after all, we had troubles enough of our own. But it would be a crime if we were to march to-day to defend Polish possession of the area taken by Korfanty against the Inter-Allied Commission, against the Treaty of Versailles, and against the plebiscite. General le Rond finally threatened to send 15,000 men, with tanks and heavy artillery, to aid the insurgents against the inhabitants. This forced the Germans to abandon their resistance.

Poland had to return some of the area, including Beuthen and Gleiwitz, but retained Kattowitz, Pless, Rybnik, Lublinetz, Tarnowitz, and Königshütte. [144] About a million Upper Silesians came under the rule of Warsaw as a result. The area ceded to Poland, despite the plebiscite, included nine of the 14 rolling mills, 53 of the 65 coal pits, 23 of 37 furnaces, 15 of 25 steel works, and rich mineral deposits (coal, zinc and lead).

Thirty-one railway lines and 45 highways were cut through by the new frontier in order to give the Poles what property they wanted, such as the new model hospital at Rudahammer. It was a victory of brute force.

It is frequently forgotten that the plebiscite I have mentioned was not to decide whether Upper Silesia should be divided or not. It was to vote the whole compact area either to Poland or Germany. This view was held everywhere. 59.64 per cent. of the votes were given in favour of continuing the union with Germany, and only 40.36 per cent. for Poland. With one exception, every town had a clear German majority. Rural districts voted, strangely enough, with a German majority where British or Italian troops were stationed, and only when French soldiers, under General le Rond's eye, were in occupation did the people in the country favour union with Poland.

The majority had spoken and, in accordance with our Democratic system, a clear majority should have sufficed to secure Upper Silesia for the Reich. Despite this, the Paris Conference awarded 1,235 square miles of territory (30% of Upper Silesia) with a popu- [145] lation of 892,547 (42.6% of that of all Upper Silesia) to Poland. The most surprising part of the whole affair was that the Poles did not obtain a majority even with the help of Korfanty. But it became clear soon afterwards that the 40% Polish votes had been largely recorded for fear of Polish vengeance. The best example was at the elections in the part of Upper Silesia remaining German. 195,317 persons there had voted for union with Poland, but on December 7th, 1924, only 42,051 of them recorded votes for the Polish People's Party, the remainder voting for German parties.

This cannot be explained away by claims of Nazi oppression. At that time there were no National Socialists in this district at all. The authorities were Liberal, Democratic, of the Catholic Centre Party in the Reich, and the local boards were elected in the same manner as in London.

The partitioning of Upper Silesia left towns cut off from their natural source of supply.

I know this area well, but a brief description of just one sector of the new frontier may be of interest. Beuthen, a purely German town, ends in the middle of a railway station. In a tunnel under the platforms, Polish and German officials stand all day examining the papers of those who have to go from one side of the railway line to the other. One can book a ticket from German Beuthen to Polish-owned Kattowitz, for example, but one must possess a passport or a [146] permit to reach the platform. One must walk past the German officials, who examine the papers, then past the Polish officials. Thousands of people live on one side and work on the other. Some live on one side, their fathers and mothers on the other. A passport or frontier permit is required to visit them. Purely German communities were divided by this frontier.

But the main point to consider is that Poland seized Upper Silesia with the aid of Korfanty, the chief official Polish Commissar at the plebiscite, afterwards officially disowned, and with the tacit consent of the French troops under le Rond. It was an act of aggression against the German population, and a flagrant breach of the Treaty of Versailles. Lloyd George confirmed it, the whole House of Commons applauded his words.

If it was wrong to seize this land we should hardly be right sending our troops to help the Poles perpetuate the wrong. It would be an absurd situation.

It must not be forgotten that the Province of Silesia belonged to Austria for many centuries. It passed into the possession of Prussia for the first time in 1763, but this merely meant exchanging one German Government, with its seat in Vienna, for another, with H.Q. in Berlin. From 1763 to 1921 Silesia remained part of Prussia. After Bismarck founded the Reich, of course, it was, with the rest of Prussia, included in what was then called the German Empire. But it was part of Austria first, then of Prussia and, finally, [147] with the latter, of the Reich. This had no connection with Poland.

Upper Silesia is not part of the territory which belonged to Poland and which passed into the possession of another land following the triple partition of Poland. Indeed, it was already Prussian before the first partition of 1772. It could not, therefore, be regarded as rightfully belonging to the Poles at all.

Let us, by all means, guarantee the rightful claims of the Poles to Polish country. Let us assure Warsaw that we shall defend the ethnographical frontiers of Poland, if needed. But let us not spill British blood to defend artificially created borders, which owe their existence to twentieth-century brigandage. The story of Polish aggression in Upper Silesia, in the Ukraine and elsewhere is without a parallel in modern times.

In guaranteeing the present artificial frontiers of the Composite State of Poland we should be giving the Poles carte-blanche to continue to oppress their large minorities. In fact, we might even find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to dispatch our own soldiers to assist Warsaw in crushing the rebellious minorities within her borders!

In considering the sacred rights of small nationalities we must be as fair to the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians, the Germans and the White Russians as to the Poles. Our guarantees to Poland would then obviously be restricted to what rightfully belongs to Poland.


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