SearchScriptoriumArchivesSponsor

Poland From the Inside.

[148]
Conclusions

The Poles deserve their independence and they must not be allowed to share the fate of the Czechs. There can be no doubt on that point. But on the other hand it would be a mistake to let them think that we are prepared to support any and every claim they may choose to make.

It is a fine thing to be ready to fight for the independence of small nations, and deserves every praise. But that is a very different thing from fighting to enable a small nation to maintain the upper hand over foreign peoples.

Scriptorium comments:
At the time of this writing, the author was perforce unaware of the less-than-altruistic nature of the British war aims as these were expressed later by Winston Churchill: "Germany's unforgivable crime before the second world war was her attempt to extricate her economic power from the world's trading system and to create her own exchange mechanism which would deny world finance its opportunity to profit."1... "You must understand that this war is not against Hitler or National Socialism, but against the strength of the German people, which is to be smashed once and for all, regardless whether it is in the hands of Hitler or a Jesuit priest."2 (Quoted as per: 1Sidney Rogerson, "Propaganda in the Next War", foreword to the 2nd edition, and 2Adrian Preissinger, "Von Sachsenhausen bis Buchenwald".)
We should, I fully believe, guarantee Poland's Polish frontiers, but we cannot be expected to fight in order that Warsaw may retain a customs union with Danzig, especially when the value of commerce passing through the Free State is constantly falling. If we do fight for Poland, no one will ever be able to say we did so for selfish reasons, for our interests lie overseas, not in East Europe. Indeed, we should be acting against our own interests by concentrating our forces in Eastern Europe. But that only serves to show we are unselfishly risking everything to assist others.

[149] So far as Polish territory is concerned, this is laudable, if not quite in keeping with the axiom that "charity begins at home," and not quite what our overseas Dominions might reasonably expect of us. But when it is a matter of fighting in order that non-Polish territory may remain under Polish control, that is not so laudable. It would be against our own interests and against the principles of self-determination if we fought to make Danzig Polish.

I have travelled extensively in Poland, have talked with thousands of people there, and know almost every inch of the country. I know the purely Polish as well as the predominantly German and Ukrainian areas, and have questioned the people as to their wishes.

Danzig is German. The elections alone prove this. I have quoted the opinions of famous men. No one can deny that the vast majority of the Danzigers are Germans, or that they wish to join Germany. But if the Poles believe to the contrary, why not hold a plebiscite under English control and abide by the decision? Warsaw would, as I was told there, refuse such a solution, knowing the result in advance. Poles told me that this was not a fair test since they had claims to the mouth of the Vistula. But I have dealt with those claims in an earlier chapter, and can only repeat that such arguments would be equivalent to giving the Dutch estuary of the Rhine to Germany, or the Portuguese area around the Tagus to Franco Spain.

[150] There is no sense in fighting to keep one group of Germans in Danzig from joining another group of Germans in the Reich. It would be tantamount to some other country going to war to prevent England and New Zealand from sharing a single government if they wanted to. Danzig, as a city, was founded by Germans. That Slavs may, many centuries ago, have opened a trading centre on the site of the present Free City is no reason for giving the area to Poland. The Serbs are also Slavs, and one might as well award it to them, for we have no proof that the Poles are the descendants of such Slavs. Indeed, historians declare they are not. But this point is not even of academic interest, and if we base claims on ancient days of occupation, we may as well begin by presenting the East coast of England to Denmark, for it belonged to the Danes long after the Slavs who may have founded a trading centre in the Danzig region had migrated. Imagine Germany - or for that matter France, Russia, or Italy - wishing to guarantee Denmark the East coast of England on historic grounds! The historical side of the argument could not be denied - but its utter absurdity would make all Europe laugh. Strangely enough, the equally absurd Danzig claim made by the Poles is taken quite seriously in many quarters.

The Corridor is also historically and geographically part of Germany. The main population, apart from the families settled there since 1918, is German by [151] descent and language. Furthermore, this Corridor is as necessary for Germany as, say, the strip of territory from Bristol to Weymouth is to us. Imagine what our communications would be like if a broad strip of land from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel were in the possession of the Poles (or the Germans, or any other foreigners). Motorists would be unable to drive to Cornwall and Devon without permission of the English Corridor Power; they would only be able to travel by rail "by courtesy of the foreign Power concerned"; they would be unable to pass through on foot without a passport and a visa, and could not ask officials the way because the officials would all have no knowledge of English. Then if the foreign Power failed to repair the roads, so that communications were extremely bad, we should be forced to keep in touch with our "South-Western Provinces" by ship - which is precisely what Germany has to do to maintain communications with East Prussia. The parallel holds good in a geographical sense, but the Germans have to travel further by ship than we should require to. As this corner of England is still inhabited by the descendants of many Kelts, the racial claim to separate it from the rest of England would as a matter of fact be much stronger than a similar claim in the case of East Prussia, which is more German than Cornwall is Anglo-Saxon. The Corridor must be returned to Germany. It is only a source of trouble, as far-seeing British politicians [152] predicted in 1919, when the subject was under discussion.

On the other hand, the Poles should be guaranteed a free harbour and port, so that their goods can pass through free from duty or customs control. That seems only fair. It is true that neither the Swiss nor the Hungarians have been treated so generously, but there are twice as many Poles as Hungarians, and a free outlet of this kind might reasonably be expected.

One may argue that this would place Poland's foreign trade at the mercy of Germany, but the truth is that this is already the case. The Germans could, at any moment, cut Poland off from the sea. Military forces could seal up the Corridor or, alternatively, the German navy could blockade the coast within a few hours. The small Polish navy would be quite helpless. There is thus no point in such an argument. Further, Poland, in normal times, exports comparatively little by way of the sea. I found the Vistula being principally used for swimming in warm weather, and saw more rowing-boats than commercial craft. One had the definite impression that the Vistula and Danzig can hardly be Poland's main trading outlets. Nor are they. Timber provides a good example. The amount of timber passing the Vistula in the form of rafts totalled 214,367 tons in 1912, but had fallen to 66,622 tons by 1938. Iron going upstream totalled 26,721 tons in 1913, while there was none at all on the Vistula in 1938; corresponding figures for petro- [153] leum were 41,887 tons in 1913 and none whatever in 1938, the last available figures.

Highly illuminating are the official Polish figures. In the year 1924, 10.9 per cent. of Poland's overseas exports were carried by waterways; in 1937 this figure had fallen to precisely 4 per cent., and in 1938 the total was only 2.3 per cent. In other words, the importance of waterways to Poland is dropping from year to year. The reason is that the Poles are not water-minded; they have promoted and fostered the railways and neglected water transport. I do not blame them for this. They never have been seamen and never will be. They have no objection to spending an hour in a rowing-boat, but they do not feel at home on the sea. Nor should we be if we had never had a coast of our own. But should we fight to retain for the Poles a coastline and the mouth of the Vistula, which the Poles themselves value less from year to year?

To give a comparison, 25 per cent. of the goods transported in Germany are conveyed by water; the corresponding figure for France is 20 per cent.; but in Poland, where the railway network is poorer than in either of the other lands mentioned, the amount of goods carried by water is less than 1 per cent.

The Corridor is German by population, as well as historically and geographically. It is only a source of trouble to the Poles. Let it be given back to the Germans.

[154] Posen, the whole province as well as the town, has now in my opinion a Polish majority. I have gone into this question very carefully, and have toured the whole area. There is no doubt that it formerly was German. Its buildings nearly all bear an unmistakably German stamp. About half the people in some districts speak German, and, here and there, one finds more Germans than Poles. The German population left Posen after it became Polish, however, whenever possible. The Germans still left are a part of the pre-war population. Posen should have been left to Germany. But I see no sense in taking all Posen from Poland to-day. True, the original population was forced to leave, and Poles were settled there instead. But the majority in parts is now Polish, and the individuals are not responsible for what has happened. It was wrong to drive the Germans away, but to move the Poles who have settled there in the meanwhile would be unjust to them as individuals, while to place them all under German rule would only sow the seeds of future discord. Posen should be divided, the Western and purely German parts being returned, but the Eastern and mixed areas being left to Poland. The precise extent of the changes could be fixed on ethnographical lines, while an exchange of population afterwards would help to improve matters. Neither Poland nor Germany can expect to have everything their own way, and just as the Poles must abandon their claims to the German parts, so must [155] the Germans agree to leave the Polish parts of former Posen to Poland, despite an excellent historical claim to the whole province. Peace must be assured by the simplest measures, and the arrangements must be of a character which will stand the test of time.

There is one other small area to which the Germans are entitled, and which England had intended them to have. That is Upper Silesia, illegally invaded, as I have shown, by the Poles long after peace had been officially proclaimed. This includes the German towns of Königshütte and Kattowitz, while Oderberg comes under the same category. I was in this area for some time, and toured the towns. The area is German-built. Some Poles have since settled there, and some Germans have crossed the frontier. But vast numbers still remain. I must repeat that the visitor may easily be led astray by the fact that the officials speak only Polish. The same applies to tourist offices, railway officials, and post office clerks. But the simple people are mainly German. Upper Silesia only became Polish because the Poles annexed it as a rich industrial area. That act of aggression on the part of the Poles was everywhere condemned at the time, especially by the British Labour Party, whose supporters repeatedly demonstrated against Poland in front of the Polish Embassy in London.

The Olsa area, small in extent, was awarded to Poland, as I have already mentioned, when Czecho-Slovakia fell. This district is Slovak, and should be returned [156] to the Slovaks. The Poles gained possession of it only at the end of 1938, and they have done practically nothing there since, so that it would be no loss to them. This minor readjustment of a recently drawn frontier would assure friendly feeling between Poland and Slovakia. The Slovaks feel the loss of this strip of land, which again means that relations are separated from each other by an artificial frontier, very keenly.

The Ukrainian question, of course, cannot be settled by simply returning the Ukrainian area to any State, for these people have no country, although they are more numerous than the Spaniards or even the English in Europe. But this minority, the largest in Poland, and living in compact areas, must be given widest autonomy. It would probably prove necessary for an autonomous Ukraine to remain in the Polish customs area; in military matters, too, it would weaken Poland too much if the Ukraine were to be set up as a separate entity. The problem might be solved by incorporating all-Ukrainian regiments, under their own officers, in the Polish army. As regards their churches, schools, Press, sports organisations, hospitals, and social institutions generally, the Ukrainians should have complete independence. This would save Poland considerable trouble by ending the disorders in this part of the country, and stabilise her general position.

The strength of a chain is its weakest link, and Poland's weakness is that she has too many enemies [157] within - enemies, because they are made to live as though they were Poles when they have no such wish. When one remembers that about three-sevenths of the population of Poland is non-Polish, one realises the magnitude of the danger. The Germans want to return to the Reich, the Ukrainians want their autonomy, the White Russians wish for more autonomy, the Jews are directly at variance with the State. It is the old story of a house divided against itself. For a time the Poles may be able to maintain the status quo by force of military display, but this cannot last long. Financial difficulties were noticeable on my visit in July, 1939, and everyone said that things could not go on in that manner.

Poland would lose very little territory by this arrangement, for Danzig is not part of Poland at all, and the Corridor is quite small, while Upper Silesia is a small strip of land on the frontier. Poland would lose practically no Polish citizens, whilst the benefits would be considerable. Tension would disappear, trade with Germany would be resumed, the army could be demobilised, and Poland could gradually build up her prosperity.

There would, however, have to be no mistake about what is Poland this time. England and France would have to guarantee the real Polish frontiers, and I do not see why we should not demand that Germany, Italy and the United States do the same. That is to say, we should have to make it a condition that the [158] Corridor, Danzig and Upper Silesia could only be returned to Germany after Berlin had joined London and Paris in guaranteeing the new frontiers irrespective of what future internal changes might take place in Poland. And we could make it perfectly clear that we should in all circumstances defend the new frontier.

This would meet the needs of Poland. She would retain all her genuinely Polish territory, have her free port (which we should also guarantee if desired), and suffer no trading restrictions.

Clemenceau undoubtedly knew that the Corridor solution was not a good one, but he hoped that Germany would not become powerful until the Poles had settled their own people there, and thus assured a Polish majority. Germany regained her power before the Poles had succeeded in doing that, except in parts of Posen.

It must not be imagined that this solution meets all the German wishes. On the contrary, the Germans, not unnaturally, think they are entitled to all Posen - as in a sense they are. But a compromise is always the best solution, and I have no doubt whatever that both Berlin and Warsaw would accept the plan I have outlined if it were laid down as the basis of a round-table conference.

Purely German areas would go to the Reich; Posen, now settled with so many Poles, would be ethnographically divided, and the Ukrainians would enjoy a measure of autonomy which - though not nearly so [159] great as that we grant our Dominions, or hardly that enjoyed by the Scots - would be an immeasurable improvement on the present state of affairs. Such a settlement would be absolutely in accordance with the self-determination principle, upon which the peace treaties were to have been based, and would assure peace in East Europe not only in our time but for many generations to come.


Previous pageTable of ContentsNext page

Poland From the Inside