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HISTORY OF POLAND
 
 


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Danzig and the Polish corridor: 1938-1939

At the very moment of the Munich agreement the Polish government presents its own demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. There is logic to the claim. If the Sudetenland with its largely German population is to be annexed by Germany, then there is a clear case for the rich industrial area of Teschen Silesia, inhabited mainly by Poles, to be transferred to Poland. On the day the Munich agreement is announced, 30 September 1938, Poland asserts this claim - not for the first time, but now it is instantly acceded to by Czechoslavakia.

Unfortunately the ethnic-majority argument has dangerous implications for Poland herself, confronted by a Hitler increasing day by day in confidence.
 









The great port of Gdansk (in Polish) or Danzig (in German) has long been a bone of contention between Polish and German interests. Though first brought to prominence by the Hanseatic merchants, the city and its hinterland (eastern Pomerania, or in its Polish name Pomorze) have historically been part of Poland. But from time to time they have been seized by Germans - first by the Teutonic knights in 1308 - and in recent times they have again been German, from the late 18th-century partitions of Poland until the end of World War I.

In 1919 the treaty of Versailles restores Pomorze to Poland and gives Danzig, with its almost entirely German population, the status of a free city within the borders of Poland.
 







This arrangement is probably unworkable at the best of times, and more so from the mid-1930s when Danzig has an elected Nazi city council. Moreover in this area the provisions of Versailles provide a further cause for German grievance. In returning Pomorze to Poland, and restoring her historical access to the sea at Danzig, the treaty has the effect of severing the province of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

Pomorze becomes known in the terminology of the 1920s as the Polish corridor, linking Poland and the sea. Hitler now demands a more literal German corridor - a narrow strip of German territory through Poland to East Prussia. Together with this goes his claim to bring Danzig within the Reich.
 







Both claims are pressed by Hitler with new vigour in October 1938, within days of his winning the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The Polish government firmly rejects the German demands. Unlike unfortunate Czechoslovakia, this stance wins a positive response from the western powers.

In March 1939 Neville Chamberlain, speaking with the approval of both France and the USSR, gaurantees help to Poland if her independence is threatened. In April Hitler abrogates his own ten-year nonaggression treaty with Poland, signed in 1934, and secretly orders his army to prepare for a Polish invasion. In May France commits herself to military action against Germany if a conflict begins. But then, in August, Hitler produces a diplomatic bombshell.
 






Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: 1939

In August 1939 a Franco-British military mission is in Moscow trying to persuade Stalin to commit to a treaty for the defence of Poland. Little progress is made, ostensibly because the Poles are refusing to allow Soviet troops to cross their territory to attack Germany. But there is another hidden reason which soon becomes apparent.

The Soviet Union and Communism have always been twin forces of demonic evil in Hitler's oratory, but he now proves himself happy to sup with the devil for a very real strategic advantage. It is important to his plans that he shall not be distracted by a major war on his eastern front. In August he opens negotiations with Stalin. Poland is his bait.
 










Stalin, invited by the western powers to join an alliance which will almost certainly involve him in a costly war against Germany for no very evident benefit, now finds himself offered a more attractive option - inactivity and a sizable increase in his territory.

It takes the Russian dictator little time to choose. The world is astonished on August 21 by the announcement from Berlin that Ribbentrop is flying to Moscow to sign a nonaggression pact with his opposite number, the Russian foreign minister Molotov. This sudden friendship of two implacable enemies would seem less inexplicable if people knew of the secret protocol which accompanies the pact.
 








The protocol agrees a new set of international boundaries. As modified slightly in a second visit by Ribbentrop to Moscow, in September, it acknowledges Germany's approval of the Russian annexation of the independent nations Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (should any such opportunity occur). And it establishes an agreed division of Poland between Germany and Russia.

With this much achieved, Hitler is ready to take his next step - launched, for propaganda purposes, with a grisly little charade.
 






The act of war: 1939

During the night of August 31 a group of German soldiers, dressed as Poles, attack the German radio station in the border town of Gleiwitz. They have brought with them a German criminal, taken for the purpose from a concentration camp. They shoot him and leave his body as evidence of the night's dark deeds.

Berlin radio broadcasts to the world the news of this act of Polish aggression, together with details of the necessary German response. In the early hours of the morning of September 1 Hitler's tanks move into Poland. His planes take off towards Warsaw on the first bombing mission of a new European war.
 









After a final desperate day of diplomacy, attempting even at this late stage to find a peaceful solution, Chamberlain and Daladier each sends an ultimatum to Hitler. When no answer is received, both nations declare war on September 3.

The Polish army, airforce and civilian population put up a brave resistance to massive German force - increased, from September 17, by a Russian invasion from the east. Within a few weeks 60,000 Polish soldiers and 25,000 civilians die. By September 28 Warsaw has fallen. Poland is once again partitioned, with an eastern slice going to Russia (as so recently agreed in Moscow) and the lion's share to Germany.
 







This History is as yet incomplete.
 






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