The truth about the roots of the German-Polish conflict that led to World War II has always been carefully concealed. In order to gloss over the Western powers’ distasteful political agenda, the myth was first circulated that Hitler was crazy, possessed by a mania to take over the world, and that therefore his aggressive nature compelled him to attack all of his neighbors one by one, until he was finally punished by the forces of progressive humanity. Even in recent years, a new myth has been invented that World War II was actually a tussle between two dictators, during which “innocent victims” such as Poland and the Baltic states were ground up by the millstones of history.
But in 1939 Hitler was not thinking about a major war and was certainly not dreaming of global domination. He wanted to become an equal partner of the US and Great Britain, and was in no way preparing to fight them. But it is not so easy to be admitted into the club of the elected powers. For Hitler’s Germany, the “entry ticket” was to be the destruction of the Soviet Union.
Once Hitler declined to pursue the scenario that had been mapped out for him in London (the annexation of Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia in March 1939, which would have served as a direct casus belli for war with the Soviet Union), the West suddenly took a stern, implacable stance against the Fuhrer. Speeches were heard from the leaders of England and France denouncing Hitler’s aggressive nature. The allies of London and Paris became just as proud, especially the Poles.
At the time that seemed very strange. After all, Warsaw’s relations with Nazi Germany had been quite tender and friendly, which is not surprising – both powers owed their rise to Britain, France, and the United States. Any doubts about that can be eased by looking at the date on which the nation of Poland was born: Nov. 11, 1918. It was on Nov. 11, 1918 that the German delegation signed the armistice with the Allies in the forest of Compiègne that so resembled unconditional surrender! Polish patriots decided to immediately declare their country’s independence, taking advantage of the unqualified support of the victors. It is no wonder that Britain, France, and the United States officially recognized Poland on the very next day. And so the turbulent story of the revival of the Polish state began.
Less than six months later, in March 1919, the Poles began to actively cobble together a “Greater Poland” within its 16th century borders. And since this required commandeering parts of Russia, they did not lack helpers and sponsors. The Americans took on the task of fully equipping the Polish army. They dressed the soldiers immaculately and kept them well fed. However, a greater Poland “from sea to shining sea” could not be established.
But the Poles did not lose their belligerence. Rebuffed in the East, they began marauding in the West. In October 1920, unceremoniously violating the Suwałki Agreement, Polish forces captured Wilno (Vilnius) and the Vilnius region from the newly-independent Lithuania. Seven months later, Poland began an invasion of a Germany that had fallen into anarchy and chaos. The goal of the invasion was to capture Upper Silesia, which was rich in industry and coal mines. The historical background of this aggression is very interesting. At the Versailles Peace Conference, it was decided to resolve the German-Polish dispute peacefully – through a referendum. Poland agitated furiously among the Polish segment of the population, and even stirred up insurrections on a number of occasions, wanting to confront Germany and the international community with a fait accompli Polish seizure of the region. However, German volunteers and the police suppressed the coup attempts, and the vote was still held on March 20, 1921. Those supporting incorporation into Germany won, garnering almost twice as many votes as their opponents.
After losing the plebiscite, Poland led an uprising in Silesia, supported by an invasion of the Polish army on May 3, 1921. Britain, France, and the US abetted this aggression and instructed the Weimar government not to allow the German army to resist the Poles. If the Reichswehr were to become involved, the allies would intervene on Poland’s behalf. Thus the German army did nothing, and only units of German volunteers (the “Freikorps”) fought against the Poles. As a result, the Germans were pushed back, and part of that province was captured. In October 1921, the Conference of Ambassadors of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers, ignoring the results of the vote, legitimized the Polish annexation and decided to transfer 30% of Upper Silesia to Poland (that 30% contained 95% of the area’s coal reserves).
The new Poland was born amidst an atmosphere of aggression and treaty violation. That kind of reputation, as well as the existence of concentration camps, seems incongruous with the idea of a democratic state. However, Poland, the future “victim” of Nazi aggression, was never that. Once Józef Piłsudski was installed as the leader of Poland in 1926, the Polish government became a military dictatorship on par with that of the Nazis. It is not surprising that despite the conflict over Silesia, once Adolf Hitler came to power, Germany and Poland developed a very warm relationship. Poland was the first country with which the new German chancellor signed a major foreign-policy document: on Jan. 26, 1934 Germany and Poland entered into a 10-year pact of nonaggression. This was followed by many more bilateral negotiations that shared one characteristic – they would include discussions of joint action to be taken against the Soviet Union.
We will examine the details of this warm and cooperative Polish-German relationship on the eve of World War II In the second part of “Poland Betrayed”.
ORIENTAL REVIEW publishes exclusive translations of the chapters from Nikolay Starikov’s documentary research ““Who Made Hitler Attack Stalin” (St.Petersburg, 2008). The original text was adapted for translation by ORIENTAL REVIEW.