In the previous chapters we have examined the cordial relations between Nazi Germany and Second Polish Republic in the 1930s which were disturbed only by a minor territorial dispute, insignificant comparing to the ambitions of both countries in the East…
The Germans offered a peaceful and civilized solution to the territorial problem – a referendum was to be held in the disputed areas [Danzig corridor – OR], which would resolve all the problems. If the inhabitants of what was known as the “Corridor” decided their lands should return to Germany, Poland would receive a rail line with extraterritorial status within its borders, plus a Reichsautobahn highway that would preserve her access to the Baltic Sea. And if the “Corridor” remained under Polish control, then Germany would be compensated with these transportation options. Hitler was not asking the Poles to give Danzig back for nothing. He was prepared to guarantee Poland’s new borders, to extend the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, and to guarantee special rights for Poles in the newly German Danzig. And a chunk of Soviet Ukraine would more than compensate Poland for its lost territory. These were fairly generous offers, but Poland turned them down. The extent of the Poles’ predilection for good relations with Germany was being determined very far from the Polish borders.
On March 21, 1939 the Poles drastically changed their attitude toward the German proposals. That same day, the Germans purportedly presented Poland with an ultimatum: they must immediately hand over Danzig and the “Corridor” to Germany. But that was not true. The Germans did not suggest anything new to the Poles on that day. They were waiting for an answer to their old and very lenient proposals. The Polish foreign minister Józef Beck was to give the answer, and he was expected that day in Berlin. But he never showed up. Instead of the minister, the Polish ambassador, Józef Lipski arrived. The head of Germany’s foreign ministry, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had two things to say to the Polish envoy. The first was that Germany expected Warsaw to accept its proposals. The second was a question. Why had the Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck (who was scheduled to arrive in the German capital for the final acceptance of the German plan) flown to London that day instead of to Berlin?
That was easy to explain: as soon as Hitler demonstrated the audacity to deal with the Slovaks and Ukrainians differently than he had been instructed, the tenor of British politics immediately changed. And after that, the “independent” Polish gentry also changed their tone. On that day, March 21, 1939, Great Britain “suddenly” suggested that the USSR and France announce immediate consultations on how to stop “further aggression in Europe.” On the same day the leaders of the Western nations hurriedly gathered in London to decide what to do with the out-of-control Hitler. The foreign minister of “independent” Poland also flew in. He had a good reason to do so. The Poles were quickly informed about the new “blanket policy.” Previously they had done their best to indulge the Germans, but now they were to take as hard a line against them as possible. And in order that Poland would not be afraid to take such a tone with Germany – England, suddenly and without any request from the Poles, issued a guarantee of military protection.
Five days passed, and on March 26, 1939, Polish Ambassador Lipski handed Ribbentrop a memorandum from the Polish government, which unceremoniously rejected the German proposal for the return of Danzig. Lipski himself placed the definitive dot on the “i” by stating, “Any further attempt to pursue the German plans, especially regarding the return of Danzig to the Reich, would mean war with Poland.”
This was a completely about-face in Poland’s diplomatic position. They had made it clear to Hitler that Poland would no longer negotiate with him and that she was fully prepared to defend her position by force. And in order to remove any lingering doubts for Berlin, the Poles pursued a series of decidedly hostile actions: most of the staff of the Polish Embassy in Berlin, as well as the members of the expatriate community, sent their wives and children back to Poland; Polish students studying in the German capital returned home, and Polish consuls were ordered to burn all secret papers and archives. On March 23, a partial mobilization of the Polish army was announced. And the next day the Germans were presented with that “unceremonious” memorandum. On March 27, 1939, the Polish president issued a decree authorizing an additional 1.2 billion zlotys for defense.
These were the actions of a country that had a nonaggression pact with Germany! This was the very same Poland that only a week ago was considered the primary partner in the Führer’s future eastern campaign! But Hitler was compelled to postpone that campaign once Poland responded by announcing a partial mobilization. And that gesture led directly to war! It is important to note that even then Germany’s position did not pose any sort of threat to Poland. There had been no mobilization within the Reich and no threats against Warsaw had been made. The Germans did not even have a military plan in place to attack Poland! Even the most passionate critic of Hitler’s aggression would be forced to admit that it was not until April 1, 1939 that Hitler issued orders to draw up a plan to attack Poland. And even the rough draft of that plan was not ready until mid-April 1939.
It was absolutely clear to Hitler that Germany could not leave her hinterlands exposed to Poland, a nation being directed from London and which was obediently following all orders received from the British. The same Polish “roadblock” that was cutting off his eastward route had now whipped around to hold a knife to Germany’s throat. Hitler had to fight, not because he was a maniacal aggressor, but because his economy was highly militarized. Right now he needed to determine the direction of his next step. But whichever way he went – East or West – Poland could launch an attack on Germany whenever it suited London. Hitler had to resolve this problem quickly.
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.