Pierdolenie o Szopenie

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By Stanislaw Zerko

Original article at,1,

Among the possible allies of the Reich was also Poland. Führer decided that Poland, separating Germany from USSR and with sizeable military might, could actually stand at the side of the Reich. Considerable role in these calculations was played by a genuine esteem that Hitler and some other Nazi dignitaries felt towards Pilsudski, the person to beat the Red Army in 1920. Of great importance was also the fact that the system introduced by Pilsudski in Poland was a departure from the principles of parliamentary democracy, so despised by Hitler.

Since 1933 the Chancellor, in almost every conversation with Polish diplomats referred to the Soviet threat and spoke about the important role of the Polish East. Soon started the intense efforts to gain Poland as an ally. Hermann Göring, whom Hitler had entrusted the care of relations with the Polish government, played a leading role in these efforts. Traditionally since 1935 on each Göring's hunting visits to the Bialowieza Forest he took the opportunity to present German bids almost openly. The campaign to attract Poles also engaged other Nazi officials such as Joseph Goebbels, convinced - as he wrote in a private journal - that the "Berlin-London-Rome-Warsaw line could be not that bad", or the future Governor General Hans Frank. The latter said in Warsaw in early 1936 to his hosts that "Poland and Germany, walking together -- that is a power which Europe will be hard to resist. Such a block would include a dense mass of 100 million people."

The acquisition of the Polish side, at a relatively early stage also included, among others, Joachim von Ribbentrop, even before he became head of Hitler's diplomacy. The German Foreign Ministry, dominated by supporters of the traditional anti-Polish line, accepted a new course with clenched teeth, and often tried to thwart it in different ways. German society and much of the conservative elite was however reluctant to accept this new course in policies towards Poland. Among the most disappointed were the leaders of the German minority in Poland, complaining that Berlin left its' compatriots "on the ice".

The Polish side treated the German proposals either evasively, or denied them mildly. Warsaw sought to improve relations with Germany as best as it could, but without binding itself to the Reich. Still the chief postulate was to obtain firm guarantees from France, while also creating conditions for rapprochement with Great Britain. Given the reconciliatory tendencies in French and British relations with Germany, the abandonment of the "line of 26 January" (as politicians in Warsaw called the good-neighborly relations with the Reich) was seen as irresponsible.

In addition to German declarations, the Republic also had concluded in 1932 a non-aggression pact with the USSR. Poland wanted to involve itself in an alliance with neither of the two neighboring powers. This strategy was called the "policy of balance" by the Polish Foreign Ministry . This term introduces a bit of confusion today, because it suggests that the Warsaw cared about equally good relations with Germany and the USSR. It couldn't be further from the truth. Relations with Moscow deteriorated from year to year, and by 1938 reached the state of a Cold War. By contrast, the relations with Berlin were improving with every year and there was a very good atmosphere. Warsaw was regularly visited by Nazi dignitaries. European public opinion even started expressing beliefs, that Poland had become a quiet ally of the Reich.

Attempts to revitalize the Polish-French alliance ended in a fiasco, and the relations between the two allies were not the best. Both sides were at fault, and the patronising treatment by the French caused much frustration within the Polish Foreign Ministry. Warsaw's floating between Berlin and Paris, while dictated by necessity, gave Minister Beck the reputation of a disloyal partner in the West. The fact remains that Poland has managed to maintain the best relations with countries questioning the status quo - Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, while the alliance with France has become but a facade only.

The peak in Polish-German rapprochement came during the Sudeten crisis of 1938. The Polish attitude was very much appreciated by the Germans and the Reich repeatedly thanked the Poles for it. In the era of appeasement Polish leaders would be mad if they involved themselves against the Germans alone, and especially so in defence of Czechoslovakia - not very supportive for Poland and disliked in Poland as well. However, active collaboration in German plans was a completely different matter. Inconsiderate sending an ultimatum to Prague requesting the withdrawal from Zaolzie under the threat of armed attack was by the world's public opinion read as a Polish copy of German methods. The title of the Swedish "Dagens Nyheter" (4 October 1938): "The followers of Germany", was among the more subtle. Comparisons with a jackal jumping at the victim, to whom a much stronger predator has already struck the mortal blow were quite common. One of the British columnists known for his anti-Nazi views remarked that "If now Hitler attacks Poland, I will shout Sieg Heil". Similar opinions were expressed openly and widely. Later that same month, the French ambassador in Warsaw Leon Noel submitted a memorandum to his superiors requesting to reduce the liabilities towards Poland, because it appeared it became an enemy of France. Poland was threatened with isolation.

Under such circumstances the German Foreign Ministry started to ponder whether not to follow the blow and issue a "bill for Zaolzie" to Warsaw. Numerous diplomats argued, that nobody would be willing to support or assist Poland should the Reich decide to tackle the problem of the Pomeranian corridor. Hitler himself, however, reached a different conclusion.

The German dictator was by then convinced that Britain would not give him a free hand in the East. Appeasement of the Western Powers did not satisfy him, and he treated the Munich conference not as a success, but rather as yet another attempt to contain the German expansion. He believed, that the western powers would not allow him to create an empire in Eastern Europe and would treat German hegemony on the continent as a vital threat to their interests. In this situation, Hitler would have to eliminate France and the United Kingdom first, before turning eastwards, in order to secure the rear.

While before that Hitler saw Poland as a potential ally in his attack on the Soviet Union, since autumn of 1938 he envisioned a different role for Poland. Polish divisions would first secure the Reich's rear during the battle with the Western powers. The fall of the Soviet Union would occur only after the defeat of France. In any event, it was first necessary to persuade the Polish leaders to side clearly with Germany.

Less than a month after the Munich conference on 24 October 1938 Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop offered to the Polish ambassador Jozef Lipski to "generally settle all disputes in Polish-German relations". Poland was to allow for inclusion of Danzig into the Reich and agree on an extra-territorial connection between German Pomerania and East Prussia. In return, the course of the German-Polish border would be finally accepted by Germany, and the non-aggression treaty of 1934 would be extended up to 25 years. This arrangement, however, included a "consultation clause" which would mean Warsaw's consent with Berlin's foreign policy. And above all, Poland would have to join the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Hitler was of the opinion that what he presented to Poland was a truly generous offer. The case of Danzig and the extraterritorial highway have already been discussed with Poland on several occasions. One of German diplomats remarked after the war that if it was some other politician to propose such limited claims, he would instantly be accused of "sale of national interests". In the case of Hitler however the true goal was to turn Poland into an ally - and an obedient one at that. Without a solution to the Polish problem neither German attack in the West, nor the action against the USSR would be possible.

The proposals put forward by the Minister Ribbentrop troubled Beck very much. He considered them however to be merely an intrigue by Ribbentrop. He did not inform of them the French or the British, but this was quite understandable. He did not mention it to anyone even in the Foreign Ministry and ambassador Lipski in Berlin was only told to politely decline the offer, offering only some modifications to the status quo in Danzig in German and to facilitate transit through the corridor.

The minister probably hoped to defuse this situation using the battle-tested tactics of avoiding any definite answers, dodging and stalling. At a conference in a narrow circle of close associates he remarked on November 4th that "the lions are not so scary if you live with them for a while," and that "we could win even more from the Czechs". He was very sure of himself by arguing that "we are in a good political situation." What better example of confusion, carelessness, and overestimating the role of his own country.

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