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ON two occasions, during the second fortnight in the month of March, the constitution of the Free City appeared to be in danger, in the first instance owing to the action of the Reich, and then to the activity of the Danzig National-Socialists, and it seemed that the carrying out of this threat might have the most serious reactions on German-Polish relations.
The development of the crisis, as seen from Danzig, was as follows:
The High Commissioner of the League of Nations, on his way from Geneva, broke his journey in Berlin on the 12th and 13th of March. He was not received by Herr von Ribbentrop, as he had hoped to be, but personal friends in the Wilhelmstrasse advised him "to remain only a very short time in the Free City to avoid exposing himself to most serious inconvenience." So M. Burckhardt, returning on March 14, left again on the 17th for Switzerland to give a verbal report at once to the Committee of Three.
I myself learned that arms had been transported daily since the end of February from Elbing to the barracks of the Schutzpolizei, that on the 13th and 14th of March about 500 officers and non-commissioned officers from East Prussia had reconnoitered first the road from Elbing to Danzig, then possible battlefields, and finally that in the schools elocution lessons were given to the very young on the words, "We thank our Führer." The population was instructed on March 16 not to discontinue the street decoration ordered for March 15 to celebrate the setting up the Protectorate in Bohemia and Moravia.
The local Polish authorities seemed to me to be surprised and bewildered by the imminence and the gravity of the danger threatening their interests. I also had the impression that they had been waiting in vain for some days for instructions from their Government, although there could no longer be any doubt as to the action that Germany was preparing here. However, from March 17 onwards, it was observed that Polish troops were being rushed to the frontiers of the Territory; war material, coming from Tczew and bound for Gdynia, passed through Danzig station every night, and about March 25 batteries of field-artillery took up their position at Orlowo, between Zoppot and Gdynia.
Whether the Reich had delayed action too long, or whether it had desired to act only with the assent of Warsaw, it was henceforth impossible for the Wehrmacht to enter Danzig without fighting.
It was then that the local militiamen, exasperated by this futile waiting, decided to organize a Putsch. It was to be carried out on March 29 at midday. A rehearsal was held the night before at the same hour, groups of S.A. and S.S. making a show of occupying the public buildings. They hoped to present the Reich and Poland with a fait accompli and to proclaim, without any incident, the reunion with Germany. But convinced, with reason no doubt, that the Polish troops would immediately enter the City, the President of the Senate, accompanied by the President of the Bank of Danzig and the head of the Department for Foreign Affairs, flew to Berlin on March 28 and persuaded the Party Headquarters that strict orders should be issued at once to the Danzig units forbidding any kind of agitation. Herr Greiser's intervention was facilitated by the absence of the Gauleiter, who was in hospital for an operation. If Herr Forster had been present, events would doubtless have taken a different course.
The present line of argument of the local National-Socialist authorities is as follows: Germany and Poland maintain their friendly relations, which the former has never dreamed of disturbing. In the spirit of the Treaty of 1934 and in order to strengthen still further these relations, Germany has merely formulated several demands which the Warsaw Government refused to consider, a refusal strictly within their rights. If some anxiety seems to have been felt in Poland, who has, without any reason, believed her interests to be threatened, this is due to the action of agitators belonging to the military and Francophile party and not to the responsible and serious-minded politicians, who remained perfectly calm. In Germany the Führer was obliged to take steps which, at times, seemed brutal in order to put the army in its proper place in the nation, and to prevent any usurpation of power; it is to be hoped that the Warsaw Government will derive inspiration from this method, the application of which in Poland, to say the least, is equally necessary.
It seems that, for political as well as for economic reasons, it will be impossible to maintain the status quo here. It is felt that most of the high officials and the majority of the population do not desire the return to the Reich, the former because they wish to remain the most important persons in this State, Lilliputian though it be, and the latter because they have no illusions about the hardships and restrictions that will be laid upon it as soon as the frontiers, which still offer some protection, are removed. But it will be difficult in the future to control the exasperation of the more ardent Nazis, who are hoping for a new and speedy victory for Germanism, a victory which, this time, is to be their own direct achievement. Many of them have recently stayed up night after night, expecting from hour to hour the arrival of the German troops.
Then again, the uncertainty of the situation is having disastrous effects on the traffic of the port. The Polish authorities had ordered the removal of rolling stock and small craft, the merchants have sent their stocks of goods to Poland, the Polish credits have been withdrawn, grain and flour are no longer sent from Poland except on presentation of a letter of credit in that country.
At the same time, the population, fearing that they would be compelled to accept marks at an arbitrary rate when the local coinage was withdrawn from circulation, exchanged this in considerable quantities for zlotys or contraband marks at 1 mark to 70 Danzig pfennigs, although the official rate stands at 1 mark to 2 gulden 20. In order to protect its currency and to obtain exchange, the Bank of Danzig compelled every person residing in the Free City, whether nationals or not, to declare the money and the foreign securities in their possession and to deposit them in approved establishments under the Bank's own account, where they must remain untouched. In this field also an early clearing up of the situation seems indispensable. The recent crisis in German-Polish relations has only increased the state of confusion that has now prevailed in the Free City for several months.
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