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BY the will of Chancellor Hitler, the German-Polish pact, concluded for ten years in Berlin on January 26, 1934, by M. Lipski and Herr von Neurath, has lapsed after being in force only five years.
The circumstances in which this pact was signed will be remembered, and its premature denunciation will not prevent it from standing out in the diplomatic history of our time.
The Poland of Pilsudski refused to forget that the Locarno system had established a discrimination, at its expense, between Germany's Western and Eastern frontiers; it had never resigned itself to a discrimination so injurious to its security. To the ill-will towards France and England which this created among the Poles, who reproached those countries with having abandoned them in advance to the covetousness of a Germany which neglected nothing in order to build up her strength again in secret, had been recently added the dissatisfaction and anxiety occasioned in Warsaw by the proposed Four Power Pact. This attempt to establish in Europe a "Directorate of the Great Powers," intolerable in itself in the eyes of the Polish nation, which was now becoming conscious of its new strength and drew the line at nothing in its ambition, had appeared all the more threatening to Marshal Pilsudski since the first draft drawn up by Signor Mussolini clearly opened the way to a revision of the Eastern frontiers of Germany. It had been interpreted in Warsaw as a device for directing German covetousness towards Poland in order to turn them away from the West, and still more, from the South and from Austria. At the same time, incidents were taking place on the Polish-German frontiers, and the Third Reich, born yesterday and uncertain of its future, suspected Poland of planning a preventive war.
Marshal Pilsudski thought that he would do wisely by utilizing the fears of a regime not yet sure of itself; he instructed M. Wysocki, then Ambassador in Berlin, to make overtures to Herr Hitler with a view to the establishment of relations of "good neighbourliness" between Poland and Germany. The Führer unhesitatingly agreed. An official communiqué, which followed this conversation, and was dated May 3, 1933, marked the first stage of the new policy. In the course of the following months, negotiations were continued without any great haste between M. Wysocki's successor, M. Lipski, and the German Government. Finally, Marshal Pilsudski decided to hasten their conclusion: on January 26, 1934, Poland and the Reich declared themselves agreed to open "a new era in Polish-German relations" and to adjust "by the method of direct agreement" the difficulties which might bring them into conflict, in order to establish "good neighbourly relations," and, in accordance with the principles of the Pact of Paris of April 27, 1928, to avoid in all cases any "recourse to force."
Thus Poland had given satisfaction to her concern for prestige by showing Europe that she was capable of conducting an "independent" policy, and diplomatically she was self-sufficient, while declaring her determination to maintain the alliance with France, the preservation of which had been permitted by the Berlin pact, owing to a formula drawn up in general terms.
From a more practical point of view Pilsudski had seen in this agreement a method for "gaining time." He was convinced that sooner or later, a war would become inevitable between Poland and Germany, but he realized the considerable effort which had to be exacted from his country and the time which it would require in order really to become a great power; for the present he no doubt feared the U.S.S.R. more than Germany; in any case he thought it advisable to safeguard himself for some time against any surprise from the West.
For his part the new master of Germany had eagerly responded to the advances which had been made to him by Marshal Pilsudski; for him, the hour had not yet struck for adventures or conquests; he was aware of his weakness and of that of his country; judging his neighbours by himself he already suspected them of encircling the Third Reich and of preparing a preventive war in order to destroy his newborn work without giving him time to put into operation the programme set out in Mein Kampf. Pilsudski, by offering him an agreement, provided him so to speak with the "credentials" which he needed in relation to Europe in order to have time to make his position secure.
Immediately on publication of the Polish-German pact, it had for that matter been evident to thoughtful minds that Germany both needed it more and derived more benefit from it than Poland.
The system was in any case based from the outset on ambiguity on both sides. When signing it, the Reich had not for a moment considered that it implied the slightest renunciation by the Reich of its hopes of laying hands on Danzig, of wiping the Corridor off the map and of recovering its old frontiers. Herr Hitler had only considered it as a convenient method of appeasing the hostility of the Poles at a difficult time. Like all his compatriots he retained all his prejudices and his hostility towards them, together with his secret hopes for a day of reckoning.
Pilsudski on his part appears to have been under no illusion whatever as to the nature or the value of the engagement which Germany had agreed to conclude with his country. This is clearly proved by observations made by him during the last months of his life to some of his familiars and to the Chiefs of the Army. If he made any mistake in this respect it was, it seems, only as regards the time which the new Germany would require in order to rebuild its military forces and once more become a formidable danger to the whole of Europe.
Events, however, took a much more speedy course. Though the Anschluss entailed great difficulties for the Reich these did not divert Herr Hitler for a single day from his extensive plans. The rate of progress of his undertakings and his successes became more and more rapid. The collapse of Czechoslovakia enabled the armies of the Reich to place themselves at the foot of the Carpathians, along the Polish frontier, and all that Poland was able to record as a compensation for this formidable increase of strength of the Reich was the annexation of the territory of Teschen. The annexation of Memel accentuated the encirclement of Poland. It was then that Herr Hitler thought that the time had come to turn towards the latter, and no doubt he thought it perfectly natural to instruct Herr von Ribbentrop to notify M. Lipski on March 21 that the Reich intended to annex Danzig and to obtain the right to build an extra-territorial motor-road across the Corridor.
On that day all eyes in Warsaw were opened and the divergence of interpretation which underlay the pact of 1934 became clear to all. So Germany had not changed! The Third Reich was as hostile to Poland as the Germany of Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns! The respite on which they had counted in order to complete the organization of the country and equip it had come to an end. They had to be ready to fight perhaps the very next day, or to go under. For the Poles would not allow themselves to be caught in the mesh of conversations, they would not enter upon the path which leads to vassalage! The Poles had very quickly regained their presence of mind on the sudden appearance of danger. If they had to fight with those who after all had never ceased to be their hereditary enemies, they would fight, and would win, just as at Grunwald in the past.
From that moment the pact of 1934 had lost all its value. Though it remained intact legally, it no longer corresponded to political realities.
Furthermore for Germany it was no longer justified and could not survive some of the causes which had induced Germany to accept it. Since the Chancellor had achieved his first objects, had annexed Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Memel, it appeared to him quite natural to settle the question of Danzig. He is known to be indignant with Poland and Colonel Beck. He is no doubt sincere in his strange psychology, and no doubt he fails to understand the resistance and the obstinacy of these Poles, who do not immediately recognize the goodwill which he has shown in not claiming from them all the lands situated in the "Lebensraum of the German people": the Corridor, Torun, Poznan, Upper Silesia, Bohumin . . . and by contenting himself for the moment with an extra-territorial motor-road.
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