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AT the moment when, in consequence of the denunciation by Germany of the pact of January 26, 1934, the Polish Government is preparing to send a notification that it no longer considers itself bound by the Polish-German declaration on minorities of November 5, 1937, it is not inappropriate to recall the history of the sixteen months of existence of this declaration.
Directly after its publication, the Polish Government Press claimed to view it as the most important fact which had occurred in the relations of the two countries since 1934. Such comments were justified by the wish to show the German Government the importance which Poland attached to the declaration. The pact had indeed been intended to put an end to an exchange of recriminations, sometimes very bitter, which had been dragging on for nearly six months. Furthermore, in the course of the negotiations, Germany had constantly acted the part of the requesting party. It had insistently pressed for the signature of a definite convention and the institution of a mixed commission, before which the complaints of the minorities could have been brought. The Polish Government had only agreed to a simple declaration, leaving each party alone responsible for the fulfillment of its engagements "within the framework of its sovereignty." Therefore it had no reason for appearing to minimize the scope of the agreement towards the other party.
In spite of the Press comments, the political scope of the declaration was not exaggerated in Warsaw. I have already pointed this out, adding that neither the intricate intermingling of the nationalities, nor the differences between the political systems, could lead one to expect a lasting peace in the frontier relations of the two countries. I concluded, nevertheless, that no doubt a sort of armistice would result, and that the local authorities would for some time avoid giving ground for complaint to the minorities.
This is how things actually happened. During the winter of 1937-1938, calm appeared to prevail; no incidents were reported. From the end of April the Embassy correspondence has to recommence the record of reports of bad Polish-German frontier relations. The German minority Press complains of the "Polish chicanery." It deplores the discharge of numerous German workmen in Upper Silesia (one thousand one hundred in a few months) and their replacement by Poles. It is irritated when it observes, as it believes, that the application of the agrarian reform in the Western Provinces is being systematically directed against the German landowners. It is indignant at the closure of several schools.
For their part, the Poles complain no less of the bad treatment undergone by their compatriots in the Reich, as well as of the activity of the German minority in Poland, which, at the instigation of Berlin, endeavours to amalgamate its forces. The Government Press maintains a reserved attitude, but the independent Press, above all the provincial newspapers, issues lavishly news and articles concerning this subject. By the month of June, it was realized here that the fiction created by the declaration of November 5 had been dissipated.
At the moment when things began to be embittered, a lull occurred, as had already happened several times in the history of Polish-German relations. Obviously the two Governments, considering that matters were beginning to go too far, intervened to moderate the zeal of the local authorities and that of the minorities themselves. All that there is to record from July onwards is a question raised by the Abbé Downar in the Diet on Nazi intrigues in Poland. The German minority Press calmed down. Other events were going to absorb public attention. The Czechoslovak crisis was about to open.
During the whole time of the preparation and then the carrying out of the dismembering of Czechoslovakia, everything remained quiet. The German minority displayed the most exemplary loyalty. One would have said that the minority question no longer existed.
As soon as the Czechoslovak affair had been settled, the difficulties reappeared. The Chief of the "Jungdeutschepartei" claimed for the German minority in Poland the benefit of the "Volksgruppenrecht."
On January 26 last, Herr von Ribbentrop came to Warsaw to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the pact of 1934. During his brief stay, he obtained from the Polish Government the appointment of a mixed commission responsible for ensuring the proper operation of the declaration of November 5, 1937.
Meanwhile, the minority agitation took its course. The Germans continued their campaign in favour of the "Volksgruppenrecht," while Polish opinion became more and more impatient at the growing boldness of the Germans. The anti-German manifestations in Warsaw at the end of February brought these feelings to the full light of day. When in the middle of March the international crisis occurred which was to relegate the minority question into the background, it found in Poland an aggressive German minority and a Polish opinion determined to defend the principle that the Poles are masters in their own house.
From the foregoing, the conclusion emerges that difficulties on matters affecting them as neighbours have been more or less the rule in German-Polish relations. The periods of calm form the exception. Furthermore it is to be observed that this calm only occurs after periods of tension, when the anxious Governments intervene in order to restore peace.
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