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AT a time when Germany, by clever propaganda, is trying to persuade the world that the present risk of war is due solely to Poland's uncompromising attitude over the Danzig question, and to her stubborn refusal to permit the incorporation in the Reich of a city whose character is indisputably German, it will, perhaps, be useful to point out once more the causes which determine the Polish attitude.
In refusing to allow the annexation of Danzig by the Reich, with its inevitable consequences-among the foremost of which would be the occupation of the Free City not only by the S.A., the S.S., and a large militarized police force, but also by troops with all the most up-to-date equipment in use in the Germany Army-Poland is not guided merely by the very legitimate fear, prompted by memories of the Czechoslovak experience, of being caught in the fatal mesh of continuous concessions and renunciations. Whatever promises and "guarantees" Herr Hitler might offer by way of compensation for the annexation of Danzig, it would remain none the less true that Germany, once master of the Free City, would not be far from having Poland completely at her mercy. It would be a simple matter for Germany to restrict the advantages of access to the sea, which Germany would in principle have recognized to Poland, and easier still to deprive her of the right of access altogether at the first convenient opportunity.
Sea-borne trade figures largely in Poland's foreign trade. Two thirds of it in value, and more than three quarters in bulk, pass through the two ports of Gdynia and Danzig. In 1938, in fact, of a total trade of 19,200,000 tons, 16,300,000 tons passed through them.
The tonnage handled by Gdynia and Danzig, which, as we shall see, is far from adequate for Poland's total needs, is divided between these two ports as follows: 9,200,000 tons at Gdynia, and 7,100,000 at Danzig. The analysis of imports and exports is as follows:
Gdynia....... 1,526,000 tons. 7,646,000 tons.
Danzig....... 1,562,000 tons. 5,563,000 tons.
One-third of the bulk, and 17 per cent of the value, of Polish foreign trade therefore passes through Danzig, while 46 per cent of the bulk and 48 per cent of the value passes through Gdynia.
As the Polish Government has been at pains, for practical reasons and in order to avoid wasteful competition, to make the two ports in its Customs area specialize in particular trades, Danzig has become the principal port for the export of Polish cereals (in 1938, 407,000 tons of agricultural produce against only 112,000 via Gdynia) and Polish timber (813,000 tons against 402,000). The coal trade is shared between them. Coal from the Dombrowa basin is exported via Danzig that of Upper Silesia via Gdynia; the latter thus takes first place with 5,380,000 tons plus 1,000,000 tons of bunker coal against 3,500,000 tons via Danzig.
If Poland wanted to dispense with Danzig and give Gdynia the handling of all her commerce, she could do so only after some time had elapsed, and at great expense. Gdynia could probably cope successfully with the coal exports, but this port is not adequately equipped for handling either cereals or wood. Not only would new accommodation (granaries, etc.) have to be provided, but even new quays and larger warehouses would have to be built. The construction at the back of the port of a canal 2 kilometres long, a project already contemplated, would also be necessary.
From the point of view of communications, the importance to Poland of the Free City of Danzig is not confined to the use at present made of the harbour, or the fact that the mouth of the Vistula-the one important Polish river-is at Danzig. Though the Silesian-Baltic Railway, built and operated by the Franco-Polish Railway Company, runs outside the territory of the Free City, the Warsaw-Gdynia line, on the other hand, crosses it and runs through Danzig itself.
From the naval and military point of view, it is no exaggeration to say that the territory of Danzig commands Poland's access to the sea.
The distance from Danzig to Hel is about 30 kilometres as the crow flies; from the nearest point on the coast in Danzig territory to Hel is about 25 kilometres. Ships passing near the Hel peninsula could, therefore, enter and leave the Bay of Gdynia remaining all the time out of range of the batteries on the Danzig coast.
On the other hand, Gdynia is less than 10 kilometres from the nearest point of Danzig territory and would be within range of guns placed between Zoppot and the western limit of Danzig territory.
Generally speaking, if Germany were able to construct fortifications in the south-west territory of the Free City, which forms a salient into the corridor, the defence of the latter would become still more difficult than it is now.
For the militarisation of the Free City to have its full value, the Germans would, it is true, have to establish permanent means of communication between the two banks of the Vistula so as to link up the eastern portion with East Prussia. At present, no bridge spans the Vistula between Tczew (the last Polish town on the Vistula) and the sea, but Germany's vast technical resources would allow her to fill this gap quickly enough, and in any case make up for any deficiencies by emergency measures.
The above indications show how well founded is the uneasiness with which Poland regards the intentions of Herr Hitler.
Poland could not possibly exist without free access to the sea. Napoleon himself recognized this, adding that Danzig was essential to Poland "to enable her to dispose of her produce." The "Corridor" and Gdynia are not enough to ensure to Poland this "exit to the sea," which, in the words of Proudhon, is "vital to every large state." It should not be forgotten, moreover, that the events of last March have made this a still more vital necessity for Poland; she could, after her reconciliation with Lithuania, have utilized the "Port of Memel," but this is now out of the question; while, on the other hand, since the annexation by the Reich of Bohemia and Moravia, only at the cost of surrendering her independence to the Reich could she make sufficient use of the Czechoslovak railways to facilitate appreciably her foreign trade.
Herr Hitler does not seem to have understood these points; by choosing to claim Danzig precisely on the morrow of a series of aggressions, one result of which has been to make the maintenance of the existing status of Danzig more than ever indispensable to Poland, he has shown a complete lack of psychological insight.
Before the partitions, the Poles called Danzig "the Admiral of Poland," thus symbolizing the importance they traditionally attached to this ancient port. The Poles of the twentieth century, with their passion for the sea, and their high ideals for their reborn state, and what it should become, are not prepared to allow themselves to be despoiled in Danzig of the rights they consider essential to them. They are unanimous on this point; they will not put up with any settlement which would not, in their opinion, appear likely to safeguard them.
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