The French Yellow Book

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No. 160 :
M. LÉON NÖEL, French Ambassador in Warsaw, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Warsaw, July 10, 1939.

IN the course of a short stay in Danzig, the First Secretary of this Embassy, from information given him by our Consul and also from conversations with the High Commissioner for the League of Nations, the Polish Commissioner-General and certain Danzig authorities, has gathered some interesting impressions, which may be summarised as follows:

(1) The wave of unrest which has been apparent for some days in the Free City is appreciably on the ebb. But, in order to estimate the significance and the extent, which is entirely relative, of this regression, it is apposite to emphasize the fact that the effervescence which had been observed in the Free City was considerably exaggerated by interested propaganda and never presented the character of organised preparations for violent action.

(2) In so far as can be ascertained, this appeasement has in no way slowed down the militarisation of the Free City, which is being methodically carried out.

The strength of the police force has been raised to 3,000 men. The formation of the Free Corps is being continued. Its nucleus was created out of 300 S.S. men from East Prussia, who wear on the sleeves of their uniforms the words "Reichswehr Danzig." The barracks contain several thousands of young men who have come from the Reich, but are said to be of Danzig origin. Smuggling of arms (rifles, machine-guns, anti-aircraft batteries, light tanks, aircraft, etc.) continues. Entrance to the Schichau dockyard, where this material is disembarked, is strictly forbidden. All the tailors and even all the dressmakers of the Free City without exception have been requisitioned for making uniforms.

It would be incorrect to say that these measures of rearmament are ostentatious, but they are known to the authorities. On the other hand, their rate, or even their importance, should not be exaggerated. In any case, this rearmament does not present the feverish character of such measures as would be taken with a view to an early coup de force. It is a question rather of a progressive preparation for the militarisation of the Free City, with a view to guarding against possibilities which perhaps do not as yet present themselves in a very definite way even to the National-Socialists themselves.

The Danzig authorities declare that the Free City wants to be in such a state "as not to allow itself to be invaded without resistance" (like Prague!). They also say that Danzig must defend itself against possible aggression by the Poles. This argument, for that matter, is not pure propaganda. It corresponds to a real anxiety on the part of the population. Recently, while in Western Europe the possibility of an approaching Putsch in Danzig was kept in view, the Danzigers, for their part, seem to have sincerely feared some such step on the part of Poland.

(3) In considering the four elements-the Poles, the Danzig population, the Party and the Senate-which constitute the local elements of the problem, the following observations can be made:

(a) Between the Poles and the Danzig authorities difficulties are endless. The Polish Commissioner-General, M. Chodacki, admits that every day he sees twenty or thirty fresh troubles arise. But both sides, for the time being, avoid turning them into incidents. The attitude assumed by the Polish Customs inspectors is significant in this respect. They shut their offices at night and appear not to notice the smuggling.

In the course of his conversation with my colleague, M. Chodacki made a point of repeating that Poland remained ready to negotiate. He has, he said, "a plan for negotiation fully prepared" which M. Beck has approved. But for the time being it is impossible to think of making use of it. "We fall," he added, "between the rigid 'It is my will' of Herr Hitler, and the much more elastic Polish 'non possumus.'" It is impossible to see for the moment in what way the distance which separates them can be reduced.

Meanwhile, the Poles continue to invest considerable sums in improvements in Danzig. They also point out that, during the first five months of the year, the traffic of the port (sailings of ships, tonnage) shows an increase of 33 per cent over 1938.

(b) As far as the Danzig population is concerned, while, before the present crisis, the proportion of those who wanted the maintenance of the existing status could be estimated at 60 per cent, it is said at present to have risen to at least 80 per cent. Opposition is said to be especially strong among the Catholics, many of whom are of Polish origin but have lost consciousness of the fact, and form 40 per cent of the population.

Everybody however is agreed in recognising that the feelings of the Danzig population are of no importance. It appears to be terrorized and is lavish with cries of "Heil Hitler!"

(c) It is the Party, and, within the Party, the Gestapo, to whom all power belongs. But the Party simply means Berlin, and in practice, Gauleiter Forster, who is depicted as a kind of "butcher's assistant, and a jovial fellow," who has belonged to the Party since his early youth and has, apparently, the right of audience with Herr Hitler, who likes him; but he is, of course, merely the Chancellor's instrument.

(d) Between the two is the Senate, which is flattered at figuring as a Government and at bottom more or less shares the feelings of the population, but is, of course, obliged to speak and act as the Party decides.

But the Senate is only a façade.

In observing the state of things at present prevailing in Danzig, one cannot help making a comparison with the internal situation in Austria during the months which preceded the Anschluss; a population without enthusiasm, sometimes secretly hostile, but passive; a Government which certainly would like to maintain the status quo, but is without real power; finally, the Party, an active minority, in fact the only active element.

(4) The comparison which one is led to make between Danzig and Austria is justified not only by the internal situation in the Free City, but also by the methods which German policy seems for the moment disposed to employ there.

In order to attain her ends, Germany has hitherto had recourse to two systems: sometimes surprise, a sudden attack; sometimes slow preparation, patient waiting for favourable circumstances. The Reich tried the first method in Austria at the time of the assassination of Dollfuss; but it had to give way before Italy. It then sent Herr von Papen to Vienna and waited until the Western Powers' common front had dissolved. The success which attended the first method in Czechoslovakia undoubtedly for a time led the rulers in Berlin to desire to act in a similar way in Danzig. But resistance inside the City, and the resolute attitude of France and Great Britain, seem to have convinced them that, once again, they must have recourse to the second.

There are many indications that they are already anxious to allay our watchfulness. The démarche undertaken by Gauleiter Forster's principal colleague, Herr Zarske, Parliamentary Press Chief and editor of the Vorposten, as well as the proposals to the same effect put to High Commissioner Burckhardt by the Gauleiter of East Prussia, Herr Koch, although he is Herr Forster's sworn enemy, seem significant in this respect. Herr Zarske insistently repeats that "Danzig is really not worth a war." At the same time, Herr Zarske is anxious to a degree that is quite remarkable, to brush aside the memory of the Czechoslovak precedent. He has admitted that "this expedition was a mistake," and even added that "in Berlin they do not know how to get out of it and would be very glad to find a solution...."

No doubt, the progressive movement in this direction, which everybody agrees is clearly taking place in Danzig, is as yet only in its initial stage. Obviously many considerations or fortuitous incidents may change its course, particularly if Herr Hitler, who for the moment seems to want to trade on his credit in order to make the Danzigers wait for the fulfilment of his promises, should be led to think that this might be regarded as a sign of retreat.

In any case, there is one fact about which foreign observers in Danzig are unanimous. It is that it is proper not to attach too much importance to the daily vicissitudes in the little provincial world of the Free City. They may indeed, these observers recognize, possess their value as pointers and serve as a barometer; but the final issue lies, and will continue to lie, between Berlin and Warsaw, and between Berlin, London and Paris.


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