Germany, Poland and Danzig
From the Irish Catholic Bulletin , June, 1938:
Where is that city of Danzig? A glance at the map shows that East Prussia is separated from the rest of Germany by a strip of land less than fifty miles wide. This is the famous Polish Corridor, a strip of land joining the inland state of Poland to the Baltic Sea. Between East Prussia and the Corridor the river Vistula flows with the city of Danzig lying across the river at its mouth. The city is the river port.
Now Danzig, as nobody denies, is overwhelmingly a German city. Its population, history, culture and language are German. However, the river Vistula in all except the few miles which run through Danzig is Polish, and the natural part of Danzig as a trading city is to serve the basin of the Vistula; that is, to serve as the trading centre for Poland. We have therefore a German city with a Polish trade.
What we are not told by the English newspapers is the treatment that Danzig received from the State of Poland after the Great War. Danzig was too German and too large to be incorporated in the Polish State, so the Peace Conference made a Free City of it under a commissioner appointed by the League of Nations—an office which our fellow- countryman, Mr. Sean Lester, occupied not without credit. The Poles were jealous of this German Free City, and they speedily set to work to build another seaport on the Baltic where their Corridor strikes the sea a little to the North of Danzig.
This new port bears the Polish name of Gdynia. It cost millions of money to build, for a piece of land ill-suited for development as a seaport was used for this purpose. An enormous new city, with splendid docks and quays, was constructed, and almost the whole external trade of Poland was diverted thereto. Danzig was left to languish without trade, and it is more easy to imagine than to describe the sentiments of the German population of this boycotted Free City. Imagine the mind of a population which was refused liberty to be attached to its own nationality, and was starved by the other nationality in whose interest it was separated.
Elementary justice manifests the demands that the people of Danzig should be free to hoist their nation’s flag in their own city. Danzig ought to be incorporated in East Prussia and thus to form a city of the Reich. Anyone who denies this denies the principles of nationality and of justice.
The British refusal to assent to the incorporation of Danzig with Germany is all of a piece with the same nation’s refusal to allow the ardently Irish town of Newry to come under the Irish flag.
It is an act of infamous aggression against the Reich. The Germans are not content, however, to ask that Danzig be restored to German sovereignty. Herr Hitler has asked Poland to assent to the construction of a German highway across the Polish Corridor, linking Danzig and East Prussia to the German mainland. If the Poles are entitled to possess a corridor to the sea, the Germans are entitled to possess a corridor to East Prussia—that is the German argument. That German highway would not entail the loss of territory to Poland; it would simply mean a road and a railway which would be accessible to German use and policed at German expense.
Whether the demand is just, we leave to the reader’s judgment but at least it may be affirmed that it is not unreasonable. If the Poles were to assent to it, nobody would be a penny the worse save those who desire the permanent weakening of the German nation. Yet it is astonishing to find with what unanimity the English Press has opposed a German-Polish settlement on these lines. Germany must be kept out of Danzig and denied a corridor to East Prussia even at the cost of another world war.
In the first place, if we contemplate the outbreak of war, with Poland ranged as an enemy against Germany, it is perfectly evident that Danzig would immediately fall. Tame Poles could not hold a German city against its will, when that city was adjacent as Danzig is to German territory on the one side and separated from the German mainland on the other by a strip of only a few miles. Within an hour of the outbreak of war, German forces would be in the city and the tiny strip of land called the Corridor would be completely dominated by German aeroplanes and German guns. Wherever Poland was able to make its stand in war against Germany it would not be in this zone. Whether Germany is in Danzig in time of peace or not, she certainly would be there in time of war. Therefore, to keep her out in time of peace can have no effect on a war situation save to intensify the German resolve to obtain that city and the German indignation against the nation which tried to withhold it from her.
Germany is not guilty on the Continent of any act of aggression comparable to the British occupation of Northern Ireland or the Partition of Palestine, the seizure of the Sudan or the subjection of India. Yet the spokesman of a nation which has these things to its record assumes that Germany cannot obtain possession of a German port or access to German territory without using these proper privileges to the detriment of its neighbours. The Polish nation would do well to consider carefully what purpose lies behind such propaganda. Poles ought to ask themselves whether they would be wiser to treat the great German nation with respect and to grant it those facilities which Poland itself demands; that is to say, to assent to a reciprocal arrangement in the difficult Corridor area. If Poland refuses such a settlement and prefers to serve British interests by perpetuating the Partition of Germany in the East, she must bear the brunt of the conflict whenever it comes to pass. Let Poles ask themselves whether they should risk their country’s freedom and peace in order to become a cats paw of those powers who have seized the German colonies and are determined to prevent the revival of German power.