33

On Wikipedia, it is stated that:

Earlier, Hitler's foreign policy worked to weaken ties between Poland and France, and attempted to manoeuvre Poland into the Anti-Comintern Pact, forming a cooperative front against the Soviet Union.

Poland would be granted territory to its northeast in Ukraine and Belarus if it agreed to wage war against the Soviet Union, but the concessions the Poles were expected to make meant that their homeland would become largely dependent on Germany, functioning as little more than a client state.

The Poles feared that their independence would eventually be threatened altogether.

But I can't find the exact demands the Nazis had during this period. I am assuming that the demands were return of the City of Danzig and East-Prussian territories? This would have effectively turned Poland into a landlocked country and dependent on Germany for naval passage and transit port. (Unless the Poles succeeded in getting the Germans to carve them a corridor through Ukraine all the way to the Black Sea).

But that doesn't explain why Poland thought it would threaten their independence. There are many landlocked countries who are independent. If Poles didn't trust Germans with transit pact, they could have made a similar one with Lithuania or Latvia (Poland tried to restore ties with Lithuania but Soviet Union had warned the Baltic States to not to get too friendly with Poland), both of whom had naval access and shared borders with Poland. Occupation of Baltic states by Soviet Union hadn't occurred at that time. Or could it be that they were concerned that without a maritime access to the Baltic sea, in event of a German invasion, French and British expeditionary forces would face troubles in landing to relieve Poland? (Although I doubt Allies would have done that, they could always open a Western front on French-German border which eventually they did).

Are the exact demands known?

32

As of 24 October 1938 the demands were annexation of Free City of Danzig by Germany and extraterritorial roadway+railway from East Prussia to mainland Germany through the Polish Corridor (so a "corridor across a corridor") [Eagle Unbowed p. 42].

Danzig was a strategic port, well connected to Poland's industrialized regions (central and western Poland). In 1920s most Polish export/import passed through Danzig; inland trade was scarce. The gist of the issue was less on being somehow connected or unconnected, and more about the total throughput and its scalability and its security. The country's economy could be simply strangled by abruptly stopping foreign trade or it could stagnate when the transport couldn't grow too fast.

All Danzig, Gdynia, Klaipeda (Lithuania), Riga (Latvia) put together were already insufficient at the time, the business could have more investments and did seek best return on investments in all these routes.

Gdynia and associated coal trunk railway, the new independent all-Polish export/import route built at a huge cost, in 1938 slightly overtook Danzig in terms of tonnage transferred. But its railway was a weak spot, strategically, and also already a bottleneck (rough terrain between Kościerzyna and Gdynia enforced sharp turns and high slopes).

For Lithuania or Latvia the routes were poor and connected to the similarly poorly industrialized eastern Poland. Their existing ports had entirely insufficient throughput. For example Latvian ports would need to grow at least fivefold, while the train route there would need to be basically re-done. Entire Latvian network used the wider Russian gauge and train conversion was done in Dyneburg. Politically, it would require a long process to prepare such international investment and associated guarantees.

Militarily, the Latvia-Lithuania option was worse than Gdynia: not only under German but also under Soviet threat.

The Lithuania diplomatic standing was fragile: the Polish-Lithuanian relations were terrible over earlier Polish annexation of Vilnius, and also the German-Lithuanian and Soviet-Lithuanian relations were quite strained. In fact, not using the main Lithuanian port of Klaipeda turned out to be an excellent decision. It got "danziged" by Germany as soon as March 1939, when Germany occupied Klaipeda and promised Lithuania it could continue to use it only as a Free Port.

Now to the main point, the German propostion. It was shameless even for Hitler's standards: we'll annex some land, so we could control and tax a large part of your foreign trade, and then you can go and maybe conquer by yourself some Soviet land over there.

Germany and Soviet Union had no common border at the time. Obviously letting German land forces enter Poland and "help" was out of question, for it would instantly turn Poland into a satellite state. (My own speculation, only partially supported by Lyons pp. 56-57 and Leslie, p. 205). In these times letting foreign forces in was only appropriate for very very close allies, such as UK and France. Otherwise it was a huge diplomatic no-no.

Further considering scenario of a Soviet-Polish war, Poland had no illusions whether Germans could or would stop themselves before "securing the rights of German minority in the failing Polish state much troubled by the current war" as was customary at the time. Even if Poland entered that scenario as an independent state, the predicted outcome would be it would end as either German or Soviet satellite.

Additional fact was that the Hitler's proposition was soon mirrored. Stalin proposed to send troops to "help" against Germany. This was similarly rejected, as it would lead to Poland becoming a Soviet satellite state (again Lyons).

5
  • 11
    Reading the reference, it appears that it was not the demand for Danzig itself which worried the Poles, it was what they anticipated would come next i.e. demand of the whole Polish corridor. They had example of Czechoslovakia right in front of them how appeasing the Nazis ended up in Hacha signing away the whole country. +1. Even though this is the correct answer, I'll wait for another 24 hours to see if we can attract something better (Hope you don't mind)
    – NSNoob
    Jun 22 '17 at 10:02
  • 2
    Sure. Also doing research myself on possibility of a pact with Lithuania, I have found that Soviet Union had warned Lithuanians to not get too close with the Poles (And also, as you mentioned, they resented the loss of Wilno). I'll be back in an hour or two, hope you will be done by then. Goodluck and thanks
    – NSNoob
    Jun 22 '17 at 10:06
  • @NSNoob and kubanczyk Yeah, I think the only thing you would need to add would be some evidence one way or the other about whether Hitler's demands were just a pretext or not, while Ribbentrop and Molotov were hammering things out. Demand an impossibility and claim the other side is being unreasonable.
    – Spencer
    Jun 22 '17 at 11:14
  • 1
    @Spencer I doubt that Ribbentrop-Molotov pact had any effect on his demands being a pretext. The German rapprochement predates that pact. In fact, Poles and Germans had signed a non-aggression pact in 1934 when Germany was trying to get Poland in an alliance against Soviets. Demands were definitely a pretext as Hitler himself said that Danzig was not of much concern to him, his ultimate goal was Lebensraum, therefore ultimate annexation of Poland to secure food supplies and raw materials.
    – NSNoob
    Jun 22 '17 at 12:26
  • 1
    @NSBoob Also doing research myself on possibility of a pact with Lithuania - counting events of 1938 Polish government had very strange notion of building relations with their neighbors. May 4 '18 at 21:33
13

There is an explanation for a second question: Why Poland thought it would threaten their independence?

As foreign minister Józef Beck said 5 may 1939:

„My w Polsce nie znamy pojęcia pokoju za wszelka cenę. Jest jedna rzecz w życiu narodów i państw, która jest bezcenna: ta rzeczą jest honor"

Roughly translated:

In Poland, we ignore the idea of "peace at all cost". There is one thing in the lives of nations and countries which is priceless; That thing is honor.

Or as the field marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz said:

Jeśli ktoś w kraju liczy na jakieś chwile słabości, to jeszcze raz nieudolnie się przeliczył. A jeśli ktoś z zewnątrz na taką okazję kalkuluje, to niech wie, że my po cudze rąk nie wyciągamy, ale swego nie damy. Nie tylko nie damy całej sukni, ale nawet guzika nie damy od niej. I niech wie, że to jest decyzja całego narodu

That would be:

If anyone in Poland counts on our weakness, he is sorely mistaken. And if anyone abroad plans for such an opportunity, let him know that we don't reach for what doesn't belong to us, but we won't hand over what is ours. We not only won't hand over a gown, but even not even a single button. And let him know that's the decision of the whole nation.

To sum up: Giving anything to Germany was not an option for polish diplomats at this time. They were not afraid to fight, and they even expected to win. For their miscalculations, Poland paid dearly.

5
  • 1
    Good answer; it would be a great answer if the quotes were cited.
    – MCW
    Jun 22 '17 at 12:20
  • 3
    Thanks! That is very interesting. One of the most serious miscalculations by the Poles could be that they thought Western Allies would respond quickly when in fact, without telling the Poles, Brits and French were planning on a trench warfare, WW1 style.
    – NSNoob
    Jun 22 '17 at 12:21
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace I have added the references to the quotes, can't verify the translation.
    – NSNoob
    Jun 22 '17 at 12:23
  • Transformed to a great answer and upvoted!
    – MCW
    Jun 22 '17 at 12:27
  • 4
    Translation is somewhat free. The originals are certainly not suggesting that Poland expected to win their fight (alone or not). The sentence about the uniform and its buttons has an almost apologetic other half stressing that Poland is not trying to grab anything that belongs to Germany. I'm not sure that the quotes support the summary either. If Poland had any other options to take, it can be seen on Czechoslovakia what they really were. Jun 22 '17 at 13:27
1

On August 31, 1939 Reich's Foreign Ministry sent and ultimatum to the Polish Government, a so-called "16 points ultimatum".

This is basically a reiteration and expansion on the earlier demands, but they have to be considered in the broader context. The Non-Aggression treaty of 1934 between Germany and Poland has been terminated. There are provocations almost daily on the border with Poland, with occasional shootouts and casualties, mostly on the Polish side (Gliwice Radio incident not withstanding). Germany Annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia. There is German-Soviet Treaty published. General feeling in Poland is that Hitler is basically not to be trusted. Which means that whatever the Germany proposes is either a bad-faith deal or straight up-ruse.

Add to that that Poland has literally THE best intelligence network in Reich . Arguably, it was the best in whole of Europe, even after the fall of Poland (and regardless of big error of Polish Intelligence, which allowed for part of it's archives to fall into German hands, with results of losing about 100 of agents across the Reich). This means that Polish Government has a very good general idea of the German plans.

So the Ultimatum is relatively benign, but that's until mid-1940. What's next?

It is very important to note, though, that there is a preamble to this Ultimatum, which basically negates the Versaille Treaty, which also means Polish State becomes unlawful, in Reich's view. Of course, it's not stated explicitly, but you judge for yourself:

The situation between the German Reich and Poland is now of such a nature that any further incident may lead to an explosion in the ranks of troops occupying positions on both sides. Any peace solution must be so structured that, the next time the circumstances give rise to this state of affairs, they cannot be repeated, and therefore not only Eastern Europe but also other areas will not be put under the same stress. The reasons for this development lie:

  1. In the impossibility of setting out the borders, as delineated by the Versailles dictate.
  2. In the impossibility of treating minorities in lost areas.

The government of the German Reich, therefore, in these proposals assumes that a final solution must be found, that will remove the impossible situation related to the demarcation of borders, provide both sides with communication lines that are vital for them, and the minority problem - if at all possible - will be eliminated or, if that is not possible, it will make bearable the fate of minorities by fully guaranteeing their rights.

  1. Free City of Gdansk is returned to the Reich based on the unanimity of it's pure German population.
  2. The so-called Corridor from the Baltic to the line of Kwidzyn - Grudziądz - Chełmno - Bydgoszcz (icnluded) will decide on it's own on it's joining Germany or Poland
  3. Which will be carried out by vote. All persons who lived there before 11.11.1918 and expelled afterwards will return for the purpose of the voting. Vote will be guaranteed by Commission formed from citizens of four countries: Italy, USSR, France and England, which will have sovereign power. All Polish officials, civilian or military and Polish police and military must be removed.
  4. Polish port of Gdynia is excepted. Exact borders of this Polish town will be decided by Polish and German Governments or international mediation.
  5. Said vote will not take place before 12 month period.
  6. In order to guarantee an unlimited connection for Germany to East Prussia and Poland to the sea during this period, roads and railways will be designated which will enable free transit. At the same time, it will be allowed to collect only those fees that are necessary to maintain communication links or carry out transports.
  7. A simple majority of votes cast will decide on the area's belonging.
  8. In order to ensure free communication from Germany with their province of Gdańsk-East Prussia, and Poland with a connection to the sea after the vote - no matter it's outcome - there will be an extraterritorial communication zone for Germany, if the plebiscite area goes to Poland, more or less in the direction of Bytów - Gdańsk or Tczew, suitable for the construction of a motorway and a four-track railway line. The construction of the motorway and railways will be carried out in such a way that Polish communication lines will not be affected by it, i.e. the construction will pass either over or under them. The width of this zone is defined as 1 km, and the zone itself will territorially belong to the Reich. In the event that the vote is in favor of Germany, Poland, for a free and unlimited connection to its port of Gdynia, will be granted the same right of the same extraterritorial road or rail route as Germany would have.
  9. Should the Corridor fall to Germany again, the Reich states its readiness to carry out a population exchange with Poland in the size corresponding to the Corridor.
  10. Eventual special powers in Gdańsk postulated by Poland will be granted in exchange for identical German powers in Gdynia
  11. In order to eliminate any sense of danger on both sides, Gdańsk and Gdynia will be given the character of purely commercial cities, i.e. without military facilities and fortifications.
  12. The Hel Peninsula, which either goes to Poland or Germany according to the vote, will in any case be demilitarized in the same way.
  13. Since the German Government has the strongest accusations to bring against the Polish treatment of minorities, and the Polish Government, for its part, considers that it must also make accusations against Germany, both sides agree that these complaints will be submitted to an international commission of inquiry, task of investigating all complaints of economic and physical damage and other acts of terrorism. Germany and Poland undertake to compensate both minorities for all economic and other damages caused since 1918, or to cancel all expropriations, or to award the aggrieved parties full compensation for some kind of violation of economic life.
  14. In order to deprive Germans staying in Poland and Poles staying in Germany of the feeling that they are not protected by international law and, above all, to ensure that they will not be forced to act or duties inconsistent with their national sense, Germany and Poland agree that the rights of minorities on both sides must be guaranteed through extensive and binding agreements in order to ensure the preservation, free development and activity of their nationalities by these minorities, allowing them, in particular, to organize themselves for this purpose. Both parties undertake not to appoint members of the minority to military service.
  15. In the event of an agreement on the basis of these proposals, Germany and Poland express their readiness to order and carry out the immediate demobilization of their armed forces.
  16. The further steps necessary to carry out these activities will be determined jointly by Germany and Poland

Source: Ultimatum niemieckie wobec Polski (tzw. 16 punktów) [Polish only] (1)

(1) - Translation is mine, all rights reserved.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.