The purpose of this essay is to inform the general public about important events and depict the real forces which altered the course of history.
In order to arrive at a more balanced perspective, I have referred to newly published source materials from both sides of the conflict. My essay differs from the old established "black-and-white" picture insofar that it attempts to describe what really happened.
Since World War II was a continuation of World War I, we should reflect upon the outbreak and ending World War I first. The three moving forces which triggered World War I were:
1) The rising Pan-Slavism in Russia and in the smaller Slavic nations.
2) Britain’s unwillingness to meet the German industrial and commercial enterprises on the world market in free competition.
3) France seeking revenge for its lost war of 1870-71, which was started by Napoleon III but won by Prussia. Beginning in 1904, Germany was increasingly surrounded by a number of treaties directed against her. The alliance of France-Russia-Britain was well knit long before the spark was lit in Sarajevo. The Tripple Entente, being aware of their superiority, were very optimistic. For Austria-Germany it was a fight for survival, from the first day on. Austria-Germany had 6.1 million men in uniform, while the Triple Entente had 9.9 million men. Germany’s navy with 1.2 million tons was greatly outnumbered by the 3.3 million tons of Britain, France and Russia.
In 1918, in good faith of Wilson’s "Fourteen Points," (a propaganda ploy the Western Democracies had no intention of implementing) Germany laid down its arms. Brushing their promises aside, the victors proceeded in taking revenge for the fact that Germany had not been defeated on the battlefield.
At the treaties of Versailles and St. Germain (1919), large portions of German and Austrian territories with their German inhabitants were handed over to the victors. Unstable countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were created. Poland received a large part of Germany with 2.2 million inhabitants. The area was handed over despite the fact, that 85% of the population voted to stay with the German Reich (30 March 1921). This high percentage is even more remarkable, when we consider that Germany was a defeated country and that Poland employed scare-tactics and outright terrorism to intimidate the voters prior to the election. This terrorism was tolerated and encouraged by the French troops under General LeRonde who was assigned to supervise the elections.1
Taking into account that Poland had received so many minorities at Versailles, the dictators of the treaty felt somehow responsible and forced Poland against her vehement protests to sign a ‘minority protection act.’ As agreed, the League of Nations should have provided effective protection under this act, but failed to do so. The Poles sneered at all agreements.
The effect of one single year of Polish brutality on the native population was devastating. There was a mass exodus of German speaking natives, many of them with Polish family names.
Not being satisfied with the large area Poland had received at the Treaty of Versailles, they also wanted to take over the German colonies.2 Poland considered herself an equal of England and France.
Sensible men like the English Premier Lloyd George and the French Marshall Foch realized the injustice which the Polish ‘corridor’ represented (dissecting Germany). But none of these warnings influence the League of Nations in any way. This assembly saw their raison d’etre solely in the execution of the dictate of Versailles.
Francesco Nitti, the Italian Prime Minister (1919-20) wrote: "But these treaties, born in hatred, almost exclusively by the will of France (Clemenceau), and that will was only to humble Germany, to choke and dissect her."3
The League of Nations consistently denied Germany equal rights and rejected all six German disarmament recommendations during the period of 1932-35. As a result, Germany introduced military draft service and renounced the Versailles armament limitations on 16 March 1935.
The well-known British historian, A. J. P. Taylor wrote in his monumental book, The Origins of the Second World War: "The French had fired the starting-pistol for the arms race."4
Hitler made one more offer for arms limitation: ‘This undeniably demonstrates our goodwill and desire to avoid an unlimited race for re-armament."5
Two Interesting Notes
A Jewish newspaper in Paris (Le Droit de Vivre) admitted in 1937: "Hitler does not want war, but we will force it on him!"
Winthrop Aldrich, General Director of the Chase National Bank announced after returning from a "fact-finding-mission" in Europe: "England will create a political situation which will force Hitler to take up arms."6
Poland’s Attitude towards her Minorities 1919-39
During the negotiations for the treaty of Versailles, the Poles demanded the use of the German City of Danzig. They claimed, that the Polish foreign trade could not function without the Danzig harbor.
In 1920, Danzig was severed from the German Republic, cynically declared a ‘Free City’ and the harbor facilities handed over to Polish control. In spite of this, Poland enlarged the harbor of Polish Dgingen, thus diverting away 66% of the normal traffic from Danzig. To further bankrupt the economy of Danzig, Poland quadrupled the number of Polish custom personnel in Danzig still on the German payroll.
The City of Danzig was forced to pay 3 million Guilders for a Polish ammunition dump which was built with the blessings of the ‘neutral’ League of Nations.
The large territories which Poland had received in 1919 had only wetted her appetite. Constant cries for more German land were heard: from the schools and public media.
Through ‘Land Reform’ Poland expropriated 750,000 hectares (1.85 million acres) of German land.
Germans were ‘fair game’ and could not find protection by the Policy Police. Murder and torture were common place.7
Between 1919-39, Polish schools, newspapers and radio broadcasts preached twenty years of hatred; a massive Government inspired Polonization effort!8
Manchester Guardian 17 October 1930: ‘The Polish terror in the Ukraine is worse than anything in Europe!"
Manchester Guardian 14 December 1931: "The aim of the Polish politics is the disappearance of the national minorities on paper and in reality."
Winston Churchill (24 November 1932) in the House of Commons: "If the British Government really wished to act in favour of promoting peace, then she should take over the leadership and should on her side bring up the question of Danzig and the Corridor, as long as the victor nations are still in the superior. If these questions are not solved, no hope for lasting peace can be expected."
By August 1939, 76,535 Germans had fled Poland. 4,000 had been killed, some of them tortured and mutilated.9 The total figure of German civilian victims prior to and during the Polish campaign is estimated at 20,000 of which 12,500 are confirmed by name.10
Hitler’s consiliatory offers were laughed at and taken as a sign of weakness.
A German offer to enter into negotations was answered by Poland with a threat of war.11
President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in his New Year Message (4 January 1939) that the USA will act with: "...methods short of war." He strengthened the war policy in London and Paris and urged the Poles through his special ambassador William Bullit: "Do not yield an inch!" A very strange attitude for an American president, whom the news media depicted as working toward peace.
Spring of 1939
23 March 1939. Poland had partially mobilized her army.
Hitler reacted calmly in order to avoid driving the Poles into the hands of the British. He did not counter this provocation with a military counter-measure. Hitler refrained from supporting the Ukrainian freedom movement. On the diplomatic front Germany agreed on independent Czech and Polish states and supported neutral and Vatican efforts for peace.
Germany sought an extension of the German-Polish non-aggression pact for an additional 25 years.
26 March 1939. Poland, through Ambassador Lipski rejected German proposals for negotiations and threatened war.
28 March 1939. The Polish army newspaper Polska Zbrijna in an article "We are prepared": "...that the Poles, different to the Czechs, have no feeling of inferiority towards the powerful nations of the world, the number of foreign divisions does not frighten the Poles..." (Germany had fewer divisions at that time anyway).
The Last Few Days
Poland totally mobilized without a protest from neither Britain nor France (29-30 August).
Musolini proposed an international conference to be held on 5 September 1939.
Colonel Beck, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not want any kind of negotiations. He feared that a compromise could have been reached with Hitler. And that England would have forced Poland to accept such a compromise.
Hitler had actually planned his counter-measure on 26 August, but postponed his date in the vain hope that negotiations be given another chance. On 29 August he made his last offer on the diplomatic front, — he demanded:
Freedom for Danzig.
An extra-territorial road-and-rail link through the corridor.
Internationally supervised elections in the ‘corridor’ within a year. Exchange of small pockets of population on an even basis as a result of such an election.
This message was intercepted by Winston Churchill. When Chamberlain finally heard of it through a German radio broad-cast, he expressed in the House of Commons: "This is the first time I heard about it!"12
Hitler bitterly complained to Henderson (British Ambassador in Berlin), that the "British Government does not give a damn whether or nor German civilians are being murdered in Poland." Lord Halifax on 30 August 1939) finally asked the Poles to stop the persecution. The reaction by Beck: "Without being authorized by the Polish Government...the Polish Foreign Minister forbids the British Government to express views and opinions about Polish problems."13
31 August 1939
The situation was very tense! During the last weeks Poles had repeatedly fired at German civilian air planes. Pot shots and machine gun fire rang across the border into Danzig.14
Britain had approved of Poland’s general mobilization. Encouraged by England, France, and the United States, Poland ran the risk of war.
Poland had instructed its ambassador in Berlin, Lipski, to ask for ‘talks,’ but under no circumstances should he enter into any realistic conversation. Lipski had no authority to negotiate.
Goering did everything possible in his power to avoid a war. He realized that the generals were afraid of war and that the German economy was in no shape for a war. Since England had rejected Hitler’s plan to send Goering to London, Goering had asked the Swedish industrialist, Birger Dalerus, to act as a go- between. As Dalerus arrived in London, he telephoned Horace Wilson, Chamberlain’s trusted man in the Foreign Office. Dalerus suggested that the British Government should bring the Poles to their senses (down from their arrogance). Wilson answered over the phone: "Shut up!"
Waffen-SS anti-tank gunners of SS-Standarte "Germania" move their PaK in Holland, 13 May 1940
A column of vehicles from the SS "Totenkopf" Panzer Division move through Joigny, France, 17 June 1940
At the late hour of 2115 hours, "Radio Germany" broadcasted the much publicized "Final Offer" for the last time.
At 2300 hours "Radio Warsaw" answered by calling it an "insolent proposal," it rejected any form of negotiations, sneered at the useless waiting by the "New Huns," and declared that Poland’s answer can only be a military one!
Hitler had swallowed all the humiliations he could possibly take (although some ‘historians’ have argued that he should have shown more patience). The following morning, German troops entered Poland. The Polish cavalry never made it across the border in the direction of Berlin, as they had so often threatened.
2 September 1939
The Polish Marshall Rydz-Smigly realized that the war would be lost and started negotiations at once. But the British Government declared immediately that this must never happen and repeated its determination to help Poland with all its powers.
Germany continued her efforts toward peace. Dr. Fritz Hesse, the German Press Attaché in London, was given full authority to negotiate. He contacted Sir Horace Wilson in the Foreign Office, invited him to Berlin and presented the German proposals.
Germany is willing to withdraw her troops.
Germany will pay for damages.
Both points under the condition that England accepts the role of negotiator and occupies the area to protect the German minority from Polish terror.
Sir Horace, acting with full authority for the British Government, answered:
"Too late! France has now shown her willingness to enter the war (the French leaders learned that Italy will remain neutral). Secondly, Winston Churchill had joined the cabinet and thus the switches had been set for war! England cannot tolerate another power on the continent because she would either perish or lose the basis on which her empire and world prestige are built."
"With this answer, Sir Horace was exceptionally blunt. For Britain, the issue was not whether the German minority in Poland was in the jaws of a vice, but whether Germany was on the verge of becoming a strong military power and an able industrial competitor."16
At 0900 yours on 3 September 1939, Henderson submitted Britain’s "two-hour ultimatum" in Berlin. At 1130 hours Henderson said to Ribbentrop: "We are now at war!"
When Hitler was informed by Ribbentrop, he was flabbergasted. All he could say was: "Now what?"
The war was made possible by England’s cartel-blanche to Poland, by England’s rejection of Mussolini’s plan for an inter-national conference to be held on 5 September 1939 and by England’s rejection of all German efforts for an immediate cease-fire.
Although there are rumours that English money supported the Polish terrorists before the outbreak of the War, Poland’s army never received as much as a single bullet from Britain.
After the Polish campaign had ended, Hitler made another generous offer: to withdraw the German troops and hold internationally supervised elections in the German areas of Poland. This offer too, was rejected.
It must be noted that when the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 (as a result of the German-Russian Pact signed on 23 August 1939) England and France were mute on this annexation of Polish territory. Furthermore, Britain and France tolerated the Soviet attack on Finland on 30 November 1939 and the occupation of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in the year of 1940. In other words, even though Stalin occupied 450,000 square kilometres of land with a 21 million population by the end of June 1940, a declaration of war was not made by Britain.
A Waffen-SS soldier is decorated at the front lines by his commander
(1) Max Schwarte: Geschichte des Weltkrieges. Berlin 1932; George Franz-Willing: Der Zweite Weltkrieg, Druffel-Verlag Leoni 1980.
(2) Document on British Foreign Policy 1919-39, Vol. IV Document 189 and 306.
(3) Francesco Nitte: The Decadence of Europe, Rycrson 1923, Toronto.
(4) A.J.P. Taylor: The Origins of the Second World War, Hamish Hamilton, 1961.
(6) Alfred Lueckenhaus: Von Draussen gesehen, Duesseldorf 1955.
(7) Deutsches Weissbuch 1939 (German White Book).
(9) Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden, Vertreibungsverluste, p. 285.
(10) Seraphim, Maurach, Wolfrum: Ostwaerts der Oder-Neisse, p. 43.
(11) Deutsches Weisbuch No. 2, p. 208.
(12) British Blue Book, No. 105.
(13) Michael Freund: "Weltgeschichte der Gegenwart in Documenten 1938-1939” Vol. Ill, p. 348, Freiburg 1954-56.
(14) Deutsches Weisbuch No. 2, p. 208.
(15) Document on British Foreign Policy 1919-39, Vol. VII, Ooc. 589.
(16) Fritz Hesse: Das Vorspiel zum Kreige, Druffel-Verlag Leoni, 1979; Hitler and the English, London, 1954.