The Corridor Issue: German and Polish Territorial Disputes from 1919-1939

By: Kristen Zegeer

Blanke, Richard.  Orphans of Versailles:  The Germans in Western Poland, 1918-1939.  Lexington, KY:  University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

Blanke discusses the treatment of the German minority in the Polish Corridor during the Interwar period.  A large portion of the book focuses on whether the German minority exodus from Poland was voluntary or the result of pressure from Poland. He contends that the Polish government attempted to eliminate the Germans from the area through either assimilation or emigration.  Blanke provides great detail on Polish exclusionary policies such as denying state licenses for employment and German property liquidation, but he fails to give the same attention to why Germans voluntarily left the Corridor.  The German minority turned to the German government to protect them from attacks by the Poles and relied upon the minority protections system set by the League of Nations to defeat attacks.  Blanke concludes that the Polish failure to integrate the German minority into Polish culture resulted in the minority turning to the Nazis for protection in 1933.

Budding, Dr. “The Polish Corridor as a Source of Political and Economic Dangers.” World Affairs 96, no.1 (1933):  29-30.

In this source, Dr. Budding, President of the District of Marienwerder in Germany, offers a German perspective on the Corridor issue.  He argues that the Polish Corridor settlement at Versailles was only made because of France’s wish to weaken Germany.  According to Budding, the powers involved in the agreement did not believe the Corridor was a good plan, but they were willing do anything to weaken Germany.  Moreover, the article, written in 1933, claims the Polish succeeded in expelling the Germans from the Corridor by interfering with German cultural life.  The Polish government refused to create new German schools, expropriated German property, and restricted the Germans’ rights to public meetings and to free press.  Dr. Budding argues that Poles demolished transportation routes to hamper German trading abilities with Prussia, and the Polish government built a new port city at Gdynia to support a Polish navy that the Polish government will use to attack Danzig.  He believes the only way to create peace between the two state is if there is no more interference from outside states like France and if there is a revision of the Polish frontier lines to better meet the economic and cultural needs of the two states.  Budding’s statement provides a contrast to the Polish politicians who maintain Polish historical claims overrule any right Germany has to the Corridor land.

Ciechanowski, Jan.  “Polish Corridor:  Revision or Peace?” Foreign Affairs 10 (1932): 558-571.

In his 1932 article, Polish politician Jan Ciechanowski explains that the European world is still divided over the Versailles Treaty.  Some states are determined to enforce the peace settlement as is, while some wish to revise it.  The restoration of a Poland with an entirely Polish population was one of Wilson’s 14-points and an accepted part of Versailles peace negotiations.  Despite this, Germany still encourages Poland to return the Polish Corridor to Germany, and state officials argue that, if Poland acquiesces, peace is guaranteed.  Germany will continue to follow the other measures of Versailles if Poland provides this “generous gift.” Ciechanowski contends, however, that the Polish Corridor has been Polish since 968 C.E. It has been seized numerous times by various powers such as Prussia since 1308, but has always remained ethnically Polish.  He disagrees with Germans who argue that the Polish Corridor has three distinct ethnic groups, Germans, Poles, and Kashoubs, and that the Poles are not the majority.  Instead, the Poles insist that Poles and Kashoubs have common origins, making the Kashoubs fall under Polish identity.  A 1921 Polish census showed the Corridor to be 81.3 percent Polish.  In 1931, a new census found that the Corridor was 90 percent Polish, due to a mass German exodus.  Poles argue this exodus supports the Polish claim to the Corridor because Germans never completely settled in the land and moved when it was no longer German.  In order to support his claims, Ciechanowski provides shipping records from Polish Corridor port cities that demonstrate how beneficial sea access has been to Poland.  Additionally, he provides railway plans that show Polish assistance to Germans attempting to reach East Prussia.  Because he is Polish, his claims have inherent bias, but he does provide some factual evidence for his argument.

Debicki, Roman.  Foreign Policy of Poland 1919-39:  From the Rebirth of the Polish Republic to World War II.  New York:  Frederick A. Praeger Inc., 1962.

According to Debicki, because they were coming from a history of partition, the Polish people were ecstatic to be united into one state after WWI.  He provides a general survey of Poland’s foreign relations during the Interwar period as the newly independent state navigated the anxious era.  Debicki begins his historical narrative with the German loss of the Corridor to the Polish during the Versailles peace settlement. He details the German political attacks on Poland regarding Danzig and the German minority in the state throughout the 1920s.  Debicki supplies documents from League of Nations meetings to illustrate Germans use of the League to protest and circumvent provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, specifically in regard to the Polish Corridor.  Additionally,  Debicki discusses the rise of volkstumslehere, a policy in which Germans believed German minorities in other countries should have political autonomy.  Debicki’s work can be considered a history of Polish nationalism in relation to the rise of foreign nationalist policies during the Interwar period.  The effects of nationalism are most apparent in the German-Polish territorial debate, thus Debicki gives great attention to this tense, foreign relationship.

Filipowicz, Tytus. “Aide-Memoire:  The Polish Ambassador to the Secretary of State.” Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers 1 (1932):  862-863.

Issued by a Polish Ambassador to the U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, in May 1932, the document claims that the German press is spreading false rumors of Polish aggression towards the German minority in the Corridor.  According to the Ambassador, the Polish government informed the German Chancellor of the false propaganda, yet the fictitious campaigns have not ended.  The Aide-Memoire was followed by a memo to President Hoover from Secretary Stimson regarding a discussion between the Polish Ambassador and Stimson.  Stimson notes that the Polish claim that Germans sent ship fleets to Danzig without informing the Polish government. Additionally, men wearing Nazi insignia attacked Polish marines in late April. Secretary Stimson tells President Hoover that he advised the Polish government to keep calm and to wait to react.  The United States feared unnecessary conflict, thus they attempted to prevent the Polish from using force.  The Aide-Memoire demonstrates Poland’s frustration towards the rise of Nazism and the failure of Germany to accept that the Polish Corridor had become an established part of Poland.

“German-Polish Pact.” World Affairs 97, no. 1 (1934):  17-18.

This 1934 article announces the signing of the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact.  Poland signed the Pact soon after the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The Pact ensures no use of force between the two states can occur for ten years.  Poland considered the Pact the first step in improved relations.  The state hoped to make further agreements regarding trade policies, and more importantly, to protect the Polish Corridor.  The article claims that German press reaction to the treaty is favorable, and Germany realized that it was renouncing claims to the Corridor by signing the Pact. French officials, however, fear the Pact will leave Germany free to concentrate on achieving Anschluss with Austria and the Saar.  The article suggests that mistrust of Germany remains despite World War I ending over ten years ago.  Additionally, because the journal is World Affairs, the article emphasizes foreign interference in German-Polish relations and focuses on the Parisian reaction to the Pact.  Germany and Poland did not necessarily make decisions independently, but, instead, considered foreign powers’ stances on the Corridor issue.

Gorski, Ramon.  “The Polish Corridor-Another Alsace-Lorraine?” Annals of the American Academy of Political Social Science 174 (1934): 126-133.

Gorski wrote this article right after Poland and Germany signed the Non-Aggression Pact in 1934.  He describes the Polish Corridor as an “interesting experiment in postwar nationalism.”  He explains the experiment, saying the Corridor divides Germany, thus it will determine the strength of German nationalism under Hitler.  Gorski notes that German sources place the population levels of the Corridor at near equal numbers, while Polish sources claim Germans only account for 19 percent of the Corridor population.  The states cannot agree on who has a right to the land and unbiased facts are hard to find.  In regard to the 1934 Non-Aggression Pact, Gorski argues that the agreement did not settle the problem, but only postponed it.  Hitler agreed to the Pact to meet other political and economic gains.  Additionally, Gorski discusses the importance of trade between the two states, noting that the trade is both “interdependent and complementary.”  Yet the two states continue to focus on the nationality issue.  Gorski proposes alleviating tensions between the two states by creating greater ease of transport through the Corridor for German trains and trucks and constructing a German-Polish customs union to grant Poland access to the sea through German ports.  As an American scholar, Gorski provides an outsiders perspective on the Corridor conflict.

Moorhouse, Roger. ““The Sore That Would Never Heal:  The Genesis of the Polish Corridor.” Diplomacy & Statecraft  16, no. 3 (2005): 603-613.

Moorhouse argues that the independent state of Poland was doomed from the start because Germany considered the Corridor an injustice from its creation. Poles argued, however, that their historical claim was greater than Germany’s, and Germany would not suffer, except for sentimentally, at the loss of the land.  Moorhouse describes the tense atmosphere at Versailles and notes that the Corridor issue was particularly contention.  The French agreed with the Poles as they had an extreme anti-German prejudice at the time.  The British worried that the Germans would later retaliate for losing their land and that trade between Britain and Germany would be negatively impacted.  But anti-German feelings overcame the British fears, and the Polish Corridor was created.  Moorhouse concludes that the Versailles Treaty covered many issues and did not properly handle the Corridor issue, thus failing to ensure long-lasting peace.

Paderewski, Ignace Jan.  “Poland’s So-Called Corridor.”  Foreign Affairs 11(1932-1933): 420-433.

Written in 1932, Polish politician Paderewski argues German claims to the Polish Corridor are groundless, saying the Corridor has always been Polish and was only incorporated into Germany in 1871.  Paderewski gives a detailed history of the Corridor land including how it received the name “Pomerania” from the Polish word “Pomorze” with “Morze” meaning “the sea.”  Additionally, Paderewski argues, Danzig should have been included in the territory given to Poland under the Versailles settlement because the port city was united with Poland from 1454 to 1793.  He believes the foreign powers were weak in the negotiations and gave into too many of Germany’s wishes.  Paderewski claims that any complaint about the Corridor hindering German travel and trade is false.  Although he does provide some factual evidence such as a Reich report that described travel to East Prussia “without any obstacle,” Paderewski is clearly biased towards his homeland and uses inflamed language when detailing the wrongs of Germany. He often refers to “we Poles” and argues that the Germans only want the Corridor for “prestige.”  His detailed history of the Polish land gives support to his argument, but, ultimately, he loses ground in his moral attacks against Germans that have no factual basis.

“Tension Arising from German-Polish Relations with Respect to the Polish Corridor and Danzig.” Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers 1 (1933): 448-449.

This memo from the Chargé in Germany to the U.S. Secretary of State, dated May 19, 1933, notes that Danzig may be electing Nazis into leadership positions in the next elections, but Poland is exaggerating the chance of Anschluss between Germany and Danzig.  According to the memo, Hitler wishes to maintain peace between Poland and Germany and hopes Poland will help in that endeavor by not contesting the Danzig elections.  The Chargé claims the Nazi Government would never go against the Treaty of Versailles, thus Danzig will remain independent of the German state.  The Chargé claims that the Nazi’s aim is détente, or less hostility, with Poland.  The memo demonstrates Germany’s wish to appear cooperative and peaceful.  The memo reveals that Germany fears the United States will step in to help Poland if the Polish press convinces the U.S. that Germany is breaking the Treaty of Versailles or any subsequent agreements.  Concern with foreign reactions remains a large element in the Polish-German relations, despite the two states’ independence.

Vollmer, Clement.  “A New Polish Corridor.”  Foreign Affairs 12 (1933-1934): 156-160.

Writing in 1934, Vollmer describes a revisionist plan for dealing with the Corridor issue.  He notes that tensions between Germany and Poland increased after the Nazi takeover in Germany.  The new proposal would grant Poland a corridor to the Baltic through German territory, just inside the northeast border of East Prussia.  The plan maintains Poland’s access to the sea, but Poland would have to build a new sea port.  Vollmer notes that the people located in the new corridor would be predominantly German and German-Lithuanian.  This racial issue along with Poland’s historic claims might cause Poland to be against the new proposal; however, the plan would ease tensions with Germany, providing Poland with an ally against the increasingly strong Russia.  Hitler would also have to be convinced to give up a portion of German land, but, Vollmer argues, the promise of retrieving Danzig would convince the Germans to accept the new plan.  The article suggests the high level of tension associated with the Corridor issue and indicates the various considerations each state dealt with in regard to negotiations surrounding the Corridor.

Von Riekhoff, Harald.  German-Polish Relations, 1918-1933.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins Press, 1971.

In his book, Von Reikhoff concludes that the main source of strife between Germany and Poland after 1919 was the Polish Corridor boundary.  The book covers other topics such as economic issues and the effects of Poland’s other state relationships such as those with France and Russia, but a large focus of the book is on the minority issue within the Corridor.  Von Riekhoff notes that the “revisionist” policies of Germany towards the Corridor situation, in which Germany wished to reverse territorial losses, began in a peaceful manner.  The two states held a constant distrust for one another, however, and continually accused each other of prejudice and fraudulence.  Von Riekhoff cites government memos between the two states throughout the book to confirm the continual hostility.  Additionally, he examines various trade agreements made between the two states during the Interwar period such as the commercial accord of 1930.  He suggests that these agreements failed to be successful because of the continuing territorial disputes.  Regardless of these tensions, Von Riekhoff argues that, had the Weimar Republic survived, Germany would have eventually accepted that the Corridor was under Polish control would have no longer pursued revisionism.