Nazis. A symbolical picture taken in the streets of a German city at the time when the Nazi movement was in its infancy.



Where and when resounded the first shots of the Second World War? This is a fact exact to a minute. According to historians it happened on 1 September 1939 at 4:45, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein at anchor in Danzig, which arrived a few days before under the guise of courtesy visit, opened fire on Polish outpost on Westerplatte. But the roots of the conflict have their beginning in more distant history; perhaps in the last battles of the First World War.

The political and military leaders of defeated in 1918 Germany not for a moment had reconciled with creation of Poland, Czechoslovakia and other independent states of East Europe. Not for a moment had they renounced Posnania, East Pomerania, Upper Silesia. Centuries-old Drang nach Osten, drive to the east, since the beginning of the 19th century became more and more strictly a canon of the Germans' foreign policy. After 1918 on their way stood a Polish barrier. And Germany's European policy was vastly a policy of attempts to break that barrier.

It began just then, when the Reich grovelled before the victors of the First World War. In face of advancing to the Rhine French army, supported by large British and American expeditionary forces, it was out of question either to keep African colonies or Alsace and Lorraine. Due to victors' decision the lands behind the Rhine, grabbed yet in 1870, were to return to France. But the determination of the victors, perpetrating a new division of Europe, did not encompass equally exactly other territories. In Inter-Allied Commission, ordering about the peace conference in Versailles near Paris, Polish delegation had presented in January 1919 demands concerning the western frontiers of its country. Namely the Poles demanded the territories of Lower Silesia as far as to Neisse, Grottkau and Brieg; they demanded in East Pomerania territories to Stolp, Neustettin and Deutsch-Krone, and in East Prussia they demanded Allenstein and Ermland. Victorious powers rejected those demands: Kattowitz and Konigshutte, Lissa and Rawitsch, Bromberg and Konitz, and finally a scrap of the Baltic coast fell to Poland not due to decisions of Versailles politicasters, but in effect of armed rebellions of Polish inhabitants of those areas, in effect of Poznan and three Silesian uprisings.

But not everywhere the Poles managed to decide about their status. In north to the capital of the country had emerged like a festering abscess the monstrous East Prussian enclave. Polish exit to the sea became blocked by creation of the Free City of Danzig. Why did it happen so, why Poland became overpowered? Well, the victors did not need strong Poland. The British, who for centuries had been afraid of the French hegemony on European continent, immediately after the Germany's defeat decided to defend German possessions. In independent Poland they could see only a French satellite, strengthening France just by its existence. The leading British politicians at the time, Prime Minister David Lloyd George, foreign minister Arthur Balfour, his successor George Curzon, were bargaining every county, which might fall to Poland. The French, certainly, supported Poland, but under grave provisions. They needed Poland capable to hold Germany at bay from the east, but remaining their completely submissive instrument of political game in East Europe.

German politicians had perfect understanding of the victors' intentions. They understood controversies splitting the tenacity of the Allied block. In the West they waved resistance. But in the East armed bands rushed against Polish towns and villages. Later, when the Polish border had strengthened, the whole effort focused on economic struggle. Even during the most critical days of newly formed German republic, which almost lost herself in the chaos of economic crisis. They undertook so-called customs war against Poland, attempting to block Polish trade with the West. Those were the years when German armed forces could not exceed a number of hundred thousand men, when the Poles could with just a single blow seize Berlin, and German politicians tried to ruin Poland economically.

Not just economically though. The German diplomacy of 1920s persisted in démarches, favourably watched in London, to win France. Unfortunately those démarches were accepted in Paris with growing sympathy. Thus in 1925 it came in Locarno to signature of treaties guaranteeing Germany's western frontiers. It got since then guarantees of Great Britain and Italy, whereas the eastern frontier was left without such guarantees. This way, at the price of illusive, as it had to turn protection of French and Belgian frontiers, the Germans were given a full liberty in the East. They could not wish more at the time.

The years after Locarno were the years of incessant, open or insidious, German attacks against the eastern neighbours, the years of border provocations, intrigues and embittering against them in League of Nations, setting Danzig townsfolk at variance, a wide-scale anti-Polish propaganda. In face of all those openly hostile actions Poland and Czechoslovakia had to stay alone. The pacts signed with France by Poland in 1921 and Czechoslovakia in 1923 turned a fiction; the French had not a slightest intention to support seriously their eastern allies. In such state of matters relations between Paris and Warsaw and Prague had dulled with an evident harm to a question of security in Europe. In 1931 a devoted friend of France, Gen. Władysław Sikorski, warned that the normalization of relations between France and Germany at the price of Poland would in effect bring France's political and military suicide. Those were prophetic words; almost completely ignored by the French. They had to sober down later but too late.

Cold winds blowing from Paris confirmed Poland's dictator Józef Piłsudski in his extraordinary political seclusion. The basis of his foreign policy was constituted by an idea of a balance between both neighbouring powers, the western and the eastern one, without a settlement with them. Of course the rapprochement with Germany in 1920s was out of question due to Germans' policy; it could be accomplished only through the complete liege of Poland. The rapprochement with the Soviet Union was excluded by Piłsudski himself. But in the policy of balance existed an imminent factor: reconstruction of Germany's military might. In such situation Poland could not go without a strong ally.

Piłsudski's distrust towards the Russians grew up not only on the ground of the typical Polish anti-Russian paranoia, but also of fundamental political differences. For short, there were plenty of elements freezing mutual relations. From the other hand revolutionary Russia too, building a new state literally from the beginning, was not in hurry to rapprochement with western political structures, confining herself to maintenance of diplomatic relations and trade limited to the most urgent needs. But in September 1930 the NSDAP, the party of a hitherto unknown to anybody pub shouter, introduced to the German parliament, the Reichstag, as many as 10 deputies. It was an alarming signal, almost totally ignored in West Europe. Whereas in East Europe it was understood properly. In that part of the world the programme formulated in Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf was not regarded for just a collection of bizarre ideas of a political maniac. Those ideas too truly matched the tendencies expressed since long by the slogan Drang nach Osten. The contacts between Warsaw and Moscow quickened. After long talks the Polish-Soviet non-aggression pact was concluded in January and signed in July 1932. The same month Hitler's party introduced to the Reichstag 230 deputies and formed the strongest parliamentary faction. The Soviet-Polish rapprochement was marked by visits of journalists and writers, growth of trade, mutual visits of naval and air squadrons. It is significant, that this rapprochement, although very moderated, caused in Paris only wry faces. France needed Poland helplessly entangled in border conflicts, deprived of any but the French support and thus doomed to the role of a French satellite.

On 30 January 1933 Hitler gained the power getting the post of chancellor, namely the prime-minister of the German Reich's government. One of the first his statements on this post was an interview given to the London Sunday Express. In that interview the Treaty of Versailles became called a "burden not only to Germany", whereas the Polish rule over Pomerania, separating Berlin from its East Prussian enclave, the new chancellor condescended to call a "disgraceful injustice". He did not fail to add, that Germany expected in the nearest future the return of the Polish Corridor, which is like a strip of flesh cut from our body. [Toland J. (1981).] The British press immediately joined the tone of German propaganda, incessantly claiming, that the population of Pomerania was mainly German. The French press assumed however, with minor exceptions, that the German impudence exceeded that time acceptable limits. The French had very critically judged Hitler's statement. In effect he completely called off his words. The German press published an official démenti, in which it stated that an English journalist had altered the interlocutor's words. From the point of view of diplomatic protocol the affair was finished this way. But the interested parties already knew, that was just the beginning. Although, actually, not all the interested parties. André François-Poncet, who had conducted Germanic studies, a pre-war French ambassador in Berlin of many years, wrote in his memoirs the following opinion, concerning the very year 1932:
Was the Reichswehr inclined to war? Did it harbor intentions of conquest and hegemony in Europe? At this particular period it showed no such trend. Its sole grievance seemed to be against Poland; its great dream the suppression of the Polish Corridor; for the rest it argued only of Reich security and of the defense of Reich territory. [François-Poncet A. (1972).]
These words about the modesty, of which the Germans intended "just" to tear out Poland's lungs, about German claims limited "just" to Poland were not written by a spoony humorist; they were written by a serious French politician, long time representing his country's interests at the one of the most important agencies abroad. What can be said about it? If on top of it all one takes into consideration that the quoted part was formulated after the war and after the two years' internment by the Germans? Apparently François-Poncet simply did not learn and did not understand anything. Especially he did not understand that ease, with which the Reichswehr, namely the German army, gave itself to Hitler. He did not understand that to the German military Hitler was a saviour, politically opening the ways of military conquests. The History of Human Stupidity - this is the title of the work, which is not yet created, but one day will have to be devoted to activities of all those numerous prime-ministers, ministers, ambassadors and generals, whose naїveté and short-sightedness made a major contribution towards Hitler's efforts.