Polish Corridor

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The Polish Corridor in 1923-1939 Polish Corridor.PNG
The Polish Corridor in 1923–1939
Majority Polish (green) and German areas in the Corridor (German 1910 census). National map of eastern provinces of German Reich based on official census of 1910.jpg
Majority Polish (green) and German areas in the Corridor (German 1910 census).
Percentage of Poles living on the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth territories, ca. 1900 Polska1912.jpg
Percentage of Poles living on the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth territories, ca. 1900
Map of the land bought by the Preussische Ansiedlungskommision 1905 (shown in green) Preussische Ansiedlungskommision Map (1905) (Photo of the Map).jpg
Map of the land bought by the Preussische Ansiedlungskommision 1905 (shown in green)

The Polish Corridor (German : Polnischer Korridor; Polish : Pomorze, Korytarz polski), also known as the Danzig Corridor, Corridor to the Sea or Gdańsk Corridor, was a territory located in the region of Pomerelia (Pomeranian Voivodeship, eastern Pomerania, formerly part of West Prussia), which provided the Second Republic of Poland (1920–1939) with access to the Baltic Sea, thus dividing the bulk of Germany (Weimar Republic) from the province of East Prussia. The Free City of Danzig (now the Polish city of Gdańsk) was separate from both Poland and Germany. A similar territory, also occasionally referred to as a corridor, had been connected to the Polish Crown as part of Royal Prussia during the period 1466–1772. [1] [2]

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Polish language West Slavic language spoken in Poland

Polish is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group. It is spoken primarily in Poland and serves as the native language of the Poles. In addition to being an official language of Poland, it is also used by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 50 million Polish-language speakers around the world and it is one of the official languages of the European Union.


Pomerelia, also referred to as Eastern Pomerania or as Danzig Pomerania, is a historical region in northern Poland. Pomerelia lay on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, west of the Vistula river and east of the Łeba river. Its biggest city was Gdańsk. Since 1999 the region has formed the core of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. Gdańsk Pomerania is traditionally divided into Kashubia and Kociewie.



According to German historian Hartmut Boockmann the term "Corridor" was first used by Polish politicians, [3] while Polish historian Grzegorz Lukomski writes that the word was coined by German nationalist propaganda of the 1920s. [4] Internationally the term was used in the English language already as early as March 1919 [5] and whatever its origins, it became a widespread term in English language usage. [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Hartmut Boockmann was a German historian, specializing in medieval history.

The equivalent German term is Polnischer Korridor. Polish names include korytarz polski ("Polish corridor") and korytarz gdański ("Gdańsk corridor"); however, reference to the region as a corridor came to be regarded as offensive by interwar Polish diplomats. Among the harshest critics of the term corridor was Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck, who in his May 5, 1939 speech in Sejm (Polish parliament) said: "I am insisting that the term Pomeranian Voivodeship should be used. The word corridor is an artificial idea, as this land has been Polish for centuries, with a small percentage of German settlers". [13] Poles would commonly refer to the region as Pomorze Gdańskie ("Gdańsk Pomerania, Pomerelia") or simply Pomorze ("Pomerania"), or as województwo pomorskie ("Pomeranian Voivodeship"), which was the administrative name for the region.

Józef Beck Polish diplomat and military officer

Józef Beck was a Polish statesman who served the Second Republic of Poland as a diplomat and military officer, and was a close associate of Józef Piłsudski. Beck is most famous for being Polish foreign minister in the 1930s, when he largely set Polish foreign policy.

<i>Sejm</i> lower house of the parliament of Poland

The Sejm of the Republic of Poland is the larger, more powerful lower house of the Polish parliament. It consists of 460 deputies elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the "Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland". In the Kingdom of Poland, "Sejm" referred to the entire two-chamber parliament of Poland, comprising the Chamber of Envoys, the Senate and the King. It was thus a three-estate parliament. Since the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939), "Sejm" has referred only to the larger house of the parliament; the upper house is called the Senat Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej.

Pomerania Place

Pomerania is a historical region on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea in Central Europe, split between Germany and Poland.


History of the area

In the 10th century, Pomerelia was settled by Slavic Pomeranians, ancestors of the Kashubians, who were subdued by Boleslaw I of Poland. In the 11th century, they created an independent duchy. [14] In 1116/1121, Pomerania was again conquered by Poland. In 1138, following the death of Duke Bolesław III, Poland was fragmented into several semi-independent principalities. The Samborides, principes in Pomerelia, gradually evolved into independent dukes, who ruled the duchy until 1294. Before Pomerelia regained independence in 1227, [14] [15] their dukes were vassals of Poland and Denmark. Since 1308, following succession wars between Poland and Brandenburg, Pomerelia was subjugated by the Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia. In 1466, with the second Peace of Thorn, Pomerelia became part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as a part of autonomous Royal Prussia. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772 it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia and named West Prussia, and became a constituent part of the new German Empire in 1871. Thus the Polish Corridor was not an entirely new creation: the territory assigned to Poland had been an integral part of Poland prior to 1772, but with a large degree of autonomy. [16] [17] [18] [19]

Pomeranians (Slavic tribe)

The Pomeranians were a group of West Slavic tribes who lived along the shore of the Baltic Sea between the mouths of the Oder and Vistula Rivers. They spoke the Pomeranian language belonging to the Lechitic branch of the West Slavic language family.

Kashubians ethnic group

The Kashubs are a West Slavic ethnic group native to historical region of Pomerelia (Kashubia) in modern north-central Poland. Their settlement area is referred to as Kashubia. They speak the Kashubian language, which is classified either as a separate language closely related to Polish, or as a Polish dialect. Analogously to their linguistic classification, the Kashubs are considered either an ethnic or a linguistic community.

Bolesław III Wrymouth duke of Poland between 1107 and 1138

Bolesław III Wrymouth, was a Duke of Lesser Poland, Silesia and Sandomierz between 1102 and 1107 and over the whole Poland between 1107 and 1138. He was the only child of Prince Władysław I Herman and his first wife Judith, daughter of Vratislaus II of Bohemia.

Historical population

Perhaps the earliest census data on ethnic or national structure of West Prussia (including areas which later became the Polish Corridor) is from 1819. [20]

Ethnic group Socially defined category of people who identify with each other

An ethnic group, or ethnicity, is a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry or on similarities such as common language, history, society, culture or nation. Ethnicity is usually an inherited status based on the society in which one lives. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art or physical appearance.

National identity is a person's identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. It is the sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, language and politics. National identity may refer to the subjective feeling one shares with a group of people about a nation, regardless of one's legal citizenship status. National identity is viewed in psychological terms as "an awareness of difference", a "feeling and recognition of 'we' and 'they'".

West Prussia province of Prussia

The Province of West Prussia was a province of Prussia from 1773 to 1829 and 1878 to 1922. West Prussia was established as a province of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1773, formed from Royal Prussia of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth annexed in the First Partition of Poland. West Prussia was dissolved in 1829 and merged with East Prussia to form the Province of Prussia, but was re-established in 1878 when the merger was reversed and became part of the German Empire. From 1918, West Prussia was a province of the Free State of Prussia within Weimar Germany, losing most of its territory to the Second Polish Republic and the Free City of Danzig in the Treaty of Versailles. West Prussia was dissolved in 1922, and its remaining western territory was merged with Posen to form Posen-West Prussia, and its eastern territory merged with East Prussia as the Region of West Prussia district.

Ethnic or national structure (Nationalverschiedenheit) of West Prussia in 1819 [20]
Ethnic or national groupPopulation (number)Population (percent)
Poles (Polen)327,30052%
Germans (Deutsche)290,00046%
Jews (Juden)12,7002%

Karl Andree, "Polen: in geographischer, geschichtlicher und culturhistorischer Hinsicht" (Leipzig 1831), gives the total population of West Prussia as 700,000 - including 50% Poles (350,000), 47% Germans (330,000) and 3% Jews (20,000). [21]

Karl Andree German geographer, journalist

Karl Andree was a German geographer.

Allied plans for a corridor in the aftermath of World War I

After the First World War, Poland was to be re-established as an independent state. Since a Polish state had not existed since the Congress of Vienna, the future republic's territory had to be defined.

Giving Poland access to the sea was one of the guarantees proposed by United States President Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points of 1918. The thirteenth of Wilson's points was:

"An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant." [22]

The following arguments were behind the creation of the corridor:

Ethnographic reasons

Ethnic situation was one of the reasons for returning the area to the restored Poland. [23] The majority of the population in the area was Polish. [24] As the Polish commission report to the Allied Supreme Council noted on 12 March 1919: "Finally the fact must be recognised that 600,000 Poles in West Prussia would under any alternative plan remain under German rule". [25] Also, as David Hunter Miller from president Woodrow Wilson's group of experts and academics (known as The Inquiry) noted in his diary from the Paris Peace Conference: "If Poland does not thus secure access to the sea, 600,000 Poles in West Prussia will remain under German rule and 20,000,000 Poles in Poland proper will probably have but a hampered and precarious commercial outlet". [26] The Prussian census of 1910 showed that there were 528,000 Poles (including West Slavic Kashubians, who had supported the Polish national lists in German elections [27] [28] [29] [30] ) in the region compared with 385,000 Germans (including troops and officials stationed in the area). [31] [32] The province of West Prussia as a whole, had between 36% and 43% of ethnic Poles in 1910, depending on source (lower number is based directly on German 1910 census figures, while higher number is based on calculations according to which a large part of people counted as Catholic Germans in the official census, in fact identified as Poles). [33] The Poles did not want the Polish population to remain under the control of the German state, [34] which had in the past treated the Polish population and other minorities as second-class citizens [35] and pursued Germanization. As Professor Lewis Bernstein Namier (1888–1960) born to Jewish parents in Lublin Governorate (Russian Empire, former Congress Poland) and later a British citizen, [36] a former member of the British Intelligence Bureau throughout World War I [37] and the British delegation at the Versailles conference, [38] known for his anti-Polish [39] and anti-German [40] [41] attitude, wrote in the Manchester Guardian on November 7, 1933: "The Poles are the Nation of the Vistula, and their settlements extend from the sources of the river to its estuary. … It is only fair that the claim of the river-basin should prevail against that of the seaboard." [42]

Economic reasons

The Poles held the view that without direct access to the Baltic Sea, Poland's economic independence would be illusory. [43] Around 60.5% of Polish import trade and 55.1% of exports went through the area. [44] The report of the Polish Commission presented to the Allied Supreme Council said:

"1,600,000 Germans in East Prussia can be adequately protected by securing for them freedom of trade across the corridor, whereas it would be impossible to give an adequate outlet to the inhabitants of the new Polish state (numbering 25,000,000) if this outlet had to be guaranteed across the territory of an alien and probably hostile Power." [45]

The United Kingdom eventually accepted this argument. [43] The suppression of the Polish Corridor would have abolished the economic ability of Poland to resist dependence on Germany. [46] As Lewis Bernstein Namier, Professor of Modern History at the University of Manchester and known for both his "legendary hatred of Germany" [40] and Germanophobia [41] as well as his anti-Polish attitude [39] directed against what he defined as the "aggressive, antisemitic and warmongerily imperialist" part of Poland, [47] wrote in a newspaper article in 1933:

"The whole of Poland's transport system ran towards the mouth of the Vistula....
"90% of Polish exports came from her western provinces. [48]
"Cutting through of the Corridor has meant a minor amputation for Germany; its closing up would mean strangulation for Poland.". [49]

By 1938, 77.7% of Polish exports left either through Gdańsk (31.6%) or the newly built port of Gdynia (46.1%) [50]

The Inquiry's opinion

David Hunter Miller in his diary from the Paris Peace Conference noted, that the problem of Polish access to the sea was very difficult because leaving entire Pomerelia under German control meant cutting off millions of Poles from their commercial outlet and leaving several hundred thousand Poles under German rule, while granting such access meant cutting off East Prussia from the rest of Germany. The Inquiry recommended, that both the Corridor and Danzig should have been ceded directly to Poland.

Quote:"It is believed that the lesser of these evils is preferable, and that the Corridor and Danzig should [both] be ceded to Poland, as shown on map 6. East Prussia, though territorially cut off from the rest of Germany, could easily be assured railroad transit across the Polish corridor (a simple matter as compared with assuring port facilities to Poland), and has, in addition, excellent communication via Königsberg and the Baltic Sea. In either case a people is asked to entrust large interests to the League of Nations. In the case of Poland they are vital interests; in the case of Germany, aside from Prussian sentiment, they are quite secondary". [26]

In the end, The Inquiry's recommendations were implemented only partially: most of West Prussia was given to Poland, but Danzig became a Free City.

Incorporation into the Second Polish Republic

During World War I, the Central Powers had forced the Imperial Russian troops out of Congress Poland and Galicia, as manifested in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918. Following the military defeat of Austria-Hungary, an independent Polish republic was declared in Western Galicia on 3 November 1918, the same day Austria signed the armistice. The collapse of Imperial Germany's Western Front, and the subsequent withdrawal of her remaining occupation forces after the Armistice of Compiègne on 11 November allowed the republic led by Roman Dmowski and Józef Piłsudski to seize control over the former Congress Polish areas. Also in November, the revolution in Germany forced the Kaiser's abdication and gave way to the establishment of the Weimar Republic. Starting in December, the Polish-Ukrainian War expanded the Polish republic's territory to include Volhynia and parts of Eastern Galicia, while at the same time the German Province of Posen (where even according to the German made 1910 census 61,5% of the population was Polish) was severed by the Greater Poland uprising, which succeeded in attaching most of the province's territory to Poland by January 1919. This led Weimar's Otto Landsberg and Rudolf Breitscheid to call for an armed force to secure Germany's remaining eastern territories (some of which contained significant Polish minorities, primarily on the former Prussian partition territories). The call was answered by the minister of defense Gustav Noske, who decreed support for raising and deploying volunteer "Grenzschutz" forces to secure East Prussia, Silesia and the Netze District. [51]

On 12 January, the Paris peace conference opened, [52] resulting in the draft of the Treaty of Versailles 28 June 1919. Articles 27 and 28 of the treaty [53] ruled on the territorial shape of the corridor, while articles 89 to 93 ruled on transit, citizenship and property issues. [54] Per the terms of the Versailles treaty, which was put into effect on 20 January 1920, the corridor was established as Poland's access to the Baltic Sea from 70% of the dissolved province of West Prussia, [55] consisting of a small part of Pomerania with around 140 km of coastline including the Hel Peninsula, and 69 km without it. [56]

The primarily German-speaking seaport of Danzig (Gdańsk), controlling the estuary of the main Polish waterway, the Vistula river, became the Free City of Danzig and was placed under the protection of the League of Nations without a plebiscite. [57] After the dock workers of Danzig harbour went on strike at a critical moment during the Polish–Soviet War, refusing to unload ammunition, [58] the Polish Government decided to build a new seaport at Gdynia in the territory of the Corridor, and connected this seaport to the Upper Silesian industrial centers by the newly constructed Polish Coal Trunk Line railways.

Exodus of the German population

A Polish-language poster, illustrating the drop in German population in selected cities of western Poland in the period 1910-1931 Nalot niemczyzny 1910 1931.jpg
A Polish-language poster, illustrating the drop in German population in selected cities of western Poland in the period 1910-1931

The German author Christian Raitz von Frentz writes that after First World War ended, the Polish government tried to reverse the systematic Germanization from former decades. [59] Frederick the Great (King in/of Prussia from 1740 to 1786) settled around 300,000 colonists in the eastern provinces of Prussia and aimed at a removal of the Polish nobility, which he treated with contempt. Frederick also described Poles as "slovenly Polish trash" and compared them to the Iroquois. [60] [61] On the other hand, he encouraged administrators and teachers who could speak both German and Polish. [62] Prussia pursued a second colonization aimed at Germanisation after 1832. [63] The Prussians passed laws aiming at Germanisation of the provinces of Posen and West Prussia in the late 19th century. The Prussian Settlement Commission established a further 154,000 colonists, including locals, in the provinces of Posen and West Prussia before World War I. Military personnel were included in the population census. A number of German civil servants and merchants were introduced to the area, which influenced the population status. [64]

According to Richard Blanke, an American historian of German descent [65] [ specify ], 421,029 Germans lived in the area in 1910, making up 42.5% of the population. [66] Blanke has been criticised by Christian Raitz von Frentz, who has classified his book as part of a series on the subject that has an anti-Polish bias; additionally Polish professor A. Cienciala has described Blanke's views as sympathetic to Germany. [67] In addition to the military personnel included in the population census, a number of German civil-servants and merchants were introduced to the area, which influenced the population mix, according to Andrzej Chwalba. [64] By 1921 the proportion of Germans had dropped to 18.8% (175,771). Over the next decade, the German population decreased by another 70,000 to a share of 9.6%. [68]

German political scientist Stefan Wolff, Professor at the University of Birmingham, says that the actions of Polish state officials after the corridor's establishment followed "a course of assimilation and oppression". [69] As a result, a large number of Germans left Poland after 1918: according to Wolff, 800,000 Germans had left Poland by 1923, [69] according to Gotthold Rhode, 575,000 left the former province of Posen and the corridor after the war, [70] according to Herrmann Rauschning, 800,000 Germans had left between 1918 and 1926, [70] contemporary author Alfons Krysinski estimated 800,000 plus 100,000 from East Upper Silesia, [70] the contemporary German statistics say 592,000 Germans had left by 1921, [70] other Polish scholars say that up to a million Germans left. [70] Polish author Władysław Kulski says that a number of them were civil servants with no roots in the province and around 378,000,[ clarification needed ] and this is to a lesser degree is confirmed by some German sources such as Hermann Rauschning. [71] Lewis Bernstein Namier raised the question as to whether many of the Germans who left were actually settlers without roots in the area - Namier remarked in 1933 "a question must be raised how many of those Germans had originally been planted artificially in that country by the Prussian Government." [72]

The above-mentioned Richard Blanke, in his book Orphans of Versailles, gives several reasons for the exodus of the German population:

Blanke says that official encouragement by the Polish state played a secondary role in the German exodus. [71] Christian Raitz von Frentz notes "that many of the repressive measures were taken by local and regional Polish authorities in defiance of Acts of Parliament and government decrees, which more often than not conformed with the minorities treaty, the Geneva Convention and their interpretation by the League council - though it is also true that some of the central authorities tacitly tolerated local initiatives against the German population." [59] While there were demonstrations and protests and occasional violence against Germans, they were at a local level, and officials were quick to point out that they were a backlash against former discrimination against Poles. [71] There were other demonstrations when Germans showed disloyalty during the Polish-Bolshevik war [71] as the Red Army announced the return to the pre-war borders of 1914. [74] Despite popular pressure and occasional local actions, perhaps as many as 80% of Germans emigrated more or less voluntarily. [71]

Helmut Lippelt writes that Germany used the existence of German minority in Poland for political ends and as part of its revisionist demands, which resulted in Polish countermeasures. Polish Prime Minister Władysław Sikorski stated in 1923 that the de-Germanization of these territories had to be ended by vigorous and quick liquidation of property and eviction of German "Optanten" (Germans who refused to accept Polish citizenship and per the Versailles Treaty were to leave Poland) so that German nationalists would realise that their view of the temporary state of Polish western border was wrong. [75] [ dubious ][ verification needed ] To Lippelt this was partially a reaction to the German claims and partially Polish nationalism, urging to exclude the German element. In turn, anti-Polish prejudice fueled German policy. [75]

Impact on the East Prussian plebiscite

In the period leading up to the East Prussian plebiscite in July 1920, the Polish authorities tried to prevent traffic through the Corridor, interrupting postal, telegraphic and telephone communication. [76] On March 10, 1920, the British representative on the Marienwerder Plebiscite Commission, H.D. Beaumont, wrote of numerous continuing difficulties being made by Polish officials and added "as a result, the ill-will between Polish and German nationalities and the irritation due to Polish intolerance towards the German inhabitants in the Corridor (now under their rule), far worse than any former German intolerance of the Poles, are growing to such an extent that it is impossible to believe the present settlement (borders) can have any chance of being permanent.... It can confidently be asserted that not even the most attractive economic advantages would induce any German to vote Polish. If the frontier is unsatisfactory now, it will be far more so when it has to be drawn on this side (of the river) with no natural line to follow, cutting off Germany from the river bank and within a mile or so of Marienwerder, which is certain to vote German. I know of no similar frontier created by any treaty." [76]

Impact on German through-traffic

The German Ministry for Transport established the Seedienst Ostpreußen ("Sea Service East Prussia") in 1922 to provide a ferry connection to East Prussia, now a German exclave, so that it would be less dependent on transit through Polish territory.

Connections by train were also possible by "sealing" the carriages ( Korridorzug ), i.e. passengers were not forced to apply for an official Polish visa in their passport; however, the rigorous inspections by the Polish authorities before and after the sealing were strongly feared by the passengers. [77]

In May 1925 a train, passing through the Corridor on its way to East Prussia, crashed because the spikes had been removed from the tracks for a short distance and the fishplates unbolted. 25 persons, including 12 women and 2 children, were killed, some 30 others were injured. [78]

Land reform of 1925

According to Polish Historian Andrzej Chwalba, during the rule of the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire various means were used to increase the amount of land owned by Germans at the expense of the Polish population. In Prussia, the Polish nobility had its estates confiscated after the Partitions, and handed over to German nobility. [79] The same applied to Catholic monasteries. [79] Later, the German Empire bought up land in an attempt to prevent the restoration of a Polish majority in Polish inhabited areas in its eastern provinces. [80] Christian Raitz von Frentz notes that measures aimed at reversing past Germanization included the liquidation of farms settled by the German government during the war under the 1908 law. [59]

In 1925 the Polish government enacted a land reform program with the aim of expropriating landowners. [81] While only 39% of the agricultural land in the Corridor was owned by Germans, [81] the first annual list of properties to be reformed included 10,800 hectares from 32 German landowners and 950 hectares from seven Poles. [81] The voivode of Pomorze, Wiktor Lamot, stressed that "the part of Pomorze through which the so-called corridor runs must be cleansed of larger German holdings". [81] The coastal region "must be settled with a nationally conscious Polish population.... Estates belonging to Germans must be taxed more heavily to encourage them voluntarily to turn over land for settlement. Border counties... particularly a strip of land ten kilometers wide, must be settled with Poles. German estates that lie here must be reduced without concern for their economic value or the views of their owners'. [81]

Prominent politicians and members of the German minority were the first to be included on the land reform list and to have their property expropriated. [81]

Weimar German interests

The creation of the corridor aroused great resentment in Germany, and all post-war German Weimar governments refused to recognize the eastern borders agreed at Versailles, and refused to follow Germany's acknowledgment of its western borders in the Treaty of Locarno of 1925 with a similar declaration with respect to its eastern borders. [69]

Institutions in Weimar Germany supported and encouraged German minority organizations in Poland, in part radicalized by the Polish policy towards them, in filing close to 10,000 complaints about violations of minority rights to the League of Nations. [69]

Poland in 1931 declared her commitment to peace, but pointed out that any attempt to revise its borders would mean war. Additionally, in conversation with U.S. President Herbert Hoover, Polish delegate Filipowicz noted that any continued provocations by Germany could tempt the Polish side to invade, in order to settle the issue once and for all. [82]

Nazi German and Polish diplomacy

The Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, took power in Germany in 1933. Hitler at first ostentatiously pursued a policy of rapprochement with Poland, [83] culminating in the ten-year Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1934. In the years that followed, Germany placed an emphasis on rearmament, as did Poland and other European powers. [84] [85] Despite this, the Nazis were able to achieve their immediate goals without provoking armed conflict: in 1938 Nazi Germany annexed Austria and the Sudetenland after the Munich Agreement. In October 1938, Germany tried to get Poland to join the Anti-Comintern Pact. Poland refused, as the alliance was rapidly becoming a sphere of influence of an increasingly powerful Germany. [86]

Following negotiations with Hitler on the Munich Agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain reported that, "He told me privately, and last night he repeated publicly, that after this Sudeten German question is settled, that is the end of Germany's territorial claims in Europe". [87] Almost immediately following the agreement, however, Hitler reneged on it. The Nazis increased their requests for the incorporation of the Free City of Danzig into the Reich, citing the "protection" of the German majority as a motive. [88] In November 1938, Danzig's district administrator, Albert Forster, reported to the League of Nations that Hitler had told him Polish frontiers would be guaranteed if the Poles were "reasonable like the Czechs." German State Secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker reaffirmed this alleged guarantee in December 1938. [89]

The situation regarding the Free City and the Polish Corridor created a number of headaches for German and Polish Customs. [90] The Germans requested the construction of an extra-territorial Reichsautobahn freeway (to complete the Reichsautobahn Berlin-Königsberg ) and railway through the Polish Corridor, effectively annexing Polish territory and connecting East Prussia to Danzig and Germany proper, while cutting off Poland from the sea and its main trade route. If Poland agreed, in return they would extend the non-aggression pact for 25 years. [91]

This seemed to conflict with Hitler's plans[ clarification needed ] and with Poland's rejection of the Anti-Comintern Pact, and his desire either to isolate or to gain support against the Soviet Union. [91] German newspapers in Danzig and Nazi Germany played an important role in inciting nationalist sentiment: headlines buzzed about how Poland was misusing its economic rights in Danzig and German Danzigers were increasingly subjugated to the will of the Polish state. [88] At the same time, Hitler also offered Poland additional territory as an enticement, such as the possible annexation of Lithuania, the Memel Territory, Soviet Ukraine and Czech inhabited lands. [92] [93] However, Polish leaders continued to fear for the loss of their independence and a fate like that of Czechoslovakia, [93] which had yielded the Sudetenland to Germany in October 1938, only to be invaded by Germany in March 1939. Some felt that the Danzig question was inextricably tied to the problems in the Polish Corridor and any settlement regarding Danzig would be one step towards the eventual loss of Poland's access to the sea. [88] Hitler's credibility outside Germany was very low after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, though some British and French politicians approved of a peaceful revision of the corridor's borders. [94]

In 1939, Nazi Germany made another attempt to renegotiate the status of Danzig; [89] [95] [96] Poland was to retain a permanent right to use the seaport if the route through the Polish Corridor was to be constructed. [95] However, the Polish administration distrusted Hitler and saw the plan as a threat to Polish sovereignty, practically subordinating Poland to the Axis and the Anti-Comintern Bloc while reducing the country to a state of near-servitude as its entire trade would be dependent on Germany. [97] [98] Robert Coulondre, the French ambassador in Berlin in a dispatch to the Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet wrote on 30 April 1939 that Hitler sought: "...a mortgage on Polish foreign policy, while itself retaining complete liberty of action allowing the conclusion of political agreements with other countries. In these circumstances, the new settlement proposed by Germany, which would link the questions of Danzig and of the passage across the Corridor with counterbalancing questions of a political nature, would only serve to aggravate this mortgage and practically subordinate Poland to the Axis and the Anti-Comintern Bloc. Warsaw refused this in order to retain its independence." [99]

Hitler used the issue of the status city as pretext for attacking Poland, while explaining during a high level meeting of German military officials in May 1939 that his real goal is obtaining Lebensraum for Germany, isolating Poles from their Allies in the West and afterwards attacking Poland, thus avoiding the repeat of the Czech situation. [100] [101] [102] [103] [104]

Ultimatum of 1939

A revised and less favorable proposal came in the form of an ultimatum delivered by the Nazis in late August, after the orders had already been given to attack Poland on September 1, 1939. Nevertheless, at midnight on August 29, Joachim von Ribbentrop handed British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson a list of terms that would allegedly ensure peace in regard to Poland. Danzig was to return to Germany and there was to be a plebiscite in the Polish Corridor; Poles who had been born or had settled there since 1919 would have no vote, while all Germans born but not living there would. An exchange of minority populations between the two countries was proposed. If Poland accepted these terms, Germany would agree to the British offer of an international guarantee, which would include the Soviet Union. A Polish plenipotentiary, with full powers, was to arrive in Berlin and accept these terms by noon the next day. The British Cabinet viewed the terms as "reasonable," except the demand for a Polish Plenipotentiary, which was seen as similar to Czechoslovak President Emil Hácha accepting Hitler's terms in mid-March 1939.

When Ambassador Józef Lipski went to see Ribbentrop on August 30, he was presented with Hitler’s demands. However, he did not have the full power to sign and Ribbentrop ended the meeting. News was then broadcast that Poland had rejected Germany's offer. [89]

Nazi German invasion – end of the corridor

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland German forces defeated the Polish Pomorze Army, which had been tasked with the defense of this region, and captured the corridor during the Battle of Tuchola Forest by September 5. Other notable battles took place at Westerplatte, the Polish post office in Danzig, Oksywie, and Hel.

Ethnic composition

Most of the area was inhabited by Poles, Germans, and Kashubians. The census of 1910 showed that there were 528,000 Poles (including West Slavic Kashubians) compared to 385,000 Germans in the region. [31] The census included German soldiers stationed in the area as well as public officials sent to administer the area. Since 1886, a Settlement Commission was set up by Prussia to enforce German settlement [105] while at the same time Poles, Jews and Germans migrated west during the Ostflucht. [106] In 1921 the proportion of Germans in Pomerania (where the Corridor was located) was 18.8% (175,771). Over the next decade, the German population decreased by another 70,000 to a share of 9.6%. [68] There was also a Jewish minority. in 1905, Kashubians numbered about 72,500. [107] After the occupation by Nazi Germany, a census was made by the German authorities in December 1939. 71% of people declared themselves as Poles, 188,000 people declared Kashubian as their language, 100,000 of those declared themselves Polish. [108]

German Population in the Polish Corridor as of 1921 according to
Richard Blanke, Orphans of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland 1918-1939, 1993 [109]
CountyTotal populationof which GermanPercentage
Działdowo (Soldau)23,2908,18734.5% (35.2%)
Lubawa (Löbau)59,7654,4787.6%
Brodnica (Strasburg)61,1809,59915.7%
Wąbrzeźno (Briesen)47,10014,67831.1%
Toruń (Thorn)79,24716,17520.4%
Chełmno (Kulm)46,82312,87227.5%
Świecie (Schwetz)83,13820,17824.3%
Grudziądz (Graudenz)77,03121,40127.8%
Tczew (Dirschau)62,9057,85412.5%
Wejherowo (Neustadt)71,6927,85711.0%
Kartuzy (Karthaus)64,6315,0377.8%
Kościerzyna (Berent)49,9359,29018.6%
Starogard Gdański (Preußisch Stargard)62,4005,9469.5%
Chojnice (Konitz)71,01813,12918.5%
Tuchola (Tuchel)34,4455,66016.4%
Sępólno Krajeńskie (Zempelburg)27,87613,43048.2%
(922,476 when added)
(19.1% with 922,476)

The former corridor area after World War II

The Oder-Neisse line Oder-neisse.gif
The Oder–Neisse line

At the 1945 Potsdam Conference following the German defeat in World War II, Poland's borders were reorganized at the insistence of the Soviet Union, which occupied the entire area. Territories east of the Oder-Neisse line, including Danzig, were put under Polish administration. The Potsdam Conference did not debate about the future of the territories that were part of western Poland before the war, including the corridor. It automatically became part of the reborn state in 1945.

German residents were expelled to the Soviet occupation zone, which later became East Germany.

The corridor in literature

In The Shape of Things to Come , published in 1933, H. G. Wells predicted that the corridor would be the starting point of a future Second World War.

See also

Similar corridors

Other land corridors linking a country either to the sea or to a remote part of the country are:

Related Research Articles

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1920 East Prussian plebiscite peace treaty

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History of Pomerania (1806–1933)

History of Pomerania (1806–1933) covers the history of Pomerania from the early 19th century until the rise of Nazi Germany.


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Coordinates: 54°21′N18°20′E / 54.350°N 18.333°E / 54.350; 18.333