No Second World War?

Too late to stop the physical, spiritual, financial and demographic devastation of one World War, a man built a legacy advocating a relationship that nearly prevented a Second.

It wasn't
the Polish leader, Józef Piłsudski, who turned down an alliance with Germany and, according to Polish historian Bohdan Urbankowski and Professor George H. Quester [1], tried to get France to declare war on Germany in the early 1930s; nor was Polish leader Edward Rydz-Śmigły, who allegedly had himself painted parading through the German capital in the 30s and, instead of considering Germany's peaceful solutions for Danzig, lobbied for war [2].

It also wasn't the German leader Adolf Hitler, who, after numerous attempts to form an alliance with the Poles and negotiate the status of the Free City of Danzig, called for the invasion of Poland and, after the victory, never made a peace offer to Poland's early war allies.





1939: German troops invade Poland...





...and enter the Free City of Danzig





"Danzig grüßt seinen Führer"
(Danzig welcomes its leader)




It was Władysław Studnicki - a name few have ever heard of. Studnicki's political career began during the First World War as an activist for Polish independence. Favoring cooperation with Germany, his effort to construct a lasting German-Polish friendship won the attention of German Vice-Chancellor Mathias Erzberger. According to Erzberger, Studnicki was "the spiritual father of the Act of November 5th" - the plan in which Germany had promised to rebuild Poland as an independent state in response for cooperation in the rest of the war. Unfortunately for Studnicki and the Germans, most of the movers and shakers in Poland did not trust the Germans and became a hindrance to the German war effort instead of an asset. Meanwhile, the brunt of Polish nationalists disrupted German supply lines stretching into Russia and advocated disorder in the streets of Polish cities. Studnicki believed the chance for a mutually-beneficial partnership had been squandered. However, the experience influenced his post-war thinking.

After the war, in The Political System of Europe and Poland, Studnicki declared:
"Poland and Germany should become the basis of a huge power block in Central Europe which includes Austria, Hungary, the Czech lands, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, and the Baltic states - approximately 200 million people [...] To establish its power, the Germans in Germany and Austria should be consolidated into one state. To the east, the Polish minorities should be incorporated into Poland, and Poland and Hungary should work to find a common border. These are the intermediate cells necessary for the creation of a viable block of Central European power."

The international elites had other ideas: namely, keeping Central Europe divided into multiple multi-ethnic states and incapable of challenging the economic power wielded by the United Kingdom or France which, incidentally, also suited Italy. 

Nevertheless, things eventually moved in the direction advocated by Studnicki. In 1938, Germany annexed Austria and, to the east, engineered the breakup of the newly created "Czecho-Slovakia" state, the multi-ethnic post-war state in between Poland and Hungary. It had contained 100,000 Poles, 720,000 Hungarians, 560,000 Ruthenes, 2.3 million Slovaks, over 7.5 million Czechs and roughly 3.2 million Germans. With the breakup, Germany absorbed the Sudetenland, Poland took a Polish-populated region called Zaolzie and Hungary grabbed a chunk of land containing ethnic Hungarians. The rest of "Czecho-Slovakia", including Bohemia/Moravia and Slovakia, was carved into German protectorates and a client state with German influence, respectively.

Of course, the Germans had forced
the Czechs into capitulation which, according to Studnicki, led to negative reactions in Polish society. Furthermore, Studnicki lamented that the breakup of "Czecho-Slovakia" had not established a common Polish border with Hungary.  Still, despite the "errors" of German policy, Studnicki continued to support the creation of the Central European bloc built around Germany:


"[In my research,] I tried to show that the existence of Central block is justified economically and politically by the fact that Germany is the main market and sourcing for all the Central European countries. The investment of German heavy industry and machinery determines the economic strength of Polish, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. and, in this way, a system built around Germany is favorable to Polish interests."

Meanwhile, Germany pressed for a revision to the German-Polish border along ethnographic lines and pushed for Poland to allow the Free City of Danzig's incorporation into Germany.
In lieu of these events, in 1939, the United Kingdom "guaranteed" to defend Poland's territorial integrity. Studnicki did not welcome the offer; instead, he feared the United Kingdom was trying to put Poland in its corner for a war that would be about keeping Central Europe weak. Studnicki felt an armed conflict between Germany and Poland would be a disaster for the Polish people and lead to the destruction of the potential for Central Europe. "By participating in the upcoming war, we have nothing to gain but everything to lose," Studnicki said.

Thus, Studnicki argued that Poland should find a long-term solution with Germany; to him, that meant letting the Germans have Danzig, the semi-independent, German-populated city which was in a customs union with Poland. Studnicki proposed that, in return, Poland demand only a continuation of the right to utilize the city economically. He also wanted Poland to allow Germany to build a highway and railway line through Poland to connect East Prussia to Germany proper. According to Studnicki, this was in Poland's best interests, anyway.


On April 13, 1939, Studnicki sent a letter to Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck in which he warned that the adoption of the British "guarantee" would throw the Republic of Poland into a war with Germany. In the brief, Studnicki argued that the United Kingdom was using Poland to bait Germany into a war. He warned that the "guarantee" did not strengthen Poland's position because, in the event of a sudden German-Polish war, it would take a considerable amount of time for the forces of the United Kingdom to arrive and be any sort of factor in the conflict. He predicted that Germany would, at the very least, overrun part of Silesia and Pomerania and these key regions would be badly torn up by the conflict. Moreover, as Germany's hegemony had expanded since Studnicki had proposed the alliance, it was also apparent to him that Poland could not win the engagement. 

In June 1939, Studnicki published his last work, In the Coming Second World War and predicted future events flawlessly. The publication was widely repressed by pro-British and anti-German censors. In the work, he again proposed that, in order to avoid war, Polish diplomats should come to an agreement with Germany. He claimed that the tensions between the Polish and the Germans was not about Gdańsk or the "Corridor", but about whose side Poland would take in an upcoming conflict between Germany and the United Kingdom. He proposed a pact with Germany to prevent Poland from being a ball in a UK-Germany tennis match:

"Today, the matter of Danzig and the highway across Poland into German East Prussia is not crucial to the war, or even peace. Rather, the critical point is whether Germany will be convinced that Poland, in the event of a new German-British war, would be active against Germany. The probability of a neutral Poland or a Poland in alliance with Germany is something that the Soviets would also like to consider as a factor before making their move."
Indeed, Studnicki believed an agreement with the Germans was, above everything else, justified due to the fear of the Soviet Union. Just as the United Kingdom's "guarantee" could do little to prevent the German army from wreaking havoc across a good portion of Poland, the "guarantee" was no weapon to stop the Soviet Union from steamrolling across Poland. Not only was the United Kingdom too far away to help, but Germany was certain to be open to an agreement with the Soviet Union if, first of all, it could acquire the territory it wanted and second of all, it would make the United Kingdom even more helpless to act. Finally, by stepping into the United Kingdom's corner, Poland would be declaring itself Germany's enemy and trigger Germany to think of precisely those two actions. By contrast, a pact with Germany would shield Poland against the Soviets. He argued that a conflict alongside the United Kingdom against Germany, even if won, would leave Central Europe easy prey for the Soviets. Finally, Studnicki knew that, if Poland did not accept the "guarantee" from the United Kingdom, the Germans were likely to reach out to Poland so as to avoid being boxed in later if Poland were to change its mind. Studnicki rationalized that these circumstances  would give Poland leverage in negotiation. Otherwise, Germany would find its solution, involving the Soviet Union. 

Had Poland rejected the "guarantee" and gone on to sign an alliance with Germany, would it have been able to protect Europe from the terrible war and communism?
Was peace possible with National Socialist Germany? Many times, historians have tried to answer these questions. The controversy continues to this day and the answer remains a mystery. In recent years, a growing number of Polish historians and academic scholars have considered Studnicki's claims. For example, Professor Andrzej Piskozub calls Studnicki "a wise Pole"; well-known historians
Jerzy Łojek and Pawła Wieczorkiewicz have also considered Studnicki's ideas and themselves argued that a possible alliance between Poland and Germany against the Soviet Union could have protected the country from the ravages of war and communism. Like the sources that bemoan the decision not to launch a preventive war against Germany, Łojek and Wieczorkiewicz regret the lack of initiative - only in their opinion, it should have been made to form and alliance with Germany and help take down the Soviet Union. Either way, the consensus seems to be that Poland knew the Second World War was about to erupt and, for better or worse, chose its side.

Should it have chosen otherwise?
Journalist Tomasz Gabiś, the editor of the New Debates, put in his book Imperial Games the bold claim that, if Poland had reached an agreement with Germany in 1939, the war probably would not have happened because France and the United Kingdom would not have had a casus belli for war that their respective populations would have accepted.
Perhaps even more importantly, had Poland agreed to Germany's Anti-Comintern Pact, a German-Polish Central European power block would have been created more than four years before Germany reached out to Russia and signed the Nazi-Soviet pact that created a different power bloc. This bloc allowed the Soviets to swallow the Baltic states and for Poland's division. The bloc also made it nearly logical for Germany to risk war with the United Kingdom to get the disputed territories in Poland - all without the compromise of previous offers. According to Gabiś, the Nazi-Soviet pact, called the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, probably never would have come into existence if Poland had not chosen the "guarantee" from the United Kingdom. But it did. A few short weeks later, Poland was invaded by Germany and Russia, and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. It did little else. On all accounts, Studnicki had been right.

During the German occupation of Poland, Studnicki hoped to continue to play a role. Known for assisting the German minority in Poland before the war, he hoped to have some bargaining power.
 Iin general, Studnicki had little luck. However, Studnicki was able to help Bolesław Piasecki, a pre-war Polish nationalist of the "Falangi" movement, who was able to obtain freedom from German officials.

In November 1939, Studnicki wrote his Memorandum on the restoration of the Polish Army for the coming of the German-Soviet conflict.
In the document, he proposed the creation of a Polish army that would fight alongside Germany against the common enemy which, for him, was still the Soviet Union. Also, Studnicki called for the creation of a Polish-run government: "Building an army requires the existence of the Polish Government, even provisional, as a dependent factor for the emerging army" - he wrote.

In January 1940, Studnicki issued his Memorial to the German Government on the policy of occupation in Poland, which expressed his opposition to the treatment of the ethnic Polish population and the terror methods used by the German occupation authorities.
He urged for a cessation of repressions against Polish nationalist propagandists for their anti-German activities prior to the war. In his plea, Studnicki stated that Germany's policy had lead to the growth of the growing hostility in Poland and prevented the development of Polish-German coexistence, which he continued to regard as critical in "the upcoming German-Soviet war". In taking Germany's side, Studnicki hoped Germany would return Poland's statehood. He also envisioned a fully pro-German Polish army seizing the "former Polish lands" which were in Soviet hands, and restoring the ownership of these areas to the Polish peasants who had fled the country to escape Stalin's collective farm policies. In the joint-assault on the Soviets, Studnicki foresaw the Poles filling up the Dnieper River area, and the Germans, the Don and the Caucasus. He also called for the resurrection of the Republic of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. 

Needless to say, Studnicki's manuscript was confiscated by the German authorities and banned from distribution. After a personal interview with the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Studnicki was interned in a sanatorium in Babelsberg. After the intervention of Hermann Göring, he was released, reincarcerated at "Pawiak" in Poland and, in 1942, released once again at the insistence of a Hungarian ambassador. Conclusively Studnicki's attempt to influence German policy had failed, just as his attempt to influence Polish affairs. 

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the German treatment of the Poles in occupation worsened. Studnicki focused on the prevention of Polish uprisings, as these acts had led to harsher repercussions for the Poles under occupation and led to many deaths. Studnicki criticized the Polish underground sabotage operations in service to the Soviet Union, not only because of the greater chance for revenge by the German authorities but, even more importantly, because of the ensuing threat of the Soviet occupation. According to Studnicki, this would be even more devastating for the Polish people than what they were experiencing at the time.

As the momentum swung against Germany in the Soviet Union, shortages increased and conditions in Poland grew worse. Civil unrest trigged violence and brutality. Ration plans were abandoned and labor camps became sites of mass extermination.

After the Soviets routed the Germans and took possession of Poland, Studnicki fled and went into exile in Italy. Soon thereafter, he fled to the United Kingdom. 

Before his death in 1953, Studnicki produced a piece for the publication Wiadomości Polskich (Polish News), which included his memories of the Second World War and an attempt to explain and justify his attitude towards Germany. It was titled: "The tragic days." The editor of the publication, Mieczyslaw Grydzewski, refused to print it with Studnicki's original title, "Why I was not a Polish Traitor".

After the rebirth of the Polish state in 1989,
Krzysztof Skubiszewski became the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. For fifteen years, begin in 1950, Skubiszewski had attended secret meetings with Studnicki and others in England on the subject of Poland's independence. It was here that, once again, Studnicki had predicted Poland's fate:

"Poland will either be one of the Soviet republics, or a member of a Europe in which Germany will play a prominent role. So there are objective grounds for Polish-German agreement in the near future."


Precisely what Studnicki had wanted all along. In review, to retain economic power, Poland ignored Studnicki's proposal to negotiate with Germany over German Danzig's status. Now, the Polish state is on the receiving end of the European Union's budget and dependent on the prosperity of the German economy; to avoid political subordination and Germanization, Poland refused to make an agreement with Germany. Now, the Poles are chained to the European Union, a non-democratic apparatus that does not cater to Polish interests, has no Polish identity and offers little protection for the continued existence of an ethnic Polish community; as for Germany, it was once seen as the embodiment of a new age, set to secure Europe's lasting place in the sun.  Now, Germany leads a tired Europe that, spiritually, economically and demographically, is in shambles. This is not the union Studnicki called for, it is too late for that. So, with the benefit of hindsight: should the governments of Germany and Poland have listened to Studnicki?

Adapted and translated from a Polish language text by Gawel Strządała, Nowa Debata

Comments

  1. Very nice piece. Thanks.

    Everything we read in this essay shows this Studnicki to have been correct:

    "Studnicki argued that a war was not in the interest of Germany or Poland, since a war in Western Europe involving Central Europe would leave Central Europe an easy prey for the Soviets"

    That one was right.

    "Poland will either be one of the Soviet republics, or a member of a Europe in which Germany will play a prominent role." [Apparently a direct quote from the man in 1950(?)].

    That one was right on both points, and continues to be right (as is pointed out in the last paragraph vis-a-vis the EU).

    Poland may be a source of hope in the future, though, as a Western bastion (in effect they are more Western than Eastern) peopled by Europeans. Its Cold-War-American-sphere neighbors to the West continue 'diversifying' at a rapid rate, but its share of non-Europeans remains quite low.

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  2. The movement for a "free Poland" after the 18th century partitions gained strength by rallying around common regional culture and polarizing and demonizing the occupiers who did not belong to that culture; similarly, the shrinking of Germany after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 led to a movement in German-speaking Europe that rallied around identity for the sake of uniting ethnic Germans in Germany, in the territories Germany had lost and in the German-populated territories Germany hoped to gain. In both cases, two very identity-conscious states emerged in Europe.

    Post-war "Stunde Null" led to a new identity for the people of Germany: guilt and shame, anti-traditionalism, anti-nationalism. But there was no "Stunde Null" in Poland; in fact, the changes in the post-war period included the elimination of ethnic Germans from Poland and a shifting of borders that put many Ukranians out of Poland's borders and made Poland even more ethno-nationally homogeneous. How ironic that this occurred under the heel of the COMMUNISTS, and after the war which, in the West, led the "Stunde Null"-inspired trend of multiculturalizing nations rather than motions to purify them, since the term 'purify' has come to be seen in connection with Holocausts and, well, wars fought under the guise of creating all-encompassing ethno-states.

    Yes, since Communism's collapse, Poland has been influenced by Western pressures. But it is not within the sphere of the "Stunde Null"-derived, post-1968 rumblings in France, Western Germany and the United Kingdom, and has felt only the after-tremor.

    Not to paint the picture of Poland as a state it is not, but it has a strong sense of identity through a national experience - for example, "Holocaust history", the portrayal of the Teutonic Knights in Polish mythology (“Pomnik Tym co za Polskość Gdańska” ) and the common thread of everything relating to Catholicism, particular now that the German Protestants and the Ukrainian Orthodoxy (as well as post-Communist Confession-less) have all-but-disappeared. The percentages are staggering:

    UKRAINE
    Non religious - 62.5%
    Eastern Orthodoxy - 26.8%
    Catholicism - 5.9%

    POLAND
    Catholicism - 87.3%





    And then there's this:

    http://armedwithknowledge.blogspot.de/2011/01/polands-parliament-becomes.html

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  3. Dr. Keith Miers07 November, 2012

    An interesting proposition.

    However, if Studnicki had been able to influence the Polish leadership, would an alliance with Germany have been possible, or would the Polish state have become a satellite state to be exploited and, later, resettled and colonized?

    If Poland had accepted a coalition with Germany, would a Polish army have been deployed against the Soviet Union? Germany already had the support of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia; would a few more divisions have really made a difference? Do you suppose Germany would have reached Moscow by Christmas 1941?

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