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The Danzig Crisis

24 Oct 1938 - 29 Aug 1939

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

After WW1, the Versailles Treaty made former Prussian city of Danzig a quasi-independent city-state. It was governed by a local parliament while was overseen by a League of Nations appointed high commissioner. Being surrounded by Polish territory, the port facilities were also open for Polish use, but the Polish did not take comfort in mere usage. The Polish wanted Danzig within its boundaries, but the predominantly ethnic German city wished for the status quo. When the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany, many recruitment efforts by the party were active in Danzig. By 1933, 38% of the Danzig parliament was consisted of Nazi Party members, and a similarly significant percentage of the population expressed their wish to become a part of Germany. With pride, some of the parliamentarians wore the Nazi swastika on their arms.

Unlike previous annexations of Austria and Memelland, Adolf Hitler treated Danzig somewhat differently. During the Czechoslovakia annexation, Hitler was ready to use force, but diplomatic victories averted military action. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop went as far as quoting the Czechoslovakia crisis a failure because he was not able to provide the German military an opportunity to make war. With Danzig, Hitler intended to use it as a catalyst to provoke war with Poland. Karl Burckhardt, the League of Nations high commissioner of Danzig, noted to British Lord Halifax that Hitler told him

"If the slightest incident happens now, I shall crush the Poles without warning in such a way that no trace of Poland can be found afterwards. I shall strike with the full force of a mechanized army, of which the Poles have no conception."

Burckhardt thought Hitler was boasting his military might instead of threatening war, perhaps setting up a strong façade in the face of the currently ongoing British-French-Russian talks of an alliance to contain Germany. Halifax agreed and made nothing of it.

Although the end-goal was different, the German propaganda machine deployed similar strategies that had worked for them in the previous annexations. One of them was the spread of propaganda using newspapers. While Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized with yellow stars and swastikas or simply attacked, German newspapers told stories of prejudice against the German people in Danzig. William Manchester gathered a collection of headlines from the period:

"In Karlsruhe the daily paper carried the headline 'WARSAW THREATENS BOMBARDMENT OF DANZIG - UNBELIEVABLE AGITATION ON THE POLISH ARCHMADNESS!' 'POLEN, GIB ACHT!' ('POLAND, LOOK OUT!') warned the Berliner Arbeiterzeitung; 'ANSWER TO POLAND, THE RUNNER-AMOK (AMOKLÄUFER) AGAINST PEACE AND RIGHT IN EUROPE!' On Saturday, August 26, the Zwölf-Uhr Blatt reported: 'THIS PLAYING WITH FIRE GOING TOO FAR - THREE GERMAN PASSENGER PLANES SHOT AT BY POLES - IN CORRIDOR MANY GERMAN FARMHOUSES IN FLAMES!' The banner headline in the Berliner Arbeiterzeitung that day read, 'COMPLETE CHAOS IN POLAND - GERMAN FAMILIES FLEE - POLISH SOLDIERS PUSH TO EDGE OF GERMAN BORDER!' Goebbels saved his masterpiece for the Sunday Völkischer Beobachter: 'ALL OF POLAND IN A WAR FEVER! 1.5 MILLION MEN MOBILIZED! UNINTERRUPTED TROOP TRANSPORT TOWARD FRONTIER! CHAOS IN UPPER SILESIA!'"

Of course, no German newspaper mentioned the German mobilizations on the Polish border.

Within Danzig, Germany built support both politically and militarily. The Nazi Party appointed Albert Forster as the city's Gauleiter, who proclaimed Danzig German; "In these happy times", he said, "we will stand together and give thanks to the Führer that he has brought us back into Greater Germany." Forster's proclamation was not without forceful support. Starting in Jun 1939, a force 4,000-strong and loyal to the Nazi party was organized in Danzig. On 25 Jun 1939, 1,000 men of the SS bolstered that force under the guise of a sporting contest; of course, most of them did not leave after the competition was over. By the next month, people knew they had no intentions of leaving as they observed the words Heimwehr Danzig, "Home Guard Danzig", on the sleeves of their SS uniforms. By Aug, men were working around the clock to build barracks large enough to house 10,000 soldiers.

Through his diplomats, Hitler demanded several items that he knew would worsen relations with Poland, which included the admittance of Danzig into the German Reich, the building a German highway a German railway through the Polish Corridor, and the Polish participation in the Anti-Comintern Pact. Hitler knew he must constantly keep demands a bit above Polish tolerance, but yet reasonable enough to stretch out the negotiations, so that he could keep the issue open while Germany prepared for war. The last set of demands was given by Ribbentrop to British Ambassador to Berlin Neville Henderson on 29 Aug 1939, demanding a plebiscite in the Polish Corridor with voting rules tilted to favor a pro-German outcome. Two days later, the German military crossed the Polish border on a conquest that had been in the plans for months. The world finally realized the negotiations for Danzig was nothing but a catalyst, or perhaps, only a distraction.

Sources: the Fall of Hitler's Fortress City, the Last Lion, Wikipedia.

The Danzig Crisis Timeline

24 Oct 1938 Joachim von Ribbentrop met with Polish ambassador Józef Lipski at Berchtesgaden in southern Germany. During the meeting, he noted that Danzig was German and Germany wanted to see it back within German borders. He also noted that Germany wanted to build a highway and a railway through western Poland to connect East Prussia with the main German territory, and that Germany would like to have Poland join the Anti-Comintern Pact.
31 Oct 1938 Poland noted to the Germans that Danzig was to remain independent, and that Poland was not interested in signing the Anti-Comintern Pact.
24 Nov 1938 Adolf Hitler ordered his top military leaders to prepare plans for the invasion of the Free City of Danzig, but careful to include that it was not to include war with Poland.
5 Jan 1939 Adolf Hitler met Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck at Berchtesgaden in southern Germany and, in a friendly manner, mentioned that Danzig was German, and it was in his interest to one day see it return within German borders.
26 Jan 1939 Joachim von Ribbentrop arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spoke to Polish leaders regarding the German wish to annex Danzig and to have Poland sign the Anti-Comintern Pact.
21 Mar 1939 French President Albert Lebrun visited London, England, United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to persuade Lebrun to enter into a British-French-Polish alliance to contain Germany; a similar proposal was also sent to the Polish leadership via the British ambassador in Warsaw, Poland, but the Polish responded coolly. On the same day, in Berlin, Germany, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop expressed that if Poland continued to not agree with German demands for Danzig and if Poland continued to resist signing the Anti-Comintern Pact, then the present German-Polish friendship would deteriorate.
22 Mar 1939 Poland requested consultations with United Kingdom and France regarding German demands for Danzig. United Kingdom and France expressed willingness to go further than mere consultation and suggested a formal treaty.
25 Mar 1939 German intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris reported to Adolf Hitler that his agents had detected Polish troop movements on the Polish border with Danzig. Hitler met with Army chief Walther von Brauchitsch regarding this latest development in his attempt to acquire Danzig.
28 Mar 1939 Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck met with the German Ambassador in Poland that any further demand on Danzig by Germany might result in war between Poland and Germany.
30 Mar 1939 British Ambassador in Poland Howard Kennard offered Poland a British-French-Polish agreement in which the three countries would mutually guarantee each others' borders; this agreement arose from the build-up of tension between Germany and Poland over Danzig. The Soviet Union was purposely excluded from the negotiations per Polish demands.
31 Mar 1939 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain noted that the United Kingdom and France would guarantee Polish borders, with military force if necessary.
6 Apr 1939 The 30 Mar 1939 British-French-Polish agreement to mutually guarantee each others' borders was signed into a formal treaty in London, England, United Kingdom.
20 Apr 1939 Italian Ambassador in Berlin, Germany, Attalico, sent a message to Rome, Italy, noting that war between Germany and Poland seemed imminent.
5 May 1939 Polish Foreign Minister Józef Beck spoke to the Polish Parliament, noting that the German-Polish relationship was rapidly deteriorating due to Germany's bullying tactics.
6 May 1939 Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano met with his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop in Milan, Italy, where Ciano informed Ribbentrop that Italy would not be ready for war for another three years. Ribbentrop noted the comment, and informed Ciano that Adolf Hitler did not yet have any plans for war.
7 May 1939 The French ambassador in Berlin, Germany dispatched a warning to French leadership of deteriorating German-Polish relations.
9 May 1939 The French ambassador in Berlin, Germany dispatched another warning to French leadership, noting that he had reasons to believe that Adolf Hitler was presenting or was about to present a plan to Joseph Stalin for the partition of Poland.
23 May 1939 Adolf Hitler held a long speech before his top military commanders, starting by noting Danzig as a means to engage Poland in a war to gain Lebensraum ("living space") for the German people, and then digressing to note the possibility of war with Britain and France, the need to occupy the Low Countries for their airfields, and strategies for a war in western Europe and the Atlantic.
19 Jun 1939 The German Army reported that thus far 168 officers had been infiltrated into Danzig in prepration of action.
21 Jul 1939 British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax wrote to British Ambassador to Poland Clifford Norton, asking him to expressed to the Polish government the British desire for Poland to refrain from acting defiantly to recent German threats.
24 Jul 1939 Hungarian Prime Minister Pál Teleki informed Germany and Italy that should a war broke out between Germany and Poland, Hungary would not participate in a joint invasion; German leader Adolf Hitler would soon intimidate Teleki to retract the statement. On the same day, Italian leader Benito Mussolini warned Hitler that should war break out due to the Polish-German tension, Italy would come to Germany's help, but Mussolini believed it would not be a simple Polish-German War, but rather, other nations such as the United Kingdom and France would be dragged in, leading to another great war.
4 Aug 1939 Polish customs officials on the Danzig border began carrying arms, which alerted the Germans.
7 Aug 1939 A group of British businessmen met with Hermann Göring in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, warning him that British public sentiment would not allow another act of appeasement, and that the public would push the British government to declare war on Germany.
9 Aug 1939 Germany sent a message to Poland noting that its uncooperativeness to work with Germany, ie. its refusal of German demands to annex Danzig, might lead to war, and Germany would not hold the responsibility for starting an armed conflict.
10 Aug 1939 Poland responded to Germany's message from the previous day, noting that should a war between the two nations start, it would be German aggression that started it, and Poland could not be blamed.
23 Aug 1939 Albert Forster was appointed by the German government as the State President of the Free City of Danzig.
26 Aug 1939 French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier sent a message to German leader Adolf Hitler, noting that while France desired peace, it would fight for Poland should it be invaded.
27 Aug 1939 German leader Adolf Hitler responded to the message from French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier from the previous day, noting that Germany had no intention of fighting France, so if France was to attack Germany due to the German-Poland situation, it would be a war initiated by France, and Germany could not be faulted for such a conflict; additionally, Hitler stressed that Germany had no territorial demands on the German-French border. Meanwhile, Hermann Göring's friend Birger Dahlerus, a Swedish national, attempted a parallel route to negotiate for peace.
29 Aug 1939 Through the Swedish businessman Birger Dahlerus, Germany expressed that Germany only desired Danzig and a small section of the Polish Corridor, while a plebiscite should be held in the near future to determine the fate of the remainder of the Polish Corridor.
30 Aug 1939 Poland refused to dispatch a delegation to Germany to negotiate over the topics of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Polish Commander-in-Chief, Marshal of Poland, Edward Rydz-Smigly ordered the mobilization of the army.
31 Aug 1939 Adolf Hitler offered the United Kingdom that Germany would not risk war if Poland was willing to turn over Danzig and a small section of the Polish Corridor, and that Poland was to allow a plebiscite for the remainder of the Polish Corridor in the near future; British Ambassador in Germany Nevile Henderson expressed that the United Kingdom, while desiring peace, could not sacrifice Poland to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Henderson continued to press Poland to send a delegation to Germany in a last attempt to negotiate peace over Danzig and the Polish Corridor. When Polish Ambassador in Germany Józef Lipski attempted to send Henderson's message to Poland later in the evening, he found that Germany had cut telephone and telegraph communications to Poland.
2 Sep 1939 Germany annexed the Free City of Danzig. Adolf Hitler advised the United Kingdom and France that he would withdraw from Poland if allowed to keep Danzig and the Polish corridor.




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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    29 Aug 2012 08:04:25 AM

    What country would accept a portion of it's land be saparated?Imagine New England being separated from the rest of the US if New York State were given over to Canada. The Poles had no right to Danzig nor the Corridor.
  2. Anonymous says:
    6 Aug 2013 06:22:51 PM

    Re: the post of 29 Aug 2012: "Imagine Alaska being separated from the rest of the US by British Columbia, Canada..." oh yeah, I guess it would be okay for the US to invade Canada over that too... DOH!
  3. Anonymous says:
    11 Feb 2014 02:55:22 PM

    #2 Comment has no basis
    Alaska was never separated from the US mainland. The US purchased Russian-America from the Russians in 1867!
  4. Anonymous says:
    4 Mar 2014 08:23:59 AM

    Poland wouldn't be severing it's own land, just withdrawing it's customs officials and conceding control of a territory that had, (19 years previously), been part of Germany and that was occupied by 95% German ex-pats that had spent 20 years organizing mass labour actions in protest to Polish administration...so kinda not the same.
  5. Anonymous says:
    18 Mar 2014 08:42:12 PM

    Poles behaved unreasonably and they were very unfriendly to Germans: they should give up Danzig and agree on exterritorial corridor from Germany.
  6. Anonymous says:
    20 Apr 2014 01:01:52 PM

    ok 1897 the first Zionist Congress in Switzerland 200 powerful Jewish people from all over the world to vote on how to steal Palestine from the British and force all jews
  7. Anonymous says:
    7 Jun 2014 08:59:17 AM

    Maybe Putin took a page from history with his Crimea demands. Scary.

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More on The Danzig Crisis
Participants:
» Forster, Albert
» Greiser, Arthur

Locations:
» Danzig
» Germany
» Poland

Documents:
» No. 108-1: Albert Forster's Proclamation to the People of Danzig
» No. 108-2: Messages between Forster and Hitler on Danzig
» No. 13: Extract from Herr Hitler's speech to the Reichstag
» No. 26: Message from Greiser to the Polish Commissioner-General
» No. 27-28, 30, 41-42, 45-47, 50-51: Messages between Kennard and Halifax on Danzig
» No. 29, 31, & 33 : Messages from Gerald Shepherd to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 32, 34, 38, 39, 43: Messages between Norton and Halifax on Danzig
» No. 35: Chamberlain's Speech at the House of Commons
» No. 36 & 48: Messages from Henderson to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 37, 40, & 44 : Messages from F. M. Shepherd to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 56, 60, 68, 74, 78, & 89: Messages Between Chamberlain/UK Government and Hitler
» No. 62: Message from F. M. Shepherd to Halifax
» No. 64: Speech by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons
» No. 65. Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords
» No. 98: Message from Weizsäcker to Henderson


Random Photograph

Aerial view of USS Makin Island off Okinawa, Japan, 1945; note FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avenger aircraft on the flight deck




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Famous WW2 Quote
"We no longer demand anything, we want war."

Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939