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Orphans Of Versailles

Orphans Of Versailles: The Germans in Western Poland, 1918-1939

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Orphans Of Versailles
    Book Description:

    The lands Germany ceded to Poland after World War I included more than one million ethnic Germans for whom the change meant a sharp reversal of roles. The Polish government now confronted a German minority in a region where power relationships had been the other way around for more than a century.

    Orphans of Versaillesexamines the complex psychological and political situation of Germans consigned to Poland, their treatment by the Polish government and society, their diverse strategies for survival, their place in international relations, and the impact of National Socialism.

    Not a one-sided study of victimization, this book treats the contributions of both the Polish state and the German minority to the conflict that culminated in their mutual destruction. Based largely on research in European archives, it sheds new light on a key aspect of German-Polish relations, one that was long overshadowed by concern over the German revanchist threat and the hostility that subsequently dominated the German-Polish relationship. Thanks to the new political situation in central Europe, however, this topic can finally be addressed evenhandedly.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6139-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The Paris peace settlement of 1919 spawned a host of new national minority problems in many parts of Europe. Whether or not there were more such problems than before can be debated, but certainly the newly created minority problems were a chief destabilizing element during the interwar period. They were a major source of domestic discord in many states, contributed significantly to international tensions, threatened at times to monopolize the attention of the League of Nations, and figured prominently in the return to war in 1939. This was especially true of the million or so Germans consigned to the resurrected...

  6. 1 Establishment of the German Minority, 1918-1922
    (pp. 9-31)

    Poland acquired its large population of formerly German citizens in several installments between late 1918 and mid-1922. Most of the province of Poznania (Posen) came under Polish rule as the result of an armed insurrection in December 1918, before the peace conference in Paris began its formal deliberations. Another large area, comprising most of West Prussia and parts of three other provinces, came under Polish rule in January 1920 as a result of the Versailles Treaty. A third significant group of Germans came under Polish rule as a result of the 1921 plebiscite in Upper Silesia and the division of...

  7. 2 The Great Exodus
    (pp. 32-53)

    The extensive postwar exodus of Germans from the territories ceded to Poland was not only unique among the Reich’s lost lands; it was altogether unprecedented in European history. By the end of 1921, roughly half the German population of Poznania and Pomorze—592,000 people, according to official German figures—had left.¹ Poland conducted its first national census in 1921 (minus Upper Silesia, which had not yet been partitioned.) According to this tabulation, only 1,059,194 Germans remained in all of Poland; they constituted 3.9 percent of the total population. In Pomorze, 175,771 Germans remained, constituting 18.8 percent of that province’s population;...

  8. 3 Coming to Terms
    (pp. 54-89)

    The most important decision facing those Germans who remained in Poznania and Pomorze was whether they should accept their place in Poland (and Poland itself) as permanent or see themselves primarily as the Reich’s lost children, waiting to be reclaimed. In the early years at least, most seemed to hold the latter view. Few saw anything positive in Polish rule or were persuaded by the arguments that made them subject to it. The lack of direct popular input into the drawing of the new frontier (on the wrong side of which they found themselves) was just one reason for seeing...

  9. 4 The Piłsudski Era and the Economic Struggle
    (pp. 90-120)

    The period of National Democratic dominance in Poland came to an end, along with parliamentary government itself, in 1926 after seven crisis-plagued years. Although the national minorities figured prominently among the many problems that made parliamentary rule unworkable, it was a financial crisis that brought matters directly to a head. The attempt to stabilize Poland’s finances by introducing a new currency in 1924 proved only temporarily successful; within a year, both the newzłotyand the government were in serious trouble. Persistent doubts about Poland’s long-term viability, related in part to minority problems and the friction they caused with neighboring...

  10. 5 The Minority in the International Arena
    (pp. 121-162)

    For Germany, even for a then democratic Germany that had no plans (and no capability) to wage aggressive war to revise its frontier with Poland, there was never any question of watching passively while its former citizens were treated so roughly. The condition of the German minority in Poland necessarily became a problem for the German government, not solely a domestic problem for Poland. In the course of the 1920s the German minority came to loom ever larger as a problem in the international arena as well, exacerbating already poor relations between Germany and Poland and challenging the League’s ability...

  11. 6 The Impact of National Socialism
    (pp. 163-206)

    There are no statistics showing the precise degree of support for National Socialism among Germans in western Poland, but it is clear that a substantial majority of them embraced this movement and its attendant ideas without much hesitation. Even though there had not been much of a National Socialist movement in Poland before January 1933, the major German newspaper in Poznania declared just a few months later that “we Germans in Poland are all National Socialists.”¹ This was an exaggeration, perhaps, but only a slight one; a 1937 article inSlavonic and East European Reviewestimated that 70-80 percent of...

  12. 7 The Minority in 1939
    (pp. 207-237)

    Hitler cited mistreatment of the German minority as a justification for his attack on Poland in 1939, and so for World War II itself. His limited interest in the minority to that date and its clearly subordinate role in his policies indicate that this was a last-minute and not very credible pretext. But the question remains: was the mistreatment itself just another “big lie,” or was it real? Was the situation of the German minority in Poland as bad as German propaganda claimed or, failing that, was it all that bad to begin with? In other words, apart from the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 238-241)

    Strictly speaking, the outbreak of war in 1939 marked the end of the German minority in western Poland. The area ceded to Poland after World War I was reincorporated into Germany, and the surviving German population was once again part of a dominant majority. This meant yet another turning of the tables for the two peoples: Polish Germans happily accepted their installation as part of the new “master race,” while their Polish neighbors were subjected to an occupation regime more brutal than any this region had seen previously.¹

    The principal leaders of the interwar minority, already on board ideologically, did...

  14. Appendix A. Western Polish Place Name Official Polish Forms and German Equivalents
    (pp. 242-242)
  15. APPENDIX B. German Population of Western Poland by Province and County
    (pp. 243-245)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 246-268)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 269-306)
  18. Index
    (pp. 307-316)