Anna M. Cienciala (
History 557 Lecture Notes
Spring 2002 (Revised Fall 2007. spring 2012

Lecture Notes 11



There were three main political groups:

A.The National Democrats led by Roman Dmowski; B. Jozef Pilsudski and his supporters; C. Polish leaders in Austrian Poland.

A. Dmowski and the National Democrats at first lined up with Russia, the ally of France and Britain. They hoped for the union of all Polish lands under the Russian Crown as a first step to later independence (just as Prince Adam Czartoryski had done during the Napoleonic Wars). However, the Imperial Russian  Government made only vague promises and in 1915, when Russian military weakness was clear, Dmowski went to Western Europe.

In August 1917, the Polish National Committee (Polski Komitet Narodowy - PKN), made up of National Democrats, was formed in Lausanne, Switzerland, and soon moved to Paris. It was not recognized by the Entente Powers as representing Poland until the late fall of 1917, because they did not want to alienate first, Imperial Russia, and then the Russian Provisional Governme nt (March - November 1917). When the Bolsheviks seized power there in early November 1917, the Powers recognized the PKN as representing Poland and leading the Polish army in France. (See below).

Roman Dmowski, Pilsduski's rival for the leadership of independent Poland.


Meanwhile, in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced the famous 14 points as a basis for peace negotiations. Point 13 proposed an independent Poland with an "indisputably" Polish population. This qualification was designed to calm both German and Russian fears about losing too much territory to Poland. The Bolsheviks were negotiating peace with the Central Powers, and the Western powers wanted to prevent this to keep Russia in the war, while the Germans were to be encouraged to negotiate peace without fear of losing too much of their Polish territory. Poland was also to have free access to the sea [Baltic]. However, the American ambassador explained to the German government in Berlin that this access could be secured by an internationalized railway. The Poles wanted to have Danzig [Gdansk] the port city of old Poland, and the only port that could be used by an independent Poland, at least for a while.

The PKN succeeded in raising a small Polish army in France, recruited from Polish Americans, volunteers from Poles living in France, mostly coal miners, and Polish deserters from the German and Austro-Hungarian armies.. At the end of 1918, the “Blue Army,” so named after the blue French uniforms it wore, was commanded by General Jozef Haller and formed the military arm of the PKN. (It was to reach Poland in spring 1919 in time to take part in the Polish-(West)Ukrainian war in East Galicia).

[pictures from Richard M. Watt, Bitter Glory, New York, 1979]

B. Meanwhile, in 1914, Jozef Pilsudski formed Polish Legions in the Austro-Hungarian Army to fight Russia. However, he secretly informed the British government in the fall of 1914, that his Legions would never fight against France and Britain - only against Russia (ally of France and Britain)..
Pilsudski’s first incursion into former Russian Poland in August 1914 was the town of Kielce. The legionnaires failed to spark the national uprising against Russia that he hoped for.  This was because most educated Poles there sympathized with the National Democrats and distrusted Germany, while the peasants also distrusted the Germans. Furthermore, the German army brutally bombarded the town of Kielce just before the Pilsudski soldiers reached it, so they were at first tarred with the German brush.

Pilsudski aimed to use his legions as leverage to obtain Polish independence from the Central Powers. On Nov. 5, 1916, they promised a Polish Kingdom after the war, but could not agree among themselves on its boundaries. Meanwhile, the Germans occupied Warsaw and allowed a Polish State Council, as well as Polish education and law courts. Pilsudski agreed to serve as Head of the Military Department, but he opposed the German aim of recruiting a large Polish army. Instead, he organized a secret, underground military organization in German-occupied Poland - and later in Ukraine as well - to give military training to Poles in order to form a Polish army later; this was the Polish Military Organization (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa - P.O.W).

Pilsudski and his officers, 1915
    (from: Jan Z. E. Berek i Mieczyslaw Paszkiewicz, eds., Droga Zycia Jozefa Pilsudskiego,
London, 1977).

P.O.W group KN III, Ukraine, 1918
    (from: Droga Zycia Jozefa Pilsudskiego).

 After the  Russian Revolution of February (New Style March) 1917, Pilsudski began to think of withdrawing his support from the Central Powers. In July 1917, he and the officers of the First Brigade refused to swear loyalty in arms with the German and Austrian forces. This led to Pilsudski’s arrest and internment in Germany together with his second in command, Kazimierz Sosnkowski, and the transfer of his officers to other units of the Austro-Hungarian Army.

In Sept. 1917, the Germans established a Regency Council in Warsaw - their answer to the Russian Provisional Govt. recognition of Polish independence in March 1917. When defeat stared the Germans in the face, Pilsudski and Sonskowski were released by the new German Social Democratic government formed in Berlin on Nov. 9, 1918, which gave them a special train to proceed to Warsaw, where they arrived on November 10, 1918.(The Germans assumed from various statements Pilsudski had made that he would be friendly to Germany).


Pilsudski released by the Germans
    (from: Droga Zycia Jozefa Pilsudskiego.)

 Pilsudski was welcomed in Warsaw as a national hero. The Regency Council transferred power to him. He became “Head of State” (pending elections to a Constituent Assembly which was to elect the President), and also Commander-in-Chief. He negotiated with the German garrison to leave Warsaw and proclaimed the existence of an independent Polish state in official diplomatic

notes to the Entente governments on November 16, 1918. Later, Polish Independce Day was celebrated on Nov. 11 in honor of the liberation of Warsaw, 1918; this was also Armistice Day,in memory of its signing on the western front. He arranged for the free passage of German troops from the eastern front through Poland to Germany. The Provisional People's Government of the Republic of Poland, formed earlier in Lublin, bowed to Pilsudski, who set about forming a new government. It was predominantly Socialist and immediately introduced many reforms long proclaimed as necessary by the Polish Socialist Party (e.g. the 8 hour day, free school education, vote for women). This was absolutely necessary to avoid major unrest, but Pilsudski told Polish Socialists that he "got off the Socialist street car at the stop called Independence." He believed that as head of state he must be above political parties. At the same time, he set about organizing a Polish army out of Polish veterans of the German, Russian and Austrian armies.

C. Polish leaders in Austrian Poland did not have anyone  comparable to Dmowski or Pilsudski. Their “Supreme National Committee” had supported Pilsudski and his legions, but unlike him they supported the “Austrian solution,” that is, the union of Austrian and Russian Poland in a Crownland within the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Since A-H was the ally of Germany, they did not demand union with Prussian Poland). One adherent to this view was Wladyslaw Sikorski (pron: Vladeeeslaf Seekorskee), who led another Polish legion in the A-H Army. (He was to become  Polish Premier in  early 1920s, then again Premier of the Polish govt.- in- exile and Commander-in-Chief of Polish Armed Forces in the West in World War II). The Austrian solution collapsed with Austria-Hungary. Poles began to disarm Austrian soldiers in Galicia in November 1918, just as they disarmed Germans in Warsaw at this time.

The first Polish government and Pilsudski were both distrusted in the West because Pilsudski had cooperated with the Central Powers in 1914-17, and because he had supported the formation of a Socialist government. It was not until January 1919, when the great pianist Ignacy Paderewski (pron: Pahdehrehvskee) became Premier, also Foreign Minister of a new government, that it was recognized in the West. (Paderewski had arrived in Danzig on a British warship, then went to Poznan. His presence there in late December 1918 sparked German attacks and Polish resistance, which developed into a Polish uprising against the Germans in Prussian Poland).

A. Polish Demands:

The Polish Delegation, mostly National Democratic members of the Polish National Committee in Paris, plus a few representatives of Pilsudski, added in February, demanded the following territories in the West:

(i) Prussian Poland [Duchy of Posen/Poznan], with a Polish majority;
(ii) Pomorze, that is, Polish Pomerania, with a Polish majority. The Germans called it the "Polish Corridor" because it separated East Prussia from Germany proper,];
(iii) southern East Prussia, where most people spoke a Slavic dialect called Mazurian. Poland regarded these people as Poles.
(iv) Upper Silesia east of the Oder River. It had been ruled by Polish Piast princes in the early Middle Ages but was not part of Poland-Lithuania. It was claimed by Poland on ethnic grounds. [On the population, see Upper Silesia, below.] It had the second largest coal and steel production in Germany after the Ruhr.

All these demands were justified on ethnic grounds, for according to the Prussian census of 1910 these territories were preponderantly Polish. However, the P. Delegation also demanded

(v) Danzig [Polish: Gdansk] as the only port that could serve Polish needs. Danzig was predominantly German, but had governed itself and served as Poland’s port from 1466 to 1793, and Napoleon made it a Free City. Afterwards, it became a Prussian garrison town and fishing port. In the 19th century, it was overshadowed by the German ports of Stettin, Bremen, and Hamburg, though it revived to some extent in 1900-18, building of passenger ships and then warships in WW1.

In the East (today’s western Ukraine, western Belorussia, Lithuania), the P. Delegation demanded territories with sizable Polish minorities and good defense borders along the rivers. However, Dmowski and Pilsudski had very different goals here:

Dmowski used the Polish-Lithuanian border before 1772 as a starting point, but really wanted a frontier approximating the one that existed between 1772 and 1793 (between the lst and 2nd Partitions of Poland). These were lands where the upper class was mostly Polish, and he assumed that the polonization of other nationalities would follow;

Pilsudski wanted a Polish federation with Lithuania and Belorussia and a Polish alliance with an independent Ukraine. Such an arrangement would both weaken Russia and, he believed, satisfy the national aspirations of the Lithuanian, Belorussian and Ukrainian peoples.

The Paris Peace Conference could not establish the eastern frontier of Poland because Russia was in the midst of a Civil War (summer 1918 - early 1921), and therefore could not be represented in Paris by an agreed Russian delegation. However, allied statesmen did consult "white" (anti-Bolshevik) Russian emigre politicians on the future western borders of Russia. These politicians routinely demanded that Russia keep the Baltic Provinces and old eastern Poland, that is, western Belorussia, Volhynia and East Galicia (western Ukraine); the latter was conquered and briefly held by the Russians in WWI.

B. Allied Views on the size and borders of Poland.

1. France wanted a large Poland as an ally against Germany, but did not want to alienate a future friendly, non-Bolshevik Russia, which was expected to emerge out of the Civil War, and which France hoped to have as an anti-German ally again. Therefore, French statesmen wanted Poland to gain as much territory as possible from Germany, but with an eastern frontier not very different from that of Congress Poland, (1815-30).

2. Britain opposed a large Poland. Br. statesmen wanted to minimize German territorial losses to Poland so as to facilitate reconciliation with Germany, and they opposed Polish demands in the east in order to keep open the possibility of good relations with a future, non-Bolshevik Russia, seen as a major market for British goods.

(3) The United States. In 1917-18, President Woodrow Wilson had envisaged an ethnic Poland, so as not to alienate Germany and Russia. However, in January - March 1919, the U.S. Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference came to support most Polish demands at the expense of both Germany and Russia. They did so out of fear of Bolshevik Russia and to prevent  future German domination of Poland.

NOTE. During the Russian Civil War  the allies supported the Whites (anti-Bolshevik) against the Reds (Bolsheviks), and the Whites would at most tolerate Congress Poland, either within the Russian Empire or bound to it by an alliance. Indeed, in recognizing Polish independence in 1917, the Provisional Government had left the border settlement for later and envisaged a mandatory Polish-Russian alliance. Therefore, Western statesmen were unwilling to alienate the White Russians by supporting Polish claims in the east.

In any case, the Paris Peace Conference was chiefly concerned with working out a peace treaty with Germany. With regard to Poland, the key dispute among Western statesmen was over Danzig and Polish Pomerania [Polish: Pomorze, pron. Pohmorzhe]; the German name, later accepted in the West, was the "Polish Corridor". The Poles claimed Pomorze on grounds of self-determination, and Danzig as the natural seaport for Poland; both had been part of pre-partition Poland. They wanted the city to be part of the Polish state, but with its own elected administration and guarantees of [German] cultural freedom.

The French government wanted the city and the Corridor to go to Poland, while the British government and most of the British delegation wanted them to stay in Germany. President Wilson stood on the principle of self-determination, so he wanted the Corrridor to go to Poland and Danzig to stay with Germany, though most American, and even some British delegates, thought Danzig should go to Poland for economic reasons.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863-1945, Prime Minister 1916-22), definitely favored leaving both areas in Germany, but wanted to do it in a way acceptable to France and the U.S. He asked a Foreign Office expert on Germany, the historian W. James Headlam-Morley, to work out a compromise. Headlam-Morley suggested making Danzig a Free City - as it had been in the past - with special economic rights for Poland. Headlam-Morley worked out the project with a key American adviser to Woodrow Wilson, Dr. Sidney E. Mezes.
Woodrow Wilson accepted the project because the city was to be under the protection of the League of Nations, and the League was his great project. Also, he did not want to give the Italian-populated city of Fiume, with its South Slav hinterland, to the Italians, so he thought the Free City of Danzig would be a precedent for a Free City there. It did, in fact exist for a couple of years before it was annexed by Italy.

Thus the Danzig Articles of the Versailles Treaty (100-108) stipulated that it would be a Free City with its own constitution and administration, while Poland was to have free use of the port and other economic rights, also rights for the Polish minority. The City was to be under the protection of the League of Nations - though this body was still on the drawing boards.
Pomorze or the "Corridor" with its predominantly Polish population, was to go to Poland. Most British statesmen, aware of German resentment against the separation of East Prussia from Germany, looked on the Danzig-Pomorze compromise as a temporary arrangement, expecting a revision in Germany’s favor within 10 years or so.

In southern East Prussia, where most of the people spoke a Slavic dialect called Mazurian, the Peace Conference mandated a plebiscite (referendum).

In Upper Silesia, most western statesmen accepted the Polish claim that the majority of the population east of the Oder river spoke Polish. In fact, unlike the Polish-speaking workers who came into the region from Galicia, most natives spoke a local language based on Polish and German. They called themselves Szlonzoks (pron. Schlonzohks, see Kamusella book cited under the Upper Silesian Plebiscite below),but they were not recognized as a nation. President Wilson thought it should go to Poland on the basis of self-determination. However, Lloyd George forced through a decision to hold a plebiscite  there, threatening that otherwise Britain would not be willing to enforce the treaty. He did so because of loud German protests that without Upper Silesian coal and steel Germany would not be able to pay reparations to the victorious Allies. In fact, most of the region's coal had been experted to Polish territories before WWl, while the industry had been important for German production during the war.

The city and region of Poznan (Posen) was to go toPoland because most of it was predominantly Polish-speaking. This area used modern agricultural tools and methods and was an important supplier of potatoes for Germany.
(For population figures in Prussian Poland and Upper Silesia, see the tables from Richard Blanke's book, Orphans of Versailles,reproduced below.) *

There was a Polish uprising against the Germans in Prussian Poland which led to severe fighting in late 1918 - early 1919, ending in a Polish victory. This was due to the fact that the German High Command gave up plans to send in the army when the French threatened to attack Germany in the West.

Many Germans chose to leave Pomorze and Poznania by the time of the Polish census of 1921. Some German historians claim that these Germans were expelled, while others disagree. In any case, many left because of strong anti-German feelings among the Poles, who had experienced germanisation policies in the schools and on the land in 1871-1914, when these regions were part of the German Empire.

* In April 1919, the German Cabinet decided not to request plebiscites in the Polish Corridor, Prussian Poland and Upper Silesia for fear of losing the vote. However, later German governments accused the Western Powers of injustice in not holding plebiscites in all the territories lost by Germany. (German and Polish population figures for former Prussian Poland are given below).

[ Population of Western Poland, from: Richard Blanke, Orphans of Versailles. The Germans in Western Poland 1918-1939, Lexington, KY.,1993, pp. 244-245.]


A. Danzig [Gdansk]: The British and French governments agreed that Br. troops were to form the majority of the garrison in Danzig, as part of the Br. occcupation force in East Prussia pending the plebiscite there. Also, the First High Commissioner of the League of Nations in Danzig was to be British. This last arrangement was made in a secret deal concluded by British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and French Premier Georges Clemenceau in July 1919:  there was to be a Br. High Commissioner in Danzig and a French chairman of the League Governing Commission in the Saar, whose coal production France needed to offset the loss of the mines destroyed in the war. There would also be a French High Commissioner in Memel (Lith. name: Klaipeda), the predominantly German-speaking port city of Lithuania.

The British were interested at this time in using Danzig as a possible base for sending supplies to their troops in Russia (Civil War), also as a future way station for trade with Russia. Finally, they did not want Danzig to fall into Polish hands, believing that after a while the city was bound to return to Germany.

Danzig became a Free City in January 1920, when Germany ratified the Versailles Treaty. As it turned out,  the city owed its livelihood to Polish trade going in and out through the port, but Germany exercised predominant influence there for most of the inter-war period. Berlin subsidized the administration and police, paid the old age pensions, and encouraged Germans to settle there. The Nazis narrowly won the municipal elections in 1935. On 1 September 1939, alleged Polish rejection of Hitler’s last minute official demands for the city and a German corridor through the Polish Corridor (the Poles knew of the demands but had not been officially presented with them), became his political justification for attacking Poland -- although he also manufactured a fake Polish attack on the Gleiwitz (Gliwice) radio station to show that the Poles were the first to attack Germany, which had to react with armed force. In fact, the attackers, dressed in Polish uniforms, were political dissidents taken out of a prison camp and shot afterwards. (See Lec. Notes 16).

(For some pictures of Gdansk, as restored after the devastation caused by the Soviet-German battle for it in March 1945, see below)

(Pan Dragon Advertising Co., 1997, with one photo by A.M. Cienciala)


B. East Prussia: A plebiscite was held in the majority Mazurian-speaking south in July 1920. This was a bad time for Poland because the Red Army was advancing on  Warsaw, which was expected to fall.
Furthermore, the Mazurians or Ermlanders of E.Prussia had been separated from Poland for centuries and most were Lutherans, while most Poles in Poland were Catholic. Also, the German authorities promised East Prussian Poles (Masurians)their own schools, newspapers, and of course old age pensions, if they voted for Germany.

As in Upper Silesia, German "outvoters" were brought in to vote from Germany. (The Versailles Treaty stipulated, as requested by the Polish delegation, that people born in a plebiscite region, or who had lived there up to the early 1900s, but no longer living there, could return to vote; they were called "outvoters"). A combination of various factors: religion, fear of Soviet invasion, German schools, German promises, led the majority of people in East Prussia to vote for Germany. Despite German promises, the local Poles’ cultural rights were not respected, and most of them were subjected to continued germanization. [On the Polish Mazurians and their German allegiance, see Richard Blanke, Polish-Speaking Germans? Language and National Identity among the Masurians since 1871, Cologne, 2001].

C. Upper Silesia: Silesia had belonged to Poland in early medieval times, but passed to the Kings of Bohemia in the 14th century, then to the Austrian Habsburgs. Frederick the Great of Prussia seized the region from Maria Theresa of Austria in the war of 1740-1742, after which it was part of Prussia. It is interesting that Frederick's proclamation of his rule to the people of Breslau/Wroclaw, was printed in Polish, although in the German gothic alphabet.

The area East of the Oder river was believed to be preponderantly Polish-speaking, but as noted above, aside from workers from Galicia,most spoke a language based on Polish and German. They claimed to be Szlonzoks (pron. Shlonzoks); however, some Silesians claimed they were Poles; and some claimed they were German. The Szlonzoks also had other identitites besides their regional one: they could also be German or Polish, or Czech (in the south). *
At the same time, most of the German landowners, businessmen, factory owners, local government, police and clergy were Catholic. About 10% of the region's population was Protestant, while the vast majority of Silesian workers and peasants were Catholic.


* On the Szlonzoks of Upper Silesia, also the people of Austrian Silesia, see: Tomasz Kamusella, Silesia and Central European Nationalism. The Emergence of National and Ethnic Groups in Prussian Silesia and Austrian Silesia, Purdue University Press, West Lafayete, IN, 2007. For a shorter survey, see his article: "Upper Silesia, 1870-1920: Between Region, Religion, Nation and Ethnicity," East European Quarterly, vol. XXXVIII, no.4, January 2005, pp. 443-462. (The English is sometimes difficult to understand.)

The German census of 1900 recorded 65% of the population as Polish- speaking (the census did not differentiate between Poles and Szlonzoks), but the census of 1910 recorded 57%. This was due to the introduction of the category of "bilingual" inhabitants, which  reduced the official number of Polish-speaking Silesians, though some of  the latter spoke both German and Polish, or/and Szlonzakian, while the Germans spoke only German. However, ethnic identification was often a matter of choice. According to a language map drawn up by German Professor Paul Weber, in most Upper Silesian districts east of the Oder river Polish-speaking Silesians made up over 70% of the population in 1910. [See also census figures in Blanke, above]. The map maker did not differentiate between Polish-speakers and Szlonzoks, while the map in Kamusella's book does not show Poles.


[Maps  reproduced in: Robert Machray, THE PROBLEM OF UPPER SILESIA, London, 1945, facing p.72].


The plebiscite results are still interpreted differently by Polish and German historians today.

The Versailles Treaty mandated a plebiscite within two years in the whole of Silesia, although the Polish government claimed only the Polish-inhabited part, so it wanted to exclude predominantly German districts west of the Oder river. Meanwhile, the German administration and police were left in place, although either Poles or Szlonzoks governed in many villages east of the Oder river.

Both Poland and Germany used the intervening period for intensive propaganda. The Germans told the workers that they would lose their jobs and old age pensions if they voted for Poland, while Polish leaders allegedly promised a cow for each vote for Poland. (Only men had the vote.) Polish newpapers claimed that the German "Freikorps" (Free Corps), made up of veterans of the former German army, terrorized those Silesians who favored voting for Poland, while German newspapers accused Poles of terrorizing Silesians who favored Germany. In fact, acts of terror were committed by both sides. Polish propaganda stressed that if Poland won the plebiscite, Silesian Poles would no longer be oppressed or treated as second class citizens as they had been in Germany, they would not lose their old age pensions, and Silesia would have autonomous status in Poland. German propaganda claimed that Silesians would lose their retirement pensions and have a lower standard of living under Polish rule.

In August 1919,  the Silesian Poles revolted, demanding that the police and local government authorities be both German and Polish.
In February 1920, an Allied Plebiscite Commission arrived in Upper Silesia. It was made up of British, French, and Italian forces with the French being most numerous, but was too small to maintain order. Moreover, the British and Italians favored the Germans, while the French favored the Poles.
In August 1920, German rumors of a Polish defeat by the Red Army (see below) led to German attacks on Poles, and sparked a second Polish uprising.
Finally, the plebiscite took place on March 20, 1921. The result appeared to be a smashing victory for Germany:

Total German vote
" Polish "
German majority:

[Blanke gives the vote only in the part that was awarded to Poland, that is, what became Polish Upper Silesia].

Polish historians stress the fact that German outvoters brought in from Germany numbered 179,910. They also state that is these German votes are deducted from the German total, it is reduced to 527,000. Polish historians also claim that Silesian-born Poles working in the Ruhr were not allowed by their German employers to go and vote, while German historians claim that French occupation troops in the Ruhr prevented many German Silesians from going to vote in Upper Silesia, and that the Polish outvoters came from former Galicia (Austrian Poland).

There were, in fact, 10,000 Polish outvoters from Poland (they had the right to vote if they had lived in Upper Silesia in 1904), so the actual totals were  527,695 German resident votes and 469,359 Polish resident votes, or a local German majority of 58,336 instead of 228,246. But Polish historians did not take account of the fact that many Szlonzoks voted for Germany, which they rightly equated with a higher standard of living than that of Galicia. Most of them had the same negative stereotype of the Pole as the Germans: dirty, drunk, and slovenly, which explains their vote for Germany.


** for a detailed account, see: Sarah Wambaugh, Plebiscites since the World War, 2 vols. Washington, D.C., 1933; background and detailed figures, vol. I, pp. 209 ff. For a breakdown of the population figures and votes in Polish Upper Silesia (the part East of Oder River awarded to Poland in Oct.1921), by county, see: The Population in Western Poland in: Richard Blanke, Orphans of Versailles, above. Here you can see that the German vote figures for the plebiscite of March 1921, are higher than the German population figures in the Prussian Census of 1910, probably due to German Outvoters.

What went unnoticed until very recently is the fact that most Szlonzoks, or born and bred Silesians with their own language, would have preferred a "Free State of Upper Silesia." About half a million of them favored this solution out of a total population of some two million people (only men had the vote). This roughly equalled the membership of the prewar "Bund der Oberschelsicher/Zwiazek Gornoslazakow" (German and Polish names of the Union of Upper Silesians). However, they were not granted a chance to vote for for such a state. (On the development of the regional Szlonzok identity [see: Tomasz Kamusella, Silesia and Central European Nationalism, cited above.)

The British and French governments disagreed on the interpretation of the plebiscite. The main bone of contention was the "Industrial Triangle," that is the coal and steel producing district east of the Oder river bounded by the cities of Beuthen (Polish: Bytom), Gleiwitz (Polish: Gliwice) and Kattowitz (Polish: Katowice). The French wanted the Triangle to go to Poland, to give the latter an industrial base and weaken Germany; the British, supported by the Italians, wanted it to stay in Germany because the Germans claimed they could not pay war reparations without having all of Upper Silesia. Some British politicians, expecting the area to go to Germany, bought shares in German coal mines and steel mills at very low prices.

However, the German need for Upper Silesian coal and steel was not as great as it appeared at the time. Before 1914, 50% of the coal and industrial production of the region had been exported abroad, mostly to Russian Poland. Indeed, during the World War I, German industrialists had proposed the German annexation of Russian Poland to secure it as a market for Upper Silesian coal and industry. [By the mid-1930s, when Nazi rearmament went into full swing, the smaller fragment of the industrial region that stayed under German rule, was outproducing the larger, Polish part.]

In late April 1921, rumors flew that the British and Italians would prevail over the French, so Upper Silesia would stay in Germany. This led to theThird Polish Uprising in May-July 1921. The Silesian Poles and the Szlonzaks favoring Poland - aided by Polish officers, soldiers, and arms supplies- occupied most of the region east of the Oder river. About 50,000 men fought on each side, German and Polish.

The French and British still could not agree, so British Prime Minister Lloyd George proposed to French Premier Clemenceau that the issue be decided by the League of Nations, expecting it to award the Industrial Triangle to Germany. Clemenceau agreed, hoping for the best. As it turned out, the League appointed its own commission of inquiry which gathered its own data, interviewed Poles and Germans from the region, and made its decision on the basis of self-determination. Since most of the country districts had voted for Poland, the decision was to award it to Poland. Therefore, in October 1921, the League of Nations awarded most of eastern Upper Silesia, including the Industrial Triangle to Poland, to great dismay in both Germany and Britain. Nevertheless, about half a million Poles and Szlonzaks were left in German Silesia, most of them in the Oppeln region [Polish: Opole]. Therefore, about 100,000 people from the German part moved to the Polish one, and vice versa..

In May 1922, the Upper Silesian or Geneva Convention, was worked out by the League of Nations to preserve the economic unity of the area. It also set up a tribunal to arbitrate disputes. Furthermore, since Germany claimed it could not do without Upper Silesian coal, it was allowed to import 500,000 tons per year at reduced prices. However, when the coal agreement ran out in 1925, Germany refused to continue importing this coal, and tried to use this as economic pressure to make Poland agree to a revision of the whole Polish-German frontier. Therefore, Germany started a tariff war with Poland, but failed to reach its goal.***


***For a brief, excellent study of Polish questions at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, see the Piotr S. Wandycz chapter on Poland in: Manfred F. Boemeke et al eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years (Cambridge University Press, U.K., New York, 1998).

For the Versailles Treaty decisions on Danzig and Upper Silesia and the working out of these settlements, see Anna M. Cienciala and Titus Komarnicki, FROM VERSAILLES TO LOCARNO. Keys to Polish Foreign Policy 1919-1925, Lawrence, KS., 1984, ch.2-4.

For an exhaustive study of Polish problems at the Peace Conference see Kay Lundgreen-Nielsen, The Polish Problem at the Paris Peace Conference: A Study of the Policies of the Great Powers and the Poles, 1918-1919, Odense, Denmark, 1979. (The author is very critical of Polish eastern territorial goals.)

For more detail on Danzig/Gdansk and Polish Pomerania (Pomorze), see A. M. Cienciala, "The Battle for Danzig and the Polish Corridor at the Paris Peace Conference 1919," in Paul Latawski, ed., THE RECONSTRUCTION OF POLAND 1914-23, Basingstoke, London, 1992, pp. 71-94. For a view sympathetic to Germany, see: Richard Blanke, Orphans of Versailles. On the working of the Upper Silesian Convention see: Georges Kaeckenbeck, THE INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENT OF UPPER SILESIA. A Study in the Working of the Upper Silesian Settlement, 1922-1937,London, New York, Toronto, 1942. The author was the President of the Arbitral Tribunal of Upper Silesia in 1922-37.


German propaganda claimed that there would be no lasting peace in Europe unless Germany recovered Danzig, the Corridor, and Upper Silesia, claiming that all these territories were preponderantly German. This was belied by the Prussian Census of 1910 (although it did not include Szlonzoks), but hardly anyone bothered to look at it. German propaganda reinforced the opinion of British and American elites that these territories should return peacefully to Germany. British sympathy for Germany fitted the traditional British view that Central Europe was the natural sphere of German influence. This view, in turn, was to underpin the British-led appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s.

The Rebirth of Poland.
    [from Jerzy Topolski, An Outline History of Poland, Warsaw, 1986, p. 209. Please use a magnifying glass to read the legends.]



A. Historical Background. There had been many Polish-Russian wars over the borderlands, that is Belarus (formerly Belorussia), Ukraine, and the lands that are now Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. At its greatest extent, in  the early 1600s, Poland-Lithuania had included most of these lands, but it gradually retreated as Russia expanded. Russia acquired some Belarusian and Ukrainian lands in the 17th century, plus what is today Latvia and Estonia in the early 18th century, while it acquired the rest of the borderlands as well as a large part of ethnic Poland in the Partitions of 1772-1795.

From that time on, Russian governments looked on the borderlands, and especially Russian Poland (which was ethnically Polish), as vital for Russian security. They pointed to Napoleon’s invasion of 1812 and to WWI, when the German and Austro-Hungarian armies drove the Russians out of Poland by the fall of 1915, and advanced into Russia. General Brusilov's offensive pushed the Austrians out of East Galicia in summer 1916, but the Russians were driven out of this region in summer 1917, and the Germans and Austrians occupied most of the borderlands until the end of WWI.

 Imperial Russian governments and propaganda claimed the borderlands were ethnically Russian, because they viewed the Belarussians and Ukrainians as "little brothers." However, these peoples developed their own national identities in the course of the 19th century. Furthermore, there were large Polish minorities in what is today western Belarus, western Ukraine, and central Ukraine.

According to the Polish Census of 1931, Poles made up 5,600,000 of the total population of eastern Poland which stood at 13,021,000.* In Lithuania, Poles had majorities in the Vilnius [P. Wilno, Rus. Vilna] and Suwalki areas, as well as significant numbers in and around Kaunas [P.Kowno].

*[According to the Polish census of 1931, in Eastern Poland the Ukrainians numbered 4,303,000; Belarussians 1,693,000; Jews 1,079,100; Russians 125,800; Germans 86,200; Czechs 31,000, see: Marek Tuszynski, "Soviet War Crimes Against Poland During the Second World War and Its Aftermath. A Review of the Record and Outstanding Questions," Polish Review, no.3, 1999. The Ukrainians and Belarussians were undercounted in 1931. Tuszynski notes that by October 1939, there were an additional 1,579,000 Polish citizens in these territories, not counting 379,000 Polish refugees from the Warsaw district, see ibid note 9].

B. 1917-1919.

(i) The Soviet advance westward. 1918-19.The Soviet government claimed to support the "self-determination" of all the non-Russian peoples of the former Russian Empire. However, they meant self-determination by workers and peasants led by native communists sent in from Moscow. The Soviet government could not help the communists in Finland, and failed in a bid to take over the Baltic States.

However, in 1918, the Soviets managed to take over most of Ukraine, driving out the Ukrainian government from Kiev, and they also set up a "Lithuanian-Belorussian Republic "(Litbel) in early 1919, with its government in Vilnius [Wilno]. It was run by native communists sent there by Moscow and supported by Red Army units. This government made itself very unpopular by confiscating food and horses for the army, as well as terror.

(ii) The Polish Communist Workers’ Party was established in Warsaw in late December 1918. It was made up of the left wings of the Polish Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania. This new party called for the overthrow of "bourgeois Poland," and was therefore declared illegal by the Polish government. Later, it changed its name to the Polish Communist Party.

C. The Polish-Soviet War.

This war began in 1919, but most of the fighting occurred in 1920.

As German troops pulled out of Belarus in late 1918 and early 1919, Red Army troops began to seep in. Polish troops advanced east and clashed with them at Bereza Kartuska in February 1919. In April, the Polish army drove the Litbel government out of Wilno/Vilnius, which then had a predominantly Polish and Jewish population (about 50-50), some Belarusians and only about 2% Lithuanians.

The French and British governments, which supported the Whites (anti-communists) in the Russian Civil War, tried to persuade Pilsudski to go on fighting the Red Army, but to keep recovered eastern territories "in trust" for Russia. He refused and proposed that a plebiscite be held in the borderlands under League of Nations auspices, but the western powers ignored this offer. Therefore, Pilsudski adopted a passive stance toward the Russian Civil War, not helping either the Whites or Reds, but objectively helping the Reds because he did not attack them.

In December 1919, the Red Army was clearly winning the Civil War and the Soviet government sent peace proposals to the Polish government. Pilsudski rejected negotiations, suspecting the Soviets only wanted a breather before attacking Poland. At this time, the French and British were pulling their troops out of Russia and wanted to avert a Polish-Soviet war.

On 8 December 1919, the Allied Supreme Council in Paris proposed a demarcation line between the Polish and Russian "administrations." This line, which was specifically stated not to be the frontier, was roughly equivalent to the eastern border of Russian Poland, which was ethnically Polish, but it had two possible variations in East Galicia (formerly part of Austrian Poland): one of which left Lwow [Ukr L’viv, Rus. Lvov] then predominantly Polish, and the neighboring oil fields, on the Russian side (Line A), while the other left them on the Polish side (Line B). Pilsudski ignored this proposal. His goal was a federation between Poland, Lithuania and Belorussia, and alliance with an independent Ukraine.

Lenin’s aim was to infiltrate the borderlands, set up communist governments there, as well as in Poland, and  reach Germany where he expected a socialist (communist) revolution to break out. He also expected revolutions elsewhere, including Italy, but the German revolution was most important to him for he believed that Soviet Russia could not survive without a socialist Germany and the help of its industrial know-how to modernize Russia.

In March 1920, Pilsudski learned from military intelligence that the Red Army was concentrating in Ukraine. He suspected an attack on Poland. Indeed, published Russian documents on the Civil War show that an attack was planned against Poland, though its first thrust was to be into Lithuania. However, wet weather with mud postponed the Soviet offensive.

Pilsudski decided on a preventive attack and concluded an alliance with the Ukrainian leader Semyon Petlyura (1879-1926). Petlyura had fought the Bolsheviks in defending Ukrainian independence, was defeated, and fled to Poland with his remaining troops. The Polish-Ukrainian alliance treaty, signed April 22 1920, had the goal of establishing an independent Ukraine in alliance with Poland. In return, Petlyura gave up Ukrainian claims to East Galicia (today western Ukraine), and was denounced for this by the Ukrainian leaders there. The treaty included guarantees for the rights of the Ukrainian minority in Poland and the Polish minority in Ukraine.

At the end of April, the Polish army and Petlyura’s Ukrainian divisions, marched east into Ukraine. They entered Kiev on May 7, and an independent Ukrainian state was proclaimed there. However, the expected Ukrainian uprising against the Soviets did not take place. Ukraine was ravaged by war; also, most of the people were illiterate and had not developed their own national consciousness. Finally, they distrusted the Poles, who had formed a large part of the landowning class in Ukraine up to 1918.

In June 1920, a Red Army offensive drove out the Poles who retreated westward, and was approaching Warsaw in late June. On July 2, the Soviet commander, Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky (1893-1937), issued an "Order of the Day" to his troops calling them to press "onward to Berlin over the corpse of Poland!" A group of Polish communists headed by Felix Dzerzhynsky (P. Feliks Dzierzynski), head of the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police), set up a Polish Revolutionary Committee in Bialystok, It was clearly the embryo of a communist government for Poland.

(from an Atlas of Russian History)

In this situation, the Polish government sent a delegation to Spa, Belgium - where the French and British prime ministers were meeting to discuss German reparations - to ask them for help. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was furious with the Poles for marching into Ukraine because he was negotiating a trade agreement with a Bolshevik delegation in London; also, he feared a German revolution if the Red Army reached Germany. Therefore, the British government proposed a demarcation line based on the Supreme Council Line of December 8, 1919, but this was now called the "Curzon Line" after British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon (who did not draw it up).  The Polish delegation at Spa had agreed to negotiate with the Soviets on the basis of the current Polish-Soviet frontline in East Galicia-- but the British extended the Curzon Line into East Galicia without telling them, leaving the then predominantly Polish city of Lwow (Lviv) and the oil fields on the Soviet side,

However, the Bolshevik government. sure of victory, refused this British offer. Meanwhile, an Anglo-French diplomatic mission and a military mission were sent to Poland as a sign of allied support for her independence. The French General Maxime Weygand (1867-1965) was to take over command of the Polish army. He arrived with some French officers, including captain Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970, leader of the Free French in World War II, head of French governments 1945-46, President 1958-69).

The Poles were in a very difficult position. Germany proclaimed neutrality and refused passage to French arms and munitions for Poland. In Czechoslovakia, railway workers refused to let trains with military supplies go through to Poland.
British dock workers sympathized with the Bolsheviks, so they threatened to strike if ordered to load ships for the Poles.
The only way French supplies could reach Poland was through Danzig.[P. Gdansk], but Lloyd George, who was negotiating a trade treaty with Bolshevik delegates in London, ordered the British League High Commissioner Sir Reginald Tower,  to refuse permission for unloading French ships, and the German Danzig dockers threatened to strike if they were ordered to unload them.
Nevertheless, the Poles unloaded some supplies in the fishing port of Gdynia, about 20 miles west of Danzig in the "Polish Corridor." (This experience led to the developmnt of Gdynia into a Polish port city; work began there in 1924). They also unloaded supplies from French ships, standing off Danzig, onto barges which proceeded directly to Tczew (German: Dirschau), whence they were loaded on trains to Warsaw, and then to the front.

As it turned out, General Weygand was not welcome to  take over command of the Polish army. He then advised the Poles to abandon Warsaw and set up a defense line on part of the Vistula river.

Pilsudski refused. He and his chief of staff, General Jordan T. Rozwadowski (1866-1928) drew up a daring plan of attack. Some Polish troops were withdrawn from the Warsaw perimeter and concentrated in a strike group south of the city.

On August 13, Pilsudski launched the attack toward the north-north west. He drove between the Red Army groups North and Center, and came up in the rear of Tukhachevsky’s army group which was outflanking Warsaw and had reached East Prussia.
The Red Army was defeated. This is known as the "Battle of the Vistula," or "The Battle of Warsaw." In the West, the victory was attributed to General Weygand. He denied this, but got used to the idea with time and came to see himself as the savior Poland. (Most textbooks on the history of Modern Western Europe do not mention the Polish victory). In September, Pilsudski defeated Tukhachevsky again at the Battle of the Nemen river in Lithuania.

It was only in the early years of the 21st century that Polish historians found sacks of Red Army cipher messages that had been deciphered by Polish cryptologists. (They had been taken from Polish Military Intelligence archives by the Germans in 1939, then by the Soviets in 1944, returned in the mid-1950s to Poland, and had lain in Polish archives untouched for another half century.) Thus, it became clear, that Pilsudski knew where Red Army units stood, and this helped him make his decision to launch the Polish attack on August 13 1920.

[fom Norman Davies, White Eagle, Red Star, London, 1972]



[Maps,  pictures and captions, Norman Davies, White Eagle Red Star,London, 1972. The captions are by Davies.]

We should note that the Polish army was made up of both conscripts and volunteers. The peasants made up the infantry and the rank-and-file of the cavalry. The Red Army also used infantry and cavalry, notably the Budenny "Konarmia" or Horse Army commanded by Semyon M. Budenny (1883-1973, pron. Boodyonny), to which Iosif [Joseph] V. Stalin (1879-1953), the future Soviet dictator, was attached as  Commissar, or chief political officer.
The Polish army also used armored trains, which with their heavy guns were like warships moving on land. They also transported heavy artillery, horses, and planes.
There was a small Polish air force; some of the pilots were American volunteers from the Lafayette Squadron, France, with Marion C.Cooper, later the maker of the famous horror film, "King Kong." They flew in the  the Kosciuszko Squadron in Poland.
The pilots found after a while that they could not shoot Russian troops with impunity because the Red Army had machine guns mounted on "tachankas," that is, fast moving, small, two wheel horse carts. The Poles also used them and each side claimed title to the invention.

But the war was mainly a fast moving cavalry war on both sides. It helped the cavalry to survive in the interwar period as an important part of both the Polish Army and the Red Army.

As mentioned earlier, in early July the Soviet government refused the British offer of the Curzon Line. In the official answer, given by the Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Georgii V. Chicherin (1872-1936), the Bolshevik government said it desired direct negotiations with the Poles to whom it would offer far more territory than the Curzon Line. Encouraged by the British, the Poles agreed to negotiate.
However, the Soviet demands put to the Polish delegation in August in Minsk were draconian. They involved not only loss of territory --basically the Curzon Line with East Galicia, thus leaving Lwow/L’viv and the oil fields to the Soviets, though with modifications in Poland’s favor in the Bialystok and Chelm [Russian: Kholm] regions --but also the following: disarmament, the establishment of a "workers’ militia," and the Soviet right of free transit of passengers and goods through Poland along the Volkovysk-Grayevo railway, which was to be in Soviet possession. The acceptance of these terms would have made Poland a Soviet satellite. The Poles refused, though Lloyd George had urged them to accept. (The French did not).

After the defeat of the Red Army, Lenin gave a confidential explanation of why his government had refused the Curzon Line offer and continued the advance into Poland. It is worth citing because of the insight it gives into Lenin’s thinking in July 1920 and of Poland’s key place in it. At a closed meeting of the 9th Conference of the Russian Communist Party on September 22, 1920, Lenin said:

We confronted the question: whether to accept [Curzon’s] offer, which gave us convenient borders, and by so doing, assume a position, generally speaking, which was defensive, or to take advantage of the enthusiasm in our army and the advantage which we enjoyed to sovietize Poland. ..

...we arrived at the conviction that the Entente’s military attack against us was over, that the defensive war against imperialism was over, we won it... The assessment went thus: the defensive war was over (Please record less: this is not for publication).

...We faced a new task...We could and should take advantage of the military situation to begin an offensive war...This we formulated not in the official resolution recorded in the protocols of the Central Committee...but among ourselves we said that we should poke about with bayonets to see whether the socialist revolution of the proletariat had not ripened in Poland...

[We learned] that somewhere near Warsaw lies not [only] the center of the Polish bourgeois government and the republic of capital, but the center of the whole contemporary system of international imperialism, and that circumstances enabled us to shake that system, and to conduct politics not in Poland but in Germany and England. In this manner, in Germany and England we created a completely new zone of proletarian revolution against global imperialism.....

. ..By destroying the Polish army we are destroying the Versailles Treaty on which nowadays the entire system of international relations is based.....Had Poland become Soviet....the Versailles Treaty ...and with it the whole international system arising from the victories over Germany, would have been destroyed. *

*[English translation from Russian quoted in Richard Pipes, RUSSIA UNDER THE BOLSHEVIK REGIME, (New York, 1993), pp.181-182, with some stylistic modification in par 3, line 3, by A.M.Cienciala. This document was first published in a Russian historical periodical, Istoricheskii Arkhiv, vol. I, no. 1., Moscow,1992].

After Tukhachevsky’s second and final defeat on the Nemen river, Lithuania, in September 1920, the Soviet government decided it needed peace to stay in power. An armistice with Poland was signed in Riga, Latvia, on October 12, 1920 and peace negotiations began in that city.

The negotiations for a peace treaty dragged on for months due to Soviet reluctance to sign. However, in Feb. 23- March 17 1921,  the Soviet govt. faced a sailors’ revolt in the naval base of Kronstadt (hard by Leningrad),which was brutally crushed by troops led over the ice by Tukhachevsky.

Furthermoe, peasants were also rising up against Soviet authorities, who were confiscating all their food to feed the Red Army and the workers in the cities. In view of this situation, Lenin ordered the Soviet plenipotentiaries to secure a peace treaty. This led to the signing of the Treaty of Riga on March 18, 1921. It established the Polish-Soviet frontier which lasted until the Soviet attack on Poland in mid-September 1939. It was a compromise peace for both sides, because Pilsudski gave up his plans for a federation with Lithuania and Belarus and alliance with an independent Ukraine, while Lenin gave up his plans for making Poland a Soviet state and exporting the revolution West, at least for the time being.

The Soviet government never accepted the new frontier and was determined to change it in its own favor as soon as opportunity arose. * The Ukrainians blamed the Poles for giving up the fight and thus the chance of Ukrainian statehood, but the Polish people were exhausted and public opinion opposed prolonging the war. Pilsudski apologized to the Ukrainian officers who had helped the Poles fight the Red Army, but now lost their struggle for an independent Ukraine. [For thePolish-Ukrainian war over East Galicia, see below].

[Norman Davies, White Eagle Red Star, inside front and back covers].

Brief Bibliography on the Polish-Soviet War

*For the military side of the Polish-Soviet War, see Norman Davies, White Eagle, Red Star. The Polish-Soviet War, 1919-1920, London, New York, 1972 and reprints. For the accounts of the two commanders-in-chief, see Jozef Pilsudski, [THE] YEAR 1920 AND ITS CLIMAX, BATTLE OF WARSAW, London, 1972. It includes Tukhachevsky’s account to which Pilsudski was replying. For the diplomatic side, see Piotr S.Wandycz, Soviet-Polish Relations, 1917-1921, Cambridge, Mass., 1969. For these and other sources see John A. Drobnicki, "The Russo-Polish War, 1919-1920: A Bibliography of Works in English," The Polish Review, vol. XLII [42], no. 1, New York, 1997, pp. 95-104. The discovery of Red Army ciphers, broken by the Poles, was publicized in the Polish press in August 2005.

For a western view sympathetic to Soviet Russia, see Louis Fisher, THE SOVIETS IN WORLD AFFAIRS. A History of the Relations between the Soviet Union and the Rest of the World, 1917-1929, 2d Printing, Princeton N.J., 1951 vol. I., ch. VI. White Poland vs. Red Russia. The work first appeared in 1930. In the Introduction - also to the 2nd printing - Fisher thanked Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Grigorii Chicherin, for helping him with the research, for reading the whole work, and giving Fisher his comments. Fisher also thanked Chicherin’s assistant, and later successor, Maxim M. Litvinov (1876-1951) and other Soviet dignitaries. Therefore, Fisher’s work can be seen as reflecting the views of Soviet policy makers in the late 1920s.

Significance of the Polish victory.

(i) It saved not only Poland but also the Baltic States, and perhaps the rest of Central Europe, as well from Soviet conquest thus allowing the development of independent states in this region.

(ii) It forced the Soviet government to focus on rebuilding the Russian economy by introducing the "New Economic Policy" (NEP), a mixture of socialism and capitalism (1921-28).

However, neither the factors leading to the Polish-Soviet war, nor the significance of its outcome were understood by most observers in the West. On the contrary, many western politicians and journalists accused Poland of having started an "imperialist war" against Soviet Russia and of annexing "Russian" lands --though these were, in fact, inhabited mostly by Belarusians and Ukrainians with signifcant Polish minorities. At the time,the Belarusians and Ukrainians were not strong enough to become independent. As it turned out, they were to suffer much less under Polish rule than their brothers in the USSR who came under the iron fist of Joseph V. Stalin. Soviet propaganda constantly accused the Poles of oppressing the Ukrainians and Belorussians, and demanded their "self-determination," which meant annexing Western Belarus and Ukraine to the Soviet Belarussian and Ukrainian Republics. In the early 1930s, millions or Soviet citizens were to starve, especially in Ukraine, as the result of Stalin's policy of forced collectivization.

Other conflicts over Polish borders.

A. The Polish- Lithuanian Conflict over Vilnius (P.Wilno, R.Vilna)

The population of Vilnius and its surrounding region was predominantly Polish-speaking at this time, but in the city itself  50%  of the population was Jewish. The new Lithuanian state proclaimed the city as its capital, for it had been the capital of the Duchy of Lithuania before its union with Poland in 1386.

Pilsudski, who was a native of the region and had lived in Vilnius, had two reasons to include it in Poland, or at least in some union with Poland:
(i) because of its predominantly Polish population and culture, and
(ii) because the region constituted the northern passage into Poland from Russia, that is, north of the Polesie marches. Polish public opinion stood solidly behind Pilsudski. (The Russians, of course, saw it as a passage into their country from the West).

Polish armies came into Lithuania in 1919, when they pushed the communist Litbel government out of Vilnius, and again after Polish victory in the Polish-Soviet war.The Polish seizure of Vilnius in October1920, must be seen in the context of Lithuanian-Soviet relations.  In July 1920, Lithuania concluded an alliance with Soviet Russia allowing free passage of Soviet troops, which was obviously a great threat to Poland. In return, the Soviet government recognized that Vilnius was the capital of Lithuania.

Pilsudski offered a compromise solution to the Lithuanian government and people: the establishment of a "Central Lithuania," with Vilnius,  in a federation with Poland. The Lithuanian government refused.

In October 1920, as the Vilnius question was being debated in the League of Nations, Gen. Lucjan Zeligowski "mutinied" against Warsaw and led a Polish division into Vilnius. In fact, Pilsudski asked him to do so, in order to avoid a direct confrontation with the western powers and the League of Nations. He admitted this later to western ministers in Warsaw in December 1922. The Polish division was welcomed enthusiastically by most of the population of the region,which was Polish.

However, Britain and other League of Nations powers were furious with the Poles and the Lithuanians demanded to have the city. Zeligowski proclaimed a "Central Lithuania" with its capital in Vilnius. Since Lithuania refused to accept this solution, a plebiscite was held in the city and region in which the majority - Poles - voted for union with Poland, so it joined Poland in 1922. Lithuanians in the region boycoted the vote, but they were a minority anyway. Lithuania never recognized this union and cut all road, rail, and postal communications with Poland.

In 1928, Pilsudski managed to make the Lithuanian President, Antanas Smetona (1874-1944, President 1919-20, 1926-40) declare publicly at a League of Nations meeting in Geneva that Lithuania would not go to war with Poland over Vilnius. However, the Lithuanian government refused all Polish attempts at negotiation and a state of ‘cold war’ existed between the two countries. This lasted until March 1938, when Poland, fearing German or Soviet domination of Lithuania, issued an ultimatum to the Lithuanians government in Kaunas. It demanded the establishment of normal relations. Lithuania agreed.*

*[see Cienciala and Komarnicki, FROM VERSAILLES TO LOCARNO, CH. 5. The Polish-Lithuanian Dispute over Vilna, 1919-1922. For a Lithuanian point of view, see Alfred Erich Senn, THE GREAT POWERS, LITHUANIA AND THE VILNA QUESTION 1920-1928 Leiden, Netherlands, 1967].

Lithuanian resentment of Poland ran very deep and Lithuanians have only reccntly (early years of the 21 st century) begun showing signs of understanding Polish aims and motives in 1920. Both countries realize the need for cooperation in the face of Russian economic pressure (oil) aimed at restoring predominant Russian influence on them.

B.The Polish-Ukrainian Conflict over East Galicia.

In December 1918, armed Ukrainian units formerly in the Austro-Hungarian army, seized the then predominantly Polish city of  Lwow, (Ukr. L'viv, R. Lvov) and hoisted the Ukrainian flag over the townhall. They also proclaimed the establishment of a Ukrainian National Republic. The Polish population resisted and fighting broke out. Polish troops arrived and pushed the Ukrainians out of the city.

In January 1919, the French government sent a mission headed by General Joseph Barthelemy to arbitrate between the Poles and Ukrainians. France was interested in obtaining control over the oil fields in the region.
Barthelemy proposed a demarcation line leaving just over one third of the East Galicia (now western Ukraine), including Lwow/L'viv and the oil fields, to Poland, and the rest to the Ukrainians. Half of the oil production was to go to the Ukrainians.
The Polish government accepted this proposal but the Ukrainians rejected it, so hostilities resumed and the Poles pushed the Ukrainian troops out of East Galicia.

In April 1920. as noted earlier, Petlyura signed an alliance with Pilsudski, giving up Ukrainian claims to East Galicia, and was denounced for this by the west Ukrainians. The Poles received allied consent to carry on the war beyond the river Zbrucz (pron. Sbrooch), though the British and the French did not approve the Pilsudski-Petlyura advance into Soviet-held Ukraine. The Curzon Line of July 1920 as originally proposed,  envisaged an armistice line leaving Lwow/Lviv and the surrounding region either to the Poles or the Soviets, but the Foreign Office extended the line south so as to leave it on the Soviet side.

Later, after the Polish victory over the Red Army, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George insisted on autonomy for East Galicia as a means of pressure on Poland and a lever for good relations with Soviet Russia, for he expected autonomy to be replaced by Soviet annexation. The western powers finally recognized the Polish-Soviet frontier in March 1923, but said they would not take responsibility for it.*

*[On the international context of the Polish-Ukrainian struggle for East Galicia, see Cienciala and Komarnicki, FROM VERSAILLES TO LOCARNO, 6-8. For a study of the Polish-Ukrainian alliance and of the Ukrainian Republic from a Ukrainian point of view, see Michael Palij, THE UKRAINIAN-POLISH DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE 1919-1922. An Aspect of the Ukrainian Revolution, Edmonton, Toronto, 1995; Cienciala review in the American Historical Review, April 1997, p. 484]

The Polish government finally agreed to give East Galicia autonomy, but did not implement it. This was because neither the Poles of East Galicia nor Polish public opinion as a whole was ready to agree to it in the interwar period. Furthermore, the Lwow/Lviv region was the southern passage from Russia into Poland, that is, south of the Polesie marshes. (The Russians, of course, saw it as a passage into their country from the west).Thus, aside from Polish public opinion, there were security reasons why no Polish government could consider giving up control over this region.

Many Ukrainians in East Galicia resented Polish rule, and sought outside support. The Ukrainian Nationalist Organization [OUN, formed in Vienna, 1929] was financed by Germany (the Weimar Republic). Ukrainian resentment was aggravated in  September 1930 when Pilsudski reacted to OUN terrorist actions against Poles by billeting Polish troops in Ukrainian villages. The troops and police outraged the Ukrainians by beating them up, also destroying Ukrainian libraries and property.

The League of Nations considered a resolution condemning Poland for this policy. However, the head of the Polish Delegation to the League at this time, Edward Raczynski, managed to avert it by showing the statesmen who backed it photostat copies of documents proving German subventions for the OUN, and threatening to make them public if Poland was condemned by the League. League members did not want this done because they did not wish to antagonize Germany, a member of the League since 1926.*

*[Edward Raczynski (1891-1993, pron. Raachynskee), later Polish ambassador in London 1932-45, also foreign minister in the P. government in exile, London, 1943-45, President of the P. government in exile, 1971-1986. Raczynski’s account of this incident concerning the photostats was given in a letter to A.M.Cienciala Feb.1, 1982].

For an overview of Polish foreign policy 1919-21, with some background for WW I, see: Wandycz, Polish Diplomacy, pp. 1-17(click here for text)

[Ethnic Map of Poland from Cienciala & Komarnicki, FROM VERSAILLES TO LOCARNO.]

Epilog to the Polish-Ukrainian Conflict.

Extreme Ukrainian nationalists carried out several assassinations and attempted assassinations against Polish ministers in the interwar period. During WWII, the Bandera faction of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (UPA) murdered 40,000-60,000 Poles living in the villages of former  Volhynia and former East Galicia, while the Poles killed some 20,000 Ukrainians, mostly in former East Galicia in reprisal. (See Lec.Notes 16).

Stalin won East Galicia and the rest of eastern Poland at the end of WW II. In 1947, Polish and Soviet security forces forcibly removed tens of thousands of Ukrainians from their native villages in S.E. Poland and resettled them along the coast in newly acquired Polish Western Pomerania. This move, called "Action Vistula," was undertaken on Soviet orders because UPA units fighting the Red Army and NKVD troops sought refuge in south-eastern.Poland and received help from Ukrainians living there. However,  in this case the Poles willingly followed Soviet orders because of their memories of UPA crimes in former eastern Poland.
(For the Polish-Czechoslovak Conflict, see Lecture Notes no.12.)