|Anna M. Cienciala (email@example.com)
History 557 Lecture Notes
Spring 2002 (Revised Fall 2003; revised Fall 2007. Fall 2011
hist557 by anna m.cienciala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at web.ku.edu.
LECTURE NOTES 14A.
DOMESTIC PROBLEMS AND FOREIGN POLICIES OF INTERWAR
EAST EUROPEAN STATES.
[NOTE: By Eastern Europe, the author means all the countries of the region; by East Central Europe, she means Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Some authors, however, use East Central Europe to mean the entire region and since the collapse of Communism in 1989, the three countries listed above are included in Central Europe.]
These problems and policies should be viewed within (a) the
context of the beliefs/perceptions of historians today, and
(b) the realities of East Central Europe and South Eastern Europe (the Balkans) at this time.
(a) Current western beliefs/perceptions.
1. Under the impact of the internecine ethnic/religious wars of the 1990s in the lands of former Yugoslavia, some western historians condemn the ďethnic nationalismĒ of interwar East Central and South Eastern Europe. This view reinforces the older condemnations of East European nationalism by interwar Austrian and Hungarian historians (1919-39), also by American historian Hans Kohn (an Austrian subject raised in Prague), and finally by contemporary western Marxists like the British historian Eric Hobsbawm (with family roots in East Central.Europe), who sees nationalism as an obstacle to modernisation.
2. In this context, some contemporary western historians condemn President Woodrow Wilson for his insistence on the principle of self-determination in 1919. At the same time, these historians condemn the peace makers in Paris, 1919-20 for following this principle in some cases, and violating it in others-- as if it was possible for statesmen and politicians to always stick to a principle.
3. Finally, some western historians view federalization as the best solution for the East Central European and Danubian states in 1919-20. Theefore, they condemn the rejection of this system when offered by Emperor Charles for Austria and Michael Karolyi for Hungary in Nov-Dec. 1918, also the later rejections of similar projects.
(b) These views may seem attractive but they are out of touch with East European realities of the time and therefore unrealistic. To start with the last view :
1. The majority of non- German/Austrian and non-Magyar peoples rejected the federal solution in either Austria or Hungary, or in a revamped Austria-Hungary, because they did not want to live any longer under foreign rule. That is also why later Hungarian projects for a ďDanubian FederationĒ remained on paper, though Hungarian historians like to point out its advantages over non-Magyar nationalism. However, the fact that such a federation would have been run from Vienna or Budapest made it totally unacceptable to the non- Magyars of the Danube basin, who remembered only too well the repression or discrimination of their nationals in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
2. Ethnic-national states were not created by Woodrow Wilson or the peace settlement of 1919; nor were they an East European aberration. This process was, in fact, the continuation of national unification movements that had already taken place in Western Europe during the 19th century. Note also the forced assimilation policies followed by the Hungarian government in Budapest toward its nationalities, by the German imperial government toward the Poles of Prussian Poland and the Russian imperial government in the Baltic States, Finland and Russian Poland, as well as toward the Ukrainians, Belorussians and Tatars, not to speak of Russian colonial policies imposed on the peoples of the Caucasus (Azeris, Chechens, Georgians),and Central Asia (Kazakhs and Uzbeks) . Such policies either helped create or strengthened the existing national identities of the subject peoples.
3. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most of the new borders of East European countries were not fixed by western statesmen drawing maps in Paris in 1919. Most were fixed on the ground in late 1918 - early 1919, or a little later, even despite pleas to await the decisions of the Peace Conference. The borders fully determined at the Paris Peace Conference were the Polish-German and Czechoslovak-German-Austrian borders.
4. Of course, it was impossible to establish borders satisfactory to every ethnic nationality and group because of the inter-mixing of peoples in the past, and especially because of long foreign rule and the consequences of WW I. The natural outcome of this state of affairs in 1919 was that the nations which had opposed the Central Powers in the war: the Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Romanians, who also had sufficient armed forces at their disposal, were able to include territories with significant minorities within their borders. The Poles were able to do so in eastern Poland because of their victory over the Red Army in August 1920.
Keeping the above realities in mind, let us look at the East European States of the interwar period.
General Characteristics and Problems.
Hungary had ruled itself as a constituent part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire so, while much reduced in territory, it already had its own administration, education and cultural institutions. But the short, interwar period -- lasting just over 20 years if we start in fall 1918 and go to March 1939 (Czechoslovakia), Sept. 1939 (Poland) -- had enormous significance for these three countries, because:
(a) they could develop their own politics, administration, economies, education, culture and politics;
(b) their very existence legitimized all of them in the eyes
of the world. After this period, they could not be obliterated either by Nazi
Germany or the Stalinist USSR.
Joseph Rothschild an American political scientist and author of books on Eastern Europe (d. Dec.1999), wrote that even communist historians joined "bourgeois" emigre scholars "in valuing highly the sheer fact of interwar state-independence, and judged it to be "a historic advance over the areaís pre-World War I political status." He also gave a balanced judgment on the performance of the countries of both East Central in the interwar period:
We must also bear in mind that all these states faced enormous problems, most of which could not be resolved in twenty years, especially in view of the paucity of foreign capital investment before the Great Depression struck in 1930, and virtually none after it. Furthermore, they faced the growing threat of Nazi Germany from 1935 onward, when Hitler openly began to remilitarize the country.
Many of ECE problems were inherited from the former empires, a fact acknowledged by the British historian Hugh Seton-Watson, whose negative evaluation of these states in the interwar was to influence several generations of British and American historians. In the preface to the last edition of his book on interwar Eastern Europe, the author recognized the problems of corruption, inefficiency and injustice as inherited from the past.*
*[Hugh Seton-Watson, Eastern Europe between the Wars, 1918-1941, Preface to 3rd edition revised, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1967.].
Unfortunately, few people read prefaces, and this is a case in point.
In fact, the problems of Poland and Hungary -- as well as the Balkan countries --were much more numerous than those
listed by Rothschild. There were 10 key problems. Except for western Czechoslovakia, these were:
(1) General economic backwardness;
(2) Agrarian, unmechanized, economies;
(3) Overpopulation on the land;
(4) Peasant poverty;
(5. Inadequate communications --bad roads and insufficient railway track;
(6) Lack of a strong middle class;
(7) Inadequate numbers of trained bureaucrats;
(8) Widesrpread illiteracy;
(9) Lack of experience, or restricted experience with parliamentary politics and participation in any kind of government;
(10 Lack of investment capital.
As noted above, the exception to all these problems was western Czechoslovakia, where Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia had a highly developed industry, a prosperous agriculture, an excellent road and rail network, a highly literate population, a numerous and well trained bureaucracy, experience in parliamentary government (as part of Austria) and considerable capital resources. However, of the other two constituent parts of the country, Slovakia was poor and underdeveloped, while Subcarpathian Ruthenia (or Carpathian Rus, now part of Ukraine) was one of the poorest regions in all of E.Europe.
Two other problems which most E.European countries had in common were:
(a) either multi-ethnic/national populations
(b) or/and significant ethnic/national minorities whose loyalties belonged to, or leaned toward neighboring national states.
In Poland, ethnic Poles made up some 65-69% and minorities
some 30-35% of the total population (The last interwar census was in 1931). Romania had a sizable Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Czechoslovakia and
Yugoslavia were multinational states, each made up of several nationalities
subordinated to the ruling nationality: Czechs (51%)and Serbs (33%) of the total
population of each respectively.
This state of affairs, though inevitable at the time, deepened the general feeling of insecurity. Indeed, the discrimination against the smaller constituent or so-called co-ruling nationalities in Czechoslovakia (Slovaks and Rusyns), Yugoslavia (Croats, Slovenes -- but not Bosniaks and Montenegrins), and the discrimination or oppression of national minorities in most East European countries, stemmed primarily from fear that the smaller constituent nationalities, as well as minorities, could, and probably would given the chance, undermine the sovereignty of the countries in which they were resentful citizens, and so lead to the reduction of state territory, or even stae destruction. We must bear this insecurity in mind when we look at ethnic policies in the interwar East European states.
The above fears were intensified by the general, international insecurity of the 1930s, which made territorial disputes more threatening than they would have been otherwise. Thus, the states allied with France: Poland and Czechoslovakia, feared Germany; this was especially so for Poland whose western frontiers no German government officially recognized. Poland and Romania also feared the USSR, which did not recognize their eastern frontiers.
Romania feared Hungary - which claimed all of Transylvania - as did Czechoslovakia, whose Slovak and Rusyn lands were lost by Hungary.
Yugoslavia feared Hungary and Bulgaria, both of which lost territory to it, but above all, Italy, which lost its eastern Adriatic coast to Yugoslavia.
Greece feared Bulgaria and Italy, because it held some of their former territory. In each case, except Greece and Hungary which were ethnically homogenous, dissatisfied constituent nationalities and national minorities could be used to further the aims of neighboring enemy states which aimed to regain territory lost in 1918-21.
The largest state in the region,Poland, had two potential enemies: Germany and the USSR. Polish fears that the German, Ukrainian and Belorussian minorities could be used against the Polish state by Germany and the Soviet Union, were compounded by Britainís conciliatory attitude toward Weimar Germany in the 1920s, and her disapproval of Polandís acquisition of territories east of the Curzon Line (see lec. notes 11).
British appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s was joined, albeit reluctantly by France, the ally of Poland and Czechoslovakia. It should be noted that in the period 1920-38 most British statesmen and politicians viewed East Central and South Eastern Europe as the natural sphere of German influence. This paved the way to the western appeasement of Nazi Germany after Hitler came to power (see Lec. Notes 15)
The general trend of East Central European political development was from parliamentary democracy, including strong Socialist parties at the outset, to various types of authoritarian government. But it should be noted that while fascist parties or groups existed in each country, no interwar East European state had a fascist party in power as was the case in Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, while a totalitarian communist system existed in the USSR.
The exception to the authoritarian regimes in E. Europe was Czechoslovakia, whose democratic governments were based on a the voluntary cooperation of key political parties, with occasional governments of experts. However, the Germans, Slovaks, and Rusyns felt they were second class citizens, coming behind the ruling Czechs.
A. EAST CENTRAL EUROPE: POLAND, HUNGARY, AND CZECHOSLOVAKIA, 1919-1939 [Czechoslovakia split into the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1991. Today the whole region is considered part of Central Europe along with Germany and Austria].
Polish political life was dominated in 1918-23 and 1926-35 by Jozef Pilsudski (1867-1935), but he was bitterly opposed by his rival, Roman Dmowski (1864-1939), leader of the National Democratic movment. This was a right wing, Roman Catholic and anti-semitic movement supported by a significant part of the Polish intelligentsia.The latter were educated people, mainly of gentry descent, who worked mostly in the civil and military service but also in the liberal professions. The ND movement also had the support of the growing Polish middle class, made up of business people and shop keepers.
Pilsudski was "Head of State" until December 1922, when the Seym [Parliament] elected the first President, Gabriel Narutowicz (1865-1922), after Pilsudski had declined the post because it had no power.
Narutowicz, an engineer and former minister, was supported by Pilsudski. His election was bitterly resented by the National Democrats because he had won the presidency in a Seym election with the swing votes of deputies representing the national minorities, including the Jews, who made up 10% of the whole population. Therefore, the N. Democrats claimed that Narutowicz was not a Polish President and incited the Warsaw mob to pelt his carriage with mud as he drove to his inauguration.
He was assassinated shortly thereafter at an art exhibition that Pilsudski was to open (he could not come), by a young N.Dem. fanatic, a painter and art historian, Eligiusz Niewiadomski. The country was horrified; he was condemned to death and executed, but some N.Dem. papers honored him as a national hero. Pilsudski was appalled and this led to his growing disgust at the excesses and corruption of political parties, which he identified with parliamentary democracy in general.
[Pictures from Richard M.Watt, Bitter Glory, New York, 1974].
The Polish political system, as it existed in 1921-26, was modeled on France. Thus, it was a multi party system based on proportional representation, a strong parliament, and a weak president.
Indeed, the Polish parliament adopted this type of constitution in March 1921 just in case Pilsudski ran for president. He did not, because he did not want to be a figurehead. Polish coalition cabinets never lasted long because of the fragile multi-party combinations on which they were based. There were many parties, at one time as many as 94, though most of them were so-called "sofa parties," (meaning the members of each party could fit on a sofa). The parties that counted were the National Democrats, the Socialists, and the right-wing peasant party PIAST (named after the first Polish dynasty, whose first ruler, according to legend, was a peasant).
The multi-party system was the source of political instability because, unlike the French model which included a professional bureaucracy unaffected by changes of power (except for ministerial positions), in Poland most civil service jobs changed hands with each new government, which distributed them as political patronage. (As in most East European countries, the civil service employed most of the country's Intelligentsia, or educated people). In 1923, a National Democrat-Peasant Party coalition politicised military appointments, which Pilsudski protested by resigning from all his positions in July of that year and going into retirement. He distributed his marshal's pension among various charities while he supported his family by his writings and lectures.
The years 1923-24 witnessed great economic- financial instability in Poland. The country, whose currency was tied to the German Mark, was significantly affected by the German inflation of 1923. This occurred after French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr in January 1923 to secure deliveries of reparations. In reply, the German government printed paper money to pay the workers not to work for the occupiers. The resulting inflation ruined most of the German middle class which lost its savings. (Germany began to recover in 1924, however, and enjoyed an economic boom until it was hit by the Great Depression in early 1930.)
Polish recovery seemed in the offing with the establishment of a new currency, the zloty (meaning golden) in 1924, but a year later Germany launched a tariff war against Poland. Up until that time, Germany was Polandís no.1 trading partner, but now the German government applied economic pressure to force Polish consent to return most of the territories Poland had gained from Germany. Thus, the Germans stopped buying Polish coal and agricultural products. However, Poland recovered by capturing the formerly British coal markets in Scandinavia during the British General Strike of 1926, and by exporting some of its processed food products to Britain.
Poland in International Relations, 1920s.
In the Locarno Treaties of October 16, 1925, signed by France, Britain, Germany and Italy in the Swiss town of Locarno, "the Rhine Pact" guaranteed French and Belgian frontiers with Germany, and the latter recognized them, but no such guarantees applied to Germanyís frontiers with Poland and Czechoslovakia. It is true that France signed separate treaties of mutual assistance with those two countries, but their implementation was tied to League of Nations (L.N.)procedures, that is, a majority of L.N. Council members had to recognize a country as the victim of unprovoked aggression before it could receive help -- by which time it might be too late.
France did retain the option that if a majority of L.N.Council members failed to accept a report on unprovoked aggression, then she could come to the help her allies - but they feared that by that time they would be overrun by the aggressor.
In fact, these treaties of mutual assistance weakened the existing French alliances with Poland and Czechoslovakia.. Pilsudski was especially worried that France would leave Poland in the lurch if she were attacked by Germany. Furthermore, in case of a Soviet attack on Poland, the Franco-Polish alliance treaty of 1921 only provided for French military supplies. (For more on these treaties and European international relations, see Lecture Notes no.15 on Appeasement).
Pilsudski's Coup d'Etat, May 12, 1926.
Against the background of international and economic insecurity, Prime Minister Wincenty Witos (1874-1945), the leader of the right wing
Peasant Party "Piast", entered into a coalition with the National Democrats in spring 1926, and publicly dared Pilsudski to take power. Witos even threatened to
establish a right-wing dictatorship of the N.Dem. and Peasant Parties, while
the N.D. leader, Roman Dmowski, was thinking of a dictatorship along Italian lines
Pilsudski had the support of the Socialists, the Left-wing Peasant Party, and even the officially unrecognized Communists, in opposing a right wing dictatorship. He demanded that the President dismiss the government and appoint a new one, and threatened to use military force to this end if necessary. On 12 May 1926, when he marched on Warsaw with troops loyal to him, he intended to make only a military demonstration to force the government to resign and for the President to form a new one.
However, Pilsudski's old,
socialist colleague, now a member of the right wing Peasant "Piast" Party, President Stanislaw
Wojciechowski (1869-1953), refused to dismiss the government. Shots were
exchanged between Pilsudskiís supporters and units of the regular army loyal to the government. Some 300 persons were killed, mostly
civilians who happened to get in the line of fire. Pilsudski was devastated,
for he had not intended this to happen. The President now asked the government
to resign, which it did.
It should be noted that Pilsudskiís action was not a classic
military coup because he had the support of Polish socialists and even the communists,
who feared a right wing coup. (The PCP was officially illegal because it openly called for the overthrow of the Polish "bourgois" government; but it could publish books, pamphlets, newspapers and hold demonstrations on May 1, the Socialist Labor Day in Europe.) Indeed, except for the Poznan region, the
main N.Dem. stronghold, Pilsudski was welcomed as the "Dziadek" (Granpa) who
would restore order and security.*
*[Pictures from Watt, Bitter Glory. For a detailed Eng. lang. study of the coup, see: Joseph Rothschild, Pilsudskiís Coup díEtat, New York, 1966].
Pilsudski denied that he wanted to be a dictator, and said his goal was to bring the country back to health. This was the origin of the name given to his political group: "Sanacja" (pron. Saanatsyaa, from the French assainir = to heal).
His main objective was to give the Presidency strong executive power. He managed to expand presidential power with parliamentary support in 1926-27, but when parliament opposed him, he appointed governments of "experts" which issued decrees on the assumption that parliament would approve them. When parliament resisted, tensions grew. Pilsudski was twice Prime Minister, but devoted most of his attention to defense and foreign affairs. He was the Inspector General of the Armed Forces and Minister of War from 1926 until his death in May 1935.
In 1927 a pro-government bloc was created, the" Bezpartyjny Blok Wspolpracy z Rzadem." (The Non-Party Bloc of Cooperation with the Government, Polish acronym: BBWR). In fact, it was created to balance the N.Dem. "Oboz Wielkiej Polski" (Camp of Great Poland - OWP), created by Dmowski in 1926 as an umbrella organization for various right wing parties affiliated with the N.Democrats.
Political tensions worsened under the impact of the Great Depression which hit in 1930. Tariffs went up all over Europe, so Polish agricultural exports to Western Europe declined while unemployment hit industrial enterprises. (The same situation prevailed all over E. Europe, most of W.Europe, and the U.S).
In June 1930, a "Center - Left" Congress (center and left- wing parties) was held in Krakow and demanded that the government resign. Pilsudski feared civil war and had the leaders arrested. They were imprisoned and very badly treated, although no one died. There was an open trial of opposition leaders in which the government prosecutors tried but failed to prove the existence of a plot to overthrow the government by force. The defendants were condemned to prison terms, but some chose to go into exile (Witos moved to Czechoslovakia), and the government lost a good deal of face. especially in the West..
The imprisonment and trial of political opponents was a black mark for Poland, but it should be noted that no genuinely open trials of political opponents, such as the one in Poland, took place elsewhere in East Central and Central Europe. The exception was the 1933 Berlin trial of the Bulgarian communist Georgy M. Dimitrov (1882-1949) and his companions, accused of setting the German Reichstag fire. Some observers speculated that Dimitrovís courageous defense and release to the USSR was made possible by a secret German-Soviet agreement, or/and Hitlerís desire not to envenom German-Soviet relations. But otherwise the Nazis subverted the law, while the public trials and "confessions" of Stalinís purge victims in 1935-38 were rigged. Many defendants in public Soviet trials were tortured beforehand, while others agreed to "confess" to crimes they could not possibly commit in order to save their families. In most cases family members were deported to labor camps or penal settlements.
In April 1935, Pilsudskiís supporters used a trick to pass a new constitution; the opposition deputies were not told when the vote would be taken and most were absent. (Pilsudski expressed his disapproval of this trick). The "April Constitution" gave very extensive powers to the president. (Some historians compare Pilsudski with Charles De Gaulle, who obtained extensive presidential powers in France in 1958-59. He had served in the Polish-Soviet War 1920, and was known to have many books on Pilsudski in his library). Pilsudski, for whom the new constitution was tailored, was by now a very sick man (cancer), though this was known only to a few. He died on May 12, 1935 and the people mourned him as a great leader. He was given a magnificent funeral attended by many foreign dignitaries and was buried in Wawel Castle, Krakow, alongside Polandís Kings. His heart was, according to his wish, placed in his motherís grave in Vilnius, now the capital of Lithunia, but then Polish Wilno.
Pilsudskiís successors continued the political system established by the April constitution. They controlled parliament after passing a new electoral law (July 1935), which allowed the government party (BBWR) to hand pick deputies to run for parliament. In reply, opposition parties boycotted the next elections.
The post-Pilsudski governments are sometimes called "the governments of colonels," but they were not military juntas in the Latin American style. They consisted mostly of politicians who had served in Pilsudskiís Legions in WW I and held the rank of colonel, although the vast majority were colonels in the reserve. Their program was the same as Pilsudskiís: to make Poland as secure as possible against her traditional enemies: Germany and Russia, now USSR. Moreover, opposition parties continued to exist and had their own influential newspapers. There was no pre-emptive censorship of the press, but editors were subject to libel laws which were sometimes stretched rather far. This often resulted in blank spaces in second editions of newspapers published later the same day.
In 1937, the BBWR was dissolved and replaced by the "Oboz Zjednoczenia Narodowego" (OZON = Camp of National Unity), led by Col. Adam Koc. OZON made anti-semitic gestures to gain the National Democratsí support for the government. However, it did not go far enough for the N. Democrats, for unlike Romania and Hungary, no anti-Jewish legislation was ever passed in Poland, except for the prohibition of Jewish ritual slaughter of animals (which continued anyway because Polish butchers would have gone broke without Jewish purchases of beef).
The restriction on Jewish student enrollment called the "numerus clausus" or closed number, was not sanctioned by law (see under minorities below). Nor was OZON effective in building up popular support for the government. In fact, the Municipal Elections of December 1938 returned many oppositionists. President Ignacy Moscicki (1867-1946, pron: Eegnaatsy Moshtseetskee, President 1926-39) promised electoral reform, but it was not implemented because the Sanacja (government party) did not want to share power with the opposition.
The second most important person in the state after the President
was Marshal Edward Rydz-Smigly (or Smigly- Rydz, 1886-1941, Inspector General of the Army, Marshal November 1936), but he was
not a politician. However, he did support the modernization of the Polish Army,
which began in earnest after Pilsudski's death. Poland began to build modern
planes and organized a motorized unit in the army. However, progress was slow
because of inadequate industrial infrastructure while the French loan, granted
in 1936, was only partially implemented and lost much of its buying power by 1939. The Polish Army imported small Renault tanks
from France.There was at least one positive note for the Polish military: its intelligence was considered one of the best in Europe.
The key foreign policy maker was Foreign Minister Jozef Beck (1894-1944, For. Minister 1932-39), hand picked for the position by Pilsudski. He had been a Pilsudski legionnaire in World War I, and served in Military Intelligence in 1920. In the early 1920s he was Military Attache in France. Contrary to the claim still made in some history books today, he was not expelled from France for espionage in 1923. On the contrary, in May of that year, he was awarded the Legion of Honor, hardly a reward for spying on France. Later, he completed War Academy studies in Warsaw and obtained the rank of Colonel of Horse Artillery. He served as Pilsudski's head of cabinet after the coup of May 1926.
As Foreign Minister, Beck followed Pilsudskiís policy of maintaining the alliance with France while balancing between Germany and the USSR. He was unpopular with Polish National Demcorats and with the French for his alleged pro-German policy. However, he became quite popular in Poland (though not in the West) after the annexation of two western counties of Zaolzie (part of Western Teschen, and part of a highly industrialized region) from Czechoslovakia in early October 1938. The border was fixed in later Polish-Czechoslovak negotiations. Beck became even more popular both in Poland and in the West after his speech of May 5, 1939, in which he rejected Hitlerís demands on Poland, while declaring readiness to negotiate with Germany. (For Polish policy in 1938, see Lec. Notes 15; for 1939, Lec. Notes 16, and Cienciala article: "The Foreign Policy of Jozef Pilsudski and Jozef Beck.." The Polish Review, 2011, also cited in Lec. Notes 15 on Appeasement).
The National Democrats, the Socialists, and both the left and
right wing Peasant Parties were in the opposition after 1928, and boycotted
the elections held under the electoral law of July 1935. Nevertheless, they
retained and even gained followers.
There was a small fascist group, the "Falanga." that split off from the N. Democrats, It was led by Boleslaw Piasecki who admired Mussolini and was strongly anti-semitic. But this group was insignificant in Polish political life. (Piasecki had an interesting career under Polish communist governments after WW II.) The majority of Pilsudskiites successfully resisted the idea, advanced by a few of their number, of establishing a dictatorship along fascist lines and Pilsudski never envisaged it.
(ii)Interwar Poland: The Economy, Education, Social Services, Women, the Arts.
Like most countries of E. Europe, Poland was still an economically
underdeveloped country in 1939. This was not surprising in view of the fact
that (a) the country's territories had been battlefielda in WW I, as well as 1919-1920, which inflicted great destruction,
and wiped out savings, and
(b) in the 1920s Gt. Britain and the United States, invested far more in Germany than in E.European countries. France did invest in Poland, but its investors nearly always took most of the profits home instead of reinvesting them in the country.
Nevertheless, the Poles managed in just a few years to integrate the economies of Russian, Austrian and Prussian Poland and to create a uniform legal system, which was no mean achievement. Furthermore, Poland could boast two significant economic developments:
(1) Gdynia (pron. Gedynya) situated in the Polish Corridor
some 20 miles west of Danzig/Gdansk, grew from a fishing village in 1923 to
a city of 150,000 in 1939. Part of the investment capital was provided by western
countries, especially France - which also helped finance the construction of
a major railway line from Polish Upper Silesia to the port cities of Gdansk
(Danzig) and Gdynia - but the Polish government itself did a great deal to facilitate
the growth of this port city.
In 1939, the port of Gdynia had the largest tonnage turnover of all Baltic ports. Indeed, by 1938, 78% of Polandís foreign trade went by sea through Gdynia and Danzig, although Gdynia had the edge.
The city of Gdynia was full of young, ambitious and enterprizing people, so it was known as "The Little America of Poland." Andrzej M. Cienciala (1901-1973, father of Anna M. Cienciala) was typical of these businessmen. Born into a large family in Polish Cieszyn (Teschen, Tesin) Silesia, he borrowed money from his married sister to study in the Polish Naval Academy, but gave up a sea career to become the director of the Polska Agencja Morska (Polish Maritime Agency), a ship brokerage firm. He spoke very good German, having graduated from the Austrian High School in Teschen in 1918, and learned English at the Polish Naval Academy, where he studied in 1921-25. Thus, he was well equipped for work in foreign trade.
[Poland's Progress, London, 1944]
(2). The other great economic development of interwar Poland was the Central Industrial Region ("Centralny Okreg Przemyslowy" - P. abbr: COP, pron. Tsop). Construction got underway in 1936 in the fork of the Vistula and San rivers with the goal of creating Polandís second industrial base after Upper Silesia. COP was meant to produce modern military weapons and armaments, especially planes, and was to be completed in 1942. It was also designed to absorb much of the unemployed rural population of former Galicia. It should be noted that this project, which was largely financed internally, was the only example of state economic planning in interwar East Central Europe. Although COPís development was interrupted by the war, it provided the base for the industrial region developed there by Polish communist governments after WWII.
[Poland's Progress, London, 1944].
In 1919, 35% of the arable land in Poland was held in great estates, but this shrank to 18% in 1939. Large estates still existed, however, mainly in eastern Poland. Outside of former Prussian Poland (Poznania), the peasants were generally poor, especially in the eastern provinces. This was partly due to the practice of dividing the land among all the heirs, so the great majority of peasant holdings were very small and many could barely feed their owner. Thus, they had no funds to buy modern agricultural machines. The most productive land was, therefore, in large estates.
The Great Depression, which hit Europe in 1930, lowered the price of agricultural goods while at the same time the rural overpopulation could not be absorbed by Polandís industry, which also suffered greatly. Finally, emigration to the U.S. was slowed to a trickle by the 1924 immigration laws which discriminated against Eastern and Southern Europe. This increased the numbers of poverty stricken peasants all over E.Europe.
There was great progress in this field due to free and compulsory education at the primary/ elementary and middle school levels, so tha illiteracy was almost wiped out by 1939. There were 28,000 primary schools and 770 secondary schools, but only one High School was free of charge.
By 1939, Poland had 28 institutions of higher education, including 6 universities. Tuition was low, but most young people could not afford high school, while the completion of rigorous studies there with a "matura" [maturation] based on passing strict exams, was the only way to enter university. The same situation prevailed all over Europe at this time. Higher education was free in the USSR, but it was linked to political conformity with communism.
[Poland's Progress, London, 1944].
These were very good in the towns. Workers paid a little toward medical care while employers paid the rest. There was also government subsidized housing for the workers. However, with the onset of the depression, unemployment grew, as it did elsewhere in Europe and the U.S.
[Poland's Progress, London, 1944]
A few educated Polish women had begun to go into other professions than school teaching before 1914. In the interwar period, there were Polish women doctors and dentists, also engineers and architects, but they were still a small minority compared to men. There were some Polish policewomen, mainly directing traffic. There was also voluntary paramilitary training for women. Women had the right to vote since the rebirth of the Polish state in November 1918.
[Poland's Progress, London, 1944].
The interwar period saw a great flourishing of art, literature and theater in Poland.
While only the composer and musician Karol M. Szymanowski (1882-1937) and the great pianist and composer Ignacy Paderewski (1860-1941, Prime Minister, then Foreign Minister January -November 1919), managed to attain world fame, there were many other great artists and writers who are still recognized and admired by Poles today.*
*[For literature and theater, see: Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature London, 1969, and reprints, chapter X, Independent Poland. On the arts, see: Janina Hoskins, Visual Arts in Poland. An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Holdings in the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, 1993; the vast majority of the works listed here are in Polish].
As mentioned earlier, national or ethnic minorities amounted to some 30% of the total population. This was one of the problems faced by the Polish state, but it was not the major problem.
According to the last prewar census, held in 1931, the nationalities inhabiting Poland were as follows,:
[*disputed figures; ** locals]
* Local (tutejsi) was declared mostly by people living in Belorussia and Volhynia; it seems that Tomaszewski omitted them in his adjustment by adding them to the Belorussians and Ukrainians. We should bear in mind that while census officials did pressure non-Poles in eastern Poland to declare themselves Polish by mother tongue, some non-Poles felt themselves to be Polish, especially assimilated Jews who made up about 9% of the total Jewish population of Poland in 1939. Furthermore, some Poles belonged to the Uniate Church, whose members were mostly Ukrainian. Thus absolutely precise figures for mother tongue and religion are beyond the realm of possibility].
** Some Jews gave Hebrew as their mother tongue, but Yiddish was in common use among Polish Jews while Hebrew was learned in special schools by boys. Therefore, in the 1931 census, "Hebrew" was mostly a political demonstration.]
The total population of Poland is estimated to have reached
about 35,000,000 by 1939, of whom 24,000,000 are estimated to have been ethnic
Poles. Most of th this population (70%) was agricultural and had a high birthrate.
The Germans lived mostly in western Poland, but some also lived in the eastern territories. Many left in the 1920s as "optants," that is those who opted to sell their property and leave, while many left because they did not want to live in Poland (see Lec.Notes 11). The Germans who stayed in Poland had their own schools, newspapers, and elected deputies to both houses of parliament. German governments tried to make local Germans stay in Poland in order to retain the ethnic justification (self-determination) for the return of Polish western territories to Germany. These territories were the Polish Corridor and Upper Silesia, also parts of Poznania. After 1933, the Nazi party dominated most German communities and organizations in Poland. Young people were trained in Hitler Youth camps in Germany, especially on how to collect information for German military intelligence.
The (west) Ukrainians lived in former Eastern Galicia and Volhynia. If the principle of self-determination had been implemented here, these people would have had their own, small, indepedent state, or at least autonomy (self-government) in Poland, which the Polish government had promised the Allied Powers in 1920. However, both of the above were unfeasible in the interwar period because neither the Polish minority of East Galicia, nor Polish public opinio as a whole, would accept either of them. Thus, the Poles continued to monopolize the administration and education, much to the resentment of educated Ukrainians, while Ukrainian peasants resented Polish landlords.
Some west Ukrainians had fought the Poles for an independet west Ukrainian state (as part of a large Ukraine), with its capital in Lviv (P. Lwow) in 1918-19. They lost, leaving bitter feelings on both sides. Some Ukrainian intellectuals emigrated to Soviet Ukraine and participated in the cultural renaissance there in the early 1920s, but most were later imprisoned or killed in Stalin's crackdown on "nationalism" which began in 1926. Some Ukrainian exiles lived in Czechoslovakia, where they had their own organizations and publishing firms.
The official leader of the Ukrainians in Poland was (Count) Roman Andrei M. Szeptycki (1865-1944) the Uniate Metropolitan of Lwow (now Líviv, Ukraine). He had chosen a career in the Uniate church, while his brother, Count Stanislaw M. Szeptycki (1867-1950) chose a military career, first in the Austrian and then the Polish army, where he rose to the rank of general. (He resigned after Pilsudskiís coup of May 1926). Such different national choices were not unusual in Polish families; likewise, in some Ukrainian families, some individuals chose to be Polish.
The Ukrainians had many elementary and middle Ukr. lang.
schools, and developed a network of highly prosperous cooperatives selling
agricultural produce. They had legal political parties whose deputies were elected
to the Polish parliament.
However, there was an extreme nationalist organization, the OUN
(Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists), established in Vienna in 1929.
It had its headquarters in Berlin and was financed by Germany, though there
is no documentary evidence that assassinations of Polish officials were approved by the
In September 1930, the OUN launched organized attacks on Poles in East Galicia with the aim of sparking a mass Ukrainian uprising. They burned Polish manor houses and villages. Pilsudski sent in the army which carried out a brutal "pacification." The number of Ukrainians killed was not great, maybe 50, but Polish police mistreated the population and destroyed Ukrainian property and libraries. This, of course, increased Ukrainian resentment of Polish rule. Ukrainian resentment of Polish rule is understandable, but we should bear in mind that the Ukrainians living in the Soviet Ukrainian Republic suffered terrible hardships, including a Stalin-made famine in the early 1930s, now estimated to have cost 3-6 mln lives.* One mass burial site of Ukrainians murdered during the Stalin era is Bykovnia, just north-east of Kiev. It is estimated that 30-100.000 are buried there, including Poles who had been held in NKVD prisons in western Ukraine and western Belorussia, were transported to Kiev, and murdered in the NKVD prison there in 1940. Cultural life in Soviet Ukraine was greatly restricted after 1926 and any sign of cultural nationalism was ruthlessly crushed.
*[See Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands. Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,New York, Basic Books, 2010, with many reprints. By fall 2011, it had been translated into 13 languages, with 7 more to go; see reviews in major newspapers and review journals.]
The Belorussians living in eastern Poland were divided between Roman Catholic, Uniate, and Russian Orthodox, and did not have a strongly developed national identity. However, grinding poverty lent appeal to communist propaganda, so the Belorussian peasant party "Hromada," established in 1925, cooperated with the Belorussian Communist Party, an affiliate of the Polish Communist Party. Therefore, the Hromada was delegalized in 1927; its leaders were tried in Vilnius in 1928 and most of them received long prison sentences. It should be noted that the language of instruction in Belorussia [now Belarus] was mainly Polish. *
*[On the efforts of a Polish governor, Henryk Jozewski, to foster Ukrainian national culture in Volhynia as a way to reconcile Ukrainians to Polish rule and prepare the way for the liberation of Soviet Ukraine, see Timothy Snyder, Sketches from a secret war : a Polish artist’s mission to liberate Soviet Ukraine, New Haven : Yale University Press, 2005].
The Jewish Question in Interwar Poland.
The Jews of Poland were the descendants of settlers welcomed there in the Middle Ages and early modern times for their financial and commercial skills. They were Polish subjects but had their own local administrations and, schools, and raised their own taxes. Thus they enjoyed a special status in pre-partition Poland. After the partitions, Russian Poland became part of the "Pale," or special Jewish region of the Russian Empire.
preserved their identity through their religion, customs, dress, and language (Yiddish for everyday speech
and Hebrew for reading the Torah; Hebrew was taught to boys in special schools: Yeshivas). This obviously differentiated them from the Poles, as well
as from Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Russians.
In the late 19th century, the Jews of Russian Poland were joined by immigrants from Russian Lithuania, who spoke Russian and were known in Poland as "Litvaks." In 1918-21, some 600,000 Russian Jews were admitted by Pilsudski as refugees from the Russian Civil War; they were given Polish citizenship. Polish Jews formed about 10% of the country's total population, which was the highest percentage of Jews in any country at the time. They accounted for some 30% of the population of Warsaw, formed a significant percentage in the towns of central and southern Poland, and majorities in the small market towns of eastern Poland, which they called "shtetls." It is estimated that about 9% of Polish Jews had become culturally assimilated by 1939.
Most Polish Jews were orthodox, that is, Hasidic Jews. Most were poor and worked in crafts and retail trade; many were shopkeeprs but more worked as peddlers. Many made their living as inn keepers; some were money lenders in small towns and villages. Jews and Poles had lived alongside each other for centuries. In the interwar period, at least 60% of Poland's Jews lived in small towns with populations below 20,000. Relations in these towns were generally friendly; neighbors helped each other in times of need, and friendships were formed at school. * Jews had their own traditional districts in the large towns. There was, however, great rivalry between Christian and Jewish shopkeepers.
*[ See Anna Maria Orla-Bukowska, "Shtetl Communities: Another Image," in: Antony Polonsky et al, eds., Jews in Independent Poland, 1918-1939, (Polin, vol. 8, London, Washington, 1994, pp.89-114
Modern anti-semitism developed along with modern, ethnic nationalism. It appeared in Polish territories in the last quarter of the 19th century, as it did elsewhere in Europe. But there was an additional economic factor: in Polish lands: Jews competed with the rising Polish middle class. Still, most progressive Polish intellectuals were not anti-semites, but expected the Jews to assimilate, that is, become acculturated Poles of the Mosaic Faith. In fact, this kind of acculturation was advocated by Moses Mendelssohn in Germany, and the movement called Hasklah, made rapid progress in Germany and W.Europe in the last decades of the 19th century. However, these countries did not have large Jewish populations which were deeply religious and wanted to preserve their own, separate way of life, as was the case in Polish, Slovak, Hungarian, Romanian and West Russian lands (Belarus and Ukraine).
Nevertheless, there was a small number of educated Jews in Russian Poland who supported acculturation as Poles. Foremost among them was Naum Sokolow (b.1859), the editor of the "integrationist" journal "Izraelita" in 1892-1902. Sokolow believed Jews could become Poles, while maintaining their Jewish faith. However, when he realized that neither the Jewish-Polish intelligentsia (educated people), nor the rabbis would move in this direction, he turned to Zionism, that is,work for a Jewish home in Palestine. * Polish acculturation made some progress in Galicia (Austrian Poland), where Poles ran the administration and Jews obtained equal rights, as in the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1867. Jews were far less numerous in Prussian Poland. Here they lived in towns and historians perceive them as acculturated Germans by 1914. However, this does not mean that they were necessarily anti-Polish.
*[Ela Bauer, Between Poles and Jews: The Development of Naum Sokolow's Political Thought, Jerusalem, 2005; see review by Samuel D. Kassow, Slavic Review, vol. 66,no. 2, 2007, pp. 317-318.]
Historians now agree that modern Polish anti-semitism began in the late 19th century as an ideology developed by the "National Democrats" led by Roman Dmowski. It first appeared on a mass scale during the Revolution of 1905-1907 in Russian Poland, the Jewish people did not support the Poles and their demands on the Russian imperial government.This created a great deal of Polish resentment. A few years later, in 1912, the Jews of Warsaw defeated the National Democratic candidate running for election to the Russian Duma (Russian Parliament established by the Tsar in 1906), because he did not support equal rights for Jews.* This election was seen as a betrayal by many Poles, especially the National Democrats, who refused to accept the idea of a Jewish nation sharing Polish lands on an equal footing with the Poles.The Nat. Democrats began to portray the Jews as enemies of Poland, who aimed to rule over the Poles. This perception was soon expanded into the view that Jews were everywhere striving for power with the goal of dominating the world.**
*[Equal rights for Jews had, in fact, been established in Russian Poland in 1862, through the efforts of Marquis Wielopolski who worked to legally expand Polish rights; he assumed that if the Jews were given equal rights, they would side with the Poles.The defeat of the Polish Uprising against Russia in 1863-64, in which some Jews supported the Polish cause, led the Tsar to abolish equal rights for Jews. They were banned form certain professions, as well as from landownership.]
** On the National Democrats, see Brian Porter, When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth Century Poland, New York, Oxford, 2000. For the late 19th century, see also Theodore Weeks, "Assimilation, Nationalism, Modernization, Antisemitism: Notes on Polish-Jewish Relatios, 1855-1905," in: Robert Blobaum, ed., Antisemitism and its Opponents in Modern Poland, Ithaca and London, 2005, pp.20-38. See also the book length study by Weeks: From assimilation to Antisemitis : the "Jewish question" in Poland, 1850-1914, De Kalb, Ill.,2006; reviewed by Daniel Blatman, Slavic Review, vol. no. 2007, pp. 118-119.]
During the period of intensive urban development in 1864-1914, many Jews and peasants came into the cities to work, while the Polish middle class experienced significant growth .These developments led to economic rivalry. A Polish Socialist Party (PPS)was established in 1892 and a Jewish Socialist Party, the Bund was established in the Russian Empire in 1897. The PPS fought the National Democracts during the Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, which saw much fighting in Russian Poland.*
*[Robert Blobaum, Rewolucja in Russian Poland, 1904-1907, Ithaca, 1995.]
Some Polish intellectuals opposed ethnic nationalism and thus antisemitism. *Jozef Pilsudski,advocated cooperation between the Polish Socialists and the Bund against Russian rule. However, the National Democrats grew in strength, especially among the rising Polish middle class.
*[See Jerzy Jedlicki, "Resisting the Wave: Intellectuals against Antisemitism in the last Years of the 'Polish Kingdom,'" in R. Blobaum, Antisemitism, pp. 81-102.]
There were pogroms (attacks on Jews) during the trubulence surrounding the emergence of an independent Poland in 1918-21. The worst pogrom took place in Lwow (Ukr. L'viv, Russ. Lvov) in late November 1918. Here, Ukrainian units of the former Austro-Hungarian Army seized the city; they wanted East Galicia to belong to a large, independent Ukrainian state proclaimed in Kiev. The Jews (who made up about 30% of the Lwow population (more counting assimilated/acculturated Polish Jews, with Poles at about 65%) took a neutral stance, which the Poles interpreted as a betrayal. The Poles also resented the establishment of an armed, Jewish militia organized for self-protections, and rumors spread that Jews had shot at Polish soldiers or had poured boiling water on them, neither of which can be documented. After Polish army units led by Lt.Col. M.T. Kraszewicz-Tokarzewski arrived on Nov.20, the Ukrainian troops were pushed out of the city during the night of Nov.21-22. Polish general Roja ordered the imposition of martial law but the local Polish commander delayed its implementation. This delay allowed Polish soldiers and the civilians to beat, robb and rape the Jews at will on Nov.22-24; about 75 Jews were murdered, hundreds were injured, and much property was looted or burned. Order was restored after three days, but the Jewish population had suffered great losses. The Pogrom was in the style of Russian pogroms before 1914, also like the Russian troops' treatment of Jews in towns they occupied in East Galicia in WWI. About 40 soldiers and over 1,000 civilians were arrested and tried for robbery, rape and murder in Lwow, but great damage had been done to Poland's image abroad. Western Jews used the Lwow pogrom to organize opinion against the Poles during the Paris Peace Conference, while the German government, supported by German Jews, spread the news in the world press presenting the Poles as incapable of protecting minorities -- including Germans --if the Poles gained the territories they demanded.*
*[For a recent study, see: William Hagen, "The Moral Economy of Popular Violence: The Pogrom in Lwow, November 1918," in R.Blobaum, ed., Antisemitism and its Opponents in Modern Poland, pp. 124-147. See also: Carole Fink, Defending the Rights of Others. The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878-1938, Cambridge,England, 2004, pp.110 ff, and, in more detail, Isaac Lewin, A History of Polish Jewry During the Revival of Poland, New York, 1990,]
Based on their knowledge of the mistreatment of Jews in pre-WWI Romania and Russia, plus the pogroms in Poland, Jewish leaders in the USA and Britain worked hard to provide protection for the Jews of Eastern Europe. Some aimed at Jewish autonomy in each state, but this gained no support from the Western Powers, so the Jewish leaders worked for a treaty protecting minority rights. Finally, the Great Powers agreed on Minorities Treaties for each of the new states of Eastern Europe -- but not for their own minorities (colonies). Germany, an established state, did not have to sign such a treaty either. Furthermore, the Great Powers did not want to take any responsibility for implementing these treaties, so they passed the burden to the newly created League of Nations. The Poles, Czechs and Romanians resented the Minority Treaties they had to sign as infringements on their sovereignty -- which they were -- and also because the Great Powers and Germany were excluded.*
*[Carole Fink gives an excellent account of the negotiations for the Polish Minority Treaty in Part II of her book: Defending the Rights of Others.]
Anti-semitism was prevalent in interwar Poland, but was generally passive except for the 1930s, when the Great Depression hit Europe. This meant increased competition for trade and jobs, and was accompanied by occasional economic boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. There was also one local pogrom organized by National Democrats in 1936. It was at this time that both the government and public opinion began to see the solution of the Jewish Question in emigration. The National Democrats were the chief overtly anti-Ssemitic Party, but anti-Semitism was also manifested by the Polish Peasant Party's organizations in former Russian and Austrian Poland. The Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and the Polish Communist Party opposed anti-semitism. The Polish Communist Party was dissolved by Stalin in 1938 after the shooting most of its leaders who lived in the USSR. The party's dissolution was justified on the grounds that it had been infiltrated by Polish police, but the real reason was the sympathy it showed for a former Soviet leader, Leon Trotsky, whom Stalin had exiled in the late 1920s. (An agent of Stalin's murdered Trotsky in Mexico; the Polish party was "rehabilitated" in 1956.)
Acculturated Jews made up some 9-12% of the whole Jewish population of about 3,500,000 in 1939. They gave Poland many outstanding writers, poets, lawyers, doctors, and scientists. Those educated before 1918, dominated the legal and medical professions. This incited the right-wing government coalitions which ruled in 1923-26 to attempt passing legislation restricting the admission of Jewish students into law and medicine to 10%, roughly equivalent to the percentage of Jews in the total population. This was called the "numerus clausus" or closed number. Attempts to make this into law failed, so its application depended on university administrations, and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow held out against it the longest. In general, Jewish students were not admitted to study medicine and law, so those who could afford it, studied abroad.* Nat. Democratic students frequently attacked their Jewish colleagues, or restricted them to back benches, but the extent to which this was practiced depended on the university administration.
*[Note: At this time, a 10% admission ceiling for Jewish students was
an informal rule at Harvard. Also, admissions standards in Ivy League Universities favored athletic Christians, which militated against Jews.]
Many members of the acculturated Jewish intelligentsia were politically left-wing; they either sympathized with Communism or joined the Polish Communist Party, whose visible leadership was preponderantly Jewish. This added fuel to the Nat. Democratic brand of anti-semitism. * Jews were also visible in the leadership in the USSR, the most famous of whom was Leon Trotsky, mentioned earlier. These factors led to the coining of the term: "Zydokomuna," or Jewish Communism, a favorite Nat. Democratic slogan. The Roman-Catholic Church, which was very strong in Poland, also propagated antisemitism, although it always abjured violence. We should note that antisemitism characterized the church in all countries at this time.
*[On some left-wing, mostly Jewish Polish writers of the interwar period and their fates, see the exellent study by: Marci Shore, Caviar and Ashes. A Warsaw Generaton's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968, New Haven, 2006. For postwar oral accounts by surviving Jewish communists see Jaff Schatz, THE GENERATION. The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Communists of Poland, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1991.]
There were very few Jews in the Polish civil and foreign service, except for a few totally acculturated Polish Jews. There was one general of Jewish origin in the army (Mond), but most Jewish officers ( 10% of the officer corps) were in the medical branch of the service. There was a chief Rabbi attached to the army with the rank of major; Rabbi Baruch Steinberg held that position from 1935 to 1939. The army also had chief clerics for the Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Uniates and Moslems. (Most of those taken prisoner by the Red Army, including Steinberg, were murdered by the NKVD in spring 1940, see Katyn in Lec.Notes, 16.)
It is important to note that the Jews of Poland had their own political parties, newspapers, hospitals, and charities. They had complete freedom to practice their religion, also their own secular and religious schools. Most of the children attended Polish public schools, which were free. The better off went to licensed Jewish private schools which followed state - approved curricula; also, the use of the Polish language increased with time but there was a lively, high quality, Jewish theater using the Yiddish language.*
*[For a photographic record of Jewish life in Poland, see: Lucjan Dobroszycki and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Image Before My Eyes. A Photographic Record of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust, New York, 1977. For excellent studies by Polish and Jewish scholars on the Jews of interwar Poland, see: Antony Polonsky et al., Jews in Independent Poland 1918-1939, POLIN, vol. 8, London, Washington, D.C. 1994. Polonsky's highly regarded work, The Jews in Poland and Russia, 2 vols., to 1914, is to be followed by vol. 3 in fall 2011.).
After the Depression hit Europe in early 1930, the Polish government sought to reduce
the number of Jews in Poland by emigration. However, emigration to the U.S.
was restricted to a trickle after 1924, while the British almost stopped Jewish
immigration to Palestine in 1936 in order to prevent Arab unrest. When the Polish
government failed to persuade the British to change this policy, Warsaw supported
the New Zionist movement which fought the British to make Palestine a
home for the Jews. The New Zionists, led by Ze'ev [Vladimir] Zhabotinsky, were the only
Jewish party which supported mass Jewish emigration from Poland to Palestine.
Polish military instructors secretly trained New Zionist military cadres in Poland.
These cadres proceeded to harass the British in Palestine and -- together with
former Jewish officers who deserted from the Polish army when it was stationed there in 1942 - - fought
for the independent state of Israel, born in 1948.*
*[See Laurence Weinbaum, A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE. The New Zionist Organization and the Polish Government, 1936-1939, East European Monographs No. CCCLXIX (369), Boulder Co. and Columbia University Press, New York, 1993].
The Polish government also tried to find areas of settlement for
Polish Jews in French colonies, especially Madagascar, which received
some serious study, but nothing came of it because of French objections. In
any case, it was an unhealthy place for white people to live. The German Nazis
also considered deporting European Jews to Madagascar, but gave this up in favor
of the "Final Solution," that is, extermination, which they adopted in 1942.
The treatment of minorities in interwar Poland certainly left much to be desired, but they enjoyed far more freedom than their countrymen in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR. As one prominent Polish American scholar put it:
*[Jan Gross, Revolution from Abroad. The Soviet Conquest of Polandís Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Princeton, N.J., 1988, pp..6-7. Here, the author also cites 1939 Ukrainian, Jewish and Belorussian publication figures for the territories annexed by the USSR in 1939-41 and again after WWII. See also: Susanne Marten-Finnis, Vilna as a Centre of the Modern Jewish Press, 1840-1928: Aspirations, Challenges, and Progress, Bern, 2004, reviewed by Theodore R. Weeks, Slavic Review, v.64, nr. 2, 2005, pp. 433-434]
(1) Nationality and Minority Problems.
In late 1918, the Czechoslovak state contained an estimated 6,800,000 Czechs; 3,124,000 Germans; 1,967,000 Slovaks; 745,000 Hungarians; 462,000 Ruthenes (Rusyns), Ukrainians and Russians; 345,000 Jews; and 76,000 Poles. The Czechs formed the largest ethnic group, constituting 51% of the total population. Some observers compared Czechoslovakia to the former Habsburg Empire *
*[See: Derek Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia. A Czech History Princeton, N.J.,1998, p. 168. Polish ethnographers and historians claim there were about 160,000 Poles in Czechoslovakia, the vast majority living in the "Zaolzie" region of western Teschen Silesia, the area seized by the Czechs in January 1919 and awarded to Czechoslovakia by the Conference of Ambassadors in late July 1920, see end of Lec. Notes no. 12].
The Slovaks and Rusyns were officially " constituent"
nationalities in the state together with the Czechs, but they were ruled
by the latter, who created a centralized government and a national Czechoslovak ideology.
T.G. Masaryk viewed the Slovaks and Rusyns as backward little brothers,
while Edvard Benes steadfastly refused to admit any ethnic difference
between Czechs and Slovaks, insisting they were one nation. This point of view
was reflected in official statistics which always lumped the Czechs and Slovaks
The Germans who outnumbered the Slovaks, constituting 32.6 % of the whole population, were legally the equals of the Czechs, but saw themselves as a second class nationality and resented it.
The Slovaks proved to be the most vocally dissatisfied constituent nationality. The Slovak Peopleís Party, led by Father Andrej Hlinka until his death in 1938, constantly agitated for real autonomy. The treason trial of Vojtech Tuka -- who claimed in 1928 that the Slovaks had been promised autonomy -- was a symptom of Czech-Slovak tensions It was only after the Munich crisis of September 1938 and Benesís resignation as president, that the next Czech government signed the Zilina Accord with the Slovaks creating a two nation state with two parliaments and two administrations. At the same time, Carpathian Rus was granted autonomy. One may ask whether such arrangements, which clearly met the desires of these two peoples, could have been concluded earlier? Whatever the case might be, only a tough Franco-British stance against Nazi Germany could have saved the Czechoslovak State from partial dismemberment in October 1938, and disappearance from the map of Europe in March 1939.
The Sudeten Germans raised the question
of autonomy at the beginning of the interwar period and pressed for it in 1938 in
the person of Konrad Henlein, leader of the Sudeten German Party;
it won two thirds of the Sudeten German vote in 1935. In 1938, Henlein and his party
- which had secret financial support from Berlin - were manipulated by
Hitler to accomplish his aim of dismembering Czechoslovakia. It is clear
that even if Benes had granted autonomy to the Sudeten Germans, as he offered
to do in September 1938, this would not have satisfied Hitler. At the same time,
because of Sudeten German resentment of the Czechoslovak state, one may question
the defensive value of the excellent Czech fortifications in the Sudetenland
if the Czechoslovak government had decided to fight rather than accept the Munich
"dictate" of September 30th 1938. It is doubtful that Sudeten Germans in the Czechoslovak Army would have fought against Hitler's German Army. It is also
most unlikely the western powers would have helped Czechoslovakia if it fought the Germans, for they
were not prepared for the war in 1939, lt alone in 1938.*
*[For Czechoslovakia in 1938, see Lecture Notes no. 15on Appeasement Carried Out.]
[pictures from Vera Olivova, The Doomed Democracy].
It is true that the Czechoslovak constitution and a liberal language law were generous to the minorities, but sometimes they were not observed, as with the Polish minority of western Teschen Silesia (Zaolzie). Here the Czech administration exercised constant pressure on the Polish Silesians to send their children to Czech, not Polish schools, and in general made life difficult for them. Such a policy was, however,not only Czech; it was the rule in all contested borderland regions of interwar Eastern Europe.
In sum, the multinational Czechoslovak state was, like Yugoslavia, an oddity among national states. It might have had a chance to survive, given more time and prosperity, but this was not to be. Switzerland, of course, had both time and prosperity to develop a multinational state situated within a ring of mountains to deter invaders.
In view of all its problems, how was it possible for Czechoslovakia to be the only democratic state in East Central Europe? To begin with, the Czechs had several decades of limited representative government in the Austrian part of the Habsburg Empire. They sent their deputies to the Austrian Reichstag (Imperial Parliament) in Vienna, and participated in the provincial legislatures of Bohemia and Moravia (1867-1914). They also had a highly literate population (92% literacy in 1900), and a well trained bureaucracy. Finally, they possessed the most highly industrialized part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, along with a good communications newtwork, and had a prosperous farming population. XXXXX Oct. 6,2011.
There was also a very stable political leadership. T.G. Masaryk had his enemies, above all the National Democratic Party leader Karel Kramar, but no politician could really challenge his authority as Roman Dmowski challenged Pilsudski in Poland. Masaryk was President until his resignation in 1935 at the age of 85. His presidential powers were slight, but his moral authority allowed him to influence and even appoint governments. He was succeeded by Edvard Benes, who had been Foreign Minister since 1918, and kept control of foreign policy until he resigned the Presidency and went into exile after the Munich crisis.
The Czechs managed to establish a highly stable political party system. There was proportional representation with many political parties as in Poland, but the five major Czechoslovak parties, called "Petka" (the five) managed to share power for most of the interwar period, and when they disagreed, Masaryk appointed governments of experts. The Petka was made up of the Agrarians - largest party - National Democrats, National Socialists,(not Nazis) Populists, and Social Democrats. They maintained strict party discipline and divided political patronage among themselves. In fact, no Cabinet ever fell to a non-confidence vote in Parliament. The Communist Party was legal largely because the other parties feared that if it were banned, it would join the Social Democrats. This would strengthen the communists so much that the balance among the Petka parties would be destroyed. Also, while the communists indulged in much revolutionary rhetoric, they did not try to seize power by force and enjoyed the support of many Czech workers.
Major policy decisions were made by the " Hrad" (Castle), meaning Masaryk and Benes, and after Masaryk, by Benes. Unlike Masaryk, who was tall, handsome, and had a great deal of personal charisma, Benes was a small, dry, and friendless man; it was said that his only friend was his wife Hana. He had an absolute belief that politics was a science and that he had mastered it; therefore, he had absolute confidence in himself. His lifeís ambition was to become President of Czechoslovakia, which he attained in 1935, but his experience was in foreign affairs. He did not like domestic politics, and thought political parties should be reduced to two or three. However, he knew how to gain the support of key politicians in his bid for the presidency.
(iii) Foreign Policy.
Benes created the "Little Entente" of Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia in the early 1920s to protect these states against Hungarian revisionism. However, this Entente lacked any military conventions. Benes did not believe that Germany would threaten Czechoslovakia and refused to entertain any notion of alliance with Poland when the Poles showed interest in it in 1925-30. In fact, being a Socialist, he viewed the Poles as "feudal" aristocrats (though aristocrats were a tiny minority in Poland), and disliked Poles. He put all his trust in France and followed the latterís example in signing an alliance with the USSR in early May 1935. He survived the great tragedy of Munich * to head a Czechoslovak government- in- exile in England during WW II, became President of postwar Czechoslovakia in spring 1945, but died of a heart attack a few months after the Communist seizure of power in February 1948.
*[For 1938 see Lec. Notes 15, for 1939, Lec.Notes 16. For a brief, balanced study of Benesís foreign policy, see: Piotr S. Wandycz, "The Foreign Policy of Edvard Benes, 1918-1938," in Victor S. Mamatey and Radomir Luza eds., A History of the Czechoslovak Republic, 1918-1948, Princeton, N.J.,1973, pp.216-238. For other books, see Bibliography, Part II].
Czechoslovakia was the most industrialized of all the E.European states. It had a flourishing heavy industry, including the famous Skoda Works, the arms and munition production center in Pilsen - which is also famous for its beer. In 1936, industrial workers made up 44.6% of the working population, as compared with 21.8% in Hungary and only 18.5% in Poland. Per capita production in comparison with W. Europe was 67% in Czechoslovakia, 43% in Hungary, and 20% in Poland. Indeed, Czechoslovakia was among the first ten industrial producers in Europe. Foreign Trade per capita value was also highest for Czechoslovakia. However, all this applied to the Czech lands: Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia - not to Slovakia and Carpathian Rus.*
*[Economic statistics cited from: Piotr S. Wandycz, The Price of Freedom. A History of East CentralEurope from the Middle Ages to the Present, London and New York,1992, reprint 2000, pp.208-210. For more detailed statistics see Richard and Ben Crampton, Atlas of Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, London and New York, 1996; see also Zora P. Pryor, "Czechoslovak Economic Development in the Interwar Period," in Mamatey & Luza, A History of the Czechoslovak Republic, pp. 188-215).
V.Culture and the Arts.
As in other countries of E.Europe, interwar Czechoslovakia saw an explosion of cultural and artistic activity, manifested in literature, painting, architecture and music*
*[For a brief overview of interwar Czechoslovakia, see: Joseph
Rotshschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars, Seattle,
WA. 1974, and reprints, ch. 3; for chapters dealing with various aspects, see
Mamatey & Luza, cit. above; for an overall survey, see: Vera Olivova, The
Doomed Democracy. Czechoslovakia in a Disrupted Europe, 1918-1938, Montreal
1972. This is a translation of Olivovaís work published in Czech in Czechoslovakia.
There are several works on T.G. Masaryk, including H.G. Skilling,T.G. Masaryk, 1882-1914, University Park, PA., 1993, and Roman Szporluk, The Political Thought of T.G. Masaryk, East European Monographs no. 85, Bolder CO. and New York, N.Y., 1981. For a biography of Benes, using recently opened archives and papers, see: Zbynek Zeman with Antonin Klimek, The Life of Edvard Benes 1884-1948. Czechoslovakia in Peace and War, Oxford, 1997]
3. Interwar Hungary.
The dominant figure in interwar Hungary was Regent, Miklos [Nicholas] de Nagabanya Horthy (1868-1957). Born into a gentry family, he rose to be Vice-Admiral of the Austro-Hungarian navy (Adriatic Sea), and even scored a victory over French and British warships in the battle of Otranto, 1917. At the end of the war, he had to hand over the A-H navy to the Italians. He organized an army for the "White" anti-communist government of Szeged in 1919, entered Budapest in fall 1919 and was held responsible for the "White terror" in the country after the fall of the Soviet Republic.
Horthy was elected Regent of Hungary by the Hungarian legislature in March 1920. In theory, the regency was a provisional arrangement pending the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Hungary, but Horthy held this position, which was equivalent to that of President, until arrested by the Germans in the fall of 1944. He spent the last years of his life in exile in Estoril, Portugal. 8
*[The English version of his memoirs was published in New York in 1957.]
In spring 1920, Horthy instructed the Hungarian Delegation in Paris to fight for concessions. However, these were not forthcoming from the western powers, so the Hungarians signed the Treaty of Trianon on June 6, 1920 rather than suffer another invasion by the neighboring states. Horthy believed that France and perhaps Britain would help him revise it later.
The Treaty of Trianon deprived Hungary of two thirds
of her prewar territory and 60% of her prewar population. The majority of this
population was non-Magyar, but the treaty left some 3,000,000 Magyars in Romania,
Slovakia, and Yugoslavia. Hungaryís armed forces were reduced to 35,000 and
she was burdened with war reparations.
It should be noted that France did not have the power to moderate Hungarian territorial losses even if she had wanted to, for this would have meant taking on the armies of her friends in E.Europe, the Czechs, Romanians and Yugoslavs. In any case, the Hungarian political- military elite aimed at the recovery of all the lost territories, not just some of them. Every Hungarian had the map of old Hungary engraved in his/her memory by school textbooks.
Regent Horthy was wise enough to prevent the former Emperor-King Charles from recovering the throne of Hungary in the two attempts he made in 1921, because Horthy rightly feared an attack by Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. Thus, the ancient crown of St.Stephen waited for an opportunity to reign over old Hungary that never came.(In 1944, the crown was smuggled to the United States whence it returned to Budapest in the 1960s).
The Regent oversaw the political system of Hungary. Throughout the interwar period, power was in the hands of small cliques of landowners and officers. The franchise was reduced from 40% (1919) to 22.8% in 1922, and voting was open in the countryside, although this was abolished in the late 1930s. A government bloc was formed in 1922, which came to be called "The Unity Party" and was always able to secure the election of its candidates. Other parties were tolerated, including the Social Democrats, but did not have political power.
The restriction on admitting Jews to study in
universities (1920) was changed in the 1930s to encourage all poorer students
regardless of ethnicity; however, anti-semitic legislation appeared again in the
late 1930s. Nevertheless, Hungarian Jews, who formed about 8% of the population,
and were largely assimilated, enjoyed a very different social and economic position
than the Jews in Nazi Germany. Hungarian Jews continued to dominate the financial, legal
and medical professions, although anti-semitic legislation, passed in 1938-41, caused
considerable hardship. After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war in June
1941, thousands of men were sent in Jewish labor battalions to the Russian
Still, the Jews could not be deported to German death camps in Poland, at least from the larger cities, as long as Horthy was in power. He was a passive anti-semite (he said he wouldn't play bridge with Jews), but believed the "Arrow Cross" fascists were much more dangerous to Hungary than the Jews. Nor would he tolerate the humiliation of and inhumanity toward the Jews that the Germans demanded. (In July 1944, when Hungary was under virtual German occupation, and the SS. officer Karl Adolf Eichmann (1906-1967, in charge of killing off the Jews, demanded the deportation of the 200,000 Budapest Jews, Horthy took military measures to prevent this - although he could not prevent the deportation of Jews from the countryside.)
The most prominent Hungarian politician in the 1920s was Count Istvan Bethlen (1874-1947), who managed to secure a large loan through the League of Nations, slightly larger than the sum that Hungary owed for reparations. However, the countryís burgeoning economic stability and enlightened social legislation could not bear fruit because of the Great Depression, which closed foreign markets to Hungarian agricultural exports. This was the major incentive for Hungary's later economic deals with Nazi Germany.
Fascist parties developed in Hungary in the1920s, and gathered
more supporters during the Depression era. In 1937, several parties combined
to form the "Arrow Cross" party led by Ferenc Szalasi (1897-1946. *
However, there was no Fascist government in Hungary. Gyula Gombos (1886-1936),
a member of the Szeged "White government" in 1919 and a great admirer of Adolf
Hitler, was Prime Minister in 1935- 1936. He tried to build up a fascist mass
movement as the basis for a fascist state, but was dismissed by Horthy and died
soon afterwards in Bavaria.
*[Szalasi did not come to power until the fall of 1944, after the Germans arrested Horthy and took him to Germany. Szalasi then carried out the deportation of Budapest Jews, many of whom were spared due to the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1947), the Swedish representative of the International Red Cross in Budapest, who issued Swedish passports or other papers to the desperate Jews. Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet military authorities as a spy, and disappeared in the NKVD prisons of the USSR. According to Soviet authorities, this man, who was in good health when arrested, died of heart disease in 1947 at the age of 35. "Heart disease" often figured as the cause of death for political prisoners in Stalinís USSR. In 2000, Aleksandr N.Yakovlev, chair of the government commission for the rehabilitation of Stalinist victims, stated that Wallenberg had died in the NKVD Lubianka prison in 1947, but said there was no information about the circumstances of his death].
Interwar Hungarian governments tried to control the arts and sciences, supporting obedient, pro-government mediocrities. Two famous nuclear physicists Leo Szilard and Jeno Wigner decided to work abroad, but some scientists like Jozsef Varga and others managed to achieve results and world fame while working in Hungary.
Government support often went to mediocre artists and writers. Nevertheless, a group of independent-minded writers congregated around the periodical Nyugat (The West), edited by Miksa Fenyo. In music, world fame was achieved by Zoltan Kodaly and Erno Dohnanyi. Several avant-garde painters worked abroad, foremost among them were Laszlo Moholy Nagy, who worked first in Germany and then in the U.S., and also Bela Utz, who worked first in the U.S. and then the USSR. The greatest painter of the interwar period was Gyula Derkovits.
In foreign policy, the goal was to regain all the lands of old Hungary as it was in 1914. This goal, combined with the effects of the depression, turned Hungarian statesmen toward Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. At that time, most of Hungaryís exports went to Germany while most of her imports also came from that country.
Horthy, who followed a policy supportive of Germany, was rewarded
in November 1938 with southern Slovakia and part of Carpathian Rus, and with the rest of Carpathian Rus in March
In the fall of 1940 Hungary regained the Banat and part of Transylvania from Romania.
In April 1941, Hungary joined Germany in attacking Yugoslavia; this action allowed her to regain the Voevodina, which had a significant Hungarian population. This action, however, ended all hope of future British support for Hungary and led to the suicide of Prime Minister Count Pal Teleki (1879-1941, Premier 1920-21, 1939-41).
Secret Hungarian proposals for a separate peace made to Gt.Britain during the Second World War yielded no results, not only because Churchill and Roosevelt decided against a negotiated peace with Axis countries, but also because the British and U.S. military agreed in August 1943 (lst Quebec Conference) that Eastern Europe was to be the Soviet war theater. which doomed it to Soviet domination.
Horthy tried to save his country in September 1944 by starting negotiations with the Soviets when the Red Army invaded Hungary . The Germans knew this and kidnapped Horthyís younger son, Miklos in mid-October. (The elder son, Istvan, who was co-regent with Horthy, was killed in the war). They also arrested Horthy, who, to save his younger sonís life, signed over power to Ferenc Szalasi, the fanatical leader of the "Arrow Cross." Szalasi and his supporters managed to kill and deport most of the surviving Hungarian Jews before the Red Army occupied the country. Horthy was allowed to depart Germany for Portugal, where he died in 1958.(His remains were reburied in his native Hungary after the collapse of communism in 1989).
In conclusion, Horthy was neither a fascist dictator nor
a rabid antisemite, but a conservative statesman with old fashioned gentry
values and a hankering after the old Empire in which he had grown up and served.
He used to say that when faced with making important decisions, he always
asked himself what Emperor Francis Joseph would have done.(He had been an aide
to the Emperor in 1904-14.) He disliked fascists because they were not "gentleman,"
and were useless to Hungary. He protected Hungarian Jews, whom he considered
to be Hungarians, as long as he could. His foreign policy was pro-German, but
not always and never completely so.
On the one hand, he conducted a revisionist foreign policy, so under his leadership, Hungary regained much of the territory lost in 1919-20, and he joined Hitler in attacking Yugoslavia, later also sending troops to the Russian front.
On the other hand, in September 1939 he refused Germany's request for troop transit through northern Hungary (southern Slovakia and Carpathian Rus) in her attack on Poland .
He also welcomed thousands of Polish military who had escaped German or Soviet captivity by crossing into Hungary, and allowed them to go west. They traveled through northernYugoslavia and northern Italy to France, to join the Polish army there in 1939-40. *
*[Cienciala, with her mother and sister traveled by that route from Budapest to Paris in January 1940.The train was full of young Poles going to France and the Italians gave them reduced group fares from Trieste to the French border town of Modane. In all, some 35,000 Polish military managed to leave Hungary and Romania for France.]
The judgment of Horthy by his American biographer is worth citing here:
For an overview of Polish foreign policy in 1921-39, see Wandycz, Polish Diplomacy, pp. 17-30 (click here for text)