The Danzig Crisis
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseAfter WW1, the Versailles Treaty made former Prussian city of Danzig a quasi-independent city-state. It was governed by a local parliament while was overseen by a League of Nations appointed high commissioner. Being surrounded by Polish territory, the port facilities were also open for Polish use, but the Polish did not take comfort in mere usage. The Polish wanted Danzig within its boundaries, but the predominantly ethnic German city wished for the status quo. When the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany, recruitment efforts by the party were active in Danzig. By 1933, 38% of the Danzig parliament was consisted of Nazi Party members, and a similarly significant percentage of the population expressed their wish to become a part of Germany. With pride, some of the parliamentarians wore the Nazi swastika on their arms.
ww2dbaseUnlike annexations of Austria and Memelland, Germany treated Danzig somewhat differently. During the annexation of Czechoslovakia, Adolf Hitler was ready to use force, but diplomatic victories averted military action. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop went as far as quoting the Czechoslovakia crisis a failure because he was not able to provide the German military an opportunity to make war. With Danzig, Hitler intended to use it as a catalyst to provoke war with Poland. Karl Burckhardt, the League of Nations high commissioner of Danzig, noted to British Lord Halifax that Hitler told him
ww2dbaseBurckhardt thought Hitler was boasting his military might instead of threatening war, perhaps setting up a faĂ§ade in the face of the currently ongoing British-French-Russian talks of an alliance to contain Germany. Halifax agreed and made nothing of it.
ww2dbaseAlthough the goal was different, the German propaganda machine deployed a similar strategy that had been effective in the previous annexations. One of them was the spread of propaganda using newspapers. While Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized with yellow stars and swastikas or simply attacked, German newspapers told exaggerated stories of prejudice against the German people in Danzig. William Manchester gathered a collection of headlines from the period:
ww2dbaseOf course, no German newspaper mentioned the German military mobilization on the Polish border.
ww2dbaseWithin Danzig, Germany built support both politically and militarily. The Nazi Party appointed Albert Forster as the city's Gauleiter, who proclaimed Danzig German; "In these happy times", he said, "we will stand together and give thanks to the FĂĽhrer that he has brought us back into Greater Germany." Forster's proclamation was not without forceful support. Starting in Jun 1939, a force 4,000-strong and loyal to the Nazi party was organized in Danzig. On 25 Jun 1939, 1,000 men of the SS traveled to Danzig for a sports competition. After the event was over, they all remained. By the next month, people knew they had no intentions of leaving as they observed the words Heimwehr Danzig, "Home Guard Danzig", on the sleeves of their SS uniforms. By Aug, men were working around the clock to build barracks large enough to house 10,000 soldiers.
ww2dbaseThrough his diplomats, Hitler demanded several items that he knew would worsen relations with Poland, which included the admittance of Danzig into the German sphere of influence, the building a German highway a German railway through the "Polish Corridor", and the Polish participation in the Anti-Comintern Pact. Hitler knew he must constantly keep demands a bit above Polish tolerance, but yet reasonable enough to stretch out the negotiations, so that he could keep the issue open while Germany prepared for war. The last set of demands was given by Ribbentrop to British Ambassador to Berlin Neville Henderson on 29 Aug 1939, demanding a plebiscite in the "Polish Corridor" with voting rules tilted to favor a pro-German outcome. Two days later, the German military crossed the Polish border on a conquest that had been in the plans for months. The world finally realized the negotiations for Danzig was nothing but a catalyst, or perhaps, only a distraction.
Isabel Denny, The Fall of Hitler's Fortress City
William Manchester, The Last Lion
Last Major Update: May 2007
The Danzig Crisis Timeline
|24 Oct 1938
|Joachim von Ribbentrop met with Polish ambassador JĂłzef Lipski at Berchtesgaden in southern Germany. During the meeting, he noted that Danzig was German and Germany wanted to see it back within German borders. He also noted that Germany wanted to build a highway and a railway through western Poland to connect East Prussia with the main German territory, and that Germany would like to have Poland join the Anti-Comintern Pact.
|31 Oct 1938
|Poland noted to the Germans that Danzig was to remain independent, and that Poland was not interested in signing the Anti-Comintern Pact.
|24 Nov 1938
|Adolf Hitler ordered his top military leaders to prepare plans for the invasion of the Free City of Danzig, but careful to include that it was not to include war with Poland.
|5 Jan 1939
|Adolf Hitler met Polish Foreign Minister JĂłzef Beck at Berchtesgaden in southern Germany and, in a friendly manner, mentioned that Danzig was German, and it was in his interest to one day see it return within German borders.
|25 Jan 1939
|Adolf Hitler resolved to wipe the entire Polish state off the map should Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's final approach to persuade the Poles of German territorial proposals become rejected.
|26 Jan 1939
|Joachim von Ribbentrop arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spoke to Polish leaders regarding the German wish to annex Danzig and to have Poland sign the Anti-Comintern Pact.
|21 Mar 1939
|French President Albert Lebrun visited London, England, United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to persuade Lebrun to enter into a British-French-Polish alliance to contain Germany; a similar proposal was also sent to the Polish leadership via the British ambassador in Warsaw, Poland, but the Polish responded coolly. On the same day, in Berlin, Germany, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop expressed that if Poland continued to not agree with German demands for Danzig and if Poland continued to resist signing the Anti-Comintern Pact, then the present German-Polish friendship would deteriorate.
|22 Mar 1939
|Poland requested consultations with United Kingdom and France regarding German demands for Danzig. United Kingdom and France expressed willingness to go further than mere consultation and suggested a formal treaty.
|25 Mar 1939
|German intelligence chief Wilhelm Canaris reported to Adolf Hitler that his agents had detected Polish troop movements on the Polish border with Danzig. Hitler met with Army chief Walther von Brauchitsch regarding this latest development in his attempt to acquire Danzig.
|28 Mar 1939
|Polish Foreign Minister JĂłzef Beck met with the German Ambassador in Poland that any further demand on Danzig by Germany might result in war between Poland and Germany.
|30 Mar 1939
|British Ambassador in Poland Howard Kennard offered Poland a British-French-Polish agreement in which the three countries would mutually guarantee each others' borders; this agreement arose from the build-up of tension between Germany and Poland over Danzig. The Soviet Union was purposely excluded from the negotiations per Polish demands.
|31 Mar 1939
|British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain noted that the United Kingdom and France would guarantee Polish borders, with military force if necessary.
|6 Apr 1939
|The 30 Mar 1939 British-French-Polish agreement to mutually guarantee each others' borders was signed into a formal treaty in London, England, United Kingdom.
|20 Apr 1939
|Italian Ambassador in Berlin, Germany, Attalico, sent a message to Rome, Italy, noting that war between Germany and Poland seemed imminent.
|28 Apr 1939
|In a two-hour speech to the German Reichstag which was widely broadcast around the world, Adolf Hitler repudiated the Anglo-German Naval Agreement and expressed the wish to annex Danzig. In regards to the recent British-Polish treaty, Hitler claimed that it broke the terms of the 1934 German-Polish non-aggression treaty, thus the 1934 agreement was now void; he was, however, willing to negotiate a new one with Poland. Finally, addressing US President Franklin Roosevelt's letter of 14 Apr 1939, in which Roosevelt requested Germany to guarantee the borders of 31 nations, Hitler noted the result of the subsequent survey that revealed most of the nations (Poland excluded) responded they were not at all threatened by Germany.
|5 May 1939
|Polish Foreign Minister JĂłzef Beck spoke to the Polish Parliament, noting that the German-Polish relationship was rapidly deteriorating due to Germany's bullying tactics.
|6 May 1939
|Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano met with his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop in Milan, Italy, where Ciano informed Ribbentrop that Italy would not be ready for war for another three years. Ribbentrop noted the comment, and informed Ciano that Adolf Hitler did not yet have any plans for war.
|7 May 1939
|The French ambassador in Berlin, Germany dispatched a warning to French leadership of deteriorating German-Polish relations.
|9 May 1939
|The French ambassador in Berlin, Germany dispatched another warning to French leadership, noting that he had reasons to believe that Adolf Hitler was presenting or was about to present a plan to Joseph Stalin for the partition of Poland.
|23 May 1939
|Adolf Hitler held a long speech before his top military commanders, starting by noting Danzig as a means to engage Poland in a war to gain Lebensraum ("living space") for the German people, and then digressing to note the possibility of war with Britain and France, the need to occupy the Low Countries for their airfields, and strategies for a war in western Europe and the Atlantic.
|19 Jun 1939
|The German Army reported that thus far 168 officers had been infiltrated into Danzig in prepration of action.
|21 Jul 1939
|British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax wrote to British Ambassador to Poland Clifford Norton, asking him to expressed to the Polish government the British desire for Poland to refrain from acting defiantly to recent German threats.
|24 Jul 1939
|Hungarian Prime Minister PĂˇl Teleki informed Germany and Italy that should a war broke out between Germany and Poland, Hungary would not participate in a joint invasion; German leader Adolf Hitler would soon intimidate Teleki to retract the statement. On the same day, Italian leader Benito Mussolini warned Hitler that should war break out due to the Polish-German tension, Italy would come to Germany's help, but Mussolini believed it would not be a simple Polish-German War, but rather, other nations such as the United Kingdom and France would be dragged in, leading to another great war.
|4 Aug 1939
|Polish customs officials on the Danzig border began carrying arms, which alerted the Germans.
|7 Aug 1939
|A group of British businessmen met with Hermann GĂ¶ring in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, warning him that British public sentiment would not allow another act of appeasement, and that the public would push the British government to declare war on Germany.
|9 Aug 1939
|Germany sent a message to Poland noting that its uncooperativeness to work with Germany, ie. its refusal of German demands to annex Danzig, might lead to war, and Germany would not hold the responsibility for starting an armed conflict.
|10 Aug 1939
|Poland responded to Germany's message from the previous day, noting that should a war between the two nations start, it would be German aggression that started it, and Poland could not be blamed.
|23 Aug 1939
|Albert Forster was appointed by the German government as the State President of the Free City of Danzig.
|26 Aug 1939
|French Prime Minister Ă‰douard Daladier sent a message to German leader Adolf Hitler, noting that while France desired peace, it would fight for Poland should it be invaded.
|27 Aug 1939
|German leader Adolf Hitler responded to the message from French Prime Minister Ă‰douard Daladier from the previous day, noting that Germany had no intention of fighting France, so if France was to attack Germany due to the German-Poland situation, it would be a war initiated by France, and Germany could not be faulted for such a conflict; additionally, Hitler stressed that Germany had no territorial demands on the German-French border. Meanwhile, Hermann GĂ¶ring's friend Birger Dahlerus, a Swedish national, attempted a parallel route to negotiate for peace.
|29 Aug 1939
|Through the Swedish businessman Birger Dahlerus, Germany expressed that Germany only desired Danzig and a small section of the Polish Corridor, while a plebiscite should be held in the near future to determine the fate of the remainder of the Polish Corridor.
|30 Aug 1939
|Poland refused to dispatch a delegation to Germany to negotiate over the topics of Danzig and the Polish Corridor. Polish Commander-in-Chief, Marshal of Poland, Edward Rydz-Smigly ordered the mobilization of the army.
|31 Aug 1939
|Adolf Hitler offered the United Kingdom that Germany would not risk war if Poland was willing to turn over Danzig and a small section of the Polish Corridor, and that Poland was to allow a plebiscite for the remainder of the Polish Corridor in the near future; British Ambassador in Germany Nevile Henderson expressed that the United Kingdom, while desiring peace, could not sacrifice Poland to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Henderson continued to press Poland to send a delegation to Germany in a last attempt to negotiate peace over Danzig and the Polish Corridor. When Polish Ambassador in Germany JĂłzef Lipski attempted to send Henderson's message to Poland later in the evening, he found that Germany had cut telephone and telegraph communications to Poland.
|2 Sep 1939
|Germany annexed the Free City of Danzig. Adolf Hitler advised the United Kingdom and France that he would withdraw from Poland if allowed to keep Danzig and the Polish corridor.
Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.
Share this article with your friends:
Stay updated with WW2DB:
Visitor Submitted Comments
All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.
» Forster, Albert
» Greiser, Arthur
» No. 108-1: Albert Forster's Proclamation to the People of Danzig
» No. 108-2: Messages between Forster and Hitler on Danzig
» No. 13: Extract from Herr Hitler's speech to the Reichstag
» No. 26: Message from Greiser to the Polish Commissioner-General
» No. 27-28, 30, 41-42, 45-47, 50-51: Messages between Kennard and Halifax on Danzig
» No. 29, 31, & 33 : Messages from Gerald Shepherd to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 32, 34, 38, 39, 43: Messages between Norton and Halifax on Danzig
» No. 35: Chamberlain's Speech at the House of Commons
» No. 36 & 48: Messages from Henderson to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 37, 40, & 44 : Messages from F. M. Shepherd to Halifax on Danzig
» No. 56, 60, 68, 74, 78, & 89: Messages Between Chamberlain/UK Government and Hitler
» No. 62: Message from F. M. Shepherd to Halifax
» No. 64: Speech by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons
» No. 65. Speech by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords
» No. 98: Message from WeizsĂ¤cker to Henderson
- » 1,145 biographies
- » 336 events
- » 43,412 timeline entries
- » 1,237 ships
- » 349 aircraft models
- » 208 vehicle models
- » 371 weapon models
- » 123 historical documents
- » 259 facilities
- » 469 book reviews
- » 28,344 photos
- » 432 maps
George Patton, 31 May 1944